Thought / Make the client happy

I’ve been thinking about a phrase that stuck on my mind some days ago, perhaps because of a song from Simon and Garfunkel: keep the client satisfied. The original song line says ‘keep the customer satisfied’ but I got it stuck in my brain with ‘customer’ exchanged for ‘client’.

I started to feel there was something in the phrase really bothering me. It was the word ‘keep’, but why? Then to see why, I started playing with the word, looking for a substitute and I found ‘make’. Make the customer satisfied. It does not work, so I changed ‘satisfied’ for ‘happy’ as you cannot make someone satisfied.

Then it kind of struck me. Two things. One: in order to be satisfied, you have to be happy about something, and continue being happy about it as long as you feel satisfied. Two: it does not matter what that thing is or if it changes through time, it has to continue making you happy in order to keep you satisfied.

In the end it seemed to be about making you happy and keeping you happy. So first: make them happy, and then: keep them happy, that’s how I saw satisfaction in function of time. Better, durable, total satisfaction.

It seemed interesting, but something was still bothering me. There was something about ‘keep the client happy’ that was smelly, fishy, not right; and there was something about ‘make the client happy’ that resonated and vibrated and sounded just right and wholesome.

Keeping someone happy is not that difficult, it requires not to break the current equilibrium of happiness that someone has, perhaps by continuing feeding what that someone’s reality is fed on. Keeping a client happy is just feeding them back what they want to believe that makes them happy. If they come, for example, with an idea about the whole site being blue, and you make it blue, you keep them happy, supposing the blue site made them happy in the first place.

Making someone happy requires more, much more precision, power and interest, and much more knowledge too. It supposes to create something that generates happiness on someone. It also supposes no matter in which state the client is, a higher state of happiness can be achieved, and perhaps maintained. ‘Make the client happy’ might require you to convince them, for example, of what you’re doing will make more sense for their company, and that that will make their customers happy, and that will make them happy in the end, as it might not be obvious that it will make the client happy from the beginning.

There’s something about keeping the client happy that is to me about keeping the status quo, there’s something exactly opposite about making the client happy that is to me about going out and making what’s needed for them to be happy, whether they were it before or not.

Might be a mannerism, but the make the client happy sounds much more right, and courageous, to me.

Thought / What the new iGoogle could have showed me

Lately (and perhaps constantly since they opened their Google Labs), Google has been coming with more and more new ideas integrated with their products. recently they deployed a new interface for iGoogle, their personalised widgetised front page.

According to Lifehack, seems that opinions are divided but uniformly: 45% liking it against 55% that don’t agree with new changes completely.

The first time I saw it, I honestly did not like it, as it takes a rather wide left bar of space on my homepage, a bar that right now (in a default state) looks empty.

I also did not have ideas on what to add, as my homepage has been slimmed down to the bare minimum through time, containing the following gadgets: a translator, a google reader, a quotes of the day, an I Ching reader and the very inspiring ‘places to see” gadget (widget).

I don’t know if I need more, mostly because I don’t know what’s out there. On spite of not feeling the need to use that new tabbed space, I decided to explore it for the knowledge’s sake. Interestingly, Google offers a “I feel lucky we’ll fill in the tab according to the name” create a tab option that, to tell the truth, might be good or bad, but it gives you a starting point.

Now I have some tabs that I know I won’t use until I start using them, I guess, and an idea of what was wrong with the moment I got to see google’s new addition.

The problem was google changed an interface I was used to without giving me anything else to leverage my knowledge or start using the new features. Moreover, the new features were hidden until I clicked on the new buttons. Explorative can be interesting, but it might not be a good strategy al the time and with every audience.

I imagine that if they took the time to explain the new features, the advantages and the potential, and at least give you a starting point, it would have been easier to assimilate and probably like from the beginning, instead of pissing off more than half their users.

A good example is what 37 signals does in their backpack product: once you create a page, they let you know what you can do, and what is the starting point, the next step, the thing to do.

So you get enough to start: either start clicking around, get to the tutorial or, if you’re feeling lucky, get some ‘inspiration’ whatever that means.

