Cannot connect to world

Common minecraft error message

This was pretty much a central theme during my time working in China. When you are conditioned to always be connected to the hive mind suddenly losing access made for some adjustment. Ready access to information is central to experience design work today.


Modern laziness
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.

Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.

Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.

Laziness is often an option, and it’s worth labelling it for what it is.
Seth’s Blog


Friction in experience

Escalators at Big City in Hsinchu, Taiwan

Many years ago I did a design study of the shopping experience at the then new IKEA store in Taipei. Their guided approach to shopping was novel to me at the time and in stark contrast to the undesigned experiences I experienced elsewhere.

Most shopping centers follow a similar strategy when dealing with moving customers through-out their space. The escalators force you to walk through the aisles at each floor, or expose you to different stores, thereby exposing you to more product, and there are few short-cuts or direct routes (for fire safety reasons IKEA has somewhat hidden routes that bypass their experience).

This is fine if you come to spend the day inside and you enjoy browsing through the shops in a mall, Taiwanese shopping behavior is often like this, especially on a hot day.

But this design does not accommodate goal directed behavior. When I visit a shopping center it’s for a very specific reason – go to the book store, or sports shops, or see a movie. I might browse within these areas but customers like myself prefer direct paths and don’t appreciate the friction that many shopping centers purposely design for. A great design would accommodate both behaviors, but would it result in increased sales?

Big City in Hsinchu has direct access to the theatre via a long escalator, but to leave requires you to use the stairs. Many instead walk through the jam packed food area.

I haven’t seen any data, but I would guess that this sub-optimal design does result in increased sales. An example of an in optimal experience being best for business.

Escalators at Thai He in Fuzhou, China


Communication, like conversation, isn’t something that we should be optimizing. Communication, whether it’s from a newspaper, a social media platform, or a search engine, is information that we should be able to explore, interrogate, and spend time with. Something that’s sadly missing today.
Did we do something wrong?

Sometimes adding friction allows for a more thoughtful and useful product.


Anytime is TV time

Waiting for an order at a Starbucks in Fuzhou.

Watching a Chinese soap opera while waiting in line for coffee at a Starbucks in China. With all too common use case, even in my household, you miss out on so much of what is happening around you. It’s also creating a generation of patients for physiotherapists. In an age of this kind of media portability I am an extreme edge case. I can stand in line for extended periods of time and simply think and observe.


Imagination is the source of our creativity

Romero Britto designed pig mascot at Fuzhou, Fujian.

Creativity takes imagination one step further and puts it to work – creativity is imagination applied.

Being creative means coming up with original ideas that have value and doing something with those ideas. This is not limited to the arts, but can be in math, engineering, writing or business.

There are two steps to the creative process. The first is generating new ideas and the second is evaluating those idea in order to evaluate, elaborate, refine and maybe ultimately reject them.

Having ideas alone is not enough, these ideas must be applied and evaluated. Of course not all ideas are immediately accepted or celebrated, many will face ridicule or scorn.


Outlier

Standing in line waiting for the clinic to open near GuanXin Rd. in Hsinchu

1 out of 12 seems about a correct ratio for people who would not continuously look at their phone while standing in line here in Hsinchu. I suspect he forgot his.


Social media is not just personally unhealthy, it has become a threat to democracy. The tech companies that give us access to an infinity of information have become all-powerful and morally corrupt. And the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley fosters the development of products that idolize efficiency and greed, points us towards a dystopic future global monoculture. We don’t just hear all this, but we feel it, too. Something is profoundly wrong.

As designers, we are not without some responsibility for this situation. We fought for design to be a strategic partner to business. We developed methods and frameworks that could be incorporated into corporate cultures. And we successfully offered design as a tool that could improve business outcomes. The result was that our work was used by and influenced millions, sometimes even billions, of people. Did we, along the way, stop asking if what we were doing was right?
Did we do something wrong?

I don’t entirely agree with all contained in this quote, it’s all too easy to label large organizations like corporations and governments in an evil abstraction, but much of the essay rings pretty true to me.


