We recently wrote about three in-store installations we built for different customers: two for Whyred and one for H&M. Now that they’ve been live for a while, we’ve been able to evaluate them in terms of the customer appeal and the effectiveness of our designs. One important lesson stands out above all others: getting the customer’s attention is paramount.
Don't expect the customer to come to you
For Whyred, our first installation used a traditional touch screen. We used that as a baseline to evaluate the level of interaction: it’s a familiar UI, and shoppers know what to do. They can tap, scroll, and do everything they expect to be able to do - once they realize that it’s not just a piece of passive digital signage, but an interactive device.
Right away, this showed us a huge problem: it’s easy for people to assume that it’s just a video display, and walk on by without touching it. Even if they realize it’s a touch-screen, they need to have some indication of what it’s for: maybe it’s a map of the store or more corporate videos, which they're probably not interested in. Some will be curious and try it anyway, but most won’t.
That was our first lesson: to be effective, there needs to be a much clearer signal of what the device can do.
Our second Whyred installation was fundamentally a UI experiment. We created an interface that allows users to take control of the screen using their phone instead of touching it. By physically flicking their phone, they could scroll left and right, enabling them to browse Whyred’s inventory on a device in a store window.
Technically, it worked great, and those people who used it said it was fun. It wasn’t a huge success, though.
As with the touch-screen installation, most people didn’t realize it was interactive. And even when they did figure out that it did something, a lot of people couldn’t figure out how to use it. We tried to build a really simple UI with easy instructions, but it was just too unfamiliar and confusing. People aren’t used to the idea of shaking their phones to control a video screen, even though the Nintendo Wii has been around for over ten years. And most people aren’t even willing to read a one-sentence instruction: if they don’t get it right away, they won’t use the device. After initial testing, we changed the on-screen instructions to make it much clearer what the user should do.
Lesson two: don't expect users to spend time figuring out what you expect them to do.
Making ambient tech work - take the initiative
By contrast, the H&M smart mirror has been hugely successful. We believe there are three critical UI aspects to this that we got right.
The first is the “wake on face” technology. The customer doesn’t have to do anything to activate the device except look at it. The mirror constantly scans its surroundings, and when it detects a face looking at it, i.e. not just passing by or glancing at it, it initiates a conversation with the customer.
Second, when I say conversation, I mean it literally talks to you. There’s no touch-screen, and there’s no need to read anything or interpret icons on a screen. It’s completely voice-controlled. People are getting comfortable with smart speakers, and with talking to their mobile devices, so a voice interface immediately feels familiar and intuitive.
And third, the first thing the mirror does is tell you what it can do - show you clothes or let you take a selfie. Immediately, the customer knows why they’re interacting with the device and what they’re going to get out of it.
It’s hard to over-emphasize how important these three UI elements are: the mirror proactively grabs the customer’s attention, delivers a simple value proposition right away, and makes it easy for the customer to respond.
It’s not asking the customer to think, or to figure out what they’re supposed to do, and at the same time it’s giving them a memorable moment of surprise and delight. As Forbes said, it’s “ambient tech that actually works.” Customer engagement has been orders of magnitude higher than for Whyred.
As a UI/UX designer, it’s been an important reminder of one of the most basic truths about what we do.
Our job isn’t to build cool tech.
It’s certainly not to do things just because they’re technically possible.
It’s to design products that people can use and which deliver results for our clients.
We mustn’t be afraid to experiment and to innovate, but we also need to remember that innovations are often, by definition, confusing and unintuitive. When you’re dealing with mass-market products, that’s always a major challenge. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes… well, you just have to learn from it and do better next time.