People want more choices. / More choices make people sad.

February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

“People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. Having more choices makes people feel in control. Feeling in control makes people feel they will survive better.”

Susan Weinschenk


“The more options there are, the easier it is to regret anything at all that is disappointing about the option that you chose.”

Barry Schwartz


The Problem with Starting with a Problem

June 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

Defining the first step [in a person’s decision-making process] as problem recognition may imply the ‘problem’ has an objective existence, independent of the customer—and the producer. Framing the decision process as problem-solving suggests the customer is a ‘rational actor.’ The danger is that people often act more on emotion than by rationally calculating self-interest. And their definitions of problems depend on their point of view and are often formed in conversations with others—including producers. Indeed part of the innovation process is reframing an existing situation to create consensus around a new definition of a problem.

Hugh Dubberly and Shelley Evenson, The Experience Cycle (written for Interactions Magazine)

Khan Academy and Computer Imagination

May 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sal Khan of Khan Academy was on Charlie Rose today, and it made me remember how awesome his TED talk was. I love what he says about the value of being able to watch a video tutorial over and over or stop it in the middle and go back to a part you want to review until you really get it. It’s a great example of what one of my grad school faculty members, Marty Siegel, calls computer imagination — exploiting what computers (more specifically YouTube-mediated video in this case) do well that other mediums don’t. Letting kids go at their own pace with “lecture material” for homework has created an opportunity to use classroom time for exercises, where kids can work on problems either alone or in groups and get feedback from the teacher before they have to turn something in.

We came to a similar conclusion about the usefulness of video that you can watch as many times as you want during the Not Enough Cooks in the Kitchen project, and that led us to envision video-recording and library/archive features for our kitchen video chat app. This would not only allow people to create digital keepsakes of their lessons with family and friends but also give them the opportunity to review the techniques they were shown as many times as it took to make them their own.

Making Things

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

“This focus on delivery must underpin everything we do. It’s understandable for designers to want strategic roles, as we encounter tactical limits. But in claiming the territory of design thinking, we must never forget the design doing, where true craft and talent turns thought into results.”

From “The Fall and Rise of User Experience,” keynote speech by Cennydd Bowles at IA Summit 2011

“Let us be inspired by good designs”

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

“The world is not filled by bad designs because people do not care or do not try. There are bad designs all around us because good design is difficult. I am much more fascinated by the fact that, despite the difficulty of design, good designs can also be found all around. It is amazing how often good designers are able to come up with designs that defy the complexity and difficulty of the challenge at hand.”

Erik Stolterman, “Upset by Bad Design or Inspired by Good Design”

Erik Stolterman has been studying and educating designers for many years, and he knows an incredible amount about what it takes to produce great work. He wrote the post from which the above quote is taken about a year ago, when I was working on a really tough project at Designkitchen and needed the encouragement to keep searching for opportunities within the constraints.

I completely agree — good design is difficult, and as Erik reminds his students (I used to be one), it takes patience, practice, and constant reflection. Even as we, as designers, are humbled by our own design challenges, it can be easy to criticize the work of others without considering the barriers they might have faced. We’ve all done it at one time or another. But what good does that non-constructive criticism do anyone? Jason from 37 Signals recently posted a similar sentiment.

Erik has recently become the editor of Interactions Magazine, and I’m excited to see the direction he and his co-editor take it. Best of luck, Erik!

Update: Andre Torrez and Jason Kottke just posted commentary about this topic as well. I know it’s a topic that always resurfaces from time to time, but I’m glad people continue to speak up about it. From Andre’s post: “I think making the right choices when you face them is the best way to say how things should be done. Having empathy for people doing what you are doing is as important as having empathy for your own users.”

Sketching with Travis

June 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

photo of our interface sketches for a recent pitch

Our interface sketches for a recent pitch

Usually the UX team is spread one-to-a-project where I work, but every once in a while we get to collaborate, and we have such a great time. Working with the designers and developers at my company gives me perspective that’s really valuable, but i also think my work is always better when it’s pushed forward by design critique from one of my fellow UXers.

