This year marks the 11th annual Information Architecture Summit. Our theme is meant to inspire everyone in the community—even those who aren’t presenting or volunteering—to bring their best ideas to the table.
As busy practitioners, we rarely have the chance to step back and think about the future of our field—we’re too busy resolving day-to-day issues. By gathering and sharing practical solutions for everyday challenges, we can create more breathing room to plan for what’s to come.
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iTunes Del.icio.us 2010 IA Summit theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes
| “Day 1 – Dan Roam“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-dan | “Day 2 – Richard Saul Wurman“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-richard | “Day 3 – Whitney Hess“:http://boxesandarrows.wpengine.com/view/ia-summit-10-whitney |
| Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 |
Day 1 Presentations
Why keep it to yourself? Getting everyone on the team to do usability testing – Dana Chisnell
With a multi-disciplinary team that gathers constant input from users, better experiences can be created.
In this session, Dana Chisnell talks about:
- essential skills for conducting usability tests and user research
- what happens when not just one specialist—but an entire team—can gather data from users
- how to teach non-specialists how to get useful data from user sessions
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
The 10 Dos and Dont’s of Website Development Every CEO Should Know – Eric Reiss
The web is more important to business than ever, yet business leaders often remain uncomfortable with what goes into making a website successful. And no one likes signing a big check without some idea as to what they’re getting for it—including CEOs.
In his presentation, Eric Reiss outlines a few basic, non-technical tips to help increase a company’s chance of online success and let CEOs do what they do best— lead.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Pervasive – Information Architecture for the Augmented Tomorrow – Luca Rosati, Andrea Resmini
Information is bleeding out of computer screens and into the real world. We have different names for this: ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, emergent systems, spimes. What these names mean though is that the convergence of physical spaces and digital devices is shaping up a new scenario for the practice and discipline of IA.
Through the analysis of brief case studies detailing common activities like shopping, travel, and health care, Luca Rosati and Andrea Resmini illustrate a complete set of design heuristics which can aid IA transition to this holistic approach, and help our discipline better grasp the design implications brought along by the change.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Going Interactive: How we stopped making static wireframes and started making prototypes – Kevin Wick
Looking for more effective ways to communicate your research and designs? Kevin Wick says one way to do that is to stop creating static, paper-based wireframes and to start creating browser-based, interactive prototypes.
In his talk, Kevin covers prototyping tools, the tradeoffs between static wireframes and dynamic prototypes, how to make the transition to interactive prototypes. He also covers some tips about how to use Axure, the prototyping tool he’s used at Ascentium, to gain momentum and get clients.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Design for Conversation or Some Troubles with Twitter – Tanya Rabourn
What are the differences between online and offline conversations, if any? As we create digital spaces involving social media, how can we support the conversations happening in those spaces?
Using examples from tools like Twitter and Google Wave, Tanya Rabourn looks at these questions and discusses how conversation analysis gives us a way to examine social actions online.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Beyond Card Sorting: Research Methods for Organizing Content Rich Web Sites Run Amok – Michael Hawley
Card sorting is a popular technique used by Information Architects to help understand how a product or website should be organized. Yet there are limitations to the technique, which can result in clients not quite getting the answers they were seeking. By involving the audience, Michael Hawley looks at these limitations, as well as variations and nuances of card sorting methods to consider when developing large-scale websites.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Content Analysis: Know, Don’t Fear, Your Content – Colleen Jones
Colleen Jones, founder and principal of Content Science, suggests us we can overcome our fears of migrations, redesign, and integration by getting to know our content. Content analysis gets you to look at your content closely, weeding out what’s redundant, outdated, and trivial. It lets us judge if content is effective, see how it relates to other content, and notice ways to improve it. In this session Colleen walks us through content analysis, offering practical tips and examples along the way.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
BodyStorming – Dennis Schleicher
A bodystorm is a live presentation, like a short play, in which user experience people improvise several scenes and also has the audience asking questions. It leads to a better understanding of the problem and solution space. In his session, Dennis Schleicher will go over best practices as well as techniques and tools for bodystorming.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Conversion Rates: Small Design Tweaks That Make a Difference – Kejun Xu
Conversion is key for many web-based businesses, especially those dependent on subscription fees. In this presentation, Kejun Xu talks about best practices using theoretical frameworks to optimize your site’s conversion, web credibility, and your users’ willingness to buy. The frameworks examined include:
- rhetoric as an art of persuasion
- brain theory to explain decision making and online purchase behavior
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
See → Sort → Sketch : Pen & Paper Techniques for Getting From Research to Design – Kate Rutter
The rich world of human behavior is fascinating to observe, yet difficult to interpret. People’s goals and motivations lay hidden beneath behaviors, masked from sight until user research and analysis exposes them. To bring clarity and traction to research insights, research and design teams are increasingly using hands-on, visual tools and including other stakeholders in the analysis process. How is this done? By using the analog favorites of pen & paper.
In this talk, Kate Rutter gives you a taste-test of methods and activities that leverage the power of pen and paper as open, participatory tools in the research analysis process.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
I Hate Sports, But I Love Kickoffs: Laying the Framework for the Perfect Project in The First Meeting – Kevin Hoffman
You don’t get a second chance to make a great first impression—and that includes kickoff meetings. After one too many unproductive kickoffs, Happy Cog reinvented its project definition process around full-day, interactive activities and collaborative design exercises. Kevin Hoffman, Experience Director at Happy Cog East, explores approaches for identifying business strategy, company culture, and project risks before you even shake your client’s hand for the first time. He then walks us through the strategy behind Happy Cog’s kickoff process for some of their clients.
The Commoditization & Fragmentation of the Information Architecture Community – Nick Finck
We, as information architects, stand at the crossroads of our profession as a whole. One road leads to the looming fate of a fragmented industry struggling to stay alive among politics and self-important needs of individuals. The other leads to a unified community with active individuals helping others and sharing a mutual respect for their fellow practitioners. What path should we choose?
In this open-format discussion from the 2010 IA Summit, facilitated by Nick Finck, practitioners talk about how our profession can pave the way to a bright future.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
Strategy Matters – Harry Max
From every level in the organization, what’s above you can look strategic and what’s below you tends to look like tactics. Stepping up to a new level demands sensitivity to and understanding of the important differences between them. Drawing on his experiences as an information architect, customer experience designer, executive and leadership coach, Harry Max decodes how to play to stay in the game.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
This Is Your Brain On Design: How neuroscience can help us create better user experiences – Andrew Hinton
Ever wondered why you just can’t seem to get through to some people? Or how users can do such unpredictable things with your designs? Or even why you sometimes look back on a project and wonder, ””what the heck was I thinking when I did that?”“
In this presentation, Andrew Hinton examines recent research in neuroscience and related fields, pointing out how some surprising discoveries not only affect the designs we create, but how we should go about creating them.
For the transcript of this podcast go here.
The Top 7 Recipes for Confusion – John Boykin
One of the surest ways for a Web site to lose visitors—and business—is to confuse them. By identifying 7 surefire ways to confuse users, John Boykin helps us to understand how to avoid them and make our websites more successful.
These podcasts are sponsored by:
At MadPow, they leverage the disciplines of Human Factors, Psychology, and Visual Design to create engaging experience that maximize customer acquisition, increase attention, and reduce costs.
The American Society of Information Science & Technology: 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.
The IA Summit: the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals.
Boxes & Arrows: 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.
Why keep it to yourself? Getting everyone on the team to do usability testing–Dana Chisnell from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: In this session, Dana Chisnell talks about essential skills for conducting utility tests and user research. What happens when not just one specialist but an entire team can gather data from users and how to teach non‑specialists how to get useful data from user sessions.
I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Dana Chisnell: So, about a year ago I had been working with a new client. This client‑‑it’s a software company‑had started a new UX effort.
They were having trouble making it work, though, and this was disturbing to me, because they had a rocking new user researcher, a convert from being a developer, but that wasn’t enough to get them great experiences.
The pilot development teams were fighting it for some reason. So after talking with them for a few hours actually in person and on the phone, I processed it for a while.
And then one morning I woke up with this in my head. Nothing at first.
But the question in my mind was, why do user researchers exist?
It’s really about influencing design decisions, right? But what do designers and developers operate on? How do they make decisions?
They do it a lot based on their gut feel, intuition, their experiences.
But what do we as user researchers live for? Well, I am all about data. Data from observing experiences, because I feel that that’s really powerful.
But often the situation is that the gut is greater than the data, because gut always trumps data, right? A group of people intuiting what to do with the design always outweighs the data.
This can happen for a bunch of different reasons. Say you’re a product manager, somebody who definitely has a stake in the design, you might decide that the way that data gathered is invalid for some reason. Or the users were not the right users who were in the study. Or you just don’t know what to do with the data.
So that’s gut trumping data, and I’m going to talk about why that’s happening in a little bit.
The thing that you can run into also‑this is my progress in the morning, of course after I’m processing‑is that if gut is big, then small increments of data will never matter.
You can do the best research in the world and end up with sparkling data, squeaky data and still lose to the gut because you’re the one. You’re the only one getting the experience of observing user’s experiences.
So I went a little too far in my thinking that morning, but the idea here is that no matter how much data you have you probably will fail, because when gut is really high then only a large amount of data will work. Gut rises exponentially while date rises linearly.
So, OK, it was the middle of the night when I had this idea. The question is what really is the solution to influencing design more for those of us individuals who are doing user research and usability testing?
Well, it’s more data, I think. But I’ve met hundreds of usability people and user researchers in all kinds of organizations. Most of the usability people out there are really, really good at their jobs. Some could do usability testing in their sleep.
But because those user researchers are on teams that I work with, they end up with this kind of problem.
In fact, my client, the one who I was working with, Pam, she’s the user researcher at the software company, encountered this very problem.
Throughput. The more successes the usability tester has, the more successes the user researcher has, the harder the job gets, right? Because there’s more and more demand, and that’s good, of course.
But how do you keep that up? How do you get higher throughput when you’re already working to the max?
You, the one person, cannot provide all the data that is needed to trump gut. The way trump gut. The way to trump gut, to have more influence on design than you have now is by getting the team to collect data.
And I assume that’s why you’re all here, because you’re all interested in that. To observe user’s experiences even if they do a sloppy job or they don’t do it the way that you would do it.
My take is that getting designers experiencing users’ lives, work and play is the path of least resistance in influencing design more, because if you do all the research, you always have to get past that gut.
So now that I’ve exhausted the formula, let’s look at this another way.
You just came from Dan’s session, so I had to put little people in.
Here’s the typical scenario for Pam, my client at the software company. She conducts the study often in the field, always with customers and target users, almost always using prototypes.
Her team is agile and she’s a sprint or two ahead of them. So it seems like everything is going right. She comes back to the team and presents the data.
How many decisions can the usability person, Pam, influence in this model? Well, maybe one at a time. And this is how it is for about 80 percent of the teams I meet. There’s one UX person and a bunch of designers and developers.
And then Pam presents the results, the team argues about the method, the validity of the data. They’re disbelieving because, A, they didn’t see it themselves, and what they’re hearing doesn’t match up with what their experience has been.
So the direction doesn’t feel clear. They spend hours discussing whether any given change is the thing to do. Like, should we change the widget to purple instead of blue? Hours.
The direction doesn’t feel clear. The gut is strong. And my slides are misbehaving.
So while they love Pam and they respect Pam, they lack trust. And when something doesn’t line up to their experiences, they don’t value Pam’s data. They go back to relying on their own experiences on their own gut, and they also have endless discussions about how to implement what changes.
Let’s back up. What’s really going on here? Pam goes out into the field. She does a really good job. She gathers a ton of super beautiful valid data. She did more research than she had time for because she was afraid of others doing it. If others did the research, it might not be done well.
The team might be doing stupid things. They might do the wrong things. They might ask the wrong questions, or they might ask the questions the wrong way. So her data goes unappreciated. She doesn’t trust the team. The team doesn’t trust her data, and there’s the scenario.
But what Pam found and what I found, too, is that it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not either you do a little bit of excellent research or send the team out on their own. Of course, it’s not like you send them out there the first couple of times without training wheels, right? So we wouldn’t let that happen because it wouldn’t make Pam or me look [laughs] any better.
It would not help her influence design decisions any more than she already had. In fact, it might be detrimental. Pam might be better informed, might see better‑informed guts on the design team, but maybe not if she let that happen. So how do you deal with that? The idea is to do it all together. We changed the dynamic on Pam’s team.
We told them that she was there for them as a coach and advisor about getting smarter, about informing their gut. And the other key thing here is that we told her team that they could have no input to the design direction if they didn’t at least go attend sessions that Pam was conducting. You’ll see why in a few minutes when I go over the collaboration analysis techniques that I ended up with using with them.
This can be done. I’ve done it. It was a really hard step to let go, but when I did I found it was really empowering. So I worked with Pam so she could delegate to her team, and making this change changed everything for them. When they realized what they were getting by witnessing [laughs] users interacting with their designs, they really couldn’t get enough.
Pam called me about a month ago, and she was all excited. She said, “Danny!” They’re in South Carolina. “Danny, the lead developer came back to the office after meeting with a key customer to use the prototype for the registration process and said that he was really excited. “When can we get back out there?” he said. “I’ve got so many ideas now.”
And since the interaction designer was with Jamie the developer out on the sessions, Pam felt pretty good about what was about to happen. Pam stayed out on the periphery. She nudged them here and there with good research practice, but she also went and gathered data in her sessions or accompanying them on sessions.
So now the mind meld for Pam’s team looks a lot more like this. They came back to the hive [laughs] and shared stories, compared their experiences with users, and learned from one another. So Pam helps them now understand what they learned and how to turn that into design, like setting priorities to make sure that they’re curing the right things. I’m going to have some techniques for doing that in a couple minutes.
But the point is there’s a ton more coverage now because it’s not just her. It’s her whole team, and there are 15 people on her team now who can go out and do their own thing. Their gut is now improved. So Pam had an advantage. She was new to the game.
So while she had read the books, done some training, and she had some ideas, she didn’t have a really solid model in her head of how that process should work. So she was still flexible. One of the first times I let go was a few years ago when I had been practicing UX for almost 20 years already, and it was really hard.
And thinking back to the workshop where it happened, I can only laugh now. But buy me a drink later and I’ll tell you about it. It was about ballot design and teaching local elections officials how to do usability testing about 100 at a time in an hour, so it was tricky.
Letting elections officials, otherwise completely untrained in UX or design of any kind, go do usability tests with voters was [laughs] really, really scary. But now they do it, and it’s wonderful. There are 5, 000 counties in the U. S. with elections running all the time, and I can’t cover all that. So I’m very happy that they’re out there.
I had to swallow a lot of pride, though. I had to live with a lot of ambiguity and a lot of inefficiencies and understand that they were not always going to do the way I would do it. But they were going to still learn, and that was going to be really, really valuable. So how do you do this? How do you get past the gut? Give designers and developers a little gentle training and some fun practice.
So what I am going to show you from this point through the end of the session is what Pam and I did at her software company, and I’ve done this with other companies, too. We spent a couple of days doing it, but you could sneak these techniques in an hour at a time over a week or a month or whatever.
Some are team exercises. Some are brainstorming games. And when Pam and I gave into the throughput issue, she [laughs] really, really empowered the team thereby empowering them. So when the team got skills, and these are what we focused on, they really took the ball and ran with it.
So although the classic methods for usability testing/user research have about a dozen steps, we boiled it down to these three things to focus on. The goal was to make the team good enough to bring back usable data even if it’s sloppy, get excited about observing users, and gather enough data to help the designers and the developers get past their intuition.
I, with Pam, led most of the way using the general approach of show one, do one, and then teach one, and I recommend this to you, too. So model the behavior. Then have the team members try it, and then talk about what happened and answer questions.
There is nothing like walking around a room while 150 people break into teams of three to practice moderating the usability test. For your team it should be pretty easy by comparison. So the point is, don’t make this harder than it has to be. Just get with the team and try these things.
So looking at tasks, the idea is to get the team to see things through the eyes of the user. And this activity is really fun and very, very interactive. What we did was we broke the team into pairs and mixed people up who don’t normally work together. They did this on their own actually, and it worked out really great.
We assigned a user profile to each pair, or they chose themselves. They got to pick, but we tried to make sure that each one was covered. Then each pair develops a skit or a sketch about a specific piece of functionality or a feature. You know, something that’s important that you’re working on right now. It might the goal of this particular sprint, for example, from the point of view of users.
One of the rules is that there should be nothing in the skit about the technology being used. It’s about the user experience. Give them two minutes to decide what to do and then about 7‑8 minutes to actually write up their skit. And then, everybody takes a turn performing their skit with one person narrating and the other person acting it out as the user.
This is often hysterical because when they realize what they’ve written, everything breaks down, and it’s a really excellent point for conversation about how they envision the experience and how techno-centric they’ve been.
The point here is to get them to‑‑it’s very easy to generate tasks that exercise the UI, right? It’s kind of a mechanical thing but to do really good tasks on it you want people to have realistic stories that fit into people’s lives. So, this gets them thinking much more about that. As a twist, you can ask the teams to do it as the worst possible experience and the best possible experience. So, it’s kind of fun.
So, for Pam’s group, she works for a software company that makes software for churches. So, they had these roles and each of the pairs broke into one of these groups. So, some of the scenarios were really hilarious.
I also did this with a bunch of students at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and that worked out excellently for an exercise for them to choose one of these roles and then envision it that these are periods from that point of view.
Then, after they’ve picked their roles and they write up their skits and they perform, then we talk about what happened in each of the performances. And then, doing a little bit of the teaching part I give them a frame for what should be in the task scenario and the settings. The point is to have a realistic and relatable story.
Then also, doing this exercise gives people a double check about what they think they know about who these users are. They might start out looking at use cases, but it’s a fun exercise.
Next, we focus on moderating sessions. Many of the usability practitioners I talk to are most concerned about this because there are right ways and wrong ways to do moderating. So, we spent quite a bit of time on this. Putting the designers and developers in the world of users changes the dynamic, so giving them some opportunity to do that gives them a little more empathy, too.
So, what we did was pull a couple of test scripts that I had used already and I knew sort of worked and some test scripts that Pam had been planning on using. You could do it this way, too, actually. Treat this as a dry run for a study that’s coming up. So, somebody on your team who you want to go out and do the moderating hands the test script over, split your team groups into three and then give each person a script to be the moderator, or give one person the script to be the moderator, get the most doubting person to be the participant and then ask the third person to observe and take notes about what they saw and what they heard. That’s all they’re taking notes about, right?
Then, after you’ve had this practice session, spend some time debriefing. Answer the questions. Make some gentle suggestions but be careful because you’re in this group and you don’t want them to be skittish about going out and doing this, performing in front of their teammates. Then, if everybody’s game, switch roles and do it again. Get the next person to try moderating and change out.
While you’re at this, one of the tricks I have used that works really well is to set up a flip video camera that is trained just on the moderator. And this is probably good for the first couple of sessions that somebody goes to do moderating to and just only record the person moderating the session. After the session, give a little feedback.
Be mostly positive, maybe, one of two things to improve, but then give them the videos to review. Don’t sit with them and do it but give them the videos to review on their own time. People do this, and they learn a lot from doing it. The one thing that I want to caution you about in doing this is making sure that the boss of this person doesn’t have access to these videos. It’s just for them just to learn.
The other tips that I give teachers of usability testing is that you want to focus people on the idea that it’s about moderating not training and that the idea of being there is to listen and watch. I think anybody can moderate sessions if they have these qualities. Even designers can moderate tests of things that they’ve designed if they can let themselves step back.
I also train people that as the moderator there are these three basic roles. I completely ripped this off from User Interfaith Engineering, but it really, really works. The idea is that one role is that you’re a flight attendant. So, you’re taking care of the participant. One is that if you have other people with you from the team that you have to narrate what is going on. You have to be the color commentator within limits about what’s happening. So, they are taking it all in, but you are also the scientist, the person who’s responsible for gathering data and the quality of that data.
So, I’m telling them these things and then I let them practice while giving them some tips about what to look for as well as some techniques about usability testing. Now, I have oversimplified thinking out loud in ways that other people have real issues with, but basically you’re teaching people that they want their participants to think aloud and prompting them to do that is okay as long as they’re in moderation. Or they can do a review at the end of the task for that, at the end of the session, and these are the kinds of tips that I give them. They are things to look for, things to do.
Then after they’ve practiced, we do a little review. I ask the participant first, the person who acted as the participant in the practice, what was that like? It’s always eye opening. People have not usually put themselves in that position before, especially when there’s a more formal setup. You might think of yourself as your own guinea pig when you’re using something new because you’re aware of what’s happening, but until you’re in this threesome setup practicing, it’s a little bit different.
Ask the observers what kinds of things they noticed. This is a coaching point, right? And then, asking the moderators what kinds of questions they have about their role. Pretty simple. And then, if there’s time, I give them some other tips about what they might do in the middle of the session to kind of keep things going and make sure that the participants is still with them. Some tips on narrating as the common commentator. And some ideas for getting the most out of being with user.
Now, when I put the question out to the crowd line, one of the biggest concerns of my correspondents out there was about analyzing the data that comes back. My position is that the most important thing is that the design developers got the experience of absorbing the user experience but I know to be a problem that when they come back, they don’t know what to do with what they found out.
So, I have, over the last year or so, developed this sort of suite of things like I want to do with my clients and I trained Pam to do it this way and her team absolutely loves it. So, this, though, is where the rule that you can’t take part unless you have observed sessions come in because when you do this thing there is no point being there unless you’ve got some experiences that you’ve observed. Otherwise, you are just going to be on the sidelines and disrupt her or you won’t be able to participate it all. So, this is basically the order that I recommend doing it in. Have people come back, tell stories, the stories can happen in a little meeting or by email or put it on a wiki or whatever works for your team.
It is like a little contact report. Don’t require people to write a lot but just to tell the rest of the team what the biggest surprises were, what the biggest take‑aways were, then to do a KJ analysis to set the priorities about what to go forward, and I am going to through the steps of that very quickly. There is also a handout over here, an article that I ripped off from user interface engineering about the scripts, and steps and everything in it, it’s a beautiful thing.
And then for the training of the team, we play a game called guess the reason. One of the tricks I find is that going from the data to making inferences about what’s happening can be really hard. It is very easy to jump right to design ideas and design remedies but the difficult part is not doing that until you really done the analysis. Some of us have internalized that and sort of automatized that, but your team will not have done a very good job of that, so the guess the reason game is fun. And then that helps with this final process of having a more formal discussion that is more structured about going from observation to what you can refer for that.
So, there are a couple more handouts about that too including a little form that I have developed to guide that discussion. And if you see me after the session, give me your business card; I can give you a copy of these slides. I think the slides are going to be posted on the website for that conference. So, very quickly, in a KJ analysis, the point is to quickly identify what the priority items are. So, for usability test for example, you have a focus question that is something like what’s the main thing we need to fix to improve the user experience? Right?
So, you identify the focus question, get everybody together, then without talking, everybody writes down one observation per sticky that they made from observing their session, what they heard and what they saw. A lot of people will bring in their laptops into the session because they made notes and that’s cool, but those things have to be transferred to stickies. One per sticky. Then everybody puts their stickies on the wall, random order. There is a chance to read everybody else’s observations too. Still no talking.
Step five is, now you do affinity diagramming. Basically, you pick up two stickies that match and everybody has to take part in this, right? You pick up two stickies that match, move those to another wall, you end up with these columns of stickies like that. There are no rules about keeping categories intact so anybody can move anybody else’s around but after a few minutes the activity dies down, still there is no talking. Then you use different color sticky. Everybody names every category unless by the time you get there somebody else used exactly the same word. So, you see there are multiple themes for each category. That’s okay.
You can split into our groups again. Move things around if you want to but everybody has to give a name. Still no talking. So this is done really fast, right? I have done this with 45 people. We had 300 stickies, the whole exercise took about 45 minutes. Next to last step is voting for the most important groups. So, you get three votes for the most important groups. So, you get three votes for your most important…You’ve picked your top three, you have three votes for your number one, two votes for your number two, one vote for your number three. Then use those votes, you pull those stickies from the headings and you rank the groups.
So, what we should have done on this one is have 20, 19, 18, 17, 16 and just put the stickies next to those and have that number of votes. That is much easier way of doing it. And instantly, you can see what your top categories are. You may end up with more but all you care about is the top three or five because that is all you can do anything about. So, you know what your priorities are. Really fast, like I said about 45 minutes. That’s the KJ. Then you take your top priorities and investigate what those observations were from the top priorities. What you heard and what you saw. Look at what inferences you can make from those. What is going on? What is the gap between what the UI does and how the user behaves.
