The Weakest Link or One Bad Apple Redux…

The other day I let off some steam about the extremely poor experience of trying to book an appointment at the Genius Bar. After 8 attempts, each time clicking through the same 6 screens (because there’s no other way), and an ever-increasing level of frustration, I got an appointment for Sunday morning. I got up early Sunday and headed downtown, fully expecting the worst.


Photo by bernardoh

When I told the girl at the front door that I had an appointment, she checked her iPhone, found my name, and with a smile she sent me up to the second floor. There, another color coded girl (the “ushers” wear orange, the geniuses wear blue) checked her iPhone, asked me to take a seat and said it’d be just a minute. A simple but beautifully designed screen behind the geniuses showed me my own name, reassuring me that I was next in line. The smooth friendliness made it rather difficult for me to maintain my irate customer stance, but I set my jaw, determined to give the so-called genius a piece of my mind if he hesitated for even a second to replace my iPhone.

Luckily for Tom, my genius, he didn’t hesitate at all. In fact, upon seeing the missing button on the top of my phone, he said, “let’s get that replaced then, shall we?” I blinked, nodded, and two signatures and 3 minutes later I had a brand spanking new iPhone in my pocket. Tom gave me exactly what I’d been hoping for (but assuming wouldn’t happen) and was extremely friendly through out our brief transaction.

The Weakest Link

Our experience with the brands we love (and hate) is a chain of mini-experiences:

  • Advertising links to…
  • In store or web site purchase links to…
  • The box links to…
  • Unboxing links to…
  • First time use links to…
  • Learning & regular use links to…
  • Customer service links to…
  • Repair or replacement links to…
  • Next purchase links to…

Any brand that can construct a solid chain from beginning to end, has a good chance of linking the end to the beginning and creating a permanent loop of consumption, something that Apple’s become pretty good at.


Apple’s advertising, packaging, product design and so many other links in the chain have always been such good experiences for me, so I was shocked at the problems I encountered trying to book a genius bar appointment. If DELL or Microsoft gave me those kinds of problems, it would confirm my opinion of them and would therefore, in a way, be more bearable. But when Apple drops the ball I’m shocked. They’ve trained me to expect perfect experiences as my right as an Apple customer. Tom the genius restored my faith, but the hassle of booking an appointment to see him is now part of the chain in my memory.

Other than that, the repair or replacement link is the absolute worst part of the chain to disappoint a customer. If I have your broken product in hand, my expectation in that moment is that you suck. There’s no other point in the chain where it’s more important to prove the opposite.

A Simple Fix

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s not really a big challenge to improve the appointment booking process without changing anything but the copy. If Apple were to take this “piss of” screen:


And simply change the text:


…and give me the ability to jump straight to the page and check back – without clicking through six time-wasting screens over and over again – I’d be a very happy customer, and Apple’s otherwise perfect chain would be a perfect circle.

A Tale of Two Experiences or One Bad Apple…

Stiffness and more than a little pain in my neck and shoulders convinced me this week to order the necessary hardware to get my laptop up off the desk and help me improve my posture. Being in no small part a bit of an Apple fanboy, I ordered one of their beautifully designed extended keyboards.


The keyboard arrived this morning, and I was reminded again–from the design of the outside of the box, to the experience of opening it, to the minimalistic eloquence of the object’s design–that Apple are the uncontested masters of experience design. I mused briefly on how far behind them every other company I know of is, and clapped myself on the shoulder for being a discriminating customer with taste.

Fast forward to lunch. I pick up my iPhone, tap something into it, and go to push the little button on top that locks the screen.

It’s gone.

The ingredients of experiences are feelings, and this is a story about feelings. That button seems to have just fallen off. I’m a little surprised and disappointed, but I’m not fanboy enough to expect that Apple’s products are indestructible. I’m willing to forgive. “No big deal,” I think, “I’ll just go down to the Optus (my mobile provider) shop and get them to replace it.” Considering Optus’ reputation for service I wasn’t surprised that they palmed the whole thing off to Apple in about 5 seconds.