Another usual problem when designing interfaces is when the designer draws it as it is full of items, like in the typical screenshot they have shared since around July

But more like what I saw when I opened my homepage to the new interface

You can notice a lot of empty space to the right, and pushing all my content to the right, making it more prone to go out of the viewframe.

Perhaps the web designers at Google did not realise most of us will have only one tab, and that by having it closed by default as they decided, it will look like they stole all that space from us. It can happen that by designing for fully adopted states we forget to design for the first (and usually empty) state, thus missing the fact that people will see what your wireframes/sketches/designs don’t show: a lot of empty space stolen form my homepage.

Perhaps users are also difficult to satisfy when their known interfaces are changed from one day to another. So why not give some information and ideas on how to use those awesome new features the google team has been designing for almost a year?

Change is good, mostly if it goes forward and makes our lives easier, but guidance and explanations are not that démodé yet.

Thought / Let people make mistakes

I was pointed today to a new gmail feature called Mail Googles. The feature in discussion shows some mathematical calculations to be solved whenever you’re sending email late at night, in order to save you from ending those emails you did not want to send.

That is so wrong in so many ways.

First, the underlying idea is to save you from sending those emails you did not want to send (which according to them happen usually in the dead of night). I work at night and I send emails at night, mostly to clients. Usually I’m very tired finishing some deliverable or mock-up when I hit the new email button and start writing the blessed “here’s it” email, carefully remembering to attach the deliverables and press send… and now I have to fill some idiotic astronomy math tests whilst I just want to get done with this email and go to bed? Ludicrous.

And then, how many stupid emails do you send a day? A month? A year? Do we need to math quiz all the nightly emails in order to save us from that stupid “late night email to my ex-girlfriend” telling her “that we should get back together”? Yes, the answer is to annoy yourself to boredom every night until you don’t want to send emails anymore after 9:00 pm, thus avoiding telling your girlfriend you should hook up again.

Funnily, one of the cases they mention to support the new feature is sending a text message, which does not have anything to do with email. And both cases involve girls, thus making me think that guy has issues with the fair gender.

Perhaps Google got the idea that Microsoft’s patronizing model of we know better is the model to follow? Or is it just the Microsoft model of over-saturate products with smartass yet unuseful features? Or is it the Microsoft model of yet another productivity assistant that sucks production time out of you? I could continue ad nausea, but I’m sure you got the idea.

Why not instead show you a preview of the email? That way you can proof-read the email and decide to send it (like when printing). That way it gives you a minute of pause without the overhead of stupid math quizzes at 3:00am.

I can make an ass of myself, like any other person and I can tell you, most of the times, I’m drunk, not under-slept. Give me a mobile that blocks audio when the sensor in the microphone detects a high level of alcohol, or a T9 system that can count misspellings and ask you if you really want to send that many mistakes in a text (whether it being because you’re drunk or because you don’t know how to spell anymore, like many of the people I read on the internetz) and I’ll give you a million kudos for a great idea.

Give me a gmail account that asks me smart-arse math questions when I only want to go to bed and I’ll start reading gmail on Apple Mail.

Or, better: let people make mistakes, that’s how people learn.

UPDATE: xkcd shows us a better version of Mail Googles that really fulfills the purpose:

Mail Boggles

Mail Boggles

(Update: some people pointed out this is a feature you can opt-in to. I wrote this because Google opted me in, so for me it was an active feature. At 3am in the morning. Upon the delivering of a client’s email. So my thoughts stand).

Thought / If it ain’t broken

Some days ago, I got a document from the company that I’m working for, stating a project’s technical guidelines for a client to be signed off. Most of the vocabulary was right, but sometimes wrongly used, as technological clichès. This mentioned document serves as a template for most projects, and I imagine that for a while it has not been revised in detail, as it seems to work, seems not to be broken.

It also happens with websites that features are not improved or redesigned because they seem to work fine. Even companies have the same approach, continuing to do things their way because it seems to work fine, it seems not to be broken.

And if it is not broken, why change it?

First, let’s think that perhaps what does not seem broken might be. We’re quite accustomed to see when something’s broken, but what if we cannot see it? Then we suppose it is OK. But there are new realms of broken that are not as obvious as cracks in the wall.

