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So What's Up with this Taxonomy Stuff?
July 28, 2011. Fred Leise
Why does the UXSears team include a bunch of people who spend all of their time looking at words? Just what is it with this taxonomy thing any way? Today’s column will take a brief look at what taxonomy work is and why it is important.
We know that of all the people visiting the Sears.com home page, more use our browsing navigation than use search. We want to make sure those people can find what they are looking for. So we spend lots of time doing research to understand how our customers think about the structure of various groups of products. For example, do they think of item type (bracelet, ring) or metal type (gold, silver) first when buying jewelry? Do they look for “everyday jewelry” or “fashion jewelry”?
The more we know about how our customers think about products, the better we can make our product navigation hierarchy. And by better, I mean that customers can find what they want easily and efficiently. Get them to the product they want faster, and there’s a greater chance they will buy it.
We also work on creating appropriate product attributes. You know, the things customers use to narrow their choice when they get to the right category of stuff, like size, color, material or dimensions.
We also spend our time figuring out how to classify jar candles and shoe polish and knitting yarn and statuary and bookends. Yes, Sears.com sells all of those things and lots more besides. After all, we’ve got 23 million items online. And you wouldn’t want to look through that many one by one.
July 20, 2011. PeteW
There's much talk throughout the halls of Sears Holdings about culture change. Transformation. Collaboration. And we're certainly not alone in this space--it seems many organizations--many industries--are looking for how to rethink how they create value both externally and internally.
Looking inside the organization, at the people, there's much being written about what kinds of people, skills, and approaches it now takes to be successful. One thread of this involves specialization. In the industrial age, specialization that created silos of work each with defined and manageable chunks was the rule of the day.
Now, it's a different story. Today, a number of factors are changing the way we need to think about the people and the culture we build. One of my favorite innovation people is Saul Kaplan, founder of the Business Innovation Factory in Rhode Island. He blogged about this awhile back:
1) Knowledge is expanding at ever increasing rates. Knowledge flows are moving so fast that it’s ludicrous to think experts or groups of specialists can absorb all available knowledge in any silo. What we learned yesterday is less and less relevant. What we learn today and how prepared we are to learn tomorrow is far more important.
2) Knowledge is more accessible than ever in human history. Access isn’t limited to the elite few. We are on our way to democratizing the entire body of knowledge. Think about that. The entire logic of the industrial era is no longer operative. Any of us can access the knowledge we need without relying on specialists. Specialization has been disrupted by the web and broadband connectivity. Specialists command a body of knowledge that is becoming increasingly less relevant every day.
3) The gold is in between knowledge silos. The biggest opportunities to create value and to solve today’s challenges require us to recognize patterns across silos connecting ideas across disciplines and sectors. Solutions are increasingly interdisciplinary. The future is trans-disciplinary. Designing the future isn’t the domain of specialists it’s the domain of collaboration and about tapping into the adjacent possible across disciplines. Those with the best access to knowledge flows across silos get the gold.
What wold it take to realize this? More people who are polymaths (and a culture that supports this way of thinking/being). What's a polymath? A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas. When we think of polymaths we tend to think of dead scientists from another era like Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci. Rarely do we apply the moniker in modern times. We need more polymaths. We need a generation of youth who want to be polymaths when they grow up.
Kaplan continues in his post: If the new era is about collaboration and finding value in the gray areas between silos we need more polymaths. If the new era is about recognizing patterns and defining new disciplines we need more polymaths. If knowledge is changing faster than professional boundaries and job definitions can accommodate we need more polymaths. If we need more polymaths we will have to rethink everything we know about education and workforce development. We need a generation of youth that want to be polymaths when they grow up. Calling all Polymaths.
What does a culture need to do to support this kind of change? What do you think Sears Holdings should / could do?
Zombies: fast vs. slow. Which is a better CX?
June 22, 2011. PeteW
Simon Pegg, star of the movies Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, has a great interview on NPR this week. The topic of Zombies came up (via his Sean of the Dead fame).
============ As for the raging genre war over whether zombies should be slow or fast, Pegg falls solidly on the side of slow-moving zombies. "It is sort of a schism in the church of the undead," Pegg explains. "I personally don't like fast zombies because, A) it's fun to get annoyed about something so trivial and B) I think it removes their appeal." In popular film history, zombies have become known as pathetic, tragic figures; Audiences can feel sorry for them, Pegg says. "They don't have any agenda. They just do what they do, which is eat flesh. And when they start running around screaming like Velociraptors, you just don't care about them anymore, you just think: go away, you noisy speed demon." ===========
What makes a zombie good or memborable? Empathy. Feeling for the tragic figure the zombie has become...remembering who they used to be (a friend, a neighbor...someone that was familiar at some level). Oy, vay. The story's hero now needs to shoot this former person that's slowly making their way toward him/her.
This is a powerful, and emotional, bond they form with the audience watching a story unfold.
