88 posts categorized "User Experience"

The Metaphor of the System, Part 2


Whenever I think of interaction models, I visualize in my mind an imaginary modern art gallery designed by a famous architect. Let's walk inside, pay our admission fee, and enter the first gallery from the grand foyer.

At first, what we notice are the other people milling about the space. There must be hundreds of visitors from around the world, listening to their self-guided audio tours and quietly shuffling to and fro.

To your left, there's a security guard perched on a high chair. He's supposed to make sure we don't deface the art with our No. 2 pencils. When you glance at him sideways out of the corner of your eye, he looks a bit hung over. In a few minutes, another security guard will come in to replace him, so he can grab a quick smoke outside.

There are benches, plants, and other cues that let us know we can rest and linger if we wish. Right now, schoolchildren are perched in the room's centre, either texting their friends or doodling in their notebooks.

And, lest we not forget, there are works of art. Some are on the walls, winking from baroque gilt gold frames. Others are non-traditional, like video installations and sculptures that rest like melted wrecking balls on the scarred hardwood floors. You'll have to wait a minute or two until you can make your way to what seems to be the most popular works. Most of the people are bunched around two specific paintings, perhaps by Picasso.

Much of this experience is "designed." I put that word in quotes, as there is no designer holding us by the elbow, shepherding us through the room. The designer has considered the various points of contact that a person may have with the items and people within the space: the picture frames, the benches, the pots for the plants, the uniform of the security guard. (Though the guard may not like that polka-dot tie.)

Along with the curator, the designer may have determined the containers around content—the specific framing and placement of each work—and how those containers relate to communicate a particular story. The designer may be aware of the narrative flow of the exhibit, and how visitors can create different stories from the content based on when they encounter it. The designer may have worked alongside the curator to selectively manage what content may appear on the gallery walls beside the art, such as placards, infographics, and other wayfinding moments.

However, separate of what we see within the space, there is more to examine from above. Looking upwards, we notice that light shines down through a diamond-shaped skylight. Why didn't we notice it before?

With the permission, we hike up the stairs and climb up a ladder, pushing ourselves out onto the building's roof. Standing above this room and gazing down into this gallery space, we realize that it was designed structurally to encourage a specific kind of motion, from door to door. In fact, as we walk across the roof to examine other rooms, we realize that each room winds into the other like a nautilus shell. Visitors begin each exhibit from the center of the shell—the main foyer—spinning their way outward into deeper explorations of specific subjects. The skeleton of the building's space, when abstracted from its drywall and plumbing, its specific artworks and security guards, would resemble the elegant interior form of some crustacean sea life.


Interaction Design, Late to the Parti

When considering the structure of a building, architects often define its central, organizing idea as part of their ideation and design process. This unifying idea is known as the parti. The overall expression and movement of people through the space, the actual flow that happens through daily use, emanates from and returns to this fundamental idea.

In the case of our imagined art gallery, I've noted that there is a parti that organizes its space. We could summarize it in the idea, "Nautilus shell."

The central idea or concept implicitly encourages flow and movement from room to room, via a metaphor that manifests itself implicitly in how the space is used.

When designing for interaction, well-constructed systems can have a similar unifying idea. (See Luke Wroblewski's great talk on the parti and the design sandwich, which this piece is building upon and evolving.)

But in the realm of interaction, we're not just focusing on the elements within the system—the people, the potted plants, the artwork, the security guards. We're also not solely constructing the overall architecture of the system independent of the individual actors: the blueprints, the drywall, the plumbing. We are grappling with how the whole system functions as a living, breathing organism, meant to live symbiotically with humans.

So an interaction model, when well-defined, describes how a system is intended to function over time. It is comprised of the following elements:

  • UX patterns: Repetitive structures and pathways that people will encounter and move through over and over again. Example: A news feed in Facebook would always scroll downward, containing endless objects that a user could act upon. This is important: A UX pattern describes where actions will take place, rarely a range of specific actions. That is reserved for…
  • Feature clusters: The specific functionality that a system contains. The features should be organized in a manner that makes logical sense to the people who use it, and have a dynamic relationship with the UX patterns. Example: When using my Facebook news feed, I am able to act upon an object by commenting on it, liking it, sharing it, etc.
  • System behaviour over time: The animation, transitions, and other ways that the system behaves in response to (or anticipating) user input. Example: I click on a field that says, "Write a comment..." in my news feed. It dynamically exposes a larger box with my photos, encouraging text input. If I click away, it snaps shut automatically.
  • UX principles: A set of guidelines tailored by the designer that governs the elements above. Violating the UX principles can causes all the other elements to suffer in both usability and desirability for end users. Example: I'd imagine that Facebook wants the minimum number of interactions or clicks possible from scrolling a news feed to interacting with content—one or two at most. Any new functionality must try to preserve this principle.