Come up with opinions or theories about why things are happening the way they are happening. Look at what the causes are, what is the most likely cause and what is the weight of the evidence for that cause. Now, you can talk about design direction. And when we did this, when we did guess the reason and we did this exercise the first time, anybody who went too soon to a direction to a design idea had put money in what they call the solutions pot which they gave away to charity. So, it is kind of a pitiful little amount now, but in the beginning, they were collecting quite a lot of money. Now you got a theory about the design direction theory and the cycle starts again, right?
Now you might be saying, “This will never work. My team is not going to do this.” These are some of the things that I hear from team members: “I don’t have time to do this. It’s not my job. I don’t have the skills. You have the skills. I don’t have the skills and I’m afraid of doing something wrong. But they will be assimilated. Eventually you will convince them that this is the way to do that, and going through these exercises with them can be a really effective way of doing that. So here’s what I’ve told teams in response to those things: ‘Exchange some of the time that you’re spending in meetings, like those endless meetings talking about whether the widget should be purple or blue, for time with users.’ In the end this is going to make you better at your job. It’s going to make you a better designer, a better developer.
Though on this point there is definitely an organizational, cultural issue here. People need to know that they’re going to be supported and rewarded for doing this work, you know, as part of their performance reviews or whatever. I’m not going to make you go do this alone. I’m going to help you learn, you know. I’m going to give you support. I’m going to give you help. And you can’t screw up. It really doesn’t matter. The point is that we need more data to help us make good decisions. And if you do screw up we’ll just go do more sessions. It’s really not a big deal. And so if you are feeling like this is just not possible, I really, you know…you’re trained. You may have a degree or years of practice. But there’s probably some other pet project you’d like to do than spend all of your time doing all of the basic usability testing. So now you can focus on what’s important.
It was scary when I first did it because I didn’t know what was going to happen, but it has really, really worked out. No one, for most of us, no one’s going to die from the research that you do. Nobody’s going to die from the design decisions that you make. So as long as you keep doing it, it’s a good thing. So I’m going to leave you with this. Oops! A little too fast maybe. Do you want this because it’s the way it’s always done? Is this really that efficient? Is it really that effective? Or this.
Thanks for coming today. We probably have…
Thank you. We might have two or three minutes for questions. Who’s game?
Rob: Hi, I’m Rob. I think I posted a question to you on crowdfinder.
Dana Chisnell: Yeah. Hi, Rob.
Rob: We have a team and I do a pretty good job of getting folks on our team, coping with moderating, reporting usability tests and that sort of thing. The risk I feel like sometimes we run into is someone who is very close to that particular feature. So whether it be a developer or whatever, you know, has a lot of vested interest. They want the feature to succeed, so I find that a lot of my training is focused on, “You need to be objective, you know. Don’t have your feelings hurt if someone participating in a test doesn’t like the design, for example..”
Dana Chisnell: That’s a really good point.
Rob: Do you have any recommendation in terms of…on one hand it’s great that the people that are very focused on that feature are observing and facilitating and recording because then they’re getting that feedback right away. On the other hand the fear is, can they be leading the witness, so to speak.
Dana Chisnell: Oh, right. Yeah. Well, first I have to say, you know, tell them to man up. The leading thing is very tempting. It takes some…you know, none of us came out of the womb wanting to be moderators for usability tests. It’s a learned skill, so it’s something that you just have to practice and get better at. You have to look at why people are leading the witness and try to coach them back to asking open‑ended questions. This is my advice people. Ask open‑ended questions. If you want to find out about this thing, about this feature, you know, about why people are doing what they’re doing, at least don’t ask yes or no questions A. and B. don’t offer anything because people will say yes, right. And the…
I try to mitigate the temptation of the leading. Some people are just not aware that they’re doing it. But I try to mitigate the temptation by saying, ”You’re not learning everything you could be learning because really what you’re doing is training them instead of just waiting to see what happens.” One more? Oh, good. You get to run.
Ala: Hi, I’m Ala and I have a question. How do you get the organization or the executives to support everybody on the team doing this because I often times I want our developers to come with me and I want project managers to come with me. They’re like, ‘Well, no. The developers have other work to do. They don’t have time or they’re… you know. It’s too expensive for us to have them do this other thing.’ How do you get…
Dana Chisnell: Oh and you’re cheap?
Ala: Right, yeah. Well how do you get organizational support for, you know, the entire team to participate when there is other work to do from everybody, obviously.
Dana Chisnell: Yeah. It’s a big shift for some organizations to do this because developers are rewarded for delivering code, right? And other people are rewarded for delivering lots of wire frames and things like that. So a couple of ways I’ve seen it work on teams is… one is by stealth. You just trick somebody into going with you the first time. And it’s like, ‘I could really use your help on this session.’ And, you know, make sure that it’s a small amount of time. Another thing that I have seen work is, you know, if your organization is big enough and the demand on you is high enough the question to management is, ‘Well there’s…are we going to hire somebody else to go do more user research because there’s only so much I can go and do. But if I can get the developers to go with me then that lowers my demand a little bit, and I may be able to make myself available for some of this other work.
The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Website Development Every CEO Should Know — Eric Reiss from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: The web is more important to businesses than ever. Yet, business leaders often remain uncomfortable with what goes into making a website successful. And no one likes signing a big check without some idea as to what they’re getting for it, including Chief Executive Officers. In this presentation, Eric Reiss outlines a few basic non‑technical tips to help increase a company’s chance of online success, and let the CEOs do what they do best: lead. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Eric Reiss: Right. Okay, thank you very much for coming. I mean that very sincerely, because I submitted a couple of things to the Summit this year, and this was the one that I didn’t expect to get accepted, because it wasn’t written for you all, it was written for CEOs. Also, I’m up against some very, very serious competition. Andrea Resmini, Dana Chisnell. They’re great people talking against me. And please, if you feel that this is not the talk that has anything to do with what you do on a daily basis, please feel free to walk out. You will not offend me in any way, Okay? Okay, you’re here. Right, well, we’ve lost about 10 minutes, and actually this is an hour long presentation, so some of it will go, perhaps, a little faster. But, I hope you’ll bear with me.
The whole thing started because I come from a company called FatDUX, and my main target market is in Copenhagen, Denmark. And Danish companies are generally smaller than they are in the United States. They’re typically from say, ten to a hundred million dollars in turnover a year. Some are billion dollar companies, but these are few and far between.
What’s happened though is it’s given me direct to C‑levels at a very, very early time. And this is something that, not too many information architects in the United States, for example, have an opportunity to do. They don’t really get up to the board room. And so this is why I’m wearing a suit, and cufflinks; didn’t bring the tie, which I probably should have, because I just realized how fat I am.
This is kind of the work uniform. It’s to make everybody feel comfortable. It’s the costume one wears when talking to CEOs. And the signs I’m about to show you are sort of the result of 25 years’ thinking and working in business to business advertising and marketing communications, and information architecture in website design.
What are the problems that I’ve faced over the years, when dealing with senior management, who are basically, [expletive] clueless. And the question I always ask them is, “Why do you have a website?” Now pretend, if you will ‑ please bear with me, I know you’re all information architects and you’re 10 years ahead of the curve ‑ but pretend that you are CEOs. What would a CEO answer to a question like this?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Exactly, because everyone has one. We have to have a website. [inaudible 0:03:48]. Well, let me rephrase the question. Why do you have a telephone? We all have telephones, do we not? Right, so why do we have telephones?
Audience Member: [off‑mic question]
Eric Reiss: Because everyone has one? Thank you, thank you. Russ, you walked right into that one. No, I’m sorry; I didn’t see where it came from. No, obviously not. It’s because we can’t do business without one. All right? That’s really the answer. So, let’s go back to why do we have a website? Come on, this is not a trick question.
Audience Member: [off‑mic question]
Eric Reiss: Because, you can’t do business without one. The truth is the majority of business leaders now use the Internet as their number one source of information. There are more people using business to business information on the Internet than any other segment. And there are 18 billion searches, and these are not people looking for red shoes on Zappos, or books on Amazon. This is hardcore business to business stuff. This is very important. These are very compelling numbers. And so, when the business community says, or a business leader says, “Hey, we got to have a website because everyone else has a website,” it’s our responsibility to try and move them to the next level. And here are some of the pitfalls that I’ve experienced.
The first one is: they don’t know the difference between marketing and communications. And this is a major problem for us, because there’s never any clear ownership of a website. It’s even worse when you start dealing with internets. Who’s going to get it: HR, Corporate Communications, IT?
If you’re talking about a public facing site, is it going to be marketing, or even worse, a marketing department headed by a salesman? Sorry, sales representative. I’m not really very politically correct. You’ll have to excuse me. I don’t necessarily do it on purpose. Sometimes I do, but I won’t tell you when.
This is the traditional pyramid, the communications funnel which is known as AIDA. How many of you have heard of AIDA before? Okay, quite a few, that’s good.
Basically, it’s awareness, interest, desire, and action. So, when we have 1.7 seconds to grab somebody’s attention while they’re leafing through Cosmopolitan Magazine, yeah, we want to grab their awareness with a picture of an attractive model or a headline that is very cute, whatever.
We want their interest. Now, the gentleman standing at the back of the room, who is my business partner, Søren Muus, discovered something very, very interesting a couple of years ago. And he deserves full credit for what I’m about to show you.
And this is critical, absolutely critical. There is a line that runs between this. And that’s the difference between traditional marketing and communications.
This also applies to social media, but we won’t get into that today.
Awareness and interest. If I want to get Will Evans’ attention, yes, I could say, “Will, ohhh, oo!” [loudly] This is acceptable behavior because he’s sitting at the back of the room, and I’m in the front.
Now, the thing is, by the time people get to your website, they’re already aware because they’ve typed in the url, okay? They have the interest and it’s our job to create desire and to give them a course of action. And it is completely inappropriate for me to go over and do the same thing, “Hi, Will!” [loudly]
Will Evans: I’m in.
Eric Reiss: [screams] I knew I should have picked someone else.
Eric Reiss: The thing is, this is what the marketers do, and they have a plan, they have: “This is the style guide and these are the pictures that were using in the print ads. This is what our brochure looks like.” And this is absolute nonsense. This is where it goes wrong. The business community has to look at this as a business tool. It’s a communications tool. This is the kind of crap that one writes on websites. “Whoo, wouldn’t it be nice, if your warm and hefty winter snow boots were as comfortable as your summer tennis. Our four hundred gram snow boots may not be exactly as comfortable, but they’re heaps more sensible than last year.”
Now, let’s analyze this. So, essentially, the boots you bought last year were shit. So, they want you to buy some new ones this year, and we, of course, all know how heavy our shoes are. Bloody Hell! This is from another site. These boots have everything you need for stability and support, in any conditions in a comfortable lightweight design you’ll appreciate in any circumstances.
Thank you very much. They’re talking to me like I’m a real human being. It’s a major difference. You really want to be making your website part of your customer service package. If we tell the business community what we are really doing is process re‑engineering and service design, they run the other way. They expect really difficult deliverables. They expect even more expensive suits and that kind of things from the consultants. But, that is really what we are doing.
I’d like to recycle some slides that I showed in Miami a couple of years ago, in connection with a service design presentation I did.
How many of you were in Miami and saw this? Oh, Christ!
Eric Reiss: Okay. Now, this is the time to go and hear Andrea and Luca and Dana. All right? We have these two circles. We have offline, and we have online. There is a convergence, and you can call this, in fact, customer experience management. That’s what we’re doing. Okay? And there are ten things that customers will tell you, in the offline world. Paco Underhill, who is like the be all and end all of researchers, in the offline community, he says that there are ten things. Actually, some of them are mine, but I can’t remember which are Paco’s and which are mine. So, they are all mixed up. “Don’t tell them how great you are. Be great. Go the extra mile. Don’t get in my way while I’m trying to shop. If I know what I’m looking for, help me find it. Don’t give me a sales talk. If you are going to go off and look for my size, tell me you are going off,” and so on and so forth.
Those are the ten things. And, you say, “Is this important for us?” Yes. Yes, it is. Let me show you how this works. This is a bottle of wine, and the young lady standing at the back of the room, Lynn Boyden, sent this to me, because I gave a speech at UCLA. And, this was the thank you.
Now, I live in Denmark. I like California wine, but my little Danish book does not have Mount Veeder Wineries, but aha, it came from Wine.com. So, what could be easier than to type Wine.com and read about the Mount Veeder Winery. Plausible? Okay. And, this is what you get. Wrong. No, this is what you get.
What state will you be shipping to? I’m not shipping to a state. I want to read about the wine. I couldn’t game it. I couldn’t get passed this screen. So, my mom lives in Florida, and I typed in Florida. It says, “Well, we usually ship to places in Florida maybe not all of them. So, we want your zip code.”
Eric Reiss: So, I type in a zip code. Most people type in the one for Beverly Hills. So, I type in the zip code for my mom, and I get “Because wine availability and prices may vary, from state to state, due to the way interstate commerce laws influence our buying patterns…” I really don’t care where they get their wine or how they get their wine. “We have found that the select state lay over screen, while a little intrusive…” Care to redefine a little intrusive? I’ve been on this site for six minutes, and I hate them already. There’s no way that I want to do business with these jerks. All right. So, don’t get in my way, when I’m trying to shop. Are your own affairs so important that you feel justified in ignoring me?
See the parallel? What’s happening here? Whoa! Ranked the number one online wine store by Internet Retailer Magazine. I did some research. Internet Retailer Magazine only ranks one online wine store. So, they are number one by default.
Eric Reiss: I could also argue that they are in last place.
Eric Reiss: Don’t tell me how great you are. Be great. Okay. So, finally, the gift center ‑ and this is actually very nice faceted taxonomy. You can buy price or type or whatever. Bottles that are great to give. So, I figure, well, maybe that’s where Lynn clicked. So, I click on bottles that are great to give, and I get… Holy shit! Seventy wines. And if we scroll to the bottom of the page, what have we got. Well, we’ve got an over priced Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We’ve got a crap Chablis. What the Hell is the organizational system in this? It makes no sense in whatsoever. If you know what I’m looking for, help me find it.
So, what do we have? Search engines. Right. Okay. I did find Mount Veeder, but I figure I’ll try something else. Bear Boat is a really good Pinot Noir from Oregon. So, I type in Bear Boat. “Please double check your spelling and shipping state and try again.” What the! Double check my shipping state! Don’t make me feel stupid.
All right, so, we find the Mount Veeder page, and there we go. Of course, we can read minds. Everyone knows what W.E. is and what W.S. is. Apparently, this is like an IQ scale for wine.
If we click down there, there are two links that have the same name: Mount Veeder. You actually find two wines from Mount Veeder, and one that, actually, doesn’t come from Mount Veeder, which is interesting. And, then, the other link has this about Mount Veeder. We’ll come back to that. Print cellar notes. How many of you have a wine cellar? Okay. A couple of you. May I ask you, why would you want to print cellar notes?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Yeah. Right, and a little bit about the… So, what would you do, after you have printed your cellar notes? What are you going to do with them?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: What do you do?
Audience Member: We paste them in spread sheets.
Eric Reiss: You paste them into…
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: I know. I know. I know. I know. Ask a silly question… Most normal people print them out, and they put it next to the bottle so that they can refer to this. Now, let’s go to print cellar notes. And this is what we get. Now, we can see that it’s the wine enthusiast and the spectator, and it says that we can now drink it. And, it will drink beautifully through 2012. Additional wines. Customers who often bought this, bought a really shit California Champaign. This is collaborative filtration. This has nothing to do with cellar notes, for goodness sakes. What is this? If we actually look at how it plays out, when we scroll down. Here’s the information I want.
By the way, the price, on the previous page was 43 dollars. Now, it’s 36 dollars.
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Excuse me. I didn’t have any ducks this year.
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: You can throw something else.
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: No, they come back, Lynn, we have to get more ducks. Exactly. No, don’t throw the posters. That’s a sponsor. Okay. You can throw the lanyards.
That’s a sponsor too, but I own the company. So, that’s all right. So, it turns out that you can actually buy this wine, at any place in the world, cheaper than you can at Wine.com. If you want me to buy something, you’ve got to tell me how much it costs. Do you know why people abandon shopping carts? It’s the only way you can find out what the shipping cost is going to be.
People say, “Well, we have a 97 percent shipping cart abandonment rate.” Now, this isn’t very good. Let’s analyze the situation. What did I even have to do to get into this store? I had to tell them my state and my zip code. They know, within two miles, where I live. But, are they telling me what it is going to cost?
No. No. So, actually, I have to join the check out. So, I sign in. Create an account. And, then, I have to enter credit card information. Enter a shipping address. We know the drill. I can write a gift note to myself. “Eric Reiss, you’re lovely. Here’s a bottle of wine.”
And, finally, we get to the last page. It’s a long process to find out that they are actually going to charge me $995 to ship this bottle. And the interesting thing is this standard estimated arrival, seven business days.
Now, would somebody please tell me what seven business days is like ‑ a week and a half? A week is seven days. Seven business days is, I don’t know what that is. And they think, apparently, that I’m really stupid. Because I can have priority estimated arrival seven business days, add $10!
Good Lord. So, I say cancel order, and what do I get? A 404 error. So a completely shit website. But, they are the number one ranked by Internet Retailer Magazine, so keep that in mind. I keep waiting for them to sue me for all these really nasty things, but they never do.
So, it’s a part of the customer service offering. And you can see the way these websites and the online and offline experience start to converge. The second thing is, you can’t look at the website. “You,” means CEOs, all right? Pretend you’re all wearing really comfortable shirts and ties. Don’t look at it as a software project, because it isn’t.
This is a Dilbert I love, “Well, I’ll design the system when you give me the user requirements. Oh, better yet, just build it and I’ll tell my boss who doesn’t work.”
Well, I hate to tell you, but you actually have to do some work here. There are an awful lot of clients that look that way, particularly in the IT department, because they really don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing with a website.
Well, we’re in charge of the website. “What do we do? What do we do?” We better buy some software. We’ll do a specification document. This is not a stock photo; this is actually stuff that I pulled off our shelves at work. These are actual specification documents for projects that we have been asked to contribute to.
And generally, when I see documents like that, I throw them out and I say that we’re not interested, because I think this is a really bad use of my time.
This is a computer by Dell. It has the following specifications. And if you want to follow the specifications, you may very well end up with something that looks like this.
I swear, you wanted this, and you wrote that. And this is what you got. And you know what? These documents have one purpose and one purpose alone, and that is something you can hit people over the head with when you go to court.
The Danish Parliament’s specification documents filled five, no seven, moving boxes. It took two senior consultants at an agency I know a half a year to answer all the questions that we’re asking.
And by the way, the new site is absolutely appalling. But apparently it fits all the documentation. Now, let me ask you, what would be a better use of money? To have two senior consultants sit in a meeting room for half a year trying to answer all kinds of absurd questions? Or maybe having two copywriters writing something that was worth reading, telling us something about the Danish Parliament? Good Lord.
Are you going to pay money for the taxi that’s going to get you to the restaurant, or do you want to pay for a good meal? That’s what it boils down to. Next time, I’ll draw this on a napkin, but you get the idea. Look at this. This is from the Frankfort airport. This is two pieces of wood and some rope.
In one of the most high tech areas in the world, aviation, this is the best we can figure out for keeping planes in their place. Now, imagine what these things would look like if somebody was actually writing a specification document.
You can’t just write, “Well, I want to really thick pieces of wood and some rope.” Somebody from the FFA is going to say, “You can’t do that. That have to be graphite,” or whatever. What’s the shape of the wheel? Well, and MDA has a different wheel from a… So we need various different shapes. Then the union is going to say, “We only take care of Airbus.” The Boeing people, they’re over there.
So, my advice is, whenever possible, for goodness sakes, buy software from a single focus vendor. Microsoft is probably not on the list, sorry. This is related to this. Don’t couple unrelated initiatives.
Now, what happens is, the CEO says, “Hey, it all takes place on a computer. So, let’s do some other things. That’ll save us money.” And so they start talking about all of this. And we get into this alphabet soup. And this is where the IT department generally wins the project because they know what all of this shit means. And the CEO says, “That sounds plausible, we’ll let you do that.”
So basically, the CMS is publishing the other. CRM is tracking and using customer data. Resource planning is to optimize whatever you’ve got. Document managing is a filing cabinet. And knowledge management is trying to figure out how to share information.
These are night and day. They’re all excellent tools, they’re wonderful for business, but they have nothing to do with each other. And if you try to solve all these things at the same time, you are going to solve absolutely nothing.
I like this. “We have wonderful tools here. This is a lovely place setting.” And the thing is, there’s nothing wrong with any of the tools ‑ the pen, the fork, the wrench, the nail clippers. Bu they’re not going to help us either.
If our job is to communicate via website, then let’s keep the ERP out of it, for goodness sakes. This is also why Dr. Scholl’s doesn’t do cutlery. They are also a single focus vendor. They do nail clippers. And Georg Jensen doesn’t do wrenches, and Bahco doesn’t make pens, and so on.
So, deal with your website and then sort out the other stuff. That is my message.
Fourth, don’t be afraid to set measurable goals. Nobody really knows how to use the website. And it only gets worse when you start talking about social media. And don’t get me off on that right now.
Just saying, “Hey, we now have 6000 people reading the corporate blog.” And so what, are the 6000 people being converted to customers? I mean, how are you measuring that? What are you actually doing with your 10,000 Twitter followers?
Those are not the right metrics. So, if we look at, for example, “I’m sorry Kevin, it doesn’t work that way.” What are the customer service metrics for an airline, for example? Flying on time is what people usually say, right? Sound plausible?
I stood in Heathrow Airport in 1985, I think, for three days and interviewed people. Flying on time, I didn’t hear once from the people I interviewed. It just wasn’t on their list at all. That was not, for them, a customer service metric.
So, why publish schedules if you can’t stick to them? I’m planning my meeting, I’m planning my day. You’re supposed to fly on time. The real customer service metrics are things like faster check‑in, better food, more legroom.
So, when you’re doing the website, make sure you’re not just looking at crap like time on‑site or something else. But, figure out what exactly you’re trying to accomplish in terms of business goals. What are the metrics that you’re going to use?
And it may not come from Google Analytics, for goodness sakes. It may be, you want to sell solutions rather than individual products. So, all the small bits and pieces, in terms of accessories, the cheap stuff gets in as part of the solution.
So, how do you measure that? You have maybe 1500 products in the assortment. So, find 50, figure out what the baseline is. And after you’ve redesigned the site see, are you selling more or less of this product? Are you able to sell the packages? Are you selling the high profit cables and things that connect to your very expensive servers, or whatever you’re selling?
These are metrics that have nothing to do with the website directly, but are directly affected by what you do when you design the site. This is how you start building it into the business plan. Want more hits, want people to spend time on the site, we want people to write to us ‑ which is why they don’t have data or they don’t have prices, other things. It’s like we’re all really surprised that an Aston Martin is an expensive car.
Oh well, you’ll have to contact us for a price. Don’t waste my time. The real things are you want lead qualification, you want a shortened sales process, you want improved logistics, you want conversion. If you can cut the number of personal sales visits down for a product from say seven to five and seven is the industry average, you’ve just increased your sales force by over 20 percent. And suddenly there’s money. What does it cost to put a salesman on the road?
Generally, a couple hundred thousand a year just in base salary and a car and a computer, not to mention all the mileage and hotels and per diems and that stuff. That’s a lot of money.
Think if the money, the resources, allocated to just one salesman were used to improve the website, suddenly you’re starting to put together a business case and this is something the CEOs understand. So, insist, for goodness sake, that the website become an integrated part of whatever it is that you’re doing.
How’s our time? Crap. We’re halfway through.
Don’t confuse your personal needs with those of your visitor. CEOs always know things best. That’s why they’re the CEO. See, the meaningful experience is, I know Peter Morville has his honeycomb and he talks about the good experience. I don’t think that we need to be thinking in terms of good experiences. If you go to the American Department of Justice website, you can read the Al Qaeda training manual. I don’t particularly consider that a very good experience, but it’s certainly valuable in terms of teaching me what we’re up against.
So, this is the way I see it playing out. We, as the clients, have a story we want to tell and the people that are coming to our site are looking for something and we want them to say, “Right, I got what I came for.” We want to make sure that they understand what it is that we’re trying to tell them and right, I got the message. I’m on the same page. I know how heavy my shoes are. We want to be believed. This is interesting. I think it’s plausible. I believe Al Qaeda when they say that they’re going to do whatever they’re going to do, but that’s the difference between we want to be trusted.
No, I don’t trust them. Trusting means I’m ready to deal with them, I’m ready to surrender my credit card number, all that kind of stuff. That’s one of the problems with wine.com. I did not want to give them my MasterCard number. I wanted to know how much it would cost to ship wine.
