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  • About Triple Confluence

    Triple Confluence is a blog about the confluence between Business, Technology, and Customers' needs.

    [ Read More... ]
  • About Author

    Triple Confluence is published by OrangeWiz Studios. OrangeWiz is a full service consulting firm offering services in the areas of Web Design, Web Development, IT Operations strategy, Technical Project Management, and Technical Due Diligence.
  • Constructive Feedback


    [ This is an article I wrote for my design students, but is just as applicable to the professional world. ]

    As part of any design related activity, you are expected to contribute and participate in design discussions by offering constructive feedback to your peers.  It is important to not only be able to design your own work, but contribute to others’ designs.  In the professional world, you will be expected to offer constructive feedback to your team members and clients. Learning to offer feedback, and to offer it (as well as receive it) in a constructive manner is an important skill to master and will ensure that your feedback will not be received a just junk.

    Your goal with feedback is not to embarrass your peers by pointing out their flaws, but to give them ways to improve in a positive tone.  Remember that you are trying to help, not hurt. Therefore the way you communicate your message is important.  When communicating negative feedback, you must do so in a constructive fashion.

    The main way to do this is to avoid coloring your feedback with emotion.  For example, instead of saying “Your work is terrible”, you should say “The readability of your site could be improved by using a larger font”. This provides a constructive solution, not just pointing out the problem.

    The same goes for positive feedback.  Just saying “Your work is great” does not help anyone improve.  While it may feel good in the short term, we are all looking to learn and no one can learn if this is all the feedback you provide. Instead, explain WHY their work is great, such as “Your work is great because your site’s navigation makes it really easy to get around.”  Providing this type of feedback not only makes your peer feel good, but it provides them insight as to what they’ve done right so they can continue to do so in the future.

    It is also important to be able to learn to accept feedback as well. And keep in mind that not all your peers (and usually your boss) will have read this article. Not all feedback you receive will be presented this nicely. In these cases, you should learn to strip away the emotion and just get at the constructive portion.  If a peer presents you with feedback that is too “emotional”, learn to ask them “Why” so you can get at the root of the problem.


    - Avoid emotions: Avoid coloring your feedback with your feelings. Don’t just rant, but explain why.
    - Soften the blow: When presenting negative feedback, always include some positive feedback to help soften the blow. Don’t make things up or “sugar coat” things unnecessarily, but show your peer that you recognize the positive things they’ve done as well.
    - Double Check: Re-read your feedback and before submitting, ask yourself how you would feel if you received this same feedback.



    iPhone Bug Fixes Coming!

    iPhone 2.1 Software UpdatesI’ve previously mentioned that my iPhone 3G suffers from poor battery and 3G performance. It looks like Apple engineers have been busy (hopefully) fixing some of these issues:

    The update — available Friday — will improve battery life and help solve dropped calls and software performance, Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs said at a media event here Tuesday.

    I’m still convinced that part of the problem is over-saturation of the AT&T 3G network. As expected, 3G performance does not seem to be addressed as part of this update. Wired has proven this is most likely an AT&T network issue, because of regional differences in performance.

    Well, at least there’s some progress here. Keep the fixes coming, Apple (and AT&T)!

    Via: USA Today: Apple software update aims to fix iPhone problems
    Via: iLounge: Highlights from Apple’s ‘Let’s Rock’ special event
    Via: CrunchGear: Apple announces iPhone 2.1 firmware
    Via: TechCrunch: Apple Event Brings Few Surprises, Promises Stable iPhone Firmware For Friday
    Via: Engadget: Live from Apple’s ‘Let’s Rock’ event in San Francisco
    1 comment

    Personalized Google Suggest?

    Google SuggestI love Google Search because when I search for something, there’s some magic Fortune Teller that Google has locked up in a server room somewhere that knows exactly what I’m looking for.

    So I was excited by the recent launch of Google Suggest, the new auto-complete on Google’s home page. As you start type, Google’s servers are busy finding and returning related search terms. This is a great idea, but the results don’t seem nearly as precise as I’ve come to expect from Google. I’m guessing the Fortune Teller does better when responding to full terms than to just a few letters.