All of these elements are required for a system to feel unified during use. To quote Mr. Dan Saffer,

"A device without an interaction model will likely seem disjointed and made up of pieces, instead of as a whole. Pieces of functionality will work differently and the overall concept will be hard to grasp. Many mobile phones, appliances, and consumer electronics suffer from this problem. A solid interaction model is the basis for any great device."

Beyond devices, a solid interaction model can help organize practically any kind of designed experience: an art exhibit, an in-store sales experience, a board game. Any kind of product, service, or system that requires repetitive input and output would benefit. The material outputs may look different—i.e. you're not creating user flows and wireframes in all cases—but there may be a similar process in structuring the desired design outcome.

In describing the imaginary building above, I was outlining patterns of how people should enter and exit each room. There were principles that governed how those patterns are employed, and what specific features map to those patterns and principles. Specific features and content map to those patterns and principles.

But what differentiates an interaction model—at least in the process of brainstorming and crafting an interactive experience—is in what central idea or concept helps to cohere what would otherwise be "disjointed and made of pieces." I like to call these central ideas "interaction metaphors," or the metaphor of the system.

In my next post, I'll outline what makes an interaction metaphor distinct from a parti, and how these metaphors are created through the brainstorming process.

The Metaphor of the System

Targets for Ideation: Interaction Models

Recently, I've been meditating on what makes brainstorming for interaction design so challenging. (Not just because I'm leading a workshop about it at Interaction 11.)

After spending a few years in the trenches of product and service design, I've discovered that ideation for interaction doesn't operate quite the same as other design disciplines—especially when compared to visual communication, branding, marketing, and so forth.

Why? Because interaction designers are creating multifarious, complex systems comprised of repeating elements that must cohere into a recognizable and usable whole. And more likely than not, what you're attempting to modify or construct wholesale over the life of a project is an interaction model.

Never heard of an interaction model? To explain, let's take a trip to your local art gallery... in my next post.

Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios

At the Seattle Make-a-Thon on Saturday, November 6—a collaboration between IxDA Seattle, AIGA Seattle, and Interact—Aaron Rincover and I presented a two-hour workshop about how to prototype and communicate interaction ideas using video scenarios.

In our daily work as user experience designers, capturing the nuances of myriad types of interaction has become core to many of our client deliverables. This isn't something that is going to change. Different modes of user input will increase as more sensors and types of data become available. So the medium of video is perfect to capture, communicate, and iterate these multiple types of interaction.

Continue reading "Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios" »

Slides from "Designing with the Body" Workshop

Last Friday and Saturday, I taught a 75-minute workshop at AIGA Seattle's "Into the Woods" conference on how designers can incorporate prototyping practices into their design repertoire. Quickly prototyping design solutions is often the only way that a design team can discern which solution is most desirable and accessible for their intended audience. This is especially true for product, service, and exhibit design projects, which often have intangible qualities that are hard to capture in a whiteboard sketch.

In this workshop, I encouraged participants to randomly select a design challenge and then act out possible solutions to it. The challenges in the workshop were drawn from my first book from HOW Design Press, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. These challenges were timeboxed in a manner that forced workshop participants to learn through prototyping and improvising the use of their design ideas:

15 minutes: Sketch ideas on paper and discuss amongst the team

15 minutes: Settle on one idea and create a physical prototype of your idea AT SIZE

15 minutes: Conduct a walkthrough of your design with one of your team members, with an eye towards which of your ideas may or may not be working. Use any remaining time to add or change design elements that improve your idea.

1 minute: A person from another team will walk through a use case with your design, and you need to act out what would happen as they interact with it, swapping in the appropriate screens or being the voice of the interface. However, this does not mean that the designers get to explain what should happen. They have to sit and watch as a person with no knowledge of their solution experiences it for the first time, and voices their expectations regarding how it should work.

Since each team only had a limited amount of time to detail out the specifics of their solution to the design challenge they'd selected, they were discovering new possibilities as they prototyped their solution, tested it among their own team, and then shared it out with the overall group. And since they had to provide the voice of the interface, they began to think about how well-designed products and services speak to you from their very first "Hello."

