Leaping Into Indie UX

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Show Time: 33 minutes 40 seconds

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Podcast Summary

In this episode Chris Baum speaks with Donna Spencer, Lynne Polischuik, Justin Davis and Erin Jo Richey at the 2012 IA Summit about their interactive panel discussion Taking the Plunge: Diving Into Indie UX. They share practical and personal considerations of being an indie designer, including how to to get over the fear of making the jump, where and how to find clients, managing the business side of design and what it’s like to work alone.


“When you first start this you are really insulated…when I looked back it in the first six months to a year I didn’t make any money! When you’re in that initial phase you’re really excited… I think if you looked at it objectively you’d never do it.”

“I spent three years working my butt off to have all of the buffers in place… if there’s no work there’s no backup second income. It took a good couple of years to get enough money in the bank… where I could finally start to relax and say no to work knowing other things would come up and not kill me.”

“I got pushed out of the nest with a reasonable size contract.. and I was OK for a couple of years but I look back now on projects I took on that now I never would have taken on… taking on the wrong clients, taking on the wrong projects… I got to a point recently last Fall where I asked am I happy is this where I want to be?”

“I have been an independent for just over a year now… I had joined the agency that would come in as an analyst and then transition to an Information Architect. We decided that they didn’t want to take the agency in the direction of UX or IA and we talked about the role within the company… I didn’t want to focus on the same types of marketing … I did get laid off but I didn’t have a backup plan put in place.”


Thanks to “Vitamin Talent”:http://vitamintalent.com/ and Morgan Kaufmann’s “It’s Our Research”:http://www.amazon.com/Its-Our-Research-Stakeholder-Buy-/dp/0123851300/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331302670&sr=1-1 for sponsoring this podcast.

And thanks to “ASIS&T”:http://www.asis.org/ for their support of the “IA Summit”:http://iasummit.org/ and this podcast.

Driving Holism in Cross-channel Projects

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Show Time: 29 minutes 29 seconds

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Podcast Summary

Today on Boxes and Arrows, Chris Baum talks with Patrick Quattlebaum, Design Director at Adaptive Path. Patrick has some interesting insights and tools that designers can use to develop experiences across channels. Quattlebaum explores the difference between atomism and holism, and how designers often struggle with making parts of an experience that really needs to be thought of as a whole. He also discusses how he navigates relationships in large organizations across teams building different parts of the experience. Finally, he talks about how he brings those teams together using the “rough cut” from film to show the whole context of the experience and find “bridges” between channels that might be missed if the parts are developed separately.


“[As designers,] we did research and strategy, and draw great concept diagrams, and try to sell a vision. Many times it didn’t play out, or would play out, but was missing those crucial elements that really made it what it was. It’s never going to be the way you thought it would be on paper.

More lately, I’ve been thinking about atomism, about how companies break things down, and work separately and how that makes thing harder. It’s not something we need to say, ‘Well, that’s just how companies are,’ and just give up or do the best we can with what we can control with digital or the touchpoint that we own and not worry about the other things.”

“I personally can’t stop worrying about the other things and the big picture what i wanted to do is encourage people to communicate that with everybody that they work with. That’s what everyone is trying to do. It’s easy to get lost in your area of responsibility and what you can control, but that’s not going to get us where we know that customer experience and user experience needs to go.”

“What designers and IAs do is find those connections across the work stream that is going to be the experience in the design. They make sure there’s the right balance or consistency among all the diff’t touch points, without being a slave to total consistency.”


  • Follow Patrick on Twitter “@ptquattlebaum”:https://twitter.com/ptquattlebaum
  • Find “his presentation”:http://t.co/gHFKTN8a from the IA Summit on Slideshare

A Wiser Interaction

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iTunes     Download    Del.icio.us     Boxes and Arrows theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes

banda_headphones_sm.gif Chris Baum speaks with Bill DeRouchey, co-chair for the 2010 Interaction Design Conference, about the upcoming conference and how the third annual conference will start to model the essence of Interaction Design.

Looking Back
Bill talks about the first two years of the conference, the lessons learned from those experiences, and why Interaction ’10 returns to Savannah.

A Brand New Program
For 2010, the program is quite different. Bill explains the new approaches, in particular “Discussions” and “Activities,” and why they are changing things up. He also covers the “Documentary” and “Art Exhibition,” two new Interactions-related events.

Submitting for Interaction 10
Interested in submitting session proposals for Interaction10? “Submissions are open”:http://interaction.ixda.org/submissions.php until September 15.

Documentary and Art submissions are open until November 1.

IxD S.W.A.T. Team
Along with Bill and Jennifer Bove, his co-chair, the conference team includes several well-known designers. Bill explains how each is bringing her/his talent to the conference preparations.

IxD in a Physical Environment
Flow of people in a hotel is relatively easy. In Savannah, however, Interaction spans several buildings. Bill describes how that will affect the design of the conference proper.

Interaction 10 will also introduce some new sponsorship programs. Bill explains what this means and how that helps both sponsors and conference attendees.

Test & Iterate
The conversation closes with more reflection on what the IxDA has learned from the first two years of the conference, and how 2010 will reflects what has come before.

For more information, visit “interaction.ixda.org”:http://interaction.ixda.org/.

