August 15, 2013

(Re) Announcing my Udemy course on User Experience Design Fundamentals!

I am absolutely thrilled to announce my very first online training course, in partnership with Learn to Program TVUser Experience Design Fundamentals.

We launched the course on Udemy five weeks ago, and the response has been nothing short of fantastic – 593 people have signed up to take the class! Well beyond my expectations, to say the least.


As you can see, reviews thus far indicate that folks have found it valuable, useful and most important to me, applicable. I’m a firm believer in de-mystifying this stuff so that anyone, in any role, in any kind of organization can create better user and customer experiences.

What the course covers

With more than 12 hours of content across 59 lectures, I’ll guide you through the five critical elements of user experience – strategy, scope, structure, skeleton and surface. As you learn you’ll be able to apply that knowledge in dynamic lab exercises – and, later, to your own work as a developer or designer.

And the best part? Once you sign up, you have access to these videos forever. Watch as often as you want at whatever pace is best for you.

Who can benefit from this course

If you’re a designer moving in to a more complex digital world, or a developer who has to occasionally function as a designer as well, this course is for you. I can promise you that by the time you’re done, you’ll feel more confident making UX- and design-related decisions about layout, color, information design and typography.

If that sounds like something you’re interested in, take a minute and check out the course and the introductory video at Udemy now.

And if you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to ask.

My sincere gratitude for your time and consideration.

Best —

March 5, 2013

Design Matters, Episode 3: What UX Isn’t (In Tribute to Ms. Whitney Hess)

Design Matters: A podcast by Joe Natoli

January 22, 2013

Design Matters, Episode 2: How to Fix a Broken Customer Experience [podcast]

Design Matters: A podcast by Joe Natoli

January 9, 2013

And now…a Surgery Break.

Hello all — wanted to let you know that things will be pretty quiet around here for the remainder of the week into next week.

I’m having surgery today to repair a torn left biceps tendon, along with a torn rotator cuff. I expect to be back in action at some point next week. Stay tuned and think positive, OK?

January 3, 2013

New Video: Customer Experience ROI Lecture

Customer Experience ROI: The Value of Delivering Value

This past fall I spoke to a diverse group of students, entrepreneurs and seasoned business vets at Old Dominion University. The topic was delivering ROI via Customer Experience. It’s about making sure you know what people expect, want and most importantly need from you. It’s about creating what I call a value loop — designing and building something that provides value to the people that use it — and their use in turn provides value back to you, the creator. If value goes out, value comes back. That’s the gig, that’s what creates success, that’s what creates profitability.

This is the full, unedited, lecture and accompanying slides — consider it a New Year’s Gift :-)

December 6, 2012

Design Matters, Episode 1: How Great Customer Experiences deliver Real ROI [podcast]

Welcome to the very first installment of the Design Matters podcast series!

In each episode, I’ll share lessons learned from 22 years of experience working with startups to Fortune 100 clients, all of whom who have realized substantial business benefits from a strategic approach to user and customer experience design. I’ll show you how to harness the power of customer experience strategy and activity-based design to build, strengthen and maintain customer relationships. And I’ll ask you to share what you’ve experienced and learned as well.

I sincerely hope you enjoy it – please let me know what you think in the comment box below!

Design Matters: A podcast by Joe Natoli

November 28, 2012

Startups: why you MUST start with user/customer experience strategy [video]

This past Monday I was honored to speak to a room full of entrepreneurs as part of Lean Startup Baltimore, spearheaded by the generous, fearless Sarge Salman. The point I wanted to hammer home is that no matter what kind of product you’re imagining, designing or building, you cannot afford to ignore user and/or customer experience.

If you fail at the UX part, you fail, PERIOD.

Below is the video Sarge shot of my lecture; I hope you find it useful, and I would love to hear your feedback on what you see and hear.

November 26, 2012

Getting Beyond the ‘User’ in User Experience (video)

October 3, 2012

We’re Fast to Mobile Market — but we SUCK!

we're first to mobile market – but we SUCK!An excellent new research whitepaper has been published by Human Factors International (HFI), and is available via their website. It’s called Going Mobile? Speed is Fine, but UX Strategy is Final.