Shown below is one of the solutions to the challenge "Touch Screen of Deaf Rock." Teams were tasked with creating an exhibit at a children's museum where deaf children could feel different types of music. To test out solutions, one of the people in the room put in earplugs and then walked through the exhibit to see how it worked. In this example, the pens dangling on strings were meant to represent wind chimes. When a person would tap them, a breeze would blow over their face.

Designing with the Body - Touch Screen of Deaf Rock Photo

Come to the Seattle Make-a-Thon!

Make-a-Thon AIGA Website Header

Last year at the stellar Interaction 10 conference, I was having Scotch (or was it bourbon?) with the local leads of the Pacific Northwest chapters of the IxDA, and wondering how we could bring some of the flavor of some of that conference back to Seattle. 

After 6 months of ongoing dialogue amongst the Seattle and Vancouver IxDA local committees, as well as communicating our vision with AIGA Seattle and Interact, I'm very excited to announce the following one-day mini-conference! It's our hope that this will be a yearly event that serves as a local prelude to the Interaction conferences and provides a place for local designers from various design and development disciplines—not just those who work in UX—to affordably gain hands-on skills in a fun workshop setting.

We've intentionally limited the number of attendees to 100 to ensure an intimate experience for everyone involved. I highly recommend registering now. Details are below.


Seattle Make-a-Thon 2010
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Microsoft Building 43 Meeting Rooms,
Redmond, WA

Exploring how to craft interfaces that utilize gestural and touch interaction

Enrollment was limited to 100 attendees. Sorry, it has sold out. Please go to http://bit.ly/awIHlR or http://www.seattlemakeathon.com/ for the event map and schedule.

The Make-a-Thon is a one-day event for working and student designers where we’ll explore the tools and methods that interaction designers use to create interfaces utilizing gestural and touch interaction. This event is open to all designers, including those who may not typically design for interaction but wish to broaden their conceptual toolkit.

Make-a-Thon attendees will be able to select and participate in three 2-hour workshops on a range of topics, such as:

• Arduino for Designers: An Introduction
• Gestural Ideation
• Conceptual Models in Interaction Design

• Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios
• Really Agile Design
• Understand It, Solve It, Sell It

• Interaction Design for Social/Mobile Innovation

Over the course of the day, participants will be able share what they learned in their workshops with a passionate group of designers and developers looking to push the boundaries of their craft.

Workshops will be led by designers from Cisco Systemsfrog designHornall Anderson (HAX); LiFT Studios, Vancouver; Pulse EnergyTeagueT-Mobile Concept Center; and the University of Washington Division of Design, Interaction Design.

Registration cost: $80 before October 15; $120 until the event. Registration fee does not include hardware for Arduino workshops—see below for more details. Registration WILL include lunch and refreshments.
This event is sponsored by Microsoft Expression, FILTER, Teague, and Hornall Anderson.

Continue reading "Come to the Seattle Make-a-Thon!" »

Convince Me Otherwise


Reading through recent dialogues about the value that a UX professional brings to design and development work, and whether all the other web designers and developers out there should deepen their UX skill sets to complement their current skills—rather than hiring a "UX expert" on projects—has made me realize that many designers don't understand the secret weapon that UX designers wield as part of their toolbox.

It isn't the ability to conduct generative research, or create mental models, or bang out wireframes. Neither is it the ability to facilitate usability studies, write functional specifications, or prove out user flows.

I'd argue that you can't be an effective UX designer without the ability to specifically describe to a client why something should not be created.

Say what? Most frequently come to designers and developers when they want a site, application, or other tangible product to be realized. At the beginning of any project, everyone's excited that in knowing that it's your role is to facilitate the creation of those things. UX designer, make it real! Plan our future!

But as you move through the discovery process, it's often clear that what the client wants at the end of the project may not be appropriate for the users, feasible via the delivery technologies you've chosen, or contribute to your fiscal success. And you're the first person in line to explain why. A UX designer, as an informed facilitator across a large-scale project, is often the only person with the data to support killing a feature, or carving a section out of a website, or questioning the creation of yet another mobile application.