    My suggestion for making these results more on target is to personalize them. Google knows my search history, and the types of things I search for. Therefore they should be able to give me better responses in Google Suggest.

    This is noticeably missing because I’m used to using the Google Search box built into Firefox. This search box has an auto-complete which includes both my recent search terms (at the top) and other matching (non-personalized) results below. While only the top part of the list is personalized, the top matches have been valuable enough that I will continue to use this over Google Suggest.

    One side effect of implementing this sort of functionality is that the more personalized your results become, the less diverse they might be. But I’m sure the genius’ at Google can figure this out too.

    No comments

    iPhone Lacks Business Capabilities

    SuitcaseWell, I’ve been playing with my iPhone for about a week now, and am impressed overall. Its great as a phone and simple PDA, but the rest of the “productivity” functionality is way behind the times. Most of the issues I’ve found result from the core functional design that cannot be changed (or can only by partially solved) by third party applications.

    Granted, its a phone first, and computer second, but my last phone (Palm Treo 700p) seemed to do the job just fine. Despite the smaller screen and less glamour, I felt the Treo was more capable in two big areas (for me):

    Data Storage: Both the Treo, as well as all previous iPods, had the capability of being mounted as a hard drive over USB (and SD Reader). This saved me from having to carry an extra USB/Flash/Thumb Drive. While that’s only a few ounces, the bigger result here is that this problem trickles through all the iPhone applications. This means that (except as read-only) there are no email attachments, web downloads/uploads, and any third party app that would need access to documents (such as an eBook reader) must provide its own proprietary uploader (or web storage). Granted, there are a few third party apps that try to solve this by either mounting over WiFi (DataCase), Web (SugarSync, MiGhtyDocs), or a proprietary uploader (FileMagnet). My testing of all of these solutions shows them as very slow and fairly buggy. Enough to where I would not trust using these as the primary store for a few gigs of documents. Not to mention that they don’t solve the root problem here because the documents are only available in the restricted sandbox of that single application. While Apple has not commented on the reasons behind disabling this functionality, my gut tells me that resource priorities and security concerns have taken precedence over usability. Hopefully over time Apple can provide a solution.

    Office Suite: A sibling to the above problem is that the iPhone does not have an Office Suite. There is no mobile version of Office/iWork/etc. The iPhone does have the capability (and plenty of sandboxed Apps) to display these documents when found in web pages or the third party apps listed above, but cannot edit them. Granted, you would probably not do your main editing on the small screen, but I definitely used my Treo often for touch-up work while on the road. I’ve used the Treo to make last minute changes to Powerpoint presentations, my resume, or Word Doc proposals, etc. This deficiency is visible in both native iPhone Apps and Safari, neither of which support even basic rich text editing (I take lots of notes as RTF’s in TextEdit). Again, I’m guessing that the cost outweighs the benefits for Apple here, but for me this is a big thing.

    These issues hit me pretty hard today because I’m off on a quick 1 day business trip this afternoon, and although I won’t need my laptop during my meetings, I’m forced to lug it around just to review a few PDF’s, DOC’s, CHM’s, as well as review and update my RTF notes. I can probably find a combination of various iPhone apps to handle my needs (if i convert my notes to plain text), but I don’t have the time and have come to expect Apple technology to “just work” and not require all these “band-aid” solutions. (And I shouldn’t have to buy yet another device or mini laptop to do this.)

    No comments

    iPhone is iPhun!

    iPhoneWell, after pretty much everything going wrong dealing with AT&T for around a total of 8 hours in phone support or in store, I finally got my iPhone up and running on Friday, and here’s my take after the first weekend. I’ll try not to repeat everything that has been said already, other than to summarize that the iPhone is great however the battery and 3G network are laughable.

    But I did want to do a quick write up to discuss some technology vs. design experiences so far. I give Apple alot of credit for the simple and intuitive interfaces used in the iPhone (and iTunes to manage it on your computer). I’ve got some issues with over-simplicity here, but I’ll save that for another post.

    For now, I wanted to discuss a few things I found while building my first iPhone App. Now, I started out easy and just built a web-based Safari app (to get a quick start) rather than learning the native application SDK (which I’ll tackle next). If you’re not familiar with iPhone web-app development, there’s a great User Interface library (iUI from Facebook’s Joe Hewitt) which developers can easily implement to simulate most of the iPhone’s capabilities in Safari.

