Readers now recognize that unintelligible documents are not natural disasters that have to be accepted like summer squalls or sleet storms. Rather they know that poor documents are human artefacts produced by organisations that could be encouraged to take readers’ needs more seriously.
Karen A. Schriver

Intelligible copy is as much an issue today as it was 21 years ago when I was handed a stack of research by my then boss who reviewed my early attempts at producing readable web copy.


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.
Source

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.


George Heilmeier’s Method for Solving Research Challenges

Or for solving all kinds of problems. From George Heilmeier’s method for solving research challenges:

  • What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon.
  • How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice?
  • What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?
  • Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?
  • What are the risks?
  • How much will it cost?
  • How long will it take?
  • What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

via John Maeda


A recent interview

I did an interview back in November(?) for a Taiwan government sponsored online magazine called Design Perspectives. Design Perspectives claims to be: “the world’s first bilingual resource that provides insights into design created for and within huaren (Chinese-speaking) communities”. I met with Daniel Cunningham the current editor and we had a short chat over coffee at Good Choo’s Bagel Cafe in Taipei. We pretty much deviated from the prepared script and had a long discussion about life and work here in Taiwan and China, from an outsiders perspective. Other than meeting someone interesting I came away with the feeling that I’m pretty difficult to interview and talk too much.

The result is fine – I’m picky and would have loved to be clearer on some points.

I used to be called upon for interviews quite regularly years ago, as I was an outlier, a foreign professional involved in at that time a nascent discipline. This time I was again an outlier but for a different reason; most of my work over the past number of years has been in support of others, a typical staff designer and freelancer, a team player, which seemed to put more at odds with the other interviewees who have a bit more ‘star qualities’ (Rock Stars vs. Super Stars).

Apps are wonderful tools, but you shouldn’t use them too much


Telling your story

This bad habit keeps coming back to bite me. I’ve realized for years and lamented on more than one occasion my lack of good documentation, that I can use for myself, of the work I have done on projects (not to be confused with my project deliverables which are fine). Recording the process, the problems, results, success, disasters, and hopefully some nice attractive imagery goes a long way to communicating to others what you do or have done. I’ve worked with people who are absolute masters of this, I am not.

This is especially essential when most of our deliverables don’t necessarily result in immediate results that can be easily communicated via screenshots. Industrial designers and graphic designers have it easier. I am exaggerating, but show people a beautiful render or a lovely poster and they are sold. An excel file and their eyes gloss over. Righty so, as I too hate excel.

What makes it worse, is most of the work I have been involved with over the years does not even exist anymore, or has changed beyond recognition.

Story telling is more important than ever and it’s a skill I must spend more time honing.


In an effort to speed up iterations and get prototypes in from of peoples eyes much sooner, I spent significant time this past year trying to convince the team to both pare down their documentation and form a studio approach to collaboration. I hadn’t realized that this strategy fell under the lean UX umbrella. But as I read through Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf it seems like a convenient label.

… the lean start-up method to product design, a strategy that implies fast-paced experimentation and validation. It works like this: Prototypes are turned out as fast as possible to test market assumptions early on. This early testing then generates feedback almost instantly, telling you what works and what doesn’t. This way, inaccurate assumptions and weak ideas can be scrapped with little effect, freeing up the resources for your best ideas to flourish.

… design processes normally involve a design team being briefed by someone else, and subsequently creating a product based on this secondhand information. If the design doesn’t work, it is then sent back for reworking, a process that can go on forever

Lean UX gets around this problem by putting designers to work with other employees right away, allowing the team to fix problems immediately and move the process along. Consider a designer and a developer going back and forth in an informal dialogue to design a dashboard. It takes them a few sketches and adjustments but they soon agree on a design. The designer is then free to iron out the specifics, while the developer writes the infrastructural code.
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Apple Music’s Visual Mess

I can guess who Apple is trying to appeal to with using Emoji art to represent themes in the browse playlist section but it certain adds to what I can only describe as a visual mess; actually visual diarrhea might be a better term. A strong structure is undermined by lack of visual direction. I guess this is acceptable to the Snapchat generation?

Unrelated, why does Apple after having data of my musical tastes for so many years, still serve me music recommendations that I would never have any interest in?


Co-designing with Camren

Camren and I last year out for dinner.

I’m trying various activities over July with my son and perhaps some of his friends to gradually gain some insight and experience in working with children. The ultimate goal is to work with kids to develop simple software that works for them.

