News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Category Archives: Conference Notes

Design Extravaganza – Videos Online

Austin Center for Design’s 2012 Conference, Design Extravaganza, featured long form talks from Alan Cooper, Genevieve Bell, and other thought leaders. You can now view the videos from this event online here. If you missed the coverage of this great event, Core 77 posted a recap here.

Posted in AC4D In The News, Conference Notes, Creativity | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Gillian Crampton Smith, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Raw conference notes: Gillian Crampton Smith, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

I saw that the name of my talk has been slightly changed in the French, and you will see the reason later, for the original name, which is not quite the same as Surfing the Wave of Innovation.

Design is the key to the success in the future. Maybe they’ll be right, maybe not. I wanted to talk today about surfing the breaking wave: where we’ve come from, where I think we are now, what the limits of digital culture are, and how we can innovate in digital culture. I’m taking a frame focused on culture in the digital realm.

How the wave grew. I started too with an apple II, but in 1981, when the Xerox Star came out, it was a multisciplinary team, and they took as much are over the visuals as they did over the engineering. It doesn’t look like much now, but at the time, it was amazing. It had a different way of interacting, it had phenomenally high resolution graphics, and what you saw was what you got. It was wonderful; maybe I could buy one? But it cost 22,000$. In those days, in the 80s, few people had studied computer science; it didn’t exist, not as an academic discipline. The gene pool of design, from designers and architects, was much broader than it is today.

When I first went to Silicon Valley, it was in 1992. I went to spend the summer in Apple, and I realized the valley was shaping everything we do. It was phenomenally inspiring; the energy, the belief. Anyone can start a company, and in England, it might be books in a popular bookshop on biography. In Silicon Valley, there were books on how to start a company. Part of the myth of what it was to be Californian; it was venture capital. The rumor has it that the man who started VC had friends who raced horses. He would have a stable of companies, and that’s how it grew. I think that there are myths of the west, in the sense of Barthes – luck, self confidence, hard work, and with that, anyone can be successful. It’s not true, but it’s a great belief to carry you through.

And the people that are running these companies come from three backgrounds; the engineering, the business, and the psychology (or, in their view, a science). It was very difficult for designers to make their way in that environment.

And then there was the idea of what a computer is. Bill Verplank summed this up rather well: a computer is a brain, a person, and you spoke or wrote to it. Or, it was a tool, and you manipulated it. Or, it was media, and people created things for it within that environment.

The next phase is computer as environment.

David Liddle, who led the star interface, described three stages of technology development. Enthusiasts, who are so excited about the technology, they don’t care how hard it is to use. Then, there is the professional stage, where the equipment isn’t purchased by a user; it’s bought by a purchasing department. In that case, something has to be really bad for the company to throw it out. There’s no incentive for improvement. You have your job and you do as you are told. The other thing about professional stage is that its not in users interest for it to be easy, because they are selling their expertise. People using pagemaker; it’s in their interest for it to remain difficult, so they don’t get a lot of competition.

The third stage is the consumer stage; people don’t care about whats in it. They want to know what they can do with it. This, for him, was a big push for the interactions in the machines. The designer started to be an important part of the team, seen as a useful adjunct. And so designers began to be inserted in this system, except for a few small examples, with the development of technology, and what we could do with computers. We had a different focus.

The first big change was the affordable color graphic screens. It was suddenly hard for most engineers to design a good looking screen. And we were doing software design, and bringing the expertise of information design to the design of software. Our focus was user interface design. The next big change was the miniaturization of technology. The shape of the device was part of the interface, and so industrial designers became involved in the process.

People started talking about interaction design.

Then there was the graphic browser, which brought illustration and photography to the table.

At Ivrea, where I was invited by Telecom Italia, people were starting to do communication service design. At that point, there was a big rupture in the business model. Previously, you made a device, you sold it, you made software, you sold it to consumers or to companies. So we began to think that there was an art to the business model, and that is something designers became involved in. people were talking about service design. The next jump is ambient intelligence, and now we need to think about system and environmental design – bringing together architecture and interior design, and worrying about space and place design.

And at almost the same time, we get social software, the first few focuses that hasn’t grown out of a typical graphic or product design background. It’s a new type of design focus.

I went to my first conference of HCI, psychologists, in 1992; and they said “why are you here?” And Microsoft had two designers amongst 10, 15,000 engineers; apple had a few. There was just no concept of what a designer could bring. In 2012, the three legs of a founder should be “business, engineering, and design.” Facebook agrees; the key to its future is design. Now in the US, companies can’t get enough interaction designers.

So where are we now? I don’t think were in good shape, actually. We have a number of large problems confronting us. You gain something, you lose something when any new technologies arrive. Socrates feared that people wouldn’t be able to memorize things. It’s not easy to see where technology will lead. Its very difficult to see where things take us. Los Angeles has very little public transport because the car and railway companies bought them up and stopped them.

Lock-in is where a decision is made for no particular reason, and because everyone is using something, it becomes impossible to change it. MIDI can’t represent the full range of analogue sound, but it’s ubiquitous. UNIX doesn’t express time correctly, but everyone is using it. Lock in removes deign options based on what is easier to program, what is practically feasible, or what is created by chance. It makes us forget freedom. We are impoverished.

Power is in a few hands; Microsoft, apple, facebook, google, amazon. It’s difficult for others to get in.

It’s possible that with personalization of search, google can manage what we see and what we don’t see. Apple, for benign reasons, decides what can be sold in the book and application store. We can accept that, but the difficulty is that the number of people in these positions is getting smaller and smaller. Stuart Brand said that information wants to be free, but information isn’t free; people need to produce it, and people need to live. Unless we want all of our entertainment to be amateur, we need to find ways for people to make a living.

The new internet doesn’t just know that you are a dog. It knows your breed. From In The Filter Bubble, by Eli Pariser. And most seriously, the personalization of search results means we are amplified by the desire for things that are familiar. If we are always served things that they know we want to see, we won’t see the things they know we want to see.

The design of facebook reduces the idea of friendships; it’s reductive. It leads to superficial relationships and acquaintances. I can say that I like something, or don’t like it, but I can’t say things are important or interesting; it reduces things to emotional decisions rather than intellectual ones.

Facebook isn’t designed to make a benign social space for us. It’s designed to serve us up, to advertise us. These are different aims. I think it’s ok if its explicit. And so we get a free service, and the cost isn’t mentioned to you; if you aren’t paying something, you aren’t the customer. You are the product being sold. We shape our tools, and they shape us. We choose structures that shape what we can and can’t do. We need to be aware of the way these tools work and shape what we can do.

We’ve gained a lot from the technology, but we’ve also lost a lot. What are they losing? Is there a way we can avoid it?

What are the things limiting digital culture? A digital representation is a simplification. We’re stuck in the paradigm of tools and users, and control and manipulation, and the interface to the tool. Other explorations could enrich the results and products we get. He talked of computers as fashion, infrastructure, autonomous life. I don’t agree, but it’s worth experimenting with different paradigms. Until now, computation was about “ease of use”, but life isn’t easy. If it was, it would be boring. Anticipating, irony, anxiety – these lend a spice to life. These aspects, they can be in the artifacts we design, rather than something bland and easy to use. And so it reduces complexity, but it impoverishes life.

We don’t have time to get things write, because there’s a new technology. Other types of cultures have taken years, centuries to develop. You get a level of refinement, and a level of conservatism as well. It would be good if some of us, instead of going after the new thing, tried to frame what we have already.

These books are quite good. The Filter Bubble; You Are Not a Gadget; The Blind Giant. What they say overlaps, but they all have a different perspective on this.

So my question is: can we make digital culture more interesting, without the complexities?

The parallel with architecture is very useful. Vitruvius, 30bc; he wrote that a building should have firmness, commodity, and delight. It needs to stand up; it needs to accommodate people and what they want to do in it; and it needs to delight them. I think this maps to software, certainly, and for all digital devices. It needs to be robust, and not break, and fit for purpose, and useful, and useful, and fun, and quick, responsive; practical, or entertainment – it needs to be delightful and satisfying.

Some software is a pleasure to use, but it’s not very much.

An architect moves with mood, emotional tone. Should it be clean and hospital like? Romantic?

The architect works with cultural codes and meanings; it hints at previous trends and ways of thinking.

It needs to fit into a context.

Does it evoke emotions? So when we shape experience, we need to think about emotional value. Why would they want it? If we can pick up on that, we can make something that fits them better.

Examples:

SPOOK. Students hate doing user tests, but when they do it, they get so inspired. When you’ve designed something, even rough, and it works.

OTTO. Designed by a musician, to do beat slicing. The problem with electronic music is that you can’t see the other people you are playing with, and it looks awful. So he designed an instrument to play with his friends, gestural, and socially. Lucaderosso.com/otto/otto – otto.cc

Another aspect of making devices more culturally rich is to think about controlling the mood. Our mood changes throughout the day. We have a different mood for everything we’re doing, yet the software is always the same. Are there ways to control the mood depending on our activities?

HEART LIFT. A service for hearth patients who like to ski.

VOGLIA. A locket for a couple.

LIAISON. Responding to the pain of separation.

I MIRABILIA. A thesis project, discovered that hospitalized children get very afraid; they think their parents don’t love them, and they’ve put them there because they’ve been bad.

THOUNDS. A project for making music online together. “What music are you thinking?”

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Peter Lubbers, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Raw conference notes: Peter Lubbers, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Web Sockets

On a LAN, things are reliable with real time communication.

On the web, were mostly idle, and so websockets give us bidirectional communication.

HTTP is half-duplex. The connection can only flow in one direction at a time. Take a walki-talki, for example: you speak, then you stop, and then the other party speaks. It’s back and forth. There’s header information that is being sent simply because http is stateless; it needs to repeat cookies, and get, and browser version, and it gets big.

To work around that, we had comet – reverse ajax (long polling); techniques that optimize what you could do in a browser using ajax.

Polling is nearly real time; it’s a one-second poll. You ask the server if it has any information for you, and the server says yes or no.  Long polling says do you have a message for me? And then stays open on the server. That’s better, with unnecessary traffic, but if you have a lot of messages, it becomes troublesome.

Streaming is the closest thing to web socket .You make the request; it’s never finished, and the server send you bits of data. It’s like web socket. But it’s not legit http, and so you have proxy servers that get in the middle; buffer the responses, and things get slower.

The request is wrapped in about 2000 bytes of data.

