I was recently at the eye doctor. I dread my annual trip for one reason. The puff test. Here’s my puff test story and some thoughts about the future of the customer experience in a post recession economy.
What’s the puff test? Until this post, I had no idea the puff test was really called non-contact tonometry. Invented by Bernard Grolman of Reichert, the puff test shoots an air pulse into your eye to measure fluid pressure and your chance of having glaucoma. Unfortunately, they shoot this air pulse into your cornea while your eyes water and blink a billion times in helpless anticipation. I usually never keep my eye open long enough to pass the puff test.
A 25 year old psychology major cured my case of anemophobia (fear of wind) after over a decade of pushy puff testers. What was her secret? Pretty simple. She told me to blink on her command and that on a random blink she would do her puff thing. Low and behold, it worked. I got my blinking in. She got her accurate puff reading. And she was in control the whole time. A decade’s worth of painful puff tests gone in the blink of an eye.
I work in the world of web. This whole experience seemed somewhat familiar. You work on a website, add some functionality, throw some content around and pray to God you don’t cause your users too much pain. Usability and the study of the user experience has changed a lot over the last half century. Nowadays, we focus on behavior of our users and their needs, controlling the experience while we shoot them full of content.
In a booming economy, what is the probability a psychology major would pick eye care as her top career aspiration? During a recession, people go where the wind takes them. Is there a correlation between recessions in the United States and advances in the customer experience? Is there a more dynamic build up and transplant of intellectual wealth during these periods that advances processes and products? Here’s a quick chart of recessions since 1945. Thank you Trading Economics for the dynamic charts.
Here are three major usability milestones in America and the corresponding periods of negative GDP growth.
- 1930 – 1954 – Colonel John Flanagan determines that reducing knobs, switches and controls in WWII fighter planes improves operator performance. The Great Depression lasts four years from 1929 to 1933, followed by recessions in 1937, 1945, 1949 and 1953.
- 1970′s – 1981 – Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) works on GUIs and introduces the Xerox Star and WIMP based computer interface (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pulldowns). During the 132 month stretch, there are 39 months in which America is in recession. The recessions began in 1969, 1973, 1980 and 1981.
- 1998 – 2001 – The dot-com bubble grows and bursts. Jakob Nielsen starts NNG to decentralize usability studies for the masses outside internal corporate R&D. While there wasn’t a recession that immediately preceded this milestone, there was an 8 month recession beginning in 2001.
Is there a correlation? Maybe, maybe not. Do companies “pass” more puff tests during recessions? Now that we are in a post-recession era, what customer experience improvements are you seeing?