23 March 2008

Hey CBS, just how lame are you? Nevermind.

So, I am sitting on the couch watching basketball. It is the third day of the first weekend of March Madness. The phone rings and it is a friend of mine on the other end. No “hello”, “How’s it going”, or “you watching the game”… just the truth, “CBS has their head up their a$$”.

In their infinite wisdom, at that moment, the networks have decided to show half times at various arenas and a few highlight clips. Mean while, there is that one game in process but why in the world would the East Coast want to watch the number one seed in the Midwest. It is not irrelevant, but also not crucial that you understand that is MY team. My friend is right, neither the network nor the NCAA has a grasp on their audience.

Adding to the bad attitude stew that is brewing in my head, I now must grab my shoes and coat and drive to the only local sports bar. This bar is a teenage strip mall cavern that does not serve a single acceptable beer. Sports without a good beer is just, well, sports.

If you ever wanted proof that the networks are wondering lost, you can find it this weekend in the CBS broadcast of NCAA men’s basketball.

There are (at least) two types of fans that this network is ignoring.

First, most of us did not go to Brown and upon graduation buy a little place on Slater Avenue. Most of us have moved away from our alma mater (wait, does Brown even have a basketball team?). And, by the way, it would be cool if we could see our team play an entire game. The regional broadcast of games based upon rank and metro area TV markets is sooo not customer centric.

Second, IMHO, this is the greatest sporting event in the world. Many of us, favorite teams aside, are fans of the event. And we would like to watch the event… the whole event. People take vacations days to watch this first weekend where sixty-four teams so of which we’ve never heard of compete. Let us see the ‘whole’ tournament.

Plain and simple, this event is too large for a single channel. And, it is to important for one that has their head, well, you know.

15 March 2008

What I learned from Bill Buxton

I have never met the man, heard him talk in person or even attended a one of his many speaking events (that I know of) – though we have worked in the same industry and the same market.

Oddly, I read his book for all of the intangibles not noted in the title, namely his sense of where business and design overlap and influence each other.

Even more oddly, I avoided reading the book because of its title. The word sketch was an indicator of something aside my interests. Curiously, his take on sketching was a powerful take away, where all of the other stuff seemed common sense based on my years of experience.

I have learned the lesson of sketch many times in my career. At several intervals, while short on time, running out of budget, or overly confident… I have jumped to the computer to execute a design I was certain I had worked out. Always to frustration and sometimes failure. It is even a syndrome to which I frequently talk to young designers and students. Always sketch your ideas first. But for some reason I was never able to fully articulate why. Bill takes care to explain the malleable and unfinished qualities of a sketch that hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. That lack of finality has great value. It lets designers and others have a glimpse into your idea, and yet interpret those ‘yet to be determined’ attributes. It allows people to feel free to input, add to the idea, and take it in new directions. The lack of detail and finality actually serve the designer to great benefit.

I now read pretty much everything he writes as it comes along. I look forward to hearing him speak sometime very soon.

08 March 2008

Work ethics – the 80-hour week.

There has been an interesting conversation of late regarding work ethics. The discussion began as a post by Jason Calacanis, viciously attacked by multiple bloggers, and defended Saturday by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington. Specifically, what defines a work commitment? Is it by time spent - the number of hours at the office?

It has me thinking about how I spend time.

My father once told me, "if I could not do my job in 40 - 50 hours a week, then I was probably doing it wrong." I think he was right.

As a boss (in a start-up) I was a staunch advocate for having a life. I think we constantly draw on our outside lives during work ours for inspiration and for energy and motivation. I encourage employees to not only have a life and enjoy it, but to guard against the 80+ hour design workweek standard.

In the four years since leaving my company, I split time my time between various consulting projects and a full time graduate class and research schedule. I was doing just what I advised against… working well over 80, often over 100 hours a week.

I am now gainfully employed in the corporate sector. But if I think about my weekly routine, I am easily an 80-hour a week professional. But I think there is a difference. I spent a tremendous amount of time reading about design or business, writing about design and business, and discussing design and business. While I do lots of stuff, what I do for a living is such a huge component of my life I not only don’t mind… I love it. I keep my ‘productive’ time – that which is focused on projects for my employer, to under 50 hours a week. The rest is fun, and a great investment in my profession and my career. Does my employer benefit from that extra time spent? Absolutely. But I would be doing this stuff regardless.

For me, slightly separating my job (that 40 or so hour a week thing) and my profession (where I generate passion and a sense of accomplishment) helps. One generates the needed income. The other generates a tremendous amount of energy and momentum.

I think that passion and professional commitment are the gages that Calacanis and Arrington should really be thinking in terms of. Are those start-up employees working as a labor of love and passion? Are they committed to doing better than the best job they can? Or, are they putting in the time and logging the hours and counting the paychecks. If the later is true, then maybe they should be working in a lame corporation or better yet get a government job. Entrepreneurs, like charities and political movements, need passion and commitment from their work force... ‘cause the cause is the thing.

Dual spheres of influence

I wear a couple of hats when I am at work. The first hat, the one I am paid to wear, focuses primarily on how best to guide our portals towards the user’s needs. I am very comfortable playing that role. I regularly fight for the user experience above all else. But that is not my sole perspective.

When philosophers discuss things they often refer to spheres of ethics. A sphere of ethics is the range for that particular set of ethics. Most of us maintain multiple spheres. We have the set of ethics we use to live our own lives by. Likely there is a slightly different (and maybe multiple) sphere that we use to determine who we hang with, who we spend time with, and who are our closest of friends. You may have yet another sphere for your community, which you would likely vote with. It would drive what you feel is acceptable in your neighborhood and what is not. You may not feel that it is ethical to drive a Hummer day to day, but that may not mean you feel strong enough to try and keep them out of the neighborhood.

While I advocate for the user, that advocacy has a business rational. The user is critical to success. If we don’t pay attention to them, the rest of the what we do is just building a house of cards. I get the bigger picture, and frankly prefer to wear that hat… that larger sphere of user advocacy. I even find that my determination and a sometimes single-mindedness towards considering the user comes and goes. But that usually depends on who else is in the room. Often the user is well taken care of and I fall back to my better balance business hat. Other times I cannot. I think I have a stretchy user sphere.