Then, finally, we want loyalty. Yes, I’m going to come back. Even better, we want these people to be ambassadors for us. We want them to go out and say, “Hey, boy, wine.com was just a terrific experience. Great wine, reasonable prices, and no hassle!”
So, all of that leads up to being a valuable experience. That’s what we should be shooting for and not so much good experiences. All right?
Basically, if you don’t meet the needs of your visitors, you’re never going to meet your own business needs. It’s as simple as that. This is why we spend time interviewing potential customers and looking at our target groups and hopefully when somebody responds to our Twitter avatar that we actually engage them in conversation because it’s not demographics, it’s dialogue.
The four common errors are: “Wow, we need pictures of ducks.” That’s what the CEO says. Executive ego. Or “Hey, woo, look what they do.” Competitor envy. Or “We need to talk about innovation because everybody’s talking about innovation. We’re the only company in Denmark that’s not talking about innovation.” Or, even worse, “That change doesn’t fit our standard design. Form over function, I’ll get to that.” You’ve got to encourage research and you’ve got to accept the fact that whatever you find out is probably going to surprise you.
I can’t remember ever having done any kind of user research without saying “Oh, I didn’t expect that.” It always happens.
Six: don’t look at it as a fixed term project. This is a problem. This is a major problem. You get an allocation once and then, with luck, they’ll remember to budget for the software licenses or whatever the next year, but will they pay for the additional content? No. We have a process, which we call the seven As. That starts with allocate. Allocate over the long term. What do you have in terms of people, time, and money that you’re going to put into this project? That’s very important. If people say “Eric, we’ve got a million dollars and we need it in half a year” I say, “Great!” That’s one kind of project. If they say “Eric, we have $1000 and we need it tomorrow,” it’s going to be something different. I’ll say yes to both projects, but they’re going to be very different in scope.
It’s important that somebody tell me what they have to work with. If I don’t know that, I can’t really give them the right solution. Then you can start analyzing, then you can start architecting, applying what you know in terms of applied art, in terms of designing, starting to glue it together, and finally adjusting it. The process is circular, but as Dan said, never show a CEO a circular chart, but it does go back to the beginning. Once you’re done you’ve got to start this process again. Once you start the process, you’ve got to keep going. That’s the message.
How many of you have problems with print designers?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: [laughs] We don’t like to admit it, but… Excuse me.
Audience Member: What kind of problems?
Eric Reiss: That we hate them and we’re stuck with them.
Audience Member: Not hate.
Eric Reiss: That we’re stuck with a design guide that we don’t like. Let me show you a design guide. This is the front page for a company called Novazone, which is actually one of the world’s largest companies in its field. Would anyone care to tell me what these people do? The tagline is Rethink Tomorrow, so we’re all on the same page here, right? Well, I’m glad you like it because there was a British advertising agency that got close to $200,000 for doing the design guide. Let me show you how well they did the website.
We’ll click on products and solutions just to see where this leads us. We still don’t quite know what this is about, but we can see that we are in fact on the products and solutions page. So, we can click on, for example, biologicals, for lack of anything better. Okay, it’s the world’s leader in bio‑innovation which, of course, now we all know what they do, right? Oh, there’s another products we can click on so we’ll click on that again.
Oh, now we’ve got drop downs, so we’ll click on agriculture. Oh agriculture, we can click on biofertility for goodness sakes. We’re seven clicks into this site and finally we get to this. This is the first time we have actually been able to see what this company does. Anybody want to point out the single greatest usability error on this page? What?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: What do you mean by content?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Well, but, see, it doesn’t really click when you click through. Steven Cook talks about the reservoir of good will. It’s not exactly leading us closer to our goal. People will click five, six, seven times, but they have to feel that they’re actually making progress. And when we have to click on products twice as click number one and number four, that’s when people will say oh wait this is not working. False bottom. What do you mean?
Audience Member: Well, the height of the header on most resolutions you don’t see any of that, so all of the [inaudible 0:32:12] proceeding it were no‑content clicks. Why would I think there’s anything down there?
Eric Reiss: Right. Okay, but there’s an even worse problem. Let’s put this in some browsers and we’ll see what happens. This is what the page looks like.
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: No, for God’s sake.
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Yes, thank you. There’s a scroll bar over here. Look at what happens. We have to start there, read, then we have to scroll up and read down there. This is a print designer, for goodness sakes. This looks great in the corporate brochure. It looks like hell on a website. All the other things you mentioned with the search box and the false bottom and the content, this is all absolutely true. But, something like this is absolute nonsense and if I pay $200,000 for a design guide I expect people who actually knew how to design to this medium. This is putting form above function and that’s a really good way to make sure that your website doesn’t serve your customer’s needs.
Design guides and what we think is good. We have content. We have function. This is Dan Roam again.
And brand. Content. That’s what we want people to know, function is what we want them to do, and brand is what we want them to remember.
This is critical and if we put our branding elements in the way of the other two things it’s not going to work. This is what CEOs work. Do you want art or do you want your goddamned sales curve to go up? That’s really what it’s about. So, acknowledge best practices that run counter to the design guide. That’s the message.
Personal opinion. Oh wow. We have orange business cards at FatDUX.
I don’t particularly like orange as a color. I don’t really dislike it, but it’s not a color I would use. But, the gentleman over there says, “No, no, no, this is a creative color and, Eric, we’re going to have orange cards.” You know what? Everybody thinks that’s neat because we operate in a business where everyone has a blue card or a blue logo in a blue suit and so we come in with an orange card and it’s square and it’s got round corners and it’s got ducks on it and people say oh, tell us the story and we start the conversation.
So, the fact that I don’t like orange doesn’t figure into this. My job is to sell our products and services. So, if our silly business cards can get people to wake up and say, “Oh, this is something good,” then we’re well served.
These are the two shoe sites from which I stole the text before. Which one do you like best? We’ve got Land’s End and we’ve got L.L.Bean. Any opinions? You like L.L.Bean?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: What? Excuse me?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: Yes? Okay. All right, how many of you like L.L.Bean as opposed to Land’s End? How many of you like Land’s End? Think that this is a good site? All right. And how many of you think that L.L.Bean is better? About 50‑50. What if I tell you that L.L.Bean outsells Land’s End by a factor of ten to one?
Audience Member: [off‑mic answer]
Eric Reiss: That’s really what it’s about. It’s not whether we like one or the other. The difference ‑ and this is an idea stolen from Jared Spool, he presented it at the Keynote for the second summit back in 2001 in San Francisco ‑ they flip the shoe. If you’re going to buy hiking boots you want to see what the sole is. So, it’s building a shared frame of reference. That’s important. People can look at this and say right I know what this shoe is about. Land’s End doesn’t do that.
People who have been doing mail order catalogs, they knew that 100 years ago, so there’s nothing new under the sun. So, for goodness sakes, find some experts and listen to them. If you’re not going to listen to the experts then save your money.
I know that we’re reaching the end. I’m going to try to wrap this up really, really quick. You’ve been very patient.
Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. There are no stupid questions the first time you ask them. If you have to ask the same question 16 times that’s not going to bode well. There are a lot of stupid answers that you may not understand. [inaudible 0:36:15] , the German poet and writer says [speaks German]. One only hears what he understands.
Let’s face it, what do we throw at these people? Well, this is the language of user experience. That’s not so good.
But, we also need to foster two‑way communication because what happens is our good friends have other words they throw at us ‑ internal rate of return, total cost of ownership, earnings before interest and tax. They can also speak in code. The idea is to try to find the common ground so that we can talk like real people. This, again, echoes exactly what Dan was talking about in his keynote. You’ve got to make this stuff understandable.
When in doubt, ask. That’s the message to the CEOs. And the message to you lot is don’t talk about XML anymore, OK? Finally, don’t hide in your office. This is the most important thing. There are a lot of CEOs that sort of sign off on a project and say right, do it and you never see them again.
I would like to introduce you to Collin Marshall. Collin Marshall has the honor of being the man who I believe actually approved the slogan for Avis “we try harder.” Long time in the service industry.
I met him back in the 80’s when I was working for a Danish company that was doing service design for British Airways. He is now Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge. Let me show you the British Airways timeline.
Margaret Thatcher decided to privatize British Airways back in the early 80’s and she brought Lord King in as chairman and he recruited Collin Marshall to be the chief executive officer. Now, Collin scared the shit out of everybody because he was never in his office and he’d suddenly show up and he’d be taking care of bags a Heathrow airport.
He’d just show up at all kinds of odd places making sure that the service was good and that people understood that everybody was supposed to be pulling in the same direction to make British Airways airline of the year, which they in fact became in 1986. That’s not so bad.
Let’s move on. By 1999, British Airways had the largest fleet of 747’s in the world. I’ll tell you, if you want a 747 to earn money, it has to have an 80 percent capacity and it has to be in the air 14 hours a day.
Those are the metrics for a 747, so when you have the largest fleet of 747’s in the world you have to be a pretty good airline. It takes a lot to earn money in that kind of investment. Moving on, in 2004 Collin retired and last summer Willy “the Slasher” Walsh, who is the current CEO of British Airways, couldn’t meet his payroll.
That’s how fast it goes when you’ve suddenly got a bean counter sitting in his office instead of somebody who’s actually interested in what’s going on in the damned airline.
My message is please demonstrate active support. Get out there, show people that it matters. Make sure that the content providers know that you appreciate their work.
Give them time to do their work. That’s where I am. We’re out of time. Thank you very much.
Transcript of Andrea Resmini – Pervasive Information Architecture for the Augmented Tomorrow from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: Information is bleeding out of computer screens and into the real world. We have different names for this, ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence, emergent systems. What these names mean though is that convergence of physical spaces and digital devices is shaping up a new scenario for the practice and discipline of information architecture. Through the analysis of briefcase studies, detailing common activities like shopping, travel and healthcare, Luca Rosati and Andrea Resmini illustrate a complete set of design heuristics which can IA transition to this holistic approach and help our discipline better grasp the design implications brought along by this change. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Andrea Resmini: Thank you so much. I hope the microphone is working. I want to start this presentation trying to play a little game since we are starting with drawing it seems like just faith that we keep going along the same thing. I want to take you on a very short tour and I’ll try to make it very brief to get to the meat of the thing.
Let’s say we look back 10 years and we find this guy James who wants to travel and is in his home and is looking into this newspaper and finds out that possibly Phoenix is a nice place to go. So he takes a walk and he goes to the travel agency or whatever in his local office and he gets tickets and everything.
Let’s hope it’s open and let’s hope I do remember about the hotel to ask for my things. When he gets there, he has a conversation with the guys in the travel agency and of course they are like “Yes, you could buy a direct fly but they cost a lot more. Of course we cannot provide you with bus card because you need to buy that on place,” and this sort of stuff.
But anyway after a lot of time, a lot of talking, and other things, James travels and he gets to Phoenix and it’s like, “I’m sorry, I’m looking for this southern market place. Can you tell me where it is?” And any troubles. He has a nice time we hope. And when he gets back home, there is a lot of paper, there is a lot of stuff, there is a lot of paints, and maps and pictures and tickets, memoirs and everything. And it’s really a mess and he possibly: “Where did I put my maps or pictures?,” is the question that comes to James’ mind.
So this is very scientifically, if you allow me. It’s more or less the user experience that James actually had during his whole travel experience. So he goes through hoops and loops and there are a number of obstacles. These should have been touch points where he actually had ways to get in touch with different media in contact and persons working for him but they are really obstacles.
So let’s jump to today, let’s say we got our friend Marion from Italy possibly. Well, OK, Phoenix a good place, good prices, incredible, “I want to go there.” And he is browsing actually. So he keeps browsing and he has a lot of tools today. He can get on Facebook and check with his friends if they have been to Phoenix. He can go on Flickr and see pictures. He can get maps. He can get tickets. He can get everything there but still damn site won’t let me buy bus card. “How can I find it and nobody is answering me?” That is so sad.
And in the end, he travels and he just goes around, “Will you pass me the map please? No Google maps, thank you, the paper map,” and everything. But still maybe finds the southern marketplace as well and when he gets home, basically this is what he gets most of the time. But it’s still, “Where are my pictures possibly? There are thousands of them.”
If we go back to the very scientific model that I showed you before, this is very much like Marion’s experience. It has changed, there are fewer loops, fewer hoops and the obstacles are kind of now have holes in them and a few bumps but it’s still not totally there. The point is it seems like a game, a game of the goose. It’s all clicks and quacks and search and browse and everything goes around, it’s very mechanical.
And is that the real thing? I mean, the question that I ask myself is that a game is by definition a smart more way to achieve a goal, we know that. I mean, think about golf, this is the way we play it and this is not the way we do it. We don’t run to the hole, but that would be much better, at least for me.
Andrea Resmini: So the point is, that’s part of the game but now do we have to some kind of a [Inaudible 5:35] game when we are dealing with this complex period which take us through different medias as we do normally today. Think about what could happen in 10 years. And I am going to go through these slides very fast because you all know about it. I mean, if [Inaudible 5:54] wants to travel and these are pictures from the sixth time [Inaudible 5:55]. Of course, he has Amazon on the books.
Amazon, he could check everything and possible he is going to have Google maps and whatever else. He wants to call and just dials on his hand and talking while he is basically going to get a cab and he knows how to browse very fast. This is a word builder video I found on YouTube so we can browse nice interfaces straight out of the air.
We know about delays in real time on our tickets. This is very funky and when it kind of gets home, it can actually dispose of the pictures which are not so good straight on his wall or whatever surface. You know, tag them, and categorize them, straight away just before everything has been seeping down.
But the point is my question, the question I want to ask you is, who designs this and how? Because there is a relevant question concerning the fact that there is a lot of information architecture in what we are seeing and what you think about this processing ball being a [Inaudible 7:08] reality or ambiguous computing, or nomadic computing or whatever you want to call it.
Because of course, this is information architecture and the websites and the way we build them and the way we use them. And this is information architecture of course but I mean, this is information architecture as well, the rules and the way that we actually build the game. The fact that we can play chess without the real pieces. We can use stones. We can use paper. We can use everything. It’s the rules, its information architecture that makes the game.
And there is a lot of information architecture even in this new things like this panic board, this side of office where everything has been displayed and the project is on time, how many emails are piling up in the mailboxes and everything. Of course, there should be a lot of information architecture in here. And this is debatable, so I won’t go there.
But anyway, the point is, what’s happening‑‑and this is a quote from the Institute for the Future‑‑cyberspace is not a place we’re going to, as we believed, like 1994, but it’s very much like a lot of layers which have been accumulated in our reality. So we see them, when we move around, tightly integrated into the world around us.
So, we call this ubiquitous ecologies, meaning that these are very much like not‑simple objects but really ecologies of different products, services, and things. And they are ubiquitous because they move around. They are all around us. They follow us.
And in this view, products become services or platforms. And what does this mean? It means that this is, more or less, a process. Everything is connected. And when we start to design, we need to start to think about the fact that we need to design not the artifact but a process. We need to start designing not the single website but the general process of which the website is just a part of.
And this is a process. What James and Marion were experiencing were a lot of different providers and contexts in media –physical, digital, augmented, paper, my smart phone, whatever– in a single, seamless experience.
So products need to move, and we need to move the design of products to the design of experiences. This is a huge step that we need to take. And consider that if interfaces become experiences, we do not design interfaces. We do not design single interactions, but we design a whole cross‑media experience. That’s the challenge that I think is awaiting information architecture. Of course, we can do the design of interfaces, and we can do the design of single interactions, but the design of the process is what is going to be very important.
How do we do this? We are currently writing a book on this, so this is the result of three years of work on this. And we kind of developed a heuristic methodology which relies on five different heuristics. Three of them are grounding, and they are place‑making, consistency and resilience. And two of them are actually refining the whole process, and these are reduction and correlation. I’ll try to explain what they are, with the definition that we provide and with a few examples, and try to make it very, very simple.
So, place‑making is the capability to help users reduce disorientation and increase legibility and way‑finding in digital, physical, and augmented or hybrid environments.
Place‑making, and we’ve been hearing some of that in the opening keynote, is a very important part of the way that we experience the world. We do not experience spaces. We experience places. And that’s the reason why now that we have so many social things and we have this kind of desegregated stance of reality, with phones and everything. Places like Facebook are so successful because they provided the square, the place where you can meet your friends, where you can actually talk and everything.
There has been a change through the years. And if we go back to the Middle Ages, space and place were actually very physical. And this is a drawing from the fairy tale. In the English world, I think it’s “Little Thumb,” where the brothers are taken to the forest to be left there because the family has no food and no money to sustain them, and of course, the breadcrumbs and everything.
But the family and the house is the place where you’re safe. And this goes back to the caves at Lascaux and what Dan was saying. And the woods is the space, the place where, actually, there are dangers and where you can get lost.
This has changed through the years, because if you just moved like 200 years after that, you find out that Cinderella gets lost in time. And that’s a huge change. She’s actually not lost in space; she knows where she is. But time has become a very important thing.
Now, I want to go into that, but space and place and time are very tightly related. Actually, time is a substantiation, possibly, of space. The idea of time came out of the fact that we measured how many steps or paces it took to go from one place to the other. And then we moved to, oh, it’s like half an hour. And we moved to, it’s like half a day, because the sun was moving. And that was the way that we actually developed the thing.
What does this mean? What does this idea that space and place and time are correlated, and what does it have to do with place‑making into physical or digital realities?
I want to make this example, which is actually a rather funny thing. I don’t know if you have ever seen this map, but it’s from “The Name of the Rose,” the movie and the book. Actually, this is a map from the book because, in the movie, the library is a little bit different. So this is the library where Brother William is trying to find the lost book and everything. This is actually the secret room that you can find. It’s completely closed.
The fact is, this is a labyrinth. But it’s not a labyrinth in the way that it’s considered in the movie, for example. It’s a mind labyrinth. You can see letters there, and that was a mnemonic tool to help the monks to get to the books.
So, every room had a letter. But if you read carefully, you can make out words of them. And this is very interesting because, I mean, there’s a pattern. There’s more than one. The pattern is that those are names of places, like Hispania, Spain; or Roma, Rome; or Anglia, Britain. And you can find out that, basically, Europe, as it was known at the time, and Africa, since we have Leones, “hic sunt leones,” “we are of the lions,” on the lower corner. And it’s physical, because Britain is up north. Africa is down south.
So, actually, the monks traveling through the library knew where they were. And the funny thing is that you could actually just travel around and do this. So you knew that if you had to go from Africa to Anglia, to Britain, you actually traveled through Gallia, France, and Germany, and then you reached Britain. But there’s a trick, because the books were… Yes, I mean, if I’m a British author, I’m in Anglia. But if I’m a Spanish author who has written of things that only British authors have written about, I’m in Anglia, too.
So it’s not exactly a map of the world. It’s a map of the mind of the… which is damn interesting; because it’s kind of a layer that is superimposed there to make the place meaningful to them. So it’s not really physical.
This is connected to consistency which is exactly the capability to provide and substance internal and external in context coherence inside the process. So we talk about the coherence of the single artifact, as James was experiencing the travel agency or his smart Phone or whatever and the coherence inside the whole process.
I just want to make even this short fun example. If I give you this list of animals: two dogs, a seal, an elephant, a donkey, a rabbit, a sheep, a skunk, two small seals, a penguin, a platypus, and the skunk is with one stripe. I think that many of us would start thinking about, well, OK, the dogs are canine. And I mean, he seal’s in the water, and the elephant lives in Africa…
And maybe some will think about the fact that actually, there was this guy, on the left, Calivor La Nain, developed the La Nain System, which actually is a taxonomy which details everything in the Tree of Life, as you call it. All animals have a place, and just one place. And it would have some troubles with at platypus, as some people know very well over here.
But we also have the other girl on the side, which is my daughter. She has her ideas. And she would say that the dogs should stay together because they’re kind of dangerous. Sometimes you have to sedate them. And possibly the elephant and the seal are friends. And, I mean, the penguin and the skunk are black so they should stick together. Why not? And the point is, she’s right.
Andrea Resmini: So, the point is, coherence is not a given. It’s not something that comes out of the blue sky. It’s very much in context. And we need to understand that very well, along the process. We need to perform different checks along to do that.
The third grounding is resilience. The finest capability of a human information interaction module to shape and adapt to the fact that different users and different needs, as we’ve seen with the animals, they are strictly related.
Just to make it very, very simple; think about Twitter. And the way Twitter has actually becoming a platform per se with just very few and basic ways of handling data inside and information inside. But we are building things. And it’s proving to be incredibly resilient to the fact that it’s actually a media for conveying information.
Then we have reduction. So we had to ground in things that allow us to bring things. We have to make a place because people need to understand where they are, even if it’s digital. I like to have my navigation. My way finding aids in place and everything. And then I have coherence and consistency, resilience helping me to make sense of it and to understand at a different level how to move around.
But, of course, we also have to reduce this because we have loads of information. We know about it. We know about a paradox of choice and everything. So we need to be able to convey the right information at the right moment. Also to avoid the cognitive load and frustration which comes with a lot of data. So I’ll keep it very shot over here as well. Everybody knows an electronic scale.
So I mean this is one of the few ways that we devise in the physical world how to actually do it; make things simpler for people. I’m not sure we actually succeeded. This is one I caught and the picture is very bad because the cashiers were actually running after me, “Stop taking pictures, please.”
And I was just trying to snatch them, because apparently, it’s a secret and you cannot actually have pictures of this, so please keep it quiet. This is European, so don’t Twitter over it. I’m going to get in troubles, otherwise. But anyway, this is a Swedish supermarket and I cannot really use the thing. It’s very interesting. I think the concept is sound, but it’s definitely some more IA over there.
And then we have correlation. Correlation is super important. It’s actually the difference we’re bringing to the thing. There are people inside the room who have been talking about thing for so long; about a [Inaudible 20:35] hyperlink and the network. Hyperlink is actually the real point of this rupture that we had in the past 20 years.
So, it’s the capability that this system, this process, and these artifacts inside the system I have. To suggest relevant connections between pieces of information, services, users, and also explicit goals or help them stimulate later needs. So, I just want to say this. I wanted to take an example from movies, and I thought that, speaking to an American audience, I think that this works best than the “Fury of Orlando,” which is normally the thing that we use, which is a medieval poem, which sounds very good in Europe, but not so good over here.
So, this movie seems like it’s not a real movie, the first time you see it, and you actually make sense of it when you’re in the end. And still, you’ve been tricked, because this is the sequence from the end. And if you take a look again at the movie, you will see that the sequence at the beginning and the sequence at the end are not the same, actually. They are slightly different.
So, it’s not just circular time, as we were saying in the keynotes. We’re out of that. That was classical. Now we don’t have that anymore. This is a lot of loosely connected pieces, which seem to come from different stories and things, all put together to provide us with a better and more interesting experience. There are plenty of examples that you can make over literature, of the way we connect things.
Of course, we can use the Internet as an example, but it’s much more important that we do these things in most other medias, as well. So, the thing is that, I wanted to sum up this in two points before moving on to a very short case study. So, I can show you something. The points are that: as information moves through physical spaces, IA needs to be used to design entire range or shared information spaces, places, service, and processes. Not the single touch‑point, but the whole process, because they are one.
As a result, no artifact stands isolated, they are connected. And they have to be designed as part of one similar process. Not to have Mia, or James, of Parana, in the future to be actually left alone, fighting against the evil travel agency, or the wild tickets they can buy when they’re in Phoenix.
I want to provide you with something which is connected to what we’ve been doing, lately. And this is the result of the work that mostly, my partner, Luca, who is not here today, has been doing with his students. So, this is a scenario which involves the redesign of the experience of a hospital. And this is the process. Very much, it was like this at the beginning.
Think about the fact that, when you’re here… I hope this thing doesn’t [Inaudible 23:45] me. When you’re here, your home, or you’re talking to your doctor and you’re getting your prescriptions or I don’t know a request for having exams and out of there, you are out of the hospital with everything done. He has been working on that and the idea is that what we are going to do is actually use some kind of a swim lane attitude towards designing this and the reason for that is that actually we have so many touch points across the different physical and digital spaces.
So you can see that this table, I hope it’s readable, but it is really large so… From prescription to we kind of simplified some of the points that you have so you get accessing number one and park at the hospital. Then you get accessing two and you need to find a unit where you need to be.
So you are moving around in the hospital, finding the right room and related task like, I don’t know. Your ticket says we do in Europe, I don’t know about the US. But I mean or talk to a doctor afterwards. So what we do is actually that we have a lot of environments on media and our heuristics over here. And you can see that those which are grounding place making, consistent or resilience are pretty much spread all over the whole process.
