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.