Heavy Load

You will often see seniors here helping to support themselves by collecting recyclables. I suspect many are without family support. A couple weeks ago I was out riding on the nearby hills and came across an old lady laying on the road. I approached her cautiously, as Taiwan unfortunately has a reputation for using accidents for financial gain, scams abound. This may be a contributing factor as to why you often see people reluctant to help accident victims. But no normal person is going to walk by an old lady in need. Luckily she spoke Chinese, some in the rural parts of Hsinchu might be more comfortable with Taiwanese, and I asked her if she was ok. She had been hauling a refrigerator on a cart down a steep hill and it fell over taking her with it. I asked if she was ok and she said she was just a bit sore. I offered to call a family member, but she said their was no one to call, she was alone. With the help of passerby’s we got her on her way, but it’s unfortunate to see someone in this kind of situation. Growing old is hard enough without having to resort to collecting others garbage to put food on the table.


Learn to do it yourself

I’m taking a break from what I consider hell … trying to massage a WordPress theme to fit my humble needs. The ftp client crashed taking all my tracked changes with it and now the website won’t load.

It’s a lesson and a longing for a return to my former self when I had time to labor over a non-client project, building everything myself. I have so much respect for product designers who, like the web designers of lore, can create the whole stack, and make it look and work great.

This is one of the reasons why I started learning programming in earnest. To have more control over what I wanted to create. Self-reliance. And it’s why I plan on spending time in late summer, hopefully much sooner, brushing off my web development skills so that I can stop this WordPress bloat that has appeared in many of my web projects these past number of years.

I miss MoveableType, it’s flat files and mark-up language, and of course it’s speed. I made my own themes then and didn’t add every possible feature, javascript framework, or plugin that makes decoding and paring down each and every WordPress website a bloody nightmare.


The forgotten UX of the contact feature

Hard to believe this is still an issue.

When I started in design many years ago, particularly when I started working with small and medium sized corporate clients in Taiwan, one of the most common features that we would work on to improve their corporate websites user experience was the addition of easily findable contact information, and all the back-end systems required to make it effective. There was no point in including a phone number for support if no one was there to pick up the phone. At that time this was one of the primary tasks that users would visit a website to perform. Of course, it’s as common as air today, and yet this most basic element of a good user experience, has been the most frustrating for me in my interactions with a number of companies of late.

In Taiwan, I think it must be generally accepted that email is broken. With some exceptions, you don’t send an email to a government department and expect a reply, nor do you email a company and expect a timely response. I once sent an email to Garmin in Taiwan about one of their products and got a short 2 sentence reply 8 months later. In the interim I bought a competitors product. Facebook or Line is the way you interact here and I have had varying levels of success with that as well.

When I was last in Canada, I sent out a number of email to various local government departments. Reply times were generally 2 weeks – its best to use the telephone.

This past summer I had an agreement with the TD Bank in Charlottetown that we would communicate via email so that I could do some investing and take care of my mothers estate. The first couple of email replies were within a couple weeks, then no replies for months, then no replies at all. I doubt I will do any further business with this bank, and am considering switching completely to another institution.

Correspondence with a local Charlottetown insurance agent went unanswered, and the requested actions never took. That coupled with a misrepresentation of the policy itself means that they will lose all my current and future business once the current policy expires.

TDBank isn’t the only bank in Charlottetown with a poor communication experience. I sent an email, via their internal systems, one of the required methods off contact, to the Royal bank in Charlottetown looking to set-up an appointment to discuss a loan. It’s been a week and no reply. I guess they don’t need the business.

Finally, in looking for a place to live in Prince Edward Island, I’ve sent email to a number of rental companies. Despite a big bold contact box on all their websites, not one has replied. The rental market in PEI is a landlords market, so perhaps they don’t need to worry about drumming up business or damaging their reputation.

These are just a few examples of the may experiences I’ve had.

What companies don’t seem to realize is that by including a simple means of contact on their website they are setting the expectation that they actually want, and or are able, to communicate with their customers. By not paying attention to this most basic user task their customers experience with their company is most certainly poor, thereby losing opportunities, harming your brand, and doing a disservice to your organization. And for smaller organizations it’s just plain rude.

Before you absentmindedly add that contact information module to your website, do yourself and your company a favor and ensure that you truly are committed to communicating with your customers. You might even try stating when they might expect a reply, something even I do on this weblog. Set your customers expectations with a statement stating when they could expect a reply, and perhaps a follow-up email acknowledging receipt of said email with further confirmation of as to when you will get back to them. It’s not really that difficult.