When Life Intervenes

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iTunes     Download    Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

2009 IA Summit logo

IA Summit 2009 Podcasts

The IA Summit was held in Memphis, TN from March 20-22. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2009/program/schedule/).

| Preview | “Keynote”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-keynote | “Day 1”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-1 | “Day 2”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-2 | “Day 3”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/ia-summit-09-day-3 | “Closing Plenary”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-09-plenary |

When Life Intervenes

Mom and babySamantha Bailey missed the 2008 IA Summit in Miami due to an illness. Still, she could look forward to 2009 as the Summit’s Chairperson. A few months later, she was excited to find out she would be having a baby, due several weeks after the Summit. With Fate relishing its spoiler role, Niles arrived six weeks early – ensuring that Samantha would miss the ’09 Summit, her Summit.

I spoke with Samantha the week before this year’s Summit about how she approached creating this year’s IA Summit program, the how the Summit community has morphed over time, and what it means to be a part of this community of practice.

This is a first in a series of IA Summit podcast posts.

Creating the Program

Samantha talks about how she started forming the 10th Summit by creating a big committee around her, then looking both backward and forward to ensure that the program reflected at the same time it set a new course. She points out that patterns are forming around the choosing of the opening keynote and closing plenary speakers.

The keynote speaker shapes the theme, how people perceive event. At the Summit, this tends to be someone that’s not an “insider.” When Peter Merholz suggested Michael Wesch, Kansas State Professor and producer of the powerful “The Machine is Us/ing Us.”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gmP4nk0EOE YouTube video, Samantha and her team knew it was right because their reaction was, “How did we not think of that before?”
(Download Michael Wesch’s Opening Keynote later this week.)

For the closing plenary, organizers look for an insider, someone who is a highly respected, deep thinker. Jesse James Garrett has, for several years, participated in 5-minute Madness, always offering wisdom in that narrow slice of time, making him a perfect choice to sunset the ’09 Summit.
(Download Jesse James Garrett’s Closing Plenary later this week.)

Summit History and the Communities of Practice

We talk about the 20th anniv of the World Wide Web, and how we continue to use some of the same tools for a completely different Web.Happy family

Further, Samantha goes into detail about how summit has changed in respect to different communities and their involvement in the Summit. She describes how, from 2001 to 2003, the discussion was around whether IA as a practice would survive the Tech bubble bursting. In recent years, the practice has started to broaden its horizons and interact with other practices more openly.

Boxes and Arrows welcomes Niles. Congratulations, Samantha and Karl! Thanks to Samantha for taking the time to speak with us.

These podcasts are sponsored by:

ASIS&T logo
The “American Society of Information Science & Technology”:http://asist.org/: Since 1937, ASIS&T has been THE society for information professionals leading the search for new and better theories, techniques, and technologies to improve access to information.

IA Summit 2009 logo
The “IA Summit”:http://www.iasummit.org: the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals.

The theme of the event this year, Expanding Our Horizons, inspired peers and industry experts to come together to speak about a wide range of topics. This included information as wide ranging as practical techniques & tools to evolving practices to create better user experiences.

The design behind the design
“Boxes & Arrows”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com: Since 2001, Boxes & Arrows has been a peer-written journal promoting contributors who want to provoke thinking, push limits, and teach a few things along the way.

Contribute as an editor or author, and get your ideas out there. “boxesandarrows.com/about/participate”:http://www.boxesandarrows.com/about/participate

All It’s Cracked Up To Be

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When the Web first emerged, there was a hole in the user experience world. Many people practiced interaction design, but their community was shoe-horned into those of other disciplines like IA, HCI, and Usability. At the time, most of the UX community felt like that was sufficient.

Then the Web started to change, and the conversation with it. That hole seemed all the more gaping. The “IxDA”:http://www.ixda.org/ was formed in 2003 and fit nicely into a space amongst those other communities of practice. The IxDA discussion list was (and still is) an interesting place to be; it nurtured conversations different than were happening elsewhere. They were all about interaction design, and that purity lent a focus that took the ideas of Web 2.0 and ratcheted up the thinking several notches.

As they reached a certain concentration point, it was obvious to the IxDA faithful that a conference was a logical next step. All those other major practices in the UX community of practice had their own events. The lack of an interaction design gathering during the conference gauntlet was quite obvious, but who had time to put on the show?

So they set out to design a conference that was completely about interaction design, for interaction designers, and designed by interaction designers.

I attended that first conference, “Interaction 08”:http://interaction08.ixda.org, last year in Savannah. The event was fantastic. The partnership with the “Savannah College of Art & Design”:www.scad.edu/ (SCAD) raised the bar, giving the conference unusually deep connections into the community. That’s interaction design.

The speakers were experienced and incredibly varied, covering the hallowed ground (Alan Cooper, Bill Buxton) and the vanguard (Bill DeRouchey, Matt Jones, David Armano), all the while adding with some key folks from other disciplines (Jared Spool, Malcolm McCollough, Chris Conley). See “last year’s recordings”:http://interaction08.ixda.org/videos.php. Even though they are one year old, you will find something inspiring.

