Monday, December 10, 2012

Psychological impact of origin

How important is the history, context, and origin of an experience? If you believe Paul Bloom, it's nearly everything to our brain.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Just curious...

How many golden ages were recognized as such during the experience?

Does your company get it?

A lot of companies will say "User experience is so important!" Don't listen to their words, learn how much they respect UX by their process.

Get it

Companies that get it have at least a few of these qualities:

  • UX is an understood, required, and integrated part in the product development process
  • DevelopmentQA, and PMS collaborate with user experience--ask questions during reviews and read deliverables. An engaged team ask smart questions
  • Designs are regularly validated with users or through hallway usability testing
  • UX speaks not just design but analytics and business value 
  • The code base is performance optimized and global changes aren't painful because they use sprite images, error messages in one location, and smart global and template specific .css
  • QA's test cases cite the visual design comps and wireframe specifications
  • The product team is engaged in user testing 

Don't get it

Companies that don't get it are like this:

  • Development either fights tooth and nail with every innovation because it doesn't come free with their framework OR the dev team nods politely as UX presents wireframes/comps then builds whatever they'd like
  • QA and TechDocs are not invited or involved until development is underway or worse, nearly finished. 
  • The company does not give product teams access to users 
  • There is no product vision that guides the long term thinking 
  • No Product Managers or Developers observing any usability testing sessions (face palm on this one!)
  • They ask UX for comps ASAP (in other words, they don't understand the difference between UX and visual design)
  • Requirements do not get their own 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Primates of usability

The point to this post is to talk monkey (and gorilla) business. It's kind of funny how much of your usability testing might rely on primates.

MailChimp was built for marketing emails but makes a great usability list service since they make it very easy to do branded HTML blasts.
SurveyMonkey is a super easy way to make a survey which you could use for traditional research or to screen usability participants.
Silverback is my favorite screen recording software ever. I've used Silverback both for tutorial videos and for usability testing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Everything I ever wanted to know about makeup I learned from YouTube

You've no doubt experienced the power of movies. More recently, I've been fascinated by other dimension of video that's being exploited less in movies and more in YouTube is how-to videos and talent sharing.

In 2010, I experienced this first hand--I dove head first into the world of make-up by watching online tutorials (Michelle Phann & Kandee Johnson). I learned enough to do my own wedding makeup.  

I'm not alone. Chris Anderson,  curator of TED, speaks of many other examples of the power of video to fuel learning and innovation. Given our innate love for storytelling and our visual nature, why wouldn't we gravitate towards watching? Access to new communication channels has clearly shown that the medium strongly impacts the message. **

Another bonus to this video is a demonstration of the presentation tool, Prezi. For how much people complain about how much PowerPoint sucks (Tufte and many many others), I'm glad someone created an alternative.

**Some say the medium IS the message. False. If this were true logically, everything on YouTube should be the same since they share mediums. (Dwight from the Office voice used here)


Monday, August 6, 2012

Dressing is Design

"That it is shallow to judge by appearances is a well-known saying. That it is shallow to dismiss appearances is a lesser-known truth" - Poet Yahia Lababidi*

At one of my first jobs I told a group of dude coworkers, as an aside to a long, yet interesting, story, "I'm not very feminine."

"Yeah, no kidding!" my coworker responded, precisely .001 millisecond later.

I had no idea. I actually thought I was sharing a deep, unknown opinion about myself, not a hard fact. The resolute and lightning fast response truly shocked me.

I have the social perception of an felt tip pen so all this time, I figured my long hair said "I'm a lady-like lady!"

I didn't think I was being compared to ALL WOMEN EVERYWHERE...not simply my coworkers.  It's amazing how we can be clueless. I thought my long hair and occasional jewelry was saying something. I guess my deep voice, swearing, and swagger negated my sterling silver hoops and ponytail.

The gloves and pearls say I'm a lady, fighting to get out!
In more recent years, I've taken up makeup and more dressy (ladylike?) attire at work because it is arty, more professional, and I like it. I haven't changed anything else and I actually, really don't dress well (picture the sum of dork + job interview + $100 JCPenny gift card), so don't think I pull off mid to high-fashion, but I'd like to think that with a bit of gloss and a skirt, no one will leap at the chance to dismiss my femininity  something I like having, thank you very much. 

