Just a pavement…!?

“… and you will be in charge of the pavement design”, by saying these words, the architectural firm’s project manager left my dear friend sadly shocked, he had left Egypt to gain practical experience training at one of the top architectural firms in the States. He had always considered himself very lucky being part of a large design project, … but designing a pavement!!? what kind of experience would he gain in designing a pavement!?

Pavement Design

Pavement Design

Knowing the process of “constructing roads or pavements in Egypt (that is if we can call it a “process”), it is always done (as it has been for over a century) without any design or supervision from an architect or civil engineer…

After a brief moment of depression, building up his courage he decided to protest, after all he was there to learn, and there is obviously nothing to learn from working on the pavement project… or is there?

To my friend’s even greater surprise, the PM reaction was simply handing him a very large document titled “Pavement Design Manual”, asking him to read it over the weekend and decide after that if he would like to be transferred to one of the other project teams…

What my friend learned from this manual was that pavement design turned out to be more complicated than he had ever expected,  he had to design the pavement from an Environmental and User Experience point of view rather than from an Engineering perspective… what that meant was he had to study, for example, what kind of plants or trees would be planted, how will watering them affect the pavement structure, how will -in time – their roots grow and if they will expand to break the surface, if the trees will grow to block the view of 1st or 2nd floor windows, or will they block approaching car’s view to any intersecting streets, will the leaves in autumn fall on the pavement blocking sewage drains… etc

From a UX perspective, he had to check road traffic and speed analysis to place blocks where needed to protect pedestrians from uncontrolled cars, he had to check how will rain affect the pavement and how will water splash on the pavement if a speeding car passes by… he had to study pavement furniture, that is recycle bins, crossing signs, bus-stops… etc and he also had to cater for accessibility, how will a disabled person use this pavement? will he be able to use a wheelchair? … and all this was not even half of it.



Pavement design turned out to be so complicated, If the case was inverted and the internship was for some reason in a less developed country, they would never understand or approve such details which reflect on schedule and budget, why would a pavement design take more than one hour? if an educated architect could not understand at first how complicated such a design could be, how do you expect most people to understand the real effort any design work should take however small a project may be, this does not happen by imitating or just reusing old designs, but by innovating, by looking at the design from a user’s perspective.

We are in the majority of cases educated to do things just the way they have always been done, never thinking of ways to enhance, never having the courage to be the first to try something new, innovation is just not commonly available in our culture, we – as is the majority of individuals – like to be safe, why try something new and have the risk of failure while we know a guaranteed and tried method?

We should not fear to innovate, Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb. When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”, the idea is that — even if you try and fail, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn something new.

We also usually fail to look at any design from a user perspective, a small rule I learned in collage when I was studying as an architect, usually we used to see people taking shortcuts over fences or similar situations because the designed road is longer and we may think of these people as uncivilized to take such shortcuts by cutting fences or walking over the grass…etc but actually its the other way round, the designer failed to see peoples needs and looked only from a design perspective not thinking how real people would actually use the design.

If we think of each design on the same level of the above pavement example, and instead of doing it the exact same easy way as it has always been done and rather looking at it from a user perspective, not fearing to innovate on ideas, our designs will usually in almost every case impress and exceed the client’s expectations…

My advice in any design project:

  1. Think your designs deeply (remember the pavement example)
  2. Rethink your designs from a user perspective…
  3. Don’t fear to innovate…


Who’s to blame…? A live example of management.

Watching the process of the kids going to school each morning, and hearing stories about this experience from different members of my family, a very important question came to my mind… hearing each mother complain, I wondered who’s really to blame, the small child who has no experience or time-management skills, or the parent who should be managing this process?

