I’m in the midst of rewriting my resume for use by “some government agency” as part of my involvement with the StartUp Zone as a product specialist. Though not yet confirmed, I may also be looking for work, so it’s a necessary exercise in an effort to communicate who I am to strangers.
Of course it’s not enough to say you did something, you also need to show some evidence to back up your claims of being “critically engaged in bringing in over $xxm in business in xx years time”. This leads to one of my greatest errors in all but the most recent years in Taiwan and China – poor records of the work I participated in or completed.
I’m not sure how important the projects I worked on 10, 15 or 20 years ago are in terms of explaining myself today, but if pressed I have scattered evidence to back-up my claims. Some screenshots, some early portfolio work, and in some cases the complete project files. What’s most important is not a pretty picture but a detailed accounting of the thinking behind each project. What I remember might be enough, but I’m not confident my memory is good enough to remember exhaustive details of a website redesign from 18 years ago.
The most forward thinking people I worked with kept a detailed account of each project of importance – above and beyond what is needed for reporting. Some wrote bullet point records, others wrote extensive case studies replete with progress shots. This is a good idea and something I learned much too late.
In an effort to protect myself, in one of my last engagements I would record every meeting, phone call and all the work I had done for any particular project. It was that kind of office, where you always had to prove you’re worth. But despite the stressful environment, the positive outcome was a fairly detailed accounting of what role I had, my thinking and what activities were performed. It’s also invaluable to be able to go back and see the research, and literature reviews that were recorded.
I’ve gotten lazy with my reporting this past year and haven’t really kept great records. This is something I hope to work on before the weather turns warm (judging by the current weather it may stay winter-like for some time) and I want to spend as little time stuck inside as possible.
I’ve been a leading actor in many a department or companies attempts at innovation – by my very nature I created conflict, as is bound to happen when you insert someone of a different culture, language, and values into an existing group of people. Conflict is a great thing until senior management see short term lapses in productivity, then they put initiatives on hold and say, “we aren’t yet ready”.
We never used the term design thinking, but we certainly used many of the methods contained within. To me it just seemed like a new way to frame what many had been doing all along.
“We get a lot of the materials that look like innovation, or look like they make us more creative,” Hendrix says. “That could be anything from getting a bunch of Sharpie markers and Post-its and putting them in rooms for brainstorms, to having new dress codes, to programming play into the week. They all could be good tools to serve up creativity or innovation, they all could be methods of design thinking, but without some kind of history or strategy to tie them together, and track their progress, track their impact, they end up being a theatrical thing that people can point to and say, ‘oh we did that.’”
I found myself in a corporate innovation workshop last week hosted at the Startup Zone and led by a very talented “workshopper” from Halifax. The first activity naturally involved sticky notes which led me to posit on twitter as to how did we innovate before the sticky note came along. Sticky notes have seemingly become a necessary magical artifact whose very use will cause creativity to appear out of thin air. In many design teams I have visited, the sticky notes are left on the walls for months as some kind of design happens here badge. Having said that, for some reason I still carry a pack with me whenever I carry my backpack – one never knows when you might have to break out the sharpies, which I also carry, and lead an ideation session.
So as with many things I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to some design jargon, but not so much so that I would turn down an opportunity to hold a series of workshops this summer on this very topic. It’s not been finalized yet but they should be held sometime in July.
While I didn’t have the opportunity to sample their lattes or get a hair cut, I do appreciate the look of the signage in a cafe/barbershop that I visited in Quebec City last week (we could nitpick about weighting and categories). It’s a good concept really – drink a nice cup of coffee while getting your haircut. Most salons I visited in Hsinchu have this feature but the coffee was almost always poor and the timing imperfect. Inevitably your cup would end up getting hair in it. The Humble Barber in Charlottetown attempts something similar with beer on tap, but it doesn’t really work, and who in their right mind wants to get inebriated during the day (there is work to be done!). The benefits that I could see in Quebec are a stronger sense of community, like the barber shops of old, where you get people hanging around for longer periods of time – preferably talking. Unfortunately, the reality is, most would just take advantage of the generous seating and free wifi to stare at their various devices. Thats what they were doing in Quebec.
I’m going to be updating the “what I am up to now” section sometime over the weekend but first I thought I might note the challenges over the past month. Here are the top three.
Volunteering. This was one of my goals for moving back home, volunteering my time with organizations that might be a good fit for my experience and in return, other than the satisfaction of helping others, having a greater connection to the community. Generally this has not worked out. My impression thus far is that you need to be as aggressive in finding a volunteer opportunity as you might a job (perhaps this is my inexperience showing), many of my emails have gone unanswered and PEI Newcomers in particular seem disinterested. It could also be that there may be no need for volunteers in the organizations of which I am familiar. What I have done instead is to connect to people on a more personal level and offer to help them as I can. This has worked on a couple occasions thus far.
