IGNITE SEATTLE TALK
Design is about communication: taking something complicated and making it simple and desirable. This talk isn’t about design, but it is about breaking down something complex (music theory) and bringing it alive on stage.
Evernote Journal is an app concept I created for Evernote.
Evernote Journal: Product Strategy
Evernote has one overarching design goal: to increase value to the user over time. The more stuff people put into Evernote, the more valuable it becomes. That’s how Evernote makes money. But not all stuff is created equal. The notes you took from your calculus class in college and the to-do list you wrote last week – these things fade in importance over time.
Here’s what becomes more important over time: your memories. Facebook understands this, and it’s the basis behind its timeline redesign.
So here’s the design challenge: how can Evernote get people to put more personal memories into Evernote? Most people think of Evernote as a productivity tool – the place for their grocery list or notes, but not the place to jot down their private thoughts and memories.
What if we approached it from a different angle? What if instead of trying to get Evernote users to write more personal stuff in Evernote, we went after the people who are already writing down their memories?
That’s the idea behind Evernote Journal. Go after people who keep journals, and turn them into Evernote users.
Value increases over time. I could write in my journal for years and years, but when I want to look back at my old entries, the experience is the same. Flip through the pages one by one. It feels a bit like looking at the past with a microscope. The value of my journal isn’t really increasing over time, because there’s no good way to experience or understand my memories. To see how Evernote Journal solves this problem, watch the video.
Capture, not curate. Scrapbooks are great at preserving memories, but they’re time consuming to make. Scrapbook makers spend all their time curating photos – which feels a bit like work. Evernote Journal is designed so that the user spends their time capturing, not curating. He can steal moments throughout the day to quickly jot down their thoughts. He can write in it like he would to a friend – there’s no tagging topics or locations or other things that feel like work. Evernote Journal’s text-mining, sentiment analysis, and location-awareness takes care of the curating so the user doesn’t need to think about it.
Private: my true self. A journal must feel like a safe place – the place where someone can write – uncensored – with no lingering thoughts about what an audience might think. That’s why password protection is a V1 feature. The mobile app design has a passcode lock, and the synchronized notes in Evernote would also need password protection. It’s also why Evernote Journal is a separate app, and not a feature within Evernote. People don’t write down journal entries in the same notebook they keep their class notes – they want a separate, private place.
I explored several different iOS navigation models, including the popular bottom tab navigation. In the end, I decided against this because Evernote Journal is a simple enough app that it didn’t need tabs that would have taken up space unnecessarily.
In this exploration, the user could star the journal entries that are significant or memorable. Then, while exploring the trends graph, he could see how those starred entries (key moments) affected his happiness over time.
Of all my UI explorations, this is my favorite. I would experiment with this one more before building the app.
Here’s how it works: let’s say the user is stressed out about getting a promotion at his job. He’s already written, say, four entries that use the word “promotion.” After he finishes up the fifth one, Evernote Journal would recognize this and show him a message – “Hey, you’ve unlocked promotion“. Tap on it, and he can see words he commonly uses with “promotion” (e.g. stress, sleep, proud) and how that affects his mood over time. It’s kind of like having that good friend who notices that you get stressed every time you think about your job.
This experience is especially interesting to me for two reasons:
- It is relevant to the user. Games today have badges or let you unlock achievements. Evernote Journal does this too, but you unlock information about yourself – that’s far more interesting than getting a pre-canned badge or achievement.
- It keeps the user coming back. It’s not just some report that a user can go back and look at. It doesn’t rely on the user suddenly becoming curious about their past and tapping on the trends screen. Instead, it unlocks information – bit by bit – at the exact moment when it is the most relevant – right after they’ve just written about it.
520 or 90
520 or 90 is a mobile app I designed that helps Seattle commuters decide which bridge to take. It was featured in Huffington Post, Techflash Startup of the Week, and was Geekwire Editor’s pick for iOS. It is available on iOS and Android.
520 OR 90: Design iterations of the home screen
When we first thought about 520 or 90, we had this grand map idea in our head. That’s how existing solutions work, after all.
Okay, where do I start with the usability problems we found with this. For most people that we first tested this on, it actually went OK. But if you look deeper, the design had a bunch of holes:
- What if someone makes their start and end taps on the same side of the water? Then they wouldn’t be crossing the bridge, which is the whole point of the app. We’d have to throw up some rude error message, or figure out how to disable half the map when it came time to make the second tap.
- Some people tapped on the 520 and 90 blue circles, expecting us to give a recommendation about the bridge.
- Some people wondered why the map wasn’t showing the current traffic on the roads.
- Then there’s the fat finger problem – users are not going to be completely accurate with their taps, and you shouldn’t expect them to. So, we’d have to provide some way to start over if people screwed up their tap. Meh.
So we came up with an idea to solve the fat finger problem: divide the map into quadrants! Then the user just has to hit a region. You think this would test well?
It didn’t. It was horribly confusing. Once we finally abandoned our grand map vision, we tried a list.
This one tested decently. People understood how to use it. But, look at it. It’s so cluttered. In good design, what isn’t there is just as important as what is.
Okay, so how about a less cluttered design? We wondered whether people would get the “enter a zip code” method:
They didn’t. Not only is it a bunch of extra annoying taps to enter in a number, people don’t always know the zip code of where they’re coming from or going to, and it’s a rude design to expect them to.
In the end, we combined the best parts of the list view with the best parts of the zip code method.
With a combination of custom graphics and jQuery Mobile controls, we get what’s in the app today:
520 OR 90: The asked-for feature that we cut
There’s another feature we were considering for this screen. One that is frequently suggested to us by people we show the app to: location awareness.
Unfortunately, location detection is not instantaneous. It takes the phone a couple seconds. What if the user had selected one thing, and the GPS detected another? Would we just replace their selection without asking? Or pop up an error message asking which one they wanted to use? Yuck.
You know what’s not obvious? Cutting a feature because you just couldn’t get the UI right. But it’s exactly what we did. (It’s also what Dropbox did, and that’s why there’s only one dropbox folder.)
It wasn’t easy to make this call. As engineers, we’re naturally inclined to want to come up with smart solutions that take advantage of the latest technology. It kind of bruised our egos a bit, as if we were somehow now technically inferior for not using location awareness. But, our number one goal was to create a simple design. So, at least for this release, we cut it.
Right now I’m working on some pretty exciting stuff for the next version of Excel. I can’t talk much about it now, but I can’t wait to show you when it comes out.
I create wireframes, run usability tests, iterate on designs, and drive consensus on the designs across the team. I then write specs and work with developers to turn it into a shippable product. Along the way, we make tough tradeoffs, weighing designs against technical feasibility, resources, and performance on an immensely complex product.
For my work on Excel, I have 9 patents pending.
WINDOWS 8 APP
For the past year, I’ve been working on a Windows 8 App for Microsoft. My role is creating disruptive ideas for the mobile form factor and turning them into wireframes and specs. I then work with developers to turn it into a shippable product.
520 OR 90 INFOGRAPHIC
This was an infographic I created to raise awareness of the time vs. money tradeoff between the two major bridges in Seattle. It also promotes the 520 or 90 app that I designed. The Huffington Post cited this infographic in its article about the 520 bridge.
Modular origami, pop-up cards, sliceforms, intersecting tetrahedra and icosahedra are some of the creations I’ve made out of paper and an X-Acto knife. You can check out more creations on Flickr.