Recently in the Design Category

Creative re-energizing...

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I'm so glad that I was able to attend the UX Immersion conference here in Portland, Or. So worth the price for two days of immersive workshops and a day of feature speakers. Today's the last day of the conference but I feel completely refreshed and re-energized - stretching out creative muscles that have grown too used to familiar patterns. Besides meeting some truly interesting and very smart peers I find the creative boost to be the best part of these gatherings. At the mixer last night a bunch of us were kind of laughing about how it would be so beneficial if company decision makers could attend these kinds of industry conferences. How we feel like we attend these things, tired and worn down from evangelizing the best practices as per industry standards. We laughed while analogizing: if we were boxers, the conference would be our corner and the speakers the trainers who refocus and reenergize us before pushing us back into the ring to once again fight the good fight. Hey man, sometimes we even win! All laughing aside, these kinds of conferences are invaluable.

I think one of the best takeaways from the conference so far was from the Rachel Hinman workshop on Prototyping the Mobile User Experience where she challenged us to cast off the shackles of designing for an experience we're already comfortable and familiar with (the desktop) and truly delve into the context of the mobile experience. Mobile is not a desktop computer, just as web is not print. It's very easy to get into the groove of the familiar design patterns we use day in and day out. What's not so easy is to realize they simply don't translate well to a different context. Plus, by trying to use the same design patterns in a different context you often times miss the opportunity to take full advantage of the native power of that context. Mobile is not desktop so don't design the gui on mobile, take full advantage of the nui affordances.

As well, the feature talks on fitting User Experience into an Agile development project struck some chords with me. Like many others in the audience, our development teams are transitioning from the traditional waterfall project management methodology to agile and like many others I feel we're struggling with folding User Experience into the development process. Hugh Beyer's talk was most informative to me - definitely yes, the UX person needs to be a full member of the development team so that their issues become part of the development issues. And adding a longer Sprint 0 for planning and research just makes sense. I'm glad the conference organizers were videotaping the feature talks as I'll definitely be referring back to share them at the office.  

Today, I'm looking forward to the workshop on Mobile Design for the Enterprise Intranet, a topic of close interest for me as a team member of exactly that kind of project back home. I'm sure I'll be getting a boatload of ideas to bring back.

an outstanding user experience

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Is it sad that I just had an amazing user experience by a totally automated system? Surprised the hell out of me I will admit.

As I'll be out of the office for a week or so I had stumbled about on the website of our local daily newspaper looking for the form they used to have (which has now disappeared) and was a little irritated at having to actually "phone" them to request a vacation delivery stoppage. Once connected to reception the automated system informed me of a 5 minute wait for a customer service rep (yikes), or, "she" could help me with the following things - vacation hold being one of them. What the heck I figured, I'll give Sally the Voice a go.

The cool thing was that it was all voice recognition stuff, no punching in numbers at all. Simply speaking "vacation hold" after the list of items selected that option, then she requested my phone number to be spoken to her, and then my house number. After that she wanted to know the date of stoppage and the date to resume. What cracked me up were the responses from her, they varied from "got it" to "thank you" to "great, thanks". And even funnier was the fake typing noise when she responded with "just a sec while I check the system for your account (insert fake typing noise here)" and "entering your request into the system now (more fake typing noise)". Too funny.

Very smooth and easy to use and the whole process left me with a "huh - now why can't all customer service calls be that easy and cool". Coolness aside though - let's just hope it works.

is design about control?

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After reading "A Tale of Two Architects" by David Armano (Logic + Emotion), I found myself thinking more and more about it in relation to web design. With two opposing ways of reacting to how people interact with your designs, I'd like to think I'm more "Jane" than "Dick" in that regard. With Dick, it's all about control, his design - his vision of how it should work, and his discomfort in people interpreting his work in ways it wasn't meant to be interpreted. Jane, on the other hand, is more tolerant to re-interpretation and sees it as a learning opportunity and notes it as something to incorporate into future designs (yay Jane!). Who do you think will be more instrumental in evolving design - Dick or Jane?

It kind of reminds me of how you'll often come across an institutional campus where the building layout, green spaces and pathways were all planned by the designer. Invariably, you'll find dirt trails through the grass where people's preferred routes take them between buildings. I wonder what it would look like if the designer left the pathways unpaved for a year letting people carve their own trails through the green and then paved the strongest people trails.

Back to Dick and Jane, is it not important to continually seek out new, different, better? I think it is. The web as a medium is constantly evolving and I believe we need to be more "Jane" than "Dick" in this regard. Be open to new interpretations. Watch your users and learn from them. Don't be afraid to let them carve out some of their own trails.

Doing User Observations First is Wrong

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Huh? This essay by Don Norman on the surface seems to fly in the face of design/production techniques we've embraced over the past while. After all - doesn't it seem reasonable to do the user study up front to help develop the requirements document so we can build the appropriate structure? Well yes, of course it is, he maintains - but outside the project cycle. Norman opines that perhaps the correct order should be to design/build using rapid, iterative prototyping, and have user studies to perform the "beta testing" - bugfixing, defining enhancements etc.
An interesting argument and maybe one that bears more thought.


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