A possible replacement for my morning coffee

Years ago I had a project manager who recommended that I first thing in the morning go outside and walk on the grass in my bare feet. This was her advice after sharing that I was feeling lethargic and a bit down in the dumps. The January blues perhaps. I didn’t take her advice, though I will say walking on grass is mildly therapeutic, but this conversation came to me this AM as I was outside having a snow ball fight with Camren in my bare feet. There is nothing that tells your body to wake up more than putting your bare feet to snow. Exhilarating and eventually mildly painful over time. Highly recommended.

A collection of empty notebooks

Yeah, that’s my sketchbook. It’s very cheap. I like it because it doesn’t put pressure on you. I prefer cheap. I don’t like the moleskins or those other notebooks because they’re so expensive. They look like a book with no printing inside, and it puts the pressure of getting something that a real book, which people have been editing for a year, that’s the kind of pressure you get for every little line you put in.

This is exactly how I feel about many of my notebooks – the paper (especially the paper), binding and cover all have a quality to them, so much so that I feel whatever I put in them would not be worthy of the space that they occupy. But I love notebooks, so my collection keeps growing, until one day in the future when I have a wall full of empty notebooks. Perhaps by then I will have something worthy of their empty pages.

What’s In Your Bag, Simon Stålenhag?

iPhones are hard to use

Very advanced, very tuned-in people learn about, and learn how to use, new Apple features by watching them being demonstrated onstage during Apple keynote events.
Then there’s everybody else.

I used to blame having a communication designer manage the human interface group, or the perception that usability/behaviour side of the user experience was deemphasized for the emotive, but for whatever the reason, I agree with the gist of Joe Clark’s article.

One part he didn’t mention specifically is how when pinching to zoom in maps the text stays at the same unreadable size. I once in frustration grabbed a magnifying glass so I could clearly see the garbled text.

iPhones are difficult to use.

Blind Faith

I thought I had my backup strategy all figured out. I have time machine backups, a NAS for archiving and remote access, a back-up of the NAS, a back-up drive in a safety deposit box, iCloud, Dropbox for collaboration, and I have been using Google drive for my active projects folder. Some redundancy, and though it may seem complex, it isn’t, and it should just work. Except it doesn’t.

I’ve been working on a podcast, and wanting to hear the final file on my iPhone before uploading for distribution, I looked for the file on Google Drive for iPhone. It wasn’t there. Neither was the file folder, or any new folders and files added since this past April. The same with the GD web interface.

The Google drive icon is spinning, and every time I check, it says it is syncing, except it isn’t. All the right boxes are checked and I looked for the usual silly errors that I might have made. Nothing.

I’m sure after digging deeper the problem will resolve itself but I think it wise in the future to not believe that software services should just work as advertised. Because if they don’t, and the rare failure occurs, the results would be disappointing to say the least. From here on out, I’ll be setting a reminder to check data versions between local and remote files – or perhaps set an automator action to do it for me.

Interestingly, in my regular review of where my “cloud service” dollars go, I gave Google Drive a pass, accepting the status quo. I think I’ll revisit that decision and perhaps GD will join Flickr and Evernote in the no longer useful column.

Our Sackville Diversion

Cranewood on Main

With the kids having so many days off over the weekend I thought a road trip of some sort might be in order. My first thought was a trip up West, but as I don’t recall ever travelling past Summerside I had no experience to guide us. So I relied upon Peter Rukavina’s Visit West Prince Every Five Years post to build out a 2 day 1 night itinerary. Unfortunately, almost every point on his route has disappeared or was closed for the season. I forgot how the Island tends to close down come November.

So as we often did in Taiwan, I looked into booking some time in a resort – the only one being the Mill River Resort near O’Leary. Unfortunately, questions sent to the resort via email were never answered, so I scuttled those plans for a last minute day trip to Moncton.

