I go on road trips from time to time. There is a 100% chance that my PayPal debit Mastercard will be shut off, even if I call them first and say I’m road tripping. Evidently buying gas over and over triggers their fraud system.

When PayPal’s card fraud system is triggered, my card is shut off. I’m not emailed, I might be called tomorrow to please let them know if this is fraud or not. But nothing I can do in the moment other than stop the motorcycle road trip to call them, which is not worth my time.

So I pull out my Discover card, the other card I keep in the pocket of my moto jacket. I’ll run that until they suspect fraud. But when they do, I get a text asking if I am making these gas purchases. I text back YES and they reply that they will keep my card on.

Thank you. YOU get the gas business.

American Express has started doing something like that when it suspects my purchases. I get an email (which I may not look at while on a moto road trip) asking if tried to make a certain purchase or not. I then have to tap a “yes” or “no,” which loads up a webpage. That’s fun when I’m in a bad service area. My Amex is skimmed 2 or 3 times a year so they are getting more careful with my card. I’m getting mountains of notifications now.

I think the text messaging is a great way to go. Immediate, something I might look at even when not looking at email, text back a quick reply, you might even get the SMS where your data connection is weak or non existent.

Consider your users and multiple use cases. How do we quickly confirm if this is fraud or not, keep a card on when the customer would want it on, shut it off if it’s really stolen or skimmed, and let our customer keep going?

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I just want to book some spa time. How hard should that be?

What are the services and what do they cost? Well, they’re both PDFs. Seriously? Nobody considered that someone might want to look at this on a phone?

And yes, that the word, “both,” was on purpose. The service descriptions and the price list were two separate documents. I’d have to review services, say OOOOO sounds good, then look at the separate pricing doc, and see if it’s in the budget.

Or you could write the pricing contextually with the services. Does this spa believe that people will book without knowing the pricing? Why make this harder for me? Uncool dark pattern. Get rid of PDFs. Have a responsive site with prices after you describe the service.

In an age of online calendars and endless appointment systems, I would imagine that most spas have some sort of online booking. This spa does not have online booking, making it look like it’s not keeping up with the times. Heck, even I offer online booking and I’m not even a spa. (And I recommend Acuity for scheduling/online appointment systems.)

They had an email address. I emailed them asking if they can fit me in on this day for these 2 services. Ten minutes later, I got a final bounce message. Email can’t be delivered.

It’s 2016. Nearly 2017.

And you have no online booking. PDFs for separate service description and pricing. An email that’s a dead end.

The harder you make it for me to do business with you, the more likely I am to choose a competitor. I have before chosen spas based on who could do online booking. Saves me a phone call and tells me right away if I can get what I want when I want it.

I would choose a competitor but I was at this spa before and it was nice. I liked it. It has decent Yelp reviews as of when I’m writing this (62 reviews giving it an average of 4 stars). I would like to go back.

It was nearly empty when I was there. And this may explain why. Businesses, make it easy for me to give you my money.

Bonus tip: make it easy to read

I’m looking at a competitor’s PDF spa menu. It’s white text on a light cyan background. Ouch ouch freaking ouch not easy to read. Please, people!

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Empathy has become a bit of a buzzword in UX lately. Many trusted experts are saying that various aspects of UX strategy and design require empathy.

What empathy isn’t.

A few months ago, I ended up in a Facebook battle with a stranger whose profile said he was a Senior UX Researcher at a company I won’t name. The topic was the poor experience I had with Kent State University’s online grad program (and let’s not go into that one again). He seemed determine to invalidate my opinion. He accused me of “sour grapes,” which made no sense since I am not jealous of a school experience I gleefully quit.

Late in the battle, he started a sentence with, “I empathize with you, but…” and proceeded to try to make it sound like my opinion and experience weren’t really what I was claiming they were.

First, you don’t empathize with me. If you truly felt empathy, you would understand why the experience I had produced the beliefs and reactions I had surrounding it.

Second, nobody has empathy but then disagrees or invalidates what the other person is saying, feeling, or experiencing. That’s not empathy.

What is empathy?

I have read a lot of definitions and have come up with my own. Very often, people say that empathy is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes… and perhaps walking a mile. But that’s not really empathy. Weirdo Sr UX Researcher put himself in my shoes and decided my reactions to my own experience made no sense perhaps because it’s not how he would have reacted to the same situation. That’s also not sympathy.

Empathy is you putting yourself as me into my shoes.

If you put yourself into my shoes, you will think like you. React like you. Parse information like you.

If you imagine me in my shoes, you should then be thinking like I think. Reacting like I think. Assessing situations like I do. Which means you always validate that person. Whatever he or she thinks, believes, decides, opines… it makes sense… to him or her. You might do something different! Doesn’t matter. You are seeing the world through someone else’s eyes as him or her.

