Disciplines of Product Design

I’m taking a break from the monotony of the work I am doing this week to take a short course on Product Design with May Kim. Below is her definitions of each discipline contained within product design, a common first step in introductory courses. As time goes on these type of labels have less meaning and in some ways too restrictive – but people like identifying themselves in a certain way and organisations like formal roles.

User Research: User research places people at the center of your design process and your products. It is used to inspire and inform your designs, to evaluate your solutions, and to measure the impact of your design.

User Experience (UX) Design: User experience design, or UX design, is a human-first way of designing products, putting the user at the center and creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences to users. This involves improving a product’s usability, accessibility, and the pleasure people will get from using it.

User Interface (UI) Design: User interface design, or UI design, is about translating a brand to a product’s interface, visually guiding the user with interactive elements across all sizes and platforms. This includes a mix of visual hierarchy and interface elements — the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a product.

Visual Design: Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent and it aims to shape and improve the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, color, shapes, typography, space, and layouts on the usability of products and their aesthetic appeal.

Interaction (IxD) Design: Interaction design, or IxD, is concerned with the way people interact with products and services. It considers how the user is interacting with the product, how the product responds to the user’s input.
May Kim

Further Reading:

User Research: What it is and why you should do it, by Ditte Mortenson
A Process for Empathetic Product Design, by Jon Kolko
User Experience (UX) Design
The Definition of User Experience (UX), by Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen
The Difference between UX and UI Design – a Layman’s Guide, by Emil Lamprecht
The Building Blocks of Visual Design, by Teo Siang
Visual Design
Interaction Design
What is Product Design?, by Geoff House

Learning something new

We all begin our lives with a limited amount of practical knowledge, so it’s our job to teach ourselves as much as possible. Those who fail to do so will quickly fall behind! So, set yourself the goal of learning one new thing every day, even if it’s just something you heard on the radio. Then put this new piece of knowledge to use as soon as you can. By learning new things within the area of your specialty each day, you’ll be one step closer to achieving excellence.

You can also learn from those around you. Find your reference group – a network of people who share your values – and spend time with them. Their accomplishments will lift you up, too.

From The Psychology of Selling

Taichung Port Hero’s Marathon Results

Results from last Sunday’s marathon. Generally I am more than pleased with the results.

It had been over a year since I ran a marathon, the last one was in Xiamen and while I managed to complete with body intact I suffered due to heat and pain in my feet. I haven’t been able to run seriously in any races since. The winter I spent training for a race in Thailand, but understandably my training was lackluster and I backed out at the last minute. Other races scheduled throughout last fall had to be cancelled or trotted through due to injury.

I started running a bit over 4 years ago, run 4 marathons and numerous other races, and have consistently suffered through a host of injuries ever since. My mind, heart and lungs have been willing, but the rest of my body not. This summer past with extremely painful feet, and pain near my knee (platter fasciitis and IT band injuries) I decided to stop running and fix my problems once and for all. I developed a program after consulting a physiotherapist and after over 6 months of almost daily training it paid off.

I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for race day – cold at start, clear skies and a generally flat course. My goal for this race was simply to finish without injury or pain, and it went exactly as planned. Slow pace but it was comfortable until the last 5k which required some mental gymnastics. Unfortunately I had my first bought of stomach issues forcing a 5+ minute pitstop at a normally I wouldn’t enter toilet.

Otherwise I didn’t experience the common lack of energy that occurs during the tail end of a long run. The whole race was fueled by fat and I wasn’t hungry after the race. Carb loading not required. Recovery time was quick.

Now that I know what is required for me to get strong and continue running faster and longer events, I’m looking forward to participating in other races. The challenge will be to try and pair down the often 3+ hours of training into something more manageable with my upcoming schedule.

In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run.
Seth Godin

Street Food in Hsinchu

A street side shop specialising in lamb with noodles, rice or as soup.

I’m not a lover of lamb so would not have eaten at this street side shop in Hsinchu but it’s a very typical scene in the downtown area at night. Taken about 14 years ago when I used to still have my street photography hobby.