Some of them actually touching different points like for example, when I want to correlate, I am going to get information about the related tasks. That is when it’s important to know if there is anything else that I might need. It is not so important when I am inside a room for example because I don’t need to Twitter while I’m actually having my colonoscopy or whatever.
I mean we can have five minutes break. You can see, we have like buildings and signals and totems as we call them poles with information and Smartphones. They are all working along this one single process that has been devised. And what the working mouths do is that they started working on the actual paper trails, the things that your physician gives you to you in Europe.
It is insane. I don’t know how they actually handle this but [indecipherable 26:06] has been paid so, that’s good at least. And they moved to analyze how you move around the hospitals. This is the hospital in Salerno in South of Italy and they started to think about ways to convey everything through the physical environment. Can we use arrows?
Can we use color? Can we color code the thing and when we start with the entrance in getting to the emergency rooms, do we actually have to go through everything? Yes, we do and we started color coding every single facility and service and everything provided in trying to make sense of thing because I don’t have the physical evidence of what happened before but I can tell you it is really a mess.
And started thinking about ways. Of course, this is intentionally kind of bright in a way. But I mean, try to understand if everything which is related to, I don’t know, general medicine is green?
Shouldn’t we actually point out, in a way, that the building is easily recognizable from the parking lot, maybe? So that’s one more hint to the people getting there. And I just put this back into the presentation afterward then we are saying why don’t we find some funky way to actually make it even more appealing, more cuddlier because we also have children and immature adults as well.
Why don’t we use animals and let’s go, “Oh, are you going to general medicine?” Oh, that is the seahorse or I don’t know, the seafood, the shellfish or whatever. That worked really well with the doctors which I don’t know if he does something but I mean…
That was it and we are still working with that. This is the result of dissertation work and it is being carried on to the hospital now. And we are moving on to different challenges. Because the point of that is that we want to prove this methodology in the real world.
So two things that we started to work on, is this rather huge personal transport thing which is going to be involving the City of Gothenburg in Sweden. Which is the second city in Sweden so it’s rather large by Swedish standards, I mean. And it involves like two million people globally. We are working to actually make the data which is available into different silos in different agencies and companies like the public transports and the travel agencies and the government which controls the road into one single pool which can be actually pinged and used for personal information.
And we are starting to design, of course, from the beginning. So we are at the database stage now. And we need to take it all the way down to the real time displays in the street, and that’s going to be challenging. The other one that we are doing on a smaller scale, but I felt it was very nice to do, is that we are working on the university library at the University of [indecipherable 29:28] , again in Sweden.
And we’re actually been… We are going to be able to actually move around the shelves. So I know this is scary for most of the librarians who were around. But I mean, we are going to redesign from the website down to the aisles. And we are starting to think about this funky style where you can actually go around and your Smart phone tells you that something is available or something new is coming and I don’t know…
I think we’re going to end up with t‑shirts with tags and everything so not a single person will enter the building after they found out. They will just go there and read the comics not the literature, for their courses. So that’s it. I think. This is it and I think there are more questions than answers right now. I want to be very clear about it. But I think this is the road that we need to take. I think it is a very promising road and I have so many things to say about it. That’s it. Thank you.
Andrea Resmini: And of course, I don’t know how much time do we have but if you have questions. Yeah?
Man 4: [inaudible 30:36]
Andrea Resmini: Yeah. I don’t really have a stance on that, because I still as you know very well, I still have a stance with the fact that we are still trying to define what we do normally. So I do think these things are tightly connected in a way. Because of course, so many of the things that the people are into server design, and have been for the past 50 years, because it goes back to the ’60’s, at least. They have been doing a lot of this stuff, of course. And I think there is a lot of overlapping activities and there is a lot of overlapping concepts that are going to come in from different places but my personal background is in physical architecture.
So I think that, and Luca’s background is in linguistic so our contribution is going to get from that side, and we gladly look at people coming from the other side of thing to build a better global picture. I really like the idea that we are actually designing services or platforms and we are already splitting the two terms, actually.
I’ve been speaking to people from the University of Cleveland recently and the academic world is all about the rage about what is a service and what is a platform and the difference between them.
So I think that we’re going to see… It’s interesting times. That’s all I can say.
Man 5: I was just going to ask [Inaudible 32:15] service design that some people might argue that, and like a lot of things [Inaudible 32:20] they back up. IEA got some momentum because there was a gap [Inaudible 32:32] broader role of design. [Inaudible 32:35]
You’re talking about trying to fill a gap in contemporary services [Inaudible 32:42] practice. In other words, they may be strong on a lot of design aspects, but perhaps not the IEA aspect for designing services.
I’m not sure that’s true, but…
Andrea Resmini: I think that’s a good point. I do think that there’s been a lot of simplification and a lot of hate going around the different tribes, factions, groups, whatever you want to call them. I really think that just the priority of what we’ve been talking about today is that this is information. And information is to be structured to be actually available to us and to be of some use to us.
So I think that actually the increase of digital information inside everything that we do is going to make IEA much more important in areas where it wasn’t like five years ago. It seems like we are still trying to fill a gap which in some way has been closed. It’s like we don’t see the elephant in the room sometimes.
So I agree with you. I think we could fill a gap there. At the same time, what I’m more interested in is to actually provide a view to make IEA stand on its legs because that’s what it needs to do.
As we were saying yesterday at the bar I think, I’d been an architect for 10 years before actually moving into information architecture. And some of my friends were doing interior design, some others were refitting shops, some others were into typography, some others were actually dreaming of building skyscrapers somewhere.
Nobody questioned the fact that they were doing architecture. There was a common layer there. So even if they took pictures, they were architects. So I think that’s what we need to do. Then everything else will come. And of course, we can fill a gap there.
Man 6: [Indistinct 34:53]
Andrea Resmini: There are two different things. One is the way it plays into the methodology, and the methodology is of course like going into what we call an actual research cycle, so that’s basically feedback all over. And we are actually working in a multi‑cycle thing. So every time you go through a heuristic you’re just moving along like in a spiral that way.
So yes, feedback all the time. That’s the only way that you can actually improve and make the thing more subjective in a way, because everybody actually comes out of their own background. I don’t believe in the fact that I can be objective at the beginning, and sometimes I don’t believe I can be objective using user‑centered methodologies. There’s a number of things that play into that, and feedback and cycling is one of the things that we do to actually improve the quality of the output.
The other thing is, of course, I didn’t mention that because we need to be compact. But a lot of the things that we want to actually achieve with that and has to do with the Brazilians and consistency is to use the increased capabilities that we have by using RFIDs or whatever to actually make the things that we do resilient because people are using them. And we can learn from them.
There’s been a super interesting exhibition a couple of years ago in New York. I don’t remember the name‑‑so if somebody knows about it‑‑where actually the layout of the exhibition was changed every day based on what the users or the visitors were actually seeing where they stopped. Trying to make things more visible if they were not so visited and to make the more important things catch up for the less interesting things.
So definitely it’s going to be a huge part of that. We carry electronics and information with us all the time. So we need to make good use of that, which includes a lot of issues which are beyond the scope of this talk: privacy, government control, whatever. But, yes.
Man 6: [Inaudible 37:11] you using your design space because as you know we have been trying for years now to come up with some other work…
Andrea Resmini: We know.
Man 6: And the problem is [Inaudible 37:29] like sci fi take it really seriously, but [Inaudible 37:28]. The give away gifts are quite an incentive by teenagers respect [Inaudible 37:35]. So anyway, that was just one thought, but then based on what you were saying here, I’d also like to mention [Inaudible 37:38].
Andrea Resmini: Yeah. I think you are right. I mean, yes, I do agree with the cyberspace thing. We didn’t invent it. Actually not even reinvented because they used to put a future as you push now this publication where they basically describe what is happening. I think it’s so short and so clear and so well put and as far as the fact we are doing that all the time. Yes, basically.
As I said before the elephant has ears and sometimes we don’t see it. We try to find ideas to just [Inaudible 38:59] our work while it’s over there all the time. Information is there. We make rules for that.
Announcer: Thank you.
End of audio.
Transcript of Going Interactive: How we stopped making static wireframes and started making prototypes – Kevin Wick
Announcer: Looking for more effective ways to communicate your research and designs? Kevin Wick’s one way to do it is to stop creating static paper‑based wireframes and to start creating browser‑based interactive prototypes. In this talk, Kevin covers prototyping tools, the trade‑offs between static wireframes and dynamic prototypes, and how to make this transition for information architects. Kevin also includes tips about how to use Axure, the prototyping tool he’s used at Ascentium, which has helped him gain momentum and clients. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Kevin Wick: Thanks for coming everyone. Has everyone had an opportunity to get one or more cards? Everybody put their cards up. Now, if you make prototypes raise your card up. If you look around the room see how many people make prototypes. If you make wireframes, hold up your pink one. Like, everybody, wow that’s incredible. How about the orange? How many people make neither. A handful, okay great.
All right, I’m going to be talking…I’m assuming that everybody has had the opportunity to take a look at what was out on the site, that’s why you decided to come in here. What I’m going to be talking about today is truly the transition that my company went through going from using static wire frame to creating prototypes. I’m not really going to get into argumentation about why you should do this, whether it’s a good or bad thing, whether it’s a good or bad thing for you or your company, I’m just going to talk about how we did it.
I have two boys this is my older boy Alex, he’s nine. When I was talking to him the other day about why I’m not going to be in the house for like half a week. I say I’m going down, I’m telling people about how we stopped doing drawings on paper and how we started doing drawings on screens and laptops. He said oh, well that’s a good thing, because that’s killing less trees and that’s good for the environment.
My younger son, Ian said, “Yeah but laptops and computers use electricity, so that’s bad for the environment. Oh okay, what are we going to do about that? And he said, “Well you can use Sharpies, and you can draw your drawings on hamburgers.
So I’m talking about drawings, obviously I’m talking about wireframes. For today’s purposes, I’m going to make just two distinctions between t what I’m talking about: wireframes. When I’m talking about wireframes, I’m talking about lines, boxes, that are intended to be printed about handed to people and be reviewed and have very little interaction even though you can do paper prototyping.
I’m going to be talking about prototypes, I’m going to be talking about things that are designed to be used on screen. You can click through hyperlinks, have controls, maybe some conditional logic, that kind of stuff. So for today those are the differences.
I’m going to get rid of this… [adjusts computer settings] So, you can read the little bit at the bottom about the company I work for.
We went from using Microsoft Visio to create wireframes. That was our main deliverable. That was the thing that the user experience group did if nothing else that’s what they did, they created wireframes. And we reviewed those on paper with our stakeholders. We’re an agency so we have clients, and that often meant we didn’t have much user testing going on during the design cycles.
Today we’re using Axure to create prototypes. We still do annotations, we still deliver wireframes but Axure’s our main tool. We review these through screens and we can do a lot more testing now.
So…how did we get started on this road, this transition from static wireframes to prototypes? We’d used Axure on one project and pretty much that was it, and that was mostly because one guy in our company had access to it and really was a proponent of it.
We had a project for the University of Washington, and I’d known about Axure, and so it looked like this project for University of Washington was a good candidate for using Axure, because it was mostly forms, form entry and conditional logic, which it seemed to me at that time that Axure was really good at.
I got put on the project to replace the user experience Architect who was originally on the project, had nothing to do with Axure reasons. Because of that, the project had already been scoped, had already been estimated, we had already had schedules.
I went to the project manager when I got on the project and said, you know what we can do usability testing on this project and we can do it on the same time frame that we would have done creating wireframes and annotations, and she bought it. She said, oh well okay. She trusted me.
So, the project really simply we went ahead, we created the prototype, we reviewed it with the client several times. We had two rounds of usability studies, and everybody was happy. The project manager was converted.
Now I mentioned project managers because again we’re an agency. Project managers for us have a lot of control as to what we do and how we do it. So getting them kind of on board and engaged is important for us. Now anybody who has worked for a project manager knows that project managers are very concerned about time and budget.
So one of the things that I wanted to figure out right at the beginning was, does creating prototypes take more time? Does it cost more for the clients to create these than it would to create wireframes and annotating them?
So we ended up doing three projects with Axure. And so I did a little comparison. I took those three projects and said, “Okay, what were the original estimates for the wire framing and annotations or what would we have estimated if we were going to estimate it with annotated wireframes, then how much time did it actually take to do prototype creation?” And this is the result.
Turned out that it took about 10 percent less time to do things in Axure. This is a real surprise to me. I didn’t really believe it, but that’s what the numbers said. So the conclusion I came to was it takes about the same amount of time to create Axure prototypes as it would Visio wireframes. Either that or we’re really bad at estimating.
So why didn’t making prototypes take longer? I don’t really know. I have some guesses. Here are my guesses.
My first guess is we swapped time. So instead of doing things like writing out the annotations and doing, spending time printing, and making the wireframes pretty, which we have had several of our user experience architects tell me that they do, they spend time making things pretty. Instead of spending time doing that, we spent time creating interactions and debugging them.
Before I came down here, one of our user experience architects told me, you. know I’m really glad we do that debugging because it forces me to go through what the experience is actually going to be like What I’m finding now is that things that I put down on paper which I thought were going to work don’t work as well as I thought they would. Okay, so the quality of our deliverables and what we’re doing is getting better.
This next two masters and panels…These things help us especially during revision time in big projects and the reason is with masters, masters is a component of widgets and stencils of which is that something you can take, fill in one place and then you can drag them on and put them onto many pages. That is really useful to update things in revision time because if you go to that master and you make it change in the master now, it probably gets against all the pages that the masters sits on.
So, if I have to go to each page and touch this page. Panels are similar, you can have a multiple state of panels. You can have a state for a manager view. You can have a state for employer view, you can have a state for super admin view and with those you don’t have to touch multiple wireframes on the multiple pages of a Visio document. You can just change the state and the rest of the chrome stays the same. Okay.
I am trying to go a little fast in this because I got tips at the end and I want to make sure we have time for questions. So as we go through this you can kind of keep those questions in your head and we’ll get to those at the end.
So, tools selection. One thing about Ascentium is we are not a hierarchical type of organization. More a flat organization, we don’t have formal reporting structures. So, a lot of the use of Axure was spread organically from the grassroots type of way. So, our vice president of experienced and say, hey, going interactive seems like the way to go. He didn’t tell us we had to do it but it seems like the way to go. And up to that point we have been doing prototyping because we all believe it was a good thing to do. And so we have been prototyping in Share Point. Anybody prototyped in Share Point? Had a lot of fun? Yeah, not so much.
We’d done a lot of work with Visio so we have done things like exporting to html and that works pretty well for hyperlinking only. We have done a fair amount of paper prototyping. We used Power Point especially for the simply high filling stuff and we start looking for other solutions like iRise. Anybody wants to get like a really blow your head off type of number. Talk to Jason.
Jason, raise your hand. Jason worked at Target for what eight years? He can tell you how much they spent on iRise. It blew my mind. After I start working with Axure a little bit, I want to look at some other solutions. It looked like a Balsamic, looked like an interesting solution. I have not used it. I chose not to use it because it didn’t seem to be as rich and robust as Axure and it seem like it can’t do things like conditional logic, sharing projects and that kind of stuff.
If people have used Balsamic, I’d love to talk with you after in the hall because I am kind of interested in this tool. And so, Axure seemed like a good fit. By the way, Axure is not paying me to talk about their products. Okay. So, again, our company is much more organic in sense of each user experience architect has autonomy. So, they go into a project. They go into a client and they can basically say this is kind of what I am going to do. This is how I am going to do it. This is the tools that I am going to use. So, it wasn’t kind of like a fiat of saying, “Okay, everybody knows how to use Axure.”
So, it kind of have to be done organically. So, how did that work in our organization? How it spread? The first thing was I greased the skids, greased the wheels. I talked with the project managers. I showed them the prototypes. This is what we are talking about. Build some awareness for them I talked to them about how there is no impact and time and budget again.
They are really concern about time and budget. Nothing about PMs but that is what they are like. And we also have a testimonial from the University of Washington. Next, our user experience group, we meet one or two times each week. We share our work. So, one of the things that we really like about working with Ascentium, we get to see each other’s work and we learn from each other.
So, prototypes started getting shared. They started getting projected. We start talking about them. As they start getting shared more and more experience architects started using them. And these lead to more exposure to more project managers, account directors, visual designers, developers, testers, writers, editors, the entire team.
One of the things that a lot of project managers were concerned about was okay, this is a new tool, a new process, and it sounds really great but you haven’t used it right? So, how much time is going to take you to learn it? I don’t want to spend time on my project having you learn this new tool.
So, one of the things that we start creating were things called Axure snaps and these are basically tips, tricks and ways to use Axure. Good practices, things that…So, try to share those ideas to try to help ramp up people and accelerate that learning. I am going to go through some of those Axure snaps in a couple of minutes.
As we get more and more interested in using Axure, people want to use them. We need to get more licenses. So, the way we did this was we didn’t just go out and buy a whole set of licenses mostly because management really wouldn’t get behind that.
So, the way kind of went simplified view of it. We have a couple licenses for a couple UXA’s, one on one match. Then we bought a few more. So, four to five licenses and we start having a check in, check out library type of situation. So, we had eight to ten UXA’s using the same license. They would check out, use it for project check in. Somebody could use it later. When we have enough people that people are saying I want to Axure all the time when I got licenses for everybody. And at that point things really started to snowball.
So, why did the use of Axure spread? There’s…It’s just get a good blend of a lot of things. It is easy to learn. It is powerful. It’s got dynamic panels which you can move, you can hide, you can get multiple states of them as conditional logic that uses variables. You can do things like if I am on one screen I log in as a manager, subsequent pages kind of check that variable and say OK. I am going to show the state of this panel to be the manager state. You can make html and you can make good enough simulations for usability studies.
So, one of the things that we found was that we always wanted to do usability studies and user testing, get user research. I am fortunate that we are working in an organization that we all get this. I don’t have to convince people this is a good idea. But clients…They are looking at time and budgets as well as project managers and lot of times when you go to clients and you say, we would like to do this, they say, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. We don’t have time and budget to do it. And when we started to review these prototypes on screen, the conversation changed a little bit and it changed just enough that we start doing prototyping it and testing far more often.
And the change was really, hey, you are now interacting with this prototype. All you have to do to do usability testing is get a user in this chance instead of you, that’s it. Stakeholders seem to like get that more than saying I am looking at a piece of paper and to make this a usability study, how am I going to do that? Paper prototyping? Some stakeholders have problem with that or I have to translate this into some other kind of application. That seems like work. When they see it and they start revealing it is not work. All they get to do is get users in.
Okay. The cost…We justify the costs of these licenses but telling our management allows us to use this feasibility studies. Our management is behind this so great. Again we have emphasize new impact on time and budget and we start sharing how clients like them. We are an agency. We are run by clients. Clients pay our bills. If clients don’t want to do something. we end up not doing it.
If they like something, we end up doing it more often. Here’s some things that clients have said. These are quotes and these are from clients who use to do revealing of paper wireframes and it moved over to using interactive prototypes. Some of the ones I like most, you know the very top one, “You know the web,” which is most of the work we do, we do web work, we do some interactive applications, but most of the stuff is web, “It’s an interactive medium, so reviewing things in an interactive medium, makes sense.” The middle one is one of my favorites. This one here. “I’m completely spoiled.” I like that.
One of the things we’ve done is we follow a RIT methodology when we can, a rapid iterative testing methodology. And what that means for us is we can go into a lab situation and with a participant in the observation room we can have stakeholders and assembly of folks and we can all be watching that participant interact with our prototype.
And where they struggle, we can say, “Oh, that’s a problem,” and we can all brainstorm with the stakeholders right there and we can make updates to the prototype on the fly. So we can change copy, we can move things around, change the layout, we can make things, you know some buttons, disable them until somebody does this, this and this to make sure that they sees things.
And then for the next participant, they can use that new prototype. And we can see, Okay, did we address the problems? Did we solve it or not? And through one day of six, seven, eight participants, we get through a lot of usability problems and at the end of the day our confidence about how usable this solution is, is much, much higher.
And that last one, which is being cut off a little bit, “This is one of those changes where we’ll soon be wondering why we ever did it the other way.” So for me it’s like a paradigm shift.
When did Axure kind of, when did people kind of choose to get onto Axure? Mostly they did it in between projects. In between clients and accounts and that’s the most logical time to do it, it’s the easiest time, but it’s not always the case.
So I was on a project where we had a very large, significant project of redesigning you know, a portion of our client’s website. We had a condensed timeline in part because we came in about three weeks after another agency had started the work and we took over the work. And so we had a very condensed timeline.
We had four user experience folks on it, two of them had not used Axure or had not used Axure very much. And they knew Visio so they felt like, “I don’t want to spend the time learning Axure on this project because we have no time to do it.” So we said, “Okay, two of us will use Axure, two of us will use Visio.” And we ended up doing things, like we’d create the wireframes on Axure, take them out of Axure, put them into Visio, print them out and review them with the team. And that was kind of painful.
And then the second phase we said, “Let’s not do that again.” And so we stopped using Visio and we started doing everything in Axure. However, we had already set expectations and the client expected to be reviewing things on paper and he wanted to write things down on paper. Which is fine, but again, it forced us to shift, what we really wanted to do was just present everything on screen.
And so what that led to was less interaction in our prototypes which led to when we got into the usability testing, which we were able to do, it meant separate work for that. I don’t recommend doing it that way, not a good way to do it. But in those cases, sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Okay.
I’m going to go through some Axure snacks real quick and then we’ll have some questions and answers. So, right now we are using Acture for several things one thing that we do is we create low fi prototypes, sketchy prototypes, sketchy meaning lines look like they’re drawn in pencil and there’s a lot of good reasons for this. It’s a whole different topic, but we believe that doing things in pencil at an early conceptual stage makes a lot of sense.
Then like moving into the mid fi where lines are clean, text is clean you can use grays you know to try to like simulate what different colors fields might be. And then hi fi. We take design comps and we put them into Axure, we slice them up, we make them interactive.
We’re also presenting design comps in Axure. And this is more of a recent shift for us. Visual designers are not using Axure right now they’re still using their suite, their Adobe suite type stuff. But we take those, we take those comps and we put them into Axure and the designers like this. I’m a little surprised by it, but they like this for a number of reasons. One, it eliminates color distortion.
I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a room and the designers will say, “Well yeah but the color of the yellow that’s on the screen isn’t really that shade.” Right? We also have the opportunity to eliminate questions from the client. “What does this look like in a browser?” And especially that, “Where’s the fold?” question. Right. And that question all you have to do is say, “Look at it on screen, that’s where the fold is.”
The other thing that we really like about this is that it makes it a lot easier to move into testing. So we can test with more of the final look and feel. And as folks who were part of Steven Alexander’s “Art and Science of Seductive Interactions” workshop yesterday, you can’t really separate the aesthetics from usability. You can’t separate cognition from affect. So getting usability testing with a final look and feel is really valuable instead of just testing the wireframes. So it helps us do that.
Sharing projects. This is one of the most, one of the things I like most about Axure is the sharing really works. Before we used Axure, we would do things in Visio and if we had more than one person on it, we’d be doing things like emailing the file back and forth or using a shared drive and saying, “Do you have it open?” “Well, I don’t have it open.” You know, it caused a lot of headache.
With Axure you can have a shared project, you can have many people working on it at the same time so you can start to actually divvy out the work in different ways. You can say, “Like, OK, you’re going to work on this global nav piece,” and when it’s done, it’s automatically on everyone else’s pages, you can have, so you can have certain people working on certain pages. You can have other people work on interactions.
One of the things that I’ve noticed in our group we have more generalists in our user experience group, and so we ask them to do research, do design, do evaluation. Some of them are more of like a programming bent, some of them more visual design bent, some of them are more librarian bent. The ones who come from more of a programming bent tend to like to do the interaction stuff more than the ones who are like from a visual design perspective. And that’s great. So you can divide up the work that way. Better fits people’s skills.
Another thing that happens is you get to see other people’s work without asking them to send something. So you end up seeing other people’s work way more often which is great when you’ve got a team.
One thing happened that I didn’t expect. We worked on this project and I’m still working on it with this guy Owen Rogers and some other folks, and we, Owen and I created three different options for our client to look at and discuss and we reviewed it with the client and we reviewed it with some users. And we got some feedback and we chose a winner and we took some of the elements of the other two and we went into detail.
Kind of like your standard stuff, right? After we revised a couple of times, and now, he was now working on option A and I was working on option B, now we’re both working on the final stuff and as we were revising those things, it became, it became impossible for us to tease out, “Oh Owen did this part and I did that part.”
And so, people have a desire to become part of something more than themselves, be part of a group, and by doing this we kind of achieved that. All of a sudden, you know Owen and I had that kind of like connection which we didn’t expect to have and it’s really cool.
