Thanks to a friend, I snagged a free pass to attend this very cool 2-day conference in downtown SF called Roadmap 2013 run by GigaOm (Om Malik’s eponymous blogging and research outfit) focused on intersections of UX & technology, with a veritable rockstar lineup from the current tech scene. One track, with lots of presentations, on-stage interviews, and even some fun robots! Below are my main takeaways and notes. Enjoy…
The event kicked off with a bang in terms of a one-by-one series of major headliner speakers!
* Robert Brunner: Head of Ammunition design and co-maestro of Beats brand/products, he itemized what he’d like to see in coming years– Smart tools (like Adobe Mighty & Napoleon concepts), Self-charging devices (ReGen concepts), Smart appliances (iPhone wake-up alarm triggers coffee maker in kitchen), Smart watch (like Pebble, and beyond with fitness operations), and Wearables that “get” fashion.
* John Maeda: Head of RISD, great talk on art + technology = design. “Design is how we balance less and more, it’s maddening but a worthwhile pursuit.”
* Jack Dorsey: In on-stage interview, Jack described the founding of Square in terms of philosophy and principles behind the product experience and team dynamics. Some key points: “Show, don’t tell” is main operating principle at meetings. Always show prototypes. He wanted to create a product that you’d want to use everywhere, all the time. Square isn’t just about payments, it’s the total CX journey. You have to build the entire cohesive stack without seams, to enable discovery, decisions, exchanges. “Meet our customers where they are” became the tagline. Observed Sightglass (coffee house in SF) and used that to initially drive the CX journey, designing magical moments for the merchant too. (“offline merchant” analytics, like inventory). At the office, advocates “responsible transparency”, where everyone in the co has access to all team meeting notes, no secrets.
Couple great quotes from Jack Dorsey:
– “A company that regenerates is not dependent on one person.” (hence the all-share of notes, wide open spaces, allowing serendipitous moments, hearing stuff that changes minds, etc.)
– “Great design and engineering is breaking a complex problem into smaller simpler, sequential bits.” Takes execution and patience to deliver.
* Erik Spiekerman: This legendary (and hilariously curmudgeonly) type designer spoke about type design for screen, and his experiments with open source fonts via Fira for Mozilla. Said typography is not an economic engine, but for cultural and superfluous reasons. Criticized iOS 7 typography as “folly of youth”. Compared Helvetica to table salt, so ubiquitous and used to flavor something bland. About design at-large, he said: “Designing takes a degree of modest I’m not known for” ;-) BTW, the difference between typeface and font: “You design a typeface, and you buy a font.”–the analogy is like writing a song but buying a track on iTunes. Hmm! Designers are needed to make this a nicer, easier place…and “we’re paid to make things look good”, meaning it’s a wonderful job!
* Tony Fadell (Nest CEO): I can totally see this guy arguing with Steve and Scott and Jony back at Apple! Very ebullient effusive speaker, full of energy and optimism. Just like Brunner and Dorsey he emphasized designing the “full stack”, from top to bottom. Can’t ship a product without all the pieces in full play; design is just one part. But having a great UX is the starting point, period. Raised a couple interesting points:
– “Just because things can be connected doesn’t mean they should be. You gotta reinvent devices with connection built-in.” citing his own Nest thermostat and iPhone pairing as naturally tied together for a truly connected lifestyle.
– Described “data-driven magical moments”: Magical moments for Fadell involve finding the right balance of rational and emotional thinking, and critical moments based upon data to tell you where to add delight. For Nest, they analyzed thermostat data from customers (time of day, temps, adjustments, frequency of change, levels of change, contextual incidents like weather change, leave/enter house). See how thermostat changes shaped behaviors of users, energy consumption rates, etc. Mined the data, identified patterns. But still gotta consider the “whole lifetime of the product”, how lives in person’s life. Contextual info over time, adds to value and delight.
