Tag Archives: UX

Management Lessons From Uber

Travis Kalanick is a tough guy to root for. He is the CEO of billion-dollar, ride-sharing service Uber, he’s the 290th richest person in the United States and a quick Google search of his name will tell you all you need to know about his leadership style. He’s the kind of guy who inspires his employees to draw pointy beards on his photo in the break room.

I’ve read some articles from business experts who have defended Kalanick’s actions by comparing him to the likes of Steve Jobs and Henry Ford – you know, guys who excelled at leadership whether their teammates liked it or not. The folks who buy business books in airport gift shops seem to be more forgiving than the media, I suppose.

Whichever side of the fence you fall on when it comes to Kalanick, I think his shenanigans (I love that word) can teach us an important lesson about managing a technology business: it’s not really about technology – it’s about people.

I’ve done a good bit of graphic design in my life, including some work I am proud of. But I’ve also spent hours, days even, developing a design that checks off all of the boxes from a technical standpoint (asymmetrical balance, negative space, other pretentious terms that only “artists” remember) only to show it to a client and have them stare blankly and say “I don’t get it.”

My mistake was believing that the technical design work was the goal itself. It wasn’t. The goal was making an impression on the people who viewed the design.

Uber isn’t an app company or a transportation company. It doesn’t make money because it solves technology problems. Uber succeeds because its technology solves a human problem. And if you alienate those humans, everything else can fall apart really fast.

That’s why UX is so important in the web business. The greatest code in the world doesn’t amount to anything if users can’t figure out how to make it work. In many ways, the user experience is the single most important part of any modern technology, whether it involves a smartphone or a 1978 Chrysler Newport with fuzzy dice in the window and Molly Hatchet in the tape deck.

Travis Kalanick knows how to treat his tech but he’s still learning how to treat the people who use his tech, whether they are customers, journalists or his own employees. He’s said that he’s going to get help, and that sounds like a pretty good idea.

The UX – the user experience – shouldn’t only be a technology term, after all. It should be our focus in every business, every day.

Spotify VS iTunes: What We Can Learn

I am a music junkie. I dig a very complex (read: weird) mix of ambient (like Mark Dwane), classic rock (like Van Halen), yacht rock (like America), retro synth instrumentals (yes, there is such a genre – check out Mitch Murder), smooth jazz (no I’m not kidding – check out the new set from Threestyle) and really, really heavy hardcore metal (still not kidding, Killswitch Engage is one of my favorites). Eclectic does not begin to define my taste in music. As a result, the promise of using technology to create my very own custom “radio stations” (a la playlists) intrigued me from the get go. I was a very early adopter of the iTunes platform.

Over the years, I have given Apple thousands of dollars in exchange for music. I own a lot of songs from a lot of artists and even though Apple’s music purchases are now technically DRM-free, sorting out your new songs and your old, DRM-addled songs can be a real headache. In fact, of all the software that Apple has ever developed, iTunes may be the most derided. It isn’t good at being portable (the word synching makes even the most ardent Apple supporter cringe and desperately try to change the subject), flexible or usable. In fact, for being a company that invented Mac OS, the most user-friendly interface of all time (just ask Bill Gates), it’s strange that Apple’s user interface for iTunes has always been a rickety, old-fashioned mess. Acquiring Beats a few years ago and launching Apple Music didn’t do much to change this (in fact, I was fascinated by how quickly Apple managed to give away any cachet that Beats once had).

Which is why even though Apple continues to rule the world when it comes to smartphones and tablets, it is getting murdered in the world of streaming music. The guilty party? Spotify, a Swedish streaming service that started in 2006 and crossed the ocean in 2011. On paper, Spotify looks a bit like the love child of Pandora and iTunes. It has playlists and radio stations and curation and – what a minute, doesn’t EVERY streaming service have those? Even old scrubs like Rhapsody/Napster and young scrubs like Bandcamp? Yep. Let me be the first to say this on the internet – all music streaming services are pretty much the same.

Pretty much. I love the fact that Spotify is a living, breathing example of a successful company that didn’t really invent anything, or even innovate anything. They just figured out how to do it better. Now that I use Spotify, I can appreciate why it has been so easy to adopt: it is really, really easy to use. It keeps just enough of the old “iTunes DNA” to give users a comfortable starting point, then makes everything smoother, faster, easier, more intuitive and better. Searches return helpful, accurate search results (one of my all time pet peeves from iTunes). Dragging and dropping is almost perfect (no more “uh oh – where did that song just go?” moments), and managing your library is a breeze (you can even bring in playlists from iTunes). Plus, Spotify doesn’t care if it is on my iPhone or my Mac at work or my PC at home or my smart TV or my gaming systems. It plays the same everywhere.

What a difference your user experience (UX) can make. That Earth Crisis song I listen to sounds exactly the same on both Spotify and iTunes, it’s just easier to listen to on Spotify. And that’s why I don’t launch iTunes very much anymore. (Plus, the fact that Taylor Swift has left Spotify actually wins the service big points with me – how can a 26-year-old sound so much like such an old lady when it comes to music licensing? “Where’s my money you whipper snappers?”).

How old is the UX on your website or app? Nowadays, keeping your user experience up to date is almost as important as keeping your code up to date (and in some cases, more important). Can users find information easily? Can they use your site on any platform? If your site or app is not easy to use, users will go someplace that is. Just ask Apple.