I’ve had on my todo list for some time, whenever en route to Halifax or Truro, to make a quick diversion to Sackville’s Cranewood on Main Bakery and Café. We haven’t been able to find the time during out last couple trips, but I made a deliberate route change on our drive to Moncton. I wasn’t disappointed. The coffee and food was fine, but the main attraction for me is the ability to sit in an interesting place, whilst soaking up the conversations of arts students intent on changing the world.

I like small college towns and after we finished our sandwiches, soup, latte, hot chocolate and cookies, we went for a quick walk around the town and campus, buying some used books as we went.

We’ll likely visit again – despite the extra bit of milage, it’s a much more interesting waypoint than the admittedly more convenient Irving Bigstop that we have been visiting in the past.

This afternoon’s diversion. I’ve lived in some unbelievably noisy places but nowhere have I been required to constantly wear earplugs until I moved to Stratford. This due in part to a building made from wood and a couple neighbours who were never taught to not stamp their feet. I’d have moved by now but am hampered by Charlottetown’s housing crisis and the lack of affordable homes that suit our needs.

Effects of floor impact noise on psychophysiological responses

Effects of Low Frequency Noise and Vibrations: Environmental and Occupational Perspectives

The effects of low frequency noise on people

Relaxed education

We are in the midst of a long 5 day weekend for the kids and as I sit to organize my calendar for the next couple weeks I see that they have yet another 4 day weekend coming up this month. Though we consciously came here for a change in how our kids are taught, coming from the frenetic system that they grew up with, the education system here still comes across as a shock. The amount of paid PD days teachers get here would be the envy of the people I have worked with in the past.

Thus far the greatest challenge they have faced, other than English writing, is that they no longer face the overwhelming workload and pace of study that they had in Taiwan. The effect of this was that their days from early morning to night were completely prescribed. Often my daughter would start the day at 5:30am with the swim team and end it at 9:00pm with test prep classes. My son hasn’t had any homework to date and my daughter hasn’t much in High School either. Tests are few and far between.

I fear they will become complacent or bored.

The positive side to this new found freedom, is not that they can brag to their old classmates about how relaxed everything is, but that they now must be self-directed learners. There are no requirements or pressure of any kind. If they want to achieve excellence then they must do so on their own, without the goading of a teacher, or a long checklist of things that must be finished. They only have to put up with me – which is likely enough for any child to bear. If they can manage to study above and beyond the modicum that is provided here than I think they will be far better off in the long run.

Improving Onboarding with Employee Experience Journey Mapping

I so wanted to map out the onboarding process for the last company I joined – most couldn’t believe just how bad it was. Unfortunately this idea like so many never saw the light of day, due in part to the reluctance of HR to hear any ideas that might lead to constructive change.

We present a creative method for applying the UX technique of journey mapping to improve the onboarding experience of new employees in any organization. Journey mapping is a well-known design research tool used to gain insight into how a user experiences a service, process, or product, with the goal of making informed improvements to deliver a better experience for future users. We argue that journey mapping can also be used to improve the internal process of onboarding new employees and improve the experience for future new hires, which is important because positive onboarding experiences are linked to increased productivity and greater employee retention. We share how other organizations can use journey mapping to improve the onboarding process utilizing our employee experience journey mapping project toolkit designed to help guide similar projects, complete with shareable templates. In addition, we share the methods used at our library, as well as our findings, recommendations, and lessons learned.

Improving Onboarding with Employee Experience Journey Mapping: A Fresh Take on a Traditional UX Technique

Holding phone technique

I used to take a lot of photos of people using their mobile devices in order to document how they used them and in what context. The above is a former colleague using a “2 thumb technique” to scroll through a long list of WeChat messages.

Being able to see things through the eyes of someone else is one of the most important abilities a designer can have. But it’s also very difficult for most of us to do. Could a rather dramatic break with convention put designers into the shoes of the people they design for?

