Houzz: Mobile isn't always Better

Now that we have a house, I feel like I can finally utilize all the core competencies I've been building watching approximately a bajillion hours of HGTV. Of course, on TV every contractor is lithe, attractive and looking out for your best interest. In reality, it's more like you are lucky if they aren't weird and/or shafting you.

Hearing about so many horror stories, I was really happy to discover apps that can help with sourcing and vetting vendors. One of those is Houzz, but their mobile app leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, I believe some features are buried and perhaps it's because the organization is not ready to invest in their success. Continue reading "Houzz: Mobile isn't always Better"

Another Perspective on Stuff You Fill Out

I was scrolling through Twitter today when a Tweet by someone I don't follow about a topic I'm privileged not to be intimately familiar with happened to catch my eye:

I say I'm privileged because, while I joke about being blind because I've been wearing glasses since 2nd grade, I'm not actually impaired. I've never had to experience this wild and wonderful thing we call the internet without the gift of sight. And, throughout my career as a web developer, accessibility was often an after-thought.

Continue reading "Another Perspective on Stuff You Fill Out"

Dark Patterns

Sometimes things happen and they are just coincidence and sometimes things happen, especially on the internet, and someone explicitly went out of their way to make that happen. You may find this when you are casually browsing a retail site for a pair of shoes and then, through the magic of something called "retargeting," you keep seeing advertisements for that same pair of shoes. At this point, we all see this coming so it doesn't come as a surprise.

Everyone is tracking us everywhere — and sometimes we willingly let them track us by volunteering information about ourselves (i.e. what we all do on Facebook day in and day out). This is okay as long as everyone's complicit; when the product you are using is free, YOU are the product (the selling of information about you to target selling you stuff, in essence).

What I find far more disturbing is a trend toward dark patterns that I'm seeing in the design of products. I define a dark pattern as a product that takes you somewhere that you as a user don't want to go. It's intentionally leading you to something you may not want — usually the end game is to lead you to something that is profitable for the product but not so great for the consumer.

Dark Bouquet by Jen Gallardo
Dark Bouquet by Jen Gallardo

Continue reading "Dark Patterns"

In the Eye of a Hurricane

In case you've been living under a rock, there was a massive hurricane that impacted the Gulf Coast (Hurricane Harvey) and now another even bigger storm heading toward southern Florida (Hurricane Irma). I've now gotten to the point where I've typed the word hurricane too many times; so much so that I'm starting to doubt that I'm spelling it correctly.

I knew some people in Harvey's path but most of my family could potentially be in Irma's path so it's more top of mind for me. I haven't yet turned on the (cable) news because I have a feeling it's going to be devastation porn so, in order to get a sense of where this storm is going, I've been looking at my Weather Underground app (which I love) that has a hurricane tracker and also googling a bit for pieces of information here and there.

And this is where technology gets a little weird. Continue reading "In the Eye of a Hurricane"

The importance of feedback in user experiences

I wrote this piece on Medium first about my work as a Product Manager:

I work in a large room that’s offset from a larger and more public area. The room is locked, so that only people who work for my company can enter as long as they have an ID badge with the appropriate permissions assigned. There are two doors through which one can enter the room. These doors can be opened by anyone from the inside of the room, but you must first push a red button adjacent to the door.

Buzzers
Buzz Me by Jen Gallardo

Continue reading "The importance of feedback in user experiences"

Finding a Home

Finding a home is probably now one of my new-found least-favorite activities. I think it ranks up there with cleaning floors and doing laundry, which are some of my least favorite chores. I should probably clarify; finding a home that is within the realm of what I want to pay, doesn't increase my already hour-long commute and has laundry within the unit is a huge chore. Continue reading "Finding a Home"

Whatever happened to digital photo albums?

Anthony and I were in Montreal over the weekend. We had a blast and, unsurprisingly, spent a lot of time eating. During one of those moments, we happened to be in the Old Montreal area at a restaurant called Le Robin Square enjoying a leisurely lunch. We had VERY leisurely lunches. While the service at all the restaurants we visited was great, we noticed there's a bit of a slower pace of life in Montreal — especially when it comes to dining — that is pretty much unheard of in New York. Not a bad thing but just different!

This poutine did not stand a chance!
This poutine did not stand a chance!

While we were there for lunch, we happened to notice the restaurant had a TV screen with some digital ambiance playing on it. This consisted of a stock video of a vineyard and you could see the leaves gently swaying in the wind. This got me thinking about the idea of the "digital picture frame."

Remember when that was a thing? Continue reading "Whatever happened to digital photo albums?"

Luxury User Experiences: Chanel

If you know me, you know that I'm mildly obsessed with nail polish. I have a large box in my dresser containing various colors and styles – as well as nail art tools. Selecting a polish to wear can sometimes be really difficult (seriously, it's like choosing among children!) so I'll ask my dear husband to weigh in. Most recently, he selected one of my all-time favorite polishes, Essie's Chinchilly.

