There are a few eerie similarities between the plotting of mystery novels and how designers should document design research findings.
5 posts from February 2010
I held the drunk man's hand like a dance partner at a debutante ball, sashaying our way towards the front door of the Collins Pub.
We had both been at the Seattle Matsuri, a two-hour "all you can taste" exhibition of sakes that would be hitting the American market soon. At the event, most of us directed the delicious sakes from each brewer's bottle from our mouths into the handily-provided metal spittoons, thereby avoiding imbibing dozens of ounces of these potent wines and the fallout possible therein.
Then there were fellows like this man—whom we shall call Jeff, to protect his identity—who chose to swallow from each glass a bit too liberally. Upon running into him on the street after the event, he seemed quite lucid. But as our party sat down at the pub, desperate for a late dinner of burgers, fish, and chips to counter the onslaught of wine, you could see the power light draining right out of his eyes, his speech slurring from complete sentences to fragments. When he announced that he needed to get outside to wake up a bit, his attempt to stand up caused him to flip another table and fall to the ground in a mixture of both bewilderment and humiliation.
Sitting outside with Jeff for a little fresh air, we chatted haltingly about where he lived and what he did for a living, all the while demurring the advances of the usual Pioneer Square drug dealers offering cut-rate deals on stimulants and muscle relaxants. (Seriously, does this guy look like he needs a muscle relaxant?) But our real adventure began when he said the following: "Let's call my wife. She can pick me up."
First, we had to find the phone.
Light from the noonday sun lit up dust motes floating in the quiet conference room—empty except for our agency portfolio case, heavy with design concepts affixed to black board.
We'd agreed to convene this quick lunch meeting, sans any actual food or drink, to discuss our agreed-upon direction for a national advertising campaign with our client's supervisor. We had worked on the project for five weeks, moving from a formal creative brief to high-level design concepts to the in-depth logistical planning required to pay off our creative approach.
The supervisor we were meeting with had been CC'd on every email that contained a critical deliverable—five, to date—and all of us, including our direct client contact, viewed this get-together as a chance for us to unpack any of the perceived nuances in those deliverables, answer questions, and receive a final blessing to roll everything into execution.
However, by the time the meeting began (a good 20 minutes late) and we walked through the introductory slides that recapped our agreed-upon approach from the creative brief, we were on much shakier ground that we'd anticipated.
Or, to be clearer, volumes were contained in the following statement from the supervisor: "I'm not sure I agree with your assertions about the audience we're trying to target. But keep going… I'd at least like to see the creative you've come up with."
At this point, we weren't walking on eggshells. We were trying to keep the yolks from gumming up our beards. Five weeks of work were at risk of evaporating, all because the most important stakeholder on the project—someone whom we'd assumed was to remain informed of project progress—hadn't reviewed a key document at the start of the project. We'd never received written feedback from them about the creative brief, and that was what was now being called into question.
These kinds of situations happen all the time to working designers. They are so common that there are specific methods that savvy design professionals use to keep them from happening. One of these methods is building a RACI matrix.
Identify the following statements as True or False. Show your work.
- All design is the process of making experiences.
- The next economy is not a utopia. It is here today, growing in the framework of the old economy.
- We can optimize the stories that users tell themselves as they use a product.
- Interactive products that take on human qualities fail when the qualities sentience, intimacy, and personality fall into the uncanny valley.
- The future is tomorrow, not just an ideal outcome or fantasy world we should design for.
- No two individuals will have an identical experience.
- Search is a wicked problem.
- Interaction design can also be art.
- Physical spaces carry cognitive loads. (i.e. Ask, "What is the cognitive load of a street?")
- A customer experience can be defined and designed by mapping both the tangible and intangible portions of a provided service.
- We can add meaning to physical objects beyond what is tangible to users.
- We don't need to define user experience in order to measure it.
- Designers manipulate the audiences they are intended to influence.
- Designers have a responsibility for how they manipulate users.
- An experience cannot be built for someone… one has an experience, and that is experience is always unique.
- Almost all design disciplines are a facet of the discipline of interaction design.
- Polite interfaces garner praise.
- Consumerism isn't dead. But it needs to be.
- If [a designed artifact] is not ethical, it cannot be beautiful.
- Act like a design thinker, but think like a design activist.
- Usability metrics can't function as key performance indicators for your clients.
- All design is the process of evoking meaning.
- Do not consider people as passive users or consumers.
- Approach your designs from an impressionistic perspective.
- Always have a systems perspective when designing products or services.
- Instead of being a design leader, consider the importance of design influence—promoting design throughout your organization.
- Understanding emotion improves the experience of emotion.
- The future of our profession is the design of enabling systems.
- To be an interaction designer, you need to be: A. Born to hippie parents; B. Have (or verge upon) OCD tendencies; C. Possess a compulsive urge to fix broken things (not the same as OCD); D. Possess a sense of humility bordering on the pathological; E. Be shy or geeky, but methodically so; F. All of the above.
- Website copy is a monologue. It requires an authentic tone of voice to be effective.
- Clients don't see the invisible. It's hard for clients to acknowledge, prize, and value the intangible.
- Creating explorative, playful spaces moves users from passive to active engagement.
- Don't overthink what you design.
- Every crisis also provides an opportunity for meaningful change.
All quotes and paraphrased content from my notes and live tweets of speakers at the Interaction 10 Conference in Savannah, Georgia. Bonus points if you can identify whom said which statement.
"Before the client’s signed my contract, should I start working on that big design project?"
The simple answer: No.
The more complex answer: No. Every minute that you bill will vanish in a whiff of non-billable smoke if the client decides to back out at the eleventh hour. For some designers, it only takes one client walking away from a contract to encourage strong boundaries. Others get burned over and over again, which can be crippling for your cashflow.
As part of your pre-contact negotiations, let the client know that you won't start work until your contract is signed. Every extra day that they take to sign the contract, you should tack on that extra time to the end of your schedule, instead of trying to make up for it. This should be clear to the client, in writing, as part of your terms and conditions.
If you haven’t extended them credit, you shouldn’t work until they’ve provided you with your first payment as well.
If they say the check’s in the mail, you let them know that the project will start when you’ve received it (and cashed it). If it's "held up in accounting," then this gives them an incentive to go breathe fire down said accountant's neck.
If you have worked with your client a number of times in the past, and they have paid you promptly for services rendered, you may consider extending them credit and getting started… but only after you have a signed contract.
If you're tempted to use a letter of intent (LOI) to negotiate a big fancy contract or master services agreement, know that it's essentially tantamount to extending credit if you don't get paid up front for your time.
And if you've set up your contract so your payments are gating the work, make it clear to the client well before you get to the end of each phase that you'll be expecting payment to proceed. Otherwise, they may be quite pissed that the project is going to be behind schedule because you hadn't communicated an essential responsibility to them.