Head of UX at traveljunction.com and Organiser of Industry

When is something good enough?

I caught a conversation this morning between Ashley Baxter and Rachel Andrew that was so good I thought it needed preserving. Bit of background, both Rachel and Ashley spoke at Industry Conf last year. Rachel spoke about supporting Perch, a product that Rachel and Drew have been creating for the last 5 years. Ashley spoke about learning Rails and creating her own product, Lodger App. The conversation went like this;

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): “We asked people and they said they’d use it.” People often say this to just be polite. The best way to test your idea is with that MVP.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): @iamashley the key question is would they pay for it… and how much? Even friends and family often give a different answer to that.

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): Do you recommend asking this before you have a MVP? I just think people respond with what they think the dev wants to hear.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): somethings solve a problem, and people would use them, but it isn’t worth paying for them.

Ashley Baxter (@iamashley): This is a question I need to ask. I wonder when I will come out of the “my app isn’t good enough” phase.

Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew): probably never we’re 5 years into Perch and still saying “it needs to do x”. That’s why you need to launch.

Both thoughts resonated. We often fail to get beyond the “Is it good enough?” For us, for what we’re building, it’s never good enough, it will never be perfect. We’ll also never find out if it is good enough unless we put it out there, in to the hands of those who are looking for it to solve a problem or change their lives.

Even for us at TJ, every small incremental change is deliberated over. We can discuss what might seem like the smallest of details for a long time as we know these small pieces stack up into larger pieces of functionality and we want them to be valuable.

As for Industry, every year is an MVP, every year I never know how successful it is going to be until the speaker line-up is released and people start backing it. But the feedback does come, people do back it and they do see value. It doesn’t stop those thoughts though, the dread that it’s not good enough.

You’ll never know until you put it out there.

The Giving Back Economy & Random Acts of Kindness

I have a theory that you get more enjoyment and thrill from giving back than you do getting something for yourself personally.

In my younger days I would rarely give to charities.

I was skeptical whether the funds I might give to them would go directly to the source that needed it. We often see areas of the world which need help whether that be financial (monetary aid) or physical (food aid), and they’re riddled with corruption. Using Haiti as one example, they’re still suffering from the earthquake which crippled them because the money that was sent to the country has been used or spent by corrupt agencies or officials.

The thing which frustrates me the most is that the countries which provide this aid just carry on giving without finding a way around it. Surely that money or aid can be given in a better way, which goes directly to the source and can help those in need. It’s likely not as easy as that, but there are agencies and charities who can go directly to source and are doing great work.

Since my youth I’ve been more inclined to wait and find those that need assistance or help and give back.

And you know what not only do I enjoy it but I thrive on the thought that I’ve given back, that I’ve helped someone in need. These are some of the things I’ve done, which have gone directly to the source.

I joined Kiva.org a few years ago and have made two small investments in people and it all started with $25. Once the first loan was paid off, I used that cash to then go and invest the money in someone else. The fact that I can invest $25 along with other folk from around the world to fund a mother of six in a far away country to purchase materials so that she can make products and sell them to support her family all the while paying the loan back over a number of months is truly amazing.

I found out about our local Food Bank when out shopping one day. I didn’t fully understand what they were or why they were needed until I saw a documentary on them. Food banks collect food and give to those in poverty and there’s a much higher rate of poverty in the UK than you’d think. Some entire families are living on less than £5 a week to pay for food.

The Food Bank provide a little shopping list of things you can donate, which keep for a while, that they can store and give to those in need. I read an article one day that said you could purchase a weeks food on less than £6. So I tried to do just that, I went in to our local store and bought everything on the list. I managed to get everything for around £7.50. When other people were dropping off the odd can of beans or jar of coffee’s my Wife, daughter and I tipped up with 2 full bags of shopping. The volunteers at the desk were shocked, it clearly wasn’t normal for that to happen but I wanted to learn more about the food bank and who were directly in need. The volunteer talked me through that there were kids in our area, in poverty who were having 1 meal a day or less. I took one look at our little girl and promised that I’d try to do more. Now every time the Food Bank are at our local store, we purchase that same shopping list. £7.50, the same price as a couple of coffees and a cookie from Starbucks.

charity: water. The first time I heard about them, I think, was via Cameron Moll’s authentic jobs website. I watched one video, visited their website and found that every dollar donated went directly to providing clean: water to those who needed it. Every child in the world deserves clean water and they help make it so. So I set up my random act of kindness page and aim to raise as much as possible, for anything donated I’ll match. The cost of a coffee, sandwich or magazine can add up to providing clean water for those who really need it. A random act of kindness is you foregoing your daily coffee or sandwich and even your weekly or bi-weekly magazine.