Most people have an upload/download ratio of 1:4 and 1:20; the majority of the headers are on the best possible connection. If you start scaling, you get into real trouble. With 1000 concurrent connections; the BBC had the world cup. During lunch time, they had 800,000 people concurrently connecting to the play by play. If you polled every second, it wouldn’t work. 100,000 times the request, you get to 665 megabits per second trashing your network. They had to throttle back to 30-60 seconds to handle the load. You only have so many dials you can mess with; number of messages; overhead. And then you get a lot more latency on 60 seconds, and in a sports game, that doesn’t work.

Ian Hickson – HTML5 spec lead – “reducing kilobytes of data to 2 bytes, and reducing latency from 150msg to 50msg is far more than marginal. In fact, these two factors alone are enough to make websocket seriously interesting to Google.”

The first line of the spec is that it allows communication with a remote host. You have a browser with web socket, and the browser can connect directly to the direct host, with a bi-directional socket connection. It can do it over 80 and 443; you have ws:// and wss:// and are on par with a desktop client. The benefits – no need to install a client; no need to open special ports. Traverses firewalls and proxies.

It’s an API and a protocol. The API is extremely simple.

http://modernizr.com/

var status = document.getElementById(“support”);

If (window.WebSocket) {

// works

} else {

//doesn’t

}

Var mySocket = new WebSocket(“ws://www.WebSocket.org”);

// http://www.websocket.org/echo.html

// Associate listeners

mySocket.onopen = function(evt) {};

mySocket.onclose = function(evt) {

alert(“closed w/ status: “ + evt.code);

}

mySocket.onmessage = function(evt){

alert(“received message: “ + evt.data);

}

mySocket.send(“WebSocket Rocks!);

mySocket.close();

Supported in chrome 4+, safari 5+, firefox 4+, opera 10.7+, internet explorer 10+

Emulation available: Kaazing WebSocket Gateway, socket.io, SockJS, web-socket.js (Flash)

In addition to the client, you need a server that supports web socket. There are lots of server libraries; Apache-websocket

WebSocket Emulation is for making this work in older browsers.

Debugging in chrome, you can go to the netinternatls page – chrome://net-internals/

100,000 connections, the overhead is 1.5 meg

 

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Eli Blevis, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Raw conference notes: Eli Blevis, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Design in the age of climate change – do less with design – understand more with design – transcend all with design

Chapter 1: Design in the Age of Climate Change

Sustainability is a matter of changing the way we learn. The opportunity is to get design education to operate at scale, so it’s a way of learning for people who aren’t designers.

This is a picture of a corn field, and coming out of the corn are wind turbines. It’s a nice day, the clouds are modeling nicely for my camera. As idealic as this looks, it represents a very strange thing from the lens of sustainability. In the US, from where I live, the government subsidizes corn for ethanol. That’s totally bizarre. And the wind mills are too little, too late,

This is a picture of ripples, breaking up the shadows of a fence. I show it as a metaphor for the idea that in the US, there are people that want to argue if climate change is anthropogemtically induced. But watching ripples go by, breaking up the shadows of a fence, it doesn’t make much sense in worrying about who threw the rock; we have what we have, and here’s the whole sequence. You can see when we drop a rock in the water, the ripples continue. If we want to intervene in the way the ripples move, we need to throw another rock, not worry about who threw the first one.

The delivery distribution side of our economy, as shown in Hong Kong. It’s very hilly, and his cart is out of control. This lady is wondering if he’s going to crash. There’s something to say about class and distribution of good, that merits our further thought. Here’s the other side of the equation, the recycling after were done with it. This guy has a cart that’s overloaded with recycling, also in Hong Kong; he has so much that when he puts something on, something else falls off.

This photo is from St. Louis; there’s a picture of a man with dark glasses on. He might be blind; he’s blind to the fact that there’s a clock being projected on to the floor, in Macy’s. If you look at this, why would you use a projector to implement a clock? You’ve taken something that takes no energy, and substituted something that takes a lot of energy, for the same function. This is a metaphor for how we use computing technology, nearly everywhere.

In 1978, Paul Kennon designed an SBC switching station. This is the headquarters of the diesel engine company. Columbus Indiana is in the middle of nowhere, but the people that run the company love architecture and commissioned some of the best architects to create buildings, and so it’s a place worth going.

One of the buildings that was commissioned is this switching system, and this is the example of the HVAC system. The pipes are nicely painted. This is me and my colleagues reflected in the building; the reflection also includes the surroundings, and they are older style buildings. One way to make a building fit in, where things that surround it are old, is to make it out of glass, so it reflects the things it fits in.

You can see that, on the HVAC pipes, they become a magnet for graffiti. It’s charming; there’s a close up. It says OOP. One of the problems of a glass building is that birds can’t tell that they are flying into a glass building, and their interaction leads to death. The building was too harsh, because the sun on glass was difficult, so there’s a trellis in front of it.

The materials chosen for the trellis are starting to rust; there’s some chicken wire at the base of the trellis, to keep people from climbing it – a matter of liability. Here’s the whole building – the HVAC, the switches, and the trellis. Where’s the design? The design is signed. The environment is reflected; the pipes are decorated. It’s a distinction. But there’s a breakdown: unintended interactions, birds, grafitti, and a trellis.

Starting at the end, the latest things I’ve been writing about, we might be way too late to worry about being sustainable. We are very likely to reach a tipping point by 2040 regarding climate change, and the time for mitigating these effects is already past. We should worry most about what we should do with the effects that ensue.

Some colleagues of mine; they are taking it a step further. Collapse Informatics: Augmenting the Sustainability and ICT4D Discourse in HCI. How will interaction design respond to the effects of climate change, and possible collapse of civilizations. If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, there’s lots of data to support this; moreover, many of our sources come from the US military, who are thinking very much about how to plan for the effects of climate change.

The IPCC has a report; it’s a conservative body. There will be a new report in 2013, and this is the data we have. This is hard to parse, and I can’t do that for you in the space of time we have, the bars on the right; 1900 to 2100. This purple line shows what would happen if we could reduce greenhouse gas levels to 1999 levels by 2015, in two years. The others are scenarios about what will happen if we don’t, based on the amount of greenhouse gases we produce. Even the most optimistic scenario has us close to 2 degrees C of global warming. Most of these scenarios are way in excess of that.

In terms of water, ecosystems, food, coasts, and health, what happens at various levels of warming? If everyone does what they say they’ll do, we’ll be at 2.5 degrees of global warming. Isn’t that past the tipping point? Yes – once we get past 2 degrees, the rise continues, and these effects continue.

Responding to this kind of thinking: the climate change habitability index. The idea would be to try to get data about these items, collect them, distill it as a weather report, and rather than answering “what should I wear today”, the questions that will be asked are “can I continue to live where I live” and “where should I live if I can’t” and “how many people can I absorb living where I live, if it turns out to be a place where I can continue to live”?

I wrote a paper called “Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal and Reuse.” The principles in this article still apply.

iPhones are sold in vending machines in airports, and there’s hard to imagine anything worse than the aesthetics of this. Around 2006, I surveyed 450 undergraduate freshman in my university, and found that the average age was 19, and 65% of them had owned 6 or more cellphones.

The grand canyon, here’s a picture and here’s a shadow – this is my wife and I. This is a rail station in southern China, early in the morning. What’s remarkable about it is that rail is the opposite of how we consume digital devices. It’s a common infrastructure; it’s a shared resource. But our distribution of more and more iphones and ipads and digital devices results in much less of a shared resource.

If you are designing interactive devices and programs in the perspective of sustainability, I would like to keep in mind that we should link invention and disposal. Our design should also include an account of what happens to the things that will be displaced by our design. We should promote renewal and reuse, rather than always buying new things. We should promote quality and quantity. It may well be that you don’t need to have a fancy car to tell people who you are.

In 2010, Carl Disalvo and others took a survey of 157 papers that have been written about sustainability. Mapping the Landscape of Sustainable HCI; this is the latest scholarly work to archive what’s been done.

Design is the best way to learn. I’m convinced of that. And it leads to a value driven orientation. But how do you do it with sixty or one hundred people?

The one room schoolhouse idea mixes undergraduates, masters, and PhD students, and has them present every class.

 

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Nicolas Leduc, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

Raw conference notes: Nicolas Leduc, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

What to do in a time of crisis

We are an agency of 20 employees based on Paris; we work for a large industrial countries, EDF for example. We work on different professional issues, and we work on critical interfaces, professional based interfaces. We have a cluster for transports, and signals; this is our core business. We now work on signals like what you have in Paris, the biggest transport hub. It’s being renovated. I joined Attoma last year and I am the senior UX designer, and my background is in information architecture. I’m used to structuring information, and that’s how I joined the  company, and my title changed over the years. My new title mirrors the moment at which we stand today. I was a “roadmaster”, and I became an information architect and designer, and today I’m a ux designer. We can observe the trend of customer design, so this mirrors the context of our jobs and our profession.

I would like to talk about customers; which crisis are we talking about? Energy, financial, ecology. Our customers, we can see that there are major trends coming. Companies are more and more mature about the value that comes about through design. We understand that managers and board of directors think of hiring designers in small teams, and they want these competencies sin the companies. This is a major trend we are observing today, and we support the teams. It’s hard for these teams to be recognized internally. Companies have vaguely understood “what is design”, but what we do with that remains to be seen. I talk about the black sheep and doubtful guest; he goes to see people, sleeps in their chimneys, and destroys their books. He’s in people’s homes, and no one has invited him, and he stays for a long time.

That’s the kind of character we are talking about; how do you talk to this character? This is what we observe. As an agency, companies want to use the competencies of design, but what is design/ in a large company today, design is the added value.

Secondly, I would like to talk about another issue, the complexities that companies have to face, massive complexities. It’s especially an organizational complexity. Today, companies have issues to get the structured, to be consistent in their strategies. It’s a really complicated issue with 20,000 employees in the company. People tend to have no vision of their own structure, they don’t’ understand how the strategies are implemented or decided, and so the teams we work with have to act in different directions; they have contradictory priorities. This happens quite often. And they have a strong pressure to identify new markets. As designers, corporate or external, we all have to face this huge complexities of organizations. In an agency, or in a company, understanding how companies work is hard. It’s once you understand how companies work that you can identify different levels and deliver the highest possible added value.

Our environment is digital, and it generates a lot of complexity. I have a few examples to illustrate the complexity. This is a C-17, freight plane. We had to add seven tons of added weight, so it can fly without any persons in it; we wanted it to take off, but it wouldn’t take off. When we talk about the military, they are supposed to be well organized; they have huge resources, and they have internal designers. But today, when you design this kind of transport device, it’s complicated; you have to add weight or change the software. You have to add ballasts. Then, consider the F-22 american planes, which have a problem with oxygen. It’s a common system that works on other planes, but not on the bombaries; they can’t take off. The pilots had to speak on TV to explain why it doesn’t work. They have 4 million lines of codes in these planes. Despite the brains of the engineers, there’s such a density of code, it’s so much complexity, you have a hard time identifying the problem. The future military plane will have 20 million lines of code, and the complexity of this kind of plane is that we wonder if we can really create it. This is a good example of always believing in technology. We can solve any problem with technology. But the problems are so complex that you don’t have any solution.