  • 6:30am: The mother wakes up, taking about 5min to get up from the bed, then spends another 10min in the bathroom.
  • 6:45am: She remembers that there are kids to wake up so she goes over to their rooms, taking 5min in the process.
  • 6:50am: The mother enters the kitchen, start preparing her morning cup of tea, taking about 10min in the process.
  • 7:00am: The mother notices the kids aren’t awake yet, so she starts yelling at them, accusing them of laziness and telling them “this is what happens when you sleep late” — although she is also responsible for putting them to bed!
  • 7:10am: The kids wake up and go to the bathroom taking about 15min in the process.
  • 7:25am: The kids start getting dressed, a process that usually takes 10min, only to find that some of their schools uniforms need ironing, delaying another 10min.
  • 7:45am: The kids are ready to leave, but their breakfast and sandwiches are not ready, so the mother goes into the kitchen to prepare their sandwiches, taking 10min in the process.
  • 7:55am: The kids eat their breakfast quickly in 5min.
  • 8:00am: Too late, the bus usually arrives at 7:45am, and the kids are supposed to be in school at 8:00am!

The mother starts blaming the kids that they are lazy and unorganized with no sense of time, complaining to the father about his undisciplined kids!

Now, let us consider this other scenario…

  • 6:30am: The mother wakes up promptly, passing by the kids and waking them up before going to the bathroom.
  • 6:45am: The mother enters the kitchen, adding water to the kettle, she goes back to the kids making sure their stuff is all ready, notices some of the uniforms need ironing…
  • 6:55am: The mother prepares her tea, and gets back to ironing the uniforms, in the meanwhile the kids are in the bathroom.
  • 7:10am: Kids out of the bathroom, their uniforms are ready, they start getting dressed while the mother prepares the breakfast/sandwiches
  • 7:20am: Kids are dressed and ready, they eat their breakfast taking their time.
  • 7:35am: Kids are ready to leave with 10min buffer time, they say goodbye and go wait for their schools bus.

Now let us compare the 2 mother’s with real-life managers, a lot of managers treat their employees exactly as the first mother, not really doing their job correctly but when things go wrong they are sure to blame their subordinates for their own incompetence not realizing that as a manager, usually its their own problem that the employees are not functioning as required.

The problem is that mother #1 will never admit that it is her problem and will always try to find excuses to blame the kids…

Which mother(manager) are you? and if you are a father(boss)… make sure to understand which type of wife you have…


Color Usability (part 1)

Anyone who’s had a flight on Egyptair during the past few years would have noticed that food is usually presented in blue platters, of all the colors in the spectrum, blue is an appetite suppressant. Weight loss plans suggest putting your food on a blue plate. Or even better than that, put a blue light in your refrigerator to suppress that craving for a midnight snack… Blue food is a rare occurrence in nature, consequently, we don’t have an automatic appetite response to blue. Furthermore, our primal nature avoids food that are poisonous. A million years ago, when our earliest ancestors were foraging for food, blue, purple and black were “color warning signs” of potentially lethal food.
Subjects presented with food to eat in the dark reported a critically missing element for enjoying any cuisine: the appearance of food. For the sighted, the eyes are the first place that must be convinced before a food is even tried. This means that some food products fail in the marketplace not because of bad taste, texture, or smell but because the consumer never got that far.

Its strange how large companies with highly experienced people have no idea of this critical concept of color usability…

Comfort Tropical AD

Comfort Tropical AD

Watching the above Comfort AD, what impression do the green vapors give? tropical scented perfumes, or bio hazard poisonous fumes?

On the other hand, notice how the brand and product colors for a lot of fast food chains like Arby’s, Hardee’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Mo’men, Al Baik, and Wimpy usually have red or orange… a coincidence? Food researchers say that when humans searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, and red was the most popular food color.
The predominance of the color red in many restaurants is there only to make customers hungry, and to encourage them to order more than they normally would. Red walls and décor also cause people eat faster, since the color increases our normal levels of energy, it increases your appetite by increasing your metabolism.

Another part of the science of color usability, is the art of combining colors together, certain colours evoke particular emotions that can vary from one person to another based on certain experiences, More than half a century ago, Aemelius Müller, professor at the academy of Winterthur, Switzerland, came up with a formula that could predict the appreciation of a color-combination. In other words: Müller was able to predict which combination of colors most people would probably like, some online tools such as Kuler can help us calculate comfortable color combinations.

I have known several designers who would stick a certain color in each and every site they design regardless of brand colors or site purpose… I have also known project manager’s who would refuse a certain color regardless of its purpose or usage just because they hate it not knowing that there is a science involved in the process… people do not go to art or design schools for several years just to pick colors randomly based on their personal taste.

