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

Mark Rolston from Frog Design on Research

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

“It’s less about data and more about beginning to empathize. … The strongest outcome is our stories—a way to bring the customer along. You can do it with metrics and data, but that often [omits] the critical aspects of the data. It’s trying to make these human factors much more tangible.”

Frog Design: ‘Chinese soccer moms’ and why software is king

“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.”

Mobile Phones and the “Village Green”

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Think about the typical, brief ‘village-green’ conversation: ‘Hi, how’re you doing?’ ‘Fine, just off to the shops — oh, how’s your Mum?’ ‘Much better, thanks’ ‘Oh, good, give her my love — see you later’. If you take most of the vowels out of the village-green conversation, and scramble the rest of the letters into ‘text-message dialect’ (HOW R U? C U L8ER), to me it sounds uncannily like a typical SMS or text exchange: not much is said — a friendly greeting, maybe a scrap of news — but a personal connection is made, people are reminded that they are not alone. Until the advent of mobile text messaging, many of us were having to live without this kind of small but psychologically and socially very important form of communication.”

From Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox (p. 87)

Although I think there’s something to be said for the mobile-phone version of the “village-green” conversation occasionally getting in the way of meat-space conversations (we’ve all been sitting across from someone who was too engrossed in their text conversation to have a proper chat with us), I tend to agree that texting, and mobile phone use in general, is filling a personal-connection void that exists, particularly in big cities like the one where I live. That’s a comforting idea amidst all of the doom-and-gloom analysis of our mobile culture.

Interviewing Moms with Their Kids

October 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

When a mom asks you if you would like her four-year-old to sit with her while she talks to you, and then she immediately says, “It could get a little crazy,” you might be thinking to yourself, “No, this will be great! It will give the interview color! Realism! Sweet!” You are delusional. It will not be sweet. It will be squirmy. Very squirmy. And loud.

Ask for some paper and crayons. Tell the child that it’s very important for your research that she draws you a cartoon of what her average day is like. You only ask very special people to help with this type of research. If you’re lucky, this will buy you 5 minutes of peace in which the mom will think of way better things than you ever could to occupy her kid’s time.

And don’t forget to solemnly take the cartoon at the end of session, put it in your notebook, and give the child an awesome sticker. You remembered the stickers, right? Bonus points if you send the mom a thank-you note with the cartoon included, letting her know that it has served its purpose in your research and is now a present for her.

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.