I felt defeminized. As in "I saw the most beautiful pig, Miss. Piggy and realized I'll just never be as much of a woman compared to her... I felt so defeminized" (thank you, Kal and Jill!)

You, Miss Piggy, you are a Lady and a Scholar

I learned clothing is not merely a tool to prevent awkward nudity, but to assert some statement which in turn, directly impacts how one is perceived.

Even if you don't pay attention to how you look, other people do In other words, dressing is a very personal way to design.

Quoted in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and taken from The June 2007 issue of The Week Volume 7 Issue 312.

Friday, August 3, 2012

UX designers should play more video games

Something I didn't mention about my aversion to games, was that I was afraid. I mentioned already that I was afraid of a scary controller and slow but competently mobile zombies, but I was also afraid of becoming addicted.

The day my husband came home with an Xbox 360, I was worried I would lose him to the vortex of the machine. I wondered if this was the beginning of the end of our communication. Would I ever be able to snap him out of his game-induced trance long enough to have a conversation?

In reality, it wasn't a worry. In fact, his enthusiasm for the first game he bought, Call of Duty World at War, made me so, I started sheepishly playing. Early on, I was awesome only at running into walls and getting killed by others. But after some practice, I was able to maneuver around and even got some kills in.

Playing Call of Duty World at War an epic experience. The environment is so realistic, it's actually distracting from the objective (to kill others and not die). Water is crisp, flames are mesmerizing, bugs fly around, and your gaze can follow planes in the sky. It just looks amazing. Watch the Trailer here (but buy a more recent Call of duty if you like multi-player since cheaters have ruined this mode).  

Later, I'd shoot real guns, and surprisingly found myself with a host of knowledge. Without picking up one book or reading wikipedia, I could identify World War 2 weapons on sight.

How do you like that?

Later, again because my husband loved it so much, I started playing Starcraft (another amazing game, for very different reasons), trailer here. Again, there were side benefits I could not have imagined. SC2 replays and professional, yes, I said professional, tournaments became another channel to appreciate the game, the players, and the huge community of passionate people that love the game. Watch a great replay screencasted by Husky, who's voice has got to be golden ratio.


So what's the point of this blog post, aside from being a valentine to COD and SC2? I guess to say that we all need video games, especially over 30 female user experience designers, like me.

Though their information architecture and menus are generally awful (they need you!), they've always  pushed tore up the envelope. In doing so, there are many design lessons such as situation awareness, head-up displays, maps, real-time collaboration, and communication. These are all practical patterns that haven't been done well on the web because the web cannot match desktop application or console game processing speed (yet?). Of course they're addictive highly engaging, by design which is the most compelling aspect worthy of study.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Reality is broken

Jane McGonigal's TED talk perfectly frames the main problem with the real world.  We aren't empowered.

She proposes the radical idea that if we want to have a meaningful impact on problems we care about, we need a lot more play in our lives. Do you buy it?

Monday, July 16, 2012

How I kept worrying and leared to hate the console

I was reluctant to play games as an adult.

Sure, Pitfall on the Commodore 64 was awesome (swing on a vine over crocodiles!). I loved Castle Wolfenstein (find and wear an enemy uniform to blend in!) and Mario 1-3 were great (jump up and hit blocks for treats!).

In my 20's the new generation of console games literally scared me.

Console Games are Scary: Part 1

Look at this remote:
Sony's PS3 Controller Image from GameSiteCenter

I'd grown up with joysticks and Nintendo.

You know, Up, Down, Left, Right, B, A, Select, and Start.

What's with the extra six controls? Two of them aren't even binary (the two mini-thumb joysticks).

This may as well have been the  the Enola Gay cockpit. This was simply too hard and I was too old. 

Console Games are Scary Part 2

Even though the controllers made me wonder who moved my cheese, I put my chin up and I tried it. Alone on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I put in my roommate's copy of Resident Evil, and started pushing buttons.

