Great products and services should delight you the first time you use them. No matter what you’re doing — unboxing your new smart phone, say, or signing up for a Tumblr account — it should be memorable.
That first experience has to be good, because it sets the tone for your ongoing enjoyment of whatever it is you’ve just started using. If it’s bad, you might never use that product or service again.
But if there’s one thing I love more than a great first-use experience, it’s when a product surprises me long after becoming part of my life.
Take my iPhone. My constant companion for three years, I’ve used it for thousands of calls, text messages, emails and tweets.
I thought I knew everything there is to know about that handset. But yesterday, I was tapping out a text message about the recently-revealed Glastonbury line-up.
The bands announced include Motörhead, a bunch of British rockers who added an umlaut to their name ‘to look mean’.
As I spelt out their name on my iPhone, the autocorrect function added the umlaut automatically.
I would never expect my smart phone to know how to spell ‘Motörhead’. So when it changed my spelling (I have no idea where to find an umlaut on Apple’s keyboard), the attention to detail made me smile.
It was unexpected. It stopped me in my tracks for a moment, while I realised what it had done. And it made me chuckle.
I don’t think there are many gadgets that would keep surprising me, even after three years. That’s a sign that real care and attention has been put into the user experience.
I’ve said before that I believe copywriters and content creators do their best work when they collaborate closely with designers.
Quite simply, design and content are interdependent. You only get the best final product when you consider them together.
One tool that makes this easier is Balsamiq. It’s a straightforward-yet-powerful piece of software that lets you create rough layouts and low-fidelity wireframes very quickly. Here’s an example:
You can choose from a wide range of design elements, drop them onto your page and arrange as necessary. It’s impressively fast and easy to get the hang of.
Bridging the design gap
Because Balsamiq is so speedy, it can help bridge the gap between writers and designers without introducing unacceptable overheads.
I use it in three main ways:
1. To indicate the relative prominence of content
When I’m working on a content plan, sketching web pages in Balsamiq is a good way to show what content elements should feature and how important they are.
If the final content plan explains the ins and outs of each page, the accompanying Balsamiq mockups provide a quick, visual guide to what content should exist and how visible it should be.
2. To put content in the design early
If I’ve agreed the rough layout of a page with a designer, I’ll knock it together in Balsamiq and drop in my draft content.
This provides context, giving an early indication of whether the content fits the proposed layout. Sometimes, it validates your approach. At other times, it can spark a rethink. Either way, it’s really useful.
3. To save the designer a bit of work
Many designers use Balsamiq to develop web page prototypes at the start of projects.
If so, I can take the prototype and add draft content, providing an altogether more representative view of each design approach without requiring the designer to copy and paste text.
Why unpolished is better
However you use Balsamiq, the resulting mockups look intentionally unpolished. And that means they’re a brilliant way to gather initial feedback without clients thinking ‘this is exactly how it’ll look when it’s finished’.
I’m no designer. But Balsamiq puts basic design tools within my grasp, providing an effective platform to communicate and collaborate with designers.
I purchased it about a year ago so I could work with one client on one particular project. Now, I’d say I use it about every other day. It really is that useful.
Balsamiq is available as an online app ($12+ a month) and as a desktop app for Mac (from $79).
Depending which statistics you trust, anything from 40% to 65% of emails get opened on mobile devices. Laptop and desktop computers are taking a back seat when it comes to receiving email.
This huge shift to mobile means that if you send marketing emails, you can be certain that a significant proportion of them will be viewed on smart phones and tablets.
If your emails don’t display correctly on these devices, you’ll fail to reach a whole chunk of recipients. In the process, you might even annoy them with a message that doesn’t work properly.
East Coast — only for computers?
With that in mind, earlier today I received an email from East Coast, one of the UK’s main train companies.
Promoting an end of summer sale, it talks up some attractive fares, before leaving smart phone and tablet users out in the cold:
Apparently, ‘mobiles and tablets can’t handle savings like this’. I’d say it’s more likely East Coast’s booking engine can’t handle mobile devices.
Right message, right audience
This feels like a big miss, because the email itself is decent.
The headline deal, ‘train seats from £10′, is compelling. It’s been sent to members of the company’s loyalty programme, who are likely to be regular travellers and familiar with the brand.
In short, the offer is relevant and well targeted.
But that key call to action — the whole purpose of the email — just doesn’t work on mobile devices.
That means anything up to 65% of the people who received it won’t have been able to easily check prices and book a ticket on the spot. Not even if they really wanted to.
What a waste of effort.