“You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Designers need to go deeper if they are to really experience the users’ perspective. They need to experience the world of the user first hand. Because—let’s be honest—if your design job ties you to your desk all day long, the only thing you should be designing is a product for designers who are tied to their desk all day long.

See different

My Startup Weekend PEI experience

The weekend started with me playing the role of the introvert, sitting on the sidelines, watching all the extroverts network, talk about school, and dev. related topics. In the sea of these people there was one other individual sitting by herself, ignoring the fray, and who I would team up with later to develop, or more accurately refine, a business plan she had.

I talked to a lot of people over the weekend, which for me is an accomplishment in itself, but which in combination with poor sleep, left me tired and required a morning respite in front of Netflix watching trashy TV.

My experience on the whole was very positive.

I’ve been apart of many similar activities, most involuntary and inside corporate R&D, and fuelled by crappy Dominos style food. It’s amazing how much difference the quality of food makes in an experience such as this. I’ve never attended any kind of design/dev event that has served food comparable to the lobster lasagna, fresh shucked oysters, sashimi, and hot sandwiches that were presented this weekend. There was copious amounts of fruit, fresh hot coffee and cold beer on tap. I commended every organizer that would listen, that the food served at this event was world class and absolutely delicious.

There was one aspect that proved to be a point of concern. Not everyone understands the whole pitch-startup culture and it’s rapid fire iteration and style of speaking. The people I teamed up with didn’t, and they are the people, in PEI at least, that may benefit from this kind of event the most. They were local, rural, and will stay such. The “CEO” of the team lives in the country, hires people from the area, and wants to expand. What better fit could there be for a startup event in PEI? Unfortunately, this lack of understanding, they registered at the last minute, meant that for much of the weekend I felt like an unpaid consultant, instead of someone practicing the development of a business idea. While it’s the responsibility of the participant understand what they are getting themselves into, some kind of quick refresher at the beginning might have proved valuable (not everyone reads all the text on a website).

Other than meeting so many interesting people, including our passionate “CEO” and the team, the highlight of the weekend was the opportunity to work with someone from an entirely different background, take them through an experience design process and come out of the process with agreement, understanding, focus, and new ideas for a business. I’ve worked with people in tech whose eyes gloss over when you talk about the value of personas, understanding your customers experience, and mapping out your customers journey through the use of a product. It can be very abstract to most and the value not readily apparent. While not applicable to every product, it worked extremely well in this context, and she, the CEO, understood its value almost completely. In the end, with the help of one of the many mentors, she came away with an entirely new potential revenue stream. I came away with some valuable new experience – it’s all too rare to have the opportunity to do this kind of work with passionate, strong people outside of the tech community.

I certainly look forward to participating again, in some capacity, in the future.

I am a fan of manga during work hours

Great analysis. I didn’t know Boxes and Arrows still published.

Remember the constructed emotions theory: Emotions are learned, not born. Different people therefore have different emotions; cultural environment influences these emotions. As video content becomes more dominant in our daily life, it becomes more influential on how we develop our emotions. As the content offering becomes more varied, the differences in emotion sets for the same geography becomes wider.

The change in the distribution of mass content has brought a change in global subcultural groups and thus in the global system of emotions.

My suggestion is that to have better prediction of viewer datasets, recommendation-based companies should involve the users in the tagging process of content. Don’t build a team of content taggers or analyzers: Ask your viewers to define the content. As is often the case in technology, the old way—in which people define rather then experts and algorithms)—is the more advanced.

Content recommendations and the creation of emotions

Startup Weekend PEI

I’m participating this year in Startup Weekend PEI which starts tomorrow evening and ends sometime on Sunday. I’ve had similar experiences, including a Yahoo Hackathon, but this is the first time I will be thrown together with a bunch of strangers in an effort to create something business like.

The event has been on my radar for a while but I am often a bit dubious about any experience that people speak about in such glowing terms. Despite my doubts I finally decided yesterday to pull the trigger, register, and participate as a designer.