If I ever see a charity box, I’ll drop some change in that I have in my pocket, if I’m given change I ask the store owner if they have a charity box they can put it in. Lots of little amounts make a big amount that can change someone’s life.

If I ever get take-out food, or go to a restaurant – I randomly tip larger amounts just to see the look on the persons face. Especially if the staff members have been great to my kids if I’m with them.

I’ve started to give back to our Industry when I can, this year I supported an event in London so they could provide their attendees with some food and refreshments. I know how hard it is personally with running Industry Conf to be able to do that kind of thing, and giving back really does help the micro-events.

I’ve had some bad experiences with Kickstarter where the items I’ve backed have taken over a year to reach me (some over 18 months), however, I continue to back various projects when I can. These aren’t huge amounts and are often around the $25-$50 mark depending on the project I’ve backed. If I can see the passion in the person doing the Kickstarter and see value in the product, that’s generally when I’ll back them.

If you’re wondering how I managed to do all of this or think it sounds like a lot of money, it’s not. I try to do 1 or 2 things a month out of the above. How do I finance them? I simply cut back on the things I might purchase normally that don’t add any value to me or my family. Go to Starbucks everyday? That’s £15 a week or more. Buy things ‘just because’? I used to do that, now I give something back.

Giving back is addictive, knowing you can help is addictive. If you want to know what giving back looks like to the person receiving it, watch this video and this collection.

Try it.

Sticking with convention

A few months ago I reviewed the design of traveljunction.com from where it had sat prior to me joining. There was a valid reason as it needed neutralising to put us in a better footing to move forward into the future.

If we’d carried on with the previous design, we would have been extremely restricted in what we were wanting to do going forward.

Around the same time we also started to look at elements of the design which were pushing normal convention. Thinking about our typical customers there were a couple of things that I was concerned about.

Everything within traveljunction.com has to have a purpose, and sometimes we find elements which don’t and we then look into whether it’s really needed at all or if we can change it so that it does have a purpose and/or provides greater value back to the customer.

The things we changed or removed from the design either pushed convention too far whereby they would impact their own effectiveness or they weren’t providing any value being there, and it was simply ‘fluff’.

The Price Range Slider

One of the things which was curbed was a price range slider. Whilst this is something so small in the grand scheme of things when you look at traveljunction.com, the actual use of this ‘tool’ was awkward and clunky at best. Adjusting the slider wasn’t always great and you were forever playing with it to get accurate. Whilst it might be ‘cool’, in the hands of our customers it would become a pain point.

The ability to filter on traveljunction.com is a necessity, after all, customers are trying to find their ideal holiday destination. It is something that needs to happen seamlessly, providing quick accurate control. The slider wasn’t going to do the job well enough.

We pulled back in favour of a checkbox list of price ranges. This would not only give the customer a more accurate filtering experience but it was easier to understand and fitted in with other filtering methods across traveljunction.com.

Learn and Repeat

As we move forward, the design team (currently Tim and I) are constantly looking at what is needed, what isn’t and what can be better. It’s a repeat method and every time we learn something new and it is sometimes one of the smallest things which is changed but sometimes those are the things which have the most impact.

There are times when sticking with convention and not surpassing it is the right thing to do.

Getting nominated for a net mag award…

was surprising, shocking and embarrassing. At first I thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t.

You see, I have been nominated for the ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award. I think I’ve likely been nominated because of Industry Conf, my biggest project to date or Gump Inc., or both.

The names of the other nominees are people I look up to and many of them I’ve known for years. I’ve followed the people and the products they’ve created.

I did the old ‘I don’t deserve it’ bit and the ‘I’m not good enough’ bit, but after a lot of thought I realised a couple of things.

