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People & Things Interacting with Stuff

User Experience, Interaction Design, Music and anything else that comes to mind

Acquisitions are awesome, right?

For some, yes it works out well and they get outrageously wealthy. For the rest it can be a “look over your shoulder wondering what’s next” kinda vibe, which then leads to wondering who’s next to leave and I’ll tell you what…

All of that sucks. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Well almost anyone. ;^) I thought I’d eventually get into mergers and acquisitions after I graduated but am thankful I wasn’t “smart enough” and ended up in product design instead. 

Anyway, why are to at your current company? Perks, equity, culture, compensation, leadership, opportunity, reward structures, opportunity to pursue a passion and relationships come to mind as possibilities but they can’t all be true. Can they? Big or small every organization has behavioral norms and those tend to infect (for better or worse) everyone in the company whether they realize it or not and only gets complexified when motivations and cultures collide in acquisitions. 

If you were part of an acquisition, did you stay? What kept you? Beyond acceptance, what advice would you give to the rest of us on how to deal with the surprise, confusion, anger, frustration and pseudo-optimism that come along with the process?

I’m a time where almost everyone I know is reflecting on their career I’m left wondering what about the critical things that lead to happy employees and how  that applies to me. 

When your friends leave…

Let them! 

Moving on means letting people move on and not being selfish about pulling them back in when they’ve shown the bravery or strength to leave a professional situation. You may still be there and want to talk about that shit but I warn you to do so sparingly, if at all, unless invited. Even then, keep it brief. 

Keep your friend. Ditch the baggage. 

They’ve moved on. 

Keep writing. It’s gunna be bad but will get better. 

After three days I honestly have nothing interesting to offer. This sucks. I thought I could easily make it at least a week. 

Well, ‘not giving up’seems to be a good topic to incorporate in a moment of desperation. This writing thing seems quite timely with the career introspection I’ve been going trough as I recollect the past 13+ years of being a UX Designer / Product Strategist and all that’s come along with it. I’ll keep thinking about what might be entertaining or insightful and keep all of these brief. Just keep writing is the mantra I’m going with. Eventually, just like a design workshop, good things will happen. 

Good luck tomorrow. It’ll be Monday. 

Parenting.  You can’t always get what you want…

Holy crap. This constant struggle to set down my ego and personal sense of self is full of opportunities to react poorly and make this about me. Turns out that doesn’t help the matter when a freshly minted 2 yr old kicks you in the junk or,  out of a dead calm while laying down for a nap, pops up and open hand smacks you in whatever eye is still open as you are recruiting  every last ounce of consciousness to not fall asleep before he does. Little fucker. But wait this isn’t about me, yet again. He needs to sleep or the evening is going to be a special kind of hell. So I need to not react and not be a jerk because at this age they just feed off your emotions, regardless of context. 

So here I am, trying to stay true to this “write every day and you’ll become a better designer” experiment/challenge/myth I somehow convinced myself to embark on and I’m talking to you about parenting. Sweet. 

So, what’s the point? Seem to me that it’s another reflection point on the truth that flow is always achievable so long as you’re willing to reflect, adjust, take some lumps and chart a new direction. Before you know it you’re in flow but in a way different than you’d imagined or planned. Now, that’s fucking cool and 100% pretty much sums up what I love about this game of life. 

Hopefully I have something more interesting than trivial survival strategies to share tomorrow. In the meantime, take a deep breath next time you start to get irritated. 

Tone

a musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength.

Lately I’ve been thinking deeply about what tone means in the context of professional interactions, both successful and unsuccessful. It’s a personal demon of mine that comes forth in that elusive moment when passion outweighs patience in a conversation and I’ve lost sight of what’s motivating the other people in the conversation. After all, if I needed to talk to people with my perspective I could just sit in front of the mirror but that would be pretty weird and not at all productive. Not to taking anything away from “looking in the mirror” from time to time because after all that’s more or less what I’m doing with this post.

the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.

