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.

I Die Every Time I Hear "The Fold"

I've worked at a lot of different companies, both big and small, and one thing that has been consistent is how people think about laying out content on the web. Most people think about the canvas as a static Photoshop document. A lot of people still think about design as purely existing between a Desktop computer and a user (more on that in a sec!) and then there's the dreaded "fold."

We've come a long way…but some things just don't go away. And I can't tell you how many times I've been disappointed when someone asks "where's the fold on this page?" Did I say disappointed? I actually meant I die a little bit on the inside.

As you can probably tell, I feel a bit strongly about eliminating "the fold" from the vernacular when we talk about web design. There are three key reasons for this:

1. The term is for print, not for web

As far as I can tell, this is a holdover from the print world. In newspapers, there is indeed a fold where the paper is literally folded in half. Arguably, a front-page story that's below the fold doesn't quite have the same splash as the one at the top of the page (above the fold). Pretty logical for print and, in fact, there are numerous other industries that have a similar concept. For example, in film and television production, there's an idea of being "title safe" where there's a certain amount of space around the edges of your frame where you don't put text that you want to ensure people will be able to see.

There are numerous studies (including this one from Nielsen) that indicate people will indeed scroll. There are products (like Pinterest) that depend on people's propensity to scroll. People scroll! People scroll when they are immersed in something; sometimes we are browsing whereas sometimes we want to get to the point quickly because we are more task oriented.

2. The fold is what you make it

If you really want to think about "the fold," then at least let your users tell you where it is. I find so many folks assuming the fold will be at around X hundreds of pixels but the only way to really know for sure is to dive into your analytics package and pull some cold hard data.

More likely than not, looking at browser heights across your users will give you some insights. It's likely that, unless your site is particularly unusable at certain breakpoints, you'll have a distribution that is not unlike the rest of the internet. Additionally, to some degree you have to understand your content hierarchy and how that's making your users feel. More data, like bounce rate, time spent on site or even percentage of the page the user scrolled through before abandoning, can tell you a lot about how your content may not be helping your cause. Again, people will scroll and they will scroll because they want more of what you are giving them; if you aren't giving them what they want, they will bounce (and you'll see that data in your bounce rate and exits).

If you really want to think about a fold, you have to realize that it is a range. It's not just 600 pixels. It will depend on your users and largely what device they are browsing on, which brings me to the next point…

3. Three words: responsive. web. design.

Responsive web design flipped the script! We want to respond to the device the user is on and the breakpoint at which they are navigating to our experience. If the user is on a mobile device, chances are we don't want to load giant images that will make the page take forever to load. Making adjustments to respond to the user where they are will require significant re-thinking of design and layout.

However, what this doesn't mean is that you have distinct versions of everything across a million breakpoints. You really have to be measured about how you display the content, especially on smaller devices. There are tactics you can employ to make it a great experience in a smaller viewport without cramming everything into the top of the page because you don't want to fall below this ficticious fold.

What's clear is that you have to be rather ruthless when it comes to content hierarchy. What is absolutely the most important thing you need to see immediately? And then, how do we design the UX in a way to draw someone into exploring more of that content if it's not readily available on page load. In my opinion, this often means we have to be a little more concise which I know is something few folks who create content and manage content want to hear.

To make a long story short, don't be that person who talks about "the fold." There's definitely an argument to be had about content hierarchy and how you organize content most effectively to drive users into a given behavior and/or give them what they want right away but that shouldn't come at the sacrifice of the integrity of your user experience.

The Best of the Best: Hotel Tonight

I don't think I've written here explicitly about Zipcar but, if I did, you'd think it was a paid advertisement. I can't say enough good things about them and I'm a huge advocate for car sharing (though, if someone invented teleporting, I'd have to switch my stance…). I get regular email communications from them and fairly recently, they sent over a discount code for a hotel booking through an iPhone app called "Hotel Tonight."

Perhaps I'm atypical or maybe this is how I fit into the millennial sterotype, but I don't always book hotels. On at least a couple of occasions, I've gone with the AirBnB-type rental in lieu of a hotel and have been very happy. Additionally, when I do book hotels, I don't have a ton of brand affinity. Generally, I try to stay at nicer hotels but tend to find better deals at boutique hotels so I don't necessarily have Hilton points or anything like that I'm trying to rack up.

That said, Anthony and I were planning for a very abbreviated trip to Boston for my birthday and we were in the market for a hotel room. I had briefly looked at the AirBnB market and the pickings were pretty slim. On a whim, I decided to download the Hotel Tonight app. I think what immediately impressed me about this app is how streamlined it was to use. Many apps push you to create an account before you even start using the app. I typically dislike this approach because it's really a cheap way to gain users — you can say you have 1 million users but if most of them signed up once and then didn't continue to use your app later, what value was it to have those folks signed up?

Want to try out this app?  Use my promo code "JGALLARDO42" and you can get $25 off your first booking.
Want to try out this app? Use my promo code "JGALLARDO42" and you can get $25 off your first booking.