Science Park Life Hub to Taipei Bus Station Schedule


I’m posting this as a reminder that the bus from ZhuKe to Taipei leaves every hour, not half hour as I had thought. In the past couple of weeks I’ve arrived at all the wrong times to catch the bus to Taipei. The last time I arrived in time but I had the misfortune of being behind someone who was buying tickets seemingly for the next year at specific dates and times, and naturally would think to ask if I would like to purchase a single ticket before him. With this schedule now firmly in my mind, I hopefully wont make the same mistake again.

Otherwise taking the bus to Taipei is far less stressful than driving and more convenient than trekking out to the HSR.

Chunking data

Most who have done any study or practice in Information Architecture or design understands the importance of proper chunking of data. This relates to UI elements as way, and has brought forth the often cited chestnut that people cannot hold more than 4-6 items in working memory at one time. You need to break down information and have a thorough understanding of memory to make a good product. From 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People:

Every second of every waking moment, your subconscious is dealing with roughly 40 billion pieces of information. However, only 40 percent of this information makes it to your conscious brain. What makes certain knowledge stick, then? Your brain is only capable of processing information in bite-sized chunks. Therefore, if you’re ever conveying information – whether in a presentation or an ad – make sure you don’t provide too much at once.So how much should you provide?Studies have found that four is the magic number. Obviously, it’s not always a viable option to provide information in chunks of four, but it’s always a good idea to split up whatever you’re trying to communicate into groups that contain no more than four elements.

The above is obvious, but I don’t remember seeing this issue as it’s framed below:

Your brain routinely decides what to remember and what to forget. Human forgetfulness is especially helpful when it comes to product design. If you design with forgetfulness in mind, you’ll make sure to include the important information, weaving it into the design or making it easy for people to look up.

Designing with the knowledge that your customers will forget, seems like a good UX strategy to think about when you go about creating your product.

Chunghwa Telecom vs. Rogers Data Plan

“All you can eat data for 699”

I got the above ad in my emailbox last week and with an impending move to Canada, comparisons ensued.

The offer from ChungHwa is par for the course in Taiwan, all you can use data, a countrywide wifi network, plus a free Android tablet for 699NT$ ($30CAN). Voice calling is available for a fee in the plan but few would use such a service as many prefer to using apps to for voice. This offer uses Chunghwa’s 4G network which would might be the slower of their networks offered here, but comparable to what you would find in Canada.

Rogers has a confusing array of plans so I recorded those which seems to be the most comparable.

The above is the current offer(s) from Rogers. All of the Rogers plans focus on complex rules in order to gain more revenue from fees, which are already the highest I have ever seen anywhere. No simple flat rate pricing. With Rogers you get 100mb for $10 CAN, which would should cover those who check email once a month, and $20/2 Gig afterwards. I assume like parking lot swindles, they charge you for the full amount even if only slightly over. You pay for a tablet or device separately. The second plan gives you 5 Gigs for $60, with a similar over use fee. Particularly amusing is their framing of the light and heavy plans.

When I move to Canada this summer I am expecting a 3 fold increase in fees on my mobile plan. The plan itself will be on a slower network with severe data caps. I’m going to miss the freedom that mobile plans in Asia provide.

Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?
Quick or smart? by Seth Godin

An engineer who founded the popular bulletin board system PTT said that current working conditions in Taiwan, especially in the tech industry, stifle innovation.

“Once people are bogged down by work, they lose their creativity,” Tu said, pointing to the long hours, low wages and hierarchical structure at many Taiwanese companies that prevent people from having real life experiences which are the key to being inspired to create software.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s education system does not foster innovation, Tu said, saying that such a system emphasizes the right, standard answer instead of being more critical and asking questions.
Therefore, most of the engineers he has seen at local companies are rigid, afraid to voice their opinions and do whatever their bosses tell them to do.
Artificial intelligence could be Taiwan’s niche in the world

In user experience design (UX) research, we think a lot about mental models — how a user believes a process works vs. the system model of how it was actually designed; and framing — the context in which an interaction is interpreted. In essence, your satisfaction within an experience can depend a lot on your initial expectations.

For new employees, the expectation we need to set is that while the initial learning curve is steep, the on-boarding process actually never ends nor does it move in a predictably straight line.
The UX explanation for why you hate your new job after three months

Companies should approach new hires with the same vigorous approach they have, or wish to have, with product development. People aren’t software but understanding each new hire, and their needs and expectations, to the extent that you know the users of you product would go along way to producing happy talent. And happy talent has a whole slew of side benefits. Unfortunately, to my knowledge this is seldom done in Taiwanese or Chinese companies.

