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Like most people who have chosen a career path as consultants on large projects, I've spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. Until recently, I shared an outlook on travel, loyalty programs and living on the road with George Clooney's character in 'Up In The Air'. Luckily, my job was a lot more interesting :O)
Spending years living out of a suitcase also meant that every other week, or in some cases every other night, I would sleep in a different hotel room. At the advice of a fellow UX professional, I've decided to write this post about my thoughts on the user experience of these rooms. I'm not an interior designer, so I know nothing about building codes and I will make no reference to Feng Shui. This post is about the business traveller and the little things that can be done to make the hotel stay experience much more enjoyable for people like me.
I typically flew out every week on Monday morning, went straight to work after I landed, put in an full day's work, and then finally made my way exhausted to the hotel. This means that by the time I was about to check it, it was nighttime about 99% of the time. I arrived in front of my hotel room door, keycard in one hand, luggage roller in the other. One of the most frustratings moments when checking into a room is not being able to immediately find the light swich beside the entrance door. I'm not picky in terms of which way the door opens, as long as on the inside of the wall, beside the lock, I can feel the light switch in the dark right away. Having the switch on the opposite side (which means I have to get my luggage inside, close the door, and then keep searching in the dark, is not an option. Neither are multiple light switches unintuitively budled somewhere inside the room, an even worse as it forces me to prop the door open with my luggage so I can find a light switch, any light switch, that I can turn on in order to orient myself through furniture maze of a room layout that I am not yet familiar with.
If you haven't heard the news yet, Mr. Wayne Wouters, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet (a.k.a. 'His Clerkiness' for brevity reasons for the duration of this post) recently launched his very own slice of web real estate at http://clerk.gc.ca. Nota Bene: no disrespect is intended by using the term 'His Clerkiness', it is simply a catchy, affectionate term that has been making the rounds on Twitter about a week ago, a day before the official launch of the website.
On its own, the very presence of the site marks a bit of a shift in the way the Government of Canada is interacting with its internal (PS employees) and external audience (the public at-large). A real-time Twitter feed (and not a link to a Twitter account) is prominently featured on the main page. CLF bilingualism requirements are met by way of echoing two different Twitter accounts: @WayneWouters for the English version, and @WayneGWouters for those on the other side of the Alexandria Bridge.
So far, His Clerkiness' newly adopted microblogging persona has been relatively quiet. There are only three tweets in the timeline, one announcing the launch of the website, a link to the Clerk's Annual Report and a Thank You note for those who provided feedback on the website. Well, Your Clerkiness, if you haven't received a lot of responses, consider this article my very own way of providing feedback to your new virtual endeavour.
Another relatively unusual component for a GoC CLF-compliant website that can be found on the main page is the presence of a Flash video introduction. Historically, flash video introductions have been used on social networking and blog landing pages. More recently, flash video intros have become increasingly popular within political websites. They are short, official, effective and easy to create, so kudos to His Clerkiness (and/or his communications team) for broadening the CLF spectrum. For those of you keeping track, you can find a second flash video in the How We Help section.
While the reaction to the Government of Canada web template design (CLF3Layout.doc, 100Kb) published in my previous blog post was extremely positive, the item that generated the most intriguing follow-up conversation was the concept of crowdsourcing the CLF 3.0 visual design to the general public.
It is well documented that the Government of Canada has fallen behind other governments when it comes to Gov 2.0 initiatives. Countries like New Zealand, Finland and Australia have all created clean, modern and professional look and feel standards for their government web properties. And although still behind Canada on look and feel standardization, the US Federal Government roared ahead of the pack on the OpenGov front, riding the popularity of crowdsourcing initiatives like Data.gov, Peer to Patent, the recently announced Design for America contest, as well as virally marketed local initiatives like Apps for Democracy. If you are not familiar with these, and youíre wondering just how successful our southern neighbours were in capturing the publicís interest, here's an example: when launched, in May 2009, Data.gov had just 47 data sets. 10 months later, it now has more than 168,000 and it's growing every day. Another country at the forefront of the OpenGov movement, New Zealand, has successfully released data.govt.nz, its own data catalog used for crowdsourcing purposes.
I would venture to say that while I am confident that Canada will (eventually) open its federal data (there are some great internal collaboration and OpenGov initiatives that are driven out by the enthusiastic W2P public servant crowd - twitter search: #w2p), we have clearly missed the boat on being leaders in the open data space. However, there is one initiative that can put Canada right up there with the leaders in this space: crowdsourcing the new version of our Federal Government's look and feel standards (CLF 3.0). To my knowledge, no government has done this yet and pulling it off would not only raise the profile of our Gov2.0 and OpenGov programs, but would bring much needed positive coverage both nationally and internationally for our battered Public Service decision-makers. As they say, if you can't win, make up your own sport :O)
The more I work on large projects, the more I realize that there is a point in each of them where a rift is created between the priorities of the senior management team and those of the UX team. Let's think about the typical timeline of how this plays out: Initially, we present our past work, our methodology (process) and the advantages of having a UX team on board. We show them user research, IA and design documentation, previous prototypes, finished designs and we hope that something will resonate with them that will persuade them to hire us. We'd like it to be something we've done in the past or the methodology we're employing, but as the project goes on, we realize that it was something else.
Typically (and I say typically because of my own experiences, I am sure things are slowly shifting), senior management is intrigued by the idea of having a UX team on their project mainly because one thing only: risk management considerations. I know, this sounds cold, but it's at least a large component of the truth. I've had this discussion as part of lessons learned / post-mortems of many projects that I've been involved with, and without exception, that was the main reason why a UX team was initially considered for the project. To expand a little further, the senior management team sees having a UX team on large projects as an insurance policy that states that by employing UCD methodologies the client will be part of the design proces. As a result, when UAT comes around, it will be very difficult for the client to reject a design that they were at least partially responsible for. All very valid points.
However, at some point in the process (in my experience this occurred anywhere between right after the end-user research stage, to the end of the high-fidelity prototyping stage), senior management starts to get impatient... Even though we are on track as far as the project plan is concerned, and even though the clients love the idea that we are constantly picking their brains in regards to how to redesign their product, senior management teams tend to get unhappy about the things that we uncover. So in this series of posts about why the senior management team hates UX, this is the first item i want to talk about...
Last week I stayed up until 3:00AM EST to watch the live feed of the Davos World Economic Forum Social Media Panel, hoping that one of the speakers will describe the future impact of Social Media in all aspects of product design. The first guest speaker, George F. Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, provided me with a good starting point. He introduced the concept of 'Social Sigma', by making a parallel with Six Sigma and explaining that in the near future all companies will have to probe social networking and social media sites during the process of designing their products.
Don't get me wrong, this idea has been around for a while, but in a different form. Information Architecture, Design or UX practitioners following UCD (User Centered Design) Methodologies made of point of ASKING a sample of the product's end-user population about how to design a product. Virtually every site and consumer brand out there ASKS for feedback on their presence and products. This paradigm included ideation about business/technology requirements as well as user interface (ease-of-use, simplicity, recognition, etc.), and in most cases, it worked very well. End user research, IA, interaction design, prototyping, usability testing, all of these minimized the risk and in the end the product was relatively close to what the clients wanted. But...
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