What the worst thing that could happen?

… other than public embarrassment

Thursday was the Start Up Zone’s 3rd anniversary and/or demo day and I volunteered to get up and do a demo.

I used this event to kick off a possible collaboration between myself and Pam Boutillier (Zoopothecary) on a new storybook app for iPad. To add some evidence of our collaboration I decided to give myself an added challenge to see what I could develop in an afternoon with some old bits and pieces of Gamekit code I had from an earlier project. There is nothing like a hard public deadline to give you some focus. It was the most fun I have had in sometime.

There are some common sense rules regarding any kind of presentation, demo or product introduction. Make sure the app or product works, create and practice your slides long before hand, and rule out any issues that will inevitably come up with the projector. I only did one of these – I grabbed a dongle for my iPad and made sure that we could easily switch between a Powerbook and my iPad.

Pam forwarded me some of her wonderful art and accompanying story late Tuesday (4am Wednesday) and I set to work early Wednesday afternoon. I sketched some basic wireframes as a guide, opened Sketch to create some high res pdf assets to import to Xcode, and got to work trying to tie together 4 simple screens. I spent most of my time having fun with adding some physics to the main menu animation, after which I somewhat successfully tied the 4 screens together, dealt with all the red bugs, and ignored the warnings. The only problem was that I couldn’t test on a device. My iPad was updated to the latest version of iOS, while I hadn’t updated Xcode for a couple updates. Updating Xcode always has the potential to add problems so I delay updating as long as possible.

On Thursday late morning, mere hours before the event I took the chance of updating Xcode, an update which took over 2 hours.

Luckily the update didn’t break anything, and the app loaded and launched without a hitch.

When I was told Startup Zone was having a demo day I was expecting a somewhat relaxed affair where we all gathered around to share what we were working on with a few guests. Not so different from team meetings in the past. Instead, the fishbowl was packed with far too many people to make an introvert like myself feel comfortable, so I stayed in the sidelines during most of the events networking and demo and pitches preamble.

Demo done, without any embarrassing crashes or glitches, I then slid to the back of the room, where I could stand in obscurity to hear what others were working on.


Links on form design

Website Form Usability: Top 10 Recommendations by Kathryn Whitenton, Nielsen Norman Group
Design Better Forms — Common mistakes designers make and how to fix them by Andrew Coyle
Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist by Brian Crescimanno, A List Apart
Better Form Design: One Thing Per Page (Case Study) by Adam Silver
20 Guidelines for Usable Web Form Design, J.A. Bargas-Avila, O. Brenzikofer, S.P. Roth, A.N. Tuch, S. Orsini and K. Opwis, University of Basel
Avoid Multi-Column Forms by Jamie Appleseed, Baymard Institute
Placeholders in Form Fields Are Harmful by Katie Sherwin, Nielsen Norman Group


That everyone is participating in the same way, that age or background doesn’t somehow disqualify contributions, and being treated as having an equal stake in being there.
Crafting {:} a Reflection

A common mantra for me is that leadership can come from anywhere. Leadership can come in many forms; ideas, expertise, authorship and well … leading, and it does not depend on age, title or any other hierarchical construct. Thats not to diminish experience but to accept that we all have our limits and everyone has a voice.

I learned this lesson very early when I had an ego the size of Charlottetown and a young kid straight out of high school took over the lead chair in a big band I was playing in. I had seniority but he simply had more potential in the role than I. It stung at the time and the conductor didn’t sugar coat it, which has made it stay with me all these years later.


Books on Interviewing

I sent out this short list of reading material which goes into more detail about what I often talk to people about. My knowledge of interviewing is not so much on the science but how to present yourself (acting) to others so that you can get answers to your research question(s). These books cover just about all you need t know. My favourite is Mental Models by Indi Young – it’s concise and easy to understand. Indi Young and Erika Hall are just about my favourite people working in design right now. Erika Hall is one of the few reasons why I still use twitter.

Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights

Mental Models ch. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

The User Experience Team of One

Qualitative Research: A Guide to Design and Implementation


New Bike

I purchased a bike recently for a number of the usual reasons, but primarily as a means of maintaining some ability to get downtown when Sheryl arrives next month. As the fall arrives she will have more pressing needs for a car than I, and acquiring a second car at this point seems unwise. Finding a bike was a bit of a challenge as I found the selection was limited and prices here in PEI were far higher than what I would have paid in the past (this is a common refrain for me, as almost everything outside of “fast fashion” is more expensive on PEI than elsewhere I’ve recently lived). The used market was also surprisingly devoid of choice. After a brief infatuation with a fixie that a shop in Montreal was selling, I found a Specialized commuter bike at MacQueen’s Bike Shop which magically dropped $150 in price when I mentioned I was also looking at a Giant at Sporting Intentions, a brand I prefer.

Peter quotes Elmine on her experience riding in Canada from a Dutch perspective, and her experiences ring true to me:

But it’s not just the roads that needs a redesign. It will take a generation to retrain everyone driving the road, both by car and on bike.

Riding in Hsinchu was always a challenge. It often seemed like a death match between rider and driver. With the narrow streets packed with cars, pedestrians and angry dogs you really had to learn to drive with extreme awareness of your surroundings. Good brakes helped too. But people there are accustomed to all manner of vehicles on the streets and there is a sort of intuition that develops over time. As a result, despite facing down dump trucks on narrow mountain roads, and fighting through crazy traffic, I survived unscathed. The pollution was a bit harder to avoid.

Riding in Charlottetown should feel much safer and yet it doesn’t. Particularly when crossing the bridge, which drivers seem to treat as a raceway or major city highway, for which they would seem to lack the experience or skill to drive on.

The first problem is the condition of the roads themselves, which particularly on Water street where rocks from trucks force me to ride out in traffic when a perfectly good bike lane is available. The city of my youth used to have a street sweeper that kept the roads clean but perhaps that program has disappeared. Potholes and general disrepair make predictable riding more difficult as you need to duck and weave, otherwise you are likely to either ruin your rims or end up on your head.

With the exception of the bridge, drivers on the roads in PEI I find exceptionally polite, sometimes to a fault. But I’m not convinced that they have complete awareness of their surroundings. I’ve already seen a number of close calls in my short time riding. Perhaps as more cyclists hit the road drivers will be more accustomed to occasionally checking the right side mirror.

One thing I haven’t grasped yet is the expected riding behaviour. Some ride their bikes as if they were a car, while others are on the sidewalk some of the time, and on the street the other. In Hsinchu I followed scooter behaviour. You stay to the right and you don’t turn left at intersections. There are actual painted boxes for scooters and bikes at each intersection. This is what I have been doing here thus far, particularly at the Stratford main intersection where I walk my bike across.

Charlottetown is so small that you can easily cover all of the city in under 30 minutes, making the whole city suitable for travel by bike, something I hope to do more of as the summer progresses.


Alba Armengou

I found this wonderful young artist on Instagram which shows I think that there is still some hope for the platform, at least in artist discovery.

This is something that I find is missing from my life, good music curation, like what we used to have when you had a circle of friends who would share mix tapes or you could walk into Sam The Record Man on Younge Street in Toronto and listen to an LP (or talk to the excellent staff). Apple Music is great, all the music you could listen to at any time you want, but it’s curation never quite makes it for me. And the whole experience of finding an artist to listen feels unsatisfying. We need more human like or social curation from those around us.

One thing I have been talking about lately is how friction in experience results in more intention. Buying an LP at a record store requires time, space and money. This requires more thought on your part and as such should result in better more considered choices. It’s difficult to have value when everything is unlimited.

Instagram seems like the perfect place to have found Alba Armengou – her Instagram account isn’t filled with the usual my life is perfect presentations – the image she portrays seems an important part of the impression I have of her art.


