Design for the customers you don't have

I think the sentiment below applies in most channels and domains, not just the web. Indeed, when I look at a contact centre, I'm always keen to ask whether non-telephony channels are on the plan later down the line (e.g. social media). You always need to be looking ahead. Nik.

When doing any sort of redesign work on the web, you want to keep your existing customers in mind. You have no doubt done countless hours of research and user testing to get your business and website to where it is today. It is probably even safe to say that you have a very good understand of your customers and who they are.

Thats all fine and dandy. Great even.

But, to me it seems flawed to only take into account your current customers when doing any sort of research, planning, or designing. If you only ever take your current customers into account, how can you ever plan on growing your business?

Yes, if you understand your current customer and build for them, your company will most likely grow at a steady rate. Again, this is fine if its the way you want to do things. But, most business owners I know are constantly looking to the future and how they can grow their business.

By growing a business, one would assumes you are looking to acquire customers that are different from the ones you currently have. These new customers may be fairly similar to the ones your currently have or the may be extremely different. So do yourself a favor, when doing your research and user testing, get feedback from people outside of your customer profile.

Getting feedback from people outside of your typical customer profile will help give you valuable insights on how to grow your business to appeal to a wider variety of people.

[full article source at Outlaw Design]

Call centre automation could save economy £23bn a year

I don't even need to think about this heading in order to come to conclusion it could very well be true. Call Centre automation technology has the ability to rip out upto 95% of the costs of conducting contact centre transactions, and yet it has been deployed and designed so badly in the past that it is almost universally hated by everyone. Almost everyone has a tale of woe about a bad voice self-service experience and it's even de rigeur for comedians to make fun of it.

When I saw Kevin Bridges at the Edinburgh festival this year, he was at it regarding a cinema booking line. (Which incidentally does have a fundamental flaw that I spoke about at a conference almost 10 years ago, and it hasn't been improved). It's exactly this kind of lip service to good design that needs to be challenged. And there's no excuse not to do so, and do so well, when the savings can be so high.

For what it's worth, I think Gartner are totally wrong on this one. The technology is absolutely mature enough for the big time - what isn't mature enough is the commitment to user-centric design rather than cost-oriented and departmentally siloed project mentality.

Here's some of the article:

In an interview with Computing, local government CIO Jos Creese said local authorities should be looking to move as many services as possible into self-service. However, a report from Gartner last month argued that the technology was not yet sophisticated enough, and that self-service struggles to solve more than one eighth of IT problems.

A step towards self-service, at least from the perspective of the consumer, is call centre automation.

A study released yesterday and carried out by the Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that UK organisations and consumers could save more than £23bn a year by reducing inefficiencies in public and private sector call centres using call automation technology.

The study, called The Economics of Call Automation, said firms could recoup £14.8bn through call centre automation, and consumers could save £8.3bn a year through not being put on hold at call centres.

The potential public sector gains rise to £13bn per year if increased call automation is applied across doctors' surgeries, universities and government departments, as well as call centres.



You say Success-o. I say sucks-oh-so.

I spent a little time over the weekend filling in a feedback questionnaire for my favourite mail-order coffee company. No names mentioned.

The feedback for them was very good, because when I spoke to them by phone they were prompt, courteous, helpful and even applied a discount to the delivery costs. They gave me an estimated delivery time and the coffee came even sooner. All-in-all, splendid customer service right? I'm sure after that successful call and great feedback there'll be a bit of back-slapping in the corridors at doing so well.

Except this feedback failed to capture one important thing: that call should never have happened.

After a week of failed attempts to order on a broken website and a dire shortage of my coffee supplies I was forced to pick up the phone to order. Not my preferred contact channel.

For me, in my customer centric goal-oriented world, this was the final unnecessary hurdle in a failed process where I had to resort to phone to get my task complete and a problem fixed. For said coffee company, in their channel-focussed world of call centre targets, it was a brilliantly executed sales call.

Unless organisations like this begin to understand customer journeys, begin to take account of transactions across multiple channels, begin to measure needless interactions caused by failure, they will never get a true understanding of their performance, their effect on customers and the cost of failure.

It can cost 100x more to process a transaction with a live person on the end of the phone than it does via an automated web service. The company left me with a warm fuzzy feeling, sure. But they certainly paid the price.

Designing Better Streets for People with Low Vision

Design plays a big role in giving people with low vision the confidence to use streets and public spaces.

But a new study funded by CABE has found that some features which should help people with low vision are hindering them instead.

Sight Line: designing better streets for people with low vision investigated how eight blind and partially sighted people navigate their local streets.

Local authorities use blister paving differently, even in adjacent boroughs, to demarcate the pavement edge at both controlled and uncontrolled crossings.

The study argues for national guidance to be clearer and for local authorities to coordinate across boundaries.

Author Ross Atkin, a research associate at the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art, also interviewed local authority designers and researchers from across the country.

He has developed a practical new mapping technique to communicate how three different groups (residual sight users, long cane users and guide dog users) use a combination of sound, touch, and memory to get around safely.

[read full article]

The joy of tech support!

Who hasn't had an experience like this?