My motivations are simple, I love working at the beginning of the product development cycle and I haven’t had much opportunity lately, outside of my own product, to design much of anything. There are risks of course, I am participating without any preparation and without any idea who I might be working with. So much depends on the personality of the group of people involved, and to a lessor extent our collective experience and ability (the outcome is only a demo, not necessarily a functioning app., so mad dev. skills shouldn’t be necessary).

I’m expecting it to be fun and at the very least I should get some experience drawing star people and meet some new interesting freinds.

Ethics yes, politics no

All voice assistants encourage only one relationship dynamic — the servile companion: Always there for you, empathetic, cheerful, like a friend. But equally ready at all times to take orders and carrying out tasks, like a servant. It is no accident that the personality of the servile companion is enacted by a female voice — society is intimately familiar with women as casual servants in the roles of secretaries, housewives and mothers. As Ben Parr of Octane AI puts it, “We’re basically training our kids that they can bark commands at a female and she will respond.”

This italicized line is absolute bullshit and contradicts the reasoning behind using female voices in Voice UI stated previously in the article. Mother and wife as casual servant? I’ll have to mention that to my wife, or any partner to any man I know, and see how far it flies. The author appears to lack an understanding of the current state of voice interfaces – we can’t have a conversation with Alexa or Siri, we can only give tasks. It has nothing to do with servitude, and everything to do with replacing what we do with our fingers or pointing device, with our voice. We are a long way off from proactive assistants.

But from a brand perspective, the quest for universal likeability is misplaced. In personality design as in brand design, pandering to users can be self-destructive. Good brands don’t merely follow. Good brands are like good people. They believe in something and they stand for it. Standing for something is polarizing, but it’s the difference between expected and inspiring. Why shouldn’t a voice assistant balk when a user shouts a slur? Why shouldn’t it promote diversity, just like most corporations do in their annual reports?

Generally an interesting article but with these bombs of stupidity thrown in. In the past we had to face a different politics in design, corporate back stabbing, fiefdoms and the like, now we have to deal with unsubstantiated drivel.

Why Our Voice Assistants Need Ethics

Setting workplace norms early

Camren’s 5th grade classroom

In Taiwan elementary schools they prepare them early for what life will be at the workplace. He ate more nutritious lunches then, as lunch in PEI schools is sandwiches or fast food, and they don’t have the facilities to maintain a safe temperature of a hot lunch. But this habit, seen throughout many if not most Taiwan companies is toxic, as it increases the likelihood that you are still available for calls, and after you hurriedly eat, likely stay at your desk to keep on working after the obligatory nap.

Wouldn’t it be better if self-checkout just died?

I’m pretty certain that self-checkouts at this Walmart in Fuzhou would have been absolute chaos. But on our workplace campus they were the norm and surprisingly well designed.

Self-checkouts have been around a while. Companies have been working on them since 1984, and they’ve been in stores around the US for nearly two decades. And as any interaction with the one at Walmart in Charlottetown will attest, the user experience still sucks.

It’s not as if “scanning items at a checkout” is an especially daunting task but it turns out that making an automated system that’s 95% as good as a human is relatively easy and one that’s 100% as good as a human is very hard.

“Wouldn’t the shopper be better served, customer service improved, if those (self check-outs) weren’t there?” he asks. I’m not arguing. “Why do I want to scan my own groceries?” he asks. I have no idea! “Why do I want to bag my own groceries?” he asks. An equally reasonable question with no reasonable answer. The simple solution, he points out, would be to hire enough cashiers to serve the number of customers that typically shop at the store. I agree, and this seems very obvious.

Wouldn’t it be better if self-checkout just died?

Creative entrepreneurs need community, not just customers

Several months ago, a friend I hadn’t seen in years handed me a check for $300. She used to accept Paypal payments on my behalf, back in 2003 when I made jewelry and listed regularly on eBay. (She had set up a separate account in another bank. Things happened. They found her after a decade. Isn’t that remarkable?)

