I spent much of February watching dozens hours of figure skating coverage NBC’s networks broadcast from the Sochi Olympics. I’m a die-hard skating fan, so this was the culmination of a whole season’s worth of figure skating events I’d been following. Starting in the fall, I’d been eagerly setting my DVR for the early competitions that serve as tune-ups for the Olympics.
But it turns out those early events aren’t just chances for the skaters to perfect their programs. As I watched these events, I slowly started to realize: Hey, NBC is beta-testing its broadcast!
For one thing, NBC and its sister networks were trying out different commentators in different combinations (it’s where Sochi’s star duo of Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski first started calling performances, though not necessarily together). But NBC was also playing around with what to show on the screen during a performance.
Here’s one example: During the Olympics, NBC would show a clock on the screen at the halfway mark of a figure skating performance, indicating that the skater would get a bonus for any jump completed from then on. The “bonus clock” showed up at some of the earlier events, too.
But a number of other events had this instead:
In the upper left-hand corner of the screen, there was a running tally of the technical scores each skater was receiving. It was updating “live-ish” — since humans still do the scoring, there was a bit of a delay — and it would often show the total a few seconds after the skater was done.
I always found the tally distracting — mostly because it was so specific but also too late to tell me how much a particular thing I’d just seen was worth. It wasn’t actually giving me information I wanted to know in real-time, and because of that, I would have rather waited till the final scores were revealed at the end of a performance rather than get annoyed by a widget that was trying to tell me something and failing.
Lo and behold, when the Olympics broadcast showed up, there was no score tally! So I suppose someone somewhere agreed and decided to go in a different direction.
This made me wonder: How many other sports did NBC “beta-broadcast” before the Olympics? For some sports, like hockey, NBC already has a standard way of filming and commentating. But what about the fringier sports that most of us only see every four years, like ski jumping or luge? How many iterations did NBC try before deciding that the bobsled clock should turn green when a team was ahead of the current leader and go back to white when they fell behind? How long did it take to figure out when to show the average miles per hour on the screen during long-track speed skating races?
In browsing through videos as I wrote this, I found a ton of videos from Universal Sports, one of NBC’s networks, of World Cups and other pre-Olympic races in a whole bunch of sports. I bet if I flipped through them, I’d find plenty of rejected ideas that NBC decided weren’t ready for prime time. I’d love to be inside that decision-making process and understand how NBC chose which features to keep on screen. Did they use research? Technical feasibility? Aesthetic preferences? Or something else entirely?
Before I was on the professional side of the user experience “glass,” I offered my expertise to the field in a different way: as a participant in a fairly large number of usability and market research studies.
It started when I was a college student, looking for a quick way to make some extra pocket change. Friends told me about various survey bureaus and testing companies where I could submit a profile and get contacted about research opportunities. If I qualified for a study, I could earn cash or other perks — and sometimes even get to keep the products (a pair of socks here, a bottled milkshake there). I happened to fall into a demographic researchers wanted to tap, so I had my pick of studies for a while. I never made any significant cash, but it was nice to get a check for $10 or $20 every month or so — or convert a pile of fake-money “points” into Target gift cards or magazine subscriptions. And given my current career, I suppose those hours spent clicking “strongly agree” bubbles or returning taste-test notes paid off in other ways, too.
Now that I’m on the other side, I think there’s a tendency to be skeptical of research participants. “People will do anything for the money” — right? Don’t get me wrong: Usability and user experience researchers are deeply appreciative of the people who take a bit of time out of their day to try out a new website, test a router set-up, or talk candidly about their personal experiences. But as a researcher, there’s a fear of being taken advantage of: Is this person really an IT specialist? Does this other one really bank online three or more times a week? Or are they just trying to slip through the screener, fool me, do the minimum required, mess up all my data, and walk out with a nice, fat check?
I’m not going to claim money wasn’t my prime motivation, especially when I started participating in research. And as the paydays for studies get bigger — beyond just a $5 check or a couple of free lattes — I’m sure the temptation to twist key facts just enough to squeak into a study intensifies.
But there are lots of reasons to participate in research beyond just the money at the end. In fact, the longer I spent as a research panel member, the more I saw the rewards shrink (from $10 to $5 to $2 to some points I could maybe redeem for something down the line) — and yet, I still kept clicking on the link that said “Take me to the Survey!”
So why do it, if not for (or at least in addition to) the money?
