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11 posts from January 2009

Thursday, 29 January 2009

5 Design Decision Styles

Jared Spool and his crew have summarized the 5 design decision styles they've seen teams use:

  1. Unintended - focused on development and deployment
  2. Self - design for own use
  3. Genius - based on past design experiences
  4. Activity Focused - specific tasks
  5. User Focused - beyond activities into goals, needs, motivations

The order reflects the increasing amount of research the team employs to make decisions. While one could also think of the order as a growing maturity of the team, it turns out that each one has its place. Some projects don't warrant the costs, time, and resources necessary for extensive user research, but other projects will fail without it. Knowing when more extensive research is necessary is key to good experience design management.

Since the teams are working with different styles all the time, does it matter? Our research says it does. The teams that produced the best experiences knew these styles well and how to quickly switch between them. They knew when they needed to go whole hog and pull out all the stops for a User-Focused style project, while also knowing when it was important to bang out a quick design, knowing the results would essentially be unintended. Those teams had a rich toolbox of techniques and a solid understanding on how and when to use them.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Three Reasons Not to Use Prototyping Tools

Anders Ramsay explains the three reasons not to use prototyping tools.

  1. Prototyping Tools are Inherently Based on the Old; Design is Inherently about the New
  2. Prototyping Tools are Inherently Technology-specific
  3. Prototyping Tools Only Create the Illusion of Validating a Design Solution

There is an interesting discussion that follows in the comments and also on ToddWarfel.com.

Friday, 23 January 2009

A definition of “user experience”

Eric Reiss defines UX as:

UX = the sum of a series of interactions
User experience (UX) represents the perception left in someone’s mind following a series of interactions between people, devices, and events – or any combination thereof. “Series” is the operative word.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Experience IS the Product... and the only thing users care about

Peter Merholz wonders why most businesses still don't get that the user experience is the product.

On its own, a simple camera is meaningless, because the entire photographic process (loading a camera, exposing the light-sensitive material, removing that material, processing the material, printing images from that material) could not get any simpler. Eastman's genius was in designing his system so customers could do what mattered most to them—capturing the image ("You press the button"). Eastman located other functions elsewhere in the system ("We do the rest"), allowing the Kodak camera to be remarkably straightforward to use.

You press the button we do the rest

George Eastman understood this and so does Steve Jobs.

A comment that sheds light on this comes from Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple:

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don't really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it's really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That's sort of the middle, and that's where most people stop....

But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem—and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.

That's what we wanted to do with Mac.
—from Insanely Great, written by Steven Levy

Until the last sentence, you might have thought he was taking about the iPod or even the iPhone. But the quote came from 1984, and demonstrates that transcendent product design is a matter of philosophy and approach. The reason product development has gone wrong is that people stop at the worst time—when the solutions are most convoluted.

What Eastman knew, what Jobs knows, is that you have to go beyond; you have to think about the experience people are having.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Best Careers 2009: UX, IxD and IA. Hooray!!

US. News & World Report named Usability Experience Specialist as one of the best careers for 2009. At the start of the article the author lists all the other job title variations this profession uses. I consider myself an Interaction Designer, but my official title is Information Architect. Dan Saffer created a good model of the wide range of UX disciplines.

Whatever you call them, their job is to help ensure that products, especially technical ones, are easy and pleasurable to use.

I am concerned though that the articles does focus much more on evaluation and research and completely skips over design.

You write a report summarizing what you've learned. Then, engineers develop a prototype of the product that comes closest to meeting both the company's and the surgeons' desires.

In between these two sentences is a HUGE step - the design phase where the research is analyzed and converted into solutions that the engineering team can then build. This is where the iPod comes from instead of just another MP3 player.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Google’s view on the future of business

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, discusses the Internet, business, and innovation with The McKinsey Quarterly.

On the long tail...

And, in fact, it's probable that the Internet will lead to larger blockbusters and more concentration of brands. Which, again, doesn’t make sense to most people, because it’s a larger distribution medium. But when you get everybody together they still like to have one superstar. It's no longer a US superstar, it's a global superstar. So that means global brands, global businesses, global sports figures, global celebrities, global scandals, global politicians.

