13 November 2013

the paradox of social media.

When I was just a youngster, I spent 12 days deep in the woods of Canada with a bunch of  buddies and canoes. When we finally surfaced from the wilderness we were told that the war had ended. A year later, after two weeks in the mountains we surfaced to hear of our President resigning. Both were huge events. And, we had missed both of them, or had we? Those news epiphanies almost overshadowed the fun we had had on our adventures. Years later, I remember recalling the freedom I felt as a teenager during those trips. I often wonder if the missing weight and tediousness of worldly events weren’t at least a small part of that freedom.

I’ve read at length Saul Wurman’s writings on the anxiety of information and overload. But I wonder if we’ve wandered into something else. Something more burdensome.

I was in grad school when the facebook thing took hold. This allowed me an inclusion that my working peers were not privy to. An early adopter one might say. In the following years facebook served me well as a conduit to my friends and family while moving about the country for corporate jobs. Just recently, I stopped all of that and have not looked at facebook in a few weeks. 

We now have a shared ubiquity and awareness of our friends and family that is unprecedented. Frankly, I’m not sure you can really have 300 friends, though my friend Juli (and oddly a friend of her’s named Matt) have a remarkable and unique capacity for names and faces that is well… both wonderful and a bit intimidating. They both literally know and recall hundreds of people… but I’m well off track. 

Do I really need to know that someone I once worked with for three months just had a great time at Pitchfork (an indy music fest in Chicago)? Probably not. Is there an effective way to filter them? No, not with offending them (de-friending). It’s just too much… and that’s not even considering the bombardment of ads and political agendas. And it’s not that I don’t care… I just don’t think I have the capacity. I’m (and should be) much more concerned with issues inside my household and with the people I see and hear from every day and week. I feel relieved and not only less distracted… much less stressed. I’m pretty confident that those who care, know who to find me… and we’ll have much more fun catching up face-to-face.

11 October 2013

process: sequencing and ownership

I was reading an Agile blog this morning. I know I shouldn't, but I did.

The author was complaining about a product manager coming to the group with fully thought out requirements and stories that were too long and complex. And again, I thought... is this about control and making requirements up as we go along?

For any project to be somewhat efficient and effective we must have some sequencing and some expertise that drives decisions. Group think is aggregate. If you understand statistics you know that there really is a very minimal amount of understanding that comes from averages. Similarly, group or aggregate thinking renders severely compromised decisions. Higher levels of expertise should be allowed to take responsibility and make final calls. Further, some level of individual work (divide and conquer) must exist. A team does not always need 5 or 6 people standing at the whiteboard to execute the simple or most detailed of functionality.

There is an element of sequencing that makes sense as a project progresses. Requirements come before solutions. Sketches come before code... it’s critical in any process... even agile and lean.

In most software development work... 50-85% is fairly standard and doesn’t require huge efforts of innovation. Many times meeting expectations (quick adoption) is more important than improving process.

02 October 2013

The agonizing downslide...

We are still witnessing an agonizing fall from mobile supremacy. Reading yet another article about the demise of the Research in Motion (RIM) I was struck by what seems obvious. Their quick rise was due primarily to a happy accident... the post 911 logjam of the traditional telecom networks. Days after 911, the US government began to distribute thousand of Blackberries to government officials because RIM had built their own network that was under utilized and had plenty of available bandwidth. That market advantage wasn’t bound to last. 

The perception of Apple (RIM’s primary predator) having the audacity to build a phone was seen as very high risk. It was sooo outside of their expertise... they weren’t part of the sanctioned club. It’s interesting how many people, and especially people driving strategy, perceive risk. Risk is not reckless... it’s not guess work, and it’s not typically without extensive calculations and homework. Most interpret skydiving, scuba diving, rock climbing as risky endeavors. Yet ALL of the people I know that undertake these hobbies are as careful, skilled, studied, and prepared professionals I’ve ever worked with. They are way way aware and cautious about their approach (to everything frankly) and the possible outcomes.

But the real story here is how hardware and software need to work together. Blackberry fell in to a trap that Motorola had long honed... developing hardware in a vacuum and sharing the ‘thing’ to their software development team once it was near completion so that they could design software. They saw it has a platform rather than an integrated product offering. Motorola designed and manufactured incredible hardware... for years and years. Where they fell down repeatedly was in the development of not only good user facing software, but how it integrated with their hardware. 