This means that beyond your opinion, or your making skills, that you're able to support the decisions that you make about removing or reducing complexity with the right kinds of data. Sometimes, the data is part of an empirical argument. If data doesn't exist, however, I may be working with other designers or developers or UX professionals to frame up a counter-argument, which may consists of anything from user flows to working prototypes of solutions that may run orthogonal to a client's stated ask, but fulfill the strategy we've agreed to in a manner that's more powerful than anyone had realized.

Some designers and developers are very good at doing this kind of thing. Some, not so much. Besides, an idea provided from (or killed by) a "UX professional" isn't an expert opinion, created in isolation. It's the point of view of all parties on the project: designer, developer, strategist, architect, all rolled into one. Each person creates a facet of the diamond—not just the UX designer.

Having come from a craft- and a (limited) code-based design background, I feel like I can understand and better communicate why things are wrong. I can be the glue between disciplines and try to be the point person to facilitate the most productive exchange. In a small design firm dealing with small projects, this was possible based on experience. If necessary, I could prove things out from wireframe to high-fidelity comp to full HTML.

But when creating large-scale products, expert systems, or transcending the browser as a delivery vehicle, the cognitive scale of kind of work is far beyond one, two, or sometimes even a few dozen people's full-time focus, especially if pursuing something that hasn't been seen in market before. Understanding that making these crucial, often transformative decisions can transcend your ability—or even a large-scale team's ability as a design professional—takes maturity and humility. You just can't do it all yourself.

Upcoming Events: AIGA Into the Woods, InfoCamp Seattle, IxDA Touch and Beyond

I thought I'd share some upcoming events and conferences that I'll be attending—and a few that I'll be participating in!


Touch and Beyond: New Forms of Interaction
Thursday, September 16th, 7 PM
frog design Seattle, 413 Pine St. 2nd Floor

This free IxDA Seattle/Interact event will be a round-robin presentation of work featuring projects from: frog design, Hornall Anderson (HAX), T-Mobile Creation Center and Wirestone. All the projects will be focused on exploring the boundaries of gestural and touch interaction, grounded in actual project work. Space will be limited to the first 120 people to show up, doors open at 6:30 PM. More details here...


InfoCamp 2010
October 2–3, 2010

This unconference, focused on information architecture and user experience, will happen at Seattle University in a month or so. I'm looking forward to learning a ton from our local community, and also suggesting and leading a breakout session—which I hope to do as more of a collaborative workshop as opposed to a talk. Topic still TBA, but I've been mulling the subject of how to brainstorm interaction models...


AIGA Seattle's Into the Woods
October 15-17, 2010

This is a really cool and intimate conference, as well as a relaxing getaway to the Sleeping Lady Lodge in Leavenworth, Washington. It was a complete recharge of my creative batteries when I attended in 2007. I'm really excited to be attending this year's event and also having a chance to present the following workshop on Friday, October 15th:

Designing with the Body: If you want to find a great idea, it helps to start with a lot of them. David Sherwin of Frog Design will show you how to use techniques rooted in your physical body, elements of improvisational theater and other sense-based skills like taste and smell to generate new ideas for all sorts of creative projects. Get out of your head and into your body.

The presenters are not to be missed—such as Vivian Rosenthal from Tronic, Gail Anderson from SpotCo, Steve Frykholm from Herman Miller, and Alan Cobb from Albert Kahn Associates—as well as the other workshops through the whole weekend.

Can You Vote for My 2011 SxSWi Panel Idea?

The Panel Picker has gone up for next year's SxSWi conference, and I'd appreciate it if you could stroll on over and vote on my proposal for this year, which is a new talk with a different take on how interactive designers, developers, and UX professionals can come up with better ideas faster—specifically in the design of interactive products, services, and systems. Here's the abstract:


Better Ideas Faster: Effective Brainstorming for Interactive Design

You're under the gun. Again. Only a few days to come up with a revolutionary new feature for your Web app. Or you've been tasked by your boss to give the company's new mobile experience a little more oomph. Or you're floating in the space of a nebulous client problem that you just can't seem to pin down.

In these situations, it can be hard to focus on coming up with breakthrough ideas. But don't worry—help is to the rescue. David Sherwin from frog design, a global innovation firm, will share tools and methods that any interactive professional can use to more consistently brainstorm quality ideas for interactive products and services. This presentation will be illustrated with examples from frog's interactive work and David's new book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills (HOW Design Press).