Things were immediately tense. I was in a dark mansion. I was not alone. Zombies were somewhere. But I could barely see! The candle lighting was faint.

Gone were the bright primary colors of my childhood games.

To top it off, scary music alluded to bad things ahead. My heart began pounding in my ears.

Like moronic teens in a scary movie, I was seriously clumsy. Though able to move, I was repeatedly walking into a wall. The graphics, which had been beautifully rendered from a distance, the candles flickering against the stone walls who's texture was uneven just like other castles I'd visited in daylight--these same graphics--got low-fi at point blank range. The walls looked like a group of dark brown polygons. I could hear zombies coming. Oh no. I managed to turn around and see the room I was in. Then it got even more scary.

Zombies were approaching at an injured snail's pace, limping in my direction and looking hungry. I tried to walk away, but I didn't know how to walk. I quickened my pace, forging ahead into the polygons like a malfunctioning robot.

Soon, a very scary-looking zombie gripped me, leaned back for the inertia, and bit my neck. Turns out, when video game zombies bite your neck, you don't simply blink into oblivion (see Mario) or fade away.

You bleed out, while the controller, yes the thing in your hands, suddenly shook. With. Each. Bite. It scared the living crap out of me.  I actually didn't know controllers vibrated in the first place let alone while terrifying things happened to your poor doomed avatar.

The game left me wide-eyed, heart-racing and ready to quit. I turned off the machine and just like any scary movie I accidentally watched, tried never to think about it again.

Things changed....I'll let you know how soon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

If heuristics were written from the customer's point of view?

Heuristics are generally written in terms of the development team. What if they were in terms of the user? I rewrote Jakob Nielsen's Heuristics* in this light:

1. Tell me where I am, what's going on, and where I'm going
2. Use language I understand and keep it consistent
3. I make mistakes. Let me undo them.
4. Meet my expectations on layout, style, and writing
5. and 9. Don't let me make mistakes, if something went wrong, take the fall if you're to blame but always tell me how I can fix it
6. You're a computer, you are my records. I'm not the one with an amazing memory--you are.
7. I do certain actions over and over, make those easy.
8. It's hard to see what's important when you overwhelm me.
10. If I can't figure things out on my own, give me useful and timely resources. Let me look things up.

Beyond these, here are even more:

a. Honor my Request; do as I ask.
b. Make my life better
c. Save me time, money or both
d. Don't make me tell you to do something twice. If I asked you, just do it. If it was a mistake, let me undo it. See #3.
e. Help me choose when there are many options.
f. Don't make me wait too long
g. Don't send me to the wolves; I'm not always up for anonymous comments. Don't force me to receive hurtful/mean spirited slings/arrows.
h. Let me plug in, or plug out.
i. Let me express myself and be creative
j. Read my mind. Or at least anticipate things I'll likely want. For example, I'm likely to want to view things I've recently viewed
k. Don't try to sell me stuff at every turn. I'm not a wallet, I'm a person.
l. When I search, be flexible. I don't call things what you might call them. I may not even know the name!
m. When we first meet, help me get started but go away when I ask, somewhere I can find you later.
n. Put me first. I'm the reason you exist!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Companies adapting to employees

Though we chafe the treatment of workers during the industrial revolution, I wonder how far we've come when so many people slog through bad meetings, suffer through terrible commutes, and hurt their health at work (white collar workers have a different set of health issues than say, a coal miner...but still).

Do we make these sacrifices because we're convinced this is the best work life possible, having weighed the costs and benefits, and knowing all of the possible options? Or do accept it, yet long for change like no more performance reviews*, unlimited vacation, no more time-wasting meetings, flexible hours, working from home, more than one training per year, or anything other than the traditional uninventive package based around the 40-hour workweek?

Going in the other directions, how much have companies adapted to the post-industrial age or are companies still using old models that don't work? Are companies changing now? What's at stake if organizations don't change? Loyalty? Talent? Awesome products?

I don't think anyone discusses these issues better than Peter Merholz's talk "Why Business Must Be  Human". So get some popcorn (or beef jerky if you are doing low carbs) and enjoy this talk.


