6 truths I learned from creating a web app

Posted by Jon Arnold on July 19

A happy bug thinkingLast week was a big one for Tuitive: we officially launched FunnelBug, a web app we created for “business owner sales people” to manage their sales leads and forecast future revenue.

Having designed dozens of applications for clients, I figured there wouldn’t be much we had not seen before. Boy was I wrong. Here are 6 things I learned, relearned, and am learning from that experience:

  1. Design matters
    Most of us have heard that a good aesthetic design is critical to a positive user experience, but I had never before considered its effect on the developer. When it’s 3:00 am and you’re tired, and you’re wondering if the whole project is a costly, foolish pursuit, nothing bounces the mind back like a visceral reaction of “dang, that looks gooood!”
  2. Copy writing is user interface design
    The great thing about “lorem ipsum” is that it makes a screen look done even when it’s not. But that’s also the enormous problem. It’s not done until you actually do it, and such placeholder text contributes to copy being treated as an afterthought. It mustn’t be—put as much care into your copy as you do your code.
  3. The only thing more expensive than programming is reprogramming
    It’s inexcusable how much development we did on designs that were “mostly done,” only to have to redo them later. I should have known better; I preach this to clients all the time. It stinks having to choose between keeping what you’ve built, and rebuilding something into what it should have been in the first place. That’s not to say you need to make it perfect, though, because…
  4. You can’t afford to make it perfect
    If you insist on perfection, you’ll have spent too much money on an app that never sees the light of day. I used to take pride in being a perfectionist, but now I regard it as a curse; it hurts more than it helps. Besides, who defines what perfection is? You, or your future customer? Which one really matters?
  5. Until you launch it, you’re completely guessing
    I’m a big fan of the “scratch your own itch” approach to application development. But one can never know the viability of a product or how to improve it until it leaves the nest and meets the full brunt of praise or criticism by the marketplace. Every day you delay your launch is another day you deprive yourself of the benefit of real customer feedback.
  6. To build an app is to build a business
    A wiseman (Michael Cloran at Developer Town) once gave me some advice about building an app, but he kept using the words “starting a business.” I thought this was a curious difference in semantics at the time, but now it makes sense. An app can only exist and flourish within the ecosystem of staffing, marketing, and other key elements that make up a sustainable business. We haven’t yet figured all that out, but we get it.

We’ve worked hard over the last year building FunnelBug, but building the app might have been the easy part. I’m grateful for groups like Verge that serve as a source of camaraderie and inspiration for local start-ups like us. It’s a great time to both be and serve software start-ups in Indy!
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If you’re a “business owner sales person” looking for an easier way to manage your sales leads and forecast future revenue, go to funnelbug.com for a 30 day free trial.


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'Like' FunnelBug on Facebook
You know the drill. We’re trying to get enough Facebook likes to get the ‘facebook.com/funnelbug’ web address. You can help us out by ‘liking’ our FunnelBug Facebook page!

While you’re at it, you can follow FunnelBug on Twitter.

Working on your big idea? Keep going.

Posted by Jon Arnold on May 19

At Tuitive, we are often times working with clients on their “big idea,” and in doing so, experience that disconnect between the big idea and what time and budget will allow. And in the case of our own project, FunnelBug, we live this tension every day. I take minor consolation in the adage “Rome wasn’t built in a day” but it’s still easy for frustration to take hold. I always wish we were farther along and had spent less money getting there.

I stumbled across this great quote from NPR personality Ira Glass. For those pursing their “big idea,” I hope this is a source of encouragement.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

- Ira Glass, host and producer of NPR’s This American Life.

Ira Glass

User Interface Design: Lessons from an Indianapolis elevator

Posted by Jon Arnold on May 3

I’m guest blogging over at marketingtechblog.com today…go check it out!

User interface design: lessons from a gas station bathroom

Posted by Jon Arnold on April 26

When a new, sexy application or device comes out, we happily invest all kinds of time playing with it, figuring it out, and being entertained by it. The initial value is in experiencing the cool technology. But most applications aren’t that sexy, and their value is simply helping you get stuff done and staying out of the way in the process.

I was reminded of this when I had to make a pit stop during a recent road trip. Observe the following “user interface” from this lovely gas station bathroom:

bad UI design

bad UI design

bad UI design

Now consider these observations (although I’m talking about a gas station bathroom, consider the user interface design parallels):

  • I just wanted to complete a process, one that I complete at least a few times every day. This shouldn’t be that difficult.
  • I had to make myself vulnerable in an unfamiliar setting; the additional (and seemingly alarming) messaging was making me even more uncomfortable. I simply was not open to new instructions in that moment.
  • I was never really sure if I was using this bathroom properly. Was door even locked? Was I seconds away from an embarrassing situation? I wasn’t sure.
  • As I walked back up to the front to leave, there was another confused patron receiving instructions on how to work the bathroom. I wondered how many “support calls” like this the gas station personnel had to field during the course of a day.