I’ve been fortunate to run a number of usability test sessions with kids — most were successful and changed the course of the product I was working on.

Hopefully working with children earlier in the design process will give me greater insight to what their needs are before the first or final prototypes are made.

I think it’s going to be fun.


Good design means not leaving traces of the design, and not overworking the design.

People shouldn’t really have to think about an object when they are using it. Not having to think about it makes the relationship between a person and an object run more smoothly.

(The principle of) Design dissolves in behavior is about finding products beautiful not simply because of the way they look, but from the experience of interacting with them.
Naoto Fukasawa from Szita, Jane. “Without a Trace.” Dwell Sept. 2006: 134-140


To be minimalist …

I believe we have to get away from the idea of minimalism as a style and instead understand it as a way of thinking about space: its proportions, its surfaces, and the fall of light. The vision is comprehensive and seamless, a quality of space rather than forms; places, not things.

Minimalism is not an architecture of self-denial, deprivation or absence: it is defined not by what is not there, but by the rightness of what is there and by the richness with which this is experienced.

…the glory lies not in the act of removal, but in the experience of what is left. Profound – and pleasurable – experience is located in ordinary experience: in the taking of a shower or the preparation of food.

For me, comfort is synonymous with a state of total clarity where the eye, the mind and the physical body are at ease, where nothing jars or distracts. This emphasis on a quality of experience is important. Some people seem to have an idea that the only role the individual has in such spaces is the capacity to contaminate. In the sort of work that interests me, the antithesis is true: the individual is always at its heart.
John Pawson


Gender neutral profile photos

For a number of years I have been questioning design decisions that lead to the standard masculine default profile photo — many designers I’ve worked with in China and Taiwan don’t yet understand the importance of gender neutral imagery. Though the original egg icon was a far better fit for their brand, in a recent redesign of the default profile photo have made an effort to address the issue and graciously shared their design thinking. It’s interesting.

Twitter’s blog post announcing the new icon.

For the new default profile photo, we decided that we wanted to use people’s existing expectations for default profile photos and how they serve as a temporary placeholder. From this process, we identified a set of traits the new default profile photo should have:

  • Generic
  • Universal
  • Serious
  • Unbranded
  • Temporary
  • Inclusive

We went through many iterations to develop the new profile photo to make sure it displayed those traits. First, we explored gray, generic images to communicate that this profile photo is intended to be temporary. We looked at figures, photos, and patterns. For the figures, we thought about combinations of very common, circular shapes – these were a good starting point because they didn’t have any notable physical attributes. Because photos are usually communicated with a landscape icon, we felt that this was also a good route to explore. We additionally considered a simple, line-based pattern to try something without a figure.

After deciding on a figure, we began our refinements. We had to determine how to bring inclusivity into our single default profile photo, given that we don’t require people to specify their gender on Twitter. We felt that the circle of the head in the figure still seemed masculine, even though it technically had no design characteristics to indicate that it was a man. So for inspiration, we looked at how women are portrayed in generic, wayfinding iconography, such as bathroom signs, and noticed that the only difference between the sexes is the shape of their clothing.

Regardless, people have come to associate the circle head with masculinity, and because of this association, we felt that it was important to explore alternate head shapes. We reviewed many variations of our figure, altering both the head and shoulders to feel more inclusive to all genders. When the shoulders were wider, the image felt overly masculine, so we decreased the width of the shoulders and adjusted the height of the figure. As a result of these iterations, we ended with a more gender-balanced figure. We chose grays because they feel temporary, generic, and universal. With that, we included a higher contrast color combination to make this image accessible for those with visual impairments. Because of its coloring, the new profile photo also gives less prominence to accounts with a default profile photo.
From Rethinking our default profile photo


5 Talks on Empathy

Empathy, the essential element of good design.

To understand someone’s worldview that is foreign to yours is the hard work of being human. We need space to critically think and also have the support of people who possess a compassionate understanding so that our assessments aren’t entirely self-serving.

…five talks … that teach the beauty of empathy in multiple contexts: leadership, product design, social change, technology, and for the people you work with (including yourself).

5 Talks on Empathy That Will Change How You Connect and Create


It was shallow thinking to maintain that numbers and charts were the cold compression of unruly human energies, every sort of yearning and midnight sweat reduced to lucid units in the financial markets. In fact data itself was soulful and glowing, a dynamic aspect of the life process. This was the eloquence of alphabets and numeric systems, now fully realized in electronic form, in the zero-oneness of the world, the digital imperative that defined every breath of the planet’s living billions. Here was the heave of the biosphere. Our bodies and oceans were here, knowable and whole.
Don Delillo, Cosmopolis: A Novel (Scribner, 2003).