Making it hard

As someone who has decades of experience on the web, I hate to compare myself to the tortoise, but hey, if it fits, it fits. Let’s be more like that tortoise: diligent, direct, and purposeful. The web needs pockets of slowness and thoughtfulness as its reach and power continues to increase. What we depend upon must be properly built and intelligently formed. We need to create space for complexity’s important sibling: nuance. Spaces without nuance tend to gravitate towards stupidity. And as an American, I can tell you, there are no limits to the amount of damage that can be inflicted by that dangerous cocktail of fast-moving-stupid.

The web also needs diligent people so that the idea of what the web is and what it does remains legible to everyone. This applies to being able to read the systems and social environments the web creates so we know what’s real and what’s not, but the call for legibility should also humbly apply to writing legible code and designs systems that are easy for nearly anyone to interpret thanks to their elegance. That important work has a place, too.
Everything is Hard Again, by Frank Chimero

I got my start 22 years ago crafting together websites using simple bites of mark-up language, dollops of drop shadowed graphics, and later simple interactions, readable typography, and fluid layouts.

Welcome to my corner of the WWW

I’ve spent the last number of years far more focused on software, in roles more akin to user research than design, and as I plan a return to designing for the web sometime this summer, I am surprised at the complexity that confronts me. The similarities to developing for iOS are too striking. It feels like the days when I alone could deploy a website without the help of an engineer are gone. Or at least without the talents of said engineer. The consummate web designer must be rarer professional today than in the past (does the title even exist any more?). I thought a self initiated project would suffice to bring me up to speed, with maybe time for a short course on PHP, but to my surprise I may need to devote serious effort to just creating what I thought would be far more straight forward by now. To manage this complexity I’ll likely follow a path similar to Frank Chimero and forget the dazzle dazzle and just focus on clean simple communication.

Analog still works best

My desk is usually filled with paper and pencils. Using a computer is a last resort.

Despite the preliferation of digital devices which attempt to mimic analog tools I still find no interface as immediate and friction free as pen and paper. I find the computer, no matter if PC, Mac or iOS presents too many barriers and distractions which inhibit productivity. I use my Mac as a tool of execution, not as a tool for thinking, visual or otherwise.

What The Screen Time Experts Do With Their Own Kids

For the kids, since they started school, the rule is “no media on weekdays.” They unplug at family dinner and before bed. They have a family movie night on Fridays, which is an example of the principle Radesky touts in her research, of “joint media engagement,” or simply sharing screen time.

On weekends, they allow the kids cartoons, apps and games like Minecraft. But more than just limiting time, says Radesky, “I try to help my older son be aware of the way he reacts to video games or how to interpret information we find online.” For example, she tries to explain how he is being manipulated by games that ask him to make purchases while playing.

Interruption is Not Collaboration

Hey, are you busy? Can you listen to this real quick? It’s an episode about interruptions in the workplace. You’ll hear from academic researchers, Basecamp’s head data wrangler, and the CEO of a remote company about how they’ve tackled not just the disruptions themselves, but also the workplace culture that allows those intrusions to flourish.

Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.
Jean Baudrillard, Simulacrum and Simulacra

Old Pay Phone UI

Old payphone. I love the lack of balance and spacing affects the key input. Bad typography in this case adds character.

The introduction of a new payment method added a whole other layer of complexity to an already learned interface. The solution was a lots of labels and instructions. Missing from this view is the coin payment slot which is at the top.

On working out

I wrote this in a locally themed forum in response to some discussion about using machines or free weights for resistance training. As is often the case the person who posted the topic hadn’t wanted this discussion, but people wanted to educate her to the proper way to gain strength and form. As is also often the case my response didn’t directly address the topic at hand, was uninteresting, and was more suited to a personal blog post.

I think it’s great to do any exercise routine using whatever tools you feel comfortable with and/or have at your disposal. In terms of time and effect, I think most people I see in gyms would be better served with body weight training, but perhaps they like having a place to go and hang out.

