Design

Things You See - A conversation between Bob Goodman, Peter Jones, Eric Reiss and GK VanPatter

NexD Journal has a follow-up article to GK VanPatter's Unidentical Twins that triggered much discussion a few months ago. The follow-up is a 4 way conversation between Bob Goodman, Peter Jones, Eric Reiss and GK VanPatter.

I feel like I should post a witty summary, but it is too long to summarise, covers too much ground and (for me) is somewhat hard to grasp (though much easier than the first article).

So I'll pull out just one tiny part that made me chuckle:

"GK: Perhaps we could each talk a little about what the most significant challenge facing us in practice is today and how we grapple with that challenge?

Eric Reiss: The problems facing our practice? In general, I’d say it’s folks who push their personal agendas rather than pursuing the greater good. And how do I “grapple with that challenge?” Well, I listen, learn…and give them lots of rope…"

Things You See: Four Views into the Transformation Room

10 Ways

If you haven’t already seen Getty Images' 10 Ways, it’s worth a look. Getty collaborated with 5 designers to create some very creative interactive experiences. They attempt to capture the compelling visual language of photography.

I’m not too sold on them as educational tools but they are neat interactive pieces none the less.

John Maeda in NY Times : Simplicity

The NY Times profiles John Maeda’s new mantra at MIT - Simplicity (Free Login Req’d). I tracked down Maeda’s page at MIT, and that led me to the Simplicity program site. Interesting folks doing important things. Principles from the project so far (thanks SvN)

  1. Heed cultural patterns.
  2. Be transparent. People like to have a mental model [expectation!] of how things work.
  3. Edit. Simplicity hinges as much on cutting nonessential features as on adding helpful ones.
  4. Prototype.
Peter Merholz gets explicit

Peter’s new meme is explicit design. Peterme’s Guruhood must lie only a few dogmatic stances beyond ;-)

Seriously, the notion of explicit design is extremely valuable. Quoth Peterme: "Through my work, what I’ve observed is that the web is all about managing expectations. Setting expectations, and then fulfilling them. That’s it."

I mostly agree - in fact, I’ve been talking with clients about expectations, instead of mental models, for the last couple years. Expectation forms the foundation of my Experience Cycle model (created when I needed The Elements of the User’s Experience to explain what a good experience involves). And here’s a snippet from a 2001 presentation on the experience gap - the gap between expectations and actual experience. Take a look at the first slide for thoughts on what actually goes into creating expectations.

Like all models, these are simplifications, but I believe that the notion of user experience practice as understanding, managing, and supporting expectations will help us gain traction with decision makers. We’ll see if Peter’s label for it catches on. Having a great tag for a simple concept can help spread the meme - let’s hope we see more awareness about user experience practice from this.

Happy Birthday Boxes and Arrows! Congratulations on two amazing years.

Boxes and Arrows turns two, and Christina Wodtke reflects on the past two years, both for the zine and for our profession.

B&A constantly amazes me, and everyone in the UX field is indebted to the long hours put in by authors, editors, and the technical team. Thanks guys! Here's to a long and wonderful future for B&A :)

How Everyday Things are Made

First we had Don Norman's The Psychology of Everyday Things(aka Design of Everyday Things) and now we have Stanford Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing How Everyday Things are Made. I wasn't going to contribute this item but I started thinking about how someone would view the UE/IA practice and try to create a video describing how a website/web application is developed. For instance, how do we describe to our parents what we do for a living. At least people in the various industries profiled in this educational site would have something to show & tell about their work to the common person. Do we have an equivalent?

So are we really a sum of all our deliverables? How do we capture our dialogues and conversations which really contains the value of our work? I believe there are various projects out there that is trying to solve this problem by literally capturing the brainstorming sessions into digital format. If there is something out there that is a packaged description of what we do, I would love to see people post links to those types of projects.

The Commoditization of User Experience

Adaptive Path's Simple Solution series of reports is the first widespread commoditization of user experience practice...and it's worth thinking about what IAs and others should do in a world where $49 buys the fix to a common problem.

This week Adaptive Path launched their new reports. The star of the launch is a free report - Jesse's analysis of U.S. presidential candidate sites. Upcoming reports on Search, CMS, and ROI will make a profound impact in different circles.

But the reports that will have the biggest impact are the two small ones already available from the AP Simple Solutions series - Boutique Software Sites, and Registration & Login. For $49USD, you buy 5 or 8 pages with some explanation, site structure or flow, and wireframes. Forty-nine dollars buys you an IA solution based on design patterns, best practice, and AP's experience. How to integrate that solution or develop your own is something UX practitioners will need to face in the coming months.