WeChat and the Surveillance State

I spent a great deal of time setting up WeChat while I was in China – particularly WeChat wallet which is almost an indispensable addition but often difficult for foreigners to activate. It’s no exaggeration to say that WeChat is almost a requirement for living a normal life in China. It also delivers to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

I’ve just been locked out of WeChat (or Weixin 微信 as it is known in Chinese) and, to get back on, have had to pass through some pretty Orwellian steps – steps which have led others to question why I went along with it.

“Faceprint is required for security purposes,” it said.

I was instructed to hold my phone up – to ‘face front camera straight on’ – looking directly at the image of a human head. Then told to ‘Read numbers aloud in Mandarin Chinese’.

In China pretty much everyone has WeChat. It’s almost impossible to live without it. People wouldn’t be able to speak to their friends or family without it. So the censors who can lock you out of WeChat hold real power over you.

WeChat could “deliver to the Communist Party a life map of pretty much everybody in this country, citizens and foreigners alike.

Capturing the face and voice image of everyone who was suspended for mentioning the Tiananmen crackdown anniversary in recent days would be considered very useful for those who want to monitor anyone who might potentially cause problems.

The app – thought by Western intelligence agencies to be the least secure of its type in the world – has essentially got you over a barrel.

If you want to have a normal life in China, you had better not say anything controversial about the Communist Party and especially not about its leader, Xi Jinping.

China social media: WeChat and the Surveillance State

This would have made a worthy addition to the discussion that followed Oliver’s excellent presentation on surveillance during the Crafting {:} a Life unconference.


Crafting {:} a Life initial impressions

“There is no one way”. Outside the unconference.

This Friday and Saturday past I had the pleasure to attend Peter’s unconference, Crafting {:} a Life. It was both humbling and inspirational; humbling to meet so many who have done so much with their lives and for their communities, and inspiring to think that maybe I might follow their example. I’m still taking notes, processing all that I learned but I thought I might share some initial impressions before it fades.

Since returning to PEI I have been gorging myself in a veritable Chinese buffet of workshops, networking events, talks and conferences. I’ve also been forcing myself to escape my introverted ways long enough to try and have conversations with people; after almost every conversation I can come away with one point, that might inspire me to try some new direction or file an idea away for possible later use. But many (not all) of the workshops attended left me feeling empty, with little inspiration or actionable information, and tired of the same old routine of pitching and business card swapping. There was little opportunity for discussion and in some cases I got the impression that these good people were placed in a box where they were forced to be an expert in a topic, for which they had little expertise.

Crafting {:} a Life was a breathe of fresh air. The unconference dispensed with pretension, titles or faux expertise. Everyone had for the most part a chance to share their story, contribute, and talk. While some asked what I did for a living, it was only after all other avenues of discussion were explored. For the most part one-to-one conversations were much like what I had with Robert Patterson, (“What is Clark’s story” he asked) open ended, personal, and with the ability to discover new things about the other. The activities emphasized small groups and there was no “oh my God my PPT is out of order what will we talk about” that I myself have fallen victim to. There was music, laughter, food and tears. It was genuine, a great counterpoint to the Instagram-isation of everything.

I had one small disappointment. The first activity involved breaking off into small groups and sharing the thing you have created that you are most proud of. This is far superior to forcing a group full of introverts to stand up and one by one introduce themselves, whereby many would fall back on the oft spoken 2-3 liners spoken everywhere. After each person told their story we wrote down keywords on sticky notes that described what we heard. In the end a whole wall was filled with notes describing the attendees stories. What would have been interesting would have been to analyze that data and see what emerged. It often seems a shame to have a bucket of data and not do something with it. I say this in hindsight, as the thought didn’t occur to during the days of the event.