So, tone. Yeah, tone. Tone is what makes all the difference in how music is expressed. It’s infinitely adjustable and therefore wide open to interpretation and finding what works best for you. I find that different tones are appropriate for different feels to the nature of a song but I’ve yet to make that conscious daily connection to how I speak with others and leverage a similar “EQ” as situations change.

Go put on some music that makes you feel good and / or makes you think. Have a good one.

I’m going back to uncovering more of life’s mysteries… one sarcastic viewpoint at a time because that’s really all I can handle.

They will use you (and me) up

Burnout is a two way street.

A good manager will understand you when you speak up.

A great manager will see it coming and take action in good faith to prevent it.

If you find that great manager, cherish the time you have with them. Thank them right now. Now. You will likely not have more than a handful of great managers in your entire career. If you’re not one of the “lucky” keep a careful eye on yourself. No one cares more about you than you do. It’s on you and me to take accountability for our energy and efforts to ensure that we don’t burn out. Remember the ol’ cliche gold mine….

A lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on mine.

Always remember that you’re in control of your energy, your words, your perspective and therefore your path.

That’s what I got for today. More later as I sort through life.

Why did I buy that?

On Sunday I had another insightful breakfast pow-wow with a good friend (Kara) and later I ended up purchasing and book and magazine that I had no intention of buying. As I was paying for my books I couldn’t help but reflect on how this happened and more importantly, why?

Breakfast

Among a dozen topics, design-related and other, I ended up mentioning my growing curiosity in exploring the psychology of habit and habit-forming behaviors / situations and how that can holistically influence my UX practice across product design. This becomes relevant just below…

The Bookstore

The conversation carried on after breakfast so we ran a few errands to keep chatting. I remembered that my copy of The Elements of User Experience has gone on a walkabout at some point and needed to be replaced. I figured today was as good as any to grab another copy and upgrade my version. To my dismay they had no copies in-store or online. Damn.

While I was searching for the book, Kara spotted the Monocle magazine while exclaiming its place in her life as an essential news resource delivering cross-cultural, cross-topic & cross-channel stories, all infused with an elegant aesthetic and knowledge of good design practices. I’m familiar with the magazine and even have an edition or two lying around but never dug in too deeply. Describing what the magazine represented for her I started to think again about what Monocle offers and grabbed the new issue to take another look. After all, sometimes it takes a trusted recommendation to consider a purchase.

As I was grabbing a copy of the magazine, Kara noticed up a book that a co-worker of hers is reading… Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and here again we began a recommendation process. This time it was two layers deep in that 1. her co-worker spoke highly of the book, therefore qualifying it and 2. she recalled my comment from breakfast that expressed a curiosity towards the cognitive and psychological aspects of habituation. We could dive into the reputation of Kahneman and specifics about the book itself but I’m more interested in how it ended up in my hands with me at the register. Just know that he’s apparently a legend among psychologists.

In the moment I had no conscious observation of the forces at play but it surfaced for me a few minutes later, heading to the register, when Kara mentioned that it would be great if the in-store experience could be more like the online experience. A flurry of challenges took flight in my mind within seconds and as I thought about the possibilities I landed on the opposite challenge. How could the online experience better facilitate the experience I just had, leaving me with two purchases in my hands that I had no intention of making when I walked in the store?

Why did I buy that?

If I had gone to the bookstore solo there is a VERY low % that I would have made those purchases. What forces or triggers changed the outcome? Looking at it through BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model here’s how it breaks down…

Topical (Motivation)

  • I was already interested in the topic

Financial (Ability)

  • The book was on sale so I bought it in the store rather than searching online

Personal (Triggers)

  • Based on years of discussions, friendship & shared experiences I trust Kara’s personal ‘filter’ for information
  • Her co-worker had spoken highly of the book

Replicating the experience. How can these factors be facilitated online? Should we try?