No outside judgment.

As soon as you are saying that someone’s reaction makes no sense, her feelings don’t match her situation, he’s making a mountain out of a molehill, her conclusions and assessments of her own situation are weird, those are your judgments. And they are not empathy.

Empathy requires that you remove your own judgments, ideas, preferences, and “what you would have done” in order to try to really imagine things through the eyes of the user.

I recently saw an example of what not to do when I saw a user story written by a product manager. Normally, user stories go something like, “As the user, I want to be able to [do something] because [user’s reason].” The product manager had written, “As the product manager, I want the user to be able to [do something] for [product manager’s reason].”

User centered design needs you to BE the user

You may not be your own company’s target audience. But to do your best UX work, you have to step out of your own shoes. You have to get away from the mirror and BE the personas or target audience. Don’t just “put yourself in their shoes;” that’s still you being you, just in some other scenario or bizarro world.

To truly know how a user would potentially react to something, to understand how a user might use something, and to know if you have designed the right solution, you have to be the user. Since we haven’t invented technology to put us in other people’s heads, we have to do this through empathy.

If you are not naturally very empathetic, start by thinking of it as acting. You ARE the persona. Get into character. Improv. What does that person’s life look like? How is he motivated and what influences him? What are her needs and goals? What improvisation can you do around what this persona would be like brought to life?

One of my fave UX researchers (not the above guy) would say the same thing often to people during user testing. “That makes sense,” he would say with comfort in his voice, no matter what the user just did or said. Because to the user, they were doing it right and he was validating that… and them. Good stuff.

And that other “Senior UX Researcher”? He wasn’t empathetic or sympathetic. He was just pathetic.

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Low Battery Warning

Posted By on Aug 23, 2016

How far in advance should a product warn you that the battery is low and in danger of dying? On many mobile phones, you will get “power saving mode” with around 20% battery life left. Depending on your phone, that might give it another hour of power.

My motorcycle Bluetooth helmet system gives an auditory low battery warning. It interrupts whatever I’m hearing to say, “Low battery.” Thanks! That helps.

Except it gives it one minute before the unit shuts down from being out of power. This makes me think the low battery warning happen with around 2-5% left.

Not helpful. Remember that warnings should help users fix the problems. Giving me one more minute of power while I’m listening to Google direct me is… not delightful. Give me a half hour or hour so that I know to charge up the unit.

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A LinkedIn connection shared a link to a site she thought was interesting. OK, I’ll bite. I head over to the site.

I can’t see any page without signing up or logging in. There is a popup blocking my every move. No matter how many times I reload the page or what page I click on in the half a second before it comes up, I get the overlay.

And it’s not your traditional lightbox… where clicking outside of it makes it go away. I was hoping for that because it has NO CLOSE BUTTON.

I am at a dead end. The message here is:

Sign Up Or Leave

Let’s take a look at that home page (click to enlarge).

I still see this from time to time. A marketing person (never a UX person) says, “If we give them no choice but to sign up, they’ll sign up!”

I just got here. I don’t know what your company does. You won’t let me find out. I can’t click any links. I can’t even get to “How It Works” because your overlay won’t go away. Does that mean the “How It Works” page is only for people who’ve already signed up? Do you imagine that people will go through those steps, agree to unread terms, and I bet end up on at least one email list without knowing what your company DOES?

Some might. I guess I could go get a temporary, burner email address and give you fake sign-ups.

I closed the browser window.

That doesn’t help marketing either.

Marketing doesn’t want fake sign-ups. They want real people they can market to.

Marketing also usually wants people who are interested. If you put 10,000 mostly-disinterested, forced-to-register people on the mailing list and 20 open the emails, you will appear to be failing. If you make 10,000 people sign up to your site and you sell 20 things, it will look like you are failing.

If 100 truly interested people sign up and join the mailing list and 20 of them open emails or buy something, now this looks like it could have legs. That’s 20%… because you marketed to truly interested people.

Bad data on home page bounces

This company might see a lot of home page bounces when they check their analytics. People come to the home page and then they leave right away without seeing other pages.

Will the people reading those analytics understand that it’s probably because we visitors had an obstacle? We COULDN’T get anywhere else without signing up and we decided not to make that level of commitment yet.

Will the people reading those analytics think that the home page just isn’t grabbing people enough? And send UX and UI people to keep redesigning it? I hope not. I honestly have no opinion on the home page yet because I couldn’t experience it. A popup blocked me the whole time.

Drop the fantasies of the big database

The big database of uninterested people won’t get your company very far, especially in a world where people want to hear about “adoption” and “conversion.”

If people don’t look at your individual offerings, if they don’t buy them, you’re going to know. People will wonder why you’re not converting, especially with all those people hitting your home page or signing up. They signed up… why aren’t they buying? Oh, we MADE them sign up.

