The day Animatron friendzoned me

This is a story about love. Teenage love. Love that hurts. Teenage love in the time of UX.

As a UX designer I often find myself excited in front of a screen when I discover a new product or service. And even more than the products themselves, I’m always truly amazed by companies that have great communication and delightful customer management.

When I first met Animatron.com, it was love at first sight. I was looking for a way to create a simple loader animation to replace the progress bars for one of my company’s apps.  The standard spinning wheels are so boring and trivial. I wanted to create a customised loading animation using the app brand. Unfortunately I had the idea but zero animation skills or software to create it.

So, after a little bit of googling, I found a Super Hero offering a free online “Flash-like” platform: Animatron. Cool name, clever attitude, a delicious smell of genuine startup enthusiasm and perfect user centric communication. The opening line of the entire website was a stunning:

ANIMATRON IS OUR BELOVED CHILD. WE MAKE IT WITH INFINITE PASSION LOVE AND WARMTH.  

Could I ask for more? I must admit that I started to wish for more than just another one night software stand.

Animatron-Logo

So I registered for an account and my excitement continued to rise to the stars: delighters everywhere, fun copy, and all the other stuff that makes a first date amazing. The app’s first impression was charminggood looking, and seductive. Never too bold, never too foppish. Handsome but approachable. I was so happy that I immediately shared the link with the entire design department, “Check this out guys! It’s super cool!” Yes, exactly like a 14 year old messaging all of her friends after her and her crush exchanged glances (probably accidentally) outside the gym on the way back to class. An idiot, just like a teenager.

Uuuuuuh he’s sooooo cute!

The canvas opened with a familiar Adobe Flash interface. I was expecting some kind of tutorial and here it was: Animatron the super robot (their logo) started to jump around the screen to show me stuff and features. And then he jumped again. And again, and again, and again. And again. C’mon, I just want to create an animated spinning logo, I don’t want to become the new John Lasseter (not yet). It’s our first date, stop being so annoying and talking about yourself so much!

So I skipped the tutorial (uuuuh that should ring a bell to anyone who has ever done any kind of usability testing) and tried to create my great rotating icon. Unfortunately my time to play was running out because other tasks were waiting, projects were failing, walls were bleeding, and colleagues were screaming about deadlines, issues, casualties, etc. etc. I decided to put my new lover aside for a while, sure to come back as soon as possible.

And now comes the part of the story in which I’ve not been so kind. There’s no easy way to say it but…Oh yeah, OK, I’ll give Animatron a call, he was no nice. Sure I’ll get in touch with him because we had such a great time together but I’ll do it as soon as this YouTube fluffy kitten stops riding his tiny motorbike against the mirror. Days went by and…well you know how these things end up.

But then one night, Animatron made his move. I received a great email, probably one of the best follow-up emails that I have ever received from an app (sorry but I forgot the scientific name for this kind of email, it’s marketing stuff that I’ve forgotten, please help me if you remember it):

From: Animatron Team
To: me
Subject: What could we have done better?

Hey Damiano,
Thanks for checking out Animatron! We noticed that you stopped by but didn’t get too involved in the Editor. We’re constantly adding features and refining the tool based on input from users, and it’d be really helpful if you could share your experience with us.

We know your time is valuable and we would really appreciate if you take the time to answer one simple question: I don’t use Animatron because ….

Thanks again,
The Animatron Team

PS: If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or criticisms you’d like to share with us, just reply to this email. We’ll read every single one – promise.

 

That was..A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! Personal enough (I got involved but not too involved indeed!), perfect timing, very kind, professional and extremely positive. No whining, no begging for getting back together. It clearly stated: I tried my best and I really cared about you, let me know how I could do better next time. In a nutshell: I felt guilty.

So I decided to answer immediately and I tried to write the email that every product manager out there would like to receive: I added suggestions, user insights and congratulations. Far more than an hazy promise of a second date:

From: me
To: Animatron Team
Subject: RE:What could we have done better?
Hi guys,Thanks for asking.I loved the idea behind the app and I’ll sure get back to it soon.
The problem is that during my first attempt to use it (I wanted to create a simple loader for an app I was designing) I found the starting tutorial far too boring and long. So I skipped it after a while. But then I was not able to even draw a shape…I was able to draw a circle but I wanted a square.
I had a tons of other things to do, so I simply decided to try again later on and quit.
Hope this help! Nice work guys, see u soon.
P.S.
I also loved your company page, you look like a great team! Keep rocking!!!

 

I sent this love declaration with a dreaming smile on my face. I was almost sure I was going to get a tons of loving emoticons and a long deep truthful thank you. Well even because..Animatron promised: we’ll read every single one.

I waited patiently, staring at the phone. I was really eager to see the answer. The first one was so clever that I didn’t even know what to expect from the second one. One day went by but then the night after I heard the notification coming and I picked up immediately my phone. I was already smiling, I swear. So you can now probably understand my disappointment founding myself…FRIENDZONED!

From: Animatron Team
To: me
Subject: RE:RE: What could we have done better?
thanks! hope you will come back sometime in the future :)

 

Are you kidding me? One line email?! That’s an email that would piss off also an old uncle living 2000 miles away! YOU FRIENDZONED ME! But c’mon, I’m a 31 married grownup! How could I be friendzoned by an online app!?

At the end of the day I still appreciate Animatron and I still suggest it to everyone out there willing to create stunning animations with a performant and easy to use online tool. They also offer a premium account for a small fee (mmmh I should have paid attention to this detail before falling in love, oh stupid stupid stupid).

But I must confess that my heart is still broken, so what I suggest to product and services designers is:

the more you promise, the more emotional you get with your product, the more you should be careful.

We are all very sensitive about our emotions: no app user is particularly rational, but a user that you made feel happy and excited like a 14 year old teen is far beyond any reasonless imagination. That’s it: we always design with the ultimate goal of getting users personally involved with our products, and we all know how tough it is. But we need to be careful when we finally get there: genuine positive feelings are incredibly hard to reach and incredibly easy to be turned into friendzone genuine hate!

“There is a sixth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the FRIENDZONE”

d.


 

Note: thanks a lot to my friend Hayley for the proofreading of this article! She has been crucial in giving me the self confidence needed  to switch language. So…don’t forget to check out her blog

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