Fast zombies simply aren't memorable---a throng of fast, dead, and rotting, ninjas end up focusing all the attention on the hero (e.g. Resident Evil games/movies). It's fast and the special effects are fun. But fast zombies don't reach as deep, and stay as long, in your memory.
And from a customer experience point of view, creating lasting memories often means a lot. Plus, isn't just the fact we're having a conversation about Zombies as way to talk about customer experience kinda fun?
The full interview with Simon Pegg can be found here--I recommend it :)
Walmart's $1.85B mistake
April 15, 2011. PeteW
Walmart took the voice of the customer too literally. Customers answered a Walmart survey and told Walmart that they would prefer less clutter in the stores. Their reaction? "Project Impact" - a major change in strategy and store customer experience - starting in 2008.
a $1.85 billon dollar customer experience mistake made by Walmart (a conservative estimate of lost revenue that does not include the hundreds of millions spent on remodeling stores) - Walmart revised their decades-old strategy of low price and wide selection - 15% of the inventory removed from the stores - 30% - some suppliers reported losing 30% of their stock in Walmart stores due to the revamp - Removed pallets of items like juice boxes or sweatshirts stacked in the centers of aisles. - Slimmed down merchandise on “end caps,” displays at the ends of aisles - Shortened shelves - Revamp not only removed items but cost "millions of dollars" per store in refurbishment costs Source / full article here: http://dailyartifacts.com/walmarts-185-billon-dollar-mistake
The lesson? There's a difference between what customers say vs. what they do. Understanding the difference can lead to innovation...not understanding it can hit your bottom line, hard.
Life's Handbooks debuts on Sears.com
March 25, 2011. Pat Doran, UX Sears
Life's Handbooks blends services, products, articles and Q&A for life's major events. Whether you're moving, heading to college, getting married, having a baby, or already raising one - Life's Handbooks is here to help.
Check it out at handbooks.sears.com
Empathy Drives Technology Innovation
March 23, 2011. PeteW
Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle, and Reality is Broken: How Games Can Make Us Better and How They Are Changing the World, by Jane McGonigal.
Joe writes: Alone Together expresses concern that our increasing focus on virtual interactions is draining, depleting and distracting us from our real-world interactions, whereas Reality is Broken espouses the belief that the time we spend playing online games can renew and revitalize us and perhaps even lead us to redirect our energies toward solving real world problems.
I usually try to wave the Switzerland flag when it comes to technology--neutral to the utopian/dystopian spins that media tends to make. It's people that make technology --things-- serve particular intentions, or, as William Gibson so aptly put it back in the 90's "The street finds its own uses for things."
That said, what I think is still sorely lacking are technologies that actually connect people in meaningful and lasting ways: things (products, services, applications) that truly serve as a bridge or scaffolding that connect relationships between people.
I think that's definitely coming...but right now it feels like a big grab for time and attention with just enough convenience thrown in to make people want to spend a little time with something. Not because these offerings are compelling or meaningful, but rather because they're somewhat unique and tend to suck less than most. When convenience is the driving force for technology, it's simply a race toward commoditization. When the next shiny object comes along, people simply move on to the next "great" thing.
It doesn't have to be that way. In most cases, it shouldn't be that way. Innovation isn't simply about convenience* --it's about creating meaningful experiences.
This vision of technology innovation isn't even about technology in and of itself. It's about using technology to enable deeper relationships between people-- and this idea's certainly not new. It's been around since Vannevar Bush published As We May Think in the Atlantic back in 1945. Many attribute it to inspiring the creation of the internet. However, it's more than just a technology. He described a (mechanical) system that would connect one user to another person's life--all their notes, ideas, creations, everything they've shared with others--such that you could truly know what that person was like. Though he didn't describe it this way, he was envisioning an empathy machine.
I believe the core of his proposal is that this system ought to be purpose-driven. That connecting people through machines over time and space serves two human-centered purposes: to affect the person who creates with this technology and to affect the person who consumes with this technology.
Ultimately, this interpretation of purpose-driven technology leads us to consider the role designers of products and services have. When we design we affect the way people think about and relate to one another through invention. Inventions, including the design of products and services, are really arguments for how we ought to live our lives.
McCarthy indicates Sherry Turkle writes:
These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about our intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time ... Sociable robots and online life both suggest the possibility of relationships the way we want them ... But when technology engineers intimacy, relationships can be reduced to mere connections.
McCarthy continues: As technology increasingly co-inhabits more of our physical spaces - and inhabits increasingly human-like or animal-like robots in our midsts - we need to develop a more disciplined approach in balancing our online and offline interactions. During her January 17, 2011 interview with Stephen Colbert, Turkle summed this up by saying "we have to put technology in its place".
As a designer, putting technology in its place starts with defining the purpose for which a technology should serve. The focus for technology innovation isn't a destination nor a new way to repackage convenience. Technology innovation is connecting people to the people, places and things that give their life meaning, help them achieve goals (i.e. they're transformative in nature) and provide an experience people consider priceless.