Every time I stand in front of an ATM or a grocery store checkout I am reminded of this conundrum. Software must be integrated with the hardware development process. The teams need not only to talk, but to sit side by side.

01 October 2013

The inherent problem of ‘locking down’ product requirements.

Many managers, in a struggle to accomplish completion of projects insist that product requirements be locked down prior to the process of solutioning. Often this is a symptom of a disconnect between product management and design. 

Locking down requirements moves a problem from one that is complicated... to one that is either complex or merely simple. It reduces the variable nature of problem solving from one of multiple solutions to the potential of a ‘right’ solution. But, it does that using unreal or arbitrary constraints. Things change. Our understandings change. And the ‘locking down’ of product requirements ignores that. It isolates the definition of the problem we are trying to solve to an instance... an instance that may pass us by as a mere blip on the path we travel.

I’ve been quoted as saying that, “locking down product requirements is lazy management”... and I stand by that. Reducing the problem to a non changing situation, and reducing our solutions to a stagnant state of understanding reduces out ability to solve the problem optimally. It changes the entire focus from finding the best solution, to getting the job done. That, is not an optimal compromise.

05 September 2013


I’ve been struggling lately with the notion of ‘no heros’. The concept caught my eye when reading the book “LeanUX” and I hesitated to pass quick judgement. After all, one person’s hero can be another person’s prima donna.... so some level setting in definition is in order. 
Individual contributors need the opportunity to rise up and have impact. When building a cohesive, collaboratively rich, and productive, work culture public acknowledgment of ‘work done great’ is a critical part of the formula.... and MUST be encouraged. 
In the online and software space, many of the designers I’ve worked with thrive on this... as do product managers, project coordinators, and certainly developers. Granted, some like to revel in private victories... but high performers that find ways to break through in critical moments will always be heros to me... and I’ll continue to celebrate those contributions.

10 July 2013

Can we please move forward?

I like listening to Patsy Cline or watching Gone with the Wind on occasion. But lately, I haven’t felt all that nostalgic.

Watching new products as they are released and reviewing a ton of interaction design work recently I am struck by the observation that a large part of our industry is stuck. They simply aren’t progressing.

As one tiny example... why are we still focused and utilizing menus and buttons so prevalently. Front end code has advanced... we can now make objects actionable... but why aren’t we? Have we flatlined? Have we forgotten Fitt’s Law? Or did you ever learn it in the first place?

There is huge demand for people that can organize and design the plans for software. So much demand in fact that a large part of our field is now staffed by people that don’t have adequate training or experience. They are smart, quick to pick up on patterns, and often very good with clients - but they don’t know how to explore, invent, or take risk, and they don’t have enough foundational understanding of human cognition, behavior, or the notion of context.

While the industry (UX, iX, IA, whatever) is maturing, we aren’t yet mature and we shouldn’t stop innovating. Those huge libraries of patterns, styles, and standards out there aren’t ‘safe, aren’t stabilizing... they are stagnating. 

13 June 2013

Considerations for implementing responsive design:

Screen size
This is the most obvious and often the single obsession when designing a site for both desktop and mobile. The smart strategy is to work mostly in percentages, but using device detection can help to augment a table of padding and dimensions in CSS. The Safari browse also make automatic compensation for landscape vs portrait display and there is little that can be done to augment this.

When working with mobile devices it’s important to consider the amount and the complexity of you functionality. In less than optimal situations your working with what are essentially the dial up speeds of old. Additionally, you don’t have the same processor power of a full computer so loading tasks into the browser can slow things considerably. In testing and surveys it has been found that users are less tolerant of slow load times on mobile that on computers.

In particular, HD video and resizing graphics can be a burden on load time. More problematic is heavy or poor use of java script. Lazy load or staged loading of functionality can help, but generally does not solve page load problems.

Interaction models
Touch screens utilize different interaction than mouse and keyboard computers. Using public domain scripting libraries can approximate native OS (particularly iOS) touch screen interactions but they are no where near as elegant or sophisticated. In many cases native interactions can only be approximated, if accomplished at all. Lastly, these libraries are typically java script which will cause considerable page load lag.

This is probably the most important consideration. User are typically operating under different situations and with different priorities when using a mobile device that when sitting at a computer. Understanding your user’s context of use is critical. For instance, if you’re a retailer, your store locator (or address/map/directions) is probably significantly more important on a mobile device. Adjusting the hierarchy of elements within the site, or on a single page is a prudent step in developing a successful responsive strategy. The one demographic exception to this might be preteens and teenagers who utilize mobile devices more like traditional computers that any other group of users. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to understand the context of use, only that the mobile utilization will be more similar to computer use than with other user groups.