At this point I was, oddly enough, relieved that I didn’t have to deal with Optus fools who never give me the help I’m after. Instead I had a perfect excuse to enter the beautiful Apple Store down on George St. and I was looking forward to them handing over my shiny new replacement iPhone.

To get a date with an Apple Store “Genius”, you book an appointment online. So off I went to Apple’s lovely web site, clicked around a bit (Support > Repair > Enter serial number > Make an appointment), and landed on this screen:


Ahhhh, just the kind of design I like: clear options, no fluff, and an overall feeling of simplicity. Lovely. I was pleased to be here, and optimistic about wrapping up this appointment business quickly. I’ve got an account at Apple, so I clicked “Member”. After two screens they want my membership number for something I’ve never heard of called “One to One”. No explanations. I feel a bit stupid and confused as I return to the screen above and start again. Let’s click “Guest” and see what happens.


Sign in, easy, quickly done. I like these kinds of tasks, this is obviously where I want to be. Next!


I obviously want technical support. Click! Now I’m getting somewhere! Maybe I was stupid to click “Member” back there, but let’s forget about that shall we? I’m smart now and my new iPhone can’t be far away!


iPhone of course! Click! Rolling along now, almost done!


A layer warns me to update my software and backup my data before I come to the store. Prudent advice. I’m not very interested right now to be honest, but it does heighten my optimism –if they’re telling me what to do before coming to the store, then I’m almost there, right? Continue! Click!


Uh. Wait a sec.

Confused. Also disappointed but mostly just confused. Surely after asking for my info, and even instructing me what to do before I come to the store, surely after all of that it must be possible to get an appointment? And if there’s no appointment, surely Apple wouldn’t just slam the door in the face of a customer with a problem? Even if they were to offer me an appointment in two weeks or two months time, it’d be better than this. Must just be a bug. Surely. Or maybe I did something wrong?

There are only two options: “Done”, which I’m not, and “Exit”, which most certainly won’t get me what I want. They might as well reduce it to a big “Piss off” button. For lack of any more sensible option, I click “Done”, which brings me back to the support start page. I dig the serial number out again, click click type type click click. Perhaps I’m in denial, but I’m determined to get an appointment.

Imagine calling tech support, and after a couple of questions the operator states flatly, “I can’t help you,” and hangs up. This is what just happened to me. Twice. No help. No option how to continue. Just a refusal to give me an appointment. This is what we call angry. I try it all one more time for good measure, which only makes me angrier.

So I ask my friends if they know what’s up. One of them replies, “it always says that.” With that I decided the whole thing’s hopeless, and made a plan to put on my irate face and drop by the Apple Store (without an appointment) to make the life of some clerk (they’re obviously not Geniuses) uncomfortable until I get my replacement.

And this morning I was in love with Apple.

Update: I did eventually get an appointment and everything went great. Which somehow makes this experience even more disappointing.

Grouse! The Web Directions South Wrap-up

For all you non-Aussies out there, “grouse” usually means either a bird with feathered feet, or “to complain” in British army slang, but in Australian slang it means “awesome!” No one seems to know why.


Photo by the talented JJ Halans

Now that Web Directions is over, and now that I’ve had a weekend to sleep it off, I’ve got to say it was excellent! As you’d expect of a conference with three tracks and 670 attendees, it was two days of agonising over what to see, rushing from room to room and sketchnoting ’til my hand was sore. This was all well balanced by the best conference wifi I’ve experienced yet, highly drinkable free coffee, and relaxing, drinking and laughing at the great after-parties.

The information was pretty dense in almost every presentation so I didn’t manage to sketchnote everything I saw, but here are a few of my favourites. You can see all of my Web Directions sketchnotes here.

Mark Boulton

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 1

Having had a slightly too big night the day before, I missed Matt Webb’s keynote (which I’ve heard was pretty damned grouse) so Mark Boulton started my Web Directions. Mark’s a designer of note and author & publisher who’s worked at the BBC, recently redesigned Drupal and runs a small agency in South Wales. His talk on typography was broad, and in places deep, going from typographic basics to a structure for type thinking to the challenges of embeddable fonts. He inspired some grumbling, but echoed my thoughts, when he said:

I don’t think Comic Sans really is that bad. There are no bad tools, just bad designers.