A recent day in Hong Kong

I usually stop here for a snack before boarding the airport express train. There is decent snacks and ice cream in the adjacent shopping area.

I spent most of the day yesterday recovering from Tuesday trip to Hong Kong – it was a day of coffee and books. I hadn’t slept much the night before my trip and spent all my time in Hong Kong tramping the streets.

After 19 years of living in Taiwan it’s hard to believe that I still have to do visa runs. Since my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) expired while I was in China this year I haven’t had the time or now the necessity to go through the process, especially since I have been told that the Hong Kong TECO doesn’t do fast tracking of VISA applications anymore. As long as I don’t make a trip to the hospital I should be fine with my current status as interloper.

Of course this is all my own doing. Many long term foreign residents here apply for what is called an APRC, which if you qualify, allows for open work rights. Many are excited about the reduction in friction when its comes to changing jobs, and the elimination of yearly or bi-yearly ARC applications, but I never really saw much in the way of other advantages. Since my wife has only had 2 different jobs over the past 19 years, she didn’t see much benefit to going through what was once a lengthy time consuming process either. Even with an APRC you still face at the very least hassles in acquiring basic services here, like phone, credit cards, and etc.

My time in Hong Kong was spent walking from one side of the island to the other – visiting a couple coffee shops and a number of running pro shops along the way. Hong Kong, like Taipei, has all these interesting narrow alleys where you can discover all kind of interesting slices of city life. There is an advantage to the density of a place like this – you can fit in so much visual information and experience with little physical effort. Try to gain the same experience in Canada and you would be exhausted from the distance traversed.

I have been to Hong Kong many many times. I used to ensure that I visited western food establishments, as Hsinchu of the past didn’t have much in the way of quality food from abroad. That isn’t the case now, and though Hsinchu can’t compete with Hong Kong on selection, its good enough for my tastes. Especially coffee, as Hsinchu has some of the best roasters I have seen anywhere.

One of the many changes I have noticed with Hong Kong can be found in the city’s drug stores, which admittedly is very important. Coming from Canada where the toothpaste aisle overwhelms you with a 100 different types of toothpaste, Taiwans drugstore selection always seemed very limited (lack of choice does reduce anxiety). Things like deodorant, toothpaste, and other products that help keep a man clean and smell free are still lacking in selection. Hong Kong used to be a place I might stock up on these items, but all the shops I visited are now “China-fied” with an over abundance of Chinese medicine, heat rubs and cheap vitamins. I guess the Chinese tourist dollar has spoken.

I always make the same mistake when visiting a place. I try to cover too much ground within a short space of time. I try to experience as much as I can in the little bit of time I have. The result is usually exhaustion. I think for my next trip I’ll simply pick a location to sit, drink coffee, watch the locals and maybe be little bored. That I think might be a great luxury.

Lunch time lineups

Hidden coffee shop


The Cupping Room

A latte from The Cupping Room – Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Good friendly staff and a good respite from the busy streets.

The more I drink coffee elsewhere, the more I appreciate the coffee we have in Hsinchu. 18 years ago it was difficult to find a coffee shop let alone good coffee and now each time I am away I miss the quality we find here. What a change time has brought to this city.


– Dan Shapiro

… courage was more important than confidence. When you are operating out of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.
An interview with Debbie Millman in Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World


    Were all pros already.

  1. We show up every day
  2. We show up no matter what
  3. We stay on the job all day
  4. We are committed over the long haul
  5. The stakes for us are high and real
  6. We accept remuneration for our labor
  7. We do not overidentify with our jobs
  8. We master the technique of our jobs
  9. We have a sense of humor about our jobs
  10. We receive praise or blame in the real world
  11. Steven Pressfield

From the book The War of Art.


To design for experience, we must know what an experience is and how it comes to be. Designers need to understand how interpretation takes place when people interact with products. How do people make sense and meaning of the world? How is the intent of a person shaped by an interaction, and how does the subjective interpretation of the interaction become an experience?

From my notes.


Gaining feedback on software

Gaining feedback on use

A prototype for an audio story telling app.

