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11 posts from February 2009

Monday, 23 February 2009

Future Practice Interview: Bill Scott

Lou Rosenfeld interviews Bill Scott, Director of UI Engineering at Netflix, and discusses how designers and engineers can work together better.

Scott recommends constant communication, collaboration and a shared vocabulary. Lou also asked what engineers wish designers understood:

I spent a good deal of time thinking about this question when preparing this talk. In fact I pinged a number of people I highly respect in both design and engineering. After listening to hundreds of comments and reflecting on my own experience I boiled it down to five simple ideas that developers wish designers understood.

  1. The site is dynamic. Photoshop is static—the site is not. The site is dynamic in content, layout and interaction. It's too easy to forget all of the details that come about when users get involved. But engineers end up having to fill in the gap where the designer has not accounted for all of these dynamic concerns.

  2. Technology is critical. Web design without technology is just art. You must understand the magic that gets it on the site. Designers that "get" the unique challenges of getting their designs live can make smart choices up front and anticipate problems or even better arrive at more elegant solutions.

  3. Components are key. Developers think in terms of reuse. Designers often think in terms of new ideas. To be effective you must plan for the common elements and interactions as this will map into a better experience as well as a more efficient use of engineering time.

  4. Partnership is imperative. It's tempting to design and toss over the wall. But the real magic happens during collaboration. Communication and constant iterative engagement are key to fielding a great user experience.

  5. "Yes We Can!" Interface engineers have the power to say "yes" more than ever. And there are a lot of technology advances coming that if you are aware of as a designer you will enlarge your toolkit of tricks. Good interface engineers see problems as challenges and instead of trying to whittle your designs out of existence they will try to make it happen. Good engineers want to say "Yes".

Friday, 20 February 2009

Is Good Design Replicable?

Joshua Porter of bokardo.com asks "Is Good Design Replicable?"

I ask because many people seem to think process is the key to good design. For example, on almost every thread of the IxDA mailing list, there is an argument about which design methods are better…are personas better or is genius design better? What method or process should we be doing to get the best possible product? The implicit assumption is that if you perform some particular UX method then you’ll produce consistently better design: the right process = the right product.

So, the obvious question to ask is: Is there evidence that someone following a certain process produces great design every time?

Be sure to check out discussion that follows the article as well as on IxDA Discuss.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Touchscreens no substitute for good user experience

Marek Pawlowski compares the iPhone and Blackberry Storm and concludes that a good user experience is what leads to success. An excellent set of lessons learned from the failure of the Storm follows.

- Touchscreens are just components - they do not represent an experience in themselves.

- Tweaking an existing platform and adding a touchscreen will not deliver a revolutionary new set of products.

- Touch interactions are fundamentally different from those performed with keys or even a stylus, and will often require a completely revised user interface. Nokia, which has been busily skinning Series 60 in preparation for the introduction of touchscreen products, would do well to take note.

- If you start your product design process with the premise of ‘we need a touchscreen device in our portfolio’, you can expect to end up with a bad user experience.

- The mobile industry has made this mistake time and again, seeking to sell users the promise of a particular technology rather than focusing on how that technology can be applied to enhance the customer experience.

- Touchscreens do not change the rules - remember, always start by designing for the user rather than designing around a technology.

- Following trends will only take you so far and it is easy for a company to lose sight of the unique characteristics which have made it successful in the past, especially when trying to expand into new market segments.

- In RIM’s case, it built its business on providing extremely reliable and easy to use products which are great at delivering an integrated email, messaging and voice experience.

- The arrival of the iPhone has produced a new competitive threat and RIM is responding to pressure by launching a touchscreen product.

- By launching too early, RIM has damaged its reputation with existing users and lowered the chances of customers acting as ‘ambassadors’ for its products.

- RIM would have been better served by waiting until its smart designers had come up with a genuinely differentiated touchscreen experience, built around the connected platform principles which have made it successful.

- For instance, video content works extremely well on a large touchscreen. RIM’s unique selling point for a device like the Storm could have been a connected video experience with the same reliability and ease of use as its email system.

- The real innovation would have been in the back-end systems and client software powering this - the touchscreen would have been the component completing the experience.

Comparative User Satisfaction graph

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

More Post Interaction 09 Stuff

Will Evans (aka Semantic Will) is collecting all of the articles, blog posts, etc. regarding the Interaction 09 Conference.

And many of the presentations are showing up now on Slideshare.

I've got a lot of reading to do...

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Great Design Hurts

At SxSW 2008, John Gruber Raconteur from Daring Fireball and Michael Lopp from Apple, discussed how great design hurts. The author at The Email Wars (I couldn't find a name) posted their notes from the panel, which include Lopp's summary of Apple's mysterious design process.

The core dilemma for talented designers in any field is this: If you strive for greatness in your design, you will meet resistance; if you strive to avoid resistance, you can’t do great design. Different is scary. Great design has to fight with the idea that many see “better” as meaning “more of the same”. The better your work and the higher your standards, the more you’ll have to fight against the urge to stay within the warm, safe confines of mediocrity.

I found more notes from the panel here and here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

How to be a Free Thinker

Scott Berkun writes on how to be a free thinker. Free thinking is a critical skill for a designer because it is our job to make something better; to improve products and services. That can't be done if we don't know how to ask questions and challenge assumptions.