Improve the UX

Give me a way to close that popup. Let me explore your site. If your offering is compelling, I will WANT to sign up. You won’t have to force me to do it. You won’t have to make it an obstacle. I’ll be looking in the header for a “SIGN UP” call to action button.

Make me want to sign up because you’re so great. Don’t make me sign up before I even know what you do.

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As a Disney Vacation Club (time share) member, I go to Walt Disney World in Florida at least once every other year. You may laugh but it’s my happy place.

Even when I am there, I am still wearing my UX hat. Today I want to look at a UX flaw in trying to make some online reservations ahead of your vacation.

When can I do this?

Let’s say there is a restaurant where you want to eat or a special tour you want to take while on vacation. Many of these book up far in advance. It can sometimes be hard (if not impossible) to get the restaurant you want on a certain day and time.

Additionally, not all events and tours are available every day. Some tours are only given on certain days.

This means that when you are planning your vacation, once you have “what do I want to do/where do I want to eat” decided, the next question is, “when can I do that?”

Disney booking interface

That’s the current interface

The above screen shot is how it currently looks if you wanted to try to book a restaurant. The interface for booking an event is similar except it doesn’t ask how many. You just select the ONE date you’re hoping to go and it says available times or not available.

What’s missing here is the idea that most of us aren’t on a WDW vacation for one day. We’re there a bunch of days. Many people are there a week. Some people are there even longer, taking an extended vacation in a place the size of San Francisco.

How should this look or work?

Disney booking interface

This is about 100 pixels taller than the original but the width is the same.

This interface could offer more flexibility knowing the actual behaviors of vacationers.

1. Let me choose a range of dates. When I pick the first date, make the second date the same as the one I just picked in case I only want that date. Or I can choose a second date and have a range. And let’s say we let people search an entire week.

2. For events, we’re now done. Show me every time this event, tour, or special thing happens during my whole trip. I can then easily plan which one I want.

3. For dining, you now need some more information. How many in the party? I guess we can keep the droplist format for that. Defaulting to 2 only makes sense if Disney knows that most dining reservations are for two. If the average dining reservation is for 4, they should change the default.

4. We can include one more optional parameter for dining reservations. Which meal do you plan to eat at this location? How about checkboxes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with all selected by default. There are some places in WDW I’m happy to get ANY reservation at… won’t be picky! Some I only want a certain meal.

5. Since I started on the individual page for a certain restaurant, I can now see every open time for up to a week. How about we see this in an overlay since we’re now hopefully in the middle of a process (committing to one of these times and making a reservation)?

Disney booking interface

Better than one day, one time block at a time.

Perhaps for space’s sake, only one accordion opens at a time. But this would easily show when I can eat at this place over my whole trip.

And that’s a real life use case. On my last trip, I wanted to eat at Be Our Guest. I would rather eat there at dinner. I was on a 5-day trip and had to keep checking each day, one by one, time block by time block, to see if any spots were open.

It turned out one spot was open. Lunch at 10:45am on a Saturday. An interface like this would have saved me a lot of time, searching, and a little vacation stressing over getting a booking here.

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I’m a paying customer of a meditation app. How does it work? You have a long screen where you pick the topic. Then you pick which one, then you play it. Easy process, right?

They also have a few special series on one topic. So it might be the 7 Days of Something. You can download one meditation for each day. The process? Pick that off the long list on the main screen, pick the day, and play it.

Until a recent app update.

And I sure hope they change this back. Now let’s take a look at the NEW process to listen to a meditation track.

Step 1

Let’s listen to something from the 21 Days of Calm series.

Step 2

Oh, this is a little about the series. Well, the problem is that I’m shown this every time I go in. Want to listen to the next day? I have to see this first as if I have no idea what this series is. I see this no matter what my intention is: start the series, listen to the next day, re-listen to a previous day. 🙁

There might be a reason to explain a series more deeply, but it probably shouldn’t be a forced step every time I want to listen to one of these.

But pressing “start” will get us started, right?

Step 3

Am I ready to commit? Is that important? Is a meditation app judging me???

Do you care how often I listen to this? Who cares how long I take to do this or if I stop and never come back?

But you have added another step and click to what could have been and used to be a short process.

On a side note, the app should know that I have a paid for a year in advance. It shouldn’t act like it has separation anxiety or co-dependency issues just yet.

If I say I’m not ready, I don’t get to listen to the track. So let’s say we’re ready because this app might be a little needy. 🙂

Step 4a

I can re-listen to a previous day, or…

Step 4b

I can download a new Day of Calm meditation I haven’t heard yet.

What happens after you listen to a track?

Very often, I don’t listen to just one track. I like to listen to 2 or 3, sometimes in the same series, sometimes in different series.