I was a fledgling creative entrepreneur, pre-Paypal, pre-Facebook. It was a struggle, especially because I didn’t know too many people who were doing anything along the same lines.

I joined local bazaars. Inevitably, I would be one of only two or three tables with handmade creations. Everyone else had mass-manufactured goods. Buyers would bargain and tell me, “But over at the other booth, necklaces are less than a hundred pesos!”

A creative entrepreneur is a creator, maker, marketer and retailer, all in one. It takes a lot more bravery to market and sell the products of your personal creativity compared to doing it for other people, or for a salary. Your self-worth can fluctuate depending on what people are willing to pay for the work of your mind, heart, and hands.

Back then, there were no visual social networks that let creators express their vision and purpose, and allowed people who might like what they made to discover their work. There was an audience for handmade, but there was too much friction and not enough serendipity between the creator and the audience.

Back then, I had customers. They couldn’t tell other people, easily, that they liked my work. They couldn’t selfie with my necklace and tag me and 10 other friends, one of whom just might have been a fledgling creative entrepreneur, too.

Today, social platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are both serendipity engine and global marketplace. Never has it been easier to find and bond with the like-minded. And when that happens, we call that community. Community is a force multiplier for growth. Creators and audience can find one another faster, learn from a wider pool, and improve together.
Leigh Reyes on Creativity, Leadership and Limited FTG

Breakfasts in Fujian

My short time working in China presented some challenges for maintain my previous protein rich diet. The company cafeteria while providing great food by local standards, and I can confirm that it was largely justified, always skimped on the meat or fish. Often I would ask the cook if perhaps they mislabelled the curry chicken; I suggested they call it curry chicken bones but they didn’t implement my suggestion. Breakfasts were cheap, tasty, but again heavy on the carbs. Out of sheer boredom I started to document my breakfasts, even starting an instagram account solely for that purpose, but as would be expected stopped after about a month. Some of those are below:

Design Ephemera

Designers often love the artifacts of their work. Depending on the availability of whiteboards, displays like the above would often stay around the office for months. For the UX teams this is often the only output they can share with others as the design teams tasked with creating the interfaces and the engineers, who produce the final deliverables, more often get all all the glory.

This messy whiteboard was from a service design project for a restaurant in Fuzhou, Fujian.

The Dictatorship of Data

In 1977, two years after the last helicopter lifted off the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, a retired Army general, Douglas Kinnard, published a landmark survey called The War Managers that revealed the quagmire of quantification. A mere 2 percent of America’s generals considered the body count a valid way to measure progress. “A fake—totally worthless,” wrote one general in his comments. “Often blatant lies,” wrote another. “They were grossly exaggerated by many units primarily because of the incredible interest shown by people like McNamara,” said a third.

The use, abuse, and misuse of data by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War is a troubling lesson about the limitations of information as the world hurls toward the big-data era. The underlying data can be of poor quality. It can be biased. It can be misanalyzed or used misleadingly. And even more damning, data can fail to capture what it purports to quantify.

The Dictatorship of Data

What we miss

Wether it’s in a supermarket like this or one of the many corner fruit markets I miss the abundance of high quality great tasting fruit that we could find in Taiwan.

Dinner time for us is a time to catch up with the days events, a time for me to pontificate on the importance of academic performance, and an opportunity to discuss whatever topics pop into the kids heads; lately it’s been a weird mix of cannabis use, Korean pop and my sons desire to attend Rice University (my daughter wants to escape to Europe). I have been trying to ensure that, in spite our active after school schedule, we keep this routine, which means we might be eating dinner at 4, 6 or after 7. Facilitating these conversations was a role my wife played in the past and a role that I am trying to temporarily fill in her absence. Luckily the kids have lots to talk about as I’ve never been in the habit of sharing the banality of my day over food.