Your inspiration might be:
* Bill Buxton’s admonishment to throw away five designs before keeping one
* Matt Jones telling the world how they created Dopplr, making great design sound like no big deal
* Sigi Moeslinger’s images of the NYC subway car that she designed so that kids are not able to climb the hand rails

All of the sessions were filmed and placed online within days of the conference ending. (Though, as an IA, I have to protest that the slides were often not given sufficient treatment.)

Interaction08 IRL: Wayfinding arrows from Savannah
(c) L. Halley as posted on “flickr”:http://flickr.com/photos/lanehalley/2254195910/

We constantly came across little touches that you would never expect from a conference. A great example of this was the arrows chalked on the sidewalk between the three buildings that housed the conference sessions. Color-coded by track (as shown on your badge), they were incredibly useful and, like Savannah, quite charming.

No, not everything was perfect, but that should never be the expectation. I challenge you to find a better-run example of a conference’s initial event, especially one that was planned for 250 people, but 400 showed up. And placing the conference in the small, but interesting and cozy hamlet of Savannah, GA, was a stroke of genius. Interaction 08 had an intimate air. Plenty of distractions allowed us to escape from the geek talk, but the city didn’t pull you away as do most.

Vancouver is a great town, but I hope that the IxDA will consider doing something similar to Savannah next year.

Why am I talking about this now? Well, to be honest, I feel like I haven’t done enough to let people know how great the conference was. Here we are, two weeks from to “Interaction 09”:http://interaction09.ixda.org/program.php in Vancouver, and I feel nostalgic about last year and realize that I will miss not being able to go this year.

Even if you can’t don your superhero costume and get to Interaction 09 this year (which you should do if you can), think about it next year. Interaction is fresh, vibrant, and takes a usefully different perspective on the issues we encounter every day. I know I’ve designed differently because of that experience.

Keep an eye out on Boxes and Arrows as we cover the conference in Vancouver. Whitney Hess (“twitter”:http://twitter.com/whitneyhess/ “website”:http://whitneyhess.com/blog/ )will be there to keep an eye out for the nuggets of wisdom. After the conference, she’ll provide a full report.

Viva la Interaction 09, and Happy Conference Season to all!

IA Summit 2008, Day 1

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The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2008/sessioncal.html) starting on April 12.

Day 1, April 12 | “Day 2, April 13”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-2 | “Day 3, April 14”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-3

Podcasts will appear on this page as we produce them from the audio files so please check back regularly or subscribe to the iTunes feed below.

iTunes     Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Journey to the Center of DesignJared Spool
There’s a growing sentiment that spending limited resources on user research takes away from essential design activities. Is it time for user- centered design to evolve into something else? Or is there something else happening in our world of experience design that makes UCD obsolete? Jared Spool gives and entertaining and enlightening key note address at the 2008 IA Summit.(published 05/01/08)(published 04/25/08)

Download audio   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

Tagging: Five Emerging TrendsGene Smith
Tagging has been the subject of much discussion over the last several years. But recent trends show that tagging is evolving quickly, and that today’s conventional wisdom might not be accurate for long. nForms’ Gene Smith explores five counterintuitive tagging trends that provide a glimpse into the next generation of user-generated classification.(published 05/01/08)


The Business of Experience: The Experience Impact FrameworkJess McMullin
nForm’s Jess McMullin outlines three dimensions of The Experience Impact Framework including: the elements of business, the fundamentals of user experience practice and the kinds of impact we can have.(published 05/02/08)


The Long WowBrandon Schauer
Brandon Schauer lays out an experience centric approach to fostering and creating loyalty by systematically impressing your customers again and again.(published 05/05/08)


Content Page Design Best PracticesLuke Wroblewski
Luke Wroblewski discusses a set of best practices for Web content page design that focuses on appropriate presentation of content, context, and calls to action. (published 05/05/08)


Blind Ambition: How the Accessibility Movement Overlooks Sensory ExperiencesClaude Steinberg
In this presentation Claude Steinberg argues that you’ll have a better grasp of user experience when you can translate it into something even a blind person would recognize. (published 05/05/08)


Inspiration from the Edge: New Patterns for Interaction DesignStephen Anderson
To increase our own field of vision, Stephen Anderson takes a macro view of interface design, focusing on alternative UIs – and emphasizing patterns that can be leveraged in a business context.(published 05/05/08)


How to be a User Experience Team of OneLeah Buley
Leah teaches techniques that any individual can use to generate and refine ideas, outlining flexible, simple activities that can be used quickly, wherever they’re needed.(published 05/06/08)

Download   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

A management fable: The little UX that went a long wayDan Willis
UX Management often feels like a mystic art. It can entail moving people and processes within an organization without the enchantment of an official mandate. This presentation by Dan Willis deconstructs an illustrated fable about an intrepid creature who introduces user goals to a development process that would have otherwise been dominated by royal business owners and technological black magic. (published 06/07/08)


Thanks to Jeff Parks, Jackie Wu, and Kit Seeborg of the B&A/V Podcast team for working their hearts out, as well as ASIS&T and the IA Summit organizers for their support.

IA Summit 2008, Day 2

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The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2008/sessioncal.html) starting on April 12.

