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WritersUA 2011 – Out of box experiences to delight your customers

This week I attended the WritersUA 2011 Conference for Software User Assistance in Long Beach, California. On Wednesday Cathy Moya gave an awesome presentation on Designing out of box and first time user experiences to delight your customers”. This blog post is derived from the notes I made during the session. If you find any inaccuracies, theyโ€™ll be mine.

Cathy works at Microsoft Hardware User Assistance. Her talk was all about OOBE (“ooby”) and FTUE (futooey”). She pronounced those two acronyms as words rather than individual letters, and with a big grin. They stand for “out of box experience” and “first time user experience”.

Introducing Cathy’s talk

Cathy started out by saying, “Remember that feeling you had, as a child, when you got a present?” She brought out a big box of child’s toys. Then she said, “And the disappointment… when you had to go find scissors to snip the plastic, or to unfasten the doll’s hair?”

“Sometimes, these barriers are necessary. Sometimes the out of box experience has to be a bit tedious. But sometimes, it is beautiful, magical. That’s what we want to talk about today.”

In her presentation, Cathy gave us examples of great OOBE and FTUE. She said that when she got into the Microsoft hardware user assistance area, it was the first time that she really looked at the OOBE. She is now responsible for designing the OOBE for Microsoft customers.

OOBE in the product lifecycle

Cathy sketched out the full product lifecycle and showed us where OOBE fits into it.

  • First, there’s a need. The customer needs something, and they know what it is.
  • They may research the product, to find the one they need.
  • Then they acquire it, or someone else acquires it. That’s an important distinction. You may have several audiences that you’re trying to please.
  • If it’s a physical product, someone has to unpack it. Even if it’s not a physical product, they have to get it somehow, via download or delivery.
  • People need to set up and configure or even customise the product.
  • A person uses the product for the first time
  • A person or people continue using the product for a period of time.
  • Eventually they discard the product.

OOBE includes these parts of the lifecycle:

  • Unpacking the product.
  • Setting up the product.
  • Using the product for the first time.

Who cares about packaging or unboxing?

Cathy said there’s a large group of people out there who care. Do a Google for “unboxing”. 11.7 million results, and climbing!

Why should we care?

Cathy suggests that a good OOBE will:

  • Make your brand stand out.
  • Reinforce the perceptions people have about your brand. Create an overall experience for customers that makes them feel good about the product.
  • Reduce support calls.

Identifying your stakeholders

It’s important to find out who your stakeholders are and to work with them. Cathy works with a large number of stakeholders, including:

  • Designers of the structural packaging
  • Marketing teams
  • User assistance teams
  • Industrial designers, and environmental and recycling engineers
  • Retailers
  • Safety and compliance engineers
  • Software developers, QA, product management, and so on

Defining your goals

Cathy called these the “experience goals”. That’s what Disneyland calls it, and that’s the level that can differentiate you from your competitors.

When defining your goals, consider your audience (all the types of people involved), your brand, the location and method people will use to buy the product (Amazon, off a retail shelf, and so on โ€“ different retailers may request specific packaging types), and where the customers will set up the product.

Most importantly, consider your priorities for your OOBE (for example, batteries in the pack) and the pitfalls that people must avoid (such as throwing away the batteries with the packaging).

People should be able to just start at the beginning and work through to a successful conclusion.

Cathy said with a grin that she aims for a “yellow brick road rather than a scavenger hunt”.


Now Cathy dived into each part of the OOBE in detail:

  • Unpacking the product.
  • Setting up the product.
  • Using the product for the first time.

Unpacking the product

Cathy took us through a number of examples of good and bad products.

For example, good OOBE offers with easy-to-open packaging, such as clear marking to show where to start pulling the tab. She mentioned “wrap rage”, and the fact that some wrapping actually hurts people. The best thing is when you need no tools to remove the packaging

She showed us the infamous Windows Vista box. Evidently there’s even an online guide on how to open the packaging. (I found it here.) But the guide actually leads people astray and makes it harder to open the package. And this is after all the user testing that was done. (It was quite refreshing that a person from Microsoft came a highlighted such problems with their own product. Cathy was great, with wry smiles and candid humour.)

In contrast, the Wii packaging makes it very clear how to open the package, and it’s easy to do.

The Kindle is also great, in that it offers an integrated experience. The guidelines for using the Kindle are on the Kindle itself, clearly visible on first use.

It’s also good to minimise the waste of packaging material. If you can use the packaging for something else too, that’s great.

Setting up and configuring the product

(Woohoo, Cathy mentioned my Peer Showcase presentation here: Using the Dragon Slayer documentation to turn a negative experience into a cool, fun experience. she said, “This is some of the magic that we have the opportunity to do in setup.” Thanks Cathy!)