* XBOX One Creative Director: Described design process, emphasizing the “architectural” approach of building something of value. “A minimal simple statement”. The controller had to fit a wide range of hands, did over 200 models. Analyzed “grip architectures” for various thumb and hand positions for different game genres (racing, shooter, RPG, collab, etc.) Said the One is “hi-def branded hardware” with a more cohesive branding scheme that fits the simplified Metro style too.
* Reinventing Maps for Data-rich Web: This on-stage interview featured two of Google Maps head designers/engineers. Reflected upon how in 2004 Google Maps was novel for being able to drag/pan the map directly. Now, it’s all about personalized data based upon your Google account, recommendations, friends activity. Very data-intensive approach enabling “proximity semantics”, giving you a map that ‘s just for you, and feels “alive”, adaptive to real-time data. Becomes a “canvas you care about” for your needs, not just finding a place, but living and discovering the context over time and place. According to them: “Our biggest competitor is the real world.” Big ambitions!
* Panel: Telemtrists vs Experientialists– This was a fun panel pitting data scientists against user experience leaders. Of course it all intersects, there’s a dance of data and intuition. But one key point: “Big Data is like Big Oil–it’s raw and unrefined.” Need methods, lenses, interpretations to transform the raw data into meaningful value for decisions and experiences. Must answer the question: What are you working towards first. Then see how “big data” can help you.
* Crowdfunding panel: Fairly mundane. Few key points:
– Know the investors objectives (VC’s as well as crowd funders)
– Build a story and relationships over time
– Always remember the 4 P’s of crowd funding: passion, people, participation, perks
Unfortunately I had to miss the morning sessions due to work commitments. However I did catch a few of the late afternoon sessions.
* Rise of the Designer Founder: Loved this very fascinating on-stage interview with Joe Gebbia of Airbnb. Very authentic and heartfelt, you can tell Joe is quite the humble/modest designer (RISD grad) with aims of reinventing the online rental experience, while making it friendly and useful around the world. Advocated the total “end-to-end” customer experience. Transformed an initial 8-step purchase process to just 3 clicks (search > listings > book it). Realized building trust with a talented team is hard work. Joe definitely gets design: he took his team to the Eames house in L.A. for inspiration. The startup process was difficult yet upbeat–He said “every rejection by an investor was an invitation to keep going” (very positive attitude, also naively curious what’s next). He saw “rejection in its purest form” when harshly told Airbnb was a “crazy idea”. Lived through it, now a hero of sorts for designer-founders.
* Emotional Design for E-commerce: Finally an all-women panel at a tech conference! #progress The conversation was around the evolution of emotional UX for “e-commerce” (wow, I haven’t heard that word used in a decade ;-) The idea isn’t enough, you gotta nail the digital experience in terms of craft and also answering customer desires/needs of fulfilling their purchase goals…while still delivering a community gateway to peers, recommendations, delightful surprises.
* Is Software the New Black: This seems oddly titled, but basically a conversation with Samsung’s SVP of Media Solutions. Some light jabs about “copying UX” that fell flat (hinting the Apple lawsuits). Best line: “Software is the magic holding together a cross-device ecosystem. You gotta nail it.” Hmm, sounds like something Steve Jobs would say ;-)
* Favorite UX in Tech: This fun panel capping the 2-day event surveyed various designers’ and engineers’ favorite UX examples: Square card reader, Makerbot, Uber, Amazon Prime, Automatic (a device for reading your car’s diagnostics on iPhone), Fitbit devices, Chromecast, Netflix, Rdio, Letterpress, Google Maps.No comments
Ah, the perennial question of what it is exactly that characterizes and establishes “good design”. It seems non-designers in particular are more enchanted by this question (i.e., engineers and managers) and its potential answer, for it begs (from the mere phrasing) a specific, repeatable, verifiable formula / recipe/ prescription that guarantees successful results… Every. Single. Time. Well…
Seasoned designers, of course, know better than that. There is no formula. There is no silver bullet. There is no magic answer that guarantees outsized profits, mesmerized customers, or a miraculous “Steve Jobs” halo of gamechangery.