Questions Answered

  1. How can I best structure my brainstorming time for success?
  2. What lightweight brainstorming techniques can I use that will inspire new, more innovative design ideas more quickly?
  3. How can I be more effective in moving from project discovery to generating targeted design ideas?
  4. How can our team collaborate best across disciplines to rapidly iterate any type of interactive experience?
  5. How can our team best synthesize a wide range of ideas into a set of compelling client recommendations?

You can vote on the panel here. Thanks for checking it out!

Protecting Deadlines for Interactive Projects

the great escape // throw the door away

A common mistake that marketers and executives make is in assuming that deadlines for interactive application design and development can be flexed in a similar manner to traditional marketing, advertising, branding, and visual design deliverables.

In particular, I am referring to two common scenarios that can compromise the integrity of your final deliverable—functional, stable, and bug-free code that renders properly across multiple browsers or app platforms.

Scenario 1: Heel-dragging at the initiation of a project—either in receiving a signature, payment, or critical information to start work—with the assumption that there is enough "give" in the first few weeks of the schedule to reach the provisionally agreed-upon deadline.

Scenario 2: A request is made by the client during the first few weeks of the project for the agreed-upon deadline for project delivery to be made earlier, often to accommodate a critical internal meeting or public milestone that wasn't on your direct client's radar while the scope was set.

Allowing negotiation about the boundaries of the project after you've entered into a signed contract should be a last resort for you and your team.

Here's why.

Continue reading "Protecting Deadlines for Interactive Projects" »

Slides from "Designing the Design Problem"

Thanks for everyone who came out (virtually) to see my presentation yesterday at Creativity Oklahoma's online conference on applied creativity in art and design. Scott Belsky did a great job of describing the philosophies behind Behance and the research about how people make ideas happen that became the foundation of his bestselling new book.

While Scott was talking about fulfilling creative projects, I took a different tack and provided methods that frog uses to marry our innate skills in creative problem solving with the evolving practice of "problem making" to better serve both clients and users in crafting compelling products, services, and experiences. As a case study, I shared research data and insights that had been part of frog's initiative to encourage HIV testing in South Africa, Project Masiluleke.

This 20-minute presentation was carved out of a longer work I'm putting together regarding the specific kinds of activities that make up what's called "multi-vector research," which is the secret weapon for any design team that is trying to tackle a complex and systemic business problem or world problem and discern what exactly should be designed to influence it for the better.

Thinking About Problems as Spaces

Stars as Post Its

When I first started working at frog, the people around me kept referring to the problems we were tackling as "problem spaces." When pressed, no one could give me an answer as to why, so I went out and tried to find one for myself. And I think the beginnings of an answer just might be—at least metaphorically—in the splendor of the night sky, full of glistening stars.

Continue reading "Thinking About Problems as Spaces" »

Dropping the Anchors

First Impression

The first time I flew on an airplane was the first time I realized that people die.

We were a third of the way towards a fuzzy destination—it might have been Denver, or Atlanta, or one of those hub cities that you travel through in order to actually reach your final destination. As I sat and ate my apple sauce from the airplane-provided kid's meal, I asked myself with my three-year-old brain, "What would happen if the plane crashed?" Wailing and gnashed teeth ensued from that moment onwards.

Like most formative experiences, this decisive moment led me to hate flying on any sort of airplane, although statistics would bear out that driving my car down the street to pick up some organic gelato in Wallingford would lead to a much higher risk of being in an accident.

It's taken a good bit of active reframing to shake off the fear, kick back, and read a good book or two instead of freaking out. Last year, the fear came back unabated when flying back from Japan, due to freakish turbulence that seemed to defy the laws of physics and felt like it would snap the plane in two, Lost-style. But considering that half the plane was full of adults crying out in fear and openly weeping, I don't feel like quite the child that I was thirty-odd years ago. And since then, cross-country flights have been aces.

Flying is not the only item on my short list of major dislikes. I've been working hard to overcome my distaste towards condiments. (So far, I've relented on ketchup, barbecue sauce, and balsamic vinaigrette.) For most of my youth, I was afraid of heights. (Learning to rock climb scratched that one off the list.) Soft cheeses no longer scare me as well, though blue cheese is still gross.

As I've reflected on these dislikes, I've become more aware of how my emotions are related to anchors from my past.

Continue reading "Dropping the Anchors" »

Patient User Interface

Sitting down in the naughahyde dentist's chair, I was confronted by the following screen:

Patient User Interface

In this blurry iPhone photo, you probably can't see the details of the UI, so I'll briefly describe them.

