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

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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

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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.