Get Out Of Your World Of Expertise

The most inspirational people, not just inspirational, but the best people period, that I have had to good fortune to work with or know have all been experts in more than one discipline. An engineer who was an expert in classical music, a designer who could play the violin, a doctor who could play the drums; all were multi-dimension and great at what they did. These kind of people are a joy to be around too.

Throughout school, I was laser-focused on learning everything I could about design. When I came to IDEO, this passion for design was no longer something that made me unique. It’s what you know beyond design that allows you to come up with a solution that your peers haven’t considered. Good design skills are most powerful when they are applied with another discipline or two, or three. I found the designers I most admired were experts in some other area—neuroscience, climbing, magic, baking.
From 3 Ways to Fight Impostor Syndrome


“The deepest form of understanding another person is empathy…[which] involves a
shift from…observing how you seem on the outside, to…imagining what it feels like to be you on the inside.”
Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen of the Harvard Negotiation Project, Chapter 9, “Empathy is a Journey, Not a Destination,” p. 183.

Designing something requires that you completely understand what a person wants to get done. Empathy with a person is distinct from studying how a person uses something. Empathy extends to knowing what the person wants to accomplish regardless of whether she has or is aware of the thing you are designing. You need to know the person’s goals and what procedure and philosophy she follows to accomplish them.
from the book Mental Models


Products are realized only as necessary artifacts to address customer needs. What Flickr, Kodak, Apple, and Target all realize is that the experience is the product we deliver, and the only thing that our customers care about.
From book Mental Models


As we craft increasingly complex designs for a growing variety of digital devices, remember that interaction design is not about the behavior of the interface; it’s about the behavior of people.


Benchmarking definition

I was required to do this activity, albeit in a far more informal way, numerous times in the past. It often is used in conjunction with competitive analysis, but in my experience was often used alone.

Vorhies & Morgan (2005, 81) define benchmarking as “market-based learning process by which a firm seeks to identify best practices that produce superior results in other firms and to replicate these to enhance its own competitive advantage.” The purpose of benchmarking is to gather various types of business knowledge for the company doing the benchmarking. The objective of benchmarking is to apply the gained business knowledge in to business decision-making. By doing so the company can improve the business decision-making and thus improve the business performance of the company. Therefore, the competitive advantage of the company becomes stronger. (Prašnikar etc. 2005, 257-275.)

Vorhies & Morgan (2005, 81) also state that benchmarking has potential on becoming a vital learning tool for identifying, building and improving market abilities to deliver lasting competitive advantage for a company.


Melody Roberts: Modernizing Service With Style

It takes a leap of faith to think one can design – or redesign – a culture, with all it’s nuance and complexity. Melody Roberts shares culture design principles she and her colleagues are discovering as they innovate around the customer experience at McDonald’s restaurants.

Melody Roberts is the global senior director of experience innovation for McDonald’s Corporation. She and her team focus on the five- to ten-year horizon, envisioning and prototyping practical, scalable solutions to complex customer and employee experience challenges. In her nine years with the company she has helped to shape the long-term global service strategy, to implement modern retailing practices, and to define the potential of digital commerce. Prior to McDonald’s, she spent seven years in design consulting, including two years with IDEO, helping clients foster a culture of customer-centered innovation within their organizations. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in American studies from Yale University and a Master of Design in human-centered product design from Illinois Tech.


Make the text easy to read for all

When I started designing for the web many many years ago this was an issue. It’s still an issue now. There can be nothing more fundamental than allowing people to be able read that which is delivered via the screen (I’d also add, the freedom to make that text selectable, another pet peeve, and usability problem). I find it an increasingly serious problem on mobile, but it’s still rampant on the large screen as well.

And it’s to just a problem of contrast as stated in the article linked to below, but also there seems to be a tendency to return to ever smaller type sizes, which on mobile becomes not just unreadable but also makes user interaction al the more challenging.

There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.

Typography may not seem like a crucial design element, but it is. One of the reasons the web has become the default way that we access information is that it makes that information broadly available to everyone. “The power of the Web is in its universality,” wrote Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web consortium. “Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”
But if the web is relayed through text that’s difficult to read, it curtails that open access by excluding large swaths of people, such as the elderly, the visually impaired, or those retrieving websites through low-quality screens.
How the Web Became Unreadable

And I have to practice what I preach here, the text size is become too small.


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