    So I grabbed iUI, and threw together a quick application to show each DC Metro Station’s next train arrival time. I figured this would be very handy for me when I’m on the go to see how much I have to rush (or stall) to get the next train. The basics are working if you want to check it out (on your iPhone) over at, however I can’t guarantee this will be speedy or stay up (or even stay there) permanently.

    The major issue I found with the iUI interface is that it is AJAX-based by default. If you’re not familiar with this, AJAX basically means that data chunks (and in this case full pages) are loaded into the current page without having to reload the whole current page. This is great for many things, such as the new Google Suggest which is basically an “auto-complete” that loads and displays related search terms as you type in the search box. However, AJAX has some real disadvantages when not used properly.

    In iUI, AJAX is used to simulate the iPhone’s “sliding screen” feature (seen in the first few seconds of this video) to fully load the next page and animate it sliding in over the current page when you click forward. This is some great eye candy, but is not very practical for my application. Loading the next page into the current page (without actually changing pages) means you can’t bookmark anything. In my App, I really need to be able to bookmark my home metro station that I use most often, rather than having to navigate through all the stations from scratch. Luckily, iUI lets you override this default behavior to deliver bookmarkable (but non-sliding) pages. (Techie info: use “target=_self” to bypass the AJAX swipes.)

    In most cases, my recommendation would be to only use AJAX to alter small individual components within a page, rather than loading in full pages. Of course, there are places where AJAX on a larger scale makes sense, but only when your users will not have to repeatedly navigate through a maze of links to get to content they will access frequently. Google Maps is one example where almost the entire page is AJAX so that you don’t have to reload a full new map just to scroll around. In this case, this provides so much of an advantage over the alternative that its worth it. And Google is smart enough to provide a “Link” option in the upper right hand corner where you can Copy/Paste (and therefore bookmark) a link that will bring you back to the exact same spot on the map.

    Lesson here: Just because you’ve got the technology to do something, doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because its “slick” doesn’t mean its usable. You need to take into account what the impact on your Users/Customers will be and how that technology can be used as a benefit, rather than a hindrance to them.

    [ Update 9/10/2008: iPhone Bug Fixes Coming! ]

    AT&T Wireless site Usability

    AT&TI’ve been shopping for a new iPhone, and headed over to the AT&T site to check out my options. I was surprised at how many basic Usability mistakes I found in just a few minutes of surfing around. Obviously they’ve spent some money (or at least time) on design, as the graphics are nice, and they have some helpful features (such as inline filtering of phone listings by style/manufacturer/etc). And given that the iPhone is the only AT&T product (that I’m aware of) that is only sold in stores, I’m not surprised that the website may not have been designed to handle this case.

    Poor Messaging

    So, first I headed over to to check out the deals. Because the initial page is intended for you to choose whether you want to shop for Wireless, Home, or other types of services, I was happy to see an ad for the iPhone listed somewhat prominently at the bottom of the page. So I clicked on the iPhone ad, and was taken to an informational page about the iPhone. After reading lots of good information, I clicked on the big “find yours today” button to try to buy one. I was confused because this took me to a “store finder”, rather than allowing me to buy online. Now I know you can’t buy one online, but there was no messaging regarding this on any of the pages I visited so far. So I decided I should switch to the “shop” section of the site to try to price the iPhone there.

    In the “shop” section you’ve got the option to start shopping by either plan, phone, services, accessories, etc. Each of these options leads to a nice “wizard” style walkthrough of the remaining options related to your initial choice.

    So I clicked on Phones to start with to see what the iPhone costs. A nice listing is provided, although it is very slow to load even when showing only 25 phones at a time. I appreciated the style/manufacturing filtering on the left side, however this was also slow to load and didn’t finish until all 25 phones were loaded. I headed over to the filter to find Apple, and was surprised that it was missing from the manufacturers list. Well, maybe the iPhone was considered rebranded as “AT&T” so I chose that, and still didn’t find any iPhone. At this point, i realized (or remembered) that iPhones weren’t sold online. I’d probably read this months ago, but I wasn’t really thinking about this since I’m a heavy internet shopper (and pricer) and usually expect to find everything I need online. And I’m sure there’s many people who didn’t keep up with iPhone news who could have benefited from some messaging here.