One of our last conversations included all the things they miss since leaving Taiwan. They listed the usual things that Taiwanese would mention: the food, the convenience of everything and of course their friends. Friendships seem a bit harder to cultivate here than in Hsinchu; Camren was incredibly active these past few years but while having made friends here, there doesn’t appear to be any shared activities yet.

One curious revelation came from this conversation. My daughter now identifies herself as from Taiwan, and yet while in Taiwan she most recently would state she’s from Canada. Of course we all knew there would be an adjustment period, you can’t expect to land in any new place and expect to be connected in the same way someone who has lived here there whole lives. I, having grown up here, still feel more like an immigrant than anything else.

During the course of the conversation they asked what I missed and I stated the expected, the fruit, the coffee and the language. I have regrets about my rapidly diminishing Chinese language ability. I didn’t mention how much I miss the work; which would be as much a surprise to them is it is to me (It was common for me to come home visibly stressed many nights).

Right now, I’m fairly certain if I returned to Taiwan or China to work at a tech company in some capacity I would regret the decision fairly quickly. At my age and experience I might not be a great fit for many organizations. But I do miss the pace, the variety and challenge of the work, being a designer, and the smart people who pushed me to keep up. It’s an exciting place with the expectation that almost anything can be done, a real emphasis on making vs marketing. And having an office full of colleagues with all the antics that often come with that can be a big bonus. Now when I come out of my cave here in Stratford, I sometimes forget how to talk.

It’s common to romanticize a memory, “in the old days” things were often better we say, but in reality the work culture in Taiwan was insane, with too many having no life outside the office. Living here is great and I’m sure the kids will adjust to ice cream over fruit, hamburgers instead of beef noodles, and enjoy the international feel that Charlottetown now provides.

Reading is a pleasure and a skill

“My grafted, spasmodic, online style, while appropriate for much of my day’s ordinary reading, had been transferred indiscriminately to all of my reading, rending my former immersion in more difficult texts less and less satisfying,” she writes. Wolf soon tried again, forcing herself to start with 20-minute intervals, and managed to recover her “former reading self.”

I’ve found that my appetite for reading as much information as quickly as possible, all of it screen based, has affected my ability to read more difficult texts as well. I consider it more a problem with patience – something that can be solved my taking a deep breathe, slowing down, and taking the time to wade through writing with more substance.

Wolf recommends that early-childhood education continue to focus on print materials, with digital devices and lessons added over time. That includes how to code — essential for learning “that sequence matters,” whether it’s in a piece of writing or a piece of software — and how to handle time and distractions. (Sign me up.) Wolf calls for teachers to be better trained to use technology effectively in classrooms. Handing out iPads does not teach children how to read well on those devices or manage time on them. That requires active guidance from adults in the classroom and at home. She also wants more (and is involved in) research on how best to support learners, including people with dyslexia, who are not served by traditional approaches to literacy. It’s one of the brightest prospects sparked by the digital leap.

Both of my kids are required to read from print materials everyday which is more of a challenge than it should be; my son is more enamoured with the sliding images under glass devices, and my daughter, who used to read multiple novels a day, but has since discovered the joy of online Chinese comics.

Book review of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf

Leave Your Own Beliefs Behind

In Dan Saffer’s book, Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, he interviews well-known researcher and speaker Brenda Laurel, PhD. He asked her what designers should look for when doing research. Her answer emphasizes the importance of shedding assumptions and precepts before asking research questions.

“The first step is to deliberately identify one’s own biases and beliefs about the subject of study and to ‘hang them at the door’ so as to avoid self-fulfilling prophecies. One must then frame the research question and carefully identify the audiences, contexts, and research methods that are most likely to yield actionable results. Those last two words are the most important: actionable results. Often, the success of a research program hangs upon how the question is framed: ‘why don’t girls play computer games?’ vs. ‘how does play vary by gender?’”
Indi Young