Wired Article on embedded design

Wired – Design and the Digital World

There is a really interesting Wired article in the newest issue about digital design (and really a lot about UX design) and technology as it becomes embedded in the world around us.

I worry a bit that the writer glosses too quickly over how current designers handle  work, which I think diminishes the intense effort put into our work, “they know down to the pixel where to place a button, how fast a screen should scroll, and how to make an app simple without making it simplistic,” as if designing simplicity has been “solved”, but in general I really think the article presents a good look at where experience design and product design are heading.

One point I really agree with, and think UX designers are concerned with but can focus even more on moving forward is “as designers move off of screens and into the larger world, they’ll need to consider every nuance of our everyday activity and understand human behavior every bit as well as novelists or filmmakers.”

Film makers have a term “mise en scene” or ‘everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement.’ (wikipedia) Mise en scene is about making a film as believable and close to reality as possible. The focus is of course about the set and costumes, but it is so much more when you consider lighting, space, composition, make-up and hair, acting, film stock, and even the aspect ratio.

In the same way product designers must of course focus on the interaction with the on screen elements, but as a profession we must be concerned with the whole picture. That picture includes so much more than just visual design and even interaction design and the screens themselves. The users environment, device, state of mind, context of use, and all other experiential qualities they are immersed in as they interact with a product (even those on a screen today and not yet embedded in our world) should be understood as a designer does their work. Every single detail and decision made through the product design process should be considered with a purpose driven by all those experiential qualities.

Man I would love to meet Jonathan Ive

Q: Why has Apple’s competition struggled to do that?

A: That’s quite unusual, most of our competitors are interesting in doing something different, or want to appear new – I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us – a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different – they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.


Designing for function alone vs designing the entire experience

Doug Dietz, a designer at General Electric. Dietz creates complex medical imaging equipment, including an MRI machine that is incredibly important to the medical process. But one day, Dietz saw a little girl crying, scared of the treatment she was about to receive. And whereas he’d once been proud of the lives he’d helped save, now he was disappointed to realize the fear the machine caused. And so he turned the machine into an adventure. The results were dramatic: From 80% of kids who had previously needed to be sedated, now only 10% required anesthetic. Repeating a story that has by now entered GE lore, Kelley recounts Dietz waiting with a mother for her child to come out of a scan. The little girl ran up: “mommy? Can we go again tomorrow?”

David Kelley @ TED

Visual design or development? Neither, User Support.

How did you get in to User Experience?

So often the answer is either visual design or development. In some cases both; design and development each allow for a unique perspective into UX. A developer may be frustrated with current software and the lack of focus on those who actually use it. This situation provides a great opportunity to introduce the importance of UX. A visual designer may realize that an interface can be beautiful and still not make sense to a user. This also provides a great opportunity for the visual designer to discover UX. Backgrounds in either of these fields are a great gateway into learning more about User Experience.


These two industries are not, however, the only ways into user experience. My background is not completely unique to me; yet I find surprisingly few people who come from the same industry I do: User Support.


User experience is all about the use of technology —  individuals trying to accomplish tasks using a tool that was designed. It is, of course, the goal to design a product so that the user can flawlessly navigate the situation accomplishing their goal without hesitation but we all know at times people get confused and frustrated when a tool is expected to work one way, but it does not. When we hit a snag who do we call? User Support. It is also user support that is responsible for user training if the tool being used is complex in nature and requires an explanation or demonstration of use before the user takes control.


As a User Support professional I spent years working as a user support professional. I spoke with users on a daily basis and, in a way, conducted ethnographic research with actual users in context dealing with the frustrations of using technology. I encountered all levels of user proficiency dealing with all levels of issues with web applications, hardware, networking, mobile phones, and all other forms of technology. The emotional connection between a user and a piece of technology can become so aggravating and frustrating it can drive a user mad. A support person has to not only fix the issue, they also have to work with the user to understand how the user became frustrated in the first place and then explain to them in a language they understand how to properly use the tool.


However, this background puts a UX designer in a tough spot when dealing with people who expect a UX professional to come from either a developer or a visual designer background. For those who view UX from a visual design perspective,  User Support is “very technical.” However, those who come from a development background don’t expect a user support person to understand the technical concepts and jargon of development. Visual designers can say they are a “photoshop wiz” and developers can list of all the coding languages in which they are proficient;  it is not as simple to list a specific technology that sums up a user support background. However, for an industry that is concerned with Human Computer Interaction and User Experience, User Support professionals have a first-hand understanding of users interacting with computers and all the encompassing emotions.

More than…

“User Experience is more than…

  • visual design
  • front end development
  • websites
  • software
  • technology
  • a piece of the puzzle
  • a diagram
  • a process
  • a set of tasks

It is all of those things and so much more. It is every single detail we take in from the world around us; if our lives were a movie it would be mise en scene. People are constantly experiencing, taking in the world around them through their senses. “An Experience” is those sensations (things seen, smelled, felt, etc.) from a moment in time that were in some way relevant enough to a person that they are recalled when this moment is remembered.