“Day 1, April 12”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-1 | Day 2, April 13 | “Day 3, April 14”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-3

Podcasts will appear on this page as we produce them from the audio files so please check back regularly or subscribe to the iTunes feed below.
iTunes     Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Search patternsPeter Morville
Peter describes a pattern language for search that explains user psychology and information seeking behavior, highlights emerging technologies and interaction models, illustrates repeatable solutions to common problems, and positions us all to design better search interfaces and applications. (published 04/25/08)

Download audio   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

The information Architect and the Fighter PilotMatthew Milan
Matthew argues that fighter pilot and military strategist John Boyd can teach us a great deal about how to understand, interpret and design for human decision making. (published 04/25/08)


E-service: What we can learn from the customer-service gurusEric Reiss
In this passionate and entertaining presentation, Eric Reiss talks about the design and execution of a system of activities – people, processes, and technology – that ultimately build brand, revenues, and customer satisfaction. (published 04/25/08)


Practical Prototyping
Todd Zaki Warfel, Chris Conley, Anders Ramsay, and Jed Wood

The panel discuss various methods for prototyping with a focus on why we don’t prototype in software as much as we should and why we should be doing it more. (published 04/25/08)


The Impact of Social Ethics on IA and Interactive DesignKarl Johan Saeth and Ingrid Tofte
Karl Johan Saeth, and Ingrid Tofte illustrate four cases showing that interactive design in one way or another is always based on interpretation of ethical rules, expressed or latent. IA and design are bound by cultural imperatives and this, Karl and Ingrid argue, is a fact we cannot ignore. (published 04/28/08)


What do Innovative Intranets Look Like?James Robertson
James’ presentation provides highlights into the winning entries from the 2007 Intranet Innovation Awards and provides “lessons learnt” for organizations looking to drive innovation via their intranet. (published 04/28/08)


Panel: Presence, identity, and attention in social web architecutreChristian Crumlish, Christina Wodtke, Andrew Hinton, and Gene Smith
In this discussion about presence, identity, and attention in social web architecture the panel talks about core IA related issues including: Structure of social sites, tagging and folksonomies, data models for people and their relationships, and navigating in a community site(published 04/28/08)


UX in the Wind: Finding Experience on a MotorcycleJoe Sokohl
Keane’s director of user experience, Joe Sokohl, brings together his passions for motorcycling and user experience design in this talk about the intersection of industrial and interaction design in motorcycling.(published 04/29/08)

Download   See the presentation on slideshare.See the slidecast

Placemaking and Information ArchitectureDennis Schleicher
Dennis Schieicher explores how we as IAs can learn from placemaking in the physical world and investigates markets and public places around the use of mobile technologies and how they add another layer of communication and sense-making on top of physical public places.(published 05/08/08)


Code blue: How service design can revolutionize patient care in hospitalsAaron Martlage
In this presentation, Aaron Martlage explores techniques for leveraging the varied skill sets of those in the UX design field to provide service design in a complex environment. Aaron argues that experts must balance the social dynamics between different personas; capture and sift vast amounts of data in an attempt to distill pertinent information; and visualize their findings with precision to ensure that the experience is improved.(published 06/07/08)


Taxonomy is User ExperienceDave Cooksey
It appears that taxonomies are becoming more important to the work we do as metadata and ontologies extend their reach further into user experience. Dave Cooksey demonstrates the virtues of thinking of taxonomy in terms of the user experience, ways of talking about taxonomies that communicate it’s value, and how to craft a user-centric taxonomy by examining several e-commerce redesign case studies.(published 06/07/08)


Hotel YeovilleJason Hobbs
In this presentation entitled, “Hotel Yeoville” South Africa’s Jason Hobbs talks about how ethnographic research methods and an empathetic approach to users can form the basis for information architecture solutions that attempt to directly address and improve the lives of people in developing countries.(published 06/07/08)


Extending the gaming experience to conventional UI’sJohn Ferrara
The video game industry produces an enormous volume of highly innovative user interface experiences, but this rich source of creative thinking is largely unseen by communities dedicated to conventional software or Web design. Vanguards’ John Ferrara argues that as gaming becomes a ubiquitous activity among a vast worldwide customer base, its direction and conventions will become not merely relevant to HCI design, but indeed impossible to ignore.(published 06/08/08)


Thanks to Jeff Parks, Jackie Wu, and Kit Seeborg of the B&A/V Podcast team for working their hearts out, as well as ASIS&T and the IA Summit organizers for their support.

IA Summit 2008, Day 3

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The IA Summit was held in Miami, FL from April 10-14. Boxes and Arrows captured many of the main conference sessions (“see schedule”:http://iasummit.org/2008/sessioncal.html) starting on April 12.