The conference structure itself and the conversations that resulted were the highlights, and I think how I hold talks in the future may forever be changed, but being taken by Leo Cheverie to the ‘Tent town’ was an opportunity I might not have otherwise enjoyed. While there I was fortunate to meet our Mayor and have a short talk. Luckily he is an amiable guy as I criticized the recent survey released by his council to help address the housing crisis. I told him it was the worst research attempt I had ever seen and I hoped no decisions would be made based on the bad data collected. He said he was displeased with the survey as well, but not due to bad research design, but because the comments section had no line break. I talked with members of the affordable house group(?), asking why they created such a biased survey, instead of perhaps using qualitative methods, their response was that they had to do something to counter the city’s own survey. Unfortunately 2 bad sets of data does not create more insight. I’m thinking that what Powerpoint has done to communication, Survey Monkey has done to research.

With intention, the simple act of spending time together talking about life for a while, Crafting {:} a Life has set a very high bar and is one the highlights of what is fast becoming our first year on the Island.

Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 1
Crafting {:} a Life Unconference Day 2
Crafting {:} a saga
Leaving PEI
Fantasy Cartography
Crafting {:} a life


System Malfunction

Yesterday my daughter Catriona remarked at how hot the floor was in our kitchen, at the time I dismissed it as some combination of heat coming from the fridge and perhaps her penchant for exaggeration.

That is until I woke up this morning and saw that the temperature in the livingroom was 29.

Our place has in-floor heating which sounded really great prior to our moving in. I envisioned cold snowy days enjoyed inside with comfortably warm tile flooring. In practice, while we were warm in winter, the living room only had one strip of heat emanating near the wall. I thought it was a case of ChaBuDuo-ism or simply a developer cutting corners to reduce cost.

But as I discovered the morning, the whole floor only gets warm, blazingly so, when you turn the whole system off like I did. There is a cool setting too, but as far as I can see that’s never worked.


Last vestiges of winter?

It started yesterday morning, after a somewhat sleepless night, the scratchy throat and general hoarseness in my voice, indicators of a cold in bloom. This will be my 3rd cold in 2 months which must be some kind of record for me.

A quick check with Dr. Google states I could be suffering due all kinds of reasons, including vitamin d deficiency, poor diet, sleep deprivation, poor hygiene, bad oral health and the biggie, an immune system disorder. Luckily I don’t smoke, as that seems to be a catch all for every malady.

Hopefully the good weather we are finally due will serve as a suitable tonic and I’ll be on the mend asap.


A CrossFit Intervention

In hindsight perhaps I should joined a fitness class for seniors at the nearby retirement home.

This past winter has been particularly dark, both literally and figuratively, and before I spiralled any further down the depths of despair, I decided to do something drastic to rid myself of the funk I had been in for months. So I signed up for CrossFit.

This year I discovered just how much I dislike winter on the Island. For 5 months I have been completely inactive; didn’t run, hardly walked, and stopped my nightly yoga/stretching routine. Gradually as the weather worsened I stopped heading downtown to work and didn’t socialize much at all, preferring to stay in my closet sized office where it was warm. This isolation coupled with the challenges of trying to work alone meant that my productivity, and as a result my general mood, worsened over time. My diet hasn’t been that great either – we ate primarily fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat in Taiwan but in an attempt to keep costs comparable, we ate far more prepared food and breads than I should.

I’ve been going to CrossFit for just about a month and my goal, other than enjoying the benefits of exercise, was a kick in the pants that you get from the commitment to group activities. The first class resulted in me hobbling home to have a nap, and I was sore for days afterwards. 4 one-on-one coaching sessions followed where I learned a number of different warm-ups, discussed my limitations, and did some olympic lifting minus the olympic sized weight. I’ve been attending regular classes since and despite my conscious attempts to keep my tendency to want to kill myself through exercise in check, I’ve been teetering on the verge of serious injury ever since.