I’m 50 and recovering from injuries due to over-training. I’m thin, “in-shape”, but certain areas of my body are far weaker than the others due to age and the effects of sitting at a desk for 20+ years. At the time of my injury one side of my body reportedly was stronger than the other – out of balance in physiotherapy parlance. I constructed my current training regime on the advice of my physiotherapist and consulting with coaches. I currently spend about 2 – 3 or more hours everyday training.

I spend the majority of this time running, followed very closely by body weight training, then flexibility and weight training.

When I started with weight training I focused entirely with machines. I wanted to take things slow and be cautious. Free weights bring in to play a whole range of muscles which I chose to focus first with simple body weight movements. Yoga moves strengthen stabilizing muscles far better than any machine I have at my disposal. Now as I have spent the past months focusing on technique I spend my time at the gym with the bar, or adding weight to BWM. When doing leg presses with a machine I was moving a tremendous amount of weight. With correct form I was getting a decent workout with little or no weight on the bar with squats. For me, I can instantly feel the difference. Doing a simple squat feels almost like a complete workout for me, and in many ways is the perfect exercise. I started working out at the same time as another group of people. They took it slow and supported each other. Their gains are impressive, with some of the women squatting serious weight. They look great.

I still use machines, one gym provides equipment for a decent hip abduction/adduction set, but most machines I find provide for completely unnatural movements. Natural movements are key to achieve my goals.

Who is this kid? My son wakes up at 5am to be at swimming practice at 5:30. After an 1 1/2hr of practice he is home for breakfast. After breakfast he sits and works on his science project. After an hour, he decides to go play basketball with his friends. After an hour passes on the court he comes home to ride his bike to work on a group project with his classmates. He has another swimming practice at 4. Amazing boy.

Why do I continue to publish here?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I spend my time, or more accurately how I waste it. As I get older I more keenly realize just how much time I have left to devote to the things that have value to me. What return do I get by spending 30+ minutes reading news, blogs, Strava and Facebook over my morning coffee? Other than activating the reward center of my brain, via kudos, hearts or likes, it turns out not much (in the case of news, the stupidity of American politics likely causes a health decline).

The hours I spend running, body weight and weight training everyday, is a wise investment for now and for my future self. But while I wouldn’t attempt to equate the two, the same cannot be said of social media.

I’ve not deleted my accounts but have eliminated most of the time I spend on social sites, Facebook in particular (I still have a lot of automated scripts running that post what I read to twitter).

So why do I still publish a blog? I like owning my data, it’s why I resisted Flicker for so long, and one of the reasons why I self-hosted and spent countless hours learning MovableType in the first place. But that’s not the base reason.

In Contagious: Why Things Catch on, Jonah Berger approaches this question from a product development perspective, in the book he examines what makes a product, idea or behavior more likely to be shared among many people. Roughly he states that sharing certain things makes us look good to others, that we gain a lot of pleasure from sharing, that it can cause us to feel good indirectly – by making us look good. I’m always uncomfortable when I realize that I may follow base human behavior.

Considering that the returning readership to this blog has declined to a handful or less, it’s interesting to consider which of his six key steps that drive people to talk and share I subscribe to:

  • Social currency:, It’s all about people talking about things to make themselves look good, rather than bad
  • Triggers, which is all about the idea of “top of mind, tip of tongue.” We talk about things that are on the top of our heads.
  • Ease for emotion: When we care, we share. The more we care about a piece of information or the more we’re feeling physiologically aroused, the more likely we pass something on.
  • Public: When we can see other people doing something, we’re more likely to imitate it.
  • Practical value: Basically, it’s the idea of news you can use. We share information to help others, to make them better off.
  • Stories, or how we share things that are often wrapped up in stories or narratives.
  • Knowledge @ Wharton

One or more of these reasons may have been the impetus to start publishing a blog, or personal site, many years ago. There was a tremendous amount of talk after they became popularized about building a professional profile, which may have been some influence as well, but these days it’s as much a habit as anything else. The habit of learning, reflecting, practicing, sharing and teaching should be apart of my professional and non-professional life. So for this excuse I’ll make this my one social media outlet, my echo chamber, where I keep the public data counterpoint to my regular private personal diary writing and Evernote data dump.