Ready? You are wrong. You are wrong much of the time. I’m wrong too and some of what I write in this essay will be wrong (except for this sentence). Even if you are brilliant, successful, happy and loved, you are wrong and ignorant more than you realize. This is not your fault. None of our theories about the world are entirely true and this is good. If we had perfect answers for things progress would be impossible, as to believe in the idea of progress requires belief in the many ignorances of the present. Look back in time 100, 50, or even 5 years, and consider how misguided the wisest, smartest people of those days were compared with what you know now. Governments, religions, cultures and traditions all change, despite what they say, and there is not a one of them still standing that is exactly the same as it was when it started. The traditions that have remained may have value, but ask yourself: who decided what to keep and what to throw away? And why did they decide what they decided? Without knowing the answers to the questions, how can you know exactly what it is you are right and wrong about in what you believe? Especially if these traditions have been changing for 100s or 1000s of years? It’s ok to be wrong if you learn something and grow from it. In fact often there’s no way to learn without making mistakes.

Anatomy of an Iteration

Jared Spool dissects the iteration process...

Iterations are key to successful design. They help reduce risk by letting us get all the bad ideas out of our system early, keeping only the best of the best.

Unfortunately, we've found that many teams don't know how to iterate effectively. Good iteration is a deliberate activity, with four important stages: planning, implementing, measuring, and learning. The best teams focus on each stage appropriately, making sure they get the most out of it. While iterations can be very short, (we've seen teams that can iterate a dozen times in a single day,) the best teams don't short change any of the stages.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Interaction 09

Sad face: I wasn't able to attend Interaction 09. Happy face: But there are lots of places to read up on what happened.

Daily summaries at Johnny Holland:

  • Day 1: Design Studio Workshop, Designing for Touch screens and Interactive Gestures, So we want to be Hardware / Software designers
  • Day 2: Drawing Ideas Workshop, Building and using a pattern library for web interfaces, Experiencing Sustainability – John Thackara (Keynote), Jared Spool & friends (panel)
  • Day 3: Irrational behavior - Robert Fabricant (Keynote), Katherine Coombs, Metaphor Brainstorming: Using Metaphors to Generate Design Ideas, Requirements and Product Personality – Chauncey Wilson, Building a Digital Concept Car - Andrei Herasimchuck, Design by Community – Leisa Reichelt, Designing Natural User Interfaces – Nathan Moody, Gorilla Methods for designing in the wild – Paula Wellings, Sketching haptic & multimodal interaction – Camille Moussette, Surviving Design Review – Charles Kreitzberg, Carpe Diem - Dan Saffer (Keynote)
  • Day 4: How to change the world complicated stuff - Marc Rettig (Keynote), Foundations of Interaction Design: bringing design critique to interaction design - Dave Malouf, Designing for Teams, Designing for Touch – Joe Fletcher, Understanding contexts of use – Milford Rochford (Nokia Design), Mobile UX design patterns: a work in progress – Jenifer Tidwell (Google), Play and embodiment - Kars Alfrink (Leapfrog), Each One, Teach One - Kim Goodwin (Keynote)

@whitneyhess and @kaleemux also twittered the conference. And you can search twitter using #ixd09, but you can only go back so far and as of last night I could only go back as far as near the end of day 3.

Hopefully the videos and slides will be posted soon!!

Interaction 09, Vancouver, Canada

Thursday, 05 February 2009

I Lego N.Y.

Christoph Niemann daydreams of NYC through legos.


Design Process

Michael Bierut of Design Observer admits his real design process is different than the one put on proposals. And the real process is very true of anyone who makes things.

When I do a design project, I begin by listening carefully to you as you talk about your problem and read whatever background material I can find that relates to the issues you face. If you're lucky, I have also accidentally acquired some firsthand experience with your situation. Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can't really explain that part; it's like magic. Sometimes it even happens before you have a chance to tell me that much about your problem! Now, if it's a good idea, I try to figure out some strategic justification for the solution so I can explain it to you without relying on good taste you may or may not have. Along the way, I may add some other ideas, either because you made me agree to do so at the outset, or because I'm not sure of the first idea. At any rate, in the earlier phases hopefully I will have gained your trust so that by this point you're inclined to take my advice. I don't have any clue how you'd go about proving that my advice is any good except that other people — at least the ones I've told you about — have taken my advice in the past and prospered. In other words, could you just sort of, you know...trust me?

This design process is discussed in the book Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know about How Artists Work, written by Harvard Business School professor Rob Austin and Swarthmore College Theater professor Lee Devin. They advocate a process similar to Bierut's based on producing a play.

The authors take pains to point out that they're not advocating a "loose" process or one that lacks rigor. "A theater company," Austin and Devin point out, "consistently delivers a valuable, innovative product under the pressure of a very firm deadline (opening night, eight o'clock curtain). The product, a play executes again and again with great precision, incorporating significant innovations every time, but finishing within 30 seconds of the same length every time." They are careful to identify the defining characteristics of this kind of work: allowing solutions to emerge in a process of iteration, rather than trying to get everything right the first time; accepting the lack of control in the process, and letting the improvisation engendered by uncertainty help drive the process; and creating a work environment that sets clear enough limits that people can play securely within them. They call this artful making: in short, "any activity that involves creating something entirely new." This includes not just the obvious "arty" things, but, for instance, "a successful response to an unexpected move by a competitor" or "handling a sudden problem caused by a supplier."

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