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).
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
Great! In this lecture at the Delft University of Technology, Bill Buxton (Principal researcher at Microsoft Research) talks about the importance of “sketching”, in all of its different forms, within a design process.
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.
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.
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.
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
Have you heard the story of the architect from Shiraz who designed the world’s most beautiful mosque? No one had ever conjured up such a design. It was breathtakingly daring yet well-proportioned, divinely sophisticated, yet radiating a distinctly human warmth. Those who saw the plans were awe-struck.
Famous builders begged the architect to allow them to erect the mosque; wealthy people came from afar to buy the plans; thieves devised schemes to steal them; powerful rulers considered taking them by force. Yet the architect locked himself in his study, and after staring at the plans for three days and three nights, burned them all.
The architect couldn’t stand the thought that the realized building would have been subject to the forces of degradation and decay, eventual collapse or destruction by barbarian hordes. During those days and nights in his study he saw his creation profaned and reduced to dust, and was terribly unsettled by the sight. Better that it remain perfect. Better that it was never built.
The story is a fable, but its main idea — that a thing’s ideal state is before it comes into existence, that it is better to not be born — is equal parts terrifying and uncanny, especially today, when progress and productivity are practically worshiped
From the NYT: Why Do Anything? A Meditation on Procrastination, I see this as much a parable on the struggle of taking great concepts, perfecting and delivering them so that they stand over a length of time. Or perhaps the emotional turmoil that issues when you realise that they idea you have, will never exist in it’s idealised form.
“User experience is the net sum of every interaction a person has with a company, be it marketing collateral, a customer service call, or the product or service itself. It is affected by the company’s vision and the beliefs it holds and its practices, as well as the service or product’s purpose and the value it holds in a person’s life.” Robert Hoekman Jr.’s Tenet 1
This is an old one, the idea that every interaction with a company or it’s service is part of the product, part of the experience. I used to talk about this extensively years ago when introducing UX to nonpractictioners, especially when considering how every interaction was important for us to consider (at that time it was about spending time on the experience of getting support). I used to spend time analysing various experiences I had with services and how the really great ones, that I still 13 years later can remember, at every step seemed considered, thoughtful, and almost perfect. I’m sure most could come up with a few great examples.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the hiring practices of companies in Taiwan and China, and how that reflects on their culture. How could companies so financially committed to design, totally neglect this part of their experience?
Practice makes perfect. Champion sports teams practice constantly. Zen masters will tell you that the only way to achieve enlightenment is practice. Practice is at the very root of learning. As you practice, you learn, and as you learn, you improve.
When you prototype, you allow your design, product, or service to practice being itself. And as its maker, you learn more about your designs in this way than you ever could in any other way.
So make prototypes and break them, test them and learn from them, model your ideas when they are still in their infancy, and continue to make and break them throughout the design process. Trial and error and continuous re nement—this is the way we learn as children and continue to learn as adults.
And let’s not forget this: Prototyping is fun! It’s a playful, social way to develop your ideas. It’s in direct opposition to “design in a vacuum” or “design in an ivory tower.” It’s design with and for people. It’s play. And play, like practice, is a learning activity. Play is a rehearsal for life.
Founder and Chairman of Xplane
A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.
I’ve always been drawn to maxim’s such as these, maxim’s that remind us of the ideal.
Good design is innovative: The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
Good design makes a product useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good design is aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Good design makes a product understandable: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good design is unobtrusive: Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
Good design is honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
Good design is long-lasting: It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail: Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
Good design is environmentally friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Good design is as little design as possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
Om: If you were to give advice to younger designers, web developers, web app makers, what would you tell them?
Erik: Learn as much about our culture as you possibly can, by reading, by traveling, by involving yourself in things that go on. But don’t become an artist. Don’t think, “I’ll do it intuitively.” You have to learn if not to code at least to appreciate code, to understand code. Because code is what nuts and bolts were a hundred years ago.
If you don’t know anything about mechanics, you can’t survive in this world. If you don’t know anything about how a computer works or code works, as a communicator, which is what a designer is — the interface between machines and man, that’s what we are. We are the interface, we interpret what the machine says into visible language. If you don’t understand how the machine works, you’re going to be laughed out of the room by the engineering guys, because you can’t communicate with them. Find the full text here
Inconsistency causes confusion, because things don’t work the way the user expects them to. Forcing users to memorize exceptions to the rules increases the cognitive burden and causes resentment. Attention to consistency is important for instilling confidence in the product, because it gives the impression that there is a logical, rational, trustworthy designer behind the scenes.
