Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Add a little more random to your product

An argument for serendipity in product design ...

"You know the feeling: You follow a near-random trail of blog links and land on the post that solves your big business problem. You randomly flip through a physics book and find next week's sermon. You're shopping for discount dog food when you find your dream date. It's the powerful charm of the iPod Shuffle ("How did it KNOW that's just the song I needed to hear right now..."). It's serendipity. And maybe we should build more opportunities for it into our products, services, and lives.

In user experience design, especially, we often work our asses off to remove unpredictability. That's a good thing, mostly. An interface that does what you expect drops away so you can focus on whatever it is you're using the product to do. While we assume that randomness plays a big role in games, we do our best to strip it from "serious" products and services. But there are plenty of ways to keep a user experience consistent while still supporting--even encouraging--the chance for serendipity. And serendipity is delightful, astonishing, sexy, rewarding, inspiring...

When the iPod Shuffle first came out, the ads were based on the theme, "Life is random." I thought it was one of the lamest marketing spins ever. I imagined the meetings, "Let's spin the lack of display as a feature. Yeah, that's it. We'll sell the inability to choose your music as a benefit!"

But I was so so so wrong. Within a few weeks' of the Shuffle's release, the serendipity effect had kicked in. "OMG! That was the perfect song for this!" "Seriously. It can't be random. It's putting songs together that just... work*" The Shuffle was getting people out of their playlist ruts. Out of the music comfort zones we all fall into (emo, anyone?). Exposing them to songs they'd loaded onto their pre-Shuffle iPod but that never seemed to be one of The Chosen Ones. Think about it. Think about all the music on your (non-Shuffle) iPod, computer, or vintage CD rack. Now think about the subset you actually listen to regularly. For most of us, it's a pathetically small set. By literally forcing people to listen to randomly-chosen songs, the Shuffle was constantly delighting, surprising, rewarding, stretching users. And users loved it."    (Continued via Creating Passionate Users)    [Usability Resources]

Serendipity Curve - Usability, User Interface Design

Serendipity Curve

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