Yesterday, we talked about artificial intelligence as something that would come in the new future. AI and IT were born at the same time. I don’t know if you heard or read this article, from Forbes and the New York Times; it’s about Target. It’s an American retailer, and they sent vouchers to a young woman to get free baby clothes, and the father went to see the manager. He asked “why did you send these to my daughter, she’s not pregnant?” And the manager apologized, and he called a week later and the father said to him, I’m sorry, there were things happening in my home and I didn’t know about it. Target had hired a statistics expert for this very specific market. Out consumption habits are very organized; there’s only a few times in your life where you might change your habits – like when you have a child. You might shop in new shops. And the marketing people asked the expert to provide some drivers about this, and he analyzed the data, and he understood that out of 20 products, he could identify probability of when women would become pregnant. The young woman received the vouchers automatically, and it was inline with the system, and the system worked well, and today, our technological environment indicates that it works: AI works, we have the tools for it. What can customers do with it?

What is interesting is to say, the turing test: indeed, if a robot is steered by a human being, you think the robot is a human being. When the machine does it by itself, the results are a disaster. The customer will say, the machine talked to me – it’s a cold being that knows everything about me. It’s scary, because our patterns and behaviors can be analyzed. This is scary. And so they included random advertisements inside of the vouchers, in order to hide the machine idea.

Today, as an agency, we have this wonderful technology; what do we do with it? There are major issues related to predictability, forecasting. Many questions can be raised.

We understand that customers have internal issues with their environments, and we understand that markets are changing. We have huge events that might impact the entire market, all of the markets. So it’s high time we face these major changes.

So I don’t know if you heard of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and the black swan; it’s quite interesting to have this relationship between the black swan and its symbolism. What it says about unpredictability; for those of you who don’t know this story, up until the 13th century, we were damn sure that the swans were white. Suddenly, we discovered Australia, and we found black swans. And so this really questioned the entire idea of observation-based science; suddenly, you see things you can’t predict. It’s a huge metaphor. It’s about, the sub-title, is “when the impossible things actually happen” – things you didn’t predict. When I was at university, I had a geography teacher and he really liked the weather forcast. So we were talking about storms, and there’s alignment problems; it’s hard to predict storms, because you have to have different parameters, and when they are aligned, you have the storm. Black swan is the same idea.

As an example of the black swan, here’s an idea that you are very familiar with. iPhone is a black swan story, because you have an impressive alignment of parameters, it’s all very much aligned, and it’s a black swan for the market. It was launched in 2007, at the end of the year, and only really worked in 2008, and it’s 9% of all sales in 2011. But it captured 75% of the value of the market; all the manufacturers of telephones were all dismissed in the next years. This is something very striking, very important, that meant all stakeholders in the market changed and changed how they think. What do you do in a time of crisis? They also captured 40% of the general turnover of the market.

In order to explain how to react to this, here’s a small video. Ballmer, “I like our strategy, I like it a lot.” The idea is not to despise Microsoft; it’s to see their reaction. The market would not believe in iPhone. Ballmer isn’t dependent on the market, he’s saying it’s too expensive, and it’s for business people, and they need keyboards. They say, we are confident in our strategy. This is what we should understand: he has a strategic answer, but now we know, he wasn’t right.

But it’s interesting to see how they reacted after that, because they were really confident in 2007, and in 2009 they radically changed their strategy. They went out of their classical code base, and now they have an interface called Metro. It includes desktop, mobile, tablet. This is the goal, at least.

We are interested in, what did they do to implement this new strategy and interface? They hired a graphic designer. They hired someone who was well known, recognized in his job. He was mostly doing print design, print and media design. He would know very well the visual side of the job, and understand the brand strategy. He’s in charge of the brand. He decided on the first elements, providing the visual framework of the product. Also, the framework in terms of language, the sounds, and anything dealing with interaction. He started this project, and Remi yesterday was talking about the basic principles of the brand. Genuine, spirited, supportive, balanced. As a designer, if we do this work, this is the base we have, an agency of well defined principles. They are identical; you won’t have a brand that says, I want to be ugly, and non practical. It’s always like this, fine. How do you express it? That’s where the designer comes in, to implement this, you need to talk to developers, and you need to include marketing, strategy, business units, producers, and it’s interesting to see the strategic reaction: to hire a designer, very early.

The next question – is it going to work? They have a very strong vision here. It’s hard to handle this, but there’s a key that aligns it. The vision is cascaded down, like Apple, to the shop floors. And the more the strategy is consistent, you have to have this consistency in the products. This is an opinion: you need to work on this alignment., and in that case, you can tackle issues of organizational complexity. You can align the different people involved and in the case, you can deliver added value.

So, talking about value, this is quite important for us. Design is about expressing a vision; we aren’t, in the case of an agency, with the vision – I want to make a transition about not being a part of companies, just making your own business; I agree with that, because we have all the tools to implement the vision, and the best way to implement a vision is to implement your own vision. However, when we are unfortunate enough to work for a large company, you don’t implement your own vision, but instead, your customers vision. Usually, the vision you have to deal with are not very comprehensive; you have to trigger or provoke things to have this alignment. But we do have a lot of tools to make sure this vision becomes material, expressed materially. Usually these visions are expressed by a few words. We have to make them tangible, things about our own organizations. Ways of doing things.

The next questions for us in an agency, or in a team, is what is the added value for me to create this design? We have this huge Apple example, but what else? And how do we measure if it worked? We can look at and formulate this in another way; the price that a company paid to a design agency should create value. When we deliver something, and in between the time we deliver it and the time it hits the market, a lot of time has passed. It takes a long time to measure impact. What we found is that people from marketing departments, technical managers, business managers, who are able to structure a vision, will usually change their positions within the company. We’ve seen that among different customers, this is about the visibility of the company. You have a small design team, using only a few people in the team, and if supported or not by management is not as important as to say “does it have internal visibility” – do people know what they do?

It’s not obvious; organizations are so complex, you can’t know what everyone else is doing. If you want to have a successful innovation approach and strategy, if you want a tangible strategy, this does create visibility inside of a company. We understand that designers have different position in companies, and we can assess this concretely. We can look at the hierarchy of the company, we can see ourselves move up in the hierarchy after doing our work.

The fact that we connect different people within the company is important. We have people in the company, dealing with cables, people around the same table with other people and they understand the vision, and understand that it’s aligned with products, customers, production issues, and so-on – it creates quality, nobody would sign a paper at the end of the meeting saying “yes, I didn’t understand what my colleague is doing or does.” This is a good qualitative criteria assessment. My work was used as a link, and we come back tot his problem of in-house champions. It’s hard to get marketing and business units interacting; the marketing department has a commercially oriented focus, while the people in the business units have developers, they do what they want and take ten years to do a project and have no idea what they are doing.

It’s hard to ensure an interaction. The design approach helps bring the teams together and work together. And so we talk about commercial success of the company; it’s long-term goals.

Once we’ve said this, we have several tools and we know what to do exactly. We can crystalize this vision that we’ve spoken about, as designers, companies, agencies, each company has its logic: we kind of tend to be concentrated. The value that’s being provided is linked to the tool that we use. If I take the example of a software manufacturer, he will always think that it’s the number of lines of code, or the number of hours spent by the developer provides added value, but this is rarely the case. The time spent on a process does not mean you are delivering more value. We have to keep this in mind – we have to be careful, and remember that just because we spent more time doesn’t mean we provide more value.

We’ve seen that, even though we spent a lot of time, it’s an extremely well designed object; the frame is just a frame for the client, and it’s nothing more. He doesn’t give much attention to it. Probably he could look in the database and everything, but developers say that we really need to be focused, and keep in mind that just because you spend time on the software doesn’t mean you are providing added value. You could be working on projects for 7 months and not have the appropriate tools and people. The value might still not be delivered.

Remy talked yesterday about keyboards that don’t work – I have a keyboard like that. It’s a very good keyboard, actually – it’s the dream board. Everything was pre-designed to type, so you have the keys vertically arranged, it’s more ergonomic; the most commonly used keys are in the middle – its practical – and the order of the alphabet is dependent on the language. It’s brilliant. But this is meaningless, because getting used to this is very hard. To learn this in six months is pointless. It’s the dream for a geek, people looking to optimize, but not for the layman. He talked about usage. I keep this in the office, and we tend to focus on objects that are a roaring success in terms of success , but they have no meaning from a users perspective. This is a risk that you always encounter.

So there are certain risks, and we still have to use a few tools. What are the tools that work today? I was just saying that our jobs have changed, and even the way we work is changing. We have certain stakes regarding the way we work today. In terms of business lines, black swan lasted for a very short time. You need three years to set up a project; the logistics, three years flies by. So we have a problem of time. Everything is so fast, we aren’t understanding everything. The key is to have shortcuts. I don’t know if you are doing the ux club in paris, but there was a conference on remote users, and what’s interesting is: they don’t do reports, no one is going to read a fifty page report. The solution is to have remote user tests with the client, and that’s an extremely good way to resolve problems related to time.  You have to align quickly, bringing together the decision makers. The designer will identify the problems, and supervise the problems.

We always need to actually wonder: are we talking about value or not? So we need ot set up priorities, and there must be value delivered to the client. There’s no way to read the report. They can see things directly and it saves a lot of time. We provide service design, and this helps you align. This is the key to our success. This is how we go about it.

As a source of inspiration, it’s a book of Richard Scarry. What do people do all day? It’s a children’s book that explains how a post office works. It’s strong in understanding the stakeholders. It’s meaningful. The question is on aligning: aligning the stakeholders, the problems; we talk about the end user, and we talk about how the service is provided. We need to ensure that each project is well positioned. We are in sprint mode; we don’t do work upstream. We aren’t forgetting it; we don’t have the time. We’re skimming the steps, the upstream. We have to ask the right questions, and represent the stakes visually. We can see here that, if we show this to a client, the client is just asking for the tip of the iceberg. We have to work on everything below the iceberg, too. We need design tools to help us work throughout the process.

Another state is mapping. How can we ensure we’re keeping with the timelines? The roles of the stakeholders? The expected results? We talked about alignment, and business unit alignment.