What I’ve learned over the past dozen years of practicing design among a variety of companies (agency, big corp, small studio) is that “good design” is really an attitude, a posture, a mindset, rather than a guaranteed formula for repeatable success. It is a structured yet adaptive manner of empathy, sketching, collaboration, creativity, prototyping, iteration, more prototyping, more iteration, constant feedback and placing deliberate bets per calculated risks according to the market, the technologies, the untapped needs, and ultimately the core values of the company, as embodied by the executive team. Those are the most critical factors that enable a “good design” to materialize and commercialize, not some 1-2-3 stepwise formula. Every situation is different. What works for Apple or Tesla or Nest may not work for your market or industry. But the persistent needs of empathy, creativity, prototyping, iteration, feedback are the anchors for what can enable a good design to emerge and transpire.
So what is “good design”? It’s an attitude of design-driven excellence (from strategy to delivery), a process of iteration and creativity, a mentality of enabling humanistic achievement for people, and a value system grounded in excellence of craft with a magnanimous bent towards what’s best for customers: appropriate, empowering, delightful. What that means in terms of the particulars of execution depends, but that’s actually a good thing. There can be no one “right” way. This plurality enables the uniqueness of possibility, the returns of potentiality, not some generic formula of mass utility, a vanilla whitewashing. Through the diversity of what constitutes good for different audiences lies the opportunity for cross-pollinating innovations and exchanges of ideas, ever more progressive cycles of creativity. After all, isn’t that what “good design” that enables humanity’s progress should be about anyway?No comments
This year I had the cool opportunity to attend the annual EmTech (Emerging Technology) Conference sponsored by MIT Technology Review, and held at the distinguished MIT Media Lab in Boston. I’ve always wanted to visit the Media Lab, as celebrated hallowed ground technical wizardry, and took full advantage via the event ;-) Not only were the various TED-style conference keynotes held on the topmost floor of the Media Lab, but there were also behind-the-scenes tours of MIT’s many labs with demo stations and models/prototypes, as well.
Conference attendees even got to test drive hybrid Porsches out front for 20 minutes! (clearly a sneaky ploy by one of the big corporate sponsors–I had fun ;-)
This year I was fortunate enough to be invited back to present again (yay!) at this very well-executed regional conference for the Aussie UX community, held in Melbourne and encompassing about 500 attendees. When not rehearsing & speaking (whew!), I attended a range of short and long talks across two parallel tracks. Below are my “top of mind” highlights and notes. Enjoy!
**Note: Slides and audio recordings will be posted online in a few weeks, per the organizers’ announcement. Stay tuned! If you are interested in my talks, here are Public Dropbox links to PDF files:
Main talk highlights
Keynote by Dan Saffer, based upon his fantastic new book titled the same. While wicked problems are undeniably a big deal, so are small moments that encapsulate a rewarding (or frustrating) interaction with a product or service. Think about “signature moments” that extend your brand, and interactions that encompass triggers + rules + feedback + loops/modes. A nice cheat sheet of principles here.
- Involving stakeholders early in the design discovery process is valuable for pragmatic & political reasons
- Also increases probability of innovation with fresh outside perspectives
- Variety of tools (via Liz Sanders) to help sensitize (enable self-reflection), immerse (in the topic space), and generate solutions
- Organizations must be ready to allow users to influence the direction: willing to let users define things, desire for real change, ability to resource it, commitment to follow-through
More info here (in terms of Service Design tools): http://www.servicedesigntools.org/taxonomy/term/1
Cultural Probes for UX Project
- Probes are package of artifacts to enable evocative tasks
- Case study of mobile workstyles analysis via Telstra telecom provider
- Trying to understand devices + contexts + tasks employed
- Probe kits involve diaries, cameras, specific sets of tasks with questions on aftermath of task
- Goal is to gather unique insights (beyond user interviews) and build visual evidence of real users/tasks
Here’s a fun flickr compilation of probes: http://www.flickr.com/groups/probes/
- Using Zappos as a model (unique job “non-offer” by offering candidates big $$$ to NOT take a job)
- Create offers and decisions that evoke or capitalize on “cognitive dissonance” of action and expectations
- Consider how to incorporate this into designing products/services, enabling desired behavior
Art of Thought
- About book written by Graham Wallas in 1926
- Describes four stages of creativity: preparation, incubation, revelation, evaluation
- Just like design process, but how to compensate (or charge clients) for “incubation” phase?