Chances are you are not like me and know the names of all your favorite nail polishes. However, Chinchilly is a legend so you've probably seen it without knowing you were looking for it. I've had women in the elevator stop me and ask me if the color they are admiring on my fingers is Chinchilly. It's a seriously "greige" color; a bit of neutral and grey and even lavender depending on the light.

Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day
Essie Chinchilly on a chilly day

When I decided to begin painting my nails with my bottle of Chinchilly, I discovered a dire situation — the bottle was past its prime and beyond repair. I have some nail polishes that get a bit gloopy (really thick and barely manageable because they are probably actually expired…) but they are still somewhat useable so I keep them around. But this time, most of the bottle had been used and what was left over was the nail polish equivalent of backwash.

I considered instantly re-buying it on Amazon but I held off because I thought that might be a bit excessive (and dear husband would've surely made fun of me!). Instead I bought a new bottle later at Rite-Aid. But that's not the point. The point is I thought about the experience of re-buying something that you absolutely love. Continue reading "Luxury User Experiences: Chanel"

An Update on Wearables: Fitbit Charge HR

A little while ago I wrote about the market on "wearables" for women. I did some research on a few different options in part to share here and also in part because I was interested in picking one up for myself. I did finally end up picking one up, but it may not be what you might've expected me to select.

I thought Ringly was really really pretty but ultimately I decided a little too impractical. And, while the Apple Watch would be in line with my Apple sensibilities, it is a little too pricey and, frankly, a little bulkier than I would like it to be given my small wrists. I realized that, for me, I would prefer a wearable more for its ability to track my caloric expenditure per day and my sleep per night. Anything beyond that is a nice to have.

With this in mind, I narrowed down my search to the recently revamped Jawbone Up3 and the Fitbit Charge HR. When it comes to new tech, I typically consult with my younger brother who I trust about these things. He also owns a Jawbone so I thought it would be great to get his opinion from his own life experience — and he recommended I opt for the Fitbit, much to my surprise.

So, when I had the opportunity to get one of these for free via some points I racked up, I opted with the Fitbit Charge HR. I think the form factor of the Jawbone is still more appealing to me (feels much smaller and more discreet) but I've found I like the Fitbit and I've found its tiny display helpful. Even though I went for the "small" size of the Fitbit Charge HR, it still feels big on my wrist and it took a little while to get used to. That said, I got it in black and I think the textured pattern to the wrist strap is very sophisticated and keeps it from getting easily scuffed-looking. The tiny display does get scuffed (I bump into walls sometimes…) but it's pretty easy to clean and rather resilient. The thing is pretty sturdy and I like that the black is pretty gender neutral.

I like the fact that it only has one button — that's it! If I tap the display face or tap the button it has the same effect, but the tap is something you can customize. You can also customize how it displays the date and time (I like seeing the time and then today's date underneath) when you hit the button once as well as what pieces of data it tracks that you'd like to see when hitting the button subsequent times.

While the Fitbit Charge HR says it can automatically track your activity, you can also tell it, "hey, I'm exercising right now so track me accordingly!" I use this feature a lot when I go to my muay thai (i.e. kickboxing) class. All I do is simply hold down the button until I feel a little vibration; once the unit vibrates, I know it is tracking my exercise explicitly. Also, I should mention that, while I can't speak for other activity trackers, this one is wearable during activity like this. For better accuracy during periods of activity, Fitbit recommends wearing the device a bit further up the arm (away from the hand) so I usually just push it up and wrap my hands just adjacent to it. It doesn't get in the way and tucks nicely into boxing gloves so for amateur training, this is a great way to track just how much you burn while training.

The best part of the Fitbit though is probably the app. Their app is well-designed; it looks pretty and it works. And, if you have a phone with an accelerometer, you don't even need to have a Fitbit to use their app. This makes it way more fun to engage in their "Challenges" where you and your friends compete for the most steps in a given period of time. That said, if you do have the Fitbit Charge HR and happen to wear it while you sleep, the app will tell you how well you slept every morning. I find this information super valuable as it helps me understand how cranky I'm predisposed to be that day (I admit, I am not the nicest person when I'm tired). I also find it fantastic that it just knows when I'm sleeping — I did not have to tell it that I was going to sleep, which is impressive in that human sleep patterns are so easily discernible by our future robot overlords…

I also find the Fitbit goals very interesting. I'm currently trying to shed a few pounds to get back to my goal weight and so I set a weight goal. I tell Fitbit app how much I weigh every so often and it will keep a log for me (if I had their scale, I suppose I wouldn't even need to tell Fitbit, but I'm not in the market for a new scale so can't validate that purchase!). It will also tell me how many calories I should eat to make my goal weight in the given period of time I told it I want to get there. What's really great about the Fitbit app is that it integrates rather nicely with MyFitnessPal, which already has a fantastic interface for food journaling. So I enter my food intake into MyFitnessPal and then the Fitbit app knows how many calories went in and, based on my heart rate, how many calories went out. Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit and this app is able to make that incredibly plain in a really easy to follow way.

