Category Archives: Usability

Big screens just get more stuff done.

I used to LOVE my laptop, the ability to work from everywhere, how I could carry my business with me, how it was silver and shiny.

Now I’m so over it.

It all began after almost a year of Kelle battling an old, old dyng macbook, we replaced it with a 24 inch desktop mac. She then went back to uni and the 24 inch sat on the desk alone for about 45 minutes before I wandered over to introduce myself and see if we could work together.

And work we have.

Now I don’t need a laptop because I know that if I work at home, I’ll get half as much done because I have half as much room. When I did my accounting marathon, I had 4 windows open on one screen, instead of endlessly closing and opening browsers and notes and documents.

Computer comparison

White and shiny is so much prettier than silver and shiny.

and who needs to go anywhere? I have an office.

But seriously, it’s amazing how much more you get done when you have space to move. If you have designers, buy them all one now and they will make you millions with their wizz bang speed.

And completely off topic. Look what I came home and found at my house the other day:

Cute dog

Should I turn this into cuteoverload?

How to create a successful website

I went to Victoria university. Their website was a well known example among students of a black hole of information – you knew it was all in there somewhere, it was just virtually impossible to get to it. It was begging for an update, so I was happy to discover that very recently it had undergone a re-design.

The new site looks nice, but I feel like the point of the redesign was missed a little. It’s not actually much easier to find stuff. I realised quickly that I had ‘learned’ the old site – I knew where that random link to the graduation information was off by heart so had taught myself how to get to it. The new site, I had no idea.

VUW new website

Looking quickly through the site to try to understand who and what they were catering for, I started jotting a quick list of what I think are the building blocks of a successful website. It is by no means complete, but based on the things I think the new VUW site does well and not so well.

  • Use menus to break the areas of your website up into large chunks. People use navigation only when necessary so keep your main menu small (only a few links) and prominent. I can then quickly get to the broad area I need to.
  • If you have a big site (with more than 2-3 layers of content), have a search box. I can avoid a long path to my goal page, if I can quickly search for it.
  • Too much small text in small chunks is confusing, especially when it looks the same – I ignore it. Maybe I assume they are ads? Clearly separate different content and give it some space and size!
  • I think 4 columns may be a bit much. It’s too busy and hard to separate the content out, so makes me head back to the menus. Keep it simple, 2-3 columns maximum and keep the main content area a lot larger than the ‘module’ bars so I know where I’m meant to be getting my information from.
  • Completely understand the REASON why someone is there. What are the things most people are trying to get to? Make sure it is as easy as possible to people to achieve their most common tasks. All information was not created equal. Do visitor requirements change over time? (i.e with a graduation ceremony coming up, make graduation prominent, at other times, leave it more ‘hidden’

Check out Moo for FREE Business Cards

A week or so ago, I wrote about the effectiveness of your business cards, and Matt from Polon was nice enough to inform me about Moo.

Flickr Moo CardsMoo is awesome. Moo makes business cards exciting and different. Moo is also mastering the art of word of mouth marketing by offering various promotions in conjunction with various very cool and talk-friendly companies (ie. 10,000 FREE sets of 10 Flickr mini cards, or 10,000 FREE sets of 10 Skype mini cards)

Redefining Business Cards 

Skype Moo CardsThe concept of the mini card is interesting for business owners, gone are the days where a business card was really kept. These days, they are simply the way of transporting your contact information from you to someones elses phone/contact database or other contact storage device, and once this task is complete, they are trashed.

Moo makes this process more fun – each card is different and very nice to look at, they are more convenient and earth friendly (being smaller) and they have managed to single handedly refresh the way I look at business cards. Excellent work :)

Keep and Eye Out 

Not entirely convinced by my gushy blog post? Keep an eye on their blog for the next freebie and send away to see for yourself (I seem to be a bit slow off the mark these days and am yet to be one of the top 10,000) 

Get Forced into a Fitter Lifestyle with Traineo

When you are a computer geek it is difficult to find the time to leave your computer and get active. Web 2.0 has responded to this dilemma in true web 2.0 style, combining the real world, communities, goal tracking and feedback, all mixed together in simple, fun looking applications that give you that same 'I will really stick with it this time' feel as you get from infomercials.