A recommendation engine can only go so far to induce a referred item purchase (“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”). Ratings and price certainly play a relevant role in the decision but what’s missing is a ‘Trusted’ recommendation from your network.
This is an interesting discuss because it presents a moral dilemma along with a significant design challenge. Should we even try to manifest this in-person ‘trusted recommendation’ online? There’s something sacred about having one-on-one conversations. Facial expressions, vocal intonation and body language all play a critical role in conveying perspective. Do we risk sacrificing that dynamic? I believe we shouldn’t have to so now what?

You can guarantee with 100% certainty that members of your network will not place book reviews on every possible online bookstore and you can assume that a very small % of your trusted network will review books online through a single online service. Online bookstores have loads of reviews across to other online bookstores but are likely unwilling or at least reluctant to share with competitors. I figure there are 2 major questions to be asked:

    1. Can we capture/recreate the dynamic of the derived in-person ‘trusted’ relationship as an input for online use?
    2. What can be done to aggregate that valuable content with existing reviews and ratings to then redistribute it across stand-alone ecosystems?

Well then…

How would you handle this little design challenge? I can think of a few immediate solutions but want to let it simmer a bit before posting any real thoughts on that front. The first question is pestering me the most because of it’s complex behavioral component. The second question is easier, not easy, to solve in that it’s largely a technical with many existing systems already built.

Oh yeah, if I lent you my copy of Elements may I please have it back? Thanks!

Reflections on Adobe MAX 2011

Although we didn’t win the award, I walked away far from empty handed.

For those that missed it, an app that we designed was selected as a finalist in the Disruptive Design category for the 2011 AdobeMAX Awards. Our friends at DevelopmentArc had the crazy idea to build Maque and fortunately asked us to handle the User Experience, Branding & Visual design side of things. You can read more about the app here if you want a deeper dive on what Maque is and how you can get your hands on it.

WE MADE ANOTHER APP!

Being in LA for the award nomination I got to spend 3 solid days with the boys from DevelopmentArc, Aaron & James , which is always a good time. When I say I didn’t walk away empty handed, these guys are largely to do with it. We had a free day on Sunday so at breakfast I threw it out there that we should build a mobile app since we had the day available. Admittedly a self-serving act, I had to throw it out there because Aaron & James are two of the brightest developers I’ve ever worked with and I wanted us to jam out another project while we were together. Luckily they were an easy sell. So we kicked the tires on a few ideas (which we’ll tackle later for sure) and ended up settling on building a lightweight dataviz android app for the conference. We initially wanted to pull in FourSquare and Flickr feeds as well but just didn’t have time and like any project we had to kill features and scope.

We headed back to the hotel and got to work. James and Aaron split up their dev tasks and I got to work on the design and branding. I’ve been part of a few other hack day opportunities back when I worked at Nitobi and was quickly reminded again how important it is for us to take some personal time away from our client projects to make things we like and want to bring to life. James had a prototype up within the hour and we were testing the interaction design immediately and already laughing at how fast it was all happening. Aaron, while grunting in the corner, managed to get the framework together in the same amount of time and was using Maque to grab real data from the Twitter API and pulling it into the app to test.

At that moment it finally came clear to me what Maque could do for every app and website developer in the world. A temporary service layer for any type of project. Genius. We were being rate limited or “throttled” by Twitter for hitting the API too many times while attempting to figure out what rate we needed to acquire data in order to produce the data visualization in the app in the way we were envisioning. The lights switched on when I realized the potential because you have to remember that I’m not a developer; just a UX guy but now I get it. So, rather than waiting for Twitter to reinstate our API requests, Aaron just ran the data through Maque and was easily able to randomize, increment & scale the data set without being online. Please tell me you now understand the importance of this. If you don’t, drop me a note. With the data in place we got about 80% complete on the app and went to dinner and came back to finish it up. As with any project time was a major constraint and we just didn’t have time to implement viewing of tweets within the app. Sorry but we’ll get it in there ASAP and make it cool. That said, we got the data-viz component to a good place and packaged up the app for the Android Marketplace around 1am. The app was elegant and the process was fun. Time to sleep.