Enough of the sentimental stuff. Dropbox and other cloud storage solutions, we partnered with another agency, Gerrigan Lyman Group, and yes, partnering with other agencies, between agencies, actually happens sometimes. GLG is a great set of folks. Especially this guy, Scott Scheff.
But we use Dropbox, which is a place, it’s a cloud, you can take files and store them up to this Dropbox, and, then, hit that Dropbox from anywhere over the Internet and share files that way, which seems like, “Yeah, this is a good solution.”
Because, G.O.G and [Inaudible 25:49] use different networks and all that kind of stuff. It caused some corruption issues. So, some of us had some blocking issues. I think. We don’t really know what caused the corruption issues, but I just want to caution you about using cloud solutions.
There other solutions out there. There’s Bean Stalk. There are other solutions. There are some really smart folks, who can probably tell you more about that probably like Fred Beecher. Raise your head. He probably knows.
Printing. If you need to print, plan for some prepping time. One of the things that Axure does is print specifications, and you can use those to hand out to your clients or review on paper. The specifications that come natively out of Axure are not ready for clients. So, you have to do some editing. You’ve got to do some reformatting.
I laid out two approaches that I like. The first approach is good for, when you are doing annotating within Axure. It’s good for when you have lots of states of things. So, on a big project that is fairly complex that’s one thing I like to do. One is you actually go in and take the Axure specification template, and you edit that.
You generate out a specification. Now, you’ve got one file, which is the generated spec. Then, you create a separate file, which is kind of like your final deliverable. You copy the stuff from the generated file into the final one. Then you go back to Axure, and you update things as you need to.
And, you generate again. And, as you generate things, you just take the things that have been updated or changed out of that generated file, and you paste them into the final file. It takes some extra time, but you have a lot more control over what that final file looks like.
The other way is good if you’ve got not too many screens, and the screens do not have a lot of interaction. And you want to do the annotations and the other things that are part of a bigger document. You can just take screen grabs. Or you can export images out of Axure. And, then, paste them into your document. And, then, do all of your other stuff, in your document, like you normally would do.
Site maps and flows. I wouldn’t do site maps and flows in Axure. It’s not a good tool for it. Some of the things that have happened, when you are moving around objects, within Axure, and you’ve got lines connecting those objects, sometimes, the lines kind of flip out. They do all sorts of mysterious things. Then, you’ve got to spend time figuring out what happened to try to reconstruct your lines. It’s kind of a pain in the butt.
T also doesn’t support curved lines, which is not the end of the world, but it’s kind of annoying. And, text. Text is not really as flexible. If you want get into kerning and padding and different kinds of bullets, the tech support in Axure is pretty rudimentary. If you do choose Axure, there are two things I’d recommend. One, since I work out in the northwest (I work near Microsoft) turn that bug into a feature. Right.
Just get rid of all the lines that simplifies the look, less visual noise. That’s a good thing. Right. I don’t know if I’d go really that far on that, but you can do that. The other thing is if you’ve got a prototype that has got many pages, putting a site map at the front of it, is really useful, if you link from the boxes on the site map to the pages within the prototype.
It acts as an index or table of contents. It’s something that I recommend doing. It also provides the context of what the site is all about. That’s really very useful. Okay. So, some miscellaneous snacks. When you’re at the beginning of a project, scope and estimate the interactivity. Decide what you are going to make interactive and what you’re not going to make interactive. This can make a big difference on very large projects.
Export to local files for presentation and testing. This is really default when you are making multiple revisions to something. So, if you are in four, right, and you’ve got multiple pages, your file size is going to get kind of big.
So, exporting into a separate file, cutting out revisions, (one, two, three) keeps the file size smaller: makes it easier to handle. It causes less confusion on the client’s side. Create cover pages, overview pages, table of index, table of contents, and index. So, one thing I’ve seen (I was guilty of this as well) was when I first getting started I just created “Here’s the prototype”, but there’s not context.
When we are creating site maps or wireframes on paper, almost always, we’ve got a cover page. A lot of times we have something like, “This is what a wire frame is” page. That seemed to be kind of absent in the prototypes. I’m not sure why we took that mental model of not including it, but I recommend that you do that.
What is a prototype? How does it work? Make it clear. Yeah. This is not production code or this is not what the end product is going to look like. Include navigation back to those pages. Somehow indicate what’s interactive and what’s not. So, it can be kind of difficult to discern, especially if you are a developer or tester.
Well, how do I know what’s interactive? How do I know which panels have different states? If I’m just looking at a screen, like a website, you don’t really know. Having some sort of way of indicating that of saying, “This area is interactive” is useful. One way to do this is to include some sort of steps: “Here are all of the steps you need to follow to see all the different states in this prototype.”
And, you, as a developer and tester, you need to know this, because you are going to build it. And, if you are missing some states, we’re going to catch that in testing and we’re not going to launch.
Test in multiple browsers. Standard stuff. One thing about testing on multiple browsers we’ve found: laying of panels. A lot of times, we can have panels kind of layer over onto other things. So, if you’ve got like contextual help. Right. And, it only shows up when you hover over something. You’ve got a panel that is hidden most of the time, but it’s shown some of the time. Well, sometimes, that kind of layering can make navigation and clicking on things not work. So, test that.
One approach that I use is, instead of doing that kind of layering and stuff, I take panels. I push them off the page, and, then, when I click on something or when I hover over something, I bring them on the page and I show them. So, I don’t have those layering issues.
Spell check. Spell check outside of Axure. Axure does not do spell checking, especially for requirements, annotations, and that kind of stuff. Obviously, you don’t want to have anything go out with typos.
Protonotes. This is kind of like outside of Axure. I think a good thing to do.
And, I’m not going to talk about the scrolling, but there’s a very technical thing about scrolling. Lastly, before we get into a couple of minutes for questions, Sketchy Widget Library. One of the things that was missing out there in the Axure universe was a way to do this pencil drawn looking type of prototypes.
So, I went ahead and took some work that other folks have done for Visio. Nicholas Wokirk, Thomas Freeburg [sp] , Henrick Olsen [sp]. They’d done this for Visio. I just Adapted it for Axure. The Sketchy Widget Library, some of you can import into Axure, and it gives you all sorts of widgets, which you can bring on to a page.
Drag them on like stencils, and it makes it look like things were drawn in pencil. We’ve got several interactive widgets. We’ve got working tabs, light box. There’s a show/hide function. There’s contextual help on hover. There’s a working scroll bar, but I wouldn’t really use it, unless you really have to.
There’s this thing called the conveyer, and the conveyer does this kind of transition back and forth. There’s some other stuff in there, and next week I’m going to be updating the Sketchy Widget Library. I’m going to be adding faceted filtering. So, the people, who were in the previous session in here with Mike Midayo, I’m going to take some of his stuff.
I’m going to make something so you can say, “Okay, I’ve got a list of facets over on the left side of the screen, I click on something in my list of products in the main area updates automatically.” So that’s coming next week. Oh and it’s free and it’s available to download and to use as you want.
That’s my set of things that I want to talk about. So you all have cards. I invite you right now to write down a question. If you’ve got a question for me, great, you can write down a question, put down your email, I’ll get back to you. And if anybody has questions now, I’m happy to take them now. Who has a question? Yeah.
Woman 1: I have a question about where to use the Visio when considering switching over. One of the challenges that we see in managing [Inaudible 35:04] , you know the video is [Inaudible 35:00] stakeholders and the graphic design [Inaudible 35:08]. Like you mentioned, there is often things that you need to communicate to the dev team or the [Inaudible 35:10] team about the way [Inaudible 35:11] works. We don’t just, we’re not convinced [Inaudible 35:18] understand how we can use it. It sounds like you almost kind of dropped a lot of your annotations using Axure? Is that true? And I’m just curious how do you still communicate some of those details through to those teams [Inaudible 35:33] in a way [Inaudible 35:35].
Kevin Wick: Yeah, that’s a good question. So the first thing is, we’ve dropped a lot of the annotations because a lot of the annotations were described as a behavior. And so we would do things like, when you hover over this, you get this little contextual help thing or when I, when you click on this, this would happen. And so by putting the interaction in the prototype, we don’t have to annotate that. It’s just, that’s what happens. But, the communication to development and testers is really the key part. When you’re going over it with stakeholders it’s a lot easier because most of the time, you’re in a meeting with them and you’re in a review and you can talk through it. That’s not always the case with development and testing, right?
So one of the things that we have done is we have gone ahead and in certain situations we’ll put on a separate area on the screen, like off to the right that has… These are the things, these are the different states of this page and this is how you access them. Or here is a flow for you to… Here are the steps for you to follow through to see all those different things. Or here’s some links, click on this and you’ll show this state.
Woman 1: Just so I understand that, so that actually in the prototype is off to the side.
Kevin Wick: Yeah. It’s in the prototype off to the side. And we put it off to the side so that when we’re reviewing it we can have that sense of this is what the user, the customer experience is going to be like. But, then we also say here’s a quick way to get to kind of the notes. One thing I’ve gotten back from developers, I’ve gotten this firsthand and secondhand, some developers really love the prototypes, they’re like, “Oh, thank goodness. Now I understand what you’re trying to get at.”
Some of the developers hate it and it’s like, “I don’t want to even look at the prototype, give me the paper because I like to flip the paper on my desk while I’m coding.” So what do we do in those situations?
And one thing that we’re leaning towards most of the time now is putting some sort of indication about what’s interactive, what the different states are, either on the prototype or through annotations within Axure and Axure has a bunch of default business requirement type fields. I create my own I call it annotations and I ignore all the others, and then we can print that out and spend a little bit of time cutting out stuff that we don’t need.
Woman 1: So can I ask a follow up question?
Kevin Wick: Yeah.
Woman 1: If in your earlier kind of assessment you determined that using Axure actually saves you a little bit of time. So by the time you do all that massaging and commenting and exporting and pasting with other documents and all that kind of thing, those machinations you described, are you still allowing that wading into that area?
Kevin Wick: Yeah, as I was putting this together I recognized that very thing and I thought, “Oh boy, I hope no one asks me about that.” I think that’s what’s happened is… The story that I told was kind of like what happened. And so I did that analysis on three projects. And those three happened to have not a whole lot of annotations for the actual prototyping. The other thing about it, is we came away with is it takes a little less time. And I was clear to project managers about, “Look, it’s going to be about the same, more or less.”
And the other thing was at that point, none of us really had any real expertise or mastery in Axure. And so there was that sitting in the back of my mind like, “Yeah, we may be starting to do other things like creating annotations within Axure, but our mastery of Axure is going to increase as well and that’s going to make us faster.”
So are we spending more time building interactions in prototypes now? I couldn’t say. I’m loathe to go back and do an analysis and find out that we’re spending more time because we’ve gotten to a place now which I think is a better place for us, so I don’t really want to look.
Woman 2: I’d like you to talk a little bit about the limitations of Axure because I was a little crazy a few months ago because I had a new Visio coming up in like a week and I figured, “Hey, I work well under pressure, I’ll try Axure for the first time.” And it worked but I had a lot of complex cover states [Inaudible 39:48] create. I might be speaking out of my own trauma from having to do this under such a tight time frame, but at some point I was just thinking, “I should have just done this Flash.” Because Flash gives you much more control over things like hover states, you can really refine, it can find the problem a lot faster and that’s what was frustrating me about Axure that you lacked any, you know you’re working within their UI so I don’t know, I kind of, I’m not convinced that Axure is a silver bullet.
Kevin Wick: No, and I’m not trying to say that it is.
Woman 2: Like the other side have you had any difficulties with it and how you worked around it.
Kevin Wick: One thing to note, I’m not a Flash guy and just this last week, we got a client and the client was saying, we had created this prototype to a certain extent, and they said, “Well we want to do some usability testing and we’ve got somebody who’s going to create a Flash version of this prototype.” And so our contractor looked at me and said, “What are the pros and cons?” And I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” The things that I see… I don’t know Flash well enough to say, but I think that things like conditional logic, if‑then statements, management of variables, those type of things, I don’t think that Flash does very well, is that true? Doesn’t? Okay. Yeah. ActionScript, script sounds to me like programming. Not big into programming. I used to do that back in ’94, ’95, done with that. So I’m not really interested in going to something that doesn’t allow me to do that conditional logic.
But, I will, I totally agree with you, Axure is not a silver bullet. It does some things pretty well. In terms of handling rich interactions and transitions and a lot of the visual element that you get from a Flash or other Adobe products, it doesn’t handle that really well. You can do things like take flat jpegs and slice them up and simulate what an experience might be for a simple, go to this page or that page, but if you want to get in transitions, the genie effect and those things, you can’t do that.
Now there are other things that you can simulate, dragging and dropping, but it’s a pain in the butt to do. So if you’re going to be doing things that are more application oriented or websites that have more form type of things or here’s a page, there’s a page, Axure is a pretty good solution. If you’re getting into something where it’s more of a rich, immersive type of situation or solution, it probably is not a good situation.
Kevin Wick: [laughs]
Fred: So, you know what I’m talking about. It’s really, actually, a wild‑card. Because when you do that, what you can do is use all of the documentation‑stuff about [Inaudible 43:03] that’s really important. But still have the… If you have one or two rich‑immersive things in there. You can [Inaudible 43:09] . If you’re doing a whole rich big game, or something, then yeah Axure is probably not the tool. But if there’s one or two little things in there, you can use an inline‑frame object to pull a lot of that stuff in.
Kevin Wick: Way in the back.
Man 1: [Inaudible 43:23] the last question [Inaudible 43:27] . So big it does a lot of that conditional logic [Inaudible 43:33].
Kevin Wick: Yeah, I’m curious about Catalyst. And I haven’t used it myself. Would you say that it’s an easy product to use, and pick up?
Man 1: It is. The learning curve is [Inaudible 43:49] . The only down‑side right now is [Inaudible 43:55]. [Inaudible 44:01].
Kevin Wick: Oh.
Man 1: [Inaudible 44:04] .
Kevin Wick: Yeah, it’s unfortunate, because I’m not interested in doing multiple applications.
Man 1: Right.
Kevin Wick: Yeah.
Woman 3: Is there anybody in here drawing. [Inaudible 44:15]
Man 2: [Indistinct 44:20] It rules.
Woman 3: I tried Flash. I had been suffering through featuring complex prototypes on the [Inaudible 44:31]. A 200‑page prototypes to simulate by [Inaudible 44:40] and a pain in the butt. So I’ve been, actually I have a learning curve, like anything else [Inaudible 44:50]. You talked about [Inaudible 44:55] the different type of colleague you know people with programming backgrounds, [Inaudible 44:59] backgrounds and librarian. We have a librarian in our office and for example and I’m thinking it was pre‑conditional logic that she couldn’t deal with that. I was wondering if you have experienced any colleague doing other than the Axure that we use to get over the hump.
Kevin Wick: We haven’t really gotten to the point of asking people to do things that are outside of what they’re comfortable doing. We try to avoid that as much as possible. And then, when we have things… You’ve gotten to the point where you’re two‑thirds through this project and now you realize, oh, I really need a more complex interaction than I expected. What we try to do, is we get other people onto that project to help that person learn how to do that. We’ve had a couple of those situations. For me, I personally like those kinds of challenges. And I make time to go over… That’s one of the things that we’ve done and I think, that’s kind of helped grease the skids a little bit. If somebody has a question about Axure ‑‑ how to make it do what they want it to do… I’ll make time out of my schedule to go over to people and sit down with them for an hour, or two. Or, three.
And work it through and say: this is how you might do it and this is why it works that way. So that’s kind of helped. But if you don’t have somebody who kind of like that evangelist on your team, it can be sort of painful. The other thing is, if you’re in those kinds of situations, I would recommend pulling in some sort of development resource.
Because a lot of times, the interactions lend, or get benefit from having a programming background. Or, just a mindset. The other thing that I recommend ‑‑ I didn’t mention this about the Axure Snacks. Axure, out on the site, it’s got a bunch of tutorials.
First thing I say for people is: start there. Go through all of the tutorials. They’re pretty good. The second this is: there’s a pretty big network of support out on the web. And doing things like ‑‑ asking people out there. I’m more than happy, if you have questions, or your friend has questions… I’m more than happy to take a question and try to answer it. There are people out on the Axure forums that do that, and other places.
There are a bunch of really great resources. Fred is one of them. Jeff Harrison is a really big brain out of Minneapolis. Lauren Back… There’s a bunch of people. In the back there.
Man 3: Using Axure for mobile‑design?
Kevin Wick: Yeah. Our company works with two mobile companies ‑‑ mobile carriers ‑‑ and what we have not been able to get through today, is beyond HTML. We generate prototypes in HTML and then we test them as HTML products on the handset. And that seems to be a pretty good emulator, but it’s not flawless. It doesn’t have the whole sense of the entire OS. But, it’s good enough. We can kind of get, like… Oh, this is what it’s like… The gestural stuff is problematic, but that’s just problematic, because ‑‑ if the browser that you’re dealing with on your handset doesn’t handle those things, as you might want, you’re kind of stuck.
Does that answer your question?
Man 3: Yes.
Kevin Wick: Yeah… Yeah?
Woman 4: I’m curious to know about that. I previous had to be responsible for [Inaudible 48:23] . And I [Inaudible 48:29]. I personally found them to be really limiting. It only described on 3N interaction and nothing about 2N systems architecture. Or, any other bigger pieces, beyond what you see on the screen. How do you guys handle that? Because, it sounds to me like you do a lot of [Inaudible 59:53] without additional documentation. Do you have a lead engineer sitting in on all of your [Inaudible 49:00]?
Kevin Wick: We had a project ‑‑ and by the way, we’re about four minutes over, so I just wanted to note that. We had a project where we were installing Microsoft CRM for a large company. They used Axure, but they didn’t use Axure for a prototype at all. They took screenshots of the product and then the business‑analysts do all of the documentation within Axure. You can customize fields in Axure and then, you can customize how those fields are represented in your generated spec. So you can do a lot in there. Personally, I don’t do a whole lot of documentation work. I don’t believe a lot of documentation work is really worth the value that you put in for it. That’s more of the contexts of the stuff that I work on, website’s and applications. You can do it ‑‑ it takes some customization. I think that you’ve gotta get the right people in there: analysts, engineers ‑‑ those types of folks.
Fred, did you have a question, or a comment?
Fred: Yeah. I just wanted to ask if I could take 10 seconds to be a little bit self‑promoting?
Kevin Wick: Go for it.
Fred: I can teach you how to use Axure in two days. If your company’s thinking about doing the same transition that he is, I’ll say that his experience is very much like our experience, when we transitioned to Axure. We can teach you everything not to do. There’s a number of things not to do ‑‑ I’ve done all of them. So, if you’re interested in that let me know. I’m here. [Inaudible 50:25]
Kevin Wick: So, people with cards, we’re out of time. I really appreciated you coming and spending some time with me. If you’ve got questions, please jot them down. Put your email on them ‑‑ I will respond to all of them. Thank you, very much!
End of audio
Design for Conversation or Some Troubles with Twitter – Tanya Rabourn
Announcer: What are the differences between online and offline conversations, if any? As we create digital spaces involving social media, how can we support the conversations happening in those spaces? Using examples from tools like Twitter and Google Wave, Tanya Rabourn looks at these questions and discusses how conversation analysis gives us a way to examine social actions online. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Tanya Rabourn: All right, and so to begin my discussion, I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of it. But first I’d like to know how many of you are already familiar with conversation analysis? Okay. Have any of you used it for design?
All right, so those of you familiar with design research methods, such as Contextual Inquiry and Ethnic Graphically Informed Design know that there’s a distinction between such approaches and the methods that incorporate cognitive science. Most theories of cognition suggest an enduring qualities that shape the situation.
Now, ethnographically informed design instead considers the situation and how it shapes interaction. conversation analysis is yet another way that we can consider situated actions in designing the user experience.
Initially, naturally occurring conversation was considered by such linguistic scholars as Chomsky to be too messy to be studied in detail. Yet Harvey Sacks, as he listened to recordings of phone calls to a suicide hotline. Noticed the social function certain rhetorical moves served. And so he began developing an empirical method for investigating conversational sequences.
Now, unlike other fields that studied communication, conversation analysis examined naturally occurring talk instead of an idealized form. Recordings are important, because people alter words with draws, elongations, pitch rises and falls and other mutations. The history of conversation analysis is tightly tied with technology. And, it’s no coincidence that it really came to fruition after video and audio recording became widespread.
And one thing I want to stress is that conversation analysis, what it uncovers is something as capable members of society who are familiar with our local situations. We demonstrate to each other every day that we already know how talk works. And we constantly orient to these norms.
So conversation analysis just helps us to make them explicit as we articulate these patterns. So we can consider how to better design social media spaces.
So, before I continue. What I want to do is discuss one particular example. As you know from your work it’s usually when something goes wrong that the mechanism for the right path becomes apparent. And when things go smoothly, the rules just seem invisible. You can’t imagine things happening any other way.
So conversation analysts studies such things as repairs of conversational misunderstandings. Those moments in a conversation when you realize that your interactional partner assumes you meant one thing, but you meant another. Or, when halfway through a conversation you realize that you misunderstood a crucial statement that she made at the beginning. So, the work that you do to remedy this problem is known as a repair.
So fortunately sometimes the labels, the researchers give these conversational moves actually do make sense. So, a repair to the conversation.
So, the example that I have here, is basically a brief exchange between two older sisters on the telephone. Just to make sure we all have a good understanding of basic conversation analysis, I’m going to run through this example here.
And what happens here is Portia starts the close of the conversation but it’s taken by Agnes’s complaint about her not having time to see her sister. And so Portia utters the repair initiating component “Oh”, which is followed by an acceptance of Agnes’s excuse for not visiting.
Portia starts to explain herself as to why she doesn’t have time to see her sister. By saying, well honey, I’ll probably see you one of these, no sorry. Portia starts to close the conversation by saying, well honey I’ll probably see you one of these days.
And Agnes, assuming that she saying, ah, you never have any time to see me, starts to make up an excuse. Just saying oh God, yeah, I just couldn’t get down there. And Portia, then of course realizing what was going on in the conversation just says, oh I know, I’m not asking you to come down. And so that last line that oh, oh, I know I’m not asking you to come down, is a repair to the misunderstanding in the conversation.
Tanya Rathbourn: Okay.
Tanya Rathbourn: So I did have a short clip, but I think you got the, you understand how it works now. Okay. Just like the highly descriptive very local ethnographies of particular situations that you might be more familiar with, conversation analysis involves the detailed study of situated local action.
But, unlike a lot of qualitative research through observation, conversation analysts attempt to find patterns that can be formulated as normative behaviors. They gather multiple instances of the same conversational work in similar situations. So these instances are generalizable. And that’s the one thing that makes the situated research so useful for design.
So, when Christian and Erin and their book, Designing Social Interfaces, suggests we should write like a human. And HCI researchers recommend that computers should conduct dialog in a humanlike way as possible. conversation analysis allows a body of research that explains what exactly that means.
So. Lucy Suchman was one of the researchers who in the mid 80’s made use of conversation analysis by considering a computer an interactional partner in conversation. They used conversation analysis to study the sequence of conversation between a user and a partner. Or, I’m sorry, a user and the computer as the interactional partner.
Now, other HCI researchers have suggested that conversation analysis provides a rigorous method for analyzing usability sessions. What exactly goes on between the facilitator and the user, who is supposed to be articulating what they’re thinking is they attempt to perform a task. It’s kind of a black box to some people. Some researchers think that through conversation analysis, a detailed turn by turn analysis of the conversation between the facilitator and the user could actually elicit even more problems than just sitting with the user as we do today.
So. Zawinski’s Law of Software Envelopment. Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. So, there’s… It’s a snarky comment by programmer Jamie Zawinski about software bloat. But, there’s a reason that mail is what these programs eventually incorporate. People don’t want to talk to computers; they want to talk to other people.
So, in the 90’s, there was a lot of literature that addressed computer mediated communication and it’s a substantial body of work that considers text-based, synchronous, computer mediated communication and language use. In particular, IRC and chat within text-based virtual worlds such as MUDs and MUs. These researchers considered the communicative practices in such environments and noted that they exhibit characteristics of both oral and written communication.
So some of you might be familiar with Walter Ong and his assertion that we’re entering a secondary orality made possible through these new means of communication. However, online conversation differs from ordinary conversation in a number of ways. Ordinary conversation relies on the allocation of terms. Online conversation does not have overlaps or interruptions. Instead, conversational participants construct each utterance in isolation. They send each of them to the system, which then posts them in the order received.