The major reasons I kept participating:
I like seeing new products first. Always have, always will. I got a weird little thrill from seeing a particular body wash scent that I (and certainly hundreds of others) had recommended show up on drugstore shelves. I got to taste snacks that never went to market — some for good reason! And I got to see previews of what some of my favorite websites would look like after a redesign. Just knowing something that not everyone knew was a huge motivator for me.
I like making things better. As a participant, you never really know how seriously your feedback will be taken or how much of a difference you’ll make — but I always wanted to try. If I really thought a product should be priced at $3 rather than $2 or $4, I had the chance to say so. If I thought a login screen was confusing or couldn’t find the right option for shipping an online purchase, maybe someone would fix it. And since most of my research opportunities were about products or services I actually used or would want to if they existed, there was a good chance those changes would directly benefit me.
I was curious about the research process. This grew as I got more and more sucked into participating. Where did my feedback go? How did it mesh with what others thought? Why did some people just get an online survey link while others got invited in for a focus group? Could something I said actually make a product end up on (or not on) the shelves? What did the researchers do with all this data? (Fast-forward a few years, and I’d be in grad school, finding out.)
I asked around the EchoUser research department, and my colleagues mentioned a few other reasons they’d seen participants come to studies:
- A feeling of importance: “Someone’s listening to my opinion!”
- An opportunity to air complaints.
- The desire to know what’s coming up in a given industry.
- An interest in “giving back” or doing something productive with free time.
- A chance to try something before committing to a purchase.
- An interest in learning something new.
- A curiosity about getting a job in research. (Hey, worked for me!)
Yeah, the money’s great. It probably is what gets people in the door, most of the time. But there are other motivations for the people who might walk into your lab or click on your survey. And that’s something I try to keep in mind every time I catch myself rolling my eyes and saying, “Eh, they’re just here for the $100.”
It’s that time of year again when tech’s best put their ideas forward for next spring’s SXSW Interactive conference — and this year, EchoUser is among them. We’ve got not one, not two, but three great panels currently up for vote at the SXSW Panel Picker, and we could use your thumbs-up to help us represent in Austin. What ideas would we bring to the SXSW community? Below, check out the panel pitches from our own Mick McGee, Boaz Gurdin, and Garrett Godsey.
How can UX professionals truly lead in the companies they work for and the products they work on? How big a role can they really play when engineers have the power of code and business executives make the final call.
Companies are flocking to User Experience methodologies as a way to improve their business and are staffing up their internal UX teams along the way—but are the voices of UX professionals getting heard early enough— or taken seriously enough—to influence decisions at the highest level? Or will UX architects, designers and researchers always be making incremental improvements?
False dichotomy? Sure. Important discussion topic? We think so.
This session will tackle questions of leadership, ownership, organizational structure and the impact that UX professionals can have in their organizations, as well as discussing trends which may pose challenges.
The discussion will be led by Mick McGee and Dan Rosenberg, who both have decades of experience in UX leadership.
Vote for UX Leadership: Is It Dead?
From EchoUser’s Boaz Gurdin:
As interaction designers, we design how people spend their time. Judging by the amount of distracted multi-tasking, stress from information overload, and struggle for work-life balance, we’re doing a pretty bad job of keeping people in control of their time.
One reason that we suck at designing how people spend their time is that our core ways of representing how people interact with technology, such as user journey maps and flow models, fail to represent how people multi-task. We ignore the context of how people spend their time outside of our user journey and flows. By ignoring the possibility that people have anything better to do than engage with our products and services, we often distract people instead of focusing their time on the people and interests that matter to them most. As interaction designers, we need to recognize that our medium is time, and we need to become masters of our medium. We have the power and responsibility to redesign how people spend their time.
Vote for Time: The Invisible Design Medium
For designers of complex user interfaces, the prospect of designing experiences for virtual reality is a challenge we’ve been longing for. But where do we start and when should we be ready?
Recently, companies like Oculus and Zeiss have built the next revolution of consumer priced virtual reality headsets. These devices provide high definition first person views of an immersive virtual world, plugging directly in to computers and gaming consoles. Mainstream virtual experiences are here.
The implications are impressive: movies, gaming, immersive learning, CAD visualization, and first person views of remote controlled equipment. All of these areas will need beautiful and usable design.
How can we prepare to design for these new immersive experiences? What design strategies could we lean on? How would the process differ from the one we apply to today’s UI, UX, and usability challenges?
Here, our Garrett Godsey pitches it to you:
Vote for To Virtual and Beyond!
Community voting is open now through September 6, so click over and let us know what you think!