Coach to CrossFit would seem to be a bigger challenge than I anticipated. But it seems to be working and if I can strike a balance between challenge and safety, I think it will work out for the long term and perhaps make me a better runner, and a happier, more productive person.


Downtown for the summer

I’ve taken up residence at the Start Up Zone for the summer, planting my monitor and associated apparatus on a desk with my back against the wall. It’s only been the 3rd day (I like working on Sunday afternoons) but so far it’s been going fine.

As far as a working environment goes I see working in the fishbowl as the lessor of 2 evils. I generally hate open offices and since the StartUp Zone for some strange reason combines kitchen, conference area, and work space into one, the distractions reach at times an insane level. But it beats the isolation of my closet at home and the stamping, yelps and hoots that appear out of the blue from my Upstairs Neighbor.

One of the main attractions for working downtown is that Charlottetown is a great place to be when the sun shines, the air warm, and people present. The city is very walkable and will make for some pleasant breaks from work. It’s much better than the desolation of Bunbury.


Trading away money and freedom for convenience

Why do smart people trade away so much money and freedom for just a little convenience?

We do it all the time. We take the easy path, the simple shortcut or the long-term bad deal simply because it feels easier.

The reason? Thinking is not worth the hassle.

Cognitive load overwhelms us. Too many choices. The stakes feel too high. Every day, we make 1,000 times as many different decisions as our cavemen ancestors did. We’re exhausted from all the decisions, and more than that, from the narrative we have about making them poorly.
Seth Godin

I shop at NoFrills partially because I have found the prices on many commodities to be markedly cheaper than elsewhere. But I also shop there because of limited choice. More choice actually makes you less happy, which is counter to what many believe. I asked some people why they would shop at Super Store knowing that the prices are in some cases much much higher (same product, same parent company) and it came down to convenience, and choice. People may unknowingly make themselves less happy by these decisions.

Notre Dame high school has an interesting cognitive load links which differ from my usual reading on the topic.


Prototyping life decisions

“So prototyping is a great way to go through your life because nobody knows the answer”

My first year on Prince Edward Island is coming to a close and it’s time to make some decisions as to what to do going forward – leaving has even been discussed. It’s spring and change is in the air.

I have come to loathe any kind of self-help advice and feel that for the most part change does not come from an online “guru” or in the pages of a book, but from deep within. I feel somewhat the same towards productivity methods, which used to be in vogue, and after studying most have come to realize that no tool or technique is going to remove the dissonance you feel from having to finish some aggravating task, so you can click a check button.

The best advice I have ever received has been deceptively simple, and likely means nothing to anyone but myself. My trumpet teacher would always advise to ignore the problem, in this case a consistently missed note, and focus on (a correct) process. My mother would simply say when I faced a problem, everything will work out in the end. She wisely kept the part as to whether the result would be positive or negative ambiguous, thereby assuring that she was indeed correct. I believe it was in an email conversation that John Maeda advised me that when facing two possible paths, choose both. I’ve since realized that doing everything is only possible for people like John Maeda.

Lately I have been faced with some hard choices. My technique to date would seem to be let the problem rest and the solution will emerge.

I have in part been doing the following:

Instead of long-term plans or goals for the future that can shut us off from what is happening right now, Tim Minchin advocates for the ‘passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals’.

‘Be micro-ambitious,’ he says. ‘Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you … you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams.’

When you don’t know which step to take, a small step can allow you to see what new opportunities appear.
How to figure out your next step

Which I found by accident when admiring the websites aesthetic, which is more or less similar to mine.

Essentially I have been trying different things over the past year to see what might work (prototyping). But the problem has still been festering, so I sought out help from a fellow advisor at the StartUp Zone, thinking that her expertise might be able to help. But recently after reviewing some material on design thinking, inspired in part by a recent design meetup, and my own need to introduce the techniques to others, I realized that I have the skills needed to solve all of these human wicked problems – design thinking. When I introduce an agile UX process to people, which is very similar to design thinking processes, I often tell people that this is how I live my life, short iterative bursts with time for reflection in between. But somehow I forgot about this when needing to make decisions about what’s next.