“Day 1, April 12”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-1 | “Day 2, April 13”:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-2008-day-2 | Day 3, April 14

Podcasts will appear on this page as we produce them from the audio files so please check back regularly or subscribe to the iTunes feed below.

iTunes     Del.icio.us     IA Summit theme music created and provided by BumperTunes™

Audiences & artifactsNathan Curtis
Nathan Curtis explores both the articles we produce and the audience we produce them for, revealing what works and what doesn’t. (published 04/25/08)


Data driven design research personasTodd Zaki Warfel
Todd Zaki Warfel engages his audience sharing new visualization techniques he has been using that have personas even more effective and valuable to the design process. (published 04/25/08)


Re-experiencing information: dealing with user-submitted dataLucas Pettinati
In this session, Lucas Pettinati, senior interaction designer at Yahoo! draws from his personal experiences in redesigning the Yahoo! registration and account recovery systems. (published 04/27/08)


Information Horizons: Proposing an alternate approach to assessing website architectureAnindita Paul, Sanda Erdelez (Kyungsun Park unable to attend)
Anindita and Sanda report the use of Sonnenwald’s Information Horizon’s (IH) framework for assessing a website architecture based on Morville and Rosenfeld’s components of website architecture – organization, labeling, navigation and searching information (published 04/30/08)


Good News on your Cell Phone: Optimizing the UXJorgen Dalen and Tone Terum
Jorgen Dalen and Tone Terum talk about the challenges involved when transferring content from one media to another; how to create good user experinces in different media within mobile UI; and the diverse user behavior of cellular phones in Europe, the US, and Asia.(published 04/30/08)


IA for Tiny Stuff: Exploring Widgets and GadgetsMartin Belam
Martin Belam examines what makes a successful widget from an information delivery point of view. As well Martin looks at how informations professionals can help develop more playful ways of representing and structuring the information presented.
(published 05/07/08)


Designing with Patterns in the Real WorldChristian Crumlish and Austin Govella
Yahoo!s’ Christian Crumlish and Comcasts’ Austin Govella share case studies that illustrate ways pattern libraries can both aid and stifle innovation, how they help solve real-world web design problems, and how they support rapid production of common IA Deliverables. (published 04/80/08)


Checking the feel of your UI with an interaction auditPeter Stahl and Josh Damon Williams
Peter Stahl and Josh Damon Williams show how to evaluate consistency of your site’s “feel”. Using a recent audit of the interaction design of a major web site as an example they discuss how to collect and catalog the variety of interactions users encounter.(published 06/07/08)


Embodying IA: Incorporating library 2.0 and experience integration concepts in
a small public library renovation
Michael Magoolaghan
Michael Magoolaghan describes one IA’s volunteer efforts to revitalize a small public library’s website and bring a user-centered focus to its building renovation efforts through working with blueprints, photos and architectural renderings and others within and outside of the library. (published 06/07/08)


Thanks to Jeff Parks, Jackie Wu, and Kit Seeborg of the B&A/V Podcast team for working their hearts out, as well as ASIS&T and the IA Summit organizers for their support.

What Is Your Mental Model?

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B&A readers get 10% when purchasing from Rosenfeldmedia.com (use code BARMMM10)
Rosenfeld Media has just released Indi Young’s Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy With Human Behavior. Boxes and Arrows sits down with Indi to talk about:
* The origins and evolution of the mental model
* How the mental model is a way of visualizing nearly any research data
* What shortcuts you can use to get started on a mental model with minimal time investment
* Why “combing” an interview is like riding a bicycle
* How Webvan failed because it ignore the mental model of its customers

If you’re unfamiliar with Indi’s mental model diagrams, download the excerpt(.pdf), check out the “book’s description”:http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/mental-models/info/description/ for more information on the method, or visit “this Flickr set”:http://flickr.com/photos/rosenfeldmedia/sets/72157603511616271/ for images from the book.

Discount for Boxes and Arrows readers: Get a 10% discount by purchasing the book “directly from Rosenfeld Media”:http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/mental-models/. Just use the code BARMMM10.

Mental Models: Origins & Evolution

Boxes & Arrows: Our readers would benefit from the story behind the Mental Model. Can you tell us how you created it?

On a project at Visa back in ’93 or ’94, I was the interaction designer on a team of consultants including developers, business people, and analysts.

The business analysts didn’t have their work together, so I started working on the customer service rep workflow table in MS Excel, a kind of state diagram from “Computer Science”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_diagram. At the same time, a Stanford professor did a presentation on the layers of user experience at “BayCHI”:http://www.baychi.org/. One of those layers was a “task” layer, very much like the state diagram.

At first I only documented the the behaviors; I didn’t let any of the emotions or philosophy get into it at all. For one client, I presented the state diagram by lining up the internal workflow underneath their customers’ workflow, the flip of the mental model. Kevin George was there and immediately encouraged me to pursue this method as it was a very powerful way to explain these relationships to a customer.

B&A: It’s interesting how this really arose from trying to allow communication between stakeholders. How has the mental model changed since then?

I did some projects at Charles Schwab, and started using the long horizon diagram. In doing that format, I started realizing that I was trying to capture motivations that influence behavior as well as the behavior itself. I was never interested in the granularity about how you actually use an application that the usability people were seeking. I wanted to know understand what you’re thinking about.

Figure 1: A mental model diagram (click to enlarge)

Figure 1: A mental model diagram (click to enlarge)

“Todd Wilkens”:http://adaptivepath.com/aboutus/toddw.php mentioned a year or two ago that I am looking for behavior, and I realized that they weren’t tasks. He was absolutely right.

These days I’m trying to call it behavior, motivation, philosophy, and emotion but stay away from statement of fact, references to things, preference, and the actual use of the tool. I want to know what people think as they walk down the hallway to go do something. I call this the hallway test.

Customers are just thinking about their reactions to the tool. They are not trying to squeeze water out of a water bottle, they are trying to quench their thirst. Of course you want to listen to them, but at the same time you want to interpret.