So, we love the long tail, but we make most of our revenue in the head, because of the math of the power law. And you need both, by the way. You need the head and the tail to make the model work.

On transparency and the wisdom of crowds...

But it has a lot of other implications for the way corporations operate. They can't be as controlling. They have to let information out. They have to listen to customers, because customers are talking to them. And if they don't, their competitor will. So there's a long list of reasons why a more transparent company is a better organization.

There are many business models predicated on control. My favorite example is movie distribution windows. As a consumer, I want to watch the movie whenever I want, and on whatever medium I want. But the whole economic structure of the movie business, up until recently, was organized around distribution in a certain format, at a certain price, and then wait a while. But in the new world people won’t wait. A good example was the delay of the Harry Potter movie. The fans were fanatical, writing letters and calling private cell phones to overturn the delay. The industry has a fan base that they need to spend time thinking about.

There's a lot of evidence that groups make better decisions than individuals. Especially when the groups are selected to be among the smartest and most interesting people. The wisdom of crowds argument is that you can operate a company by consensus, which is, indeed, how Google operates.

On what companies need...

You need two things. You have to have somebody who enforces a deadline. In a corporation the role of a leader is often not to force the outcome, but to force execution. Literally, by having a deadline. Either by having a real crisis or creating a crisis. And a good managerial strategy is “let's create a crisis this week to get everybody through this knot hole.”

And the second thing is that you have to have dissent. If you don't have dissent then you have a king. And the new model of governance is very much counter to that. What I try to do in meetings is to find the people who have not spoken, who often are the ones who are afraid to speak out, but have a dissenting opinion. I get them to say what they really think and that promotes discussion, and the right thing happens. So open models, beyond input from outside, also have to be inside the corporation.

Encouraging this is an art, not a science. Because in traditional companies, the big offices, the corner offices, the regal bathrooms, and everybody dressed up in suits cause people to be afraid to speak out. But the best ideas typically don't come from executives. And, unfortunately, the executives don't agree with me on that.

On innovation..

Innovation always has been driven by a person or a small team that has the luxury of thinking of a new idea and pursuing it. There are no counter examples. It was true 100 years ago and it'll be true for the next 100 years. Innovation is something that comes when you're not under the gun. So it's important that, even if you don't have balance in your life, you have some time for reflection. So that you could say, "Well, maybe I'm not working on the right thing." Or, "maybe I should have this new idea." The creative parts of one's mind are not on schedule.

Monday, 12 January 2009

10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design

Whitney Hess describes the 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design on Mashable. Each misconception is expanded with thoughts from numerous UX luminaries.

User experience design is NOT...

  1. ...user interface design
  2. ...a step in the process
  3. ...about technology
  4. ...just about usability
  5. ...just about the user
  6. ...expensive
  7. ...easy
  8. ...the role of one person or department
  9. ...a single discipline
  10. ...a choice

In support of #2, Dan Brown says:

Most [clients] expect experience design to be a discrete activity, solving all their problems with a single functional specification or a single research study. It must be an ongoing effort, a process of continually learning about users, responding to their behaviors, and evolving the product or service.

Friday, 09 January 2009

Components vs. Patterns

Nathan Curtis of EightShapes describes components and patterns and compares how they are alike and how they are very different.

Despite their similarities, components and patterns differ in important ways. At a high level, patterns are meant to serve as baselines open to interpretation and application by a designer; on the other hand components are quite specific to an established design and thus more prescriptive and fixed.

Diagram of Components vs Patterns

Five Second Test

Matt Milosavljevic created an online tool for setting up a five second test. Upload an image of your interface and choose the type of test:

  • Classic - originated by Jared Spool, asks users to list what they can recall.
  • Compare - upload two interfaces and ask users to choose which variation they prefer.
  • Sentiment - asks user to list their favorite and least favorite elements.

The test can be sent out by invitation only or open to the public.

Monday, 05 January 2009

What Font Are You?

PBS created a mini-site for Helvetica, which will air this week. On the site they have a font personality quiz and turns out I'm Times New Roman:

Some call you timeless - others call you a snob. Either way, you're a class act all around. Just don't take yourself too seriously.

So glad I'm no Comic Sans!

Helevtica, the film

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