30 April 2007

Context beyond interaction

Any interaction designer worth their crust understands the important of context. An analysis of the situation, goals and identifying the user helps greatly in managing an interaction that is optimal.

Architects (as in building, not information) were early experts in context, but that seems so obvious. Most would not think of using residential materials or configurations for an office building or retail location. It just does not make sense. This sensitivity has been lost a bit.

Graphic designers need to understand context as well. Marketing materials must be crafted to work the sales process. They must be specific to the situation and audience. To many designers a brochure is just a brochure. Should the brand or company identity reflect the company and its mission, or should it specifically appeal to the clients and partners? The answer of course, is yes. Context needs to be talked about more by all designers.

27 April 2007

The bigger picture

2006 seemed to be the year that a wide screen (950 or so pixels) has become near standard. In the high tech internet world of our nations capital, it would seem that we would be delivering content at the current spec.

The common argument is that a portion of our viewers, consumers, users, whatever you would like to call them, do not or can not set their displays to this size. And so, we should not present content that forces them so scroll. First, scrolling is really not, or ever has been an issue if the content is worthy of consuming. Second, if the consumer’s equipment is not up to the task, I dare say they are soon to upgrade. Lastly, can we not show a tiny bit of leadership and seek to accommodate the majority, while not being entirely insensitive to those lagging a bit behind?

I think the real reason is a campus with half a dozen buildings, several conference rooms on each of multiple floors, and yet not a single projection unit accommodates a size larger than 800 x 600. It could never be presented for umpteen executive approvals. Time to upgrade?

20 April 2007

Sustainability and the elephant

There is a growing outcry, gaining momentum, and plenty of press regarding sustainability in design. I can’t give you a single reason why that movement should not move forward full steam ahead. I am a total fan and advocate. But there is an elephant in the room.

The American – OK the world economy, and subsequent prosperity is predicated on the very waste built into our current products and services that this effort seeks to eliminate. Say for instance you develop a longer lasting battery and they now last twice as long. What is the economic impact? Suppose we develop cars and slow the need to purchase and own the newest model. Suppose the developers in the US stop building the 25-year T111 plywood palaces and instead build houses that last for 50 or 100 years. The economic impact of all of this would be enormous.

So, you make the product longer lasting, more efficient and smarter… and the economy suffers. How do we counter act that? Innovation and design is an obvious resource to tap. But it is a double-edged sword. As design gets smarter and innovation increases, so does the value of that product or service. But at the same time, that innovation and design is (hopefully) a marked improvement that displaces and renders obsolete, the preceding product. Entrepreneurialism has been the primary source of job creation in the last 100 years. But again, the same issue arrives. Many of the new companies and jobs end up replacing a great number of those previously in place. There is usually a net sum gain… but it is certainly not pure solution.

If consumers and companies switched their thinking to a value economics we might be better prepared for the inevitable economic impact coming. Consumers tend towards purchasing the cheapest product that will do the job right now. Can we shift to a longer-term approach that reduces the liquidity of our pocketbooks? Companies tend to charge as much as is possible in the short run, knowing that if their product finds the tipping point it will most likely become a commodity. The result being a price based market and impossibly decreasing margins. That is some prize for success.

Hold on folks, the ride will likely get bumpy. We absolutely need to decrease the waste inherent in our lifestyle choices, but the trade offs will be huge. The change difficult and painfull. This may be the ultimate wicked problem.

17 April 2007

Will the right voices speak up for design?

I love Bruce Nussbaum. He’s not always right, but he is a constant advocate for design. The problem is, he seems terribly bias. Having Bruce as our high visibility spokesperson is about like Apple’s having Walter Mossberg. Whether he actually is bias or not, is of little consequence… his rare criticism and constant enthusiasm render him dismissible. As for the next most visible mouthpiece Tom Peters, I am not sure who really listens to him but he seems to me to be riding the next fashion wave of business speak and oh by the way, is somehow on the right track.

So who should be speaking out about the benefits of design thinking in the business world? Two types of people should. First, high profile, highly regarded designers that can speak the language of business should take every opportunity available. Stop booking speaking engagements at design conferences where you are3 speaking to the choir and speak in business forums. The other are spokespeople we need are the business leaders benefiting from design thinking. There has to be more than just P&G folks to talk about this.

13 April 2007

How do you interview for challenge and innovation?

Market demand for designers and managers that understand experience, interaction and usability is at an all time high. Fortune 500 companies in even desirable locations are having difficulty hiring talent. UI designers on average demand a 10-25% premium over visual designers. Over and over at SxSW I heard people say the “if you are a UI or Ux designer, and not passionate about what you are doing, there is no reason to stay.” But conversely it is hard to leave, and hard to know where to go.

Corporate managers and recruiters are not stupid, just ill-informed. Do not let the fact that they do not know what skills to ask for, and how to determine if you have them, fool you. They get it,they know what you want. You want to be paid, well, and most likely you are looking for a challenge. You want to be passionate about your work. They will work hard to promise all of this and more.

The reality is that very few companies really do innovative work. And unless you are a well-published or noted superstar, it will be a while before you are assigned such a project. Few companies are leaders and so most are followers. The standard follower strategy is to capitalize on the leaders R&D efforts and reduce the cost of keeping pace. The theoretical intent is to garner resources for a time when you can afford R&D and leapfrog the leaders. More likely, that optimized margin will instead go to the executives and shareholders – because that is where the power is. Pardon my cynicism... but that really is where it will go.

So how do you know from within the job interview if you will be challenged? I am not sure you can. Knowing a trusted insider can help. But it is fairly likely that within a few months you will be looking again, maybe moving. Can you say contractor?