April 24th, 2013
“I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”
- Roger Ebert
Applicable to life, work and even design.
February 24th, 2013
From Design as Art By Bruno Munari quoting the prospectus for the Bauhaus school written by Walter Gropius in 1919.
Thus our task is to make a new kind of artist, a creator capable of understanding every kind of need: not because he is a prodigy, but because he knows how to approach human needs according to a precise method. We wish to make him conscious of his creative power, not scared of new facts, and independent of formulas in his own work.
February 7th, 2013
Drawing from the creative process of discipline outside my own has always fascinated me. Earlier today I listened to the Longform interview with Susan Orlean and was struck by the overalp between her process for writing non-fiction stories and design process. One quote really caught my attention:
“I had a revelation some time ago that writing or certainly the kind of writing I do, has two very distinct parts. One is you’re a student and the other is you’re a teacher. When you are in the phase where you are a student and you’re simply being bombarded with new information and absorbing. And then it’s almost like a sponge that’s over saturated. It starts flowing back out instead of being absorbed. And that’s the point where you are ready to be a teacher. And that’s when you know you’re ready to write.”
The image of the sponge really connects to the art of conducting design research and transitioning into the design phase; there comes a point when you just can’t absorb more information and just have to start designing.
Listening to Orlean discuss her creative process in very subjective terms made me also se the link to design synthesis. Like good writers, designers have a knack for synthesizing information to reveal deeper insights. The comparison continues when we talk about this process, like writers, designers are a mysterious black box that absorbs information and extrudes insights. However I believe as designers we need to remove ourselves from this approach and instead materialize and demystify the process of synthesis as Jon Kolko has often explored.
the interview really revealled to me the unconcious
February 5th, 2013
Last week’s Interaction13 conference, hosted right here in Toronto, drew in 800 attendees over 5 days and included more than 70 workshops and talks. Here are my personal highlights, reflections and running themes from this world-class design event.
Image by Phillip Hunter
I kicked off my conference experience by attending a full-day workshop at OCAD university, hosted by Normative’s Matthew Milan and Robyn Polan. The workshop focused on “Intent Planning”, a tool developed by their studio to help structure the creation of design strategy. The full-day format gave attendees the chance to really dig into the material and try it out in a few case studies. Talking with other conference-goers, the workshop format was a big success and something many want to see more of for next year’s event.
Monday saw Dan Saffer‘s Microinteractions talk, where he pointed out that the details can either make a product or become “a pebble in your shoe”. The tangible, focus-on-the-details approach was a common thread of the conference, running between many talks including Derek Vaz’s on Interaction Prototyping and Behzad Aghaei’s on buttonless interactions.
“The difference between a product you love and one you tolerate are the microinteractions you have with it.”
- Dan Saffer
Johanna Kolmann & Martina Schell were the first to speak on applying theoretical and practical learnings from the Lean Startup methodology to design. Their talk provided a first hand look at how they have integrated these ideas into their own practises and the challenges associated with this approach. Other talks exploring this same idea included, Josh Seiden’s “A Designer’s Introduction to Lean Startup”, the co-author of the upcoming book “Lean UX”
“You’re selling a team and a process, not an outcome: because you can’t predict that” – Johanna Kolmann & Martina Schell
In this same vein, another key theme that took shape during the conference was the evolving role of UX designers. Cindy Chastain’s nailed it when she presented “New Frontiers: the UX professional as business consultant”, exploring how designers can provide value closer to the strategy table and the c-suite. This topic quickly became the talk of the conference, getting mentions in other talks and panels and stirring some heated debate in the redux discussions on Thursday.
“A lot of business problems that fail in analytic approaches are much better served with a design approach.”
- Steve Baty via Cindy Chastain’s presentation
While “designers at the strategy table” was perhaps the most debated issue, designing for social experiences and big data took precedence as the biggest running themes, each anchored by powerful keynotes.
In the realm of social, Facebook’s Paul Adams, tackled the theme at a high level with his Wednesday morning keynote “How to design social experiences”, while Davide Casali’s presentation ”Social Experience Design: Shifting The Focus Where Really Matters” took a more practical approach. Beyond these talks, many others were talking about making social a bigger consideration in design decision making.
“As the web becomes more social, there will be less human computer interactions and more human to human interactions”
- Paul Adams
As the output of many social interactions, big data was the other big topic (pun intended! – Editor’s note: Nate is a master of terrible puns). Jer Thorpeled this discussion, starting with his Tuesday keynote and panel session later that day. Big Data was definitely the topic du jour, finding its way into many presentations and hallway discussions, clearly a subject in the front of many designer’s minds, prompting more questions than answers.
“Data tells a story about our lives”
- Jer Thorpe
To wrap up the conference, Thursday featured redux presentations to give everyone a chance to mull over the events of the previous days. Of the three,Jeroen Van Geel’s presentation seemed to resonate most deeply with the audience and is a good companion piece to this post, pulling together the big themes (view his post here).
“I don’t think we will change the world. We will add something to the conversation and change the world a little bit”
- Jeroen Van Geel
Overall, the conference was a tremendous experience that was insightful and inspiring. My biggest take-away came after talking with designers and non-designers from Canada, the US and across the world, who all had a sense that the discipline of interaction design is at a pivotal point. A lot has changed since the founding of the IXDA ten years ago and we need to begin to think about where we are going to be ten years from now. While this uncertainty may worry some, I trust in the knowledge, talent, values and motivations of everyone in attendance to use this opportunity wisely.