Check out Apple’s color video to get a stronger understanding of how color is perceived and download this free Color Theory PDF.

For further reading:

The Soft-Drink user-experience

User Experience is the quality of experience a person has when interacting with a specific design.

Don Norman, working as an HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) architect at Apple and later founding the Nielsen-Norman group together with Jacob Nielsen (the father of usability) was the first to use this term back in 1993 to represent a commitment to and focus on higher quality human-computer interactions as a key product differentiator. By 2000, the term almost exclusively focused on elements of web design and was generaly being interchanged with Usability or User-Centered Design

Currently it has moved more towards person-to-person interactions such as Customer Service, and has more to do with the full range of experience a client (or user) has when interacting with a certain product (or company) rather than focusing

just on the design and usability elements of a product.

Enough being said from an academic point of view… I’ll focus on an easier, more practical meaning of UX, let me introduce the Cola-Can… or in other words… the soft-drink user-experience…

Basically, Soft-Drinks appeared as early as 1819 as soda fountains, but people had to go to ice cream parlors or candy stores if they wanted a soda, not a very nice user experience if there was none near by or you fancied a soda at mid-night… by 1835, bottled soda water began appearing as a method of delivering the soda fountain experince at home… but bottles were heavy, needed a lot of logistics to return and refill and were easily broken, occasionally a “user” would find some object inside the bottle due to poor washing cycles… all this needed to change if we needed to deliver a better user experience.

Tin cans were introduced in 1938, but beset by leakage and flavor absorption problems from the can liner it did not sell much until the introduction of the aluminum can in 1957 but the fact that it needed a can opener to open it led to the introduction of the pull-ring tab in 1962…

Vending machines were introduced in 1965… all innovations driven by the need to deliver a full and better UX… seems that soft drink companies now deliver a great user experience, what more can a user want?

UX does not stop at the product itself or how it is packaged or how it is delivered, but how it is used, how the company interacts with the user…etc

In 1974 the stay-on tab was invented, it served 2 main purposes, first, the user did not have to worry about disposing of the pull-ring tab once it was pulled from the can, and second, the hole in the tab could now be used to hold in place the straw (which in many cases fell out of the can due to accumillation of soda)

1982, the talking vending machine was introduced, now blind people had easy access to soft-drinks (accessability)

In 1996, Coca Cola launched their first web site as an online version of their museum in Atlanta and as a place for traders, shoppers and collectors to meet… today, the Coca Cola website is a huge multi-lingual world, each product has a subsite of its own…

Today’s consumers buy soft drinks from their grocery stores in aluminum cans four times as often as in plastic bottles, and thirty-eight times as often as in glass bottles. (hmmmm… they even do usability research on soft-drinks)

Soft-drink user experience is a solid example of how user experience exceeds the simple product design and its manufacture, delivery or packaging… compare your product to a simple soft-drink… think how you can deliver such a complete user experience to your customers, its the first impression when you first meet with them, its how you communicate, its how you market your product, how you package it, its how you first introduce your product to them, and how you respond to their reactions and ever-changing requests, its how you seek to enhace your product after it has been delivered, its how you collect your client’s feedback and how you use this feedback to make a better product, its how your product can be used by everyone, specially those with disabilities… its how you test your product and ensure its consistant quality…

Today soft-drink companies are working on the self-cooling or self-chilling cans…

Need more? just think why ipods+itunes is the best selling media solution in the world? think why google is the most widely used search engine? why facebook is so popular? why Coca Cola introduced Diet Coke, followed by Cola Zero? Coca Cola has been so successful in delivering a great UX that it is dominating an average of 50% of the whole soft-drink market worlwide.

Want to learn more about User Experience?

Being an emergent discipline, User Experience does not yet have a strong, formal body of knowledge. Formal books that include the term in their title often cover only subgroups of user experience. Here are some online resources to get you started:

http://www.uxnet.org/ – local and cross-disciplinary resources on UX

http://www.informationdesign.org/ – despite its label, the pre-eminent daily UX resource

http://www.functioningform.com/ – a consistently strong resource on the UX design process

www.nathan.com/resources/index.html – an enormous collection of UX- related resources