    My suggestion for this case would be for AT&T to provide clear messaging stating that iPhones are only available in stores. (Just out of curiosity, I checked out and as expected, Apple’s messaging was much cleaner, clearly stating that iPhones were only available in Apple/AT&T stores.) In addition, I would have still listed the product in the phone listings, with a link (and similar messaging) to the Store Finder. I would even include the price since many people like myself do shopping research online before heading into the store. In addition, I’d probably allow customers to choose the iPhone and continue through the wizard (with the proper messaging) up until checkout so they can price the related plans. Especially because the plans are tied to the phones (ie: you have to buy a specific iPhone data plan) and I wanted to price the hold package without having to drive to a store.

    User Preferences and Passive Defaults

    So at this point, I headed over to the plans section to try to price one out. I remembered by the end that iPhone has its own special data plans, but I didn’t remember at the time. So I clicked on “Plans”, chose “Individual Plans” and was asked for my zip code. I’m not 100% convinced that your zip code has any effect on the price, but I will give AT&T a bit of leeway on this one. The following page presented me with a list of plans, and a prominent box near the top for the “Coverage Viewer” to see the map of coverage near you. Surprisingly, this box asked for my zip code again! Didn’t I just enter it? Couldn’t they just give me a link to the Coverage Map for the zip code I just entered? That would clearly be the obvious default choice, and if the customer wanted to look at another zip code you could give them a “Choose another location” option. Granted, I was here to look at prices, but the prominent zip code box hit my eyes first.

    Anyway, I shopped around a bit more, comparing family plans and individual plans, and after realizing I couldn’t get my iPhone or data plan pricing, I gave up. I’ve also got some issues with the “Shopping Cart” that constantly pops up in front of the site as you progress (which has some logic problems and confusing error messaging) but that’s a story for another article.

    We ended up having to call in to AT&T to get our plans/phones upgraded, and this turned into a 4 hour ordeal with AT&T Customer Service after getting disconnected and having to restart the process many times. I guess we should’ve called from non AT&T phones!

    Usability Lessons Learned

    Clear Error/Exception Messaging: When your users do something wrong, or when a component of your site works differently that the rest, make sure you provide clear messaging. This messaging should be in simple terms from the customer’s viewpoint (rather than a technical error message). Do some research with your users to determine what they expect, and if your business requirements can’t meet those expectations at least provide messaging explaining why.

    User Preferences and Passive Defaults: Remember any preference (such as their zip code) that your user provides, and don’t make them enter it more than once. Use this preference to determine “passive defaults” (such as automatically centering the Coverage Map on the previously entered zip code), and give the user to option to override any default you’ve chosen for them.

    No comments

    Good design isn’t enough!

    As a professional working in the web industry, I’m a big believer in promoting good design, intuitive usability, and clear Information Architecture. My top design principles (more to come on this in a future post) include: Clarity, Consistency, and Intuitiveness. In a great article on SmashingMagazine, the importance of Simplicity (one of the ways to help achieve Clarity and Intuitiveness in design) was discussed and pointed out that:

    If the user can’t find what she’s looking for right away, she’s gone. It’s crucial to have simple web designs to allow the user to quickly find the information they need, especially if you are selling a product.

    This is a great article and does contain some good examples that can be used as design inspiration. However good design is not enough. You can have the best design in your market and still fail. And vice-versa, you can have the worst design and somehow come out on top.

    Google Search is often hailed as the #1 example of how simple design will lead to great success. However this is not really the case. When Google Search first came out, I heard over and over again that “Google [Search] is great because its so much simpler and gives me much more accurate results than other search engines.” People only attributed the simplicity to Google’s success because it hadn’t been done before. What really kept people coming back though was the quality of the search results. Google Search is not the best ONLY because of its simple design, but because of its combination of good design, great technology, and smart business practices.