More generally, we observe that companies, at least the various takeholders of companies, are not aware of what others are doing, and they don’t know what processes are being implemented. Most are verbalized. There’s no written protocol, even sophisticated processes; everything is an aural tradition. Even for engineers and developers, it’s spoken. Engineers are strong in processes, but it’s the same in marketing; it’s tradition and its verbal. It’s mostly information that keeps companies running. We have all of these pieces of information floating around, and we have to capture them from everywhere. It’s about crystalizing it in concrete form, a written form. It’s complicated. In an ideal world, the client can communicate the vision. In reality, this never happens.

All service design is role play. Empathy is of the essence when it comes to design, because it means you understand the needs of the end user, and you realize what are the stakes and the values. And it’s also empathy for other players. If the developer has to walk a mile in the shoes of a marketing manager, he will understand what’s involved. They will rally around a common goal. It could be a logo, an interface, anything. It’s a functional approach. We aren’t talking about cumbersome processes, but flexible methodologies.

Once this is achieved, we can model user scenarios. We can model scenarios of end users, the entire problem of stakeholders when you design a service or an object; the developer is also a system user. Once you’ve mapped out the role play, you can do the scenarios very easily. There are so many ways to have an insight of the users. You can go out in the field, and its intuitive knowledge. There is knowledge in companies, knowledge of their clients. Once you can give them the tools to crystalize it in writing, things get a lot easier. A simple tool – a whiteboard. To model the user’s trajectory. It’s the same logic that’s behind all of this: working together and putting everything in writing.

So you can work on several levels. It’s four words for the brand, high abstraction level. It requires a lot of work. A concept model works on the same principle. It can provide very powerful and good results. It’s all about rallying around a common goal.

On more concrete terms, we can talk of more designed objects. Here are a few examples. The alignment diagrams, and they speak for themselves. We have a lot of problems involved in modeling and visualizing. You need to understand immediately. That’s what a good diagram does; they should have a quick understanding of what we’re talking about. We have to ensure that we can identify the value, and allocate resources. The modeling should make this work concrete and tangible.

You talked about frames, and we were designing wireframes. But the value was expressed, the client came to know that there was a lot of value in the object, even though no personal value for him. When were talking about internal promotion, and giving him the tools to make a presentation, it addresses this question of providing value to the job and to the object. There are risks involved, too much information; perhaps you don’t understand the problem. You have a graph, and category two is complexity modeling, and we have some work done in processing this. One is more readable, but the other is not. That means the objects are very well, but we can’t understand anything – the complexity has been modeled, but it’s still incomprehensible.

A high level service blueprint formalizes, to a greater extend; the various players are linked to one another, and we aren’t disassociating the various players. We’re aligning them.

A very detailed blueprint, you can see the relationship between the actors, and the mapping is in phase between what happens in the company and the end users problem, and the idea is to ensure that the value levers are highlighted. The needs of the user are highlighted. Probably identify the problems, and review your organization, in order to optimize it, and leverage the value provided to the client. It’s a complex service blueprint; it’s complex diagrams. When you proceed to such complexity, they become unreadable. That doesn’t mean they aren’t unuseful; they just aren’t readable. These documents are for decision makers who don’t have time to study the diagram, and so you have to call the decision maker half an hour before the meeting, provide a simple version of the diagram.

And so the interface becomes a point of contact with the users involved, with stakeholders, with the end users. If Microsoft decides to change their interface, all Microsoft interfaces will be outdated. People will be in tight spots if they sell these interfaces. This is the portal to the strategy. So the question is, what is functional branding? It catalyzes the issues; the development issues. And this becomes increasingly complicated, because it’s not a question of user experience; it’s a question of brand. So the question is, how can we try to negotiate the problems of brand in the interface? Sometimes, it’s about laying things, and it’s not obvious to people. It helps them get an enhanced visibility. How can you tell the marketing team that the user interface is not where we put the logo? If you put the logo in the gui, the users are confused. This is the kind of request we get, the object communicates the brand; the interface has to be invisible and light. And so such objects align the stakeholders. If these new features won’t be of use it would be a question to carry out mapping. The visual part could be here, and the developing part could be here, and people speak the same language. So you can also fragment and relax the entire load; they want us to have an interface, and all of this, it’s not formulated, and so you need to reposition the artifacts. Be careful of the brand, the major stake is in the interaction. Will it work well? Do the people understand?

The brand isn’t the most important thing. But we are in a visual society and this is what the end user will see, and so we need to relax and be consistent. Prototyping, another example: this is time saving, this is about designing something that doesn’t yet exist, and it’s for research. It’s what we did for a client, when exploring, prototyping can be a good approach. If you have a prototype, you avoid the specification unit of 150 pages, no one reads that. But the production is different than the prototype, even though it’s tempting to make them the same. We have a problem because now a prototype is very close to the final product, this is what the iphone methodology is about. The prototype could be duplicated, so many millions of copies – it’s the final product, and not a prototype. Complexity is totally different, tactics.

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Dominique Sciamma, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

* Raw conference notes

Against Digital Intoxication

I would like to have a small test. Who is over 30? 40? 50?

I belong to the last category, and I’m lucky, because for those of us over 50, I’m lucky to experience this digital revolution. I’m 57, and I was using perforated cards as a child, and times have changed, and I saw the advent of the first micro computers in 1970s, and I used them. I manufactured them, and designed them. I think that people who have had this opportunity, the chance to be part of the digital revolution have a viewpoint on what’s happened and what will happen, and that’s rather unique.

Those of you between 20 and 25, comparing the past and present and the future is not the same thing. For those of us who have lived through the digital revolution, I would like to talk against the intoxication, I’ve given this name to give the disorder to the digital field, which actually is on the right track, but with a chance that it might slide away. Perhaps a chance it will come out with the wrong results.

So let me take you back in time to the industrial revolution. This characterized the era of enlightenment, machines,  producing what we wanted. Good points, because these produced objects and services. We couldn’t fill up the stock, because in consumer society, there was more demand than supply. The process was mastered and now we produce things, and now the manufacturers have to buy back their products because they are unable to sell the inventory. We consume what we produce, but not all.

The industrial revolution that started, something happened in the middle of the 20th century. The advent of information technology, which has an impact on the destiny of the world. With the democratization of the pc, the vision, and the strategy of a company called IBM invented and did a major favor to humanity by not knowing what they were doing. They produced a machine they thought had no future, and Bill Gates with MS Dos, has a monopoly of the market. They designed a machine, and never thought they would have competition from IBM.

When they made the mistake, it’s given rise to the pc market. There’s a category of things called “users”, which appears in the 1980s. When I started working as an IT manager, I was perforating punch cards, working on teletypes. My background was in paper. The computer was designed by IT specialists, and were used by specialists in banks and insurance companies. The language, only they understood it. The notion of user didn’t even exist. With the advent of PC, there was a new category of people. Users. People with no skills, but the desire to learn, to own this tool. This gave rise to the concept of users.

Now if you put all of this in the current context, it’s exactly what has happened with objects. Open machines, low tech technologies; no methodology, no process – this is the same thing. The position of the user. There’s the invention of mobile technology in the middle of the 80s, and this is our present, and this is tomorrow, where everything is tomorrow. Adam Greenfield illustrated it, the world of multi-media. Smart cards all over the place, and sensors everywhere. This is the world of the future, the day to day that is promised to us in the future. This is what the future holds in story.

So, I’ve just taken you through the industrial revolution to the explosion of technology and how our lives have been digitalized and there are people behind this. Amateurs, people who are wondering about their future. How do you envision it? As a continuum? 19th century illustration of a gladiator – it’s not outdated. Or is it a major breakthrough? There is an intellectual laziness that has set in. I think it’s a continuum.

When I talk of laziness, I mean it in the continuity – we want to go faster, things should be more interesting, more user friendly. We have a new paradigm to resolve. The same one, in fact, arose when we started inventing writing. It’s the way we position ourselves, and our social position; my own existence in respect to myself. I’m saying that, given what has happened over the years of my career, I think that we are continuing to use and practice dangerous practices. I don’t know if it’s kind of school that likes to do paintings with human excrement or duck excrement (?!); it’s a battle of the sexes; it doesn’t have a lot of importance, but all of the sudden, the world is digitalized, and we can reproduce everything, so what do we have to reproduce?

Why digital intoxication?

Everything has been disoriented. We’ve lost our bearings; not us, but the entire ecosystem that’s around. The financial aspect involved, the financial players, and the media – the reporters, who talk about this, you’ve read articles written by a journalist who talks rubbish on what you specialize in. Media continues to provide easy thought and easy articles on the subjects. All of this, in fact, leads us to question our own position  -where are we going, where are we heading? Where is our home? Our home is the future, and we need to find a way there.

The first aspect of digital intoxication is the content. We’re obsessed with it. We think there must be content with digital technology; it’s impossible to conceive of it without content.

The second form of this intoxication is screens. Ask a telecom operator to conceive of the future. They will put screens everywhere. In each of the rooms, in the toilets, the ceilings, windows, doors, even on glasses. Everything will have screens. Even in my pockets. Screens are an integral part of the digital offer.

The third form is connection, the capacity for objects to communicate, as if this characteristic actually gives them wonderful virtues. Connected objects are good, and so we try to connect objects, for the past hundred years. And we don’t really feel like we’ve entered a new era. We’re obsessed with it.

The next is digital. It’s the idea that the true horizon of digital technology is behind the screen, the ultimate promise is outside our body. It’s a prison. Beyond there is another body. I can do what I want, I’m a millionaire, out there. It’s the “virtual world”. The promise of Christianity, in fact – out there, once you are dead, and rid of your body, you will reap the fruit of your sufferings and known what an eternal life is.

This is a primitive idea. It’s the matrix, polarized.

And the last, the interface. Interface is the point with which we are obsessed the most. What is a digital object, a digital service? It’s something that will help us access content through screens. And through connection. And we’d be dealing with the virtual world, so; a digital experience is something that we are working with an interface. It’s not true, I totally disagree. Of course, I’m not saying interfaces aren’t important, but you really cannot sum up digital technology to interfaces. It doesn’t work that way.

These are the five aspects of digital technology that must be fought.

All of this opportunity, of what we’ve always been doing; we always harbor the idea that human beings tend to take control of their environment. And I can control the environment within which I live. I can invent a tool, and have theories. Links between events, the emblematic output of the tool, just to reach a goal.

The tools control us, this is true of digital technology. The interface is still a tool, and so we are still subject to cause and effect. This is a game of trying to control causality. An interface, just a lever, nothing else. There are tools, and the tool is enslaved; it’s in my hands, and I control it. And I control it through an event change of causality.

I think we need to disrupt all of this and break through it. We can say that something else will emerge. The 21st century will be the century of artificial intelligence; it’s the same thing, and went through lots of successes and failures. Through digitalization of the world, we can see a huge potential for it to develop, a huge bird, a huge eagle.