For desktop and mobile applications, you should aim to understand and conform to the user interface guidelines for your operating system or platform. Consistency with these standard conventions reduces the number of new things a user needs to learn. Donald Norman
Perhaps due to the influence of Windows based software poor UI design, I often come across the common mistakes superfluous and poorly thought out dialog boxes. In addition to the maxim below, I believe we should avoid creating error dialogs when an undo will do. Unfortunately the essential undo function is still often forgotten.
Dialog boxes should be action-oriented; they should help guide users towards what their next step is likely to be and it should provide them with the information that they need in order to be able to accomplish that next step.
Discoverability is one of the distinct advantages of the GUI, and lately I’ve found it to be an often fought for concept. There is a trend in the UI I see lately to either hide all functions in places most users would not easily find, or obscure them behind difficult to recognise icons. But this wonderful discoverability of the GUI has a dark side when you bring all of the possibilities to the forefront, which is often the strategy with Windows UI, you run the risk of leaving no work space for the user or turning your productivity app into nothing but a large piece of chrome.
In the exaggerated example above, is this interface discoverable? Certainly! All of the functionality is right there. But you pay a cost in terms of screen real estate.
For years I kept a running list of work related reads to share with colleagues and friends. It gradually got replaced with various online services and then predictably forgotten. Years ago I used to be an avid reader of everything related to working within a design team, most of my initial UX/design knowledge was largely from these books, though many of those books might be dated today I have started to keep a new list in my “books” page linked above. I think it’s a good reading list for interaction designers, information architects, usability professionals, product managers and designers. They are listed in no particular order (and unfortunately broken in mobile).
“The trick to finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say trick, but what I really mean is challenge, because it’s a very hard thing to do. Shampoo doesn’t seem interesting? Well, dammit, it must be, and if it isn’t, I have to believe that it will ultimately lead me [to something] that is.” “The other trick to finding ideas is figuring out the difference between power and knowledge. You don’t start at the top if you want to find the story. You start in the middle, because it’s the people in the middle who do the actual work in the world. My friend Dave, who taught me about ketchup, is a middle guy. He’s worked on ketchup. That’s how he knows about it. People at the top are self-conscious about what they say (and rightfully so) because they have position and privilege to protect — and self consciousness is the enemy of ‘interestingness.’” “In ‘The Pitchman’ you’ll meet Arnold Morris, who gave me the pitch for the ‘Dial-O-Matic’ vegetable slicer one summer day in his kitchen on the Jersey Shore: ‘Come on over, folks. I’m going to show you the most amazing slicing machine you have ever seen in your life,’ he began. He picked up a package of barbecue spices and used it as a prop. ‘Take a look at this!’ He held it in the air as if he were holding up a Tiffany vase. That’s where you find stories, in someone’s kitchen on the Jersey Shore.”
What the Dog Saw – Malcolm Gladwell
“Usability is strongly tied to the extent to which a user’s mental model matches and predicts the action of a system. Ideally, an interface design is consistent with people’s natural mental models about computers, the environment, and everyday objects. For example, it makes sense to design a calculator program that has similar functionality and appearance to the physical hand-held calculators that everyone is familiar with”.
Real world design is often iterative – fail fast so you can succeed sooner.
Failing fast is one of those seemingly overly simplistic tenets that I often fail at achieving. Balancing perseverance (stubbornness) and the realisation that through failure we learn or succeed is often difficult to achieve.
In many ways, the most creative, challenging, and under-appreciated aspect of interaction design is evaluating designs with people. The insights that you’ll get from testing designs with people can help you get new ideas, make changes, decide wisely, and fix bugs.
To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse.
We’re reluctant to pull out of something we’d put effort into.
When we put time and effort into something, we’re motivated to make it work. We therefore often continue to invest into it even if it brings us losses. Examples include continuing to pump money into a failed business idea, or attending a play when sick only because the tickets were pre-purchased. Arkes, Hal R., and Catherine Blumer, “The psychology of sunk cost”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Vol. 35, No. 5, December 1985, 124-140.
This characterises so much of my behaviour, from continuing to invest in Chinese studies, despite seldom needing anything above a very rudimentary level, to continuing to doggedly insisting on being an entrepreneur, despite not possessing the required capital, human or otherwise (I suppose continuing to live in Taiwan counts too).
I saw this little café near Hsinchu MacKay Hospital yesterday and couldn’t help thinking how much more effective their identity would be if it worked it’s way down to the waffles they serve inside. The Chinese character is close, but I guess they either didn’t think of it or custom waffle irons proved too expensive.