The app is called Max Storm and you can grab it on the Android Marketplace.

Opening Keynote

What a show. Adobe arrived with a bang and had an impressive visual buffet for us to experience for 5-6 minutes. I managed to grab the last few minutes of it.

I could give you my thoughts on it or you could just watch the opening keynote here and others if you like and form your own opinion.

Shout out

I have to take a moment to say congrats to my old comrades at Nitobi on the acquisition! It’s huge. You guys deserve it. It was surreal watching it from the crowd knowing that it was something I was a part of at the inception of PhoneGap and could have been part of today if I hadn’t moved on. Very cool for you guys.

SESSIONS

I followed the ongoing discussion formed around the new series of touch apps that Adobe announced at the opening keynote (Photoshop Touch, Collage, Proto, etc.). As one might expect I gravitated to the sessions focused around discussing the interface and UX of the new apps. I wasn’t wowed by any of the sessions, but was very pleased by one in particular (Dave Hogue’s).

Ty Lettau’s session on “Interface Design for Modern Cloud Applications” was an insightful recount of their (Adobe’s) process for re-imagining the Adobe tools & controls for the context of tablet devices. I love that they have smart UX people driving the ship on these new apps. They’ll be light years ahead if they keep up that focus and don’t get last in crowded UI’s with a gazillion tools/toolbars. I am VERY curious to see how Adobe responds to the emerging market of tablet-based productivity solutions and how their core suite of products will or will not evolve based on the patterns being introduced in the new tablet apps. It seems obvious to me but then again I’m not tasked with potentially upsetting the apple cart if changes were made to products that have been around for 20 years, no matter how bloated they are.

The best discussion about the impact of tablet apps was the one that emerged from a panel session with creatives using the apps now daily. I completely agree that these devices and apps should be seen at most as an extension of the creative process, not a replacement for desktop solutions. Context is the biggest missing link when I hear people’s comments, questions, ideas, assumptions about new devices impacting a practitioner’s workflow or someone just using them for fun. These apps and devices are useless if not designed with all the new affordances dictated by a new set of device constraints and contextual opportunities available. We can now rapidly sketch with clients and share the information in new ways. This isn’t to say that I will now start sketching with clients. I already do. This just gives me a new opportunity to rapidly generate ideas and save them for later to assess and I can easily share them with my team or clients w/o having to scan my notepad or take a picture of it.

I had a particularly good time taking photos with my tablet during some sessions and placing them directly into my notes for the session and sketching around them to provide another point of recall and context for my notes. Huge. I’ve been skeptical about the productivity limitations of tablets since they arrived on the mass market. Turns out I just needed to find it for myself rather than someone trying to convince me of how many things I can do with one. The bottom line is that I should have bought a stylus sooner. I bought one at the beginning of the trip and it completely opened up the interaction for me. Using my fingers to draw or write just wasn’t doing it.

Dave Hougue’s session entitled “Design Better Experiences with Fireworks by Understanding How People Think” was my favorite and had very little to do with Fireworks. Nice code name Dave. ;^) I just met Dave a few nights prior and learned that he is a trained psychologist that made his way into UX and is now the VP of User Experience at Fluid in SF. Dave spoke about what Haig (my business partner) and I have been debating over the past 3 years, the undeniable importance of cognitive science disciplines as a key influence in user experience design. Case in point, which I did clarify with Dave after the session but, I happily raised my hand as the only person in the room that had ever designed an interaction/interface to ‘annoy the user’. What I couldn’t say at the moment is that I have only done that in the context of ideation when you play the advocate of ‘Bizarro World’, a term and approach I learned from Dan Saffer back at Interaction10. The goal is to identify the worst possible outcome you could create for a user of the product or service you are tasked with designing. Then you take those ideas and use them as guidance to uncover the inverse of that effect and the design strategy you need to consider to ensure that those things never happen. Make sense now? Sorry Dave for being the sore thumb but now you know what I was getting at.