Same as with our health, perhaps a preemptive approach might help in those cases where, similarly, we take some doses of vitamin C to prevent a cold, as usually we cannot see we’re already infected, days before we can see we’re broken (ill).

Amongst the strategies we can follow, we could:

  • Improve our observation skills/our sight by keeping informed of current standards and advances that make us aware of new ways for things to be broken, and obsolete ways to deal with them
  • Studying and researching new and improved ways to do things might help us keep from making the same mistakes
  • Rewriting/redoing/revisiting stuff now and then, or on a schedule, will help us identify obsolete or improvable items and pieces, and spot cracks on the walls
  • Changing our point of view, playing the devil’s advocate or even being over-critic about our processes could give us interesting insights of what they look like, and might allow us to spot critical, weak or improvable items or processes

The one I use to approach my personal projects is the simplest and less rigorous, but has assured to me enough success and reliability: I assume that, after a certain time (that varies per issue) it has to be broken (or at least entering obsolescence). Many times it is, whether in language, content, semantics, usability, or just visually.

The web is a living entity, that evolves in time and every second has a new, different face. Being part of that world requires the amount of self-maintenance a living organ will need.

Check often, and you’ll see things will be less prone to break. Don’t wait until you revisit the site and get some broken image icons, or worse, the moment when your client tells you something is not expressed that way anymore. d’oh!

Thought / The value of a seed

What is the value of an idea?

According to me, it is very close to none, null, zit, nada, cero, niente. And if you have had some, you know what I mean. We all have ideas. Some of us constantly. Some others every day. Some every some minutes. We have many ideas a day. Sometimes we don’t even notice.

These ideas usually take the form of solving a problem we have, or that someone else has. It starts to have a shape. It seems plausible. Then it seems possible. It might stay around for a while. Some of those ideas are rediscovered with time, some are immediate. Some haunt you, some are haunted by you.

Then it arrives: the time when it is solid enough for you to decide to keep it. You start thinking about it. You might (intelligently) start discussing it with others. If you don’t, it must probably die, unless it is one of those one-person idea. It seems smart enough. Damn, sometimes it seems amazing!

You start sensing a possible space for it. It might take some minutes, a day, a month, but you feel there’s a space, a market, a weight for it. You might even research if there’s a space for it. It itches. It feels like it’ll wake you up if you don’t pay attention to it. You think you have a ripe idea. What to do then? Keep it. It is your idea, after all.

This is what really happens:

Our mind is a complex, intriguing, wonderful thing. And it is our best friend, believe it or not. Why? Because it cares so much about us, it even bends reality to prove us right. Back at architectural school, the first thing everyone of us used to discover is that once you have a spatial idea for a building, it seems that suddenly it all makes sense (in your mind): corridors, services, spaces, structure. It all found and had its place in the complex system of connections. It seemed plausible. Then you started sketching, planning and drawing, and you discovered that those corridors did not make sense, that space for services was not there, and if it was, sometimes they were better somewhere else. That the structural array was impossible in that configuration of spaces. That entrances, aisles and doors were better some other way. That spaces did not completely satisfy the brief. So you started the second and most important part of designing: the design process itself.

If ideas had an intrinsic value, design will not be that important a process. It is in the detailed drawings and models, in the relational sketches, in the sections and even in the material selection where an idea starts making sense, having a life of its own. Being something more than an idea. Becoming a product.

After a couple of weeks perhaps, you (luckily) had a possible project in your hands, usually so different to your idea that you could but barely recognise it in the ink drawings and the cardboard scaled walls and ceilings.

Ideas are like seeds, small and concentrated amounts of energy that need to grow into trees. But as ideas, seeds need to develop, need the effort and the energy to grow, need water and sun and soil. Need, most of all, time to evolve.

All healthy seeds might represent a future tree. One seed is not worth a tree, but with the necessary amount of time and support, it might become one. It is, however, the tree that has all the value.

Take your ideas as seeds, select the ones you want to grow, and make them into wonderful trees. And if you feel like not growing it, share it for someone else to grow it, as their value is in becoming trees.

Just don’t sit on those seeds. Unsurprisingly, they won’t hatch by themselves.