The What-The-Hell effect

The Psy Blog has an interesting article on the What-The-Hell effect:

They invited participants to a study, some who were dieting and others who weren't. They were all told not to eat beforehand and then served exactly the same slice of pizza when they arrived, then asked to taste and rate some cookies.

Except the experimenters didn't much care how the cookies were rated, just how many they ate. That's because they'd carried out a little trick. Although everyone was given the same slice of pizza; when it was served up, for some participants it was made to look larger by comparison.

This made some people think they'd eaten more than they really had; although in reality they'd all eaten exactly the same amount. It's a clever manipulation and it means we can just see the effect of thinking you've eaten too much rather than actually having eaten too much.

When the cookies were weighed it turned out that those who were on a diet and thought they'd blown their limit ate more of the cookies than those who weren't on a diet. In fact over 50% more!


Myspace killed by usability

UX Mag linked to an interesting thread from a soon-to-be laid off Myspace employee who sheds some light on the company's demise.

I'd guess the problem was that the people were using the features. If they were doing surveys, I bet everyone was rating highly the ability to customise their own page. And (some) people do like a high level of customisation. People bitched and moaned at Facebook to allow it too. What they may have missed is a survey of people currently not using Myspace. Because I'd bet that a reason for leaving/using Facebook instead was the clean, elegant look of Facebook, compared to the eye-bleach that most 14 year old girls turned their Myspaces into. People like customising, but they don't like it when other people can customise too. Sometimes, cutting that customisation is a good thing.

Facebook is a good argument to give people what they need, not what they think they need.

The sad thing is, the people who made all those gaudy, flashy, obnoxious myspace sites liked them, but then they all went to Facebook because Facebook let them do what they wanted to do with as little bullshit as possible, and it turns out they didn't really want what they thought they wanted. This should be a cardinal rule for every business: people, for the most part, have no fucking idea what they want until it lands in their fucking laps.


Use the pen!

As touch devices become ubiquitous, folks expect all devices to work like them. I've been seeing a lot of signs like these lately:

Use the pen sign on a credit card reader


Behind the scenes of a redesign

37 Signals has a behind the scenes post on their recent redesign. The article underscores how much work goes into getting a final product that does its job and doesn't abandon clarity for cleverness.


Make your text boxes bigger!

Want to help your customers avoid making mistakes? Increase the size of the text boxes in your forms. Folks are more likely to notice typos if the text is bigger. It's also easier for them to scan a completed form for errors once they have it filled out.

While you're at it, avoid inline form labels.


Avoid Flash and frivolous animation

Okay, here's a dirty little secret of the web design world. Designers like doing big exciting animated areas for their clients because they are fun to do and we can charge a lot for them.

Why business owners should avoid frivolous animation:

  • Most web animation is created with Adobe Flash which doesn't work on the iPhone or iPad.
  • Animated content is more expensive to create and to update.
  • It generally takes longer to load.
  • Customers associate animation with banners and advertising and are less likely to pay attention to it.
  • An animated menu or cool transition from page to page might be neat the first time but gets annoying quick.
  • While Google is getting better at indexing Flash, websites built in HTML (with well written URLs, page titles, links, headings, and content) rank higher in search engines.

A few years back MTV spent a lot of time and money developing a fancy interactive animated Flash site. If anyone appreciates cool animation and effects it's MTV's viewers right? Wrong. MTV found out that their customers weren't there to be entertained by the website - they were there to be entertained by the website content.

Save time and money and give your customers what they came to your site for - your products and services.


Quit screwing around and launch your website

I've worked on a few sites that have literally been delayed for months because of something as simple as a link color.

Here's the deal - your customers only care whether or not your site solves their problem or meets their need. If your site doesn't do that, they aren't sticking around. Even if you find that perfect link color.

Launch your site and your customers will tell you what to focus on.


The Web Is Killing Radio, Newspapers, Magazines, and TV

Dramatic graph from the Google I/O conference.

From 2004 to 2009, stats from Forrester say that use of the web is up 117% in terms of how people spend their time in a day. That may not be too surprising, but what’s interesting is that all of the other major forms of media consumption are down or flat during the same period.


2 things we can learn from Google Wave's demise

Like a lot of people I only had a vague idea of what Google Wave was. There's an interesting postmortem over at Tech Crunch and I think there are two things we can learn from the much hyped Google Wave:

1. If you can't explain the benefit of your business, service or product in a single clear concise sentence then you need to rethink it.

2. It's okay to fail if you learn something from it.

From Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

We try things. Remember, we celebrate our failures. This is a company where it’s absolutely okay to try something that’s very hard, have it not be successful, and take the learning from that.


Rotating content areas are lame

Auto rotating content areas have been popping up everywhere lately. These widgets generally rotate through a site's latest stories in an area at the top of the page.

Rotating content area on

Auto rotating content area on

Here are some reasons why they are lame:

  • The web is an active medium not a passive one. Most people will not sit and wait for a web page to cycle through stories. Many readers will be off and looking at something else before this area even loads.
  • If you do start reading the content, chances are it will rotate on you while you are reading.
  • The story links are usually too small to give you a good idea what the story is about.
  • If a site publishes a lot of stories it's hard to tell where you left off when you return.
  • Accidental mouseovers run rampant.

If you want to better serve your constant readers, stick to a blog format or at the very least, don't rotate your content.