As Dave’s session continued to unfold he touched on some foundational aspects of identifying the role of psychology in User Experience design, some of which were a welcome refresher and some new topics I’d only heard of in passing and will certainly explore more after this session. This is likely going to come off as a review pf a Psych 101 class reading list but hey, have you read all of this? I sure haven’t. Dave highlighted several of the many Cognitive Biases that we should all be aware of:

  • Anchoring: the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.
  • The Framing Effect: drawing different conclusions from the same information, depending on how that information is presented.

In addition to the overview of several Cognitive Biases, Dave made valuable references to several other topics in psychology worth exploring:

  • Sturgeon’s Law regarding the balance of Accuracy vs. Time.
  • Occam’s Razor: The razor is a principle that suggests we should tend towards simpler theories until we can trade some simplicity for increased explanatory power.
  • The Pareto Principle: states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

I’d love to continue digging into Dave’s session as it does deserve deeper thoughts, but I need to get this blog post done! Clearly I’ll have to follow up at a later date. You might also want to follow Dave on Twitter if your into the relationship between cognitive sciences and UX.

BEING NOMINATED…

Was pretty damn cool. I was humbled by the nomination but it really hit me when we walked into the rehearsal for the awards ceremony and I literally saw how big this was going to be. Enter butterflies. Rainn Wilson from the office was a hilarious host. He was a great sport dealing with such a huge crowd of nerds and even had the developers and designers in mild opposition at several points, all for fun of course. It was amazing to see our work presented on a 50ft wide projection and though we didn’t win it I was still proud. For some reason our app was the only one of all the nominees that received crowd applause when it was announced. That was cool. The crowning moment was when Rainn called for a round of applause for the winners and then pointed directly at us and called for a bigger round of applause for the losers while muttering under his breath that he’d sat in those seats several times and never won a fucking award. Thanks Rainn. It was hilarious. Happy to be in the same company as you buddy.

Heading Home

As I said at the beginning we may not have won but I didn’t walk away empty handed. I bought a stylus, we made an Android app that people actually downloaded and I get a new set of tablet based apps to beat up on and see how they work for our team and our creative process.

Thanks for reading. – Chris

Google goes “navigation-happy” with the new header

Google, I wake up this morning to a new UI in my gMail and within 15 seconds you have managed to completely disrupt my email browsing experience that I have come to know and expect. I don’t mind when you tinker with the global NAV in it’s utility bar format, that’s fine. You tried to convince me that Wave was meaningful but we all know it’s name was a sign of it’s inevitable fate. I turned Buzz off as fast as you turned it on for me.

I can take all of that in stride, but why change the global nav completely and introduce a significant amount of clicks for me to accomplish the same tasks?! And why change the way I have to navigate gMail? It’s now 2 clicks instead of one to get back to the inbox. What’s going on over there? Has the wild success of G+ gone to your head? (Joking about the wild success part, of course)

Exhibit 1. Old Header Navigation

Simple conventions. Clearly presented and easy to use.

Exhibit 2. New Header Navigation

All navigation hidden from view. Interaction to view navigation options increased by 100%.

Interaction to view navigation options increased by 200% if you want to view Calendar. See below…

Exhibit 3. New Header Navigation:Hover

Exhibit 4. New gMail Navigation:Hover

Two main issues here.
1) You replaced a very familiar interactive element inside gMail, the logo, which always linked to the inbox. In its place lie the new global navigation discussed above.
2) On top of that you turned the gMail logo/header into a drop down navigation menu as well! Now I have to hover + click to even get back to the inbox!

How much testing did you guys do before you rolled this out? Seriously.

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