So, previously, the mathematical model of communication dominated engineering. And even as recently as this past summer in the ACM Magazine interactions, the author suggested that designing for conversation could simply be modeled on Shannon’s model of communication. Now, in this model, there’s information source in the signal that must be transmitted through varying levels of noise to the receiver. Now, although highly useful for developing communication systems, it’s not so useful when designing for conversation. It leads to some seemingly practical yet unsatisfactory design decisions.
For example, you might think if your users repeatedly ask other users for some bit of information that it makes sense to add a feature that makes that information always available. However, their asking might be doing other work than just eliciting information. Without thoughtful consideration of what interaction work that question is doing, you risk robbing them of that conversational resource.
When early enhancement to text-based chat was providing users a way to set up a public profile where they could enter their age, sex, and location. However, researchers found that the most common question in the chat continued to be: “What’s your age?”, “What’s your sex?”, “Where are you located?” or sometimes a variation that revealed that they had viewed that person’s profile but they asked: “Are you really in Florida?” or wherever that person’s location was. Those questions were conversation starters.
In designing for conversation, it’s important to observe the interactional work occurring, not just the lexical meaning. Don’t treat conversations as a pure exchange of information.
So, there haven’t been many guides written on how to actually integrate conversation analysis into an iterative design process. However, one PARC design team did bring in a conversation analyst to work with them on a project, and they published their experience.
The project was a descriptive audio system for a museum. They were particularly interested in fostering a social experience for visitors. An initial prototype used a speaker system so the experience could be shared. Afterwards they conducted user interviews with these visitors, and they learned that they valued both the shared experience with the friends and also valued being able to move along at their own pace within the museum. The design challenge was to satisfy two conflicting goals, as usual.
The conversation analyst was able to analyze the interaction with the first prototype to inform the design of the second. Specifically, she learned that visitors allocated the audio a turn, making it a conversational partner with themselves. Now, understanding how visitors to the museum integrated the audio into their personal conversations with the person who accompanied them was key to developing the second, more sophisticated prototype that actually allowed visitors to independently listen to audio narration, listen in on what their friend was currently listening to, and then even talk with their friend even over the audio.
This next iteration was successful and met these conflicting design goals. It was the nuance to understanding of interaction that allowed them to make appropriate design decisions. They analyzed the organization of talk with the second prototype and noticed that users were fluidly going back and forth between independent and social experiences, continuing to incorporate the audio just as if it were an interactional partner in the conversation.
In order to establish that a conversation is actually taking place, there must be coherence. Coherence is marked by sustained topic focus, person to person exchanges. These person to person exchanges require some way of indicating whom we are addressing. In ordinary conversation there are multiple ways of doing this including just a simple gaze.
In the paper “Beyond Microblogging”, the authors discuss user appropriation of Twitter for conversation. They ask, “How well does Twitter support user to user exchanges?” In particular, they consider the function of the @/(at) sign as a marker of addressivity. In their data they found that there were short dyadic exchanges relatively often along with even some longer conversations with multiple participants that they found surprisingly coherent. These conversations are facilitated in large measure by the use of the (at) sign as a marker of addressivity, as most of you probably know. Also the ability to follow other users, which aid in tracking conversations.
In ordinary conversation, two person or dyadic conversation is fairly straightforward with speaker and recipient constantly swapping those roles back and forth. First I’m the speaker and you’re the recipient, and then you’re the speaker and I’m the recipient. That just sort of goes on in two person conversation.
In multi-party conversation, though, it is particularly interesting because participants work constantly to build the identities of who is the speaker and who is the recipient again and again. The participants constantly modify on what is called the participation framework in order to do this. The speaker can designate the next speaker through direct address, or gaze, or a number of other actions depending on local practice. When all of you go out tonight and are at dinner with like 300 of your closets friends, you can observe this happening.
On Twitter we lack many of these conversational resources which is why the researchers describe finding multi-party conversations on Twitter surprisingly coherent.
I actually have an example of a six person conversation over several turns that I was involved in where the participants used both topicality and addressivity in order to indicate that they were part of the conversation. So here’s an example of, in this longer conversation where Gene, he doesn’t bother using the (at) sign to address me, but I can tell he’s still part of the conversation because of the topic of what he’s discussing.
But then I go off on a tangent so I have to work really hard to indicate I’m still in this conversation, so I have to use so many of my precious 140 characters to add as many people as I think will still make my post relevant.
And then Chris joins us. But he doesn’t (at) anyone. So this is his first turn in the conversation, and so the only way, well actually it’s quite difficult to know he’s wanting to be part of the conversation because his first turn, he doesn’t use the (at) sign. So he actually has to produce yet another turn to indicate he’s part of this conversation and then I actually have to respond to him.
So that’s one example of how you can use conversation analysis to understand what’s going on. Another problem with Twitter is called “shifts in footing”. Goffman introduced the footing concept in order to explore the nature of involvement and participation in social interaction. Speakers can use interactional resources to show their words are not entirely their own.
For example, a journalist might explicitly say to a politician: “Your political opponent suggests you’re soft on crime”. However, journalists also conduct interviews where they articulate a question that suggests a notion not their own, without attribution, such as: “Mr. President, will the health care bill place an undue burden on small businesses?” In the course of an interview, a journalist might shift footing several times, animating his own words and articulating those of others to display provocative viewpoints.
Participants on Twitter may echo or paraphrase other tweets by attributing them, as you know using RT, for retweet, or via, and then the original authors’ username. However, when giving voice to statements outside of Twitter, shifts in footing lead to confusion. When you’re basically repeating someone else’s view point, you’re the animator. The person who’s viewpoint it is the author. Indicating it’s a retweet makes it quite easy to do this within Twitter, but when you’re repeating something said outside the system then it’s very difficult for people to understand it’s not your own statement, it’s not your own viewpoint.
So an example from the data that I have comes from some posts to Twitter concerning the contested Iranian election this past summer, where this confusion is demonstrated.
Just to sum up the event, people in Tehran were calling into a Persian radio station to report a possible strike in the bazaar. A Twitter user was listening to the radio, to these people who were calling, and translating the statements into English and posting them onto Twitter. It was a over a period of a few hours, and those who came late missed any explicit attribution.
So those who came in later questioned him and began to accuse him of being the authors of these statements, and not just an animator. And so he’s then, as you can see at the end, he has to explain himself: “No I was listening to the radio, people were calling in with news.” And so this is the difficulty with Twitter called shifts in footing.
Bob Moore, a game designer at Multiverse, notes that in virtual worlds quasi-synchronous chat lags behind synchronous avatar motion. Moore explains that a key feature of real life conversation is that you can hear a turn unfolding in real time. This enables you to do things like determine who should speak next and then anticipate precisely when the turn will end so you can start your next term with minimal gap and overlap and even preempt the completion of the current speaker’s turn if you don’t like the direction in which it is going.
In other words, the ability to monitor other people’s turns and progress is a requirement for tight coordination of conversation. Most of these virtual worlds use IRC or IM style chat systems and therefore do not allow players to achieve this tight coordination among their turns at chat and avatar actions. The avatars actually move faster than they can produce their turn in the conversation. The conversational partner can’t see that they are typing and trying to produce a turn the way you can. You can listen to me in mid-sentence and you know that I am producing my turn.
You see interesting things and recordings that they have of these virtual worlds where some of these avatars are together and are getting ready to go out on some sort of raid or something like that and one of them wants to have this long discussion about exactly what they are going to do but the other person just runs off and goes on with the raid without any sort of planning. They couldn’t see that there was a person who was a member of their raid party wanting to actually discuss it because they couldn’t see them producing this turn as they sat there and typed at their computer.
The result is an interactional experience that feels very unnatural at first, and that motivates players to invent workarounds to the system. These workarounds, of course, are something that you are familiar with as we know what happened with Twitter. Originally the symbol for addressivity was user-produced. Users started using it within the system, and then the developers came in and said, “Okay, we are going to make use of that now.”
In using conversation analysis, you can watch these workarounds that your users implement and you can actually modify the system by implementing these. We have discussed these several times. We have called them desire lanes, and we have called them paved pal paths and that sort of thing.
In summary, much like ethnography, conversation analysis uncovers opportunities for design. It is a technique for organizing our observations to derive models. Just to reiterate something that I said earlier, you are probably familiar with contextual inquiry and ethnographic design which produces these very rich descriptions of a local situation. One of the benefits of conversation analysis is that it is actually generalizable. You find these multiple instances of particular conversational work occurring, and then you can use that knowledge to design for similar situations.
We have discussed the history of conversation analysis and how it is traditionally done, and we have also briefly gone over how to use it in iterative design. I will just leave you with three things to think about as you observe conversations in the systems you are designing now. Notice user workarounds. Observe interactional work occurring, not just the lexical meaning. Don’t treat conversation as a pure exchange of information.
Beyond Card Sorting: Research Methods for Organizing Content Rich Web Sites Run Amok — Michael Hawley
Announcer: Card sorting is a popular technique used by information architects to help understand how a product or website should be organized. Yet there are limitations to this technique which can result in clients not quite getting the answers they were looking for. By involving the audience, Michael Hawley looks at this limitations as well as variations and new uses of card sorting methods to consider when developing large scale websites. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Michael Hawley: As you can see topic is extending card sorting. But before I get on to the topic, let me give you just a little bit of background on myself and what we do. A manpower and experience design agency as I said based on Port of New Hampshire. And as you can tell by our NASCAR slide here, we do work with a lot of different types of organizations. Lots of Big Fortune 1000 organizations.
And I think what’s relevant about that to this talk is that embedded across all these different projects is different goals that we are trying to achieve. For example we might do some promotional websites or a Flash downloads or something like that. But a lot of the work that we get is to help people design or redesign internal systems, intranets, large informational sites.
Some of the…It is not always that the sexy, sexy, splashy marketing sites. So, and invariably when these people have these systems, the typical story is well, we had this. We put it together six or seven years ago and now, the content is growing, the organization is growing so much and the thing is just out of control. We need to redesign it. OK.
And so, we love to get those calls. As we are getting into that, I wonder if we could have a show of hands who has done card sorting here. OK. That’s what I expected. [laughs] Here at the information architecture summit, this is my first time here at the summit so I am happy to be here and really engaged and excited about all I have heard so far.
Card sorting. I don’t know what you have but I have a love hate relationship with it. When we talk to a client, when we pitch to a client that we’ll help them reorganize their solution or help them fix it. We’ll sometimes put in our proposal or statement or we do card sorting and we have a couple line description of what it is about. And people get really excited.
They are like this is great. You will be able to figure out the answer for us. You do these card sorting. It sounds perfect. It’s not always that easy, which is what I’m here to talk about today. What we are going to talk about is kind of some of the challenges inherent in it and some of the things that we’ve done to help complement the traditional card sort and turn it more on the love side of that love-hate relationship.
So just to give you a little bit of perspective of where I am coming from, these are some of the challenges that we often see here. This is …If you can see this is a screen shot of a system that we are asked to help with at Fidelity for their Call Centers. You can imagine people who call on the phone, talked to a customer service representative and that customer might have one of a million questions about the 401Ks or college savings plans or transfers or military or whatever it is like…
It’s amazing the number of questions. So the customer service rep has this to help them find what they are looking for. And what you are seeing over on the right hand side there is the first bucket of ten buckets and inside that one bucket customer service, we are just seeing the A through E, scrolls forever. You can see that this is kind of just mushroomed out of control and now, there’s long list of 100 to 150 things per category of which there are 10 categories.
Just a lot of control. So, they had a content management system that helped them run this and that is part of the problem. Another one you can see this is another kind of urban Intranet type of thing and lot of times we just see on intranets is that it mirrors the organization in terms of structure but of course that organizational structure changes all the time and so, the website that…Or the Internet that was done one way is now out of date, a couple of months later.
Or yet worst, you could have headquarters, departments and then you have something like global which is kind of a catch all. Nothing fits in it. So, another typical problem. Or the customer is really thinking and using jargon and language that’s comfortable to them but maybe not necessarily to their customers.
This is for a company that we worked with. It does pharmaceuticals for the veterinary industry and diagnostic equipment. And this is how their internal team is organized and these are words that they use to describe it. But if you were coming here as a veterinarian and you want to find something that could help you diagnose [Inaudible 6:04] in dogs, I don’t know where you’d go. That’s kind of a disconnect.
So, this is what I said before was people talk to us and we describe well, we’ll do a card sort and it’s a very energetic conversation because like I said what the implication is that we are going to get the answer. Not only when you get the answer but it is quantitative so we are going to have some statistics bias. There’s going to be like T numbers and all these other stuff. There’s going to be…So I can take it to my CEO and say that yes, we are confident that this is their exact right organization based on the results of this card sort.
So that’s kind of the mindset that we are in. As you know, that’s what we are here to talk about whether that’s right or not. So, lots of you have done card sorting. This is not going to be a talk about how to do card sorting. When we started doing this several years ago, there were some reasons out there but now, Donna Spencer’s book on card sorting is released I think in the last year. I highly recommend it to you even if you have done card sorting.
It is more than just the basics. It does talk to you about some of these nuances and some of the particulars about picking cards or analyzing data and the different strategies and things like that. So, I highly recommend it. I even think and I haven’t had the chance to meet her but I think Donna is here this week so I am looking forward to that.
Card sorting is supposed to reveal relationships between items and data. And that’s what its good at. But there are some things that you have to be mindful of as you do this. There is a right way to do it. I put the picture of the Identagram here from EZCal. I don’t know if everybody’s…If you have done card sorting before, that is one way that we used to kind of calculate the results and the clusters that formed based on the level of granularity that you want to look at. It helps you identify the categories, et cetera.
There’s also nuances and complications with choosing cards. I mean, people can’t handle sorting 2,000 things, right? They can sort 60, 70, 80, somewhere around that range. But invariably, a website or a thing that you’re trying to redesign would have several thousand, maybe, content pages or items or things that you want people to find.
So, there’s some nuances on how you pick the representative cards. There’s analyzing and presenting the results. You know, you take, the first time I did this I took it to the stakeholder and we spent about 45 minutes of the one hour meeting just trying to figure out how you read this and what it’s all about. So, there’s ways to do that.
There’s also multiple ways to do this analysis that you can read about in Donna’s book. So, there’s challenges here from kind of doing the method correctly. It’s not just turn it on and do it. But, some of those challenges can be overcome if you’re rigorous about it, if you take the time to think about the cards in the right way, if you present the thing other than a tetragram, it’s just kind of part of the method, but you can overcome those challenges.
But as we did more and more of this with our company, some of the team members still had kind of some doubts and questions just more philosophically about it. The first is card sorting in and of itself. Is it when you are sorting, you’re actually sorting, putting things, especially in open card sort, you’re putting things into categories as a participant, right?
The question is, is that process cognitively inherently different from the process that somebody goes through to find something, right? And so, is this really a good proxy for what somebody’s going to do when they actually go to find something?
So, I put the sorting, the Normal Rockwell painting of the self portrait that he has where he’s looking at blank canvass, and I can envision participants doing card sorts presented with 80 cards and saying, you know, like why are you asking me this? I’m not the designer. I’m not the information architect. I’m not the person who should be grouping these.
Their perception when they go to a website or they go to try to find something is that they’re finding it. They’re searching and they have clues and they have other things that can help them find what they’re looking for. So, one question we had is is sorting inherently different. I think the answer there is probably. That still doesn’t discount card sorting as a method.
If card sorting is intended to help you kind of understand relationships between products and groups and labels and things like that, it can still be used as a complementary thing to other activities. Another question I know people commonly raise is that’s great that you’re doing this card sorting in this web sort app or optimal sort or whatever, it’s kind of in a vacuum just thinking about pieces of content or cards or items.
The question is when somebody goes to a site or solution, an application, don’t they have other things around them that helps them way find, that helps them kind of set where they are. Maybe things aren’t not all on a menu. Maybe they’re on the page like if you wanted to go find a doctor on this, you wouldn’t necessarily have to look up in the top, you could go right on the home page here.
Or, there’s other navigational tools and affordances like the menus here and the ways that you can use information design to help drive people towards things. So, this is kind of another area where it’s like oh, is card sorting really right for us? And again, the answer is it’s an input into that process.
The other part of this is, and Donna mentions this in her book, is that if you have somebody sort, or if you have a population of participants sort some cards or items, you might get lots of different organizational strategies that they might employ.
So what happens when you take those different organizational strategies and the results from all those different participants and you combine them into one statistical analysis or one dendrogram like I showed earlier, is that disparity in all those different organizational strategies, is that really when you bring them together, is that giving you a combined view or is that just kind of muddying the waters?
And so, we did a, you know, we’re kind of information architect geeks, so we said, well, let’s kind of run this experiment ourselves and see if we can kind of use this to help better understand it ourselves.
So, herein lies the sitcoms. What we did is we said let’s imagine that we were designing a website for people to come and like rent sitcoms like a Netflix type of thing. And so we said, let’s have people group a set of sitcoms and see what happens.
So, I don’t know if you can see these all the way in the back, but this is our audience participation section of the talk here. I’d ask you to take a look at this list. And if you’re not familiar with these sitcoms maybe kind of internationally or just never watch TV or whatever, that’s fine. But for those of you who did, if you can kind of take a look at this list and kind of just in your own mind kind of think of what would be the categories you would make if you were sorting these in an open card sort.
And, I’ll give you just a minute to take a look at this. This was how we selected these I think was just a mix, just a random mix of things that we saw in a list. So, does anybody not recognize any of these? “Scrubs” was only on for a couple years maybe, but it was a funny show. So let me ask, who’s got a way that they would organize these, sort these, group them?
Audience member: First by work [inaudible 14:31] and then work setting and then title of [inaudible 14:34].
Michael Hawley: OK. So, that’s one. Anybody else?
Audience member: [inaudible 14:38].
Michael Hawley: Right. Yep.
Audience member: [inaudible 14:42].
Michael Hawley: And not animation, yep. OK. Yep. So, that’s exactly right. So, you can imagine that you guys sorted it different ways, what happens when we combine those groups?
So here’s, and I apologize for the small font in the back, but I just wanted to give you an example. So one participant, participant eight, did exactly what you said, like ’60’s, ’70’s, ’80’s, ’90’s, right? Another did the friends, family, work and they had the animated as another thing.
But, what I really liked is, OK, participant 23 over in the lower left, shows that I watch regularly, shows I didn’t watch, right, classics, guilty pleasures I thought was cool. Or, participant number nine is my favorite. Actually funny, overrated, snoozer, not as funny as you’d think.
So, these are good and, in fact, really interested if you thought about a website that would allow you to browse and maybe rent or pick out sitcoms is that how boring to pick these by ”60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. Maybe that’s accurate and a good categorization, but there’s an element of rating or scale of funniness or things that are related, shows that are workplace setting, things like that.
The workplace setting like who would go to a, that’s valid, right, but who would go to a website saying, or have an interest in renting a sitcom and say I want a workplace sitcom? You know, maybe if they were doing something sketchy or ‘Dilbert-y’ for work, but, you know, I think it’s more of like you want things that are like other things that you liked or that are rated well, etc.
So, the intention of this exercise was to see that if you took all this data and you mushed it all into one in a dendrogram or kind of a card sort cluster analysis or whatever, I’m not sure what you’d get. And, in fact, what we got was something that’s not very helpful. But, I don’t want to discount the exercise altogether because it did help us kind of inform our ideas about what a site could be and think creatively about some solutions.
So I think, obviously, the moral of the story is that there’s more than just the categorization of the content, and I don’t think that’s anything new to anybody here. You need to be thinking about kind of who you’re talking about.
So, I made the caveat of like people who live outside the U.S., they might not know a lot of those shows so having them sort that is different, or age might be different, the context in which they’re using it is different, organizational strategy, etc. So, all that kind of blends together.
So, what we’ve been trying to do is to take the best of what card sorting has to offer and try some other methods around that from a research perspective that helps us see these kind of nuances and inform some creative ideas. And so, what I have for basically the remainder of this presentation is a list or some examples of some things that we’ve done to help compliment it. So, what we’ve tried.
Any questions so far? I know I’ve said wait, but great.
The first thing is a technique called free listing. Free listing is a pretty simple technique. And, the way that you do it is you have a number of participants either individually, they have to complete this kind of individually, but you could have people in a room if you wanted.
And, you have them think of what first comes to mind for a given space that you’re designing for. For example, a call center website or a company’s products or whatever. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? You have them just kind of free association write out a list. And hopefully they can write out 5, 10, 15, etc.
And just very genetically you would then take the results of that from a set of participants, 15 or 30 participants, and you’d do some type of frequency analysis here to find out which terms are coming up most. What this is going to help you with is a number of things. I would recommend this in advance of a card sort as a way to kind of get at what are the most salient or most important content items or terms in a given space.
So, the dilemma I mentioned before is that you’ve got 2,000 pages or 2,000 pieces of content and you can only run a card sort with 60 or 70. Use free listing as a way to kind of identify what are the most important ones and kind of representational of different categories.
The other thing that it can help you do is it can help you on its own start to recognize taxonomy and labeling and language that people use to describe things. A variation on this that I really like is you do have participants in a room, you have them on their own just write down on a piece of paper 4, 5, 10 things that are kind of prominent in the space, and then you have them take that list and pass it to the right. And, the next person then is inspired by the list of something that somebody else did and it triggers other memories or other thoughts of what other things they might like.
And, you continue passing those around the room 3, four or five times and you’ll get a little bit more exhaustive list. So, free listing is definitely, obviously it’s real cheap and easy, but pretty effective.
Focus group card sorting is another thing that we’ve tried. I don’t know if this is an official term, it’s just what we called it. We were working through like doing a card sort for an Internet and we were working with a business sponsor who was not a user experience information architect type person. But, they mentioned an off hand comment about getting everybody to do this kind of together just because logistically it was going to be they didn’t rely on everybody doing it on their own time, etc.
So, we took that idea and ran with it a little bit. What we did is we had stakeholders, or we had participants at various levels of the organization in a room. And, we had them bring their laptops to the room and we set up a card sort, an open card sort, web sort or optimal sort, I don’t remember, and we had them stay quiet and complete the card sort exercise on their own.
And when they were done, we had access to, on the projector, we had access to bring up the results. And, I think in both of those applications and others that you can bring up the aggregate results, but you can also bring up the individual results. And, this worked really well because what we did is we had the card sort run first, and it took them 15, 20 minutes to finish the card sort, and then we brought up the results and had more of a focus group discussion about it.
The reason that it worked really well is because we asked, after everybody was done, we asked, all right, who would like to go first and kind of tell us what they did and kind of the rationale. And, of course, the senior person in the room said, well, I’ll tell you what, here’s the way it should be, right?
So he said, “I grouped it this way.” And then we brought up the results and he was the only one to think of it that way. And so, it was a great way to kind of avoid the focus group dynamic of kind of a senior person kind of leading it. And, we got the results of the card sort as it was, but more important was the discussion that it created and facilitated and kind of put everybody on a level playing field.
So again, nothing technologically different about this but a good way to do that.
Another thing that we tried, I don’t know if everybody in here has seen Tree Jack. But, this is a product that came out from the guys from Optimal Sort a year or two ago. But even before that, the idea is we would talk about card sorting and different from open card sorting and closed card sorting where you place things into groups and the idea is to validate if your groups are right, and invariably the question is whose got something that has multiple levels of categories, right?
That was always the question. And, all the hard core card sort people would say, well, that throws off the cluster analysis and you don’t need to do that because you look at the data in aggregate, etc. But, there’s something more tangible about really testing your hierarchy down to the appropriate levels.
And so, that’s the idea and I think it’s great that the guys developed this application. What I really like about it is you can also base it in a task. So, up at the top could be it’s not just to find this, but you can set a little bit of a scenario around it that’s appropriate for the given domain.
And the way this works, if you’re not familiar with it, is it tests the percentage of time that people went to the right area. It has different weighting for different levels. They can also, because they’re doing it online, track success, speed, directness if they went back and forth, etc.
So, I think this is great. We don’t use it all the time. I think this is kind of an element of testing rather than kind of informing and being creative about an architecture, but it’s great for iterative kind of development.
An extension of that and the objection that people have to that is to say well, that’s all well and good to test my site organization in the abstract, but my real world is not in the abstract. Real world is real and real world has contextual clues and we can arrange things differently and we can have personalization and all that type of thing.
So, I direct you to a resource here, a group that’s something they call Contextual Card Sorting or I like First Click Card Sorting. And basically what this is is, and you can just tell by, you don’t have to see the details, but it looks like kind of like an armature site map or heat map of OK, if you’re task is to do X or find this, where would you go?
And, using wire frames or whatever artifact that you have, kind of measure a list of participants where people go. And, if you can do this online and get a number of participants to do it, you get a real good sense of what people are doing. The disadvantage of this is, obviously, that you have to have something and you have to build these prototypes and you don’t necessarily have to, you have to build them for as many levels as you want.
