A Merry Christmas Competition

Last week our company essentially took recess on Friday morning in honor of the 1st Annual Christmas Decorating Contest. UX became it’s own department separate from (but embedded in) the Tech team  this past summer, so the friendly rivalry was running strong between us leading up to this.

After some discussion over what we might choose to do for our area, we chose to focus on fun and food. Part of this was obvious – cookies, Mexican hot cocoa, gift bags with more cookies and some wonderfully tasty homemade whipped cream.

the UX department all done up

But  this is a decorating contest, right? How do you incorporate food into holiday decor? Food themed snowflakes and cinnamon ornaments, of course.

another view of the UX department decor

a close up of a storage cabinet with snowflakes and ornaments

sign saying 'Merry Christmas'

The ornaments did cause a bit of confusion. You might think the beads would be enough to get that they weren’t cookies, but we decided to take the safe side of things.

cinnamon ornaments in star shapes

Caitlin made up a Christmas tree design for us while I turned a hand at snowflake cutting.

Christmas tree image

Our tree was a bit different than the ones found just across the cubicle in the Tech department. One of their was made of post-it notes (they chose a theme of office supplies).

Christmas tree made of post it notes

Their crowning glory, though ,was the Mountain Dew/ginger ale tree.

'tree' made of Mountian Dew cans with a 'binary' tree in the background

It was pretty amusing and very definitely a reflection of them.

We in UX could not just leave it at food and decor, though. We’re interactive people – the User Experience department. So Caitlin took it a step further with some Christmas trivia for the judges followed by a bit of Christmas Mad Libs.

Image of this text - Rudolph the gargantuan-nosed mamot had a very runny nose and if you ever wiped it, you would even say it flows. All of the other marmots used to belch and call him snot-nose. They never let silly Rudolph running in any incredible games.

A marmot, for those who may be unfamiliar, is a large rodent like a groundhog or squirrel. We have one for a mascot – Ce Marmot. New Business kidnapped him for the judging.

Ce Marmot, our stuffed animal marmot, in a Santa hat

We closed out our time with the judges with an impromptu rendition of ‘Rudolph the Gargantuan-Nosed Reindeer’ at the request of our president.

So, how did we fare?

We didn’t win the overall prize – that went to the Jedis over Customer Service (they did a lovely job) BUT we won ‘Most Fun’.

The devs? They got ‘Most Original’, which worked out well for all. Here are a couple of other photos from their area.

Christmas lights augmented with post-it notes

a sign saying 'Christmas: There's an app for that."

To my personal amusement, they also retained and decorated our gift to them back when we helped decorate their work area.

pink flowers with some green festiveness

The fun wasn’t limited to our side of the building, though. I personally enjoyed the Star Wars theme over at Marketing (which is otherwise known as the Dark Side). I’ve been admiring their stockings for several weeks. If you can’t read it – the skeleton is Uncle Owen.

Uncle Owen, Luke and Obi-Wan in stockings

Lord Santa even made an appearance.

Darth Vader Santa

There was also a smaller Vader feeling the Christmas spirit along with a slightly different star atop their tree.

Christmas Vader bobblehead

Christmas w/ Death Star & sign saying the world beyond i Hoth

Curiously, this morning it was pointed out to me that Rudolph was no longer a gargantuan-nosed marmot, but instead a… well, I’ll just write it out in it’s entirety.

“Rudolph the bloody-nosed Vampire Spork had a very evil nose and if you ever stubbed it, you would even say it invigorates.
All of the other penguins used to arm-wrestle and call him Edward. They never let deadly Rudolph feast in any violent games…”

The vampire spork was a dead giveaway of the culprit. If it hadn’t been then the addition of the penguin would have been more than enough.

@Firstcrusader didn’t even try to deny it when I mention it to her. I may just start calling her FirstcruVader after this pic, though.

Firstcrusader with the Vader helmet and a lightsaber

PS Our blogger also sent an excellent holiday greeting out to us this week. I hope you enjoy it.

holiday card

Life Online: Humor in the Hated Error Message

Error messages. We love to hate them. They’re like that whack-a-mole game we played as kids. You hit them to make them disappear only to have another show up mocking you from a nearby location. On and on they seem to go, only unlike the game the errors don’t stop coming after a certain number of encounters.

As one in the field of User Experience (UX) one of our major goals is to prevent those pesky little messages from ever appearing, but despite our best intentions errors still happen. Because of this in Jakob Nielsen’s ‘Ten Usability Heuristics’ Error prevention has a friend known as Help users recognize, diagnose and recover from errors. Here is his recommendation on how to accomplish that:

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

It’s good right? None of us like getting the messages that say some random line of letters and numbers is having an issue with port 80 and needs your attention. Well, developers probably like those, but for the rest of the world it tells us nothing other than that our computers hate us in that moment in time. Plain language is a very good thing.

So, earlier this afternoon I got an IM from the Product Owner (lead) for the team I work with asking me to write an error message. It turns out that people who have cookies turned off in their browser couldn’t get past the first page of our sign-up process. I asked a couple questions then quickly mocked up samples for them. They were narrowed down to these two potential options.

Option 1

We know cookies can be hard to share, but we need them in order to proceed. Please check your privacy settings to make sure they are not disabled.

Option 2

Please check your privacy setting and makes sure cookies are enabled in order to proceed.

These were read by a fellow UXer, the Product Owner and myself. We all had the same reaction and I found it fascinating. Personally we all liked ‘Option 1’ better, but felt that we should use ‘Option 2’ in the actual message users read. We even agreed that we prefer a sense of humor when we encounter error messages, but that was not (as far as I am aware) the message that was chosen.

Why? Because convention, standards and even our heuristics tell us that that’s what we’re supposed to do. In fact the heuristic previous to the one previously quoted says that ‘dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed’. In other words, no joking about cookies.

Now, I know I have a bit of a quirky sense of humor. I’ve even got a category in my blog known as ‘Shenanigans’. What I’m curious about is what the actual users of the internet think.

Which option would you rather see if you got that error?