Update:I should just add here that this is a good thing. Commodity comes from maturity, and our practice is growing up. There's plenty of other more worthwhile things to do than reinventing the basics of registration.

User Experience Books from 2003

Every year there are more user experience books than I have time to read. This list includes both books I've read, and books I hope to. If I missed a book (published in 2003) that you think I should include, drop a line in the comments and I'll add it.

  • Universal Principles of Design

    Condensed design wisdom for capital 'D' Design. Outstanding.

  • Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment (pricy)

    Seminal collection of HCI/Engagement thinking. The academic reference for peeps who want more than "good experience needs to be engaging" platitudes.

  • Emotional Design

    In May 2002, Don Norman posted to CHI-WEB looking for beautiful and usable designs. A year and half later, this book brings together his thinking about the importance of emotion in design. Destined to be a classic, and hopefully help drag the old skool "ugly boxes everywhere - but it works" HCI crowd into the 21st century.

  • Information Architecture for Designers

    I like Peter's book. It's visual in a way that other IA books aren't, and that connects to a certain crowd in a way that another chapter on facets just won't. Recommended for quick illustrations of IA to others.

  • About Face 2.0: The Essentials of Interaction Design

    Alan Cooper enlisted Robert Reimann's help with this sequel. It's a good overview of Cooper's process, but leaves out a lot of detail that I wished was there, particularly about persona creation. Still very useful as an introduction to interaction design, and a reference for particular situations. Most of the examples focus on application development. If you've read About Face 1.0, you'll find some repetition, but there's enough new material, and updated past material to make it worth the money.

  • Paper Prototyping

    Carolyn Snyder takes her years of experience with paper prototyping, and makes them available here. Very cool. I'm still not convinced that the effort to make complicated paper widgets to simulate interaction is worth it for most web sites. Where paper prototyping rocks is in managing expectations - seeing polished mockups or even clickable wireframes can give the illusion that the project is farther along than it is. If you deal with people thinking the project is ready to launch after seeing a design comp, paper prototyping is just the ticket.

  • Observing the User Experience

    Adaptive Path's Mike Kuniavsky brings together a lot of thinking on user research, with a lot of attention to usability testing, rounded out with other common techniques, from focus groups to ethnography. Solid how-to advice can provide a platform for actually going out and actually studying users.

  • Design Research : Methods and Perspectives

    Brenda Laurel brings together a stellar cast to cover a wide range of design research methods and issues. With any edited volume, the quality varies with each chapter - but overall it's very very good.

  • Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

    This book is important. Credibility and persuasion are going to become increasingly recognized issues in developing interactive products, and user experience people will be on the front lines of the debate.

Widgetopia

Widgetopia - Over time, Christina has pulled together a heap o' widgets... interesting... a blog being used as a notebook... ...

link [Other Blog (Tom Smith)]

No love for Tufte

Jessica Helfland rips apart Edward Tufte in Design Observer. You'll find a lot of debate in the comments.

He is a statistician by training, a designer by marriage, and a sociologist by default –- giving names to stuff we already know, and getting paid handsomely for it along the way. ... Tufte's appeal to the virtues of cognition is perhaps little more than a poorly veiled attempt at reshaping design parlance with himself as its single and uncontested author. ... Tufte's expertise is not only self-proclaimed -- it is also deeply and irrevocably self-serving.

Research-Based Web Design and Usability Guidelines

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced a freely available research-based guide to Web site design and usability on Usability.gov. In their press release, they refer to it as "...a resource that will help government, academic, commercial and other groups involved in the creation of Web sites make decisions based on user research, not personal opinions." The document can be downloaded in PDF format as one 128 page PDF or as individual chapters. Sadly, the full document doesn't make use of links in the PDF.

What being user-centered means for UX professional groups...

Tog's initial branding argument for Interaction Architects has touched off a lot of discussion (even a mailing list dedicated to defining the damn thing). So far, it's generated a lot of heat and little light.

However, three more formal responses have been interesting:

  • Lou Rosenfeld discusses how defining the damn thing is a waste of time. (Not) Defining the damn thing - Discussions of how we should label ourselves and define our work are like flu epidemics. They break out from time to time, follow a fairly predictable course, and often make us want to barf. [Boxes and Arrows] Update: Lou dropped a note to let us know that he wrote this article before Tog's article was posted. Still very applicable.
  • Mark Hurst thinks that usability professionals should disappear...that a good UX professional is invisible like a good interface - we just facilitate things. While the point that the whole defining the damn thing discussion is narcissistic and not user centered at all, the notion of a disappearing act seems naive - unseen functions become re-engineered functions.
  • Finally, and most interesting, is Beth Mazur's notion that the key need is not a new dedicated specialist organization (as Tog is proposing), but an umbrella organization to evangelize user experience with executives, analysts, government, and media. Her nominee: spin off AIGA-ED from AIGA.
    I completely agree - the Interaction Architecture Association is all well and good, as is a new Information Design professional group, if some people have their way. But they don't address the real reasons the UX disciplines are seen as tactical. It's not a branding problem. It's an understanding problem...and largely for UX professionals not understanding business, and not speaking to business on its own terms.
    An umbrella organization can address executives and other decision makers and influencers with language and messages tailored to those audiences, and educate practitioners about how to do the same. That's being user-centered, instead of navel-gazing terminology debates. That's something to get excited about. I hope it happens soon.
Semiotics - signology for dummi...er...designers