They aren’t going to approach you and say, “I’m trying to quench my thirst, make it quench faster.” When you try to do it at the level of the tool, you’re blinkered by what that tool does already. I’m interested in the mind process – what you are you trying to get done.

B&A: This doesn’t acknowledge the base influences that are going to make that successful or not. As a business, you have an objective you’re going for and need to balance it with the customer’s objective, not their preference. Even business decisions are many times colored by preference.

I like to talk about how CEOs and founders for startups have the original mission statement at heart. “I do this because my son is having trouble in school, because the school system doesn’t work.” They sometimes lose sight of all the details.

They start off down the path with one certain solution, they’re solving the problems associated with that solution and losing track of the mission. What if it’s the wrong path? What if they branched left when they should have branched right?
They start losing the ability to go back and explore other branches or go back to the root and start in another direction because they have so much investment in it.

B&A: Interesting. What you’re doing is taking a mission statement and giving it a skeleton to grown on, to iterate a strategy. The mental model includes the details of what both the business and the customers are trying to do. Is that right?

Yes, the diagram looks like a skeleton or a spine if you turn it on its side. That’s the whole idea! It’s something that’s going to last for a very long time, and you can hang all of your decisions off of it. It’s something that you want to go back to on a regular basis when you want to start a new path or shake things up.

The diagram also helps you show others how you’ve prioritized your current focus and how their item fell into the quadrant of things that you’ll do later.

Comparing Methods

B&A: How do mental models compare with different research methods?

Many different methods allow you to collect data, but I have not found others that let you represent the data effectively. The mental model diagram can visualize ANY research data as long as it’s data about why customers do things.

For example, diaries can feed into mental models. You can process them the same way you process a transcript. You won’t be able to drill down into the “why” further, as you have no control how deep people go.

Ethnography (field studies) can also get built into a mental model. Once you’ve followed people to their offices, you have third-person notes (she did this, he did that) rather than transcripts. Just translate it to “I” and make a mental model.

At “Adaptive Path”:http://adaptivepath.com/, when we were asked to do usability, we’d run an interview either the first part of the last half of the test. Then, we would add the interview data to the mental model as well.

Just get this information somehow. What is going on in their head before they use the product? Why are they using the product? How are they using the product isn’t that important. Ignore the product.

B&A: So you just do some research and dissemble it into the mental model. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

That’s why I have all these shortcuts and why anyone can create a mental model. It’s just a representation of a process, and the purity of that representation is dependent on how much time you put into it.

That purity arises from how much you can disengage yourself from your own world and tools. Look at the user from their perspective.

Creating a Mental Model

B&A: Ok, let’s shift gears a bit. You go do your interviews. Can you talk about extracting the behaviors, what you call “combing” the script? You were saying that sometimes it’s difficult.

It is hard to do a mental model, until you get it. As I mentioned, this is not just tasks. It’s behavior, motivation, and philosophy. You have to think about how to distinguish preference from philosophy and statements of fact from actual behaviors.

Here’s an example:

When interviewing a manager who oversees fleets of vehicles, she might say:
“I believe in not overloading my employees with work.”
“I’m gonna assign 3-4 jobs per day.”
“We send out 300 vans a day.”

These words come to me as 3 things:
* Assign 3-4 jobs per day. This is a true task.
* Not overloading the drivers. This is a philosophy that guides how the jobs are assigned.
* Send out 300 vans a day. That is just a statement of fact that I will not include in the mental model.

Sending 300 vans out sounds like a task. It has a verb, but it’s not a task. You aren’t doing it, the organization is.

They can talk about the process of how they decide where to send the drivers, prioritize things, or deal with emergencies. All of that is behavior. It can be difficult for designers to sort between those at first.

You also want to leave preferences out of the diagram. They actually began with the verb “prefer.” “I prefer to come into work early.” In his next statement if a driver told you his philosophy behind coming into work early “because…” That is what you want. If you picked that up during the interview, you could have explored it a little bit. There may or may not be a reason. Maybe he’s just a morning person.

Philosophies are important to get into the mental model because your business is going to want to be aware of and support those kinds of things.

B&A: There’s a subtlety there. Both statements sound like descriptions of why they do something. One has a reason, the other is just what they like or don’t like.

Not only is it difficult when you’re trying to comb tasks out of a transcript, but it’s also something that poses difficulties when you’re writing the interview. Before you try running an interview, you have be somewhat aware of what the tasks are going to be. A great way to do that is to practice combing a transcript.

Be careful that you don’t ask leading questions using do, did, would, or could. Rather, start with who, what, where, when, and how. If you do this, you’re generally scott free. And always remember to follow up by asking why, like a 4-year-old. It may be annoying, but that’s kind of what you’re trying to do.

Even with all of my experience doing this, I still find myself not going deep enough. One blatant example: one woman told me that she holds meetings with her team every week. In my head, I made this instant assumption of what those meetings were about, because i’ve been to weekly meetings with a team leader.

When I was combing it, I thought, “Why is she holding those weekly meetings? Is she trying to…?” The assumption I made was that she was trying to find out status on everybody’s project. In the end, I had no idea why she was holding those meetings.