TraineoWhen Tim from Silverstripe put us onto Traineo, I instantly fell in love. Aside from their magnificent website, what is suprememly cool is the fact that you nominate 4 friends to act as your excercise interrogators – if you fail, they will know and they will taunt you and make you feel like the loser that you are. Excellent. I guarantee you that if you pick the right friends, you are well on your way to the fit, happy lifestyle you've always wanted.

 

Logos Web 2.0 With LogoPond

It's been a while since we profiled a web 2.0 tool. There are a few reasons for this, one of which is the 'stagnation' of the space – Although there are about 5 Basecamp clones launching weekly, the stream of tools that attack different problems is fast turning into a trickle. However, this is not a gripe, because I found one such tool, and I think it's great.

 

LogoPond Helps you Test Your New Logo

LogoPond
I love how simple it is. You're a small business, your developing a new logo, you can't afford mass market research or hoardes of expert opinions. So you chuck it up on LogoPond and let the community rate your effort (or efforts if you've got a few potential options). This place is full of logo designers, which means expert advice for free – not something you get offered every day. In return, you can't help but rate other logos, or browsing through the site for inspiration.

I f you're feeling particularly brave, push your current logo into the viper nest to see if it's time for an upgrade – or try your competitor's logo for a bit of Monday Morning Sport.

 

Why Basecamp May Not Be Perfect and How Less can Sometimes be Too Little

I break out in a cold sweat when I consider saying ANYTHING negative about Basecamp out in the open -  I have seen others bombarded with hate mail for mentioning 'Basecamp' and 'Not perfect' in the same sentence. However, over here, we're thinking very seriously about web 2.0 applications, what is missing and what holes need filling. So my eyes just got a whole lot more critical. 

Is Less More?

We have a running joke about how 37 Signals can proclaim 'We just cut features from Basecamp' and have crowds flock to sign-up/pay more. How they have the perfect marketing pitch – 'You can pay us more to offer you less!'. For the most part I love it, but recently I worked on a project that involved 3 seperate businesses and 22 page layouts, and Basecamp left a lot to be desired.

3 Business 22 Pages, Not Huge Right? 

But a couple of weeks into it, I had no idea where each page was at, and the only way to find out was to trawl through the messages to locate the last message/comments posted about a particular page. Tim can vouch that it drove me insane. We even resorted to email just to de-clutter our project space!!! It struck me that we weren't so unique. All projects have tasks, and all those tasks need tracking. If you have more than about 5 individual tasks, I'm just not sure how Basecamp caters for you.

So Is Less More? Or is it Just Less? 

Maybe this is more of a rant about extreme simplicity in the general Web 2.0 space. Can you seriously use something that just doesn't do much? I'd say Basecamp is one of the more complex of the web 2.0 tools, and it's just managing to balance successfully right on that line between exceptionally cool, and kinda useless. And I wonder if it would be so bad to add a feature or two (I mean, Basecamp is quite well established now as a product), add a little task tracking functionality, even in it's most simple form (ie. Assigning messages/files to an item (task) on a to do list)? 

But 37 Signals are so clear on there 'less is more' approach that I can't help but be peer pressured into believing that I'm of the old school of complex software, that I'm just not making full use of the simple, elegant flexibility they offer. And even though I was left frustrated and confused at many points in that particular project, it was still completed on time, which may mean that 'project management utopia' simply means something a little different from what I had imagined?

 

The Difference Between “Traditional Design” and “Designed Traditionally”

A friend of mine is organising a website upgrade for the company she works for. She asked me to look over the proposal she had been given, one she is not particularly excited about.