The lesson is this: poor user experience and bad user interface design have a cost. It’s the difference between a happy user and one who feels the need to wash their hands before returning to work.

Why is technology so hard to use?

Posted by Jon Arnold on June 9

At war with the soda machine

Posted by Amanda King on April 12

Working here has made me infinitely more aware of usability in everyday things.  Some days I think my hubby’s ready to throw his shoe at me if I say “that’s just not usable” one more time.  We had one such encounter over the weekend when we stopped to get a soda from a conveniently located machine.  (I apologize for the bad resolution – there’s only so much you can do with an iPhone in a shadowy hallway.)

Pepsi machine

Take a close look … if you put your coins in that machine, where would you instinctively want to push to deploy your soda?  The big shiny button picturing the actual bottle of soda, right?

Big buttons

But no!  There are still old-style buttons on the side that have to be selected for purchase.

Little buttons

It’s a small detail, but considering that soda companies are now using both functionalities, it made me pause before I actually made my purchase – it wasn’t automatic. If I had put my money in, pushed the button and gotten my soda, I would have thought nothing of this interaction. I wouldn’t have growled and said “this is bad usability.”  My husband wouldn’t have rolled his eyes.  And so on.

But the fact that the machine didn’t do what I thought it should at first glance made me feel like maybe I was doing something wrong, or maybe I was too old to understand these new-fangled machines, or maybe even the machine was broken.  But none of those were true.  And in the end, it just made feel like I should have bought a Coke.


I deleted my Twitter account!

Posted by Jon Arnold on March 23

I accidentally deleted my Twitter account last week.  Yes, yes, I know—that’s like accidentally driving one’s car off the road or misplacing one’s pants.  So how did I do it?  Glad you asked.

Like many folks, I manage more than one Twitter account.  For example, I have my personal Twitter account, a business account for Tuitive, and then a couple extra accounts related to some side projects.  I mistakenly thought I was logged in as one of these extra accounts when I made my way to Twitter’s account deactivation screen, as shown here:

Notice anything telling in the above screenshot?  I didn’t either, and that’s the problem!  While this screen does a great job of describing the dire, irreversible nature of deactivating a Twitter account, there is no indication anywhere as towhich account I am logged into and about to deactivate.  I assumed incorrectly and pushed the button.

I was pretty shocked when I realized I had deactivated my personal Twitter account.  To add insult to injury, Twitter would not let me create a new account using my previous username or email address, meaning it wasn’t really deleted.  It was just caught in some sort of Twitter purgatory, stuck between the world of the active account and that of the deleted damned.

Fortunately after a few days of pleading-via-email, Twitter support had mercy on me and restored my account. (It came with a polite admonition, however, that this was a one-time favor.)

So, happy ending.  Crisis averted.  Problem solved.  But what a waste of time and energy, both on my part and that of Charles at Twitter support. Here’s a super simple usability tweak to the HTML on the Twitter account deactivation screen that I’m sure would have prevented this issue from happening in the first place:

The best part is, in the time it has taken for you to read this, a Twitter developer could have implemented this and perhaps prevented another careless fool like me from making a similar mistake.

Like many usability tweaks, simple changes have huge impacts that can prevent a lot of heartache.  And we all know that an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of tech support.


The public speaker’s user experience

Posted by Amanda King on February 24

As those of you on our e-mailing list know, Tuitive is embarking on a campaign to become sought-after public speakers.  While presenting in front of a large group scares the daylights out of most people, for some reason our motley crew is really excited by the chance to get out and share our expertise with the world.

So in order to prepare for this adventure, we’ve each been developing presentations on our area of expertise as they relate to Tuitive’s core mission – then giving the presentations to each other.  I spoke at my high school graduation and I’ve taught dozens of courses all over this lovely country, but this little group made me more nervous than most.  Something about the fact that they all know my strengths and weaknesses, I’m sure.

I’d worked diligently on my presentation (with the thrilling title “Your Client’s User Experience”), including talking extensively to Jon (our boss), digging up relatable stories, writing notes, rewriting notes, rehearsing, and even learning Prezi (new-fangled presentation software for those unfamiliar).  I put several weeks into it.  But no matter how much thought I put into it, no matter how many hours, I was still bored by the damned thing.  And that boredom came across when I presented to the Tuitive team.

We have a policy of being brutally honest with each other about our performances.  Not cruel, mind you, but honest.  Our philosophy is (1) it’s better to hear it from a teammate than go out in the world looking like an idiot, and (2) what each of us does in the name of Tuitive reflects on us all.  So they let me have it: it felt rushed, there wasn’t enough audience involvement, there weren’t enough images, and so on.  They were all 100% right.  And I could have handed everyone a list before I even turned on the projector telling them exactly the same things.

