Shazeeye's Blog Thoughts on User Experience, Technology and Business


Design that drives Action

On July 21st I went for a talk by Bryan Zmijewski, the founder of Zurb a design company. Bryan emphasized that visits to a site mean nothing unless users are engaged or motivated to act. Design must drive action and this is done through three concepts - visual design, content and form elements. Visual design provides context, content guides decisions and form elements are input mechanisms that finalize actions. He gave examples for each concept as seen below.

Visual Design

1.  TinyPic is a website where users upload and share images and videos. The company runs solely on ad revenue with ads displayed on the left of the upload feature. Zurb changed the visual design of the page by adding a border (highlighted in red) to the form so that users perceived the ad to be a part of the form as opposed to an ad preventing ad blindness. This resulted in a higher click rate on the ads bumping the cost per click from $2 to $5.

2. Photbucket is a photo sharing site that wanted to increase user engagement by increasing the number of users registering on the site. The tested two visual designs - one with a red register button and the other with a green. The hypothesis was that the green button would receive more clicks as it signaled go but in reality the red button got more clicks due to higher contrast.

3. Basekit creates, hosts and manages websites and wanted to increase user subscriptions by highlighting the differences between their pricing plans and motivating users to make a choice. As seen in the images on the right the design with the colored contrast between the pricing plans indicating the top 3 differences between the plans got 25% more sign ups.


1. Notable Screenshots helps users capture images, websites, etc. deconstruct the media by adding notes and finally helps publish the media. Since each media needed to be captured and posted the tech team thought "New Capture" to be the right label to fit the action of capturing media but a content redesign unraveled that "New Post" got users to capture and post on the website 25% more as it the vocabulary better fit user mental models.

2. TinyPic - I will upload the content and graphic as soon as it's available.

3. Bagcheck, a website that lists favorite user products ranging from computers to phone applications, increased its user engagement by 50%  by writing the percentage difference between the sale price and the actual price.

Form elements- I will upload the content and graphic as soon as it's available.

1. Bling-It

2. Photobucket

3. Trapit


Using technology to bring social change

On July 19th I went for a symposium on social change. The panel included Ossama Hassanein, an angel investor and mentor to Arab entrepreneurs, Craig Newmark, Founder and CEO of Craigslist, Sam Bernie, Sr. Director of Engineering at Kiva, Megan Trotter, Program Manager at Tenderloin Technology Lab at St. Anthony Foundation, Jake Levitas, Research Director at Gray Area Foundation For The Arts and Ed Bice, moderator of the panel and founder of Meedan, a non-profit social technology company which aims to increase cross-language interaction on the web.

The event was hosted at St. Anthony's Foundation, a nonprofit that serves a million meals every year to the needy and also acts as a clinic, counseling center and much more. Each panel member spoke of various initiatives they are spearheading to spread social change or the the use of technology to initiate solutions that make sense for the community. Some of those initiatives are listed below.

Craig Newmark founded Craig Connects to support 100+ non profits do good for the community. Though there are many areas the organization focuses on Craig spoke about his work to support military families and veterans. He mentioned that the biggest challenge with social change is that people doing good aren't good at talking about it so that they can get more funding, PR, etc. so he is working hard at addressing this issue especially in sifting the effective and deserving nonprofits from the others.

Sam Bernie who worked at the Grameen Foundation before joining Kiva said that social change is about empowering people at the grass roots level. People such as you and I Provide loans to  entrepreneurs on Kiva primarily because of the moving stories that help establish a meaningful connection between the lender and the entrepreneur. He hopes to create a deeper connection between the lender and borrower through technology. For example, Kiva may add a feature to track multiple loans for a person over time so that lenders can follow the borrower on his or her journey. Sam also states that the divide between access and capital should be narrowed. For example, he helped roll out a web based social initiative in Lebanon but people never used technology there so changes had to be made to best help them.

Ossama Hassanein is connecting Arab entrepreneurs with American Venture Capitalists to help navigate Arab countries through poverty. He has helped finance more than 100,000 companies in his career.

