What we want in an airline lounge

April 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Dear Airline CEO(s):

I also realize times are tough and that you have to charge for many service components a la carte; things that your customers formerly assumed were “part of the deal.”  One of the appropriate a la carte items are your airline lounges.  Frequent travelers are willing to pay extra for these traveling oases.

Sadly, though, your lounges need a LOT of improvement.  Your frequent fliers subscribe to these places for two reasons:

  • Work
  • Relax

Mostly I work.  When I work in an airline lounge I want:

  • uncongested/speedy wifi
  • quiet
  • power outlets (this is another blog post – why do airports have so few outlets?)
  • A beverage and a snack (nice but not necessary)

Below is your report card.

Uncongested/speedy wifi

Grade:  F—–

See below.  Need I say more?


Screenshot of a speakeasy.net speed test.

Ridiculously bad internet


Grade: A

Not too many people so it was pretty quiet.

Photo of airline lounge - DCA

Mostly empty – very quiet.

Note:  If your patrons EVER, EVER have to stand because there are no seats YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG….  United…

Power Outlets

Grade:  A+.  Power outlets are in abundance.  I don’t have to stand, string extension cords, or wait-my-turn to get access to one.


Grade: C

This was the midday offering during a recent trip.  Seriously?


Airport lounge snacks

Airport lounge snacks



Overall grade:  C-

Your most active/loyal travelers patronize these places.  Don’t make us feel like your scrimping.


PS – I am available to any airline CEO that reads this for some usability testing of airline lounges.

Categories: Internet Access Tags:

We need strong leadership for our schools

April 10, 2014 Leave a comment

The Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts in Los Angeles

Yesterday I read, in disbelief, a story in the LA Times, “Teacher removed for ‘dangerous’ science projects; supporters rally .”  Greg Schiller, a teacher at the Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Artsin Los Angeles was recently suspended “after  two students turned in science projects that were designed to shoot small projectiles.”

From the story:

School administrators did not respond to inquiries. District officials said they could not comment on an ongoing probe.

Of course they didn’t reply.  They are about to be lampooned nationally.  I’m at a loss for words to describe how ridiculous this is.

Later in the story:

Schiller initially prepared lesson plans for the substitute, but the district in an email directed him to stop.

Seriously?  The guy is suspended, sitting in a room in timeout and still writing lessons plans…   and then told to STOP doing that!?  Yep – the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) had a much better idea – make him sit in the room and do nothing for his students.  That way LAUSD can risk the students’ performance on an upcoming AP exam.

Our devotion to political correctness has gone too far.

Tossing kids out of school for “shooting a finger gun” and suspending teachers for teaching this kind of “dangerous” science only hurts the students and makes total asses out of the school administration.  We have (I hope inadvertently) removed judgement, leadership and common sense from the list of skills needed by our teachers and school administration.

This is what we get.

I’m going to write my childrens’ teachers a letter requesting they teach them how to make an awesome air cannon to shoot marshmallows.

Categories: Uncategorized

How can I schedule user testing?

March 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Good news – short post.  :)

We are about to conduct our second round of usability testing on Reacht.  We’re already feeling some pain associated with scheduling participants.

For our first usability test we invited people to “just show up between 5p and 730p.”  Mistake.  Regrettably, we ended up asking people to wait for a slot to open up.  That was unsat and we need to do better for our next testing evolution.

Our product manager Will Fulton found PowWow (http://www.powwowapp.net)

Screenshot from powwow

Scheduling usability tests in powwow

Powwow is a simple, attractive system for scheduling user testing appointments.  There are other uses for it but it is intended for user testing.  You create a project, add some times and distribute a private link.  People sign up.  Done.  Appointments don’t conflict and the inventory of available slots can’t be oversold.  I recommend this site.

Feels good to get one more process improved.

Perception is reality

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Photo of a sunset over a lake.

Last week we conducted a substantial usability test evolution for Reacht.  We were seeking truth about several things:

  • problem-solution fit
  • perception of the unique selling proposition (USP)
  • application discoverability
  • usability
  • colors, branding, style

We got the truth :)  Some of it was a pleasure to receive, some not  :).  All was valuable.  I want to reiterate my professional and personal thanks to those that helped us with this important task!  Will Fulton, our Product Manager, did most of the work.  If you have specific questions be sure to email him.

Volumes have been written about usability testing by people far better qualified than I.  A few useful links are shared below:

This post doesn’t intend to make you smarter about usability testing in general.  Rather, you’ll learn what we learned from our first (of many!) usability testing evolutions.  Would love to get your feedback @rspz!

