“Place” for mobile UX & design culture

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 ;-) 

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