Megan Trotter teaches people to use technology - computers, social media, basic editing software, etc. She states that social change can only come about through education. We can all use technology and resources to solve hunger, poverty, etc. but human contact is essential in facilitating these programs to success. Her classes educate 100 people every day to learn technology at the St. Anthony's Foundation.

Jake Levitas works with technology and government to implement change. His hack-a-thons help organize programmers to build applications to solve social problems. He hosts one every weekend during summer and connects people with the government through this program. His projects include mayoral candidates and he believes that challenges such as these hack-a-thons help sieve through the noise and get people to act more than talk aimlessly. For example, he states how technology helped people find loved ones during the Haiti earthquake.


Customer Acquisition Lessons in Internet Retailing

David Bell, Professor of Marketing at Wharton, gave an excellent seminar (download David Bell's presentation) last evening on the most important factors in internet retailing. He summarized four of his recent papers in this space and most of his research stems from Wharton's startups specifically and His online customer acquisition lessons are summarized below.

1. Social Contagion states that communication and observation affects online demand evolution. Traditional brick and mortar retailers are limited by their small trading areas. It is more likely for you to visit your nearest grocery store whereas the internet is unlimited but this also means that you don't know where your customer is located.  One of the main findings of social contagion (as seen in image on left) is that your new customers will be located near your existing customers. Communication and observation are key in social contagion. This is where word of mouth and visual differentiation are key. For example, Warby Parker, a Wharton startup, makes prescription glasses for $95  compared to the average competitor price of $500. They have visually differentiated themselves from the competition by making their frames a distinct color (blue, orange, turquoise and more) and a classic vintage-inspired shape (thicker frames). As for word of mouth they donate a pair of glasses to someone in need every time you buy a pair.

2. Spatial Structure follows a pattern of proximity and similarity. This finding states that social and demographic proximity and similarity can drive online sales. For example, an interpersonal property or similarity such as ethnicity could drive sales of an online product that started in Chicago and then moved to LA and then Springfield through word of mouth. Internet retailers first grow through physical proximity and later through similarity among distant locations. Thus internet retailers should target sparse locations with geographically diverse demand. For example, target zip codes that are not close to each other and not socially or demographically similar but have a good number of target customers.

3. Preference Isolation brings shoppers online and explains geographic breakdown of online brand demand. The image on the right explains this concept. Consider 2 markets for diapers- Market 1 with 200 people of which 100 have babies (50% penetration) and Market 2 with 2000 people of which 100 have babies (5% penetration). Market 2 is the preference (in this case diapers) minority and the market that an online retailer should target. The primary reason for internet retailers to target Market 2 is that the brick and mortar stores in Market 1 will stock 50% of their shelf space with various diaper brands (pampers, huggies and even niche brands such as 7th generation) so it is easy for people in this market to access these diapers but Market 2 is going to allocate only 5% of their shelf space thus carrying the top selling brand only (say Pampers) so customers are more     likely to look online for  the other brands especially niche brands thus driving online sales.

4. Acquisition Modes vary in efficacy according to location characteristics. Different acquisition methods (magazines, online WOM, offline WOM, online search) get you different customers and are complementary as seen from the image on the right. Word-of-mouth (WOM) acquisitions  benefit from physical proximity among targets (offline WOM—contagion; online WOM—connectivity). Use magazines for sparsely populated markets and WOM for densely populated markets.

Many other factors such as taxes, shipping cost and type of product matter in customer acquisition in internet retailing but have not been studied in this research.


E-Commerce Trend: Online Rentals

I wrote a post on Web Trends in March 2011 and renting (as opposed to owning) on the web is one of the six trends of Web 2.0. After visiting a few conferences and following a few startups it definitely seems to be a trend so I decided to put together a list of different industries that rent their products/services.

Home rentals - Airbnb: a startup that connects you to people renting their homes across the world. It provides a sense of community that a hotel cannot and saves you money at rates much lower than hotels. Owners renting their place can define their daily rates and get more value from their property by renting their homes for days, weeks or months based on their preferences. The reviews, pictures and comments help craft the experience for renters to decide what kind of place would best suit their needs.

Baby equipment rentals- Travel Babees: Helps mothers and fathers rent baby equipment such as strollers, cribs, car seats, etc. which are really make traveling hassle free.