At Sears Holdings, we're defining new roles that retail may play in the lives of people. At UX Sears, we're defining systems of networked touchpoints that address and connect with the lives of people in deeper and sustainably disruptive* ways. What's next? In short, it's time to hit the streets, understand people in a fundamentally different ways than we have in the past, and reframe the relationships we have with customers and with employees.
Sound interesting? Like the idea of defining new experiences? If you think you've got what it takes, let us know: www.searsholdings.com
* Just in case you're thinking disruptive technologies (via Clayton Christensen), is all about cheaper tech solutions that disrupt established players, think again. Christensen's argument is about finding and designing for the "jobs" that people unknowingly "hire" technologies to do for them: Functional Jobs. Emotional Jobs. Social Jobs. Want to know more? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to be 'The Worst'
March 15, 2011. Casey Rathunde
Lesson #1: A pale copy is a bad place to start from.
Lots of the presentations presented ideas that relied on the humor of "almost, but not quite." Versions of popular (young-skewing) internet communities aimed at the over-40 crowd, transparent riffs on popular sites that offered no value over the original site, and blatant rip offs all drew big laughs from the crowd. The internet is full of just such clones, and they're always slightly missing the point. While you can often come up with some great ideas by thinking about what other people are doing, the angle always needs to be, "What aren't they doing?" not just an attempt to make something different enough that it won't cause a lawsuit. Some of the funniest fake pitches of the panel were obvious riffs that aimed to do less than the original (such as "Faceoffbook" for fans of the movie FaceOff, and Petflix).
Lesson #2: Your fax machine does not need an "App Store."
Really - it doesn't. It might seem obvious, but by the same token, who isn't trying to jump on the "App Store" bandwagon these days? I think the greater lesson to be learned from this point is that mindless bandwagon jumping leads to creating things that there is no demand for. Just like a fax machine doesn't need its own port of "Angry Birds," not every website needs a comments section or its own check-in system. People who are always looking to make the "next big thing" work for them are often missing the ways in which not every solution fits every problem. While each new craze might be worth consideration and exploration, it's perfectly acceptable for the conclusions drawn to end with, "We don't actually need this."
Lesson #3: You're not going to successfully use every technology.
One of the presentations didn't actually have much in the way of a proposed idea, instead, it relied on the joke that the website was so 'technologically advanced' that it used every technology. It even used "all of the clouds," and just about every possible API that is currently in vogue. I think we've all seen some variation of this site. There are so many social icons squashed together that you can't tell the difference between the little bird-shaped blob that you think is Twitter-blue from the tiny square that you think might lead to Facebook. You're not really sure if you're about to leave a comment with Disqus, send a Tweet, or post to your Facebook wall, and even if you could figure it out, you're probably not interested in sharing the content by that point. The page aggregates tweets, shows you the weather in Bangladesh, and lets you map things on google while you browse headlines. There's so much on the page that you reflexively lunge for the close button because you're afraid you might have a seizure.
Just because an API exists, doesn't mean you should use it on every page. Data is cool, but relevant data is even cooler, and when you don't bury the good stuff, your page gets a lot more interesting. I'm an API dork - I love to see them mashed up and filtered in brilliant ways. True story: after the worst website panel, I shook the hand of the guy who created WaitingForBieber.com. (I plan to retell this story to everyone who will listen for the next three months, so consider yourself warned.) The reason I love this site is that it uses the Twitter API in a way that is so bizarrely specific that it draws a cohesive (and terrifying) picture without any sort of long-form explanation. As best I can tell, the page is returning tweets sent to Bieber's username, and scanning the text of the response for the word "follow," so that it only returns the tweets asking Bieber to follow the user back. That's all the page does: display a constant stream of tweets, asking Justin Bieber for a "follow" on Twitter.
Now that we've established the concept, lets quickly ruin it with complications: imagine if it also pulled in headlines containing the terms "Bieber" and "Twitter." Imagine page real estate depleted by an option to share those tweets on facebook. Imagine a comments section where users could leave their opinion on tweets and rank their favorite. Imagine a series of music charts and store widgets so that users could see how Bieber is currently selling. Quickly, the idea becomes polluted and the page loses the laser-focus that made the joke funny in the first place. None of these things immediately sound like bad ideas, but compare the value added by the additional data to the value lost by distracting from the site's real purpose. There's a lot of cool, easily integrated stuff on the internet these days, but just like we don't always need to be jumping on the shiniest bandwagon, we also don't need to dilute every idea with 'value-adds' that act as distractions.
The panel definitely gave me a lot to think about (and when I'm not so exhausted and overwhelmed with information, I'll probably think of more things I gleaned from it), but most of all, it was amazing to me how not implausible most of the ideas were. Many of them didn't seem all that far off from sites that have actually been built, and I think that fact really speaks to how the best humor is close to the truth. (For the record, the "winner" of the contest was the "App Store" for the Fax Machine. The runner-up was a site for outsourced, webcam babysitting.)