Product experience is about the quality of tangibility. The fundamental concept to embrace when you design a service is that perceived quality is defined by the gap between what people expect and what they actually experience.
Service Design:From Insight to Implementation

The struggle of process

Have you heard the story of the architect from Shiraz who designed the world’s most beautiful mosque? No one had ever conjured up such a design. It was breathtakingly daring yet well-proportioned, divinely sophisticated, yet radiating a distinctly human warmth. Those who saw the plans were awe-struck.

Famous builders begged the architect to allow them to erect the mosque; wealthy people came from afar to buy the plans; thieves devised schemes to steal them; powerful rulers considered taking them by force. Yet the architect locked himself in his study, and after staring at the plans for three days and three nights, burned them all.

The architect couldn’t stand the thought that the realized building would have been subject to the forces of degradation and decay, eventual collapse or destruction by barbarian hordes. During those days and nights in his study he saw his creation profaned and reduced to dust, and was terribly unsettled by the sight. Better that it remain perfect. Better that it was never built.

The story is a fable, but its main idea — that a thing’s ideal state is before it comes into existence, that it is better to not be born — is equal parts terrifying and uncanny, especially today, when progress and productivity are practically worshiped

From the NYT: Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination, I see this as much a parable on the struggle of taking great concepts, perfecting and delivering them so that they stand over a length of time. Or perhaps the emotional turmoil that issues when you realise that they idea you have, will never exist in it’s idealised form.

Robert Hoekman Jr.’s User Experience Tenet 1

“User experience is the net sum of every interaction a person has with a company, be it marketing collateral, a customer service call, or the product or service itself. It is affected by the company’s vision and the beliefs it holds and its practices, as well as the service or product’s purpose and the value it holds in a person’s life.”
Robert Hoekman Jr.’s Tenet 1

This is an old one, the idea that every interaction with a company or it’s service is part of the product, part of the experience. I used to talk about this extensively years ago when introducing UX to nonpractictioners, especially when considering how every interaction was important for us to consider (at that time it was about spending time on the experience of getting support). I used to spend time analysing various experiences I had with services and how the really great ones, that I still 13 years later can remember, at every step seemed considered, thoughtful, and almost perfect. I’m sure most could come up with a few great examples.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the hiring practices of companies in Taiwan and China, and how that reflects on their culture. How could companies so financially committed to design, totally neglect this part of their experience?

Cabin Fever


I’m very much the classic introvert, I love to talk and discuss all kinds of things, love being around people, but at any party, or room full of people, unless necessary, I would never naturally gravitate towards the centre. My voice doesn’t boom and I don’t seek out the attention of others (to a fault – you need to sell yourself). Often this is called shyness, or more rudely anti-social. I just explain that I like to be quiet, listen to, and observe others. Qualities I think also coincidently are good when being concerned with design.

I love my time alone and one of the benefits of being an avid runner is that I often get at least an hour everyday to recharge my mind, body and think through various situations or problems. Walking during lunch has the same or similar benefits, and I believe also improves a persons ability to think creatively. Unfortunately, creative ability hasn’t been in demand in Taiwan these last few years, and so I have no real proof of it’s effects. No correlation, or A/B test.

Being alone here is a state of mind, a perpetual choice, and an occasional imposition, a burden, and a gift — and sometimes the very best way to meet a fellow stranger. “Every form of human expressiveness is on display,” Vivian Gornick writes of walking the streets by herself, “and I am free to look it right in the face, or avert my eyes if I wish.”

But though I love my alone time, these days I am amazed at how strong the effects of being constantly alone have been on me. It’s feels like being stuck in a cabin in the woods in winter.

I left Taiwan over 3 weeks ago, part of that time has been spent in Hong Kong and Fuzhou, places teeming with people. These last 12 days have been spent at the company campus, where they had placed me (dumped) just before the long holiday. The campus is isolated, and though the facilities are first class, there is absolutely nothing to see or do. And no one to talk to or run in to. I think this just might be the first time in my life that I have felt being lonely for any significant period of time.

I don’t seek people out, I am terrible at striking up conversations with strangers and I am happy exploring a strange city alone. I don’t seek out political discourse with opinionated cab drivers or boozy bonding with locals over beers into the wee hours. By the time the hours get wee, I’m usually in bed in my hotel room …

Being away from family is a contributor (attachment theory), and all of the support system I have built in Taiwan over the past 17+ years. People are generally friendly here, in a different way than in Taiwan, they just naturally assume you speak Chinese and go from there. People in Taiwan don’t often greet you, and will not often speak for fear of a misunderstanding.

The effects have been noticeable, with a more general gloomy outlet and decreased productivity. It’s nothing serious, if anything it’s disappointing.