Form vs. interaction

It is not the design of an object that makes it special, but what a person does with it — the interaction — that makes it special. A well–designed object must have the capacity to offer interaction, express deep human needs, and form relationships.

But don’t mistake these interactions as the entirety of the users experience. Great user experiences happen beyond the screen and in the gaps. Gaps between channels, devices and business silos. They happen when organisation’s pay attention to the nuances of their interaction with customers.


In the same way that industrial designers have shaped our everyday life through objects that they design for our offices and for our homes, interaction design is shaping our life with interactive technologies – computers, telecommunications, mobile phones, and so on. If I were to sum up interaction design in a sentence, I would say that it’s about shaping our everyday life through digital artifacts – for work, for play, and for entertainment.
Gillian Crampton Smith


The Downsizing Uprising

“I don’t need as much money to live which means I don’t have to work as much,” explains Andrew Odom, who with his wife, Crystal, and their three-year-old daughter recently downsized from their 248-square foot house in eastern North Carolina into a 27-foot travel trailer. “Every penny we would have paid toward a normal American house goes toward living life and adventuring and figuring out the next step, whether that’s living in a yurt or moving overseas.”

There’s plenty of new evidence to suggest that we’d all be happier shrinking our footprint and rethinking the American dream. According to a report published earlier this year by a team from Cornell University, people generally feel happier and more fulfilled when they spend money on experiences rather than material possessions; the anticipation of the outing—canoeing a river, climbing a peak, pulling off a bucket-list expedition—bumps up the happiness factor. In 2010, researchers at the London School of Economics correlated data from more than a million people who recorded their emotional states and locations on an app called Mappiness. The takeaway: We feel happier when we’re outside (yeah, we knew that, too), especially—go figure—near water.
The Downsizing Uprising

I’ve been following the tiny house movement with some interest, and have checked out a model home on display at the Science Park Hub, but have since decided that there is no way we could possibly downsize to that extent. People need some space to themselves, at least I do, and tiny homes mean you are together all the time. But I do get the appeal, the need, and with the fact that I am not getting any younger feel the next house we live in will be much smaller than the current norm. Also, I think we have always felt that “experiences” trump material positions in out life. Something that is hard to explain, let alone share with family, who like most people see success in the light of material gains.


Difficulties in finding housing in Prince Edward Island

This summer we are we are planning on relocating from Taiwan to Prince Edward Island, which feels more like emigrating than a simple move, and despite that day still more than 3 months out, and a year of planning, it’s proving to be far more “complex” than I ever imagined. I’m already losing sleep due to the uncertainty of what will come.

It’s a high risk move, a much larger challenge than when I left PEI, my birthplace, many years ago. Leaving Taiwan and China means leaving behind stable employment, good continued job prospects, a higher standard of living, and the comfort that comes from living in a region for almost 20 years. Ironically, one of the reasons I wanted to leave Taiwan, I left for this reason before but have returned, was due to work. In the tech. industry, salaries in Taiwan are the amongst the lowest in the developed world, work life balance is a problem, and industry growth stagnant. PEI doesn’t have a tech. industry to speak of and most similar job openings advertise salaries that are on par with what you might find here, less than in China, but with much higher taxation and a higher cost of living. Of course larger centers in Canada don’t suffer from lack of choice and low salaries, but Toronto isn’t home, PEI is.

The lack of employment opportunities in PEI came as no surprise, it’s known for its beauty and people, not for abundant industry. We are attempting to work around it by working remotely, starting a “wee size” business, and living apart for one year. One of us will stay behind in Taiwan to guarantee a stable income. Splitting the family takes some serious commitment.

What does come as a surprise is the complete lack of housing. The lack of housing is compounded by the fact that before we can register our children for school, we must provide a verified address, and schools are zoned aggressively, which if we are interested in our children attending a particular school, limits our choices even more. Our daughter taking the I.B. program at Colonel Gray or Charlottetown Rural, hangs in the balance.

When I first surveyed the rental market in the Charlottetown area many months ago I was primarily concerned with making a budget – I wanted to make sure we could actually afford to live there. What I found then was a grand total of 3 rentals that suited a family of 4! I thought it might have been an anomaly, but subsequent searches these past months have shown similar results. This morning when I looked across the whole Island the majority of ads on Kijiji were for people looking for places to live, not houses for rent, which while not remotely causal, might indicate that demand far far exceeds supply. Plea’s for help on social media also indicate difficulties in finding a place to live anywhere on the Island.