A lot of these interviews that I do are a little more psychoanalytical, because it is not conscious why were doing some of these things. Maybe the woman holding the meeting has never had to enunciate why she’s doing it. I ask her to do that during the interview.

B&A: In the “Women in IA podcast”:http://iavoice.typepad.com/ia_voice/2007/04/women_in_ia_ind.html, you mentioned that you don’t find it difficult to get people do to mental models. I have to press on that fact. It’s not a very simple, easy process.

Well, let me go back to the shortcuts. You and i could sit here in Starbucks (where we met for the interview – Ed.) and sketch out what the baristas do. If we watched them greet the regulars and non-regulars, we could sketch out their tasks and mental processes. There is a real strong mental model right there. We could note what we see, but we’re going to miss things. For example, we won’t capture what they do in before opening the doors in the morning.

You don’t necessarily have to do it the hard way – going out, doing the interviews, and combing the transcripts for tasks. However, that’s the most agnostic and data-driven way to do it, and by going through the extra effort is how you’re going to make discoveries of things that aren’t already in your head.

I list a couple options in the book. For example, you really believe in this, but your employer doesn’t. Well, I’ve heard people interviewing people and combing the interviews and creating a mental model in their spare time. Then they unveil it in some team meeting to kisses and hugs.

B&A: It just sounds like that will be a little more focused on the tools that exist rather than the philosophies around them.

That’s the problem. All of these shortcuts have the same troubles. I actually ran a lot of the “stakeholders around the table” discussions back in the dot com era because every wanted to spend the time to doing it.

I even did this for Webvan, but I could not get them to pay attention to it. For example, their interface was about picking delivery windows, which made the customer pick the end of the transaction up front so the company could maximize the efficiency of the trucks going out. It just wasn’t working.

Customers didn’t like picking the delivery window first. It wasn’t in their mental model. “I want to tell you what I want, because that’s what I know now. Then we can discuss how you bring it to me.”

Every single one of the Webvan mental models was missing the mental spaces that would have gotten them ahead of their competition or help them understand their customer base. So the “sitting around the table” method is a little dangerous, as it might mislead you to believe you’ve got it all.

B&A: Luckily for those of us still standing, we can try to avoid those mistakes. Mental models seem like fantastic tools. Thanks so much for taking the time, and good luck with the book!

I enjoyed it, too. Take care!


If you liked this interview, download the excerpt. (.pdf)

Boxes and Arrows readers can get a 10% discount by purchasing the book “directly from Rosenfeld Media”:http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/mental-models/. Just use the code BARMMM10.

About the Book
“Mental Models: Aligning Design Strategy With Human Behavior”:http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/mental-models/
by Indi Young
Paperback, 299 pages
Publisher: Rosenfeld Media (2008)
ISBN-10: 1933820063

Interactions 08 in the Garden of Good and Evil

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In 2003, design luminary Bruce Tognazzi called for interaction designers to get their collective act together and become a force for better software design. As a result, a small group of impassioned professionals kick-started what is now the “Interaction Design Association”:http://ixda.org/index.php (IxDA).

After being hard at work starting the organization and getting local groups off the ground to seed its growth, the IxDA is now inviting people interested in interaction design to join the community in person at Interaction 08, the first IxDA conference.

Boxes and Arrows supports all UX communities of practice, so we like to see new endeavors like the IxDA that provide places to have focused discussions that don’t exist. B&A is thrilled to be a media sponsor of Interaction 08, so we will be bringing you some stories about the conference and the speakers before it happens February 8-10, 2008.

The first is this interview with Dan Saffer, Conference Chair and IxDA Director. Dan discusses the context of the organization, how the conference emerged and formed, what the conference will be like, and how one might get a flavor even if attendance is not an option.

Boxes & Arrows: In the “User Experience as Communities of Practice presentation, Andrew Hinton discusses how the different practices in UX relate and overlap with each other.

The IxDA is a good example of an organization that emerges because one of those communities feels under-supported, also exemplified by the IA Institute, which at first glance would potentially fall under the aegis of UPA, CHI, or AIGA. Tell us a little about how that fits with what you’re doing at the IxDA.

Dan Saffer: The IxDA is definitely the AK47 of the UX world! Inexpensive, networked, and built of mostly off-the-shelf parts. It’s designed for conversation, not for instruction, and it is constantly evolving. That’s why we want to keep the barrier to entry and participate low, even if it means some risks to the organization (like running out of money).

When Bruce “Tog” Tognazzi first did his call to arms to create a professional organization, I think the founders of the IxDA (at that time the Interaction Design Group) did look around at all these large organizations and ask, “Could we live there?” And the answer was always, on closer look, no. Most of those organizations overlap our organization in some ways, but there is still a monstrous piece in the center of the Venn diagram that was empty and that was where our interests lie.

We aren’t human-computer engineers, usability professionals, information architects, or industrial or graphic designers, even though we have a lot in common with all of those groups. We’re professional designers, not engineers or researchers or testers, and what we design is behavior—how systems behave in response to human action. The combination of interaction and design really set us apart from what existed.

And aside from that, we simply wanted a different kind of organization, a 21st century organization, designed and built differently, focused on the members and how to best serve them and not some self-perpetuating organization. The conference isn’t being done just because some people wanted to do it, but because it is a vessel to serve the needs of our members in the best way we know how.