And his take on embeddable fonts was interesting: he said working within constraints and concentrating on structure makes for good typography, and warned that “opening the flood gates” with @font-face, Typekit and the like will lead to an extremely ugly, chaotic web. I strongly agree with the former, and fear the latter may be spot on. You can see his slides here.

Suze Ingram

Suze introduced us all to service design, something I’ve been hearing murmurings about for a while, but couldn’t have really said exactly what it was. Suze has obviously been paying a little more attention than I have, and gave a clear and concise introduction to the topic. Thanks Suze! She’s also obviously keen for service design to grow and flourish in Australia and has started the Service Design Hub to encourage that growth, and is working on “Service Design Camp” in 2010. Suze is keen to collaborate and drive service design forward–let her know what you think.

The web designers and information architects of five years ago are now calling themselves user experience designers, and a cynic joked after Suze’s presentation that we’ll all be service designers next year. Considering how much most service experiences suck today, I can certainly imagine worse outcomes. Check out Suze’s slides here.

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 3Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 4

Donna Spencer

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 5As always, my friend Donna was charming & smart as she presented the basic information seeking behaviours that all users exhibit.

This was a list presentation, so no mind-bending new insights, but it went a long way to shake the accepted “people either search or navigate” myth out of my head. She showed that people explore, refine & narrow, compare, discover and more, depending on how much they know, what they’re looking for and how goal oriented they are at that moment. The bit that really made me sit up and think was when Donna quoted Cheryl Gledhill, who said in her presentation:

Recently I’ve been searching less, but finding more.

I’m hoping Donna’s next presentation on information seeking behaviours will deal with exactly this “bubbling up” behaviour we’re seeing more and more of on Twitter and other social networks. Have a look at Donna’s presentation here.

Christian Crumlish

Christian gets my vote for best presentation of the conference, and not just because I got to get up on stage and introduce him. He was very clearly passionate about his subject, got quite a few laughs out of his audience, and backed it all up with rock solid information and examples.

Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 8Web Directions South 09 Sketchnotes, Page 9

The self-described “Pattern Detective” of Yahoo’s Pattern Library (and ukulele virtuoso) gave us the five principles of social interface design:

  1. pave the cowpaths
  2. talk like a person
  3. play well with others
  4. learn from games
  5. respect

The rest of his talk revolved around a fascinating diagram, showing the various elements of the social ecosystem, designed by Erin Malone, the co-author with Christian of the recently published “Designing Social Interfaces“. After his high-energy, insightful talk, I’ll definitely be buying the book.

I was also pleased to get to know Christian and his charming wife during their stay here in Sydney, and look forward to visiting them in San Francisco! That’s hands down the best bit of any good conference!


Writing a wrap-up like this can’t really capture the atmosphere of exchange, sharing and inspiration, nor the jokes shared over a beer or the intense discussion at dinner. Due to these, as well as the smart & generous presenters, Web Directions was indeed grouse! Some of my other favourite moments:

Elliot Jay Stocks:

Beauty is the experience’s visual layer.

Dan Hill:

IT is too important for the IT department.

Mark Boulton:

The fundamental flaw in Jesse James Garrett’s model is that he relegates typography to the surface.

Kelly Goto:

Hybrid designer / coders are magic people.

I’m now very sorry I arrived too late for Web Directions last year, and I’m already looking forward to seeing everyone again in 2010!

More, Better, Faster!

More presentations by Matt Balara.

Now that the audio’s available, here are the slides from my UX Australia presentation.