I commented that the company sounds like they design websites in a very traditional way, the 'insert 1/4 page text here', 'this will be a  marketing bubble' way. She said she agrees but her boss wants a very traditional looking website. I found it interesting that the two things: a traditional looking website and a website designed in an out of date way, are confused. A lot of people like the idea of a website that is built to generate new business, but they seem to associate those principles with bright sparkly sites, not your average corporate look. 

Traditionally Designed Websites 

I use this to describe the type of websites that were made a few years ago. The ones that have had little thought put into the desired outcomes, the users and the content. Fair enough as the web is still relatively new and these were designed without the benefit of the research we now have. However, because they were designed a few years ago, most of them also look quite traditional and 'corporate'.

Traditional Looking Websites 

These websites are your general corporate sites. Toned down, aimed at a mature and professional audience.

But they don't have to go hand in hand.

The thing is, regardless of age of professional status, most people use the web in the same way: to get information and to make decisions. If a website is designed without much thought put into these things, it is bound to be a failure. That is something traditionally designed websites have taught us.

Obviously, a lot of designers are aware that the 'corporate style' is not necessarily the way to go, even if your audiences is conservative 50 year old men… but at the end of the day, it's just a look. The most funadamental requirement of a successful website is that it is structured around your goals and your users, from there any look and feel can be applied.

 

Don’t Market to your Customers – Teach Them

What I love about things like blogging and Word of Mouth Marketing is how you 'win' customers honestly – by being inspirational.

I hate some of those famous marketing campaign successes, like cigarette companies who had women march down the street smoking to mark 'women's liberation' and associate that with the ability to smoke.

I love successful 'marketing campaigns' that involve passionate business owners creating passionate customers by teaching them enough about their business that their customers become just as excited as the owner is:

Because what you believe in, you can teach. And teaching is the "killer app" for a newer, more ethical approach to marketing. While in the past, those who out-spent (on ads, and big promotions) would often win, that's becoming less and less true today for a lot of things–especially the things designed for a younger, more-likely-to-be-online user community. – Creating Passionate Users

No, your product/service may not change the world, and it doesn't need to. What it does need to do is make life that little bit better for your customers, and it's up to you to help them understand and love what it does do, until they become your greatest marketing tool – your customer evangalists.

 

 

Smarter Time Tracking with 88 Miles

A while back I wrote about Harvest, an excellent web based time tracking tool.

Harvest

However, after a few weeks of using it, I noticed one small but serious flaw: I use time tracking so that I don't have to think about how much time I spend on various projects because the tool is doing to job for me. However, Harvest requires you to write in your total hours – invariably you end up having to use scraps of paper to write down when you started and finished, then do the calculations yourself and type in the final number. For the tremendously organised or mathematical, this is a none issue, but for the likes of me, it meant giving up on time management.

88 Miles

 

88 Miles solves that problem. With a 'punch in' 'punch out' system, you simply click a button when you start working on a project, then click another one when you've finished. It does the rest for you. 

88 Miles is very, very simple; you add companies, projects and then click the relevent start/finish buttons as you make your way through the workday. And this guy 'eats his own dog food' – 88 Miles was made to sort out his own time management issues, and he's giving it away for free.

 

Manage your Deals and Prospects with Pipeline

SugarCRMWe host our own open source version of SugarCRM as our sales tool, and I must say we have no qualms. In fact it is a jPipelineoy to use and played an important role in evolutionone. However, being the inquisitive creatures that we are, I couldn't help but test out Pipeline and am currently very impressed. 

Talk about fast! And all ajaxy so there seems to be virtually no page reloading at all. It seems to have everything a small business needs to start managing their pipeline so much better – and the one person gang gets the whole thing for free. 

I doubt we will be moving on from SugarCRM just yet, but I love the page layout with the 'general to do's' , maps, files, people and of course the summary. I am trying out the free version, so cannot say how well it handles multiple salespeople and how decent the summaries and reports are. I can say, however, that most small businesses seem to struggle with managing their sales opportunities and Pipeline would be a massive step up for most of them.