Book in Brief: Living in Information

Responsible Design for Digital Places by:   |  Posted on

Editors’ note: This “Book in Brief” feature here on Boxes and Arrows is from
Living in Information: Responsible Design for Digital Places by Jorge Arango.

We’ll publish an excerpt, up to 500 words, of your book. The catch is that we’ll only publicize one book a month; first come, first serve. Other rules will certainly occur to us over time. Hit us up at idea at boxesandarrows.com.


Cover art; white tiles of various sizes form a wall surrounding a yellow door. The tiles have icons on them of an apple, a play button, a coffee mug, a cloud, etc.

Chapter 4: Engagement

You walk into the kitchen with the intent of making a sandwich, when suddenly you hear glass shatter. You immediately turn toward the source of the sound. Your pulse quickens as scenarios play in your mind. Has someone broken into your house? Where are your kids? You walk into the living room to discover your son with a surprised look on his face and a ball lying on the floor next to the shattered window. Fortunately, he’s alright. You comfort him and discuss what has happened, and then take your phone out and Google glaziers. You find a company that seems reputable and call them to set an appointment for the next morning. You go back to the kitchen and wonder, “Now, where was I?”

Thus far in this book, we’ve been discussing tangible ways in which places influence our behavior. But there are also more subtle ways in which environments affect us. One that is of particular importance is how they impact our ability to focus our attention.

Sometimes our attention is taken away by an exceptional occurrence, such as the sound of a breaking window. This is useful; the ability to respond quickly to changing conditions can help us escape danger. However, most of the time, we want to be in control of our attention. An environment that nudges us to spend more of our time there—or keeps interrupting us—would make it difficult for us to get things done.

The places we inhabit can either allow us to remain in control of our attention or snatch it from us for purposes of their own. Unfortunately, many of today’s most popular information environments are based on business models that incentivize the latter. The term used in the technology business is “engagement”: the amount of time people spend looking at or interacting with components in the environment. Given how important our attention is, it’s worth looking at how designing for engagement affects it. Continue reading Book in Brief: Living in Information

How to Create a Smart Home Product People Actually Want to Use

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For all the hype around the Internet of Things, most people are still content to control their homes manually. A recent Gartner survey found that they don’t mind getting up to adjust the temperature or turn off the lights, and 58 percent of respondents actually prefer the idea of standalone devices to connected ones.

If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone. If having a connected home makes life easier, why are consumers so skeptical? Who wouldn’t want to control their lights or blinds right from the couch?

IoT’s UX issue

The trouble is that not all household IoT devices make consumers’ lives easier. Before the smart home of the future can become the standard, that needs to change.

Continue reading How to Create a Smart Home Product People Actually Want to Use

UX Writing: The Case for User-Centric Language

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If I asked you what is one of the biggest problems on websites today, I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t say it has anything to do with words.

But what if I told you it does?

Let’s talk about user-centric language.

One research group describes the usability problems that result from something as simple as using the wrong words on websites:

“Writers often use the language they are most familiar with when describing offerings on websites, without realizing that those terms are unknown to their readers. Unfortunately, site visitors often don’t understand those company- or industry-specific words and phrases.”

In fact, a repeated challenge on websites is that words (“terminology”) and even how the content is organized (“content structure”) reflects the organization’s internal understanding of their own products and services, rather than an external user’s understanding of that company’s products and services.

This problem happens frequently, rearing its ugly head when:

  • companies use feature-laden language to describe their products and services instead of talking about how these products and features benefit customers;
  • websites use nomenclature on navigation menus that’s recognized by internal audiences but not external ones; and
  • navigation menus use an audience-based navigation scheme—confusing, because not all users on your website know or realize what audience they fall into—rather than a task-based one.

When there’s limited time to do UX research, examining the language on your website can be a last priority. But no website—or digital product—can meet its goals without considering whether the language in its interface is user-centric.

Continue reading UX Writing: The Case for User-Centric Language

Now That We’ve Captcha’d Your Attention…

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[Article edited on May 31, 2018, to clarify that PlayCaptcha and Funcaptcha are separate solutions, unrelated to each other.]

The other night I listened to my friend swear his way through the online purchasing process for concert tickets. He knew who he wanted to see, how many tickets he wanted, and his budget. All was going well until he got to a point in the journey that kept tripping him up, and the longer it went on the more frustrated he became.

As UX practitioners, these are the types of experiences we try to avoid; we would never knowingly place an obstacle in a user journey that would cause such frustration. In the end, he managed to purchase the tickets but not without some undue stress caused by not being able to read the distorted text in a plain old captcha.

Continue reading Now That We’ve Captcha’d Your Attention…

Book in Brief: Orchestrating Experiences

Collaborative Design for Complexity by:   |  Posted on

Editors’ note: This “Book in Brief” feature here on Boxes and Arrows is from
Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity by Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum.

We’ll publish an excerpt, up to 500 words, of your book. The catch is that we’ll only publicize one book a month; first come, first serve. Other rules will certainly occur to us over time. Hit us up at idea at boxesandarrows.com.


Defining experience principles

If you embrace the recommended collaborative approaches in your sense-making activities, you and your colleagues should build good momentum toward creating better and valuable end-to-end experiences. In fact, the urge to jump into solution mode will be tempting. Take a deep breath: you have a little more work to do. To ensure that your new insights translate into the right actions, you must collectively define what is good and hold one another accountable for aligning with it.

Good, in this context, means the ideas and solutions that you commit to reflect your customers’ needs and context while achieving organizational objectives. It also means that each touchpoint harmonizes with others as part of an orchestrated system. Defining good, in this way, provides common constraints to reduce arbitrary decisions and nudge everyone in the same direction.

How do you align an organization to work collectively toward the same good? Start with some common guidelines called experience principles.

Continue reading Book in Brief: Orchestrating Experiences