Disruption with materiality; I talk about materiality. Experiences would happen, but what’s fantastic about technology, is that it can be integrated with different objects, moments, and in that case, you can put bodies back into movements. My body is a receptacle of these interactions. A digital experience, confronted with a physical; no hindrances. This is what we do today through interfaces.

These devices interact with one another; I’m not saying they are interconnected, but they interact with one another. I send you digital information, because we share a network that’s in front; it’s like the bees. These objects, since they interact, they are a society. Literally, they have social relationships and do things together. There are a huge number of them, too – just like ants. Social animals, and thanks to their huge numbers, they can find the shortest way without any computer. They can do that.

In our school, we call these robjets – robot objects, and living objects, or living things. Why have we invented a word? Because of what I just told you. They see the world, analyze the world, and make decisions based on the world. The things I’m talking about are all robots. One way of talking about the job of designers is to talk about shapes and functions. This will disappear.

The shapes and forms of objects, are totally meaningless. But their behaviors are really powerful. Designing things, it’s not things any more: it’s behaviors. It’s a major change in the way we think about our job. What does it mean to have a family of objects, a candle holder will talk to a teapot and so forth? It’s not a metaphor. This is going to happen. What does it mean to design behaviors? Interactivity disappears. Interactivity doesn’t encompass everything that’s happening. The robot will do what it wants, because it’s autonomous.

So what should we do next?

I think there are huge works to be done, to question pedagogical approaches, and we need to jump over – to make a big leap – over our industrial era, towards something different.

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Raw conference notes: Yves Rinato, WIF (Interactive Design International Festival)

* Conference notes

I will talk about, before starting, I would like to show you the field within which I’m working. It’s a subject that kept me rather busy, because when I’m asked a question, it’s of a general nature, the question between interaction and interface. I will try and show you the difference between the two, that would be the subject of my talk. Interactive design works on man-machine interfaces. My company, intactile design; man machine interface is an outdated term. We adopt this term because the industrialized world has put us under this category. My company is 10 years old, and in 2007, we were here in Limoges to present to you a prototype. I would like to introduce this topic: air traffic control. We don’t only work in this field; we work with various business interfaces, that are used in various fields such as air traffic control, and so this is an old control station dating to the 1980s. You can see something here, which is the radar, several radar screens, and other types of screens, you can see the telephones, frequency, push buttons, again all of this dates to the 1980s. Here we are in a military air control center, and it’s pretty much the same thing. Digital radar, and you can see the design vocab that’s extremely dated. This is a civilian air control center, and taking a closer look, you can see red telephones, again, the interfaces are going to become increasingly sophisticated, but we have some kind of outdated aspects.

The Project ASTER marks a complete breakthrough. In 2006, when this was designed, the idea was to focus on research. This refuted traditional IT technology, because traditional IT technology is a type of restricted IT. This is autistic in its approach, and it’s really not suited for air control. As you can see, you have individuals monitoring air control, and they work in a room, so when you have such a constructed device in front of you, it really doesn’t work. The optimal level of security cannot be ensured. The radar is digital, but most air traffic control is done in paper. The orders, the clearance. The major principle, the interface at the time, was pretty much the same.

We simulate the working way of people, it’s all vocal commands, like in radio. We have a system that provides information, but we don’t have the direct control interfaces.

You can see in this interface, it’s easy because you have blue and brown interface. The blue is the interface for radio air control stations, while the brown is the interface for one person preparing the ground work for the other. People change positions, and air controller is in position for thirty minutes. They work in shifts, in order to relieve the stress levels. The idea of this work is to have two aspects of it. The first is where everyone is working together. For designers, there was a question that was raised: what is anticipation? How can you have enough information so that the controller can have a clear view of what’s going to happen in fifteen minutes time? The timeline was brought down to eight minutes to see what the air traffic would look like, if there’s not enough traffic, several sectors can be brought together to give the sufficient workload. During the day, where there’s heavier traffic, we need to try to reduce the planes per sector.

So in this video, you can see; on the top you have conventional radar. Below is the device, each strip is a plane, and this is a simulation of the work that’s done on paper. The controller is preparing the flights, aligning them, putting them in red or green categories, depending on where the plane comes from. You can see the philosophy upon which the interface is based. If there is a vertical flight, there is an indication of level change given by the controller. Each time it’s horizontal, that’s the speed that is given. Vertical for the flight level, horizontal for the speed. This proposal was not accepted because it was very simple, the gesture – the idea is to protocol, we need a protocol. We had to think of adjustments where there was unexpected events. The officer is writing the various ways to communicate together. We are exchanging information, and you have heavy duty modes and light duty modes as well.

What you see is the radar vertical image. This is the helicopter view, and this is cross-section view. This device is used for incoming flight control, so flights that are going to land; the incoming flight. This is a normal transfer, you take the label and hand it off to your colleague. With the entire protocol. This is what we call the stack opening; it’s a simplistic way of showing a stack. There’s another way of handing off, a pick and drop, take the plane and put it on another screen. It’s an intrusive gesture. You can write on the artifact, from one controller to the other.

This is a prototype that was made in a year, developed and tested by air controllers. Forty people worked on this for six months to prove and validate the concepts, and here’s the story of this interface. At a given moment, we had to really imagine all of the different users in the field of air control. We also had to understand and translate the jobs of other people, and translate them into the signs, the signs on the images. This represents two weeks of work, and was a thesis that was conducted on visualization of different signs, and the person studied for three years on this. They criticized the labels, and I told the person that the criticism is important, but we could have used more time to work on the details. We gathered a lot of experiences. And still we have a lot of things to improve on this interface. I wanted you to see it, the objects that we work on today.

Let me come back to the topic. I’ll still tackle the issue of interface. When we design in our team, we don’t think about interactions. We want to think about what makes an interface. What’s important in our work; when you are interested in what makes an interface, you need to speak of affordance. It’s a major problem for us as designers. The word affordance, let me give you a few examples that I use to explain interfaces and take a distance from the examples.

To me, what makes an interface, in order to talk about other scientists, we had to take a distance from the word affordance that Gibson defined. He is an ethologist, he works on inferant languages, animal languages, and other code that you may have in human beings that aren’t in cultures. A way a man may chat up a woman, there are signs that you find in the entire world. There are signs that you use to talk to a person, you feel touched. There are languages that aren’t related to cultures. When he talks about affordance, he talks about the capacity of an object to suggest its soul and uses. It goes even further than this; objects tend to speak to us regardless of our culture, and he takes the example of a window. According to where the handle is, you will want to either push or draw the window, whichever the signs written next to it. Cognitive scientists say that environments will influence behaviors. When we hear this as designers, we try to take ownership. We want our objects to speak for themselves, and we want to create affordances. This isn’t possible, because it is linked to the idea of creation. You cannot design an  affordance, it either works or it doesn’t work. It can work with everyone but not in the same way. It’s a dynamic concept, some people are more sensitive to one thing or another. You might say it creates affordance for such an such population.

This is a very simple example. I should not need to speak; when I log in to Mac OS X, the screen shakes if I get the password wrong. The behavior suggests what is happening. Some people are not convinced here. What happened? Some people may know already. You enter your password, and the idea is that you made a mistake. And because you see the animation, the shaking, very quickly, you understand that the message is you made a mistake. If I see another object, with the same behavior, I will understand what it means, naturally. This is affordance, this is what it’s about. With IT, this tiny animation, this is the base or ground of other innovations with Philippe Starcke. The first time I worked on an interface of a camcorder, those animations helped to follow the arrows, and those things helped me, they all started with this experience.

With apple, we understand that they work a lot on the interface. The want the interface to be intuitive. What you just saw is a real good example of what we could call affordance. As a designer, I don’t think we work in that field. We will actually take a step forward and I think we designers, we play in another field. Now before I continue and dwell upon the difference between affordance and what makes an interface, I would like to come back to one thing, which seems stupid but isn’t in the end. We have our own language, our own ways of seeing, and our relationships with the objects with which we work, influenced by history.

When we talk about interface, interactions, graphic user interface, for all of these words, we’ll always define a field and be part ad parcel of a story. Interaction came afterwards. In the year 2000, when I started my business, I had an interface, a human, and a machine. That’s kind of silly.

I had this representation in my mind about how things would work. A button, you want to push a button. The button will lead to something, the machine will do something and I’ll have a representation. An interface is to show the relationship between symbolic actions and the imagination send by machine. But this all falls apart just with this pacman story.

I would design video games, and my daughter would play with pacman. She was seven or eight. And she played, and made a mistake, and she cried. When you see pacman moving, it reminds you of connections, old memories. Maybe you don’t know who pacman was. I talked to my colleague about this, and there was something happening behind this. My colleague talked to me, with a sketch here. It will be a bit more complex, but she said, it’s much more complicated than what you think. These are frequent examples in video games. What happens in video games, is that the user gets into the representation that’s presented. We all have a buddy, and we’ll see a representation, an avatar. And you represent the gesture and the avatar does something. That representation sends me another representation, and my imagination will react and turn in a circle. A certain belief comes, I’ll get over-involved in the representation, because of my involvement in the circle that everything works. The interface works when all of this is intertwined. This is rather simple, but we can go even further. There were studies done with wii devices, and other devices, and sometimes it goes beyond this. You might have an object and a person’s body, an imagination. One attached to the body, and one with the object and its representation. It’s as if there was a melting of body and machine. It’s all interconnected, and sometimes you even forget that you have an object in your hand, and you may throw the controller.

This is what happens with interfaces.

Let me come back to previous experiences. In air traffic control, this is quite obvious. I used to have a lot of problems with my students, when you talk about IT, you always have to use your own experience. When I type on a keyboard, or use a mouse, it’s the same – air traffic controller – it doesn’t all need direct action. I don’t fly the plane. It’s information that goes through a channel, you talk to the pilot, you have a special gesture for that. Air traffic control, the more work – the more they write down. And they write down things they can’t re-read, but when it’s written, it’s said to the planes. Why talk about such a specific profession?

In the past, they would not trust the image on the radar. They would take a piece of paper and write comments of what they would see, they would want people to check to see if the plane is really in the place it’s supposed to be. The representation is about what you see on the screen.

That’s why when people ask me about interactions, the notion of interaction refers to something that is more technical. For me, an interface is much broader than screen representations. The way we work, with people, with a screen, using a mouse, it’s interfaces. There are multiple interfaces. As soon as you design something, you realize that the action will be relegated to a keyboard or a mouse, and you learn quickly that there’s a hierarchy – layers – of an interface. Users, while using their interfaces, should accumulate knowledge. When you look at conventional interfaces, there’s a specific relationship with the mouse. You could say the same thing about cars. You control them so much that you forget about their complexities, and you forget that they are interfaces. The real purpose of the interface is to disappear.