An iPad reading experience prototype

Early last week we had a session at a local classroom modeling future experiences and testing prototypes for software for iOS that we are working on.


The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding. … the doing is the reward.
Mihaly Csikszentmnihalyi


What I have been up to

Waiting for my order at Starbucks in Fuzhou. It was hard to find good coffee there and I would have to rely on Starbucks for a Latte fix. Unfortunately the milk they use would often cause problems.

I have been back in Hsinchu since July, staying under the radar, as I often do, but have been asked on a number of occasions what I have been doing to keep myself busy. As is also often the case my responses have gone off in all kinds of directions – my conversations are still often like hypertext and it takes effort to focus.

Though it was only official in September, I left NetDragon at the end of June, immediately packed my bags, and got out of Fujian as fast as Cathay would take me. Which as it turned out wasn’t that fast, as I had a layover in Hong Kong. I had been thinking about writing about the experience but I have decided that there is little point in sharing much of the details. If we think of companies as products, like Apple reportedly does, NetDragon ticked all the boxes, the feature list was long, but like so many tech. products the actual experience was poor. Poor to the point that I wasn’t going to achieve what I set out to do. There are some good people there and I worked on some interesting things, but over the long term it just wasn’t worth being away from my family. As I get older I have less patience for wasting my time, our greatest commodity.

Now, I am taking a risk by spending time on pursuing something different. I would like to say that it’s all puppies and pizza but it isn’t. It’s hard, frustrating, and very often boring. Through a combination of books, online courseware, and tutorials I have been spending my days learning programming with Swift. I’ve taken programming classes in the past, worked on apps. in Xcode, and did a lot web development, but with the exception of mark-up languages I was at best a hack. A cut’n’paster. So I am giving myself 4 – 6 months to see how far I can advance with my studies. To be honest I am not making great progress, boring tasks plant the seeds of procrastination, but I’m not ready to quit yet.

Lastly, I started with Sheryl a new company. It’s called Smart Bean, and I see it is as a new kind of family business, with everyone involved in it’s success. It’s akin to stalls at the farmers market, a breakfast shop in Hsinchu, or what younger, more hip people than myself, call a side hustle. When I was a musician we called it surviving. Though it’s my main focus in the months to come we don’t have grand ambitions like so many start-ups you read about in tech blogs. We just want to work hard at something that’s fun to do and hopefully be rewarded with experience and enough business success to smooth out the rough spots as we transition away from Taiwan. Our company has an educational product focus with Apple’s iOS being our platform of choice, for now. The iOS app business feels like the “Pro Blog” trend of past and we are going in realizing that it’s very difficult for a small independent developer to make money. I think it’s fun to be working on the whole product development stack, not just writing reports or managing the work of others.

Other than that, it’s great to see my kids everyday again. I spent the better part of a year in China and Canada, and visits were sparse. I’ve had to lay off running for a while but I’ve been training and hope to be running again ASAP. Now that the heat has gone, Hsinchu is a pretty decent place to be right now.


CHOCO RUN巧克力路跑

We took photos but I think my faced destroyed the camera as none turned out. I think the map was included on your shirt since there were no race officials to guide you.

We participated in the chocolate run 5K yesterday that was held in Zhubei. I think we were envisioning a repeat of a similar event in Taoyuan a few years ago, which was great fun for the kids (chocolate donuts at the aid stations) but unfortunately this race was poorly organized and poorly attended. Holding events is hard but for the most part, with the exception of some rough spots, most races in Taiwan are well done. Being as this was a branding opportunity for the sponsoring company, it must have been perceived as a disaster – there weren’t even many representatives from the company helping to run this slipshod event.

Complaints aside it was a fun run and the weather cooperated with cool temperatures and no rain. And what other time can you have chocolate ice cream for breakfast?

I ran with Sheryl for the first 3 and a half, then ran through a red light (they weren’t holding traffic) and ran at race pace for the last 2. It felt fine but for some stiffness in leg leg, likely my IB band. Unfortunately, my plantar fasciitis hasn’t disappeared despite 3 months of relative rest and daily training. I now doubt whether I’ll return to marathon training at the start of December.