So, if you just want to test kind of the top root level of your hierarchy, you could do a [Inaudible 26:59] page or home page or something like that. You’d want to make every link kind of look like it was clickable so that you’re not giving any clues. And, you know, it doesn’t have to go anywhere. It could go to like a thank you for choosing this, onto the next task type of page. So, another good technique.
The other thing that we’ve done is really intentionally thought about facets. And, I know there’s been some other talks here about faceted navigation. The question is how do you come with those facets? So, this is the example I showed earlier where the company we worked with had kind of their own internal structure to it.
And, in the veterinary world there’s lots of different audiences. There’s veterinarians, who are doctors. There’s vet techs who are lower on the kind of knowledge scale, if you will. There’s practice managers, people who are not clinical at all. So, there’s a variety of kind of perspectives that people have.
And, what we were hoping to do is accommodate all those. And so to determine what we needed, we specifically framed our interview questions and contextual inquiry to inform facets. And, the way that we did that is a couple of ways. First, we would ask a question like, unbiased, just kind of a start of the interview, what things would help you find what you’re looking for on the site? What attributes of our products are most important to you?
Also, a technique called triading, if anybody’s ever used that. Triading is taking three items, in this case three different products or three different topics, and asking research participants what is different about two of them that’s different from a third and why are they different?
And, the advantage of asking it that way is that we’re not biasing them with how would you rate, you know, or which disciplines are most important to you, or which diseases do you want to know most about. Maybe that’s not the way they like to think of things.
So if you ask them this kind of triading method which two things are different from the third and why, the responses that they have in terms of the attributes are really kind of their own attributes and how they think of a given problem space or given domain.
And so, that’s how we kind of came up with how people would want to browse for things either by discipline or by disease or perhaps some of the techs were really kind of yeah, I know my product, I can just kind of look alphabetically.
Another technique that kind of builds on card sorting, if you will, naming exercises. Often times what you’ll do in an open card sort especially, is you’ll run an open card sort. You’ll have some groups, but those groups will be at one level higher than the cards that you selected.
You can do a little bit of analysis of the names that people gave groups, but the names that people gave groups for an individual response to a card sort are not necessarily the same groups that you end up with after doing kind of an aggregate analysis and looking at the results more holistically. So, those names you’re not going to really apply to your group, to your proposed groups.
So, kind of a three step process that I’ve used before is open card sort to help inform categories. And then a naming exercise to take kind of key representational items from each category, just put them out on a basic survey, say what would you name a group that had these four items in it? What would you name a group that had these five items in it?
And then you can use qualitative textual analysis tools to help you get a better sense of those names. So, thinking of that process. One, open card sort. Two, naming. Three would be some type of validation whether it be a closed card sort, a hierarchy validation or first click testing.
The last thing and we’ve had a chance to try this once. Celeste Paul authored, did a, I can’t remember if it was a masters or a PhD project about a method called Delphi card sorting. And, the idea with this is in card sorting, traditional card sorting, you have, you put our 70 cards or 80 cards and you have 30 or 40 people complete it.
And then, you get the results back and invariably you have questions, right, about the results. And you’re like, oh, I wish they would have just told me the answer. Now, what are we going to do? Are we going to do another card sort? How are we going to arrange this?
And, the idea here is that, especially for complex domains, the idea here is basically do card sorting in an iterative fashion, one person after another, one participant after another, starting with the subject matter expert who might a proposed initial categorization.
So, that person makes an initial categorization probably based on some cards and they have some categories. And what you do is you take those proposed categories and you take it to the second participant and you say, you know, this is just a rough start idea. How would you reorganize this to be a little bit different, if at all? And, you have them kind of adjust the categorization and the labeling, etc.
You take the results of that participant and you move on to the third and then you move on to the fourth kind of the same way. It’s a bit more qualitative in that respect because you can have a conversation and ask questions. And, the idea is to keep doing that until the changes are minimized. So, you think by person six, seven, eight that you’d have less and less changes. That’s the idea anyways.
What we’ve found is we didn’t get to that point where there was no changes, but doing it, doing the qualitative, doing the one-on-one version of this, that was the most helpful part of it rather than using an online card sort tool.
So, this is just a sample. Ten minutes, yep, we’ve got plenty of time here. So, that’s actually kind of the end.
So, the summary or the takeaway is, card sorting? Good. But you really need to understand and recognize its limitations or its strengths and weaknesses. And I would encourage you to consider these other approaches as things that are kind of built around card sorting. To really help you understand and inform, inform creative ideas. So that you’re not pigeon-holed into, OK card sort results? Answer. Put it on my website, alright? So.
With that, if you’re interested in this presentation, we do have it posted on our website, mapout.net. Or I think we even have some white paper and things at our booth upstairs. You’re welcome to stop by there. So, that’s the formal presentation. I wonder if anybody has any questions or comments?
Michael Hawley: Yes, the way that they did it was with paper prototypes. But there is a tool out there. Does anybody? I forget the name of it. The folks that do, Mindcanvas. Check out Mindcanvas. They have a number of different kind of game play research activities. One of them is one where you can have hotspots on the page, and where people click. I think you upload an image, it’s less of a clickable prototype. But check them out, Mindcanvas.
Michael Hawley: That’s right.
Yeah, that’s a relatively new one for them, but yeah, ideas. That’s cool.
Michael Hawley: Right, well I’ll give you that specific example and I’ll give you some others. So, that company sold products, you know diagnostic products for veterinarians. So, we would take, out to vets, and you know the target audience, and we’d present them with three products. And we’d say, in your mind, tell us which two products are different from a third, and how are they different.
Michael Hawley: Nope, nope, completely open. And it was, and that’s kind of the whole point, is to kind of keep it. That’s what people say is the benefit of that method, is that you’re not asking them like a survey question, about which of these is most accurate? Or whatever. So if accuracy is not really important to them, that’s not how they’re going to find things.
And so, that’s how we found out. They were kind of a similar family of products, but these two were, we think of as the work-horse and this one is kind of a one-off type of thing. Or, these two complement our reference lab, and this one doesn’t. You know, those types of things. And it’s like wow I didn’t think that would be important to you as a dimension.
Triading is also good, kind of outside of card sorting your information architecture. When you’re, we like to use it when we’re in the initial phases or a project. As an agency we’re learning about the space and the competitive landscape. And so we do competitive analysis with it as well. It’s like okay, Mr. and Mrs. Target Audience, here are three brands, in your mind, how is two different than a third?
And what we’re kind of up against. You can extend triading to like a repertory grid method. If you want to do some analysis on it, we don’t usually do that.
It’s a good kind of, you know what we’re looking for is some structured techniques, you know we could just go out and ask people questions. But if you go out, and it helps our researchers and it helps our people, it helps the participant understand if they’re doing kind of a structured technique rather than just, I’m going to ask you some questions. So, that’s kind of the basis of all this.
Well the rule is, if I write down five things and pass it to the person on my right, the person on my right can’t write one of the same five things. They just have, the idea with that is, you’ve probably experienced this with research participants. Sometimes they’re not, not that verbose or they can’t think on their feet fast enough or whatever. So you ask them to list ten things and they’re like, but I can only think of seven.
But then when you show them somebody else’s list, it’s like Oh, yeah. By association you can trigger some new memories. That’s the point of that, is to get more feedback triggered by other people’s responses. Which is kind of like a focus group everybody building off of each other.
Michael Hawley: Yeah I think we used Optimal Sort for that one, so we just sent everybody the link to our particular study. And then there’s a sign in for the administrator or the moderator to access the results console. So that’s all we did. So they needed an Internet question.
Michael Hawley: I recommend frantically going to Donna’s book and figuring out what to do. You really got to get it, you can run a couple of card sorts. I really that, what you want to do, is you want to whittle them down to that 60 or 80. You know, and you can do multiple, I’m sure people do that all the time.
She talks about, kind of trying to find a good mix of kind of key representative items in a, in a category. Even what you think is a category, as a way to do that. And using those as proxy for the other things that are similar to them. You know, it might depend a little bit on the stakeholders that you’re working with in terms of what they want as proof. If they want proof of every single item, then you got to run a bunch of different stats on all of it, then you might have to do a couple different studies. That’s what I’d say there.
Michael Hawley: Yeah, I think it’s probably similar to other research activities that you use. In that you have to look at the number of target audience groups. And if the groups are significantly different enough then you might have to do these activities with some of the different groups, or at least make sure you have enough participant representation from different groups.
We really like that focus group card sort study, for internal stuff like this. First of all because it’s easy to do. Second of all, you know people are open and willing to talk amongst them. And you can even mix groups. If you have the engineers here and the marketing people here. You can have representatives from both of those groups and they can talk about their differences. While, I think that in more of a consumer environment that might not work as well.
And you might have to do a couple of them to make sure you get representation. The 2000 items thing, it gets back to the question, 200, 2000, you’ve got to try to find a way to get it down to a representative group and just test, test. So, I really like that focus group method.
I have a question, is anybody hungry?
Well that’s all the material I have, if anybody has any questions, I will also be here for the week, or the weekend. And we have a booth upstairs for MapOut. I would love to hear from you. Thank you.
Content Analysis: Know, Don’t Fear, Your Content – Colleen Jones
Announcer: Colleen Jones, founder and principle of Content Science, suggests that we come overcome our fears of migrations, redesigns and integration by getting to know our content. Content analysis gets you to look at your content closely, weeding out what’s redundant, outdated and trivial.
In this session, Colleen walks us through content analysis, offering practical tips and examples along the way. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Colleen Jones: I am really excited to talk about content analysis today. I’m going to be talking about it especially with an eye or view toward content strategy.
I’d like to start off with a story. It’s a love story, actually. The love story between a company called 1-2-3 Media, a company that wanted to attract customers, especially small business customers, so they decided to build a website.
As you can see, it’s a very professional solid looking website, attractive. 1-2-3 Media just thought this was the prettiest website they’d ever seen. They fell in love with it, really. [laughter] They thought that this was absolutely the solution for them. It was representing their company the way they wanted it to. They really thought it was going to attract the customers they were looking for.
Weeks and months went by and 1-2-3 Media wasn’t getting the traffic they hoped for. Most importantly, they weren’t getting the customer calls for new business that they were hoping for. Their website just really wasn’t taking off.
They decided to investigate and see what was going on. Why did this website that they loved so much not get the results that they wanted? As part of their investigation, 1-2-3 Media decided to talk to perspective customers. Customers who represented the type of people they were trying to attract.
Here’s just a sample of some of the feedback that they got. One customer said: “I’m a small business, I don’t know all of these big words.” The language on the site was definitely a problem for some of these perspective customers.
Another said: “Why would I call you?” The value that 1-2-3 Media was trying to offer just wasn’t clear.
Another customer said: “What is Media Mix? Why is there a blender?” [laughter] A particular service that 1-2-3 Media was trying to offer, again, not clear and the imagery used to try to support it also wasn’t clear. It just added to the confusion.
Another customer said: “I don’t see pricing. I need at least a range before I will call.” This was interesting because 1-2-3 Media purposefully left the pricing out and thought that would actually encourage and drive people to call. With small business customers, they needed to know at least a ballpark to decide whether it was even in the range of their budget. They weren’t going to call and take the trouble for that next step if they didn’t have a basic sense of the pricing.
What this all adds up to, is that the content left eventual customers with more questions than answers and really, the content didn’t work. It didn’t work to the point that 1-2-3 Media felt that they had to say “goodbye” to their pretty website and start over. Start in a new direction.
Of course in doing so, they threw away money. I’ve got euros showing here but imagine that these were dollars as well. They threw away the money they invested in that initial website. The time and effort to build that pretty website.
They also lost opportunity. For all the time that website was live with content that didn’t work, who knows how much potential business 1-2-3 Media lost?
You might be wondering how can this happen in 2010, when we’ve been building websites and interactive experiences like this for quite awhile now? In the case of 1-2-3 Media they simply did not know the content needs, but they rushed into that pretty website anyway. They didn’t do a content analysis.
The tragic thing is, this happens everyday with all kinds of companies and organizations. People rushing into that solution without really knowing what they need from a content standpoint. The only way to really know what you need from a content standpoint is to do a content analysis.
You might be wondering what this content analysis thing is like. To me, it’s a lot like problem analysis. One of my favorite quotes about problem analysis is from the great designer and innovator, Steve Jobs. As you know, Steve Jobs really likes and enjoys creating a really beautiful and attractive products but he doesn’t start with the beautiful, attractive part. There’s problem analysis that goes into it beforehand.
Here’s what he has to say about problem analysis, he says: “When you start looking at a problem and see a simple solution you don’t understand the problem.” He goes on to say: “If you keep looking and you are halfway there, the really great person will keep going and find the underlying principal of the problem to come up with a beautiful, elegant solution that works.” Let me say that first part again: “The great person will keep going and find the underlying principal of the problem.”
This is very much what content analysis is about. What I love about this quote is how it emphasizes the thoroughness, the diligence and the discipline involved in taking the time and effort in doing that analysis before moving through with the solution.
I’d like to give you more of a flavor of content analysis by actually walking through an analysis on a high level.
You might be wondering, how do I know when I’ve gone far enough in an analysis? I don’t want to get caught in analysis paralysis and I’ve got to meet deadlines and produce something for my boss and all of these good things. So when I’m walking through this content analysis, I’m going to provide a basic structure that will help you ensure you cover the key areas that apply to most interactive projects.
Let’s start with a scenario. Let’s pretend that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are redesigning a site about travel health. This is a very popular website in terms of traffic for international travelers, trying to help them plan for international trips.
CDC suspects that destinations content, a particular section on this website, a large section on this website, need improvement as part of this new design. They’ve been getting calls and emails asking question about things that actually are addressed on the website. So they have asked us to take a look.
Now, I think this is a pretty useful scenario because a lot of us are in situations where we’re dealing with existing content and we have to figure out whether it’s working, and what to do with it. So let’s take a glance at a page from this “Destinations” section. And what might you notice right off the bat about this page?
Very long, very dense, there’s lots of content here for sure. And this is a red flag to us right away of course in terms of maybe usability, maybe information design, but we need to go a little bit further to understand what content we’ve got and why this is the situation it’s in. So let’s really start looking at the content by doing an audit.
To do an audit of course, create an inventory of the content and then you look at it quantitatively and qualitatively. Now I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the inventory and the qualitative analysis because there are already good resources out there, you’re probably already at least familiar with that part of it. I’m going to spend a little more time on the qualitative analysis.
So we create an inventory in a spreadsheet and capture important aspects of the content such as what topic, what format is it in, is it image content, video, audio, things like that to really help us get an additional handle of what content we’re dealing with. And this spreadsheet is really the foundation for a lot of the rest of our audit and our analysis. As Christina Halverson has said, “It’s very much your friend for the rest of the process.”
So from there we can take a look at the content quantitatively. For example, in this particular example with CDC, I’ve just highlighted here how the topic of disease outbreak made up quite a bit of the content. It was definitely the most, the largest topic in the content.
And you can take a look quantitatively at a lot of other aspects of the content as well. The content type, format, you can even get down to character links, things like that to really get an understanding of what content you have.
Now what does this analysis, this quantitative analysis, not tell us? Well, it doesn’t tell us whether the content is any good. It doesn’t tell us much about the quality of the content and for that we need more of a qualitative analysis.
Now you might be familiar with the ROT analysis, taking a look at whether the content is redundant, outdated or trivial. And that certainly is very helpful for identifying the content that is just really bad and we just really don’t need to spend any more time dealing with it.
But what about the rest of the content? Usually there’s a lot of content left. And how do we know whether that is any good or how good it is? Now for that, I find it helpful, no matter what sort of project or business or industry I’m dealing with, to use a quality checklist. And so looking at the content across a few areas to see how it stacks up.
Is the content findable and usable? Can people most likely get to it and read it? Is the content complete? Are there any major gaps that really stand out. Is the content clear and accurate? Are there factual errors, are there typos, misspellings? Is the content consistent and appropriate in style? Is it really formal and legal sounding in one place and really informal and kind of juvenile sounding in another place? Or if you’re integrating maybe two different websites, do they have different tones and styles?
Is the content useful and relevant, is it meeting user needs and is it most likely pertinent to what a user would need or what the user’s situation is at the time? And is the content influential? Does it help people to act? Does it help people to make a decision?
And I find this checklist useful no matter what sort of situation, business, organization or industry I’m in.
Now you might be wondering why these last two categories are in bold red. And that’s because you might be thinking, “Well how do I really know if content is useful and relevant and influential just by looking at it?” Well in just a few minutes, I’m going to address that a little bit more. But at this point, if you have a lot of experience with content you can identify whether any techniques or efforts are evident in the content to make it useful, to make it relate to user needs.
Are any rhetorical techniques being used to help make it influential? Is there a clear call to action to help with acting on the content? Things like that. And then with a couple of other aspects of content analysis, you can decide more firmly whether the content is useful, relevant and influential.
So here’s just a small example of an issue, quality issue. We’ve got some travel notices, a section called, “Travel Notices In Effect,” in this “Destinations” content for CDC. And we’ve got a list of notices with dates. What are these dates? Are they the dates of posting? Are they the dates that the travel notices went into effect? Are they the dates that the travel notices will no longer be in effect? What are these dates? I think it’s safe to say that this is a clarity issue.
Now why a checklist? Why bother with a quality checklist for content? Well I think in information architecture and user experience and design, we have a whole lot of knowledge now. And a checklist can help with managing that knowledge.
A lot of us are really wearing multiple hats and keeping you know these aspects of quality straight at a glance I think is very useful. Checklist Manifesto is a book that actually talks about the positive results from complicated industries such as medicine, health industry, introducing more checklists to what they do. And I think it’s absolutely useful to what we do as well.
And as far as auditing content quality, why should we do that? I find it very helpful, and I think you will as well, to talking about aspects of content that seem fuzzy. And for a lot of people that means it’s kind of scary. It’s kind of nebulous. I don’t really know how to get my arms around it. Especially if you’re dealing with stakeholders who feel kind of close to the content.
It can be a pretty sensitive issue for some people. And so if we have a checklist and we have some attributes or categories for content quality, it’s easier to talk about them and discuss them in a reasonable manner. And then auditing the content quality can help make decisions about where to invest your content efforts.
For example, in the CDC, “Destinations” content, we could flag content quality issues and then summarize them, and get a sense of what the most issues are.
And in this case, I’ve just got an example showing that clarity and accuracy and usefulness, relevance are really the biggest issues. And I think this is useful no matter what business or organization or industry you’re in. I also think a lot of people kind of end their assessment of content and whether it works at the usability phase. So can people get to it? Can they read it and interact with it?
But we really need to go a little bit deeper if we are really trying to help people make decisions and take action. So this is good, we’ve completed a content audit and we’ve got a good understanding of what content we’ve got and how good it is. But what does this audit not tell us?
Well, it doesn’t tell us things like whether the content fits in with our goal or goals. And it doesn’t tell us what users think about it. And it doesn’t tell us what processes and decisions and what culture surrounds the creation of content. So I think that Steve Jobs would say that we’re really only halfway there when it comes to looking at our content. We need to go a little bit further beyond the audit and understand the content landscape so that we can really form a complete, solid picture of our content needs.
So let’s keep looking at the content landscape. I’m just going to highlight three areas briefly. The first is looking at the goal. No matter of course your project or business or organization you need to have a goal. Now to really understand the goal, you can review any written statements if you’re in a more formal organization, talk to the project sponsor and stakeholders and then compare your goal with the audit, with your content that you’ve got.
So in the case of CDC, we find this lengthy written statement, “To provide information based on scientific studies, disease surveillance and best practices to assist travelers in deciding the vaccinations, medications and other measures necessary to prevent illness and injury during international travel.” And then we talk to stakeholders and we’re able to boil it down to this, “To help travelers to decide how to prevent illness and injury.”
And an example of that would be helping them decide what shots or vaccinations they need to get. This is actually a really strong goal. It ties in very well to the public health mission of CDC.
An example of something that isn’t a good goal is to have a blog or to make the website engaging. Why are you doing that? There needs to be a tie to the organizational or business goals in order for this really to work and be effective.
Now, now that we’ve got a sense of what the goal is, we can go back to our audit and take a look at whether the content fits that goal so as you remember, we found in terms of topics that disease outbreak was really the largest, most frequent topic. And this is just a sample, as you remember, the travel notices about the outbreaks, a big part of the content in this “Destinations” section.
Do news reports about disease outbreaks help people decide what they need to do? I’m starting to think, maybe not. It’s certainly relevant content, it’s accurate content, it’s, has a lot of other positive attributes but does it really fit the goal? Now we can keep going in our content landscape and take a look at what users think.
So to do that, I really like, for strategy especially, talking to users and observing them directly so qualitative research. You also certainly can consult any metrics data, call driver data, other sorts of data that help indicate or suggest what customers or users are trying to do. But at the strategy stage, you need a really good understanding of why things are happening the way that they’re happening and that’s why I find talking to users directly as part of this analysis, very helpful.
So in our case with the CDC example, we need to talk to travelers. For you in your business, you need to talk to whoever you’re trying to reach with your content. So we asked travelers to complete some appropriate tasks, observed and listened to them, asked what they think, get that feedback and then compare it with our audit.
And also I’d like to note that on Sunday I’m doing a session with Kevin O’Connor of User Insight that will talk a little bit more about the testing that we did for this project and blow out a little bit more some of the concepts that we tested to help address this issue. To help improve the content experience.
So here’s a sample of the feedback we might have gotten. One, well overall there is some potential to this content, we certainly found that. And the things about your content that work you need to be sure to capture and make sure that you preserve the things that work in any changes that you make. But in the case of the CDC example, we see a potential in terms of influence. One user said, “I trust information from CDC because they focus so much on science.”
High degree of credibility with CDC content. Another user found the concept of this information very handy that user said, “This could be a great resource for me because I travel a lot.” And it’s hard for people to deny that. So if you get a reaction that maybe isn’t as positive as you would like or maybe is a bit emotional, certainly empathize with the reaction but remain confident. With a little time most people recognize the value of the content analysis.
So let’s wrap up by just recapping what we learned. Don’t rush into a website without knowing your content needs. Really don’t rush into any interactive experience without knowing the content needs. Use content analysis to understand what content you have, whether it’s good quality, whether it works for your goals and users and how your content ecosystem affects it.
And finally, report your content analysis clearly and confidently. Now I’ve been talking a lot, but what questions can I answer for you about content analysis? Yes?
Audience member: I something that I struggle with within my organization and also just talking about how we’re going to present this to clients, is a lot of times, the content audit and analysis is one step and then we hand over our estimate for our project as though it has no bearing.
Colleen Jones: Yeah.
Audience member: On the actual content portion of the project when really, you don’t know how much any of your work is going to cost and what effort you take to do that analysis. So do you say, “Well we’ll start with this and then we’ll determine.”
Colleen Jones: Yes, that’s what I… I absolutely try as much as possible to do that so we have a discovery that includes a content analysis, and we don’t necessarily tie in with a project all the rest of the steps, the concepts and the production and all of those other things.
I think that way it avoids a lot of issues of “Oh gosh, what if in our analysis we discover that we need a whole lot of work done to the content and we estimated for the rest of the project,” we would really only need to do some minor editing.
Audience member: And do you find that your clients respond well to that or are they suspicious of that unknown?
Colleen Jones: I find, I mean it takes some education in some ways, but for the most part they understand, and it really protects them as well. It provides them an opportunity to make decisions, so if in the content analysis or discovery phase we find a whole host of problems, it provides them an opportunity for them to provide input on what the priority for addressing them should be and figure out the best way.
They might have other projects going on that could help address some of the issues found and they don’t all have to be tied into my project with them. Things like that. And I think more and more people are encouraging that approach and trying to take that approach. Sometimes, to your point, the financial structures or payment mechanisms, RFP’s and all of that neat stuff don’t necessarily allow it, but I think having a separate discovery phase and separate project implementation development phase helps a lot.
I think there’s progress being made in taking that approach. And I just do my part to help encourage that.
Yes, Kevin. Yes, absolutely. I think style guides can be very helpful for addressing that problem or challenge, and the key is to have people enforcing, actively following and updating the style guide. Jenny Reddish in Letting Go of the Worst talks about a living style guide and you know keeping it updated and relevant and having people involved in, if not creating it then maintaining it to help ensure it’s followed and implemented.
I’ve always found it funny that a lot of style guides from interactive agencies really just talk about design and really just talk about the appearance, graphic size and how far things can be from the logo and a lot of identity standards but not really much about the content other than some descriptive terms of brand attributes and maybe some example terminology.