 Also here's an discussion of his talk, if you prefer.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

When you grow up: a designed life, or Study what you like

When I was a kid, I didn't have a personality. I know this because in 5th grade one my classmates had  printed clip art illustrations for each of the kids in class. My friend who loved horses, got a dot matrix picture of horses. A boy who was into soccer got a soccer balls. The very femminine girl got high heeled shoes, And so on.

I got an abstract design.

Things like this made me anxious about what kind of career I'd have. Yes, I actually worried about things like this in 5th grade.

I started journalling at age nine. I wrote that I wanted to be a farmer and a writer.  I have proof of this because I wrote it down.  When an adult asked me what I wanted to be, I'd just seen a commercial for how to be a paralegal, and that sounded legit "I'd like to be a paralegal". She laughed.  Later, in school I tested high for aptitude in music but I didn't want to wake up an hour earlier to go to music class (I wasn't a morning person then either). Even later in school, carrer testing told me I'd make a good priest. 

It came as a huge relief when, in Junior High, I learned that:
  • most jobs that would be available when I was old enough to work hadn't been invented yet
  • most people change their careers a few times, and 
  • most people do not work in the field they studied
This information changed my life. It was a good news confused kid who didn't want to pick her career at 18. 
My goal is not to wake up at forty with the bitter realization that I've wasted my life in a job I hate, because I was forced to decide on a career in my teens. - Daria
To me, knowing a new crop of jobs would appear, and that I wasn't bound forever to my major meant I could study (almost)* anything I was truly interested in without worrying about how it would earn me a living. I could always bend or twist it into one of the new-fangled careers from the future.  So I picked Psychology. 

I love psychology. There were surprises at every turn and being a young science had already built a cool history. Even now, things are fluid. I watched Paul Bloom's Psychology 101 through Open Yale Courses and the field has changed for the better. Even the areas are different. Hot now are developmental psychology and linguistics. 

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is teach yourself or your kids these three things if you haven't already. You could be diverting an early-life crisis.

*I was too scared to study writing or art because I'm a coward.

Monday, July 2, 2012

User Anthropology and you

I had the pleasure of seeing Sharon Lockhart's film "Lunch Break" at SF MOMA while friends were in town. It was amazing.

The centerpiece of Lunch Break is a sort of documentary video in one continuous shot, tracking straight through a 1,200-foot factory corridor while workers go about their lunch-hour routines. What's crucial is that it's in slow motion: 10 minutes' worth of footage digitally elongated into an 80-minute revelation. - Jonathan Kiefer | KQED

Kiefer described it better technically than I could. So many things made this amazing but here's my short list:

  • Construction sounds, usually grating, when slowed, is amazingly meditative
  • Watching people is always fascinating but watching people at work is an opportunity you don't get every day unless you make it happen (hint hint).
  • Her accompanying photos showed cute kitchenette area with snacks and neat signs like "Coffee 50 cents" and a box to collect money. These are things we idly look at when visiting a new place. While in such a setting we take for granted systems of trust and effort. Someone has to replenish the snacks and coffee.  

She has an anthropologist's keen eye for social settings and details. It made me wonder how often do we, as UX designers, spend quality time observing users in their natural habitat. I don't mean user testing. I mean observing without the structure of a task-based test. Empathy sometimes just means being there, listening, and observing.

See more at Contemporary Art Links

In the video below, Sharon talks about embedding herself in a small town in order to film "Pine Flats" and how she created a community space in the process.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Teacher, teacher tell me what's my lesson?

Last Fall, I had the honor of teaching User Experience at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. It was awesome. I guess I like teaching a lot. It not only was a joy to introduce eager students to a field I love, by explaining complex systems gave me a deeper appreciation of what UX really means.

Check out some of my students work or the assignments on our class site.

One of the highlights of teaching is watching students improve upon the things you've taken for granted. I especially enjoyed watching students do hands-on activities like paper prototype testing (watch/see the cleverness below).

This clever student use "layers" or a plastic film to enable reusing of pages underneath

I want this...something to identify flowers

Not required but some students made keyboards!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Stumbling up the stairs - a lesson for usability testing videos and presentations

I love this video.