This philosophy is crucial to the success of any business, non-profit, or group of people providing a good or service to others. When the consumers interaction with a product or service is recalled, if the memory is happy and positive then the person will be willing to continue spending money to use the offered product/service, and if they really love it they will even evangelize for the product/service or brand. If they recall a negative experience however, then they will either not return or begrudgingly use the product/service until a competitor comes along and provides a more pleasant experience.

User experience for an organization is any experiential quality that involves the product or service provided. Focusing on delivering a positive experience is critical to the long term success of any organization. 


Photoshop lies

The Importance of Dog-Fooding

Felton says the main lesson he learned from the experience of designing and iterating Timeline is that “Photoshop lies.” “You can come into a meeting with a very beautiful comp and it’s like, ‘Oh yes, we should do it that way,’” he says. “But you’re never going to know if you can do it that way until you pump in the real data and live with it for days or weeks.”

To make sure they got it right, Facebook released Timeline to its own employees during the development process, to make sure that the paradigms they were developing worked for all users, those with a ton of status updates, for example, as well as those with just a few.

“As a designer, you have your baby that you want to try and sell. To make it saleable, you might pick someone who has really nice photos in their profile and use that to make your mockups,” Felton says. “But you’re ultimately just lying to yourself and the rest of the group if you think everyone’s page is going to look like that.”

I remember working on my first graduate school design project, a RSS feed reader for Mozilla firefox. My team worked hard to come up with a really solid design, that fit the aesthetic of firefox and managed RSS feeds in a very clean way. It was not until our presentation however that we realized that though still a good solution, there were many kinks in the design we had not accounted for because we used data that “fit neatly” into our mockups. We had not accounted for links and blog titles that went above our expected average character count nor had we really pushed the boundaries of how our tool would scale.


This is on top of the fact that even if you feel like you consider all of the options, and it still looks great in photoshop, it might end up not working as well as it looks like it should. This just exposes the value of building prototypes, not necessarily fully coded prototypes, but just something to get your hands on to start to evaluate the design as it is used, not just as it looks on the surface.

I’m tired of “Well it works…”

Because no, it doesn’t! To hear ‘well it works’ is one of the most frustrating responses one can hear coming from those who make decisions about a products development. ‘It works’ to an engineer and ‘it works’ to a normal person, who is trying to accomplish a task, mean two entirely different things. To an engineer it means it is possible. While it may be technically possible, it does not ‘work right’ or ‘work smart’ for someone who does not think the way ‘it works’ for an engineer is a way it makes sense for the task to be accomplished. If it takes me 12 clicks and with any or all being completely hidden or unintuitive to do something as simple as setting an alarm on a cellphone (a very common task) then it does NOT work, even if it is possible. Hearing ‘well it works’ is usually a sign that the current design is viewed as adequate or ‘good enough’.


But that leads to another one of the most frustrating responses that can be heard ‘it’s good enough’. I understand that constraints are ever present in every design situation. There is never enough time, never enough understanding of who the user is, always just a few more tweaks that can be made to make a design just that much better. I also understand that embracing constraints and reacting to the situation can inspire even more innovative work. But to hear ‘it’s good enough’ is a cop out. It can always be better. You can’t let that stop you from delivering, but to just write off a piece of a design as adequate and ‘good enough’ will never lead to a pleasurable experience for anyone who interacts with the design. The devil is in the details and as a designer it is always disheartening to hear someone involved with a product who does not care enough about the product to always be thinking of ways to iterate on it to make it the best it can be.

UX gone wrong

I love pizza. I love a lot of foods that aren’t good for me, but pizza is near the top of the list. My sister has a blog where she draws cartoons (that I highly recommend following) and her most recent post is about something that pizza places do to try to improve their connection with the consumer that while good intentioned has a negative effect.

The “personalized” touch of them ‘remembering’ you when you provide your phone number is supposed to help them see previous orders and deliver top quality service. Unfortunately the good intentions in this case can have a negative consequence of making the pizza orderer feel fat. “If they remember me I must call too often.”


It would be just as helpful to clarify orders in comparison with previous orders when something does not matchup without coming across as TOO personal for the situation.


The Future of UX as They know it – from the Origin Digital Blog

Screen shot 2011-12-11 at 12.27.35 AM

A blog I wrote for the company blog.

There is a lot of discussion about the future of User Experience (UX) design among fellow practitioners. UX design, as an evolution from User Interaction design, Human Computer Interaction, Human Factors/Ergonomics, Usability Engineer, etc., has developed in parallel with computing and technology in our daily lives; a change that will continue as technology becomes ever more ubiquitous in our environment. However, this is not an attempt to further the discussion of the future of the UX practitioner, but it is my intention to explore how the rest of the business world currently views UX as well as how I view their understanding of the field, which will hopefully mature in the near future.

Currently, the biggest issue with the field of UX is the blank stare that follows when you tell someone you are a User Experience designer. It is usually followed with a “Huh?”, which then needs to be addressed with a crafted elevator pitch. The pitch explains how the UX role “is responsible for designing not just the layout of an interface, but also understanding the humanistic approach a user takes during their interaction with the software in order to appropriately accomplish a desired task.”