- Made the point that clients are really paying for a 24/7 brain that creates value, much of it not explicit, fairly implicit (reminds me of “good design takes time” ;-)
Here’s a nice overview of the 4 stages on Brain Pickings.
- What does it mean to design a well-crafted navigation system?
- Some critical attributes: optimal location, clarity, proportion
- Speaker showed examples of how web or mobile navigation targets are too small, obscured, minimized, hidden (page/screen navigation controls, progressive disclosure of content & functionality)
- Consider device awareness (variable screen sizes/responsiveness)
- Also consider: rethink navigational elements in gestural world, lazy loading elements, auto-balancing of content that is intelligent per user/role/context/device
Models of Innovation
- Inspired by Dan Hill’s book “Dark Matter”
- Two basic models proposed
- 1) insight-led innovation: based upon standard UCD model of user research studies, evaluating multiple concepts, iterating on feedback, emphasis on observations (empiricist)
- 2) hypothesis-led innovation: drawn from personal frustrating/pains (a “felt difficulty”), similar to Lean models of product creation based upon assumption about generalizing personal pain to validated market (but might be totally wrong!) Lotsa questions: is the market right? is the product right? is the feature right?
- Not a value judgment as to which is better, but good to clarify the positions, arrive at criteria as to which is useful, appropriate given various conditions & outcomes
One Team, One Dream
- How do you fit various cross-disciplinary designers and engineers into a single dedicated team?
- Proposed a 3-part assessment of personalities and working styles
- Three parts are:
a) How do you process information: internally (like to absorb it all together) or externally (like to discover along the way)
b) Orientation to change: explorer (out of box thinker, challenging norms) or developer (like structure, authority, incremental changes)
c) Decision-making approach: person-centric (resolving conflicts, making folks comfortable, relationships) or task-driven (get it done, fix problems, etc.)
Cross-Cultural Gesture Study
Very fascinating look at “pointing” vs “semantic” gestures for controlling TV, comprised of 360 participants from 18 countries. Full study report is here: http://www.uxfellows.com/gesture.php
New Media, Interactivity & Aesthetics
Fascinating overview of the history and cultures of creating provocative projects that embody the concepts of interaction and expression. Artists engaging with electronic devices and screens to create “something” that elicits emotive and physical reactions–before XBOX Kinect or Nike FuelBand! Everything new is actually quite old…
Someone posted a cool comprehensive sketch note here.
Product Definition via Lean UX & Design Thinking
Great overview with case studies of how Lean UX can be an effective model for generating and evaluating hypotheses, blending with “design thinking” applying rapid iterative prototyping-oriented methods, even remotely across time zones.
Other random thoughts…
The following triggered by various talks and discussions and/or questions by the audience.
- We now have 3D-printable human prosthetics (arms, hands)–what’s next? Building your own Frankenstein Terminator? Hmm.
- About 3-5 people is the ideal team number for ensuring constructive productive sustainable collaboration. After that things break apart, or at least harder to manage.
- The UX profession has lots of “lies, shams, deceptions” and half-truths/stories we tell ourselves. Need to dig deeper for the truthiness/reality of the practice. For instance, “mobile is not a thing, it’s all just interaction design” or “social is really just a loose confederation of UI patterns”. Hmm. Dubious but interesting.