Vacation home rentals - VRBO: Vacation rental owners who self-manage their second homes provide a comfortable stay near vacation hot spots that range from the beach to the mountains to visitors and tourists.

Car rentals- Getaround: A startup that won Techcrunch Disrupt Winner, 2011. Getaround connects you to people renting their cars in your city. You can choose from Teslas to Hondas for an hour or more while Getaround takes care of the insurance.

Furniture and Electronic rentals - Rent-a-Center: Hassle free rentals on furniture, appliances and computers for as long as you want.

Event and Venue rentals- SFStation for Venue rentals and Abbey for Event rentals in San Francisco: Hosting and renting for events ranging from weddings to corporate events. You can find one in your city too.

Parking Space Commercial Owners and Homeowners can rent out their parking spots to make some extra money.

Book Rentals - BookSwim: Aims to be the Netflix of book rentals. You can rent and return books of all kinds without the hassle of late fees, due dates and prepaid mailing boxes. Ebook lending will soon takeover this space.

Movie Rentals- Netflix: Netflix rents movies for a fixed monthly subscription and is one of the most successful business rental models in any industry.

Video Game rentals- Gamefly: With the video game industry making so many games on so many different consoles (PS3, Wii, etc.) a video game rental service makes sense.

High end fashion rentals- RentTheRunway: Customers rent dresses from top-name designers such as Diane von Furstenberg and Hervé Léger. Rentals are $50 to $200 for a four-night loan and are shipped directly to the customer's doorstep.

Wedding/Prom/Special Occasion rentals - Men's Wearhouse for Men and American Tuxedo for Women:  As most of these occasions occur once in a lifetime rentals in this case make sense as you may use it only once.

Office Space rentals - Regus: For small businesses and individual working spaces with office equipment. Gold membership gives you unlimited access to Regus' network of 1100 business lounges and cafés across the globe.

Medical Equipment rentals- You can rent everything from wheelchairs to hospital beds for your home or hospital.

Dear readers, if I missed a product/service rental please let me know so that I can add it to this list.


Learning Google Adwords

I started my first paid advertising campaign early this month with Google Adwords and would like to share some interesting things about it. My campaign is to promote my services in design and usability. My skills are varied and range from usability to design to marketing so I created many ads (example of one on the right) to target different users in the Bay Area. Let me walk you through the process.

1. Define the goal for your campaign and a budget. My objective was to promote my services online so that targeted people would visit my blog and email me to inquire about my services. I started with a $50 budget but you can start with $10 and see if the return on investment is greater than the costs.

2. Sign up on Google Adwords: Google helps you through this process and you can sign-up in less than 2 minutes.

3. Create a campaign: To create a campaign you need to create an ad (as shown above), identify keywords, define the regions where you know your audience is from (example: Bay Area) and define the cost per click (CPC). It is best to create more than one campaign to target different segments. For example, I make websites easy-to-use so I can target marketing people, design people and user research/usability people. I could also target industries such as healthcare, finance and retail. Let's review each step in detail.

a. Create an ad: Having decided to target an audience that wants better design I created 3-5 ads as shown on the right. Ads need to include keywords and a call to action. I created more than 20 ads and after trial and error narrowed it to the ones that I found to be most effective.

b. Identify Keywords: Keywords are the words people enter in Google search which trigger the appearance (or absence) of  your ad. With the help of the Keyword tool and the Traffic Estimator tool you can identify about 10 effective keywords for each of your campaigns. Keywords should have a high Quality Score (yellow square) and attract substantial traffic for a low estimated CPC.

4. Monitor your campaign: It is critical to monitor campaigns regularly and change them if needed. I stop campaigns that don't work and create new ones that I think will work better. Similarly, I'm tracking my most effective ads and keywords. You can also connect Google Adwords to Google Analytics to track your campaigns.  In the past few days I have got 6 clicks (right image). Eye Tracking and User Experience Design are effective keywords. Visitors spent an average 2 minutes on my blog and bounce rate was at 50%. Both bounce rate and average time on my blog through these paid campaigns show better numbers than the free traffic visiting my blog. I have yet to learn how to control CPC (as it's currently in auto mode) and will share my learnings soon.

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