  1. The life of a conference organiser is not pretty. It’s incredibly hard work and there’s no sure sign it is ever going to be a success until the event actually takes place. Don’t get me wrong, we’re the ones putting ourselves in the organising seat. Event organising bears a heavy weight on your shoulders, managing a budget which is best part of your mortgage and the expectation of it being a success is a lot to carry by yourself. I’ve done this for enough years now than I’m starting to manage that weight a little better and I’m incredibly proud of what Industry has become.
  2. Someone took their time to nominate me. Whoever that person is, I thank you and I can only hope that I continue to deliver whatever it is that you nominated me for.

I was surprised because I never thought for one second I had done enough to warrant being nominated.

I was shocked to be in a pool of people who have done far greater things than myself.

I was embarrassed to be lined up next to those people.

Whoever nominated me, I thank you.

You can vote in the net magazine awards here.

We Are Explorers

As a child I used to play with things to find how they worked. If it involved taking something apart and trying to put it together again I’d be all over it. Back then I didn’t know if I’d break something, I honestly didn’t care.

I was given a toolbox with a set of child-size screwdrivers and that was me, I could take anything apart. I explored without knowing how something worked and in doing so found out how to break things quite often. Broken didn’t mean gone, it just meant I didn’t know at that time how to put it back together again but that was fine I’d figure it out later.

It was good to not know how something worked, the fun was in figuring it out.

My eldest Daughter has just turned 2 years old. Seeing her grow, learn and become a tiny human capable of more than I thought she ever could be at this age is eye-opening. Addison doesn’t know how things work or how they break is simple things like cause and effect. Micro-explorations into new things, seeing what works and what doesn’t have aided in her ability to find things out that I didn’t even know existed. She knows how to pinch and zoom in her iPad app, an interaction in the smallest part of her app that I didn’t know was there but she found it.

She found it because she didn’t need to get from A to B as quick as I’ve needed to as I’ve become older. She has the time to sit and find these little details and explore to her hearts content.

We are all explorers and I want to explore more, free my mind and find the nice little things which I may have otherwise overlooked.

Oh Carousels…

But the carousel is our prime real-estate.

I’d tend to disagree with the above. I believe, whatever a user interacts with and responds to is prime real-estate. Whenever they move their cursor, hover with their thumb, scroll up and down and stop for a millisecond with intent to think about whatever it is they’re looking at… that my friend is prime real-estate.

By nature we humans have a short amount of time on our hands. Browsing, viewing and reading amongst many others are actions a user will do. These take time. If you think that your image and text, 4 slides down inside of a carousel is going to get someones attention in those short milliseconds, I’d advise reviewing your content strategy.

Why?

A carousel changes from slide to slide every 2 – 3 seconds. 4 slides down is a minimum of 8 seconds away and if you think that 8 seconds is a short amount of time, count it out and you’ll quickly realise that it’s not. Within a few seconds your website visitor has searched, clicked or scrolled on your site, they’ve missed your ‘prime real-estate image’ by 6 seconds let alone any image after it.

If you were lucky, your website visitor clicked on the first image they saw in the carousel, for them it was a static image which didn’t move or change so I hope that particular image was your highest converting promotion. If you’re busy burying promotions into a carousel, should those images or promotions be displayed in a different way that isn’t buried 8 seconds deep into an animation on your page?  When you’re putting actionable imagery inside of a carousel, then the thinking behind the content is likely misunderstood.

How about removing that carousel and creating actionable content that your customer would like to use and more importantly need?

Designing with the future in mind

As designers we can often become entrenched in working on tiny details because they matter. It’s far too easy to get wrapped up in the intricacies and become short-sighted on a longer term view.

Short-sightedness can cause design challenges which can be ironed out fairly easily when you’re looking at your long term plan.

For products, roadmaps can aid you well. Depending on the products I’ve worked on in the past and currently, I aim to keep an eye on the items which are coming up in 4 weeks, 2 months and 6 months.

I’m confident enough to say that anything in a roadmap in the 4 week to 2 months range will definitely have an impact on what you’re currently working on. Whether it’s a large or small impact, it will be there. Your big challenge could prove irrelevant if you look at your long term view, something you’re stressing over might not even be in the product in 3 months time because in 2 months time it’s being phased out in favour of something else.

Alternatively, you may need to not over-design something. If you know in your roadmap that a new feature is coming which may indeed take up room in your design that you’re currently trying to fill, don’t stress things out. It’s ok to not over-design something if it has no impact whatsoever on your current product especially if it impacts something in the future.

You can iterate quickly, adjust where necessary and complete your to-do’s with confidence when you can rationalise your decision making.