- Applying “universal design” for touch/gestural UX is important: reduce tolerance for error/mis-fires, requires low physical ergonomic effort, should be flexible across devices/screens
- The experience of a service delivery matters, not just the process of service delivery. Value is emergent and generative, co-creative in the activity.
- Re-designing a massive government website is like any web effort, has extra political stickiness. Focus on components, principles, prototypes.
- Wearables are hot, makers are king, meetings suck, “good design” requires strong execution from engineering too.
Place is a deep concept rich in potential–particularly in relation to “mobile workstyles” and creating a culture of design. Indeed, my own fascination with “place” as an amorphous digital concept goes way back to a pivotal course at CMU taught by Malcolm McCullough on “Place-centric Design”–much of which served as fodder for his landmark book Digital Ground (which I highly recommend).
Does place still matter in the modern era of “mobile workstyles”?
As a UX community, “mobile first” has become the norm. From the consumers’ POV, who are now armed with multiple devices and web services, “going mobile” is a de facto expectation as well. What does this mean in the context of “mobile workstyles”, whereby workers can truly be untethered from their cubicle or office, and work from any device, at any time, and any where? How does this impact the notion of “place” for a mobile worker–the evolution of its value, utility, and general qualities? Does place truly matter any more?
Well, of course place matters, but in novel and challenging ways that we’re just beginning to scratch the surface, physically, experientially, and even socially. Place becomes more of a temporal, activity-based construct, contextual per informational and behavioral goals, not just physical implements. It’s emergent, not persistent. It’s dynamic, not static. It’s pervasive, yet uniquely shaped by individual and collective needs. It’s virtual and yet retains analog qualities of personality and communication.
We need to explore such questions in the context of designing complex, interrelated cloud, social, mobile apps, enabling a “mobile workstyle revolution”–where people do their work anytime, any place, on any device. For example, what does it mean to access your files from anywhere, and share them (securely, of course) with anybody. Or interacting with your virtualized Windows 8 desktop (running legacy healthcare apps) on an iPad. Or holding video web conference call on your laptop, then move to the phone, while pulling in contextual information on your shifting presence and location? There are new models of information, interaction, and interface required. The technology landscape is changing swiftly, and our notions of “place” in this bold new world of “any-ness” demand critical re-interpretations of what’s productive and familiar to successfully design what’s next. Looking at the relationship among Activity + Experience + Value may pave a path forward…
Creating a place for design excellence: Culture, Process, Strategy, Leadership
When most folks think of enterprise software, images come to mind of confusing, complex apps that frustrate and annoy, built by tedious committees lacking empathy for their users. Alas, this is still true for much of the IT industry. However, four years ago, Citrix (a 24 yr old IT company founded in South Florida, of all places!) set on a path to break away from such stereotypes and revitalize their legacy IT products and culture through design.
Indeed, it’s interesting to note how Citrix has enabled a physical and cultural place for design-led innovation, starting with our hallmark 2,500 sq foot Design Studio–extremely rare for an enterprise software firm! As well as various “pop-up” studios across geographic locations, including UK and Bangalore. Every studio embodies rich cross-disciplinary activities, yet also a cultural attitude and approach for making user-driven change, grounded in principles (Simplicity, Empathy, Craft, Value) and habits (sketching, observing, interviewing, prototyping). For example, instead of engineering docs tossed to over the wall to designers to “make them pretty”, we advocate a “3 in the box” model with ongoing transparent collaboration. The studio has also become a conduit for creating a network of Design Catalysts, spreading design-based approaches amongst departments. Finally, it’s important to note the organizational places that design occupies within a 9,000 person global company, across tiers of design leadership: corporate executive (SVP), department director (Design Director, etc.), and individual contributor (Principal). Many humbling moments are often encountered–failure is expected! And it’s always a struggle to make change happen–you can’t “boil the ocean” but you gotta go where the suction is. These few essential elements (studio, catalysts, process, leadership levels) should offer hope to those leaders striving to create veritable place for design excellence within their own organizations, that’s more than just beanbags with MacBooks and fun toys ;-)No comments