One of the modern-day challenges of customer service is getting calls to the correctly skilled people in an organisation. There's a whole world of technology, science and design devoted to making this possible; and it is possible if an organisation will invest in it.

Does yours? 

A tale of 3 names: getDesign(in)

If you're bemused (or perhaps even grammatically horrified) by the new blog name, then that's possibly because it's very deliberately a play on words. 

My idea for this approach first started with the creation of - I wanted a domain name that closely matched my logo and business name as much as possible - which was the word brushstrokes with a blob of paint in it. The Spanish top-level-domain .es provided the perfect answer: you can just type into your address bar.  

My reworked business and tech blog is about design, in its various forms - whether it's processes, devices, experiences etc. good and bad. Things are designed, and whether that design is good or poor often depends on how the thing is to be used or viewed or interacted with. So, I wanted to literally capture that exact property in the name of my blog and the domain name, if possible.

My first idea was actually designsUX (UX being an accepted moniker for User Experience) - because this also had the property being read as "design sux". In one fell swoop it was able to convey two concepts, purely on how you viewed it, which is just what I was after.

However, after pondering it a week, I felt that of the two concepts being conveyed, design sucks wasn't really a strong one. I mean, yes, often it does suck due to lack of care and thought - but in principle, design itself doesn't suck - that is, after all, the point of my bloggings.

And then I had a flash of inspiration - thinking of designing (designin' dontchaknow!) and the availability of .in Indian domain names, I came up with "get designin" - realising that this can be read as both "get design in" (i.e. start to embody good design principles) and "get designin!" (i.e. start doing it). This was perfect, far more positive and could be encapsulated entirely in the domain name, just as was. 

Not only that - but there is a sort of third interpretation too, just around "get design" - i.e. to understand it. I felt I could bring this element out by quoting the name as getDesign(in), to show the "in" as paranthetical. Three birds, one stone. A name that literally demonstrates that the impact of design is in the eye of the beholder

For those of you that aren't enamoured by the choice of capitalisation, I do apologise. The choice has been made to reflect typical computer programming style and is thus a reference to the technology roots and interests of me and my blog; I'm aware it makes for lousy English. 

iTalkSpeech becomes getDesign(in)

Everything evolves and I'm finally getting round to deprecating my iTalkSpeech blog in favour of getDesign(in). Quite simply, this more accurately represents my interests, activities and skills. There'll be more on the choice of name later. 

It previously made a lot more sense to focus on the speech/voice world, since that aligned more with the bulk of my work.

However, not only did that align less well with everything I do outside of work, but that was a while a ago. It no longer really makes sense to be so narrowly focussed on the speech industry specifically, given that I'm looking at the wider picture of businesstechnology and experiences for customers; and really, always have done.  

For the sake of the search engines and the old content (which has been preserved), here's the old intro:

The speech technology blog: news, views and reviews of the speech recognition market, speech technology industry, voiceXML landscape and world of IVR and voice self-service; with a smattering of interaction, gadgetry and social media.

Moving forward, I'm looking to say and highlight much more about the world of interaction and design in all its various forms, from beautiful technology that delights us, to the dysfunction of huge corporate processes that destroy us. I hope you'll join me at

Google finding its voice


Google's Mike Cohen won't be satisfied until anyone who wants to talk to their computer can do so without laughing at the hideous translation or sighing in frustration.
Cohen, a leading figure in speech technology circles, heads up Google's efforts to advance the science of speech technology while applying it to as many products as possible. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and it turns out a lot of the world's information is spoken," Cohen said, in a recent interview with CNET about the search giant's speech ambitions.
Google is attempting to produce voice-recognition technology that fits in with its view that the computing universe is shifting toward mobile devices and browser-based applications. That is, easy-to-use software that does the heavy lifting at the data center in order to run over the Internet on a mobile device with limited hardware.
Computer speech recognition seems like it has been five to 10 years away for decades. Indeed, the electronics and computer industries have been chasing the goal of voice-directed computers for nearly 100 years, when a simple wooden toy dog released in 1911 called Radio Rex first captivated children and adults by responding (at least some of the time) when his owners called for "Rex!" by shooting out of a doghouse. (Cohen owns one of the few remaining gadgets.)
Huge advances have obviously been made since the 1920s, yet few of us use our computers like HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey" or KITT, the computerized car in "Knight Rider." Cohen, however, believes the industry is about to silence the jokes about amusingly garbled voice mails as speech recognition models grow more sophisticated, engineers pack mobile computing devices with more sophisticated hardware, and users start to realize that performance has made great strides.
"The goal is complete ubiquity of spoken input and output," Cohen said. "Wherever it makes sense, we want it to be available with very high performance."



Nuance's New Dragon NaturallySpeaking V.11: More Accurate, Faster, Easier

Nuance comes in with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, a new release of its speech recognition software, one that has been around for 13 years, that has been redesigned to let people spend more of their energy working and creating, rather than clicking and typing.  Dragon 11 says Nuance, “gives people a voice to perform almost any task on the computer to create documents, send e-mails, surf the Web, search Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter and interact with their favorite applications – at speeds up to three times faster than typing.”


(for more see source reference)