The Role of the Citizen in Design

April 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

Whether we’re city planners or interaction designers, it seems we come up against the same questions about the value of involving those for whom we design in the design process. As I’ve been studying city and regional planning forums for my master’s capstone research, I’ve come across some conversations that are eerily similar to those that still sometimes happen between designers in my own field. From the Cyburbia forums (registration required):

Submitted by jaws on Sun, 2006/07/23 – 1:28pm.

Citizenship has nothing to do with how roads and pipes and squares are going to be built, anymore than citizenship entitles you to decide how everyone’s shoes are going to be made. You’ve appropriated the notion of citizenship into a sphere that is completely irrelevant.

Submitted by Lee Nellis on Mon, 2006/07/24 – 7:45am.

Ah, the technical delusion.

Citizens should have EVERYTHING to do with where new roads, pipes, squares, etc. are to be built. They are the ones who are going to use them. They are the ones who will be impacted by them. That is why planners are not technicians (and why engineers who listen poorly, if al [sic] all, have messed up so many communities), but facilitators and educators.

There is, of course, a technical aspect to all of these facilities. Citizens are not going to have much to say about the actual piping schematic of a sewage treatment plant, but they are/should going to have a lot to say about the impact a new plant will have on the pace of growth and the quality of life. The reality is that efficiency cannot and should not be our goal in planning (in the actual construction of a plant, of course). Our goal has to be to help folks actualize their citizenship – and that is a messy, inefficient process.

Despite the vocal holdouts, many city and regional planners have been employing participatory design methods (mainly charrettes, interviews, and focus groups) perhaps even before interaction design existed as a profession. We may be working in different mediums, but I think this is yet another example of how designers of any object, system, place, or service have a lot to learn from one another.

Bike Map Press Release

December 3, 2008 § Leave a comment

One of these days I’ll get around to writing a proper post about my summer fellowship project [update: I finally posted about it on my portfolio site], but for now, I’ll just mention that IU put up a press release about it today!

The basic story is that I spent the summer researching bicycling for transportation and then created what I would call a “first generation” bike map of the City of Bloomington using the Google Maps API. I learned an incredible amount during the project — I’ll give more details in a few weeks when the semester is over and things start to calm down a little around this place.

Safe Streets for Everyone

October 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

“In Bogota, our goal was to make a city for all the children. The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere. If a city is good for children, it will be good for everybody else. Over the last 80 years we have been making cities much more for cars’ mobility than for children’s happiness.”

Former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Penalosa, via Streetsblog

My capstone project has slowly been taking shape over the past month, and at the moment I’m hoping to focus on the development of tools that will help urban planners conduct health impact assessments. I want to remember the quote above because it’s a good reminder of why I’m passionate about pursuing this project.

Check it: MS Word is baroque.

October 20, 2008 § Leave a comment

From an old post I started and never published in Feb. 2008:

In my Experience Design course, we’re spending the month of February talking about experience design criticism and how it can inform our work. It’s fun to see how my training in literary criticism is helping me understand this way of thinking.

The first article we’ve read on the topic, “Criticism as an Approach to Interface Design,” by Olav Bertelsen and Soren Pold, yields this “juicy quote,” as my professor would say:

“Word can be seen as renaissances [sic?] in the sense that it builds on the tool metaphor and aims to incorporate a WYSIWYG interface. However, the abundance of new functions and domains, such as the inclusion of DTP functions, web publishing, support for reviewing and collaboration, has led to a baroque mannerism in the interface.

“Understanding the stylistic development from renaissance to baroque – a development that is not only referring back to the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries but is relevant whenever new expressions develop, mature and decay – is key to envisioning new designs for hybrid tools such as a word processor” (p. 26).

For more on interaction design criticism, you can check out the blog series my professor, Jeffrey Bardzell, wrote on the topic.

Bring the Extra-Sticky Post-Its

October 9, 2008 § Leave a comment

Last week in Interaction Design Methods, we collected all the research our team has been conducting this semester and created an affinity diagram.

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

Affinity diagramming takes a long time — bring rations!

It was a grueling process to transfer all our notes to post-its and arrange them into categories that made sense, but in the end, we developed some helpful insights that have pushed us further toward nailing down a design direction for our project.

As a team, we were surprised at the usefulness of the resulting diagram because our research had been seemingly unrelated up to that point — contextual inquiry with the city volunteer-matching program, ethnography at a local community garden, and a focus group of Bloomington citizens about their attitudes toward “buying local.”