My disinterest in my presentation came through.  It’s not that I didn’t believe what I was saying, but it all seemed so elementary and common sense – like something you could find easily in 20 different business self-help books at Border’s.  It didn’t feel useful and therefore I had no passion for it.

A couple months back, however, I had given a presentation to the team that I waspassionate about: grammar.  No laughing – I love grammar.  Perhaps it’s because it’s been hammered into me since I was old enough to talk, but I have a passion for it, and it makes me absolutely insane to hear the English language butchered regularly.

You might assume that a presentation on grammar would be far more boring to the audience than one about creating a positive client experience, right?  But no, the team really liked the grammar presentation – we spent well over 2 hours going through it and discussing it, and it’s definitely changed everyone’s writing and speaking styles.  Although we still have the same technical skill sets we had before the grammar lesson, we all now sound more intelligent and competent in our writing and speech.

So why did this presentation have more impact than the one about client experience?  Because I was able to put myself into it.  I’m passionate about educating others on this subject.  (I’m passionate about client experience, too, just not about educating everyone on the subject!)  My enthusiasm was infectious, the audience got involved, they remembered what they’d been taught.

The irony of the poor user experience I’d created for the attendees of my presentation on improving client user experience was not lost on me.  So I’m keeping that client user experience presentation, working on improving its content, getting the audience more involved, slowing down, and finding my passion for educating on that subject as well.  But for the moment, the grammar presentation is out front with me, ready to educate the world about the difference between “that” and “who.”


Viva usability

Posted by Travis Smith on August 19

After spending a few days in Las Vegas recently, I began to notice that Las Vegas is built to overwhelm your senses, but not to allow you to actually accomplish anything meaningful. With this shocking realization I came up with 10 Las Vegas strategies that you should NOT use on a website.

  1. Impossible navigation – Take some water and a GPS with you and I will see you in 2 days.
  2. Overabundance of useless content – There is so much to see, but none of it really matters.
  3. Noise – It is too loud to talk. Let’s leave or go towards the loudest thing we can find.
  4. High cost of simple decisions – Bottled water should not cost $5.
  5. Misdirection – You could win a car… but you won’t.
  6. Lies – Free isn’t even free in Las Vegas
  7. Bigger is better – TVs, cars, casinos, European landmarks, 70 oz. cocktails.
  8. Shock and Awe – They have canals filled with water … inside a shopping mall … inside a casino.
  9. Elvis and pirate ships – This is self-explanatory.
  10. Shotgun marketing – When you target everyone, you hit no one.

These rules are certainly not enough to ensure a positive user experience, but they are a great place to start.

Until next time, keep it usable Internets… and the house ALWAYS wins.

How to not lose a week’s worth of sales

Posted by Jon Arnold on July 4

As web power-users, things that often seem wildly obvious to us, can be just plain confusing to everyday users. Several years ago we made heavy use of Flash on a jewelry website redesign. We were quite careful to use Flash responsibly and created easy-to-see navigation on the page.

But after the site launched, we found that visitors thought they were looking at a dreaded Flash intro. Some even emailed the site owner asking where the “skip intro” button was. Inexplicably, very few people saw the rather large navigation buttons at the top of the page, which we so lovingly put in place.

Many got stuck.

Visitors fled.

Sales plummeted.

This behavior was the last thing we expected during design and development. But it was a valuable lesson learned: users rarely use a website or web application in the way we expect.

Usability testing for the cost of a pizza

pizza-sliceThat jewelry website lost a week of online sales before we fixed the problem with a simple, strategically placed “view jewelry” text link. I’ve always wondered how things would have gone had we employed some user testing before launching (or even building) the site.

What if we had simply ordered a pizza and had the pizza delivery boy browse the site? Maybe we would have seen the problem then.

What if we had invited our office neighbors over to devour the remaining slices? Maybe they would have uncovered this issue while trying to place an order.

Had we done either, we may have avoided a big headache for us, the jewelry website’s owners, and its users.

Here’s the take-away: if you have any say over your company’s next web project, be sure to do some usability testing before it’s released into the wild.

Some guidelines for home-grown user testing:

  • Recruit a handful of coworkers, parents, spouses, neighbors, or anyone willing to help to be your test subjects.
  • Assure each participant that they are not being tested; they are helping you test the website and make it better.
  • Observe each participant individually as they complete various website tasks.
  • Bite your tongue and keep to yourself inner monologue thoughts like “Click the BIG BUTTON…IT’S RIGHT THERE…HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT??”
  • Note the tasks that were completed with ease as well as those that were confusing and need rethinking.
  • Refrain from beating yourself up over the things that are now obvious that a few moments ago were not.
  • Rinse and repeat.

This is guerilla-style, but you will be surprised at the insight gleaned by watching someone with a fresh set of eyes wade through your website or your web application. Better to have test subjects find the flaws than would-be paying customers!


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