I started this month in a Product Specialist role at the StartUp Zone. I do genuinely like helping people and sharing the successes and failures I have seen after 20 odd years of working within and with product centred organizations. What has become clear to me is that I have little interest in selling myself or design research in general to people resistant to such topics. My current interest is not consulting and the amount of time that is required of each meeting not financially viable. So I suspect I’ll be changing the nature of this relationship going forward.
Instead of writing a new workshop this month on what would have amounted to covering part of a design thinking process, I hauled out an old talk on another topic. The rationale was to test the waters and see if there is an appetite for such things – when you ask new business owners what areas they would like covered invariably they bring up Facebook ads, boosting Instagram followers and some such. I didn’t want to spend a week on a 90 minute workshop only to have people show complete disinterest. What I asked of Startup Zone was a sample group of people, maybe 6 – 8, representing the community at large so that we could have a small intimate presentation and a talk about experience design. My mistake was not communicating this clearly, as it became something more than I planned. Despite some hiccups, my clicker battery was dead, I did manage to learn a great deal and the next one will be all the better for it.
One last challenge. I don’t know if it’s reverse culture shock, the terrible weather, or a lack of sleep but I’ve found that my conversations and writing have been taking on an increasingly negative tone of late. I always considered it a normal part of January, but that was when we lived in a region with little in the way of winter. I think the immediate fix to this is more exercise (I haven’t trained in months), more time talking with my wife, and less time stuck alone in my cubicle.
What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.
Any work that requires a problem solved or a touch of creativity is more often than not solved when I am on my feet. At one job, I used to slyly punch the clock, or in this case give a thumb print, and then go for a long one hour run where I would solve (or attempt to) the problems of the day. I tried to involve colleagues in this habit, under the guise of coming up with new product ideas, but for some reason running 10k first thing in the morning was not attractive to many. At another company, since were in the R&D department we had the luxury of a late start to our work day (9AM). This meant that I had a few hours to be mired in all kinds of problems, and the lunch hour to repeatedly walk around the block trying to solve them.
Sitting at a desk typing at a computer for an extended length of time is like death to me. It’s a place for production, more than anything else.
Through her talk, Indi Young explains how we must ask and listen more as a means to get past our assumptions. Absorbing eclectic ideas, understanding varied work patterns and incorporating different ways of thinking will help broader ideas sprout. She categorizes Empathy into Emotional and Cognitive Empathy, giving us examples of both.
I’m hoping to take Indi’s advanced training series but thus far the ~$800US cost is prohibitive; at least in the context that the skills may not be directly applicable to what I will do in this part of the world.
This presentation will go over design for non-designers, skipping the university-level concepts and jumping right to shortcuts and easy-to-remember principles. Recommended for those who want to learn just enough design to be dangerous (or for designers who’d like to better teach their coworkers and colleagues); featuring quick hits, easy to understand and utilize principles that anyone can use to improve their design skills
Sheryl’s journey back to Taipei started with an all-too-early 5am flight out of Charlottetown yesterday. Luckily her return was uneventful – unlike her flight from Taipei which was marred by an Air Canada aircraft having technical problems in Shanghai. While a short visit, we did enjoy a wonderful Christmas as a family and were lucky to see family from afar while visiting Sheryl’s homestead in Truro.
It’s going to be a long 7 months until she returns in late July – especially for the kids. The kids get worn by my strict parenting style and lack of patience. If I believed in resolutions, developing more patience would be at the top of the list.
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.
What this short experience has taught me is that I should either make a concerted effort to re-learn/learn development for the web or rely on a platform that delivers webpages not filled with massive amounts of cruft. Or I suppose I could just settle for the stasis quo. I suspect I will somehow find the time before Christmas to learn once again how to write clean simple mark-up for the web.
Looking at the list of books I also realized just how much my reading habits have changed over the years. My copies of “the polar bear book” and Interface Culture are worn out, but as time as passed I’ve moved more and more from deep slow reading, to referencing and skimming. This can’t be a good thing, but in my defence, some of those books, though important, are really really boring. Anyone who has made it through, cover to cover, the book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” deserves some kind of a prize.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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.
In this talk from 2003, design critic Don Norman turns his incisive eye toward beauty, fun, pleasure and emotion, as he looks at design that makes people happy. He names the three emotional cues that a well-designed product must hit to succeed.
I read his books and watch his speeches time and time again.
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
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
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.
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:
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
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).
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).