    On the other side of the spectrum you’ve got most of the social networks, such as MySpace/Facebook which have horrible designs and overly cluttered interfaces, yet people can’t get enough of them. Many competitors try to enter this market with either better interfaces or better features, but have yet to make much traction. In this case, its the business-model completely eliminating the need for a quality product. Peer pressure leads to exponential growth and it doesn’t matter how bad the product is.

    Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to see higher quality (and better designed) web products out there, but it just isn’t needed everywhere. Some quick tips for product success:

    • Start by concentrating on a solid business-model. Come up with something that solves a problem and you’ll have demand for your product. Find a big enough problem to solve and you won’t be able to hold back the swarm.

    Scalable Supply: There’s nothing worse than the store running out of your kid’s new favorite toy after all his friends got one. Implement Technology that will scale with your product’s demand. And there’s no point in spending excessive amounts on supply until the demand is (almost) there.

    Customer Focus: Figure out how to tweak your product’s design to best serve your customers. Without customer satisfaction, even the best business plans will fail. And scale this appropriately as well. Figure out what your users want and need, and then weigh those against the business impact of not providing those wants and needs.

    Refine. Having a successful product means you’ve got to keep up with market changes. Your customers tastes will change, your business will grow, and technology will innovate. In the Social Networking world, that same exponential growth that made you successful can quickly lead to a wave of customers moving on to the next big thing, leaving you in the dust. Revisit the first three tips often to make sure you’re keeping up with the times.

    Business, Technology, and Design (which in this case represents the Customer component of the Triple Confluence) must be balanced in order to achieve success. This is just another example of how the Triple Confluence is an additive principle (and not a constraining principle like the Triple Constraint). Good design can help, but without good business and technology your great design will end up on the cutting room floor.

    Via: Smashing Magazine: How Simple Web Design Helps Your Business

    NBC Olympics Web Coverage: Ignoring Customers leads to failed Business

    NBC OlympicsYet again, the traditional media industry has failed to capitalize on the business opportunities available with new media. According to TechCrunch’s sources:

    eMarketer put out [an estimate] on Friday that NBC’s Olympics video ad revenues came to only $5.75 million. That compares to $23 million that CBS made from video ads when it streamed the NCAA basketball tournament live on its Website in March. … NBC paid $900 million for exclusive video rights to the Olympics, meaning that its [TV advertising] profits will be about $100 million.

    It is unknown how much of this $5.75 million revenue is actually profit.

    Around the internet/blogosphere, this small showing has been attributed to many things, including NBC’s usage of Microsoft’s Silverlight technology (a new technology in the already Adobe Flash-dominated web video market) that is not browser-agnostic, as well as its restrictive scheduling and content exclusivity. And while these are not “life-or-death” obstacles, obviously these are purely business decisions without any input from the customer. Based on the accounts I’ve read and my own experiences, people would most likely want a seamless experience using the technology they already have and the ability to watch truly live streaming video rather than having to wait until after the TV broadcast for replays. And when you take into account the “Web 1.0″ style of content exclusivity, NBC has fallen again behind the times.

    From strictly a design standpoint, I believe NBC missed the boat on this one due to poor information design. The designers of the site payed little attention to the Information Architecture of its content, providing many duplicative (and therefore confusing) navigation paths throughout the site. As I clicked through the site in what I believed was a linear pattern, it turned out the website was constantly jumping me from section to section without a steady anchor as to where I was at any moment (or how to get back to where I came from). Granted, this is not an easy problem due to the complex multi-dimensional nature of the content (which could be possibly navigated by sport, country, athlete, date, etc), but I can’t believe NBC came up with the best solution. I’m sure many people, like me, never got that far on as I was quickly overwhelmed by the site’s Information Overload. And this doesn’t even take into account the video content which surprised me by how many pages I had to go through to play a video after I actually found the one I wanted. Overall I left the site after 10 pages or so of finding nothing I was looking for (and only what NBC’s editorial team was pushing).

    Unfortunately this can only be bad for the consumers in the long run, as NBC (and other similar business) will only see this as a proof of a bad market, rather than fixing the root of the problem by meeting that market’s needs.