Me, Augusto, and Xiaohan, transferring our research data to post-its

L to R: Me, Augusto, and Xiahan, transferring our research data to post-its

I’m eager to try this method out again with a future project — definitely with my capstone. Our instructor and associate instructor were nice enough to provide us with pictures of the workshop.

Our Related Readings

  • Beyer and Holtzblatt (1998). Contextual Design. Chapter 9.
  • Kuniavsky (2003). Observing the User Experience. Chapter 8.

Newsflash: Making it Pink is Not Enough

September 13, 2008 § Leave a comment

The Ottawa Citizen recently posted a story about a developer in Texas who used some participatory design techniques to involve local women from the community in the creation of a new shopping center. I love that the final design is a mixed-use space that integrates more than just shopping and has a major focus on greenery instead of concrete.

Mr. Montesi added that Watters Creek was not any more expensive to build than other projects; it’s just that the money was allocated differently. For example, in response to the women who were consulted, more money was spent on landscaping than is typical for such a project, and less on making the buildings look impressive.

“They said: ‘We don’t much care about the buildings, we care about the landscaping.’”

All of which was a revelation to Mr. Montesi, who concluded that attracting a female shopper “definitely wasn’t about painting the buildings in pastels. It wasn’t about making the buildings look feminine, it was about making the place more friendly to the women who use it.”

via Ian via Brand Avenue

Indi Young on A List Apart

September 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

I am loving this new article in A List Apart, “Look at It Another Way,” written by Indi Young of Adaptive Path. It’s incredibly reflective of what we talk about every day in my master’s program.

Defining groups by their relationship to your product blinds you to the relationship they might have with products you haven’t thought of yet.

It’s awesome to see a piece like this, written by a UX rock star, on A List Apart (and it’s her second article here in the past year, no less), which is read by so many people who spend a great deal of their time at work getting their hands dirty with code. It reaffirms my belief that the web design industry as a whole is waking up to the need for solid interaction design that puts people first.

Bad Tools, Accessibility, and Playing to Writers’ Strengths

September 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

We could talk all day about why terrible tools are so prevalent. (In my experience, the reason why a terrible tool isn’t replaced is because someone senior paid $500,000 for it and sure as hell isn’t going to admit a mistake and scrap it.)

– From Accessibility in a Suit and Tie by Bruce Lawson, for Vitamin

So much of this article rang true for me in my experience as a university web designer. Although I was at a nonprofit, many of the issues related to getting buy-in from the top were the same.

I particularly appreciated what Bruce says about teaching CMS contributors to write their content in HTML. I think many people overlook the fact that HTML that has been created using web standards should make sense to any good writer — at its base, HTML just gives us a way to label the parts of our work (the main heading, the subheadings, the paragraphs, the figures/images, etc.), which we all learned to do in third grade or so. In my experience, writers don’t get fired for thinking explicitly about the structure and organization of their prose.

Globe Graphics: Human-Centered Design

June 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

The newspaper graphics for the Boston Globe on Javier Zarracina’s portfolio site are out of this world. I came across them in the perfect way — a post from Lifehacker about the naps graphic (watch out for the window resizing when you click through), not highlighting the design itself, but the information it conveys. I was totally engrossed and spent significant time with it, reading every word.

When I was in journalism school, there seemed to be a general feeling that newspapers like USA Today ushered in an era of dumbed-down print media through greater use of graphics and lower word counts at the expense of the almighty writer’s more detailed coverage. Although I agree that some stories require the unique type of in-depth investigation that a long-form story can provide, Zarracina’s graphics exemplify the effectiveness of human-centered design created through collaboration of writers and artists.

On Pushing Through Your Crappy Phase

June 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

In the video below, Ira Glass talks about accepting and getting through that time we all experience, where the work we produce is not as good as our own ideas of what good work looks like. Even though he’s talking specifically about radio writing and reporting here, as many other bloggers have pointed out, his pep talk can be applied to any skill we are in the process of developing.

I’ve just finished my first year as a master’s student studying interaction research and design, and it has definitely been a humbling experience for me. The type of work I hope to build a career around requires a keen critical eye in combination with research and design skills that will take me years to fully develop. This video was a comforting reminder that hard work and dedication really does pay off in the end, even if you have to spend significant time bumbling around a bit in the interim.