When big decisions arise, rather than leaping into the unknown on a gut feeling or a guess, you can apply design thinking: ask questions, seek feedback, prototype yourself by undergoing relevant experiences and exposing your assumptions to reality. … What you should do with your life is probably the most wicked problem there is, but design thinking and prototyping allow us to make the most refined choices we can.
How to Make Better Life Decisions through Design Thinking and Prototyping

Dave Evans overviews this idea in his video, To Make Big Life Decisions, Use Design Thinking and Prototyping.

I don’t have any one resource that I have relied upon for learning about Design Thinking, it wasn’t talked about much in my circles until a couple years ago, but I have read The Ten Faces of Innovation, Service Design: From Insight to Implementation, Sketching User Experiences, and Change by Design. Many colleagues liked The Human-Centered Design Toolkit but I have only given it a cursory glance.

Over the course of our 12th month here I’ll be using with more vigour the various design thinking techniques – sticky notes et al – to try to come to a thoughtful answer to what changes in direction I will be making for the next coming year.


Never cool

My son thinks I am a noob, or will gesture like above when given the chance. My daughter says I’m “a dad” with a certain inflection, which has positive and negative connotations I guess, and the last time we met, her English teacher told me I’m not cool. My Chinese teacher today said in our conversation that I am the strictest sounding father she has heard in some time. It’s tough.

The picture above was taken this past Saturday during a walk on the beach. It was brilliant seasonal weather.


Columbo interview technique

Kara Pernice introduces 3 techniques for facilitating user tests: Echo, Boomerang, and Columbo. Echo and Boomerang are fairly common and many would use these consciously or unconsciously, but the Columbo method is something I can’t remember consciously using in the past (silence is usually an effective technique to get people talking, as is talking about unrelated topics at the beginning of a session). It’s been an entertaining deep dive reading more about this method, it’s surprisingly used across a number of disciplines, but most enjoyable of all is watching old episodes of the TV series for which it is named after. You can learn a lot about interviewing people just by watching that show alone.

Changing minds has a simple introduction to the method.


Netflix Series Street Food

Taiwan’s unique culinary traditions are once again making tasty waves in the international media, this time thanks to a new Netflix series called Street Food. The series (which made its debut on the streaming service in May) dedicates each episode to the culinary traditions of one particular spot on the globe. Though hardly surprising that Taiwan made the first season, the show’s creators make a bold choice by skipping the usual Taiwanese culinary tropes of night markets, dumplings and beef noodle soup, choosing instead to focus on the culinary traditions of lesser-known (outside of Taipei) city of Chiayi.

[…]

Over the course of the 33-minute episode, viewers are treated to far more than just mouth-watering shots of food preparation. They’re also taken inside the homes, personal struggles and family dramas of the people behind the dishes.
Taiwan Scene

I watched the Chiayi episode last night, and started the Bangkok episode, Bangkok is my second favourite city to find good food. It’s a great episode and series overall, which makes me miss the region we lived in for so long, but I don’t think I will sit with the kids and watch, as the calls to return to Taiwan will be unrelenting for days. They love 豆花.

Unlike so many food programs I have seen, this gives some great insight into Taiwan culture; the family relationships and work culture are pretty evident when you listen to Grace Chia Hui Lin tell the story of smart fish.

Highly recommended.


Charlottetown short-term rental survey

But the city’s manager of planning Alex Forbes said the survey, written by city staff, isn’t trying to steer respondents to any particular conclusions.

“We attempted to write the survey in a manner that didn’t necessarily indicate that this was a preferred direction. It was to try to get all sides of the issue,” Forbes said.