Here’s the idea of this interface. We call this sophisticated. Why is this sophisticated?

We can imagine several involvement or action modes in the interface. You can have interfaces that work for beginners, and others that work for all kinds of other users. Apple doesn’t provide a lot of literature with their interfaces, but they work – they add things little or little. When you listen to a piece of music, a song; when you touch the device here, it speeds up. For people listening to podcasts, when they want to go back, the tiny little cursor lets you go back to listen to every word. But some people don’t know it exists, and then they find it, and there are hints that you can tell where you can go under. Let me show it to you again. This is what I call a sophisticated gesture. This is the same gesture, the same length – the further I go from the bar, the tinier the range of scrolling.

Let me show you another; this is a hidden gesture. Four years it took to discover this; it’s a simple idea. You write in caps – caps lock – you double tap on the button.

For me, a very long time in IT, you just try to define one way to use a machine. Reality is different. For the air traffic controller, we designed tens of tens of interfaces, and we tried to imagine how each could be designed in a different way. When you don’t know something, you might want magic – magic interfaces. But imagine different ways to use the device. Start imagining, one part of the interface is left to the imagination of the users. When people are skilled about it, we have designed an object, and we left a whole space of freedom for the users and for a while we just used it for what it is. But then you come to a place where users are experts, and they use them in a different way than who we have designed them. This is what makes an interface.

I would like to work on emergency anesthetic tools, tools that can measure vital body functions, except that people who are near the machine need to interpret the results. The information provided is quite standard and you have to be a specialist to interpret the data and take action. You have doctors, nurses, and we could think of interfaces to intervene and interpret the data for you. It’s not about simplifying; it’s all about – you need to have, when you work experts, you need to have, if you actually remove their expertise, they are no longer experts. So it’s not about removing the complexity. It’s about helping the expert go a step further to have access to other complex issues, rebuild his expertise, so he can use tools that are not complex but are sophisticated. These can help facilitate a few things and can bring in some new complexity, that will add value to his expertise.

This is my conclusion; since 1986, this is something I share. You have machines behind traditional objects, and you have designers behind the machines.

* q&a

When we talk of affordance, and the cognitive science, the concept of affordance is something we gradually build from a cultural perspective. We are trying to have a conversation where digital culture is gaining ground. When we talk of – do it yourself activities – it’s really not interesting, drilling a hole in the wall, for someone used to a computer is used to a different way of working. This digital culture will give us a wealth of information. We have this experience of drag and drop – you drag an object and drop it. It’s not an easy gesture, and if these surfaces are really wide, it’s really hard to do these gesture with the hand. It’s not an easy task, and you often need another gesture in order to do the same thing. And so interfaces will be increasingly complex, and so this notion of how to have intuitive interfaces while the objects are increasingly complex, the idea is to have an appropriate vocabulary. I know there are specialists in the room – we realized that the notion of affordance or intuitive interfaces has a lot of stumbling blocks. There was an example, the mouse, the idea of having an interface that is relative. We realized that one of the impeding blocks with the keyboard mouse is that you are doing the gesture repeatedly, it’s an easy gesture, you just need to know it by heart.

In a tactile interface, you can have a dictionary, or even a vocabulary that is extremely rich compared to the keyboard mouse interface. We’ve gone a long way. The idea is that when people use an interface the traces of the interface appears to a lesser extent. This will eventually disappear. People who were trained in 48 hours on this technology, it’s important for their expertise to ensure that the interfaces don’t appear any longer.

This is the broad definition I had to say. When you design an object, it’s a cultural phenomenon. An affordance is not cultural, it’s something different.

When the design lays out objects for communication, it’s a cultural gesture. It’s construction of signs, and it’s completely different than the idea of affordance, and this is something that will be built up with data in time. I don’t think a designer can solve this problem by identifying any particular gesture. The solution would simply not work.

 

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

UX London

In reflecting on the last three days of UX London, I can identify at least one core theme. Our discipline is growing up, and we’re starting to have a more refined and advanced conversation around topics like synthesis, meaning, and impact.

Bill Buxton began with a conversation around ideas. We should stop thinking of design as a “flash of insight.” Instead, it’s a process that’s about continuous, incremental change based on a creative recombination of the new and the old in unexpected ways. He’s right; it’s a constant integration process, as we make new knowledge and try to appropriate it into our work. A wider set of raw material (“knowing more things”) can lead to a wider array of new ideas.

Anders Ramsey described how, when design is involved in an Agile process, it should happen continuously, in short, collaborative bits (like Rugby) rather than in long, individual run (like a Relay Race). I don’t agree, and I’m tremendously skeptical that the output of a process like this can be successful, if success is about anything other than “shipping a product.” Yet that Anders is proposing a way for design to be more effective in an interdisciplinary setting is refreshing.

Luke Wroblewski described that our design paradigms for mobile need to adopt to the qualities of context, related both to mobility and to a small form device. This means being more selective in the content we select to show in mobile software, which implies a more judgment-drive role of design.

Kristina Halvorson gave a series of pragmatic tools for beginning to consider content as part of the larger process of design, and poked at the organizational issues that may creep up when trying to manage content as a living, breathing thing. I’m a big fan of content-driven design, and I’ve always had trouble with the development best practice of separating form, function, and content; it seems like an efficiency gained for our production teams at the expensive of “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Jared Spool described how four forces are converging to describe a perfect storm. Market maturity, the “emergence of experience”, Kano’s model, and Sturgeon’s Law (90% of anything is crap) are colliding to raise the awareness and respect of our field. I agree, and although I’m not sure I would have picked these four forces as the major scaffolds to make the argument, his larger point is correct: there’s a lot happening, and it’s hard to stay aware of it all and understand how it all connects.

For me, more than ever, a form of constant synthesis through writing and sketching is required to integrate the seemingly absurd, extreme events of the world into a framework for understanding design.

Posted in Conference Notes, Reflection | Leave a comment

Raw Conference Notes – UX London – Leisa Reichelt

Strategic User Experience
Leisa Reichelt

I’ve had people come up to me and say, that’s not UX strategy. There’s a big difference between strategic UX and UX strategy. I don’t really know what UX strategy is. I don’t know how you have that in vacuum. For me, the only way it can happen strategically ,is if it happens in the organizational context you are working in. It can’t be its own thing.

For the purposes of definition, UX is about digital touchpoints. There are all kinds of discussions we could have, but I define it as the digital side of things, and then there’s CX, the customer thing. And then there’s strategy, which is a sequence of tactics executed in order to achieve a goal. It’s simple, isn’t it?

But reality hits, and sitting in your team talking about UX strategy, and then you get out into the world, into your organization, and try to execute, and it all just falls apart. What seems like a really great plan hardly ever happens, and you end up on the mat bleeding.

There’s lots of hand-waving about UX strategy. Writing and talking about it, that’s easy. The hard part is actually executing on it, and very few of us are having luck on that.

There’s two sides of this. Top down strategic UX, is about creating environments where you can actually practice good user experience. That’s a design challenge on its own. I want you to think over your last 12 months of doing your UX work. Think about how many days of that work were days spent doing really good work, working productively, on projects that actually materialized, that were worthwhile projects, that made your organization better, the world better; how good would that be? Or that felt like you were doing what you were supposed to be doing, and was building towards something good. Do you have more than 100 days, working in that environment? Let’s assume everyone has roughly the same number. Think about how many days of work, of amazingly talented people, really care about it; how many days of this effort has been completely wasted.

I think this is a really big problem, and the reason is a top-down problem. We aren’t in a position to influence that immediately, and so before we go give up and become front-end developers, there’s bottom up. This is stuff we can do to infiltrate strategy into the existing system and move it towards where we think it should be. We’ll spend the majority of our time on this, giving you tools to move things in the direction they should be.

I hope we’ll be talking to each other on how to work in our organizations, and I assume you’ll be familiar with Chatham House Rule. You can tell them things about what you learned here, but they can’t be able to identify the people from your examples. Feel free to share your information, and no one will be ousted saying mean things about their clients or their companies.

Grab some post-it notes and a pen. Take a few minutes and think about the top 3 things in your organization that are blocking you from doing really awesome work. Let’s see what some of the top issues are.

Legacy systems; too much focus on bottom line; constraints; clients.

Copy-cat syndrome; focus on features; budget restrictions; getting our stakeholders to do more than listen, but to actually change.

Is it worth the money; not used to working with users, something you can add at the end; re-education.

The design people are the skin that mediates the rest of the world and the inside of the organization. Our ability to navigate well is completely defined by what’s on the inside, the leadership, the product, what it is, how well it fits to the market, our strategy – how to get from where we are now to where we want to get to. If that’s not aligned with the experience we want to create, you can’t rescue it from the outside. You can put a nice veneer on it. But a good logo doesn’t make a bad product any less shitty.

There’s a great TED talk called Simon Sinek, the Golden Circle. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. Companies that get it right start at the beginning, at Why Are We Doing This. What is the output. An obvious example is Apple; they are all about converging the liberal arts and technology and getting them to converge in a beautiful way that makes you want the technology. They do it by having a small product range and having design lead the way. What comes out the other end is computers and music machines. Who knew that we needed an iPad before it existed? Anything Apple sold; if Apple came out with a washing machine, how many of you would buy it?

Think about Dell. Dell’s in computers. They do it cheaply. Why do they do it? To make money. If Dell put out a washing machine, what would you think? It doesn’t make any sense.

How can Apple go that way and it would make sense? Think about the company you are in right now. Can you clearly define their why? Do they even have a why?

Let’s go on to our second exercise. Think about some of the problems you just had in your groups.

The way most business works is that it makes it hard to do our work. Short term focus; there are accounting systems that are based on functions, or silos, and not on customers. We have silos, which are good that they let us work with people like us and get better at our craft, but bad, because essential parts of the company aren’t having the conversations they need to have. They aren’t making decisions around a focused goal. Management that’s far away from their customers. Is this the biggest design challenge we face?

Forget UX strategy. We need to have a sense on how to get our organizations to go in a particular direction, and think about where we’ll have the best potential to do the work we want to do. We aren’t thinking about this enough at the moment.

I’ve put together this model. Some people look at this and say “that’s just strategy, right?” Yes, it’s absolutely business strategy. But you can’t do user experience strategically unless it’s integrated into what the company is trying to do. You need to be in alignment. The idea is that you are not in charge of everything. No methodology will replace a vision, and the guts to back it. Lean, agile, if we do this, that will save us. But what’s really required is the kind of thing that Bill Derouchey is talking about; taking a stand that’s a little, or even a lot, different, and having a vision of how the world will be different if you manage to achieve that. And understand that the people working for you understand that. I try to ask people at organizations I go into, what’s the point? Why do we come to work?