Cathy listed the important things to do in the setup guide:

  • Tell people about the dependencies. How will they know about the steps they need to do before other steps?
  • Make it easy to find the setup. In Windows 7, you just plug in the computer. This is great.
  • Don’t make people swap between different media. For example, when they move from paper to screen, they should stay on the screen from that point onwards.
  • Be careful about what belongs in each phase: Setup, configuration and first use. Generally, if it’s something that people absolutely must do, put it into setup. But if it’s user-specific, put it into the first use, such as setting up your personal colours.
  • Manage the time and make sure that the proceduredoes not take an unacceptable amount of time. Group together the sections that require user input.
  • Make sure your users feel that they are in control. Give them a progress bar that shows a realistic indication of progress.
  • Let them know when the setup is finished. If possible, launch the product. If it’s a suite of products, tell them they’ve finished and suggest the next step for their first use experience.
  • Use “forcing functions” to prevent common errors or mistakes. For example, different types of cable have different plugs so that it’s impossible to put them into the wrong sockets.
  • Respect people’s privacy. By default, select the most secure and private options. Give people minimal but enough information to make an informed choice, if they do have to make a decision.


  • Facebook offers 3 steps, every one optional. If you do them, you will have a much better experience because it will find your friends for you.
  • Kinect requires some setup. This is the Xbox game where you are the controller, meaning that you don’t need to touch a physical game controller. You do have to go through the 3 setup steps, but it’s clear exactly what they are and it walks you through the steps.

First use

It’s show time, said Cathy. This is the stage, the moment for your product to shine. Unfortunately we often use this opportunity to make people do unnecessary housekeeping, such as product registration.

Instead, we should go back and examine our priorities, and get people right into the product.

Games are a great example. They tell you where you can go for more information if you want it, but you can choose just to jump right in. You start gaining points immediately, and the game rewards you at each stage.

Provide just enough structure. Tell people what steps they can do now, and a suggested order they can do them in.

Facebook does this well. It also offers a tour.

When things go wrong

What if things don’t work as expected? Part of your OOBE design must consider what happens if something fails.

Cathy told us how she had gone to the Quicken helpdesk late at night when she had a problem. She was waiting for someone to pick up her call, and the helpline started telling her about common problems and their solutions. One of those problems was hers, so she had the answer without even needing to speak to someone.

How do you know if you’ve got it right?

Cathy listed a number of techniques we can use to judge whether we have succeeded. I didn’t have time to note them all. Here are those that I did jot down:

  • Get your competitors’ products, install and use them to see what they’re doing.
  • Look at your website and your community.
  • Do surveys.

Microsoft Touchmouse

This section of Cathy’s talk was a really cool walkthrough of the OOBE for Microsoft’s new Touchmouse. I haven’t seen it before, and it was great to see a live demonstration.

It’s a mouse, with left click and right click. But you can also use gestures, instead of pushing buttons.

It’s exclusively for Windows 7. This information is right on the box, because people really need to know it.

The packaging is a transparent box, so that you can see the mouse. Microsoft had learned that people wanted to actually see the product. Feedback was that this made the product feel like an expensive piece of jewellery.

The inside flap also gives some information on how you interact with the mouse.

There are “break the seal” labels, one on each side. Then the whole top pops up. This builds on that “jewellery” experience.

Cathy showed us how to remove the mouse and the batteries. She walked us through the design and usability testing they had done, to design the procedure people need to follow to install the batteries into the mouse. Then there’s a nano dongle that fits into a compartment in the mouse. They don’t ship the dongle inside the mouse, because then people won’t know about it. Instead they instruct people to put the dongle into the slot.

The UA is also in the box, in the form of a booklet. Cathy walked us through the design of the booklet, with diagrams up front and then textual instructions. (At the moment, they’re still full of “lorem ipsum”.) ๐Ÿ™‚ย  Throughout the book, there are a lot of diagrams showing the user’s hand in relation to the device.

When people finish setup on the computer (accept licensing agreement, etc) you see the “Mouse Properties” window, displaying videos that show you how to interact with the mouse. It looks pretty cool. I’d love to try one. You just gesture with your fingers to flip through pictures, and so on.

Cathy says that user testing shows that they need even more than they have right now, to help people integrate the new mouse into their lives.

Summing it up

Cathy ran through the main points of her presentation. Her very last point was:

“Build it so that users can’t mess up.”

She pointed us at a YouTube video of “the best unboxing ever”. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Samsung Omnia i900.

As a finishing touch, Cathy drew some prizes for members of the audience. She had given us each a raffle ticket at the start of the presentation. The prizes were the various toys that she had used to demonstrate packaging. A nice touch!

My conclusions

Thank you Cathy for an awesome, funny, riveting presentation. Wrap rage or wrap rapture, I’ll look at packaging design with new eyes from now on.

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