I wanted to use my promo code so, prior to booking, I went to the tab that looks like one for profile information and loaded in all my pertinent information, including the promo code. Once the code is loaded into your account, it will be applied to your reservation at checkout. You don't have to do anything extra to apply it which is nice.

Really clear error messaging when you don't have a signal.  And look!  No "hamburger"!
Really clear error messaging when you don't have a signal. And look! No "hamburger"!

Additionally, another point to note is that you don't have a "hamburger" menu here that hides a whole bunch of options you couldn't figure out how to fit into your app. The options presented make it clear what Hotel Tonight is trying to do: get you to book with their hotel partners AND refer friends to Hotel Tonight to drive their download/membership/engagement numbers higher. Also, the error conditions — when you dont have wireless or cell signal, for example — are really well done.

One of the really neat things about this app is that you can track hotel prices for a given location over a certain period of time in which you want to book and Hotel Tonight will notify you if the prices have gone down. This was actually very helpful to me as I thought I had missed out on a deal but the next day received a notication that the prices were lower and, sure enough, the original hotel I wanted to book was available again.

All you have to do is authenticate with your thumb!
All you have to do is authenticate with your thumb!

The absolute best part of this app, however, is the integration with Apple Pay. Paying for your hotel is incredibly easy. After hitting the "Book Now" button on a listing, there is nothing left for you to enter. Because I've already entered all my information, the only thing left to do is pay. From the confirmation screen, I can see the dates I'm signing up for and the full price I'll be charged. Simply authenticating with my thumbprint is the last step and confirms that I am authorized to make this purchase.

Expedia's app has an accelerometer controlled door tag and really poor error messages...
Expedia's app has an accelerometer controlled door tag and really poor error messages…

In what has lately been a very busy time for me, I've found that apps that make my life easier have truly been vital. Hotel Tonight will definitely fall into that category and I wouldn't hesitate to use it again in the future. Competitors such as Expedia, for example, often do too much or try too hard to sell add ons/gimmicks rather than focusing on the right customer experience to make the act of booking travel less of an ordeal.

The New York Yankees Don't Always Dominate

The New York Yankees are well-known in the baseball world for having many many championships. While I'm a much bigger fan of the other baseball team in the city (the New York Mets), I still end up finding myself at Yankee Stadium often enough. Ah, the things we do for love!

That said, on our most recent trip to Yankee Stadium we were approached by a young lady offering us the opportunity to take our photograph. This seems to happen a lot at most sports venues and, if you are with a large group, it's nice to have someone else take a group shot — even if you do have to go retrieve it later and pay a boatload of money for it. Though the woman who took our photo was very nice, she handed us a poorly designed business card sized piece of paper for us to use in order to retrieve our photo.

I've done this before but I was surprised to find that, of all the stadiums at which I've done this, the Yankees have the absolute worst fan photo user interface. Let me explain…

The business card instructs me to go to a specific website and that my photo code is XYZ (for example). When I arrive on the website, it isn't immediately clear to me where my photo code comes into play. I click on "Baseball Fan Photos" instead of "Soccer Fan Photos" — that much is clear.

Which game did we go to again?
Which game did we go to again?

Then, once I'm in the baseball area, all I see are various dates of games. Again, it's still not immediately clear where I'm supposed to enter my photo code. Also, I've had this card sitting at the bottom of my purse for a few weeks now — without going back to my calendar, it's really hard for me to remember the date of the game I went to. However, that's exactly the exercise the New York Yankees expect you to embark upon when selecting your photos.

Now which of these cryptic folders should I open?
Now which of these cryptic folders should I open?

I went back to my calendar and found out when I went to the game. It was a Sunday in mid-July so I found it. At this point, it now shows me a list of numbers appended by "NY" — I see "09NY" and notice that this matches my photo code. Again, I still don't have a way of entering my code and quickly retrieving the photos from this particular day.

Searching gets you nowhere...
Searching gets you nowhere…

Nonetheless, I decide to click on "09NY" and see what happens. At this point, over 300 pictures load in a thumbnail view. I'm still not clear on whether I can search but I do see a "Search" button so I click on that to see if maybe I can enter the rest of my photo code to get directly to our photo. Sadly, when I attempt to do that, all I get is a black overlay over the page, but no interface or anything appears via which I can search.

Given that I still can't search, I decide that I'll just browse. The one thing they did get right in this user interface is that they use lazy loading rather than having me click through 10 pages of content. I continue scrolling until I find my photo code number. Once I find it, I'm severely disappointed — the people in this photo are not me and my friends! Not even close to being us. And I have absolutely no way of finding the photo I was trying to find.

Who are these people?!
Who are these people?!

This UI is so severely broken and such a negative touchpoint for an organization that is such an established brand. The New York Yankees may want to consider partnering with a better vendor to do this work in order to maintain the kind of on-the-field dominance they exhibit in their off-the-field interactions with their fans.