Prototyping a Museum Experience

April 23, 2008 § Leave a comment

Hold on to your hats – I’ve got lots more cycling stuff to come! My group for a course called Experience Design is iterating on a prototype for a museum exhibit about what a true bike culture is like, and I thought I’d post one of our early, low-fidelity versions. We’re going to do the final one this weekend life-size, but this one gives a good idea of where we’re going with the project.

The video you will see in the background is used with the permission of David Hembrow, who has also shot lots of other fun first-person videos while cycling around Assen, the Netherlands, where he lives and operates some awesome-looking cycling tours. Thanks, David!

Once again, it’s important to note that this is a low-fidelity, early-version prototype. The goal of creating this one was to make sure it had the feeling we were going for before we spent significant time building something large-scale and fully developed.

First-Person Cycling Videos

April 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

For an end-of-semester group project, I’ve been collecting online videos taken by people riding their bikes in different cities around the world, and I thought I’d share the fruits of my labor. Working on the project, by the by, has been super fun and rewarding — for Experience Design, my team and I have been charged with prototyping a universally accessible museum exhibit. I’ll post about details and the final result after we turn it in, but for now, I hope you enjoy seeing what it’s like to ride a bike in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Colombia.

Note to self: do a little Googling before making notes to self

October 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

Silly me — I should have known some smartypants had already come up with a solution to my problem. It’s not a Greasemonky script, but I can use Library Lookup bookmarklets courtesy of Jon Udell to see if my library has the book I’m looking at on Amazon.

FYI, you can grab bookmarklets for the following libraries from these pages:

Still not sure about Indianapolis Public Libraries or Indiana University, but it looks like I can build a custom bookmarklet pretty easily. They both use catalog systems made by SirsiDynix — I just have to find out which ones.

Note to self: library/Amazon Greasemonkey script

October 25, 2007 § Leave a comment

Must learn how to do this for the B-town Public Library and the IU Libraries:

As has been mentioned before, I’ve produced a Greasemonkey script to add notification to Amazon surfers if the currently displayed book is in the Cincinnati Public library.

(source: Mark Mascolino)

Don’t be a tool . . . apologist

October 1, 2007 § Leave a comment

I found myself doing a large amount of head-nodding while reading Jeff Croft’s recent short post about the difference between knowledge of web code and software and knowledge of design principles.

. . . I think employers often value knowledge of tools too much when it comes to hiring web designers. . . . So what is valuable? Judgement. Logic. Creativity. Ability to learn quickly. Ability to work under pressure. Experience. Empathy. Design theory. Design history. Opinions. Decisions. And so on.

I look back at some of the first sites I created after learning XHTML and CSS, and although I was proud of myself for tackling these new languages, I soon realized that just knowing them would not make a site’s type readable, the navigation comprehensible, or the layout well organized. It’s taken a whole lot longer begin to develop those more abstract skills than it did to browse a few books and websites to figure out the difference between an ⟨h1⟩ and a ⟨p⟩ element.

I would not call myself a member of the “any idiot can create well-formed code” camp because I believe that it does take experience and analytical thought to use the right code for a given situation. However, I agree with Jeff that a vast difference exists between interface-design knowledge and design-tool knowledge. In fact, since I’ve been studying design principles, I feel that I have a better understanding of how to use the tools in my kit.

For example, until about six months ago, my use of line-height and margin in CSS was somewhat arbitrary and based on little more than eyeballing. Now that I’ve investigated the vertical rhythm principle, these properties have more valuable meaning in my work.

I would add to Jeff’s list of potential employee desirables that a person should not only be a quick learner, but should also have the curiosity and drive for self-improvement that will lead them to reach beyond their base skill set, whether it be in design principles or code/software chops, to seek complimentary knowledge. Figuring out how to express that in a job posting might be tough, though.

I took the ALA survey. So should you!

May 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

to the survey

If you’re a web professional and haven’t taken the survey over at A List Apart, hop on over and give it a go. It only took a few minutes for me to complete, including the diatribe about ill-fitting job titles that I wrote in the comments section. No word yet on when the results will be posted.

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