Most of them just look at you; don’t you know who we are? We’re a big brand. We’re famous.

But then, if you ask them to humor you, tell you more about the point of the organization; I guarantee you the first six people you stop will have no answer, or completely different answers than one another.

How will the world be different if you pull this off? People would rather be mediocre, than wrong, and that’s a big problem.

You need to start at the top with value proposition, target audience, business model, and customer experience.

Peter Drucker is my best friend when it comes to business strategy. If you haven’t started adding him to your reading material, you absolutely should. The customer defines the business. The value for the customer is anything but obvious. It’s really difficult to work out the value of what you’re selling. The really easy one of this is that the customer doesn’t buy a drill. They buy a hole. They buy a solution. All of the things we do should come from the hole, not the drill.

I create an elevator pitch sentence structure, and have organizations describe their value proposition. For [target customer], who has [customer need], [product] is a [market category] that [one key benefit].  Unlike [competition], the product [unique differentiator].

I think a Business Model is something we tend to shy away from, we try to stay away from the hierarchy and the money stuff. I think it’s kind of, obviously, another good thing for us to be doing. I don’t think you need an MBA to do it. It’s something you hear a lot of people suggesting. You really need to be able to understand where the money comes in, and where the money goes out; that’s at the core of what a business model is. The business model canvas – something you see in lean startup a lot – is a really great framework for connecting all of the things that you are interested in. Customer relationships, value proposition, cost structures, revenue streams. This is a great framework to have a conversation with people in the organization. We can show how intertwined they are.

It goes back to something maybe Einstein said; if you can’t describe something simply, it might be a clue that you don’t understand something. Sometimes, when I have these conversations, you can’t help but feel that the other person just wants you to go away and wireframe something. If it is as clear to them as they are suggesting it should be, they should be able to articulate it very quickly.

No business model should be incredibly complicated. A complicated business model is a bad sign. It should take them ten minutes. If they can’t do it in 10 minutes, you have the opportunity to start having important conversations. A lot of the times, the issues are around customer relationships, and segments; it’s the way to have these conversations.

Customer Experience. As I was reading Steve Baty’s definition of experience strategy, it struck me that it’s just like a value proposition. And then you have this, via Peter Merholz – and then I’ve seen a reference in every single document, ever: Kodak’s “you press the button, we do the rest.” I don’t like how we can abstract this enough so we can come up with one of these for every single customer we ever deal with. And I don’t like that the example we go to is Kodak. And Jesse James Garrett says “it’s a star to sail your ship by”, and what does that mean? That’s not a strategy.

I’ve never read any of this stuff, customer experience: I heard Forrester talk about it a bit. But actually there’s a lot of good stuff in here, and it’s stuff people don’t talk about that much in our community. They don’t have UX at Forrester at all, and you would expect that you would find it there, and in these books, I don’t know if I found maybe two or three references to usability. I don’t think, on the whole, we don’t know they exist and they don’t think we exist. Chances are, there are a whole lot of you who say “yeah, that’s probably just service design, it’s a fancy word for people who don’t understand what we do.” And I think I was wrong, and I’ve completely changed my view. They are doing a lot of work that makes what we want to do possible. There are these CX responsibilities, about systems and infrastructure. These guys are running the things we’re doing, the integration projects. So we can have a single view of the customer.

It’s a really big job, and it doesn’t really exist in more organizations, and it’s something I don’t hear any of us talking about. I don’t think you can outsource this, I think it needs to be a core competency. It’s about getting the knowledge and experience, and that’s challenging. When you go back to that model, having it in at the highest level of the organization is absolutely critical for it to be done strategically. You can work with agencies to get that knowledge in there, and make the decisions you need and get the infrastructure in place, but it’s not something you can outsource.

I want you to believe that CX and UX are not the same thing, and there are lots of things outside the realm of our job title. We need them.

Posted in Conference Notes | Leave a comment

Collateral Damage: The Ethics of Lean UX

Some techniques that are gaining respect in design and development attempt to decrease the potential for failure (in projects, big companies, or startups) by testing work with real people early and often, in order to validate (or, as is more likely, invalidate) assumptions. A process called the Lean Startup is, as Janice Frasier described at UX London, about “hypothesis recognition”, ”experiment design”, and “smallification.” It’s about creating low fidelity interactions with people called, in this process, “experiments”, and understanding if your assumptions around purchasing behavior are true. Janice encouraged designers engaged in this Lean Startup process to quickly identify a way for testing an assumption about how well a product fits in a market, “smallify” that test by making it even more concise and quick, and then run an “experiment” with real people to understand if you were right. It’s only after this process is done that you can move on to the next stage of adding features or functions to a product.

It’s a process that appears sensible when you examine it as a broad reaction to two different ways of launching a startup that many of us have encountered: either a process with multiple constituents (both founders, advisors, and directors), all competing to have their opinions and requirements heard, or a process driven by engineering of “rip it and ship it”, where engineered ideas are thrown out into the world with little thought for the customer. This lean approach was first created by Steve Blank, a professor at Stanford, and called Customer Development in a book called “Four Steps to The Epiphany” which, according to Janice, is “a terrible read. No one finishes it.” If you do read it, you learn some new language to describe your process. By calling your design a hypothesis, you change the nature of the conversation with other members of your organization. By releasing only the smallest necessary unit of design (usually, as Janice described, a landing page that describes what your company is going to do), you can move quickly. And by engaging in these “experiments”, you can learn if your assumptions were right, most notably, if people would actually be willing to pay for a particular product or service. This is judging product/market fit.

Something about the technique rubbed me the wrong way, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I was discussing it with some folks at dinner. And then, another designer summarized my reaction to it, by describing the way users were treated during these “experiments”: as collateral damage.

In this Lean Startup approach, people are treated like guinea pigs; literally, subjects of an experiment. But unlike usability testing, or a true scientific experiment, these people aren’t giving informed consent for your experimentation, they aren’t learning of risks of engaging with your product or service, and they aren’t considered to be on equal footing with the design team. For most product contexts, this probably seems like splitting hairs: if I release a poorly designed version of a restaurant finding app in order to check my assumptions about a particular audience, and it causes discomfort through poor usability, or I abandon my user-base halfway through when I find out it doesn’t work quite right, it might be thought of as no big deal: it’s just a silly restaurant finding app, and the negative implications on these users is just the necessary cost of learning.

But if I’m working on products and services that are explicitly intended to shift negative behavior, change the fabric of society, and serve an at-risk population, there’s a pretty dramatic ethical question related to this collateral damage. It seems irresponsible. The tenor is quite similar to the idea of centralizing our business workflow to make it easier for our accounting department, rather than our users, or optimizing our website for our developers, rather than our users: our focus has shifted from serving people to using people.

And I think this begins to describe my concern and negative reaction with this idea: as Janice described, “this is a reinvention of user-centered design practice, from a different point of view. There’s a little skew on it. Instead of asking questions about needs and what people do, [Steve Blank] is more interested in finding out what marketing messages would be best.” The whole technique is about marketing, and not about people. And for all the conversation about “get out of the building” in order to talk to users and validate your ideas, the tone of the process seems to force us back to the smarminess of marketing, but under the guise of science. It’s co-opted language that seeks to prove that people will pay for things, and while these may be important for all sorts of various reasons, they don’t mesh with design.

Although there are lots of different ways of framing and defining design, I’ve found that the commonality of nearly all definitions is the focus on people, and in making life better. Usability is about reducing our propensity for errors or increasing our efficiency; aesthetics contribute to powerful emotions; even discursive design is about raising awareness and making people think in new ways.

I’m concerned that the methods we’re beginning to discuss in our community are misguided. They may work, or they may not; but if they work and produce collateral damage, are they really successful, and are they really in-line with the human-centered qualities of our work?

My raw notes from Janice’s talk are below.

*

Janice Frasier
UX Practice for Lean Startups

Lean startup machine is one of the leading educators in startup methods, organized around these ideas and experimentation. They say “Get out of the building!”

I founded LuxR, and was previously a founder of Adaptive Path. On March 2nd, 2001 we launched a company that helped define what user experience would become. I was the first coo of the company for 6 years. Before that, in the distant past, I was at Netscape, and was there 6 months after the IPO. I realized how much it feels like right now. Right now, there’s a sense of permission and obligation to reinvent things. To reinvent the world as we see it. We all have this opportunity, because of the problems our world is facing, economic, or employment, environmental, there’s a sense of permission and obligation to change everything. All that’s limiting us is our courage and imagination. I would love to see every single one of you quit your shit job and get a better one. Great jobs are ones that you make yourself.

There are startups that are commercially viable to satisfy every personal need. If there isn’t one, go make one. Be it social, environmental, technology.

One of the companies in our program reinvented the Texas Instruments graphing calculator. Why does that matter? It turns out that there’s a worldwide community of people drawing pictures with a web based graphing calculator. They made valentines. It’s putting joy into the act of making math happen; these are high school kids. They come on day one, do their homework, come back to finish what they imagined, not because they have to but because they enjoy it. If we can change the stupid graphing calculator, we can change anything.

All that’s missing is you. The startup industry, that segment, is missing the wisdom of the user experience community. I get regularly asked for an introduction to a rock star designer, that can do front end production, and information architecture, and everything, and that will be there design department, and my job is to tell them that they’re missing the point, and I help educate them. My purpose is to create fertile ground, so when you partner with them as co-founders, you have a ready environment where you can make the most impact that I know design can have.

At luxr, we’re educating entrepreneurs. Netscape led me to design, and I’ve gotten here through the design world.

I’m an advisor to some startups; foodspotting, diaspora, mingly, taskrabbit.

Today we’ll do a bunch of stuff. A talk about Lean Startup, and then, I chose three parts of what a lean startup means; what are the new skills in the toolkit? These new skills change how designers think about their work. We’ve had 35 companies in our 10 week program, and they have had seasoned people, and they’ve told me time and time again that they will never go back.

The focus is on hypothesis recognition, experiment design, and “smallification.”

Lean Startup.

Eric Reiss; he’s the guy who came up with the idea of lean startup. He made it to the cover of Inc magazine; he wasn’t always that well presented. I want to talk about a few things that lean startup isn’t. it is not cheap startup. There are lean startups spending truckloads of cash, but they are spending it efficiently. It also doesn’t mean fast. It’s not the easy way to do a startup. The easy way is to get money and build an idea. And then it sucks, and everyone’s unhappy. The best way is to run experiments to find out if I deserve any more. You find out that your original idea was wrong, but in interesting ways, and you find your way to the best product market fit.