Buying is an option, but that market is difficult as well. And while I wouldn’t mind taking a risk on a cheap fixer-upper, these types of homes are rare in Charlottetown. Though the housing market is far more favorable than large centers in Canada, after your downpayment it’s cheaper to own on PEI than to rent, it’s still a significant investment and committment.

I can deal with some employment and business risk, we’ve embraced all kinds of risk over the years without any possibility of assistance. But the uncertainty of being able to have a roof over our heads is a whole new experience for me. Never in the past 30 years has there been any doubt we could find a place to live, until now.

While no plan survives first contact, hopefully this will all work out and the kids can start their new Island adventure in warm beds and a stable environment. I’ll just be sporting even more gray hair as a result.


If you want a meeting, ask for a meeting. Provide some time options and ask for a specified length. If you want an introduction, ask for an introduction. If you’re looking for funding, tell him you’re currently fundraising and ask to meet to show him your pitch. Don’t be sly. Don’t hint. Make the process ridiculously easy by just asking for what you want.
How to email busy people, by Jason Freedman


What is retirement to me?

My mother retired at 55 and most of her generation dreamt of early retirement like hers. Unfortunately by the time many of her generation made it to retirement, including my mother, they were so riddled with health problems that living the life they dreamed of became impossible. People I know in Taiwan and China are much the same, but at a different scale. They work insane hours, sometimes for great money, in the hope that in the end they can have enough money to have the freedom to walk away from the pressures of killing themselves.

I never shared this dream of working towards an arbitrary date, a date after reached that you could start living a life worth living. I had different ideas of how I wanted to lead my life, and by my parents definition, I’ve been retired for years now. It’s not been unicorns and rainbows of course, I don’t have a pot of gold, and have little interest, nor the ability, in buying the trappings of wealth like my peers. I’ve failed more times than I can count, I really wanted to work for a select few companies in China, but life has a way of changing your path. Their have been many challenges over the past few years and with a move to Prince Edward Island the greatest challenges are yet to come (how to survive in a region with little possibility of employment), but at least the battles I face are of my own choosing. And the things I have experienced!

I’m copying the following verbatim because I think it expresses much about my ideas of retirement. From Jan Chipchase’s great newsletter:

So what is retirement?

In the Bay Area, the topic of fuck-you money comes up a lot as a retirement goal. In part it’s because the conversation around income, stock and finance is so tied to the mythology of the area, and that most people know of a social or work peer who has achieved the freedom to step away from their job. What I don’t like about the phrase is that it’s a reaction to a negative, it implies earning good money and being happy cannot coexist. I’ve been around corporations most of my life, and understand what they, and the society at large, values financially and why. Not all jobs are intellectually rewarding or provide space for personal growth, but there are many that are — if you’re in the right place at the right time, skillful, and lucky.

Back to sitting on the verandah in Mill Valley — my colleague defined retirement as “doing only what you want to do”. She acknowledged she was part-way there, and suggested that I was fully retired.

So what is my retirement?

Four things provide the freedom that she described:

  • The first, and most obvious is in knowing the cost of living and having the savings to breathe.
  • The second is that Studio D passion projects have diversified our income streams to the point where we no-longer require consulting clients. The Handbook, SDR Traveller, retreats, expeditions, plus a few other things bubbling up, all generate relatively predictable income streams; and while revenues ebb and flow, they complement each other well. It means that every consulting client project is taken on for the right reasons.
  • The third is in maintaining a light footprint, including no offices or full time employees. This might change if the right opportunity came up, but there’s no rush.
  • The fourth, and most important, is in recognizing how little money is required to be happy, fulfilled. I start each year with a figure in mind for the year to live comfortably; after which everything, including whether to take on more work, is optional. We achieved this year’s baseline by the end of February.

If you know me, you’ll appreciate the hours I put in to bringing these things to life, and that it always takes a team. But for all of the past four years, it has not once felt like work. Is that retirement? You tell me.


Remove business risk through testing

The old world of business was one of trial and error; sometimes ideas worked out and sometimes they went belly up. The only way people learned in this context was through painful failure.But today there are other options. Now business people can remove the risk from their ideas, while reducing the costs incurred in the event of failure.They do this by verifying products through user testing. In other words, rather than assuming you have a great idea that will solve your customer’s problems, why not just put it into action and see what happens?People often have great ideas that don’t correspond to the desires of the market, and by testing these ideas on a selection of users and gathering feedback in the process, one can fine tune them so they fit market demand. From there, a revised product can be rolled out, its success can be measured and further feedback can be incorporated.

UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want. Source


The future of content, in my opinion, is all about creating context. We are bombarded with so much information from so many channels every single day, that people crave editorial that can actually help them make sense of everything. We get so much of our “content” in these little bursts now — be it an email, a tweet, a blog post. But it’s always this little bite-sized, isolated bit of information. We rarely understand how it actually fits into our lives.

Given this, I think what’s needed are curators, editors, writers, filmmakers, etc who can really zoom out from that narrow perspective and take the long view. Who can do some of that sense-making for people so that they understand how this political development fits into the long arc of history, or how developing this particular habit will give their life more meaning in the long run. The future of content is about creating a rich, well-thought-out context that makes it possible for people to really process and synthesize ideas in depth — not in this surface-y way we’re all accustomed to now.
Jocelyn K. Glei


Disciplines of Product Design

I’m taking a break from the monotony of the work I am doing this week to take a short course on Product Design with May Kim. Below is her definitions of each discipline contained within product design, a common first step in introductory courses. As time goes on these type of labels have less meaning and in some ways too restrictive – but people like identifying themselves in a certain way and organisations like formal roles.

User Research: User research places people at the center of your design process and your products. It is used to inspire and inform your designs, to evaluate your solutions, and to measure the impact of your design.

User Experience (UX) Design: User experience design, or UX design, is a human-first way of designing products, putting the user at the center and creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences to users. This involves improving a product’s usability, accessibility, and the pleasure people will get from using it.

User Interface (UI) Design: User interface design, or UI design, is about translating a brand to a product’s interface, visually guiding the user with interactive elements across all sizes and platforms. This includes a mix of visual hierarchy and interface elements — the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a product.

Visual Design: Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent and it aims to shape and improve the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, color, shapes, typography, space, and layouts on the usability of products and their aesthetic appeal.

Interaction (IxD) Design: Interaction design, or IxD, is concerned with the way people interact with products and services. It considers how the user is interacting with the product, how the product responds to the user’s input.
May Kim

Further Reading:

User Research: What it is and why you should do it, by Ditte Mortenson
A Process for Empathetic Product Design, by Jon Kolko
User Experience (UX) Design
The Definition of User Experience (UX), by Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen
The Difference between UX and UI Design – a Layman’s Guide, by Emil Lamprecht
The Building Blocks of Visual Design, by Teo Siang
Visual Design
Interaction Design
What is Product Design?, by Geoff House


Learning something new

We all begin our lives with a limited amount of practical knowledge, so it’s our job to teach ourselves as much as possible. Those who fail to do so will quickly fall behind! So, set yourself the goal of learning one new thing every day, even if it’s just something you heard on the radio. Then put this new piece of knowledge to use as soon as you can. By learning new things within the area of your specialty each day, you’ll be one step closer to achieving excellence.

You can also learn from those around you. Find your reference group – a network of people who share your values – and spend time with them. Their accomplishments will lift you up, too.

From The Psychology of Selling


Taichung Port Hero’s Marathon Results

Results from last Sunday’s marathon. Generally I am more than pleased with the results.

It had been over a year since I ran a marathon, the last one was in Xiamen and while I managed to complete with body intact I suffered due to heat and pain in my feet. I haven’t been able to run seriously in any races since. The winter I spent training for a race in Thailand, but understandably my training was lackluster and I backed out at the last minute. Other races scheduled throughout last fall had to be cancelled or trotted through due to injury.

I started running a bit over 4 years ago, run 4 marathons and numerous other races, and have consistently suffered through a host of injuries ever since. My mind, heart and lungs have been willing, but the rest of my body not. This summer past with extremely painful feet, and pain near my knee (platter fasciitis and IT band injuries) I decided to stop running and fix my problems once and for all. I developed a program after consulting a physiotherapist and after over 6 months of almost daily training it paid off.

I couldn’t have asked for much better conditions for race day – cold at start, clear skies and a generally flat course. My goal for this race was simply to finish without injury or pain, and it went exactly as planned. Slow pace but it was comfortable until the last 5k which required some mental gymnastics. Unfortunately I had my first bought of stomach issues forcing a 5+ minute pitstop at a normally I wouldn’t enter toilet.

Otherwise I didn’t experience the common lack of energy that occurs during the tail end of a long run. The whole race was fueled by fat and I wasn’t hungry after the race. Carb loading not required. Recovery time was quick.