Developer Resources
Developing convertible sites or sites that render and function appropriately on differing devices has been a long work in progress and continues to evolve. As more devices and operating systems are released into the market the complexity levels continue to rise. This makes finding the appropriate developers a challenge. Determining the level of sophistication and complexity in your sites responsiveness may be driven by resource limitation over any other consideration.

As a final thought, it's important to assess the complexity of your main site, and the capabilities of your team. Making the site for computer consumption and for mobile consumption is not the goal. While consistency is important, sameness is not, and making the site work for your users in context is more important than all of this. Many content based strategists will tell you other wise, but if your site is too complex, and your team not up to the 'responsive' task, a separate mobile site has some advantages.

02 March 2013

Interaction Designers pay heed.

These are the golden years of earnings for you. Do not waste them.

Pattern libraries, best of class, industry standards, OS interface kits, and the flattening maturity of the industry are all working against you. We are arguably reaching a point where out best work is becoming plenty ‘good enough’ for the market.

The interaction designer (not unlike the developer) is in high demand. It’s important to understand that this demand is an opportunity beyond your current high salaries and job choice freedom. There are ways to work around you and smart startups will be first, and then corporate managers working to reduce cost, increase productivity, and lower the risk of paying you. 

So what can you do about it? 
  • continue on the learning path. This is not a trade school profession... the targets are fast moving. Much like the world of software developers, a relatively small percentage of those holding the interaction designer title are really good at what they do. To be average, frankly, is fairly easy. To be excellent and measure up to the rack starts takes a lot of work.
  • Invest in yourself.  Don't wait for your employer to buck up and send you to a conference. Take a percentage of you salary and invest. Good for networking, learning, and even promoting your personal brand, they pay huge dividends.
  • move away from the tactical. The future of what we do is strategic. The tactical work you are doing right now is already being commoditized.
  • attain new skill sets. Management, business, and research are excellent edge skill sets to augment what you have. Understand though, branching out can take time away from keeping up as an interaction designer.
While certainly not crying wolf, the future is clear. The demand and scarcity of supply that is garnering high salaries in the short run will work against you in the long run. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

23 January 2013

Dear Photobucket,

Please stop trying to be the end all of my social needs through my (private) photo storage. Your need to monetize and upgrade the site has taken away the very functionality I utilize.

Your beta, flat out doesn't work in safari or firefox. And, reverting to the legacy version is no longer effective (in spite of plenty of user feedback).

You might try taking control of functionality away from the product group and turning it over to a qualified UX crew. They are likely to be in touch with your current users, that is, if you are talking to them.

A bird in hand... (you oughta know the rest).

Your 60 days are up... I'm moving on.

pbase.com anyone?

14 January 2013

design thinking has been hijacked.

It was pretty simple really... this whole design thinking thing. Then, rather unpredictably (at least to me), a whole bunch of people jumped on board that didn't have a clue... trying to use this 'thing' to move their careers forward.

But what is it really?

It's good to start out any academic conversation by establishing some definitions. Design thinking is super simple. There are a bunch of methods that help designers process, synthesize, and produce. These methods are pretty different and sometimes even unique to a design studio and a good designer's processes. Guys like Bruce Nussbaum and Roger Martin came upon some of these, thought they had value, and they started talking and writing about them. Being high profile business experts, people listened. Design thinking is simply taking these methods and applying them to non-design situations... you know, business, engineering etc.

But here's the thing... these are APPLIED methods. Yes, if you aren't applying any of these methods or processes you can't... let me repeat CAN'T be an expert on them. Further, you aren't going to be able to talk as an expert, write as an expert, or improve them as an expert might if you're not utilizing them.

So, not to pass an opportunity by... the theorists and the career minded MBA's and even a few articulate  engineers jump on board... (we gotta get into this design stuff guys... it's the next big thing!) and the whole thing moves in different directions with the loudest voices working to shift the definition and make it their own 'thing'.

The conversations is now so watered down, misdirected, and over intellectualized that it has no focus and really no meaning. Is design thinking dead? No, but the movement, and the most apparent conversations are. Design methods will still evolve, will stay relevant, and continue to be smartly applied in other areas... but I very much doubt those loud voices you hear will be part of any meaningful utilization. Why? Because they aren't designers and they aren't applying these methods to real work.