As to the lack of an option to suggest the city limit short-term rentals to owner-occupied residences, Forbes said the goal wasn’t to spend “reams and reams of time” developing a “perfect” survey.
CBC

Alex Forbes gives the classic excuse when facing criticism over his departments research effort. The effort looks to be very weak and poorly written.

I would be the first to admit that I am not an expert in this particular form of research but I have prepared enough research plans to know when I see a weak effort. Personally, I have found the utility of surveys to be rather limited – you get so much more useful data from qualitative methods – and thus I can count the number of times I have written a survey on one hand.

I do know they have value, like other quantitive methods, in their ability to draw some general conclusions.

With an issue as important as this I would expect that the people who produced this survey, who may very well not have much research expertise, might do what many designers or engineers do when faced with a task for which they are unfamiliar, study and ask for help (hello stack overflow). We don’t all have the luxury of focusing on any one skill for an extended period of time, so the willingness to learn as you go, in order to best serve the goals of your project is essential. And as with any research effort, it’s also helpful to gain feedback from various stakeholders, and do a trial, to test the effectiveness of your research design.

Here are a few links which they could have started with, which took me all of 5 minutes to find on google:

How to create a quantitative research questionnaire correctly

28 Tips for Creating Great Qualitative Surveys

The Difference Between Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

Good Practices in Survey Design Step-by-Step

Fundamentals of Survey Research Methodology


The Disgust for Hush: A Universal Pattern

The fact is, lack of back-and-forth chatter makes us uncomfortable. Research by Koudenburg, Postmes, and Gordijn has shown that, in the United States, it takes only four seconds before an extended period of silence becomes uncomfortable during conversation. Four seconds! Why the disgust for hush? Long story short, humans equate silence with rejection. We have an evolution-driven desire for conversation because it makes us feel connected and accepted. So why would we want to intentionally create periods of “awkward” silence with participants in workshops or research activities?
The power of intentional silence is well-known and utilized among many professional groups: Sales people pause after their pitches for dramatic effect. Counselors practice waiting five seconds after a patient stops speaking before responding. Nurses and physicians employ intentional silence in order to demonstrate compassion and respect. And negotiators adhere to the saying: “He who speaks first, loses.”
As UX professionals, we, too, can harness the power of intentional silence. If we can just become comfortable with that brief period of unsettling silence during our user interview sessions, usability tests, and workshops, we’ll get more out of our participants. Intentional silence, used strategically, can create space, invite response, and signal interest. And it is in periods of silence where participants often offer crucial and most-poignant information.

This is a difficult lesson in so many situations; something that I had to learn not just for holding customer interviews but for any kind of conflict resolution or negotiation. I have found it to be an essential skill in Taiwan.

The Science of Silence: Intentional Silence as a Moderation Technique


I decided to noise-cancel life

I own three pairs of noise-canceling headphones. Two go over my ears, enveloping them in cozy tombs of silence. One pair consists of earbuds, one of which I jam into my ear to block out the world while I use my other ear for phone interviews. Besides the noise-canceling kind, I have headphones for basically every activity I do. In fact, I recently came to the disturbing realization that there’s rarely a moment of my day when my ears are not filled with or covered by something.

[…]

I realize the dangers inherent in this overall trend—I might even go so far as to call it “socially alienating” and “destructive of relationships”—but I nevertheless feel it’s inexorable. At this point, everything is curated—except, of course, what we hear. And as long as unfamiliar sounds are going to be foisted on me all day, it feels good to draw a private, firm border. The buck stops at my cochlea.

This is a somewhat new habit for me. One of my goals for moving to PEI was to escape the constant din of noise that I experienced elsewhere and yet during the day I am either wearing noise cancelling headphones or Etymotic Research Earplugs, and non-vented earplugs to sleep. Wearing earplugs has some risks but so does a lack of sleep.

What Happens When You Always Wear Headphones


Keeping good records

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.


Some perspective

I have a tendency to see things as they should be compared to how they could be or how they have improved. This comes up often when I express disappointment with Catriona’s academic performance, she the optimist states that she has improved, while I state that she still isn’t reaching her potential.