At the very top of the screen, the dental technician could select from a series of options, such as activities, lists, orders, and utilities as a set of dropdown menus. (You can also tell from the "chrome" that it's running in Windows XP.)

Below that, you can see that the entire user interface consists of a reflection of the room that I was currently sitting within. By clicking on the various areas, around the room, you could access my chart (by clicking "CHART") or the screen in the bottom right ("Patient Information"). And the buttons running along the top of the screen are repeat links to those same verbs that are woven through the room.

"I have to ask you," I said to the dental technician before she settled into the cleaning, pointing up at the screen. "Do you enjoy using this?"

Continue reading "Patient User Interface" »

Design, Disruption, and Drunk Usability Testing

Touch Here

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.

Continue reading "Design, Disruption, and Drunk Usability Testing" »

Interaction 10: A Take-Home Quiz



Identify the following statements as True or False. Show your work.

  1. All design is the process of making experiences.
  2. The next economy is not a utopia. It is here today, growing in the framework of the old economy.
  3. We can optimize the stories that users tell themselves as they use a product.
  4. Interactive products that take on human qualities fail when the qualities sentience, intimacy, and personality fall into the uncanny valley.
  5. The future is tomorrow, not just an ideal outcome or fantasy world we should design for.
  6. No two individuals will have an identical experience.
  7. Search is a wicked problem.
  8. Interaction design can also be art.
  9. Physical spaces carry cognitive loads. (i.e. Ask, "What is the cognitive load of a street?")
  10. A customer experience can be defined and designed by mapping both the tangible and intangible portions of a provided service.
  11. We can add meaning to physical objects beyond what is tangible to users.
  12. We don't need to define user experience in order to measure it.
  13. Designers manipulate the audiences they are intended to influence.
  14. Designers have a responsibility for how they manipulate users.
  15. An experience cannot be built for someone… one has an experience, and that is experience is always unique.
  16. Almost all design disciplines are a facet of the discipline of interaction design.
  17. Polite interfaces garner praise.
  18. Consumerism isn't dead. But it needs to be.
  19. If [a designed artifact] is not ethical, it cannot be beautiful.
  20. Act like a design thinker, but think like a design activist.
  21. Usability metrics can't function as key performance indicators for your clients.
  22. All design is the process of evoking meaning.
  23. Do not consider people as passive users or consumers.
  24. Approach your designs from an impressionistic perspective.
  25. Always have a systems perspective when designing products or services.
  26. Instead of being a design leader, consider the importance of design influence—promoting design throughout your organization.
  27. Understanding emotion improves the experience of emotion.
  28. The future of our profession is the design of enabling systems.
  29. 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.
  30. Website copy is a monologue. It requires an authentic tone of voice to be effective.
  31. Clients don't see the invisible. It's hard for clients to acknowledge, prize, and value the intangible.

  32. Creating explorative, playful spaces moves users from passive to active engagement.
  33. Don't overthink what you design.
  34. 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.

Reducing the Variables

Reducing the Variables

It's eleven in the evening, and the energy rush provided by the soda and pizza has begun to wane. The whiteboard is full of sketches detailing dozens of solutions to a particularly thorny piece of website functionality… but none of them seem to fit the client's need perfectly. The whole team is exhausted, but there are still at least twenty yards to sprint until the ideas in our minds make sense in some sort of material form.

When you're trying to solve really big UX problems—ones that hundreds of other designers have probably expended thousands of hours considering—you'll spend a good deal of time retreading similar ground to those of your peers. It's tempting to choose what seems like the most appropriate large-scale solution based on what you've seen out in the market, then fill in the details as you go. In some projects, that's the right approach to take.

But in these kinds of situations, it's very important to ask yourself: Am I trying to uncover some capital-S "Solution" to a big problem when actually I should be taking a series of small steps towards a subtle, more constrained approach? Am I pursuing the holy grail blindly instead of determining my path, each step forward, as I move towards that same big solution?

Often, you need to take each of those short steps, or iterations, before your smaller solutions add up into one that feels big (and appropriate). So if the task before you seems insurmountable, and you're totally stumped, change the problem's constraints. Throw out larger concerns, at least in the short term. You need a smaller box, and fewer variables to solve for (at first).

Continue reading "Reducing the Variables" »

The Blind Man and the Cheeseburger: Form and Interconnection in User Experience Design

Cheeseburger Cupcakes by KateDW on Flickr

Have you ever watched a blind man eat a cheeseburger?