By the way, you can’t back up during a track or restart it. You’d have to end it and go through that process again to restart it. 🙁 🙁 🙁

Here is what it looks like when the track is done.

Step 5

I’m congratulated on having listened to a track. Can’t do anything other than click here. Don’t need the congrats, but thanks, it was easy.

Step 6

Without choice, I’m shown a record of how many days this month I’ve listened to at least one track. Not important.

Not part of this process. I’m in listening mode. Don’t care about how many I’ve listened to recently.

Never important or relevant. I’m not in some sort of meditation competition against anybody.

6 steps to listen to a meditation track?!

It should be 2. Pick the series or topic. Pick the track you want inside that series or topic.

When done, leave me on the track screen with a replay option. Or take me back to the main screen to pick another series or topic.

Two steps. This could be really efficient. I don’t understand the reason to add all the extra steps here.

We’re not dating so stop asking me to commit. There is no penalty for NOT listening more often or coming back to a program, so why stop me every single time I want to hear a track and put two screens in my way?

Do you need to give me a series explanation every time I want to hear a track? Even if I JUST heard a track from that series? Do I need to commit every time? How about if I already listened to all 21 Days of Calm and want to re-listen… still need me to agree to commit? I’ve already done it!

Good UX is often about streamlining processes. Keep the user’s needs in mind and see how efficient you can make things.

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Design Your Own Custom Backpack

Posted By on May 27, 2016

I Googled “design custom backpack” because I want something specific and can’t seem to find it.

One search result was this page from the Vans site. I can tell from the bread crumbs that this is a page for designing a BACKPACK.

But I can only tell that from the bread crumbs.

ScreenHunter_265 May. 17 16.10

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I can’t believe this is still a thing. Based on the request to renew the license of my FTP software, it still is a thing.

ScreenHunter_214 Apr. 18 11.43

This email is coming from an unmonitored account or so says the copy. Yet when I hit reply, the email went to sales@.

That’s the right thing to do… though they do need to update their form email to say you can hit reply if you need help.

Every email you send should allow replies.

The reply doesn’t have to go to the same person, department, or mailing list that sent the email to the recipient. But if people naturally hit reply, let that email go SOMEWHERE where it gets attention.

Perhaps that reply generates a support ticket. Perhaps it goes to a real person or team. But it shouldn’t go nowhere.

And we shouldn’t even message people anything that sounds like they won’t be able to easily get service or support. Need help? Hit reply. Make it easy for them.

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Website Redesign: Just The Home Page?

Website Redesign: Just The Home Page?

Posted By on May 10, 2016

One thing I’ve noticed lately is a trend for companies to redesign the home page and then NO other pages. My home page is fresh 2015 or 2016. The rest of my experience looks the way it did 5 years ago, maybe more.

Let’s see some examples.


PayPal is possibly the worst offender here. I have a few accounts with them. Each has the same login page. And then each has TOTALLY different pages after that… different from each other.

ScreenHunter_207 Apr. 17 16.14

That’s the home page. After I log in and want to actually get something done in the site, it’s the ancient PayPal site but with a new header and footer. We couldn’t redesign all the pages?

ScreenHunter_208 Apr. 17 16.15


I like TripIt. I keep paying for it. They recently redesigned the home page and the page you see once you log in. Go past that, and it’s all the old pages.

Here is the page I get after logging in. This is what you get if you click, “Home,” from the top nav once logged in. The columns are a bit wild but the design is fresh from 2015.

ScreenHunter_209 Apr. 17 16.15

Now, let’s click “Trips” from the top nav.

ScreenHunter_210 Apr. 17 16.16

I Saw This Done At An Agency Where I Contracted

One of the agency clients called. Our home page doesn’t convert well. Redesign our home page.

The agency happily just focused on the home page, which was a shame since our team ended up feeling the worst part of the home page was the navigation. Since that was a global element (and not a home page element), we were told we couldn’t change it.

When companies have pre-decided their problem, they box in their agency (or team) on solutions. That’s why we created this video.

Still, that’s probably not what’s going on here since those projects are often about leads and/or conversion. I’ve already converted. I’m logging in. I’m a real customer. I’m here to get things done, not to sign up or get more info.

Consistency Is Important

If these were A/B tests and I was seeing page variations, I’d understand that. But two things clue us in to this probably not being an A/B test.

  1. I have been seeing these inconsistencies for a year or more. That would be one wildly long A/B test and I’m stuck in one bucket.
  2. If we are A/B testing, why not show me the whole site in the variation design or layout? Why only show me the home page, where I spend the least of my time?

The next time someone at your company suggests that you don’t really need to redesign the whole site and just the home page will do, push back on how that could be a potentially confusing and inconsistent user experience.

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