Now that I know what is required for me to get strong and continue running faster and longer events, I’m looking forward to participating in other races. The challenge will be to try and pair down the often 3+ hours of training into something more manageable with my upcoming schedule.


In a long distance race, everyone gets tired. The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over. Sure, he’s tired. Everyone is. That’s not the point. The point is to run.
Seth Godin


Street Food in Hsinchu

A street side shop specialising in lamb with noodles, rice or as soup.


I’m not a lover of lamb so would not have eaten at this street side shop in Hsinchu but it’s a very typical scene in the downtown area at night. Taken about 14 years ago when I used to still have my street photography hobby.


Science Park Life Hub to Taipei Bus Station Schedule

新竹竹科至台北轉運站

I’m posting this as a reminder that the bus from ZhuKe to Taipei leaves every hour, not half hour as I had thought. In the past couple of weeks I’ve arrived at all the wrong times to catch the bus to Taipei. The last time I arrived in time but I had the misfortune of being behind someone who was buying tickets seemingly for the next year at specific dates and times, and naturally would think to ask if I would like to purchase a single ticket before him. With this schedule now firmly in my mind, I hopefully wont make the same mistake again.

Otherwise taking the bus to Taipei is far less stressful than driving and more convenient than trekking out to the HSR.


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.


Chunghwa Telecom vs. Rogers Data Plan

“All you can eat data for 699”

I got the above ad in my emailbox last week and with an impending move to Canada, comparisons ensued.

The offer from ChungHwa is par for the course in Taiwan, all you can use data, a countrywide wifi network, plus a free Android tablet for 699NT$ ($30CAN). Voice calling is available for a fee in the plan but few would use such a service as many prefer to using apps to for voice. This offer uses Chunghwa’s 4G network which would might be the slower of their networks offered here, but comparable to what you would find in Canada.

Rogers has a confusing array of plans so I recorded those which seems to be the most comparable.

The above is the current offer(s) from Rogers. All of the Rogers plans focus on complex rules in order to gain more revenue from fees, which are already the highest I have ever seen anywhere. No simple flat rate pricing. With Rogers you get 100mb for $10 CAN, which would should cover those who check email once a month, and $20/2 Gig afterwards. I assume like parking lot swindles, they charge you for the full amount even if only slightly over. You pay for a tablet or device separately. The second plan gives you 5 Gigs for $60, with a similar over use fee. Particularly amusing is their framing of the light and heavy plans.

When I move to Canada this summer I am expecting a 3 fold increase in fees on my mobile plan. The plan itself will be on a slower network with severe data caps. I’m going to miss the freedom that mobile plans in Asia provide.


Your smartphone makes you quick, not smart.

Every time you pick up your quickphone, you stop inventing and begin transacting instead.

The flow of information and style of interaction rewards your quickness. It helps you make decisions in this moment. Which route to drive? Which restaurant to go to? Which email to respond to?

Transactions are important, no doubt. But when you spend your entire day doing them, what disappears?
Quick or smart? by Seth Godin


An engineer who founded the popular bulletin board system PTT said that current working conditions in Taiwan, especially in the tech industry, stifle innovation.

“Once people are bogged down by work, they lose their creativity,” Tu said, pointing to the long hours, low wages and hierarchical structure at many Taiwanese companies that prevent people from having real life experiences which are the key to being inspired to create software.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s education system does not foster innovation, Tu said, saying that such a system emphasizes the right, standard answer instead of being more critical and asking questions.
Therefore, most of the engineers he has seen at local companies are rigid, afraid to voice their opinions and do whatever their bosses tell them to do.
Artificial intelligence could be Taiwan’s niche in the world


In user experience design (UX) research, we think a lot about mental models — how a user believes a process works vs. the system model of how it was actually designed; and framing — the context in which an interaction is interpreted. In essence, your satisfaction within an experience can depend a lot on your initial expectations.

For new employees, the expectation we need to set is that while the initial learning curve is steep, the on-boarding process actually never ends nor does it move in a predictably straight line.
The UX explanation for why you hate your new job after three months

Companies should approach new hires with the same vigorous approach they have, or wish to have, with product development. People aren’t software but understanding each new hire, and their needs and expectations, to the extent that you know the users of you product would go along way to producing happy talent. And happy talent has a whole slew of side benefits. Unfortunately, to my knowledge this is seldom done in Taiwanese or Chinese companies.