Group Size

We had twelve (12) participants in our usability test.  It was great to see that many people interested in providing us feedback.

That said, we will recruit seven (7) participants for our next usability test with the idea that five (5) will participate.  After each test proctor had worked with three (3) people the variety in the feedback dropped.  That is, it took three (3) usability tests for the proctor to be able to identify The Most Important Thing we need to be working on.

Philosophically, we are likely to conduct more frequent smaller usability tests early in product development.

Qualitative Feedback

Early in a product’s life many decisions remain to be made.  The most important, from a product perspective, is what to work on next.  This doesn’t require large values of N or days-long usability tests.  For the moment we’ll be sticking to gathering qualitative feedback from our usability tests.

This doesn’t mean we don’t believe in “If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”  We do!

Think aloud, think aloud, think aloud

The (qualitative) value in our usability test was in learning what our test participants were thinking.  Repeatedly encourage everyone to THINK ALOUD during the tests!


David Malaxos “stood” in front of the elevators (on our Double Robotics robot) and recruited some ad hoc participants.  This was an excellent way to foment interest and curiosity and engage with our fellow building colleagues.  This is a definite repeat.  David took a nice “meta selfie” to document the tactic.


We recorded each interview from two perspectives:

  • tight device-only camera angle
  • wider angle for including the participant and the test proctor

Best practice suggests that video is a good reference when the team needs to more carefully interpret a participant’s behavior (e.g., was the participant thinking or expressing frustration).

Our pursuit of large format learning tells me we won’t need video for a little bit.  I think we’ll either (a) skip video or (b) rely on a single tightly-composed device shot during out next test evolution.

Scenario composition

We had a mismatch between the words in the software and the words (see Power of Words next) in the usability scenarios.  Phrases like “Add a new member” and “Join code” were intended to be compatible but were demonstrated to be incompatible.

The power of words

We dropped “Join code” in favor of “Group code” in the user interface.  It’s a simple change that is much more in keeping with how we intend users to behave and think about the groups and group segments in which they are a member and to which they are sending actionable messages.

The word “join” connotes and action and, more specifically, a non-member action (i.e.,  non-member JOINS a group).  In hindsight, this isn’t at all what we wanted to communicate.  This became painfully obvious by the end of only the second interview that evening.


It’s dangerously easy to lose site of your first-time user.  As you incept, elaborate, refine, design, implement, QA, test and release software your “feature virginity” is lost to inevitable expertise and familiarity.  Given how much distraction our customers/product users face it’s a survival issue for us to preserve a first-time user perspective in order that our user acquisition not suffer.

The usability test is the KEY component of ensuring that first-time users understand and enjoy the product.  We’re betting that if we do that user acquisition and conversion will be off to a good start.

Photo of usability test in progress

Bryan Wengren (@bwengren) observes a usability test being done by Chris Muldrow (@muldrow).

Lots of lessons learned and we can’t wait to apply them and make Reacht better!

Categories: Uncategorized

Reacht usability testing: THANKS!!!

March 21, 2014 1 comment

reacht blue

This week was “alpha week” (aka, get it out week, live user testing week) for our Reacht (@reachtapp) application.  We’ve been in testing mode with real users for a while but this week we invited a larger group to experience and comment on the idea, branding, style guide, application, messaging, functionality, user interface, user experience.  Our Product Manager, Will Fulton, (@wyfulton) did a great job putting the evolution together.

We ended up with some fantastic feedback.  I want to personally thank those that participated:


We REALLY hope everyone developed an eagerness to use the product and enjoyed a short evening of playing with software, eating some pizza and drinking a beer.

David Malaxos (@dmlxs) is on the Reacht team and participated from Florida!  :)n We love our Ricky the Robot (thanks Double Robotics!)

More thanks to the whole Reacht team who brought the product together!!!

I’ll have a longer post out soon with the technical details of what we learned and how.  I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to say thanks to our community (#FBXG) team for the help.  It takes a village.

Some photo moments below…

Can I pay at Starbucks with my watch?

March 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Yes.  I won’t bury the lede.  Here’s the short video using my Pebble watch:

I bought my Pebble watch on Kickstarter.  The Pebble watches have come a LONG way since that first Kickstarter batch.  Perhaps the most significant development was the release of the version 2 SDK which is what enabled the last crop of very cool watch applications.  The advances Pebble made in the v2 SDK are absolutely astounding.  If you’re a gadget geek you NEED to check the Pebble Developer Page.