Any stack of paper can be printed with words which, when read, convey insightful, interesting & exciting thoughts to the reader. The same words can be posted on a web site and have the same effect. But when we present our ideas, it’s a completely different kind of communication, far closer to theater than it is to writing. Presenters who subject their audience to slide after slide of text are where the term “death by powerpoint” comes from, and the most ground-breaking ideas can induce catatonia when delivered by a monotone speaker who sounds anything but passionate about his subject. The best presentations I’ve ever seen were dominated by images, contained no more than a few (if any) words on each slide, and were presented by a speaker who knew his material backwards and delivered it with confidence, passion and humour. When I present, I try to be that guy.

This style always causes the same dilemma: should I share slides which make no sense at all without me talking & waving my arms in front of them? Luckily, Donna Spencer organised excellent recording for all of the presentations at UX Australia, and Slideshare makes it possible to sync audio to slides.

But most presentations on Slideshare don’t have any audio. I’m curious: when you put together a slide deck, do you keep Slideshare in mind and try and make your slides readable, or do you concentrate on the event, and try and put on a great show?

Sketchnoting Oz IA

As I mentioned last week, Eric Scheid was generous enough to sponsor me to attend Oz IA to be the event’s sketchnoter. I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and will once again indulge my scribbler’s laziness and let some pictures say a thousand words…

Oz IA Sketchnotes, Pages 1 & 2

Okay, so I’m not that lazy.

I’d never attended Oz IA before, and after my experience at the IA Summit this year, I was a little afraid Oz IA would be a navel-gazing IA rockstar festival, but I was happily surprised. Everyone (okay, almost everyone) was down to earth and had practical, useful stuff to say.

Too Fluffy

One of my personal favourites was Anthony Colfelt’s talk, “We’re Still Too Fluffy“, although I got the feeling it wasn’t so popular with the rest of the crowd. It was a wake-up call to information architects that see commerce as dirty, and expect clients (and the general populace) to see their skills as valuable and shower them in riches, just because they exist. Anthony urged us all to more clearly define what it is we do, learn to convince others of the value of design, and to learn to sell. Amen, brutha!

Here’s what I captured during Anthony’s talk…

Oz IA Sketchnotes, Pages 14 & 15

Is it Art?

Another big hit with me, and apparently many attendees, was “I don’t know much about the web, but I know what I like”, by the manager of information at the Gallery of New South Wales, Jonathan Cooper.

Compared to almost every other presenter, Jonathan’s talk was poor on hard data, research findings and user personas, none of which kept it from being the most engaging, entertaining and interactive talk at the conference. Like all good presentations, showing you his slide deck wouldn’t even impart 10% of the experience of watching him throw rubbish on the floor and transform it into art. If anyone out there has a video I could post, let me know!

Not surprisingly, Jonathan’s show produced my favourite sketchnotes…

Oz IA Sketchnotes, Pages 21 & 22

On the Job

The experience of sketchnoting Oz IA was a bit different than at UX Australia:

After all the positive feedback from UX Australia, I was more confident, which translates directly into better visual ideas and a stronger line.

Since Eric was sponsoring me, I was under a different kind of pressure: I wanted to give him value during the conference, so I was running out in between sessions to photograph and upload my pages. This had a very exciting immediacy about it — one guy told me on the second day that he’d spent the night before trying to copy my first day’s sketchnotes — but it also meant less chatting and hanging out, and a fair bit of rushing around.

The sketchbook & pen combination from UX Australia didn’t work — the Sharpie bled through the soft pages. Using a pocket-sized Moleskine with heavy sketchbook paper and a Uniball Signo cartridge hacked into a Pilot G2 Mini body proved to be perfect. Thanks yet again to Mike Rohde, sketchnote king.

Looking at my sketchnotes now, I find them very light on information. I still haven’t found the right balance between taking the time to draw and making sure I don’t miss something important.

Even though some of my drawings completely sucked (see for example my portrait of Joji Mori) people were very encouraging anyway. Thanks folks!

Closing the Book

Oz IA was another great conference that I look forward to attending next year. And my second round of conference sketchnoting proved challenging, highly enjoyable, and a great way to concentrate and absorb and save more. If you liked the sketchnotes above, you can see all 13 spreads from Oz IA in my Flickr set.

I can’t wait to capture more sketchnotes at Web Directions this week. See you there!