B&A: What made you consider creating a separate conference rather than doing presentations or tracks at existing ones?

DS: It’s really for the same reason there is an IxDA at all: We feel there are issues and experiences and techniques that are unique to the field of interaction design. The conference is just an excuse to get a large group of people from around the world in rooms together to talk about those things and create a community of practice.

The mailing list and our online tools do this already to an extent, but we know the face-to-face contact is important, the personal network is still important. For any organization. That’s why we have local chapters in cities around the world—from San Francisco to Hong Kong to Stockholm to Pune, India.

For years, interaction designers have spoken at various conferences: CHI, the IA Summit, IDSA, AIGA, DUX, DIS, and numerous web design conferences, just to name a handful.

I’ve always had to wade through the taxonomy and tagging sessions at the IA Summit to get to the interaction design material, and CHI and DIS and other conferences were always far too academic for my taste; they were all about academics presenting research papers that had little to do with professional practice.

We did briefly consider combining with another conference, but we knew we had so much material and interest that it simply didn’t seem feasible. Part of the reason we’re doing the conference is to really cement and spread the word about interaction design as a separate discipline.

B&A: In an ideal world, what would a relative neophyte experience there? A long-time expert?

DS: Hopefully both will experience the same thing: a fun, well-designed conference that features some of the world’s best interaction designers. It’s a chance to rub elbows with luminaries like Alan Cooper who literally wrote the book on interaction design, as well as up-and-comers like frog’s Michele Tepper talking about interaction design across platforms. We’ve set up the conference to have a lot of great content—and insane amount of content, really, in just two days—but also to have activities and social time to hang out and talk to other designers.

For newcomers to the field, it’s a chance to experience the breadth of what interaction design has to offer the world. We have Carl DiSalvo talking about interaction design for community empowerment, Gabriel White on everyday design ethics, and Yasser Rasid talking about visualizing radio for the BBC.

For experts, it can be learning new tricks like Dan Brown’s Concept Models or how Jenny Lam “hits it with the pretty stick.” Or you can get deep and conceptual with Sarah Allen’s Cinematic Interaction Design or Dave Cronin’s Designing for Flow.

But it’s definitely not all theory; we have a lot of great practical sessions like Jonathan Arnowitz on effective prototyping and case studies like Saskia Idzerda on redesigning Sony Ericsson’s Product Catalog. And if you want more hands-on, we’ve got four great workshops on the Friday before on prototyping, designing in an Agile environment, turning research into design, and effect mapping.

B&A: How did you pick Savannah? It’s an interesting place to consider visting as a tourist, but we would guess that it wouldn’t occur to most people to got there for a conference.

DS: We knew we wanted to do it early in the year in a small city—both for budgetary reasons. We looked at several different cities like Portland, Austin, and Providence alongside Savannah. The people at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) were so accommodating and excited about having us there that the answer was clear. They are showing us some real Southern hospitality.

Plus, Savannah is a great city; one of America’s little gems. It’s beautiful, filled with history, fun, and very walkable. I’m personally a big fan of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which captures the spirit of the city so well.

B&A: What has it been like creating the conference? What has surprised you as particularly difficult or easy?

DS: It’s taken a while to get the conference off the ground—over a year now. Some of it was simply generating the willpower to do it, but once we committed and found a location, it’s been all-go. Of course, the logistics of setting up a conference for the first time is a challenge.

Choosing and balancing a program was also very difficult. We got 80 entries in our call for submissions, which we had to whittle down to 20 lightning sessions.

Any one of them could have gone on the program, so getting it down to 20 was agonizing. We initially set the sessions at 14, but we couldn’t bear to exclude so many so we squeezed in six more. Even then, some excellent sessions and interesting topics had to be excluded. It was an awful lesson in design constraints.

What has been great is the support SCAD is giving to us. We’re excited about the launch they are giving this conference. Having the students and faculty of SCAD participate in the conference is going to be a real added bonus.

Another good surprise is the enthusiasm people have for the conference. People always want to talk to me about it and are psyched at the program. I’m thrilled at the caliber of speakers we were able to get our first time out of the gate.

B&A: The IxDA is doing some interesting things to show what it means to be an IxDA member. Tell us a little about those and how these things might affect people that want to, but cannot, attend the conference.

DS: We’ve been working on a number of initiatives for our members, while keeping our commitment to keeping membership free and open to all. Not only do we have the IxDA Mailing List, which has some 4000 members, we’ve also recently created the next generation of the IxDA website, so you can follow threads and topics in various ways, such as via RSS.

We’ve also stepped up our efforts at getting local IxDA chapters off the ground. We now have groups that meet regularly in cities around the world. We have groups in cities all across the US, Europe, India, and parts of Asia.

Conference-wise, we’re hoping to share, via Boxes and Arrows and other media partners, some of the content we’re going to have at the conference available via articles, reviews, slides, and podcasts of the speakers. It won’t be like being there, but it’ll be the next best thing.

B&A: Thanks for all the great information, Dan. We’ll look forward to seeing you at the conference!

DS: Thank you. See you in Savannah!

For more information, visit the “IxDA”:http://ixda.org/index.php or Interaction 08.