Overall, I really enjoy how the Fitbit app focuses on the positive aspects of fitness rather than all the "fitness inspiration" that can just be defeating or guilt-tripping which nobody likes. Allowing anyone to play Challenges, even folks who don't have a Fitbit, is really democratic and it makes it really fun. With the Challenges, my only gripe is that I wish there were more options such as being able to create challenges based on calories burned. Gameification is a huge motivator for folks and I think a lot of people already do this in their work places with "biggest loser" challenges so why not extend that functionality to live within this app?

I have two complaints but they are relatively minor. The first is regarding the heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor can definitely light up your room at night if you are wearing the device loosely against your wrist — it would be great if there was a way to avoid the flashing lights! My second complaint is regarding charging. While I appreciate that it sends an email (yes, it emails you to let you know that it needs some juice!), I wish I didn't have to use this very specific-to-Fitbit wire to charge the thing. This means that, if my Fitbit is dead while I'm away from home, it would be impossible to charge unless I have the specific cord for charging it. Ideally, I'd love to be able to just set it down on a platform to charge wirelessly but, if it has to be a wire, I would've just preferred that to be something more universal like mini or micro USB as I already carry some of these wires in my bag for other purposes.

Finally, if there's one thing that really sets Fitbit apart it's the "surprise and delight" factor. When I fully charge my Fitbit and attempt to unplug it from charging, I usually see a message on the screen. This is not something I ever customized but it displays some sort of vaguely motivational message like "Rock On" or "Go." It is subtle but one of those really nice touches and, to some degree, it serves a purpose as it lets me know that, yes, this device is now fully charged and ready for action.

To summarize my feelings on this particular wearable, I find that I'm wearing it more than I'm not wearing it! I only take it off when I have to shower or charge it — otherwise it is tracking my steps and activity. And, while I know there are way more features in other wearables, I find that the Fitbit Charge HR has just the right amount to meet my needs.

The Pink One: Designing for Women

Inc Magazine published an amazing piece by Jen Alsever in 2014 outlining how companies should market tech to women. In short: Houston, we have a pink problem!

I have no idea where this came from but there appears to be some prevailing logic among marketers (perhaps mostly the male decision makers? I digress…) that women will buy something as long as the item in question is pink. Perhaps the worst (and simultaneously best!) example of this is when BIC, the company that creates writing implements, decided to create "BIC for Her." The marketing for this pen — which, by the way, was just like their other pens except pink on the outside — seemed to imply that women had been waiting eons and FINALLY the good folks at BIC created a pen for the ladies! Needless to say, Amazon reviewers have had a field day with this.

Today I discovered that KOSS, a brand that creates affordable headphones that I happen to really like, has a rather unfortunate filtering criteria on their shopping website.

forwomen

Within the "earbuds" category, KOSS' filtering criteria tells me that in the "For Women" category there is only one option. Who on earth decided that of the 20 earbuds listed on their shop, only one pair was appropriate for women? And furthermore, who decided that the "FitBuds" (which come in colors like Coral and Mint!) are exclusively for women? Do men not enjoy colorful earbuds? And, while I can acknowledge that maybe some women have smaller ears, surely having small ears / ear canals is not a problem exclusively faced by women. That said, I own earbuds from KOSS; the ones I own are not in the "For Women" category which begs the question: why even have a "For Women" category at all? How about filtering criteria based on scale (large buds / medium buds / small buds)? Or filtering criteria based on color (colorful / printed design / black)?

Not only is the KOSS approach lazy but it's also insulting and demeaning to women. While brands probably do not intend for this to be the result, they are making assumptions about a market they are trying to reach. These assumptions are simply validating that they know very little about the market they are aiming for and have done very little to educate themselves. And I say it is lazy because, per Alsever's second point in the Inc article, "women" is pretty broad as far as being a segment you are looking to target.

In the past, I came down on the Coach handbag company for this but it seems like their website has evolved! Their marketing used to infer that their beautiful leather totes and briefcases were only of interest to men. Their web shopping experience used to put all of these bags under the "Men" heading. Now, I'm happy to say that under "Women" they have a "Business Bag" category which includes many of the fine leather bags that are gender neutral. They also have a "For Everyone" header which is nice to see for gender identities that aren't so black and white.

In short, I've reached out to KOSS on their Twitter account to implore them to fix their filtering. Given that I do really enjoy using their products, I hope they will consider making some efforts to avoid pink-washing their marketing.