    Via: TechCrunch: No Matter How NBC Spins It, Olympics Web Strategy Comes Up A Loser
    Via: Mashable: NBCOlympics Video Ads Estimated to Pull in Just $5.75 Million

    Minty Fresh Redesign: User testing to produce Business results.

    Minty Fresh ProfitsOnline personal finance product, Mint, has redesigned its website based on user testing. According to TechCrunch:

    … Mint has been bucket testing various redesign formats with some users and is seeing conversion rates increase by 20% over the current site. … That equals “hundreds of thousands” of more registered users over the course of a year given their current growth rates..

    This is a perfect example of the concepts and methods discussed in my last article discussing balancing Business vs. User needs. In this case, Mint not only figured out what its users want, but also measured how those wants would affect their business.

    Via: Redesigning For A Reason: Towards Better Conversion Rates
    Via: Launches Redesign with New Financial Resources and Educational Tools
    No comments

    Business vs. Customers

    Photo byOne of the most common dilemmas related to products/services is how to balance the needs of the Business versus the needs of that business’ Customers. As a web designer/developer (representing the Technology arm in the Triple Confluence), I am often approached by clients to produce a website that will have a design or features I know its Customers will hate or not be able to use effectively.

    Many people take one side or the other on this issue, because they are conditioned to believe that “The customer is always right”. And the dilemma occurs because, who the “Customer” is can be seen from different viewpoints. Some Technologists (designers or developers) believe that because that client is paying the bills they should therefore get everything they want. (The clients also believe that too sometimes!) Some Technologists believe the end user is always right (see User Centered Design) because they are ultimately the ones using the product (and will therefore bring revenue to the Business).

    However, the only way your product/service will be successful is by balancing these needs. The Business needs to remember that they represent Business needs, not Customer needs (and are usually not the end users). Without meeting the needs of the business plan, your product/service will not meet its goals. For example, users may hate your advertisements, but this may be the only way for you to make money. In addition, without meeting the needs of your Customers, your product/service can’t meet its goals either. For example, if your advertisements are too pervasive, they could prevent your Customers from using the product/service optimally. The solution to this specific example may be to use advertisements that are as non-invasive as possible.

    Whether you are on the Business or Customer side (and if you’ve got enough budget to do so) here are a few ways to negotiate or avoid these types of dilemmas:

    Early Detection: Spend as much time upfront as you can trying to determine if this dilemma will arise. I always try to feel this out with my clients before taking on any job. I make sure to discuss this with any potential clients early by getting (and setting) their expectations. If you have this discussion early, usually you can tell if your client (or Technologist) lies on one extreme or the other and take the necessary steps to avoid the dilemma (including not moving forward with that client/technologist).

    Plain old negotiation: The simplest way is just to sit down with your counterpart and present your case. The best method here is the “Put yourself in my (or your Customers’) shoes” argument. Meeting “in person” always works best for a critical issue such as this, followed by phone communications if that’s not possible (See: The Communication Hierarchy).

    Competitive Analysis / Market Research: Figure out what your competitors are doing. Chances are, if they’re leading the market they have already figured out how to balance Business vs. Customer needs. Be very careful on this one though, as many “Web 2.0″ products don’t actually make any money (or even want to make money) and just rely on investment money or an eventual acquisition. Make sure you factor this in when comparing to your business goals.

    Business Plan: If you are on the Business side of this dilemma, you need to provide business justification for these types of decisions. If you have a relationship with the Technologist that allows you to share this plan, they will be more likely to understand your side. Especially if you have the data behind it (ie: “We have tested this on a small scale, and have forecasted that this feature will net/save us an extra Trillion Dollars over not using it”).

    Focus Groups/etc.: Get the Customers involved. Figure out what they really want and need. This is probably the most important method, as in reality, both the Business and Design/Development teams may think they know what the Customer really wants, but often are both wrong.

    Do or Die: In the worst case scenario you need to be able to walk away or just blindly accept your counterpart’s position. Obviously this is not the recommended option, but if there is no other choice it might be the only option. If you have done your homework and are convinced you are right then it may only hurt the other side to continue. Hopefully you can avoid this by the early detection method discussed above, but unexpected issues always arise and ultimately you may need to make this hard choice.

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