Before I skipped town for the holidays, my wife and I tried out a new sandwich shop down in the Ballard Blocks. After ordering and sipping at our iced teas, I noticed that the man next to me, distractedly chatting away with his family, had a folded white cane by his side. The waitress set down his gourmet burger, including sweet potato fries with aioli on the side. Out of the corner of my eye, I couldn't help but watch as he ate.

First, he patted with his left hand to find the top of the burger. He used his right hand to enclose the bun and patty. Slowly, he brought it to his mouth for a bite. Freeing up his right hand, he patted the plate for fries and ate three. Resting the sandwich, he then fumbled a bit before acquiring his beer and taking a healthy sip. The worried expression that had consumed most of his face during those first moments of eating had turned into a smile of deep satisfaction.

Between the beer, the burger, and the fries, he was continually reacquiring the position of each object in relation to his hands and his mouth. As he grew comfortable with the position and taste of each thing, he started to become more adventurous. Those first savored bites turned into a messy ballet. He began dipping the burger into the aioli for the fries, which required holding the stainless-steel ramekin. He also couldn't control how much of the sauce ended up on the burger (which ended up daubing his chin). As he finished the fries, he moved his hand around the plate in a clockwise motion to locate those last stray, delicious tubers. And he carefully managed how much was left in his pint of beer, so he could chase the last bite of the burger with a healthy swig.

As our waitress left our burgers in front of us, I couldn't help but reflect on how I would eat my impending meal, and what elements truly composed it.

We could talk here about the latent usability of the cheeseburger, but that's an easy argument to wager. If you suffer from a visual disability, of course it will cost you more time to fulfill the same interactions over the course of a meal. We've felt the very same feeling in using a poorly architected website, where we fumble about for minutes for what seems, in our minds, to be a very simple goal: match the idea in your head to what's on the screen. You need the food in your hand before you can put it in your mouth.

Since I could see all of the ingredients on the plate before me—and understood how they all fit together into a set of graspable objects—I could plan out at some level of detail how I would eat them, from first to last bite. It took about twelve minutes for the blind man to eat his burger, while I could make mine vanish more quickly.

Those are nice things, if I care about being more efficient, not getting ketchup on my sleeve, or admiring how the dark diagonal burn marks demonstrating how our veggie-burgers had been char-grilled.

Since I can see the cheeseburger, there must be some added meaning to the food that changes my perception of how it tastes. There's also the notion that slowing down the eating process, whether through self-will or eating in pitch darkness a la Dans le Noir, causes us to appreciate the nuances of what we taste. That environment may force you to acknowledge taste without the influence of sight, but how I understand the notion of "cheeseburger" or "fries" in that environment, as I consume them, is no better or worse than the blind man as he reaches for what comprises his lunchtime meal. Even if he and I are splitting the same cheeseburger, it will never be the same cheeseburger.

Continue reading "The Blind Man and the Cheeseburger: Form and Interconnection in User Experience Design" »

Separating the Why from the How

Why How

When deep in discussions with a client over wireframes for highly complex systems, I've developed a simple way of defusing discussions regarding aesthetics:

Wireframes are the why. Visual design is the how.

If a client disagrees with why a specific bit of functionality is on the page, or has concerns regarding the types of content described in your documentation, then you're having a productive discussion that will contribute to the quality of the end product.

However, if you expending a substantial amount of energy describing how that functionality will be expressed, you have an option to recommend the following:

"In this meeting, we are looking to confirm that we've included the appropriate functionality, and determined its use for your customers/users in the right contexts and task flows. Upon approval of these wireframes, we will show you how that functionality will manifest to the user in a UI design on [deadline/date]."

Separating these two activities can help you move your functional ideas more swiftly into back-end development, and afford your visual designer a bit more freedom in expressing the how of the final result.

Now, if there are details you're presenting that the client keeps questioning—meaning that they are concerned about behavior, animation, and other attributes that contribute to the usability of a documented feature—a quick "grey box" motion study or disposable prototype built in a tool such as Flash, Photoshop, AfterEffects, Expression Blend, etc. can help move your discussion along. At the lowest fidelities, it's even appropriate to demonstrate an interaction using a few pieces of paper with pencil sketches. Whatever can help you show the proper attributes of how as part of your why will help you and your client agree on what's being built.

And if your design goal doesn't warrant wireframes? Answer for the why and the how with simple, annotated visual comps.