Imagine the design of an ATM at the bank. UX design is not just about the placement of buttons on the machine, but it is also about creating a machine that accommodates the withdrawal of ‘fast cash’ amounts. If the ATM was designed around a ‘fast transfer’ between accounts then the ATM wouldn’t work for the average person looking to grab some cash & be on their merry way.

As UX grows and more products are built with a specific focus, not only on getting the design right but also on getting the right design, there will be less blank stares and misconceptions about UX being a combination of a visual designer and a front end programmer. Although a new field, people will soon understand the value of UX design, both for individual products as well as for a company’s entire brand.

The ipod’s 2-button mouse, and the solution to “Antenna-Gate”

We are now in the middle of an Apple fiasco that has blown up so huge that it is being called Apple’s “Vista.” And if that’s not funny enough, it was Ballmer who said it! (Sure, and your broken arm is like my cancer…”).

And although I don’t feel that this issue is going to take the iPhone down, and is not even close to the failure of a company’s much hyped, core business product (Vista), this story is still a big deal. Apple is first and foremost a hardware company, and this is a very serious “broken” hardware problem. But it does have a simple fix. I have seen people use band-aids, “hold it different”, or use any case. Though this is not a permanent solution, and I would definitely be pissed to get a new phone that regularly lost signal and had such a major usage flaw.

But it’s easy to assume why Steve Jobs was so slow to acknowledge the flaw and so reluctant to give out the bumper case. Apple doesn’t want a case on its phone, it’s a freaking fashion item! It’s the rolex of personal computation. It’s a 4 carrot diamond ring. It’s computer bling. So no way is Steve Jobs happy having to cover his beautiful product with a case. And assuredly so, this problem will get fixed. And we know Apple will NOT settle for mistakes like these in the future. (Just ask ex Sr VP Mark Peppermaster.)

But notice that Ballmer isn’t calling this Microsoft’s “Kin”

Oh yeah, that would just be a joke. The iphone4 is BEAUTIFUL, it has sold hundreds of millions times over, it offers the biggest and best app marketplace on the planet, and its combination of hardware and software (Apple’s Iron Curtain control) provides an incredible experience for those who have one. 

But the majestic nature of this amazing new product, the biggest change since the first iPhone release, is all being lost in the frenzy of negative news coverage surrounding “antenna-gate”… Apple’s blood is in the water, and the sharks are feeding wildly. Fitting since it’s Shark Week.

There is a solution that would not only turn the tables on the negative coverage of Apple (the negative side of the hundreds of millions in free PR with every new product announcement and release), but it would also address a major opportunity in the iphone (and ipod family) world, in as revolutionary a way as the 2-button mouse.

What apple should do? Give a major discount on their high quality headphones to those affected by antenna-gate (reward they early adopters), and give a discount on their normal cost for the rest of us.
Apple Earbuds
Since its earliest beginnings in 2001, the iPod has shipped with its trademark white earbuds. And even though the iPod was just the beginning of Apple’s revolution of all digital media consumption, it still has a “puck mouse” issue that it has never addressed. It’s Earbuds. They aren’t good! They aren’t really comfortable and they put out a pretty mediocre sound.
Hockey Puck Mouse
But the earbuds are an important part of the ipod experience. Experience design is about every aspect of the music experience, from immediate purchase (anytime anywhere on your phone) to full satisfaction enjoying the music (or tv or movie or game). And Apple has that… almost. The experience is interrupted by the mediocre quality of the white earbuds which is a letdown for the iPod experience. Plus, when someone replaces the white earbuds for a pair of comfortable, killer sounding “Beats” the Apple brand is lost. When anyone sees those white headphones, they know immediately it’s an Apple. (BLING BLING) Apple has such an amazing history for success precisely because of this level of detail in their design. (Same with the puck mouse. It had the look and color of the computer, but it was just a mediocre mouse.) The sound quality and comfort of the headphones are such an important part of the music experience for all iPod consumers: Artists, Producers, A&R, and most importantly fans and Apple should work to fill that gap.

Solution… Call your top of the line headphones “iBeats” or “iBuds” or something and give it to the iphone4 antenna-gate problem phone’s for cheap! Sell the earbuds to those affected (you have already admitted to the mistake with the free bumper case) for something like $19.99 and to the whole world for $59.99 (cut 20 bucks off the price now) and make a killing, fill an experiential hole that would put the iPod family of products even further ahead, and turn the publicity train around.

I wouldn’t expect this to happen, the bumper case seems to have quieted the waters for now as the feeding frenzy ends, and this might just throw more chum into the water, but Apple could really use good headphones, and why not reward those customers who were willing to dive in for another iPhone upgrade from the start? Heck, to really make an impact, and really solve this issue, Apple should start including the nice headphones with all iPhone/iPod/iPad purchases. But then again Apple used to include a charging dock with all iPods but now sells it separate to make extra $$ so I really don’t expect much.

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