It’s also not shortcut startup. It requires that you get out of the building, and do user research. It’s mandating that you do user research, and you do it continually in the cycle. And that you do it over and over and so it becomes a way of life. Isn’t that what we always wanted?

It’s not low ambition. It doesn’t say I’m going to make a little thing, and be OK with that little thing. The little things are in service to a higher vision, and that will create massive global change, with economic value on the other side.

It’s not the opposite of fat startup. It’s about efficiency, and innovation accounting.

This is Steve Blank. He’s the guy that created customer development. Steve says “Get out of the building.” It’s his mantra, and what’s amazing about this is that you shouldn’t rely on your own gut idea. Go learn about humans, and develop empathy. It’s generative research, it’s contextual inquiry. Out there you have acolytes who are following Steve Blank and Eric Reiss, asking if they are doing customer research. When I found out there was a business community that evangelized research with stupid t-shirts? Those guys get it, and they get it in a way I’ve never seen in 20 years of working in industry. I’m on fire; the opportunity for change and impact is greatest when you have alignment in the belief systems in your companies.

You no longer have to persuade people of the right way to do things. I want to get the people that want to do this to the people that are really good at doing this. Get out of the building.

Steve Blank introduced Customer Development in, uh, 2006. He’s a professor at Stanford, and he’s a very warm and wonderful man. Epiphany was a big hit; he realized why his companies failed. He called it four steps. Customer discovery, customer validation, customer creation, and company building. The first two phases are about finding product/market fit. This is a reinvention of user-centered design practice, from a different point of view. There’s a little skew on it. Instead of asking questions about needs and what people do, their more interesting in finding out what marketing messages would be best. Suddenly, everyone’s talking the same language, and you’re all valuing that. Let’s talk more about what he means.

4 Steps to The Epiphany was a collection of his lecture notes, and so it’s a terrible read. No one finishes it. I asked a room of 500 people, and like 7 people read the whole thing. So Patrick Vlaskovitz and Brant Cooper rationalized it and made a shorter, more useful book. They laid out these ideas in a more accessible book, at http://www.custdev.com. What I want you to note about this is how similar it is to what we do for a living.

Problem solution fit is “understand people and their needs.” Proposed MVP is sketching. The proposed funnel is the onboarding process. These are things we’ve spent decades learning to do well.

The thing to know is that as designers, we can say “I’ve been doing that all along, none of that is new.” And we’re right. Everyone tells Eric the same thing. No matter who he’s talking to, he says “None of them knew about it…” Now everyone else can come along too. The words customer development, there’s nothing I can do to get rid of the phrase. People you work with will call it this, even if you call it UCD. All we have to do is connect the dots so our language matches. Customer development, as if I could develop customers. Steve used this language because he was trying to challenge “product development” being software. You also have to develop your customers; he meant “develop empathy for your customers.” He was presuming there would be a department called a customer development department. It hasn’t worked out that way.

When I first encountered this, I went out to lunch with a few VC colleagues, coincidentally, they asked me to figure out a design program for their portfolio companies. Design is increasingly realized as being important. I was introduced by a mutual friend, and I had always poo-pooed lean startup. Pivot, whatever, we called is changing strategy. MVP? You mean, a prototype? Shut up. I was really eye rolling about it. Boy, was I wrong. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

During my exploration, after being prompted by Rob and Mitch, I was introduced to this kid, who was 18, deferred Stanford enrollment, and was thinking about all sorts of other things. We were going to lunch so he could advise me. He laid out what customer development meant; his name is max marmer. From then on, it was like. “Holy crap. This changes my life.” It was very humbling. I like to think I’m a little famous? Turns out, not really.

I can’t draw, just like other people, but I had to understand the idea, so I had to make a drawing of it.

Customer development demands that, when you have an idea for a startup, ask who is it for? What can they do with it that wasn’t possible before? What features do they need? How do those features fit together? I mapped them to things I knew. Personas, design targets, concept drawings, 2×2. This is what we do.

It says fake it, and then make it. This means usability testing. Awesome, still on the same page.

How do you know if you’re right? This is one of the things we can work on today. Designers are culturally, subtly, told that they need to be right the first time. If you aren’t right the first time, your design sucks. It doesn’t suck. It’s probably fine for a situation. How does the person casting judgment know? We’re all judging these things from our gut, and what we need to do is judge them based on evidence. We change the role of design from “selling in” and “managing stakeholders” to solving the more important customer problem to identifying if the thing you made solves the problem enough.

We’re making attempts to solve the most important problems. It’s a really different way to think about the problem. I would bring a wireframe to a client and say “This is a hypothesis I’m working with right now.”

And then you have a different kind of conversation about it.

You are looking for product/market fit. Once you start collecting evidence through qualitative and quantitative means, you realize you have to go through this a few times before you get it right. Now we have permission and the requirement to do iterative design. Then, you finally get it right and move on. But you also ask other questions. People say “I want to have a seat at the strategic table.” Problem solving. You have to decide if you are solving a high value problem. Will someone pay? Who are the market stakeholders, and the other players in the market? How does the money flow? This is all strategic, and it’s all design. This may not be about optimizing an interface or making it beautiful, but I think it’s core of design.

All of this says, it doesn’t matter how beautiful it is, let’s solve the right problem first.

So the catch with lean startup, this is what makes it not fast startup; you’ll find that the answer to these questions is sometimes no. Maybe there’s no way to make money off it. Maybe it’s Napster and you are stealing someone’s idea. It can be an awesome thing, but if it’s not viable, you have to go back to the drawing board. A pivot is where you change your tactics without changing your vision.

A pivot can set you back a year. But that’s OK. It’s unassailable logic. It’s absolutely rational. You prioritize their needs, and solve for their highest value needs, and you make sure money flows in the situation comfortably. I can’t think of any flaw in that process. It demands the talents we have as designer, and embeds them in the highest levels of decision making. If you want permission to launch your solutions into the real world, and you want to be a strategic player in the player, become a designer co-founder of a startup. Full stop.

I talked about product/market fit a few times. There’s kind of litmus test that is an approximation of this. It means when you’ve created a product that represents a high value problem and the product you’ve created is beloved by the people you’ve made it for. The test is, say you have a small number of users. If half of those people would be very unhappy if your product went away, you can claim to have product/market fit. Relatively small number, really unhappy. We aren’t talking about a perfect product. That gives you permission to move into optimizing, making it perfect, delivering on the bigger vision. What you are asking for at each stage is permission to move to the next step. And until you have permission to move to the next step, you keep working on.

There are little stop signs at each stage, and you stop until you have the stage right. And then you move on. And you stop there until you get it right. And if you don’t have it right, you may have to go back and start again.

Eric Reis’ first blog post was three and a half years ago. He took four steps. Make products customers want, and combine it with agile development. It tells you why agile works and what it’s for. It’s a very important book for us to read, because we need to develop empathy for our developer colleagues. It’s a brilliant book. Reduce the batch side. The Toyota Way, fundamental to the lean manufacturing movement: it’s about eliminating waste.

Make something customers want, release in small batches and do experiments, and remove waste. It’s unassailable logic.

The lean startup book debuted at #2 on the New York times best seller list. He’s an EIR at the Harvard Business School. He costs $30,000 to book for a keynote address at a conference; it’s the real deal, it’s really happening. And he now has a much better stylist.

Build, Measure, Learn. It’s a cycle, and then build the next thing. Optimize for cycle time, not on-budget, on-plan delivery. This is really similar to the UX cycle of think, make, check – which I was taught by Mike Kuniavsky, 12 years ago. But Eric, being a developer, started with build. And Mike, being a designer, started with think. Developers who don’t write code feel unproductive. Designers who work so fast feel unfinished. We want to optimize for cycle time. The principle that I emphasize is flow.

I don’t care where you start; we want to flow through the cycle again and again, and it’s by going through the process of making a hypothesis and testing it, adapting based on our learning, it’s this kind of build/measure/learn, or think/make/check.

The work we’ve done is invalidated effort. Time is across the x axis. We do thinking, and we make things, and then we revise them, and then we release it, and we do usability testing, and we release, and so on. We never pay down the risk, because we never know if it’s a successful launch. We make things without validating if they are the right things to make.

The alternative is to pay down the risk of think/make/check; you pay down the risk with a measurement. I’m going to imagine a feature my customer will want. I’ll make the smallest thing to validate it, and I’ll do the evaluation to know if it works. I never build risk. We’re constantly de-risking; we move forward with lots of confidence. On-time, on-budget delivery of a project plan; we’re just guessing.

Make the right product. User, leads to Needs, to uses, and to features. Then, we get to user stories and themed releases. I always want whatever code is being written, pixels being made into prettiness, to have a rational story back up to humans in the real world with real needs. I know the ten points in pivotal              tracker connect to the most important customer problem to solve, and I know it because we’ve been talking to customers all the way along.

Victory is measured in learning. If you learn something important about customer needs and who will pay for what, you’ve made progress. This will change about how you think about your role, your work, your team, and your process.

I get asked for a mythical unicorn who can do UX, visual design, research, and development. I want a rock star designer. The answer is no you don’t. You want the beginning of a department, or a person you can build a department around. You want a curious person who will develop new ideas. We’re at the beginning of the evolution of our discipline. We’re bringing experimentation into the practice. You want a curious person to help create the processes to solve world problems.

“You need to think like a scientist”

7 habits of highly effective startup designers.

  1. Ideate with friends. Exactly three friends, not four, because four doubles the talking you do.
  2. Go broad. Come up with ten ideas, so you have thirty. Get more, better ideas. It doesn’t matter if the idea comes out first or last.
  3. Say “Tell me about this one.” I’m not rejecting your idea; I’m committed to understanding what you mean.
  4. Ask “Who has the decision”?
  5. Make informed, albeit arbitrary decisions. Get as much information as you can, but accept that you just have to decide. Inaction will kill your company. Not launching will kill your web company more than anything else. I know this because I did it. It’s embarrassing.
  6. Prove it. Ask how we know this. Do we need to prove it? How risky is it if we don’t?
  7. Question perfection. I think it is awesome that when a designer is asked to launch something that is imperfect, it makes them a little nauseous. It makes them physically ill, and it’s a good thing. It’s wonderful that you care. It’s a good thing. But know when it’s the right time. There’s a humility, and there’s a good time for perfection and a bad time. The reason I lost 800,000$ of my investors’ money is because it was never good enough. I was too embarrassed. If you aren’t embarrassed by your first product release, you waited too long.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Conference Notes, Methods, Reflection, Startups, Theory | Leave a comment