I’ve often dreamed of having an extended period of time alone where I could focus on getting things done. This was a small part of the motivation to come to China in the first place. Focus now so that later we might reap some kind of reward. When in music we would call it woodshedding, and I would often tell stories of how my trumpet instructor spent a long period of time in cabin alone relearning to play his instrument. He came back renewed and a new musician.

Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to work with me. Without some kind of social activity, or the inspiration of colleagues, the pressures of public failure, I don’t seem to function at 100%. There aren’t even many distractions here, during the day the connection to the outside work (VPN) is all but unusable.

Like many experiences this has been a great learning experience and a reminder of the importance of getting out and being around people. And the importance of having people nearby you to inspire and push you to do more things.

Dave Gray on prototyping

I haven’t seen prototyping represented this way before – it’s a neat model. Taken from Prototyping – A Practitioner’s Guide by Todd Zaki Warfel

Practice makes perfect. Champion sports teams practice constantly. Zen masters will tell you that the only way to achieve enlightenment is practice. Practice is at the very root of learning. As you practice, you learn, and as you learn, you improve.

When you prototype, you allow your design, product, or service to practice being itself. And as its maker, you learn more about your designs in this way than you ever could in any other way.

So make prototypes and break them, test them and learn from them, model your ideas when they are still in their infancy, and continue to make and break them throughout the design process. Trial and error and continuous re nement—this is the way we learn as children and continue to learn as adults.

And let’s not forget this: Prototyping is fun! It’s a playful, social way to develop your ideas. It’s in direct opposition to “design in a vacuum” or “design in an ivory tower.” It’s design with and for people. It’s play. And play, like practice, is a learning activity. Play is a rehearsal for life.

Dave Gray
Founder and Chairman of Xplane

Staying in after the typhoon

The army was out for the clean-up sporting all new equipment. From the chainsaws to the large tractors, everything looked fresh off the assembly line.

The army was out for the clean-up sporting all new equipment. From the chainsaws to the large tractors, everything looked fresh off the assembly line.

Typhoon Meradi arrived across the Taiwan Strait and brought with it high winds and flooding. Work was cancelled and the highway to ChangLe closed, so there was no moving to my more settled location. I spent the day indoors reading, the upside to not having Internet or interest in work.

Staying in all day wasn’t by choice, though by yesterday morning the typhoon had subsided, the flooding it caused resulted in water outside my door that was just below my waist. Not knowing the street and what might be under my feet I heeded the advice of the security guard and stayed in. I’ve lived through typhoons many times in Taiwan and we are usually quite prepared. This time I wasn’t. I hadn’t known how serious the flooding is here and that I wouldn’t be able to get to a store or restaurant for food.

So here I was in my room with 700ml of water, 4 bananas, and a small bag of almonds, wondering how long the flooding would last, and wishing I knew how to swim.

Company HR never got in touch during this time, to let me know about work closures, weather or if my meetings with them were cancelled during the day. It’s been obvious for a while that despite individually being nice people, that they have no systems in place for dealing with foreign hires. Luckily I reached out to them and my contacts to see what was going on.

There was running water that I could double boil. I had enough water and food to survive of course, and it’s nothing compared to the struggles of others, but in talking to the security guard I lamented that I hadn’t prepared well, and that I hadn’t eaten. So he gave me one of his dried packages of noodles to eat. And later in the evening showed up at my door with a hot lunch box. Fantastic guy! The cleaning lady kept me abreast of the weather situation. They were the bright points of my day.

Looking outside my window I see people busily starting to clean up all the sludge and garbage that remains. Strangely, despite it being on all day yesterday and though the storm, there is no water today.

Like going back in time

I prepared as much as I thought wise before I came here, I had considered downloading whole websites that have sources I constantly refer to, but settled with a fat Evernote database and a collection of essential reading. Of course I set up multiple VPN’s including one at home, which has since failed, and purchased a Hong Kong/China voice and data card that connects through Hong Kong. This is in part an effort to be able to perform my work effectively, as China search engines and sources are notoriously bad.

But habits die hard, and I’ve found myself constantly trying to access bits of data at times when most means are slow or fail. Everyone complains about it, it’s ridiculed in the western media, but coming from an always connected society, where you are free to access whatever you want, to constant widespread censorship is jarring and frustrating. The infrastructure is poor too, what good is a VPN if the pipe is small?

Many years ago I was in awe when I first dialled long distance into Delphi in Boston from Toronto. Watching that information flow in via a 9600 or 14.4k Baud modem was like magic. I was able to connect with people all over the world, share information, and learn about their local music scenes. I also started selling brass equipment via email (I was a small shadow to the enormously successful Equipment List in Montreal, that was started around the same time).

Each connection I get to the outside world now is very similar, with only seemingly a slight increase in speed.