It shows people literally stumbling because of poor design.

This is a perfect example of what I call a usability testing highlight reel. To me, a highlight reel is a synopsis of similar stumbling moments across several users

In other words, if you have hours & hours of user testing videos, I bet very few people besides you watch, right? The story rapidly changes when you edit the video and share small bite-sized clips. 

Persuade your team to fix something by engaging them. They will cringe when they watch people stumble, and they will want desperately to fix it.

New York City Subway Stairs from Dean Peterson on Vimeo.

What's the default gender?

Whenever I see Male as the default gender on a sign up screen I wonder, is this because there are more dudes on this site? Or is this because unlike the Titanic, it's men first?

A story: I bought a cute puppet recently made by a woman in Texas. Someone said it was a male.
Me: "No, she's female, what makes you think it's a boy?"
Him: "When animals are naked and don't wear a bow or a dress, they are male"
Me: "WHAT!?"
So I guess the muppets, smurfs set the rules. But, men are not the default for me. Probably because I'm not one. Too bad being the majority (barely) doesn't get you default status.

No bow, no dress.  Female!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

From the office...

Here are some photos from my office. You can find more here.
My prized postcard from the one and only, Lynda Barry
I do like to draw fish. I send Lynda Barry a fish like this only red

I love Mighty Mouse and Mary Poppins...but what made me buy this print was absolutely the patterns.

Staple-less stapler

India ink 

Quick charcoal during a meeting (using gmail voice for the call) 

My desk. Never really clean.

It shouldn't matter. And yet...

I'm not applying to colleges or trying to pump up my resume, so when I get a game achievement, a badge, or token of any kind from software, I'm surprised to say I really like it! 

Is there any way your software can make someone's day a little brighter? Just a bit? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Peddling surveys

(This Meme, Overly Attached Girlfriend can be found on QuickMeme)

One of the persistant scientific concerns about surveys is that the statistical inferences are hard to believe unless you have a good sample. In the world of online reviews it's easier than ever for a customer to provide feedback to a company. And not just to the company. With sites like Yelp, your slam or praise can curb or encourage new customers.  

Some companies ask their customers to provide feedback. For example, after a visit to my doctor, Kaiser sent me a survey. The envelope was marked "Immediate response requested!". If you're like me, your heart dropped as you realized you might have some terrible illness. Then you opened the envelope and realized...oh a survey. When I didn't respond, I got the same survey again in the mail two weeks later.

Kaiser's survey was titled "Good enough is not good enough."

Sometimes I wonder, "isn't it?"

Later that month, I visited an AT and T store so that my sim card could be updated on my iPhone 4, and the fellow at the store did it. As I was exiting, he smiled broadly and told me I'd soon get a survey and asked me to sing his praises. Did he do an amazing job? Mmmmm, he did his job.

I'm guilty of writing reviews when I'm amazed at awesomeness or awfulness, but is that bad?

Similar to the approach of UnMarketing author, Scotty Stratten, I wonder if asking for feedback with too much desperation or too persistently starts to smell bad. Kind of like marketing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Logos..not just for the upper right

It's with my last ounce of energy today that I write this. Last week I found one of most beautiful homepage headers I've seen in years. Mayo Clinic. Look at how they've busted a taken-for-granted convention (upper left for the logo). Good God this is beautiful.

 Most UX designers will bristle at recognize the hero image & three column "what we do" at the bottom...but I'm just marveling at the beauty of the logo placement. Here it is in context

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Today I'm fixing my ringtone situation

Sebone walks you through how to use your songs to make ringtones with no weird software. Admittedly, it is a process, but so worth it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

. . .On Boxes . . .

When people think outside the box, I picture two boxes. One box represents the actual constraints, the second box represents perceived constraints.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Advertising dollars

When companies invest in ads, they pay and pray. Pay for adspace, commercials, or sponsorship and hope like hell that you remember their product or service in a good way. When companies invest in services, they demonstrate in a real way that their customer experience matters.

I like Brandon Schauer's article on what he calls the Service Sag the gap in between the services we are promised and the services we receive.
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