The basic premise is that while speed to market is important, UX strategy trumps it nine ways to Sunday.

Which of course brings a BIG, wide, cheshire cat smile to my face.

Consider the opening paragraph:

“Typically, the first foray into creating a mobile presence is a rushed affair . . . the development process does not allow companies to understand and appreciate the relevance and nuances of the mobile channel across three key aspects: business considerations, user engagement and technical capabilities.”

True dat, as the kids say. If I had a nickel for every time I tried to convince a client that they had to design and pour the foundation before building the house, I would be sitting on a backyard beach in Tahiti typing this. Most of us inherently know that you can’t build anything without a plan, right? And yet companies launch mobile apps every day without taking the time to figure out if anyone wants, needs, or will use what they’re launching. Too many nights watching Field of Dreams, I guess.

The HFI paper describes the development process most companies adopt as this:

  1. Identify business need
  2. Develop and debug
  3. Launch/Distribute
  4. Maintain/Retail

The problem with this is that in the mad rush to get something to market, they spend no time considering the three most important aspects of product strategy: business considerations, user engagement and technical capability.

Business Considerations

First of all, the design processes and effort required don’t change just because the screen is smaller.

My own experience over the last three months alone proves out what the authors describe: companies all too often assume that designing and developing for a small screen size is somehow proportionally cheaper. But the context-specific ways in which users engage on mobile devices are myriad and complex, and demand a narrower, task-centric view than their large-screen counterparts.

And aside from that, consider how many different devices, fragmented systems and pixel ratios your mobile app or site or widget now needs to display and function properly on. More options to develop for = more money. Not a complicated equation, folks. Multiple versions of an interface have to be designed, developed and tested to cater to the majority of mobile users.

And even though everyone’s in a rush to get there first, time to market isn’t given proper consideration either. The publishing legalities alone can slow the process to a grinding halt. The HFI whitepaper offers the example of FreedomVOICE Systems, developer of the Newber iPhone app, who evidently learned this the hard way. After a full 165 days of radio silence from Apple, they simply abandoned the project altogether.

User Engagement

As you’ve heard from me more than once, all users have a core set of expectations, which create a “mental model” of how they expect things to work. They know what they want, they know when they want it and they know how they want it. sers have a strong mental model of how they expect to be serviced. And the producer of an app has zero control over that, because the model is built from a person’s psyche, expectations, emotions, needs, prior experience, etc. What they decide to do — what apps they do or don’t use and for what reasons — are dependent on their mental model, on how they see their world and how your product fits with that vision (or doesn’t).

Most companies simply don’t take the time to investigate what the user’s mental model is, and then determine how their offering fits in, how it can add value without disruption. They don’t invest, in other words, in solid user experience research or design. There’s no validation of any of the assumptions being made about what people will want from them or what they’ll be willing to use. What I see most is akin to what my Sicilian grandmother would do to see if the pasta was cooked: throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. Great for pasta, not so good for a quarter-million dollar investment.

There’s also a common assumption among organizations — or actions that suggest the assumption — that their app lives on a high pedestal in some kind of isolated vacuum. Look, any person who has a mobile device lives in a complex universe — and so do their apps and actions. There are multiple channels, players, relationships, scenarios, needs and opportunities. So whatever you put out there has to coexist in some manner with everything else. Channels have to be tied together, not separated. That bit of traditional business thinking is a dead end when it comes to the mobile universe. Users give less than a shit how your company is structured internally — all they know is they’ve got a fragmented experience that isn’t very positive or useful.

Technical Capabilities

With every opportunity comes an equal amount of challenge (and sometimes more). In this case, there’s a huge ongoing struggle within most organizations over the format of a mobile product: native app or browser-based?

Each has advantages, of course. Apps can take full advantage of the device’s native hardware, OS APIs and multiple innovative functions like camera, GPS, Accelerometer, Gyro, vibration motor, magnetic sensor and others. Browser-based products can’t. Native apps typically deliver better speed and responsiveness and a higher degree of control over visual quality and content.