On the bright side, perhaps being disconnected from the world, will bring about greater focus on matters at hand, and I can set up some system to slowly download news in the background, similar to what we used to do at work 19 years ago at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Edit (10/03): I can’t understate how short sighted and frustrating this is. I don’t know how knowledge workers have managed to stay in this country and get anything done. I’m not trying to watch videos on Youtube (which is allowed here) or post to Facebook, I’m trying to download ebooks and listen to a lecture, in an effort to do my job. Hours lost.

Now in Fuzhou

Many of the streets in this district of Fuzhou are lined with mature trees.

Many of the streets in this district of Fuzhou are lined with mature trees.

I arrived in Fuzhou, Fujian via Hong Kong a few days ago for a work opportunity, a change which has been in the works since November of last year. This has involved the longest, most convoluted hiring process I have ever heard of. I plan on writing something down about the whole on-boarding experience after it has reached some sort of conclusion. I haven’t actually started working yet, and won’t for another couple weeks as HR goes through the process of making everything legal. Why in my case this takes so long hasn’t been communicated to me.

Its bit of an adventure, one in which I thought I needed. It’s difficult to move to a strange country alone, start a new job, and make your way. I thought this might be one of my last chances for this kind of personal growth before we head back to the quiet of Prince Edward Island. Being away from family makes it much more difficult.

Arriving in any strange place the first order of business is shelter and food. The company took care of the shelter part, and I have set out to find something edible. An HR rep. did graciously treat me to lunch/dinner, after hearing I hadn’t eaten all day. It was a delicious meal of dumplings and winter melon soup.

I’m not fanatical about it but I do have a strict dietary regime, if in Prince Edward Island in summer one should eat Cows Ice Cream and go to Strawberry Socials. But I as a rule don’t eat processed foods, nor do I often eat bread, noodles, rice or deep fried things. I tend to eat simple whole foods make up of vegetables and meat, followed by my indulgence of too much fresh fruit. I love curries but generally like to recognise what I am eating.

Thanks to the news, before landing I had already formed an opinion of the food in China, it’s an overly simplistic view that much of the food here contains some kind of poison. I have towards Taiwan’s food a similar perception but to a lesser degree.

Of course, there is also what I can see with my own eyes. The quality of some of the food I have seen is not that great. The steak, well my initial impression is that I don’t think I’ll be eating any cheap beef anytime soon. So I have been very cautious when trying new things and it’s been difficult finding restaurants that serve food that fit my criteria.

I have had some luck. One of the La Veritas chain restaurants nearby has a salad bar, with lettuce and tomatoes comprising what I consider salad. Chicken and salad bar is a bit expensive by local standards but I found it acceptable. I found a Japanese restaurant in the same building, one of the department stores with poor interior design called WangFuJin, that had food similar to what I find in Taiwan. Subway salads due in a pinch, and there is a Taiwanese style buffet nearby that has some egg dishes I like. My lunches have always been a coffee, lots of nuts and fruit. Imported nuts are expensive here, like everywhere, but at least they can be found.

The biggest problem is breakfasts. I tend to eat eggs, meat, fish or occasionally a home made cereal made from ground nuts. But people here seem to carb load. Lots of bread, noodles, or rice. In Taiwan there are breakfast shops galore, and it’s easy to ask the boss to simply fry you some eggs, if you don’t mind the oil. 7-11 has some ok options – tea eggs, fruit, and even salad. Unfortunately in this area none of this is possible. I haven’t even come across breakfast sandwiches, food that is ubiquitous in Taiwan.

Hopefully this is temporary, and when I move to my new place next week I’ll be able to find food closely resembling what I grew accustomed to in Taiwan and Canada.

Family Photo

family portrait 2016

I generally avoid the camera to about the same degree that I avoid the microphone. Both leave me uneasy as I don’t enjoy the camera and can’t stand the sound of my voice. The effect of which is that most of the photos around our home or in the home of our extended family are ones I have taken of the kids. Few home movies either. It’s unfortunate because we have little record of the passage of time, nothing to share with family who live far away.

Luckily Sheryl finally convinced me this past spring to have a photo session with a photographer and despite my initial inability to take off my art directors cap, many were pleased with the results. The above is one of my favourites due to it’s relative spontaneity.


My habit of sharing content hasn’t changed much over the years but certainly the ways and or the means of which have. Like most people I have gravitated towards Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or other platforms to spread whatever point or message I am trying to get across. It’s easier and we get that satisfaction from ‘numbers‘(likes, hearts, impressions) which have supplanted other forms of feedback.

As I am about to start something new, and though it’s not entirely certain it will happen, or for how long (I’m leaving Taiwan), I am going to start sharing more of my activities here. Partially due to being inspired by a couple other bloggers who have done the same, and partially out of necessity — connecting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be spotty at best.

Outside of work and my own personal diary, I’ve never had much patience for writing, so this might just be very twitter or instagram like in form.

Thats the plan anyway.