November 28th, 2012
This post was created for the Myplanet Digital blog and appears there in full.
While lean usability testing may be the latest craze, usability pioneer Steve Krug has been working with this approach from almost 12 years, as I learned this past Wednesday during his presentation at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. Author of the seminal book Don’t Make Me Think from 2000, Steve Krug has done more than his fair share to promote the benefits of usability and led the charge in developing simple and quick usability testing processes. Listening to Steve talk was both reassuring and inspiring, reassuring because Myplanet has already implemented many of the ideas he discussed and inspiring because many his points suggested way to combat issues we have experienced.
Unlike some usability gurus, Steve takes a very frank and honest approach to usability testing, stating up front that there is no magic recipe, and there are no hard and fast rules. He simply defines usability testing as, “watching people use a product, as they externalize their thoughts”. Bringing it back to this fundamental level allows us to really focus on what is important about usability testing and why we do it in the first place. This basic description differs greatly from what many may think of when they hear usability testing: an expensive procedure conducted inside a lab with high tech video equipment and two-way mirrors observing at least 8 participants a day and resulting in a large report that collates all the data. While this may have been the state of usability testing a decade ago, Steve is quick to point out that most of the tools necessary to run a full-scale test yourself are readily available and relatively cheap. As Steve put it, “You’re not doing usability testing? Are you…nuts?”
Because of the ease of access, the process of conducting usability testing becomes a key focus. Steve uses a series of maxims, (see no rules!) to summarize his approach to lean do-it-yourself testing. The first is to focus on only testing with 3 users. While the number of test participants is a hotly contested issue in the world of usability, Steve rightly points out that this number of users will not identify all the issues, not even coming close to identifying the majority of the issues, but the beauty of this number is that it will still identify more issues than a team could feasible tackle prior to the next test session. Yes, participant 8 may bring a crucial issue to the table, but most likely the first 3 users will identify a laundry list of problem areas.
If you’re thinking 3 users is rather low to test your soon-to-launch project, that’s because you are waiting too long to test. Steve cautions to start testing earlier than you think, something we take very seriously at Myplanet. Rather than waiting until development begins, we test our sketches, wireframes, comps and even prototypes to insure that issues are caught early. Performing quick tests of this kind is easy to do and ends up saving way more time then they take. Steve takes it to the next level by suggesting that you can even do usability tests using competitor products that aim to achieve the same goal, even before you have begun a project.
Steve takes an interesting approach to recruiting users for usability testing too, “loose recruiting, grade on a curve”. By this he means that you shouldn’t be waiting until you have your target demographic perfectly lined up for testing; instead start with readily available people and get more focused as you go. Waiting for these finely targeted users is one of the key reasons why people end up not even getting to testing, according to Steve. Early testing with any subject will identify core usability issues, but it is key to take the time to evaluate if any problems encountered during these loose test are real issues or the result of a lack of expertise or context.
Once you have your subjects, actually conducting the usability test is the nest step. While some professionals may opt to use a loose guide over a script, Steve explains that even the best testers can’t resist obvious faux-pas when they go off-book, using the words “feedback” or “opinions” that may influence the user’s natural responses. Sticking to the script is key, as Steve proved during a live usability test he conducted with a member of the audience. This got the audience involved and proved that even testing a highly revered mobile application with a PhD candidate as your test subject can highlight key usability flaws.
Next on Steve’s list of maxims is skipping the lengthy report, that probably won’t get read by the very people that should read it. Instead, get stakeholders to witness the test firsthand, whether it’s through a live screen cast from the test location to the boardroom or a video of the user played back at a later time. Seeing a real user struggling with an interface or troubled by a menu’s organization will trump a report any day. Whether it’s the developers who will be transforming the test findings into improvements or the business stakeholders who need to approve those fixes, seeing is believing in the case of usability testing. At Myplanet we wholeheartedly agree with skipping unessisary documentation and Steve had a simple technique for capturing the findings from sessions that enables all participants to get what they need with as little waste as possible (very lean!). As individuals watch the user tests, they should record a maximum of 3 key issues per user. After testing is complete, all the observers should debrief together using their list of 3 points per user as the input for discussion. From this discussion, the team involved will build consensus on what issues need the most attention and even how they could be solved. This plan of action can simply be typed up in point form and emailed to everyone for reference. Goodbye report and hello efficient lean documentation.
Continuing the lean approach, Steve’s next maxim was, “when fixing problems, do the least you can do”. Instead of redesigning things to try and solve every problem, simply tweak what is needed and retest. As Steve pointed out, redesigning may solve your problem but in the process you may also be getting rid of things that worked fine in the first place.
Perhaps the most crucial maxim for usability professionals is avoiding statistics and building up faux validity. Often clients won’t be convinced of a decision until they have hard numbers to support it. While usability testing can expose issues and suggest improvements, test sessions aren’t a substitute for quantitative data. By its very nature, a test conducted on 3 users is far from conclusive. Thus resisting the temptation to turn qualitative findings into quantitative data is a key maxim to keep in mind when presenting findings to internal or client stakeholders.
Steve obviously has a ton of experience in the world of usability, but his down to earth approach is a refreshing take that we can definitely get behind. Usability testing isn’t something that should be locked up in the ivory tower, anyone creating ideas or developing products can take advantage of the benefits of usability testing, and SHOULD. Myplanet is constantly optimizing our own testing procedures and we will definitely be referencing some of Steve’s helpful maxims.