However, there are times when a browser-based app — which is typically a cheaper alternative — fits the bill just fine. Because in some cases, users don’t want or need all that cool native stuff you’re adding into the app. But because companies often base their mobile strategy on what’s cool, what’s popular and what the competition is doing, they add a whole bunch of things that (a) add complexity, time and cost to the development effort and (b) do nothing to improve the user’s experience in any meaningful, valuable way.

Last Words

Authors Saurabh Gupta and Amber Krishan do a really thorough job of describing the place too many organizations find themselves in these days. If you’re one of them, I strongly suggest you download the whitepaper and share it with your colleagues. Discuss it in your next strategy meeting. Put any mobile plans you may have on permanent hold until you’ve had time to digest and absorb everything in here.

Why all the gravitas, you ask? One single, simple reason:

Creating something your customers don’t need, don’t want and won’t use is a terribly expensive proposition — in more ways than one. As the authors point out, you don’t just differentiate based on good user experience — you live and die by it.

September 5, 2012

4 things every marketer needs to know about user experience

By now we’re all familiar with the breakneck pace of change online, and the accompanying mad rush to somehow try to keep up with it all. Every business is looking high and low for some magic bullet that will allow them to interact more clearly, more often and in a more meaningful way with customers. And the means and methods — all delivered via user interfaces — impact how those customers view the business, their products, their services and their brand as a whole. Messages are being sent, both implicit and explicit, with every click, every action and every view.

The role of Marketing Executive just got a hell of a lot harder.

Increasing the likelihood of success is everybody’s business, right? Of course, we say. But for the most part, when site traffic stalls or sales are lagging, the finger most often gets pointed at Marketing. A customer’s experience with any company typically starts with responding to an ad or article or comment from a friend that encourages the initial investigation. And that experience continues all the way through product purchase and use. And in the majority of organizations I’ve worked with, the vast majority of customer touchpoints along the way belong to Marketing. So although I often find myself thinking it’s a bit unfair that one department suddenly becomes responsible for the actions of so many others, that’s the way the game is played.

And that realization leads me to think that UX probably needs to be as closely aligned with marketing efforts as it currently is with the realm of IT. Maybe even more so.

Dear Marketers: YOU own UX.

In that spirit, I offer the following advice to Marketing folks everywhere as a way to take back competitive advantage, as a means to increase customer satisfaction and retention. User experience can do more for you than you may realize.

So from the VP of Marketing all the way down to you Account Reps, here are four core principles that you must embrace in order to succeed in such a violently competitive market:

  1. User experience is your primary means of building relationships with customers online. UX encourages, supports and allows commerce transactions that amplify profitability.
  2. Success is measured by retention, which is critically dependent on a positive user experience with the research, purchase and support process — as well as with the product itself.
  3. Opportunity cost scales in terms of user experience – as does competitive advantage. If your UX is poor, it takes a lot longer to convince customers you’re credible, and even longer to get them to buy.
  4. Marketing departments are responsible for revenue — and as such you need to see yourselves as owning the user experience. If it sucks, it falls on you. probably not fair, but still quite accurate.

Armed with that information, you’ll begin to see that the majority of the things that ensure delivery matches expectation are small. Visual cues, button sizes, menu styles, word choices, message consistency. A million tiny items that someone else in the organization is making decisions on without your input.

You already know most of this stuff.

You guys already know all about brand voice and why it has to be authentic and consistent across all customer interactions. You know the importance of presentation, persuasion and emotion. And most of all, you know what customers complain about most and what needs to be fixed first — because you’re hearing it direct from the source, day in and day out. What you must realize is that what truly drives these issues is something usually left to developers or an IT department. And that something is the user experience of your online properties. Sites, apps, portals, systems, everything. All of it.

Every single aspect of behavior and function of your online anything is — and should be — a marketing issue. Research it. Understand it. Own it. Because whether you choose to own it or not, you’ll still be the one listening to and dealing with the fallout.