Here are some other favorite Pebble apps (available in the Pebble app store – which , SADLY, seems only browsable from the Pebble app running on your IOS or Android device):

  • Plex remote (yes, for your Plex entertainment system)
  • Readebble (RSS reader – geeky not really that useful)
  • Camera remote for your phone/tablet (companion app required)
  • AeroTracker (running pace, distance, time – wishing MapMyRun had a Pebble screen)
  • GoPro remote
  • Sync’ed / offline Evernote shopping list (HOW COOL IS THAT!)
  • Pebble Cards (fetch a URL and display it – this has all kinds of cool possibilities)
  • and there are MANY more with additions hitting the store every day.

Disclosure:  I Kickstarted the HOTWatch as well.  Main reason?  The video of using that watch I think wearables is going to be HUGE category for innovation.

Note to HOTWatch:  You had better be watching Pebble and their ISV community.  That’s where it’s at…

HOTWatch patent drawing for watch-as-phone.

Categories: Personal Technology

Working remotely: Ugly/Bad/Good

March 18, 2014 Leave a comment

A typical home office

The last thirty days has given us a lot of snow (at least by Virginia standards) and higher-than-usual incidence of colds/flus/sick colleagues.  Between the snow, ice, and sick days we’ve had a lot of remote working days.  The concentration of these remote work days  in the last month percolated up a fresh perspective on remote work / telecommuting; the ugly, the bad, and the good.

I think about remote work in the following terms:

  1. Individual effort:  heads down work – I know my task(s) and I need to get it done.  I am a soloist.  Depending on your primary role in the Company this can be a majority or minority of your task load.  Example:  implement a feature.
  2. Communication:  I am writing email/IRC messages and reading them.  I am trying to exchange and refine information and ideas with my colleagues.  This is ping pong soloist work.  Example:  Explain a revenue model spreadsheet.
  3. Collaboration:  I am a member of a team or workgroup that needs to get something done together.  There is no expert; we are all pushing, pulling, prodding, arguing, re-thinking and refining the end result.  Example:  Work out an approach to social media integration.
  4. Coordination:  Lower value collaboration – I need a resource, asset to be in a certain place at a certain time and need to work out details.  Example:  Plan a live user testing session at the office.


Early product development requires an especially fast pace.  As we develop our new product, Reacht, the remote work has taken a toll on Collaboration.  It only takes one (1) person to be remote to impact the collaborative effort.  Non-verbal communication makes up somewhere (depending on whose statistics/research you believe) between 60% – 90% of total communication bandwidth.

Video tools notwithstanding a majority of collaborative communication is lost when a collaborator is not physically present.

A friend and former colleague of mine, Benji York, made an excellent point about the mix of remote and present workers.  Paraphrased he made the point that mixed-mode work (i.e., when some people are present and some are remote) is significantly less productive than when all workers are remote.  It’s a very interesting perspective; one worth thinking about.  If everyone is working under the same set of constraints (e.g., limited communication “bandwidth”, reduced non-verbal cues, need for more deliberate, succinct, and precise communication) then no participant is uniquely disadvantaged.


We’re a software product company; we have deadlines.  People come in (even when under the weather or in suboptimal driving conditions) when deadlines approach with the (correct) instinct that timely collaborative work is most effective when you’re working in close proximity.  Despite best intentions and reasonable precautions people catch what’s going around.


Remote work keeps people off of dangerous roads.  It keeps people that might have a contagious cold/flu away from co-workers during periods they could otherwise be productive.  Remote work’s cost/benefit tips well in favor of Individual Effort, Communication and Coordination.  Together, these could be a large portion of a workday… except when you’re in new product development which, by definition, is dominated by Collaboration.

Tools like WebEx (awkward) and Google Hangouts (damn frustrating when your collaborators all have multiple Google addresses) help but they’ve not reached the place where they are simple extensions of your work space.  Between Google Hangouts and WebEx I’m much more optimistic that Hangouts will become that work space extension.  Either because I callous to the pain of having multiple Google accounts or Google improves how they deal with multi-Google account users.

In Sum

I enjoy working with people in a room together.  I like the energy, the sense of group accomplishment and appreciate the increase in the quality of the output when several qualified people collaborate on an outcome.  In our world, remote work is here to stay.  I hope presence-computing tools continue to evolve so they are a more seamless extension of our workspaces.

I really want to be able to glance at a monitor, say, “Hey Bryan,” and have Bryan there ready to talk to me…JUST like we do in the office – even if he’s working from the lake.

photo credit: citrixonline via photopin cc


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