Semiotics: A Primer for Designers - Semiotics teaches us as designers that our work has no meaning outside the complex set of factors that define it. The deeper our understanding and awareness of these factors, the better our control over the success of the work products we create. [Boxes and Arrows]

As well as Challis' article, Peterme has also been musing about semiotics. While most of us on SIGIA are 'sick' of scare quotes, critical theory and semiotics offer fertile ground for IA cross-training.

The Power of Process, The Perils of Process

The Power of Process, The Perils of Process - In my experience, I have found that creating and documenting process has been a good exercise to help institutionalize ways of working, to help educate new team members as well as to unveil the mysteries of what we do for executives, product folks, and development teams.

Erin Malone points out that process is better thought of as a framework for thinking than a set of commandments...

DUX 2003 Case Studies

The DUX 2003 case studies are online - these are the same PDFs that were offered for human consumption on the conference CD.

I'm on a deadline right now so won't link to individual papers, but favorites include the Constraints panel (but I'm biased, since the authors are all excellent people), the Intel pervasive computing stuff (Connexus & Vineyard papers), the Business Issues panel, the blender redesign from Continuum (again, more excellent people), and a lot of the Informing DUX panel - particularly the MS personas, Bob Baxley's UI model, and a different take on card sorting in the Vacations vs. Groceries paper.

[ thanks InfoDesign ]

Notes from 2 by Two conference

Dirk Kneymeyer shares his notes from the invite-only 2 by Two conference at the IIT Institute of Design. Lots of bright people talking about the future of design.

The Quiet Death of the Major Launch

Jared Spool published a great article, The Quiet Death of the Major Re-Launch, about the advantages of a staged redesign approach vs. a major redesign done in one shot.

Quoth Keith:

I'm sure there are many of you who will find some of what he has to say very useful and while many of the examples he uses ring very true to my own experiences, I'm not sure this approach is right for every situation. Sometimes a site just needs to be torn down and built from scratch.

(Thanks Digital Web)

The dangers of infographics

The current media spectacle that is the "war on Iraq" produces a lot of good and bad infographics. I was surfing the web looking for them and a few thoughts struck me:

Infographics are somewhat expensive and time-consuming to produce, and are therefore in their nature providing context to whatever is going on on the ground. It is, however, _not_ in their nature to provide afterthought and analysis.

The policy concerning infographics of NRK (Norwegian equivalent of the BBC) is that it is important to not overuse infographics because they can create the impression that this is a computer game and not real war with real people really being blown into little pieces.

The Guardian has attempted to create interactive infographics with Flash, but I expect something more than a pressing a "next" button through a slide show to call something interactive. There is a lot of unfulfilled potential here.

CNN.com battle scenarios
CNN.com Iraqi military sites | Surrender 101
Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | More interactive guides to the Iraq crisis
VG Nett - Baghdad City

SXSW: The Future of User Centered Design

Jesse James Garrett, Molly Steenson, and Marc Rettig had a good time talking about the future of user centered design. (thanks blackbeltjones) pixelcharmer also points to Lia's notes.

Patenting the User-Centred Design Process

Here's a fairly standard user-centered design process - not particularly different than most: Uncovery, Wireframing, Storyboarding, Prototyping, Development and Optimization.

It's a familiar story to anyone experienced with iterative, user-centered processes. Its name: the Minerva Architectural Process ™ for Persuasion Architecture ™, with the obligatory consulting firm trademarks. The difference: there's a patent pending on it. "M.A.P & Persuasion Architecture are Patent Pending proprietary business processes belonging to Future Now, Inc. Contact us about licensing for your organization."

Now maybe I'm misreading, and Future Now is only trying to patent some very specfic part of an iterative design process for persuasion. (though maybe B.J. Fogg or Andrew Chak might object). Given the USPTO's track record, it may well be granted, despite prior art.

Don't get me wrong, I think Persuasion Architecture is a valuable approach. I just think that patents on process are pathetic. How about you?

Updated: Some Future Now clarification added to comments.

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