This frames my frequent grumblings about the local medical system and my anxiety with the possibility of growing old here on the Island. My mothers quality of life was greatly diminished by a lack of timely diagnosis and care, until the end, when she was in palliative care where she experienced what can only be described as the best attention that people can give to others; a shining example of what quality care should be.

But as the screenshot of Alberto Cairo’s tweet below shows, things could be much much worse:

I don’t know much about the US health care system, but I feel there is no way we could attempt to lead the life we want to live here, in the manner in which we are attempting, south of the border. In that context we seem very lucky.

Via DoctorbyDesigner


Theatre of innovation

Ideo breaks its silence on design thinking’s critics

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.


Another medical system misstep

In the past, for the most part, if one of the kids got sick we would immediately make an appointment with of the many children’s clinics that seem almost ubiquitous in Hsinchu. If late at night, a quick visit to emergency might also be in order. The only real hesitation we had was the time and stress required to fight traffic during the long rush hour(s).

Other than determining the seriousness of their affliction, and overprescribing medication, doctors in Hsinchu provided a great point of contact for understanding what illnesses were making their way through the city. That way we could be better prepared for the progression of their symptoms, and prepare ourselves if we were also to get afflicted.

That almost reflex to see a doctor is something that I fight against here, as everything is weighed against “is it worthy of a 5-7+ hour wait in emergency”. This is a rather risky equation, as I am no nurse, and some problems are hard to diagnose.

This week Camren had severe vomiting and diarrhea. I initially didn’t take him to a walk in clinic as it seemed like a serious but common gastro intestinal virus. We all eat the same food and he didn’t have an infection. As a result he had a day of rest, kept hydrated, and managed to go to school the following day.

Last night before Jujitsu he complained of stomach pain. He characterized it as being super hungry, so I fed him a banana, and he helped himself to some bread with peanut butter. I then dropped him off at class and ran some errands nearby. But when I arrived back at his class to watch him grapple, he was sitting at the side and the teacher, or professor as he likes to be addressed, told me his stomach was too sore to work out. He hobbled out the door of his dojo, hunched over like an old man might be characterized in a cartoon, and made his way to the car. I saw cold sweat on his forehead which indicated real pain.

When we got home I checked to see if there were any clinics open Island wide. It was 6:30 and they all seemed to be closed but for the one at the Murphys Pharmacy in Stratford, which was scheduled to remain open until 7:30pm. I called the clinic to check if they were still seeing patients and was presented with a recording stating they were open until 7:30.

I packed Camren into the car to go to the clinic and told him not to get his hopes up, as experience has taught me that last minute visits to walk in clinics here are often unsuccessful – they may not be able to see more patients. Enroute I asked him to rate his pain. I said if your broken arm was a 10, how would this rate? He said an 8.

We arrived at the clinic to find that they closed early. Lovely. With no other clinics open we really only have one other choice, the emergency room.

We drove home and I gave him a cursory exam – no fever, no blood in stool, stomach not distended or hard, and he wasn’t vomiting. I used the “is it worthy of a 5-7+ hour wait in emergency” equation and decided to let him rest until morning. He agreed.

Luckily this morning he was fine. But I regret having made this decision. And I don’t appreciate having to make this decision in the first place.

Stomach pain is one of the symptoms that is usually worthy of a trip to an emergency room if other options don’t exist, and so I wasn’t overly concerned about adding stress to the system from an unwarranted visit. My concern was the real possibility that sitting in a chair all night in order to see a medical professional, might make matters worse for him, and to a lesser extent me (I’ve come down with yet another wicked chest cold).

Perhaps this limited access is the norm in most countries but it certainly adds unneeded anxiety to our lives here.

*Peter helpfully points out that there is a service that will help you decide whether your symptoms are worthy of a trip to the hospital. Just dial 811.