But really that can go a lot further and the publishing you know newspaper and other related industries have a lot when it comes to content style guides that I think we could use and leverage and do a lot better with.
Yes Adele. Well I definitely have been, well and NE doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a peon by the way, but I certainly have been an NE at several large organizations.
CDC way back when they had things like webmaster as job titles. And also at Cingular Wireless, I worked there for about three years across a bunch of their channels and communications. And there certainly is some consideration of your organization or business culture.
So with CDC for example, it’s kind of like an academic culture in some ways, and they highly respect data, they highly respect taking a logical, thorough approach and really respect doing whatever it takes to improve public health. So taking a kind of collegial approach involving stakeholders, getting that informal authority.
You might not have formal authority over people, but gathering that informal authority and getting someone who does have formal authority to support has been effective. Not always effective, but I certainly have been surprised at what can be done with that approach.
Carolyn. Yes, and with CDC and other sorts of similar organizations who have kind of that decentralized approach to content, design and in communication, you could get away with doing something different, trying something out, trying a different approach or solution on a small scale.
So within particular group or for a particular department and then showing the success of that to your point, Carrie Lynn and saying, “Hey, what if we did this across the whole organization? Wouldn’t this be great?” We’d have great results across the entire group. So that can definitely be effective. Any other questions? Yes. So what’s the best way to approach the content analysis?
Audience member 2: [Inaudible 36:25]
Colleen Jones: I mainly have a person, or a couple of people if it’s a large project, really digging into the content and taking… Especially the auditing part which is what I’m thinking about or have in mind when I say this, but having someone or a few people dig into that analysis. And get a cohesive picture of what’s going on.
Because if you have too many people doing the analysis, it can be hard to see you know what the big picture is. You kind of have to marinate in it in my experience to really get a good feel for, especially in a situation like CDC where there’s a lot of content. So was that, was your question about analysis or was it about reporting the analysis?
I just realized you might have been asking about reporting. We can talk more afterward and I think I could get a better feel for your particular situation that you’re asking about, but generally with the analysis, having fewer people and not really doing a workshop approach is what I find helpful. And for users, getting the user feedback on content, our presentation on Sunday is going to go into a little bit more about our approach with that.
So how we go about talking to people about content and all those good things.
And as far as reporting, I think that a meeting presentation certainly is useful and then workshops can be helpful for you know introducing the style guide to people, getting them familiar with the style guide. Teaching them how to use it an apply it, those sorts of things.
Colleen Jones: Thank you.
BodyStorming – Dennis Schleicher
Announcer: A BodyStorm is a live presentation, like a short play in which user experienced people improvise several scenes with the audience asking questions. Using this method helps lead to a better understanding of the problem and solution spaces.
In this session, Dennis Schleicher goes over the best practices, techniques and tools for Bodystorming. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast.
Dennis Schleicher: Why BodyStorming is going to change your life forever, for free, right now. You will not be the same after this.
My background is business and industrial anthropology, all right? So, what we do as anthropologists, we go off into these foreign lands, we see a lot of strange people doing strange things and we come back, all right?
And then what happens, believe it or not, is then we see everybody that we thought was normal, strange again. And, that’s pretty much what I want to do with BodyStorming today. I want to give you the ability to make the familiar unfamiliar, to make the normal strange, to allow you to see in new ways.
So, my blog is Tibetan Tailor. And, I think that it’s a good story. I got this a number of years ago.
If you go to a Tailor in the U.S., right, perhaps get a suit made. What are they going to do? Measure your inseam, measure your neck, measure your arm, go away, cut the cloth, put it together. You come back in a couple days and you have a suit that fits you very well.
For this wonderful story about if you go to a tailor in Tibet, of course, they’re going to start off, they’re going to measure your inseam, measure your neck, measure your arm length. But before they cut the clothes, they follow you around for a couple days. They see how you live your life, what you do, and then they design the clothes for you.
So, that’s really what I want to try and emphasize this idea of making sure that you see how people live, how yourself lives and how people will use these technologies, these devices, and making sure that we’re taking measure of the life that these fit in.
As Crystal says, this comes out of a number of different types of activities or sometimes they’re called overlap technologies for allowing people to stretch their minds, stretch their perceptions.
So, what is this BodyStorming thing? BodyStorming is brainstorming with a twist. It’s like physical brainstorming. So, people work in teams. You’re going to work in twos. You’re going to pair up. Or, you could call them troops. And, they solve the design problem or they design a new product or a new service.
So, these troops working together come up with different ideas and then perform short little skits and they act out the idea. So, it’s not them presenting the idea talking through it, but acting out the idea to solve the problem or to the design to show a new or a changed world.
What it’s not. It is not use case theater. So, I’m sorry. That’s what I used to think a while ago. But, that’s a little bit too much like prototyping. So, we’re not designing this to prototype and to test the system. It’s equally as much about generating ideas and to seeing in new ways as much as it is as trying to figure out is something going to work.
There’s another word going around lately which is informance. This is not presentation. So, this isn’t a different way to do a presentation. So, that’s what it’s also not. Though, I’ll say it’s not prototyping, it still allows you to discover problems and issues, especially in context for whatever types of solutions that you’re coming up with.
So in general, this is my philosophy of life, if you want to call it, this idea of trying to invest new methodologies to allow both myself or other people how to see things in new ways, designing experiences so that they can use these methods like BodyStorming to be able to see something in a new way.
And, that’s the goal is to help other people to see this in a new way. Some of those people were designers, some of them were programmers, product developers, people just off the street, people from some non-profit organizations. They all saw these things in different ways. The goal, changing cultures and developing people.
So, the very first rule of BodyStorming is don’t talk ideas. I don’t know how to explain this other than as soon as you start storming you’re going to want to talk. You’re going to, hey, what do you think if we do this and then we do that, and you’re just going to stand around and talk. You have to stop talking and actually show the other person what you’re thinking about and you start acting it.
And, it’s like well, OK, if I just say that, then they’re not going to know what they’re supposed to do. This isn’t a script. The idea is not to have a script and then to run through it. It’s much more closer to improv.
So, the first rule is don’t talk ideas. And, this is going to be the absolute hardest thing. So, the longer that you’re sitting around or that you stand around and that you’re talking out your ideas, the less that you’re BodyStorming, OK? Just don’t sit, just don’t stand, don’t just walk around. Do something.
It’s that first act. I don’t know quite how to explain it. It’s probably not making much sense. But when you do it, you will feel it and it’s amazing.
That first act, that first attempt at trying out something is the key. So, if you think that you should have a whiteboard in the room, no, don’t do it. You think about creating a list of things that you want to do, don’t do it. Just start doing it. If you’re talking, stop and start storming, alright?
Now, why is BodyStorming needed? We’re human beings. We’re people, right? We’re not computers. Computer-itis is definitely a growing problem. So, probably about the 1950’s, there was this big world war that happened after World War II, and this was between accounting, which for the longest time had answered the decisions and questions that businesses had about what they should be doing next.
And, there was this new group, this geeky group that was walking around that said, you know what, listen to us. We can help you make better decisions. They were called the IT group. We can computerize all this information and we can make it so that your decisions will be much better.
Now, all those decisions are based on what types of information, information that could b computerized. So, there’s other types of information that’s out there. There’s things that are not yet facts, which are perceptions and they’re not really capturable in a requirements document or in a PRD or design brief.
And, these are truly important events that happen while something is going on, not after. These really aren’t the trends, they are the changes in the trends. These changes have to be perceived. They can’t be counted, defined, they can’t be described and inputted into a computer.
A computer is a logical type of device, a logical machine, but it has it’s limitations. People really suck at logic. But, we’re very strong at other things. Our other strength is that we are perceptive beings.
And so, by being able to engage in BodyStorming, we’re actually doing what we’re good at.
Some of you probably like to have checklists and things like that. I love checklists. I am actually been trained something called “IDEF” process modeling. It is wonderful stuff. Do you want to know why we have those things? Because we are not naturally good at it.
Now, does anybody here have a process or a checklist for how to meet other people, or how to be a human? No. It comes naturally. It is our strength to be social beings. So, maybe some of you do. But for most people their strength is being social beings, and so this is incredibly important.
Let the computer do what it is good at, but it has unfortunately shut us out of access to reality. It has become too much of a filter for us. This computer-itis is serious. By necessity, we are designing things, but unless we are making a conscious effort to perceive this outside the impacts that we want to do…
As you can see by their… the devices that they were designing. What type of a design brief was needed to make the mirror screen, the mirror technologies? Nothing. It was more so looking at the impacts that these devices have, and that is what you were designing for. You are designing for the impacts, not necessarily the thing that you are designing. So, we want to get away from this inside reality, this inside system that blinds us to the true reality.
The essence of bodystorming is groups sketching out, or activity, the ideas with our bodies and with different props. So, maybe some of you have read Bill Buxton’s Sketching the User Experience. It is kind of like that, but instead of using a pencil and paper, you are using your body with pencils and paper, and other people’s bodies. So, you can’t really bodystorm too much by yourself. You want to do it with other people.
So, this morning Dan Worm was saying, “The best picture wins,” so for this the best bodystorm wins. This is an unbelievably powerful technique, both for coming up with ideas and for communicating ideas.
The concept of participant observation is very strong for me. It means that you don’t just observe, but you participate. It is one of the foundational concepts of ethnography and anthropology, and that is really for a good storm, everybody should be participating. I am hoping that most of you in the audience, if not everybody, will participate and tryout this bodystorm. Use your strength.
Bodystorm is a quick way to generate and see, and communicate ideas. So, it is not informative. It is not just about presenting the ideas. In last week’s Fast Thinking magazine, there was a great article on intelligence and AI. It said, “The essence of intelligence if we want to think about it is a bunch of independent cells acting to do something.” It’s like, “Hmm, yeah, because that is not AI.” It is intelligence.
So, bodystorming is a bunch of individual people working together. They are not trying to do the same thing. They don’t have complete understanding of communication. That miscommunication, those ideas, those building upon things, that is what makes bodystorming so incredibly powerful.
Don’t think about it as a game all right, in which you have four people playing the same game. The truth of the…and this is where I think game theory breaks down, and isn’t very useful. It is four people, or two people, or five people, they are each playing their own game in the same space. That is the power of bodystorming.
How do those different games come together, and play out and work? How do you create a system that works with people playing different games? Bodystorming is people working together in very tight, generate, do-learn cycles.
We have these wonderful processes that we follow. Let’s go out there and research and investigate something, and then let’s create a design solution, and then let’s test it. Bodystorming takes all of those three different processes, and makes them at the same time. In a matter of seconds or minutes, you will go through many of these different cycles, many of these generate, do-learn cycles.
Rules for successful bodystorming. We’re going to try one today. Use your body to act out your ideas. Don’t talk about your ideas. Act them out. This is pretty much like poetry slam meets, hacking and participation. Don’t be a tree, so in your storm you can’t say, “Hey! I am going to be a tree in the background, and you just do your stuff in front of me.” So, no trees.
Stop talking. Act it out. Don’t explain your idea to me, act it out. This is so hard. We all want to just talk about it. It is not really a prototype, but a sketch. So use large call-outs, use labels, shortcuts, anything that you can have. Don’t sit there for a while and think, “Hmm. Oh, well. I’ll go to the next slide, sorry.” Don’t go for a while there.
Use large cards and labels. Don’t think, “Hmm. How should I as an actor convey that? I think this customer coming up to me is a real”…I guess this is being recorded, “A nasty person, right.” Don’t do that. Put a thought bubble above their head that says, “Nasty person.” Right. Don’t, you know…any shortcut that you can have.
If you want to have a narrator, you can. They can have like a TV control, where they can stop the action, rewind, play it again, or they can say, “Fast forward,” however that works. Your props that you are using can have feelings, thoughts. They can talk.
When your group is working on its presentation, try and approach it with a spirit of improv. So, don’t say, “But, don’t do this.” Add on to this. Say, “And this” and try and build on the sequence of activities.
Our expectations are you are going to be tired, exhausted, excited and happy. You will have experienced a bodystorm. So, you can’t say that you saw a bodystorm. So, what? All right, I want you to experience it. I want you to be able to say that you tried a bodystorm, whether you liked it or you didn’t like it…fine, but try it.
Some of you will want to try it again out with different variations. Bren has tried a couple of them so far. You will be able to experience it, as both the actors and the audience. As I said before, it is not informance.
Frequently asked questions. Yes. You can play more than one role. Put a label, put maybe two big sticky notes on yourself. After you are switching to the second role, rip the first one out and you can see what you are in the second one. For idea generation, just start storming. It seems to happen. To make a better narrative, basics is; you have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
There is some great work by Cindy Chastain on narrative, intention, and things like that. I have tried to simplify it right here. If we had a couple of more hours, we would go in more.
Yes. It is OK to continue to iterate in your presentation. You don’t have a skit. It will change every single time that you do it. Do you have to choose ideas to push forward, the tiger in creativity? Sometimes people talk a great explanation of how do you write great poetry, right. There are some people who know the grammar, who are very good at the meter. They write poetry that makes perfect sense, and it has no energy.
Then you have other people that write things like, “How?” What kinds of crazy contraptions and meters are being used there? It might be a little bit too much. “Hmm. I like it. I can definitely see the energy, but I don’t understand all of the things in there.”
It is that middle area of riding the tiger, where you have a hold of the scruff. Sometimes you are in control of the tiger, and other times you are being drugged around, and you are not quite sure where you are going to go. That is why you need to storm with other people, because you don’t control them.
And everybody working together, playing their own games, amazing stuff comes forward.
Conversion Rates Small Design Tweaks That Make a Difference ‑ Conversion Rates: Small Design Tweaks That Make a Difference — Kejun Xu
Announcer: Conversion is key for many web‑based businesses. Especially those dependent upon subscription fees. In this presentation, Kejun Xu talks about best practices using theoretical frameworks to optimize your site’s conversion, web credibility, and user’s willingness to buy. Frameworks examine include rhetoric as an art of persuasion and brain theory to explain decision making and online purchase behavior. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Kejun Xu: My name is Kejun Xu. I’m a user experience designer at Lynda.com. A company that does online training software tutorial. I’m going to talk about conversion rates today. And by the way, thanks so much for coming. I know you have choices. And thanks for shopping and coming to this room. Conversion rates for companies whose business motto is based on conversion, like membership‑based subscription fees, conversion is really the key to the business. What makes your users come to the site and sign up as a member? And what makes them hesitate? And what makes them fill out the first page of registration and quit on the second page? And what makes them convert and what doesn’t? Here’s some background information about this presentation and the research that I did.
I’ve been working at Bargain Network for the past couple of years. It’s a company that does membership based foreclosure listing. And has an online registration form to convert both organic and paid search traffic, where it is really my [unintelligible 02:08]. I did a lot of usability testing focus groups, surveys, [unintelligible 02:13] testing, and [unintelligible 02:14] testing to find out what design variables can convert my users or what cannot.
So before I dive into my bullet points, let’s take a look at some other websites’ online conversion form. This is GoToMyPC. It’s a very neat product from Citrix Online. It’s a three step registration process. Step one: first name, last name, email addresses. And step two: setting up your password. And step three: putting your credit card/debit card information. OK. That’s a three step process.
And here’s Linen.com’s online registration. Two steps. One: first name, last name, email address, setting up your password. Page two: standard billing information. And you also can see we also put VeriSign logo and BBB logo. Both above the fold, and below the fold. So here’s Melchips’ online registration. It’s just one page. It doesn’t even ask you for first name, last name. It doesn’t ask you for your name. It’s very interesting. It only asks you for email, user name and password. It’s very clean, simple, straightforward, one step registration.
Before I get to my bullet points, I want to throw out the question here to you guys: what do you think is the most important in web conversion? Please bear with me for a couple of minutes for some rhetoric and brain theory. These are the fundamental and theoretic framework for my research.
Auto persuasion. Three things to define rhetoric: egos, logos, and pathos. Egos deals with the credibility of the source of communication. For example: if I were Bill Gates standing here talking about computers science or if I were Jakob Nielsen talking about usability here, you guys would, maybe, better trust me. So it’s totally not insulting if you say, “Hmm. I don’t trust you,” because you don’t know me. So that’s totally understandable.
The implication is that if we can put up something on our site to demonstrate our credibility then that is the first battle won in terms of persuasion. OK, logos. Well, logos is the proof of choose through a reasonable argument either inductive or deductive. For example, this is what we offer and this is what you can get and this is the benefit and here is a subscription fee. Does it worth it for you to sign up or not?
And pathos is the stirring of emotion in an individual which is basically about emotional design. Well, usability is about can the users go through the sign up process and sign up as a user. But pathos, or emotional design, is about, will the users go through the site and sign up as a user. These are totally different things and user experience goes deep.
And interestingly enough, when I was doing the persuasion research, I found what Aristotle proposed 2,500 years ago coincides with the brain theory that Neuro‑scientists have been working on for years. And Susan Weinschenk wrote a very nice web‑book called Neuro Web Design and she has very extensive explanations of how our brain is formed and how it functions.
So, in a few words, it sound creepy, but our brain is formed of three parts: old brain, mid‑brain and new brain. Well, the old brain as the name alludes to, is the oldest formation in our brain. Animals have old brain as well. It’s basically concerned with survival, digestion and breathing. For example, a week ago I was in San Diego and experienced the 7.2 magnitude earthquake. And at that time, at that 40 second shake, it was really my old brain functioning to see if the room was safe or not and if I need to run out of the house.
And mid‑brain is where the emotions are processed. It deals with a lot of impulse buying. For example, I used to do shopping a lot and I bought things I totally don’t need and that’s the fault of my mid‑brain. And new brain is about newly, very newly structured brain in our mind and it’s basically like I’m doing a presentation or reading a book or planning, critical thinking, playing the music or listening to the music. These are all down in our new brain. Like reading a book is down in new brain.
So here’s a big question: what’s the difference between old brain, mid‑brain and new brain? Well, the most fundamental difference is that the processing of our old brain and mid‑brain occur outside of the conscious awareness. We are only aware of the processing in our new brain. And we think, we are reasonable rational people who make our decisions based on careful thinking.
But the fact is that a lot of times what website we go to, what we do while we’re there, whether we purchase or not, these decisions and actions are largely based on unconsciousness, largely done unconsciously. So it is true that some decision‑making such as what camera to buy, where to buy it from, may come from your rational thinking but the point here is that the majority of our emotional processing and decision‑making are totally based on unconscious processing.
A case in point. Well, Susan in one of her presentations also cited an anecdote whose coin starts with my story and this might be the same experience for some you guys as well. We bought an iPod Shuffle several years ago and the reason I convinced myself to buy this iPod Shuffle was because I wanted to take it out for exercise, running, jogging and listening to the music. But after I bought it I never ever did it once.
And several years later, what do I really think about this purchase? I thought well … it’s not really the reason for me to buy this Shuffle, just because I want to take it out for exercise. It’s really that it’s such a cute, tiny device and my cousin had one at the time, and my boyfriend also has one. So, I think, maybe it’s kind of cool to have one as mine, as well. And then, after the Shuffle, I bought an iPod Touch, and now I’m thinking, do I want to get an iPad as well? And, I’ll tell you, these are totally irrational.
Kejun Xu: Okay. With all these, brain theory and rhetoric theory, in mind. Here are some takeaways from my [unintelligible 09:32] and my research: professionalism, usability, answer users’ questions, call to action but push soft, what real estate above the fold, social validation, and provide a unique user experience. Professionalism. At Bargain Network we had two parallel running websites. One is a prettier one, ForeclosedHomes.com and the other one is the uglier one, BargainNetwork.com. These two websites, ForeclosedHomes.com was kind of like a redesign of BargainNetwork.com, but we hadn’t gotten to the point to get rid of this website. Unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten to that point, the company closed in March. So, that also forced me to move on to Lynda.com, by the way.
But, for these two sites, we are using exactly the same data providers. So, in other words, whatever foreclosure listing information you search on BargainNetwork.com you can search the same thing as ForeclosedHomes.com, and vice versa. The difference of the two sites is probably just they’ll look different. In our usability testing, one of the highest scores for more satisfaction, surveys that our users really think ForeclosedHomes.com looks better, and it looks professional.
So what’s the impact on conversion rates? I did a 30 day conversion rate sample. When we’re talking about conversion rates, it could be conversion of dates on the totally unique visitors. You use the absolute sales number divided by the number of your total unique visitors, or it could be conversion rates based on the first page of registration. You use, the absolute sales number divided by the total unique visitors going to the first page of the registration.
So, here’s some interesting numbers. Although the company closed, I still don’t feel confident to disclose the exact conversion rates to the public. So, I use One A and One B, and Two A and Two B here. Interestingly, One A, that is ForeclosedHomes.com conversion rate is less than BargainNetwork.com conversion rate. But, for the conversion rates based on the first page of the registration, ForeclosedHomes.com is higher than BargainNetwork.com. What am I going to do with this data?
I did a T‑TEST, which is a widely used inferential statistical test, to look at the significance of difference between two independent samples. So, in other words, if I find the significance of difference of set two has more probability, I’ll probably look at set two data, as opposed to set one, or vice versa. The results showed from the T‑TEST, the P value for set two data is less than 0.05, and that means it’s 95% chance you want to look at set two data, and that means data for set two is more reliable, in terms of data comparison.
For set one, you see the blue number’s 0.48, so it’s like 50/50. Do you want to believe this data or not? It’s like a 50/50 chance. It’s not really reliable to look at set one data. So that means ForeclosedHomes.com, the prettier website’s conversion rate is higher is than BargainNetwork.com, the uglier website. So, it’s interesting to see the impact of professionalism on the conversion rates.
Okay. So usability. This is our ForeclosedHomes.com website. Three page, three step registration process. Basically, page one is the value proposition with our benefit statement and actually, registration page one occurred on the second step. We asked you for your first name, last name, address, phone number and email addresses and also provide you the price information.
And registration page two which is the third step asked you for the credit card information which is pretty standard. Okay. So, in our testing, one hard issue we found was that when our users get to registration page two which is the last page, they kind of freak out because we claim that the website is free for seven days, a free seven day trial. You can try it for free for seven days.
So for some users, if you tell them it’s free they’ll just go ahead and sign up. So in our testing, participants kind of freak out when you ask them for their credit card information so they click back to page one to see how much the price is. And the bug or the usability issue on page one was that all of the previous entered information on page one was lost.
So if you want to continue to sign up you have to re‑enter your first name, last name, addresses, phone number, everything. It’s not a huge effort but it is some effort. And our participants were complaining about that. So we fixed the bug and the conversion rates increased substantially. So building on the note of the previous screen, registration page two we asked them for, I mentioned just now, the credit card/debit card information, even though we claim it is a free seven day trial.
So my users were asking me, it’s a free trial but why do you need my credit card information. Well, although this is pretty standard on a lot of memberships, subscriptions, service websites. So, you can get your users and all participants asking this question. And this was one of the most frequently asked questions of all of them on our usability testing.
So what we did at ForeclosedHomes.com and BargainNetwork.com was that we added a link on registration page two saying, “Hey, it’s a free site, why do you ask me for my credit card information?” And when you actually hover over that link you will see that light overlay or popup whatever you want to call them, with some text explaining why.
So we had the paragraph one reaffirming our values, kind of reaffirming our value proposition to still attract you to sign up for service and then paragraph two is really why we need your credit card information like we only allow one user to sign up for free and we want our users to be serious about their sign ups and we also don’t want spam sign ups.
So these are very reasonable and you want to put them up on your site to answer your users’ questions and reassuring their patience and any questions that they might have. And three weeks of data, the drop off rate from this page to the final page decreased by 1.8%. It’s not a big number in absolute value but when you’re actually getting to the dollar amount it is a lot because we have a lot of traffic every day and when it actually gets you the incremental dollar value that’s a lot of numbers that can make your stakeholders happy.
Okay. Call reaction but push soft. This is a first iteration of our page ForeclosedHomes.com and we had this really red, bloody big banner here to call reaction for you to sign up. We hoped that this call reaction manner could increase conversion rates but it didn’t turn out that way. The bounce rate of the home page decreased significantly.
I wish we could have an eye tracker in our usability lab so we could actually track how all participants’ eye movement and their concentrations and their focus on the page. But after we launched this banner, I went to another website called Fongri.com. It’s kind of like an artificial intelligence application that emulates users’, your participants’ or human beings’ movement. I don’t think you can rely 100% on this data but it serves some references.
So the heat map told me the number one task that we wanted our participants to do, that is for our participants to click on the United States map to search for foreclosure listing, was largely ignored. Human being’s attention could totally be focusing on the red, bloody banner and they could have the misconception that well, I got to sign up for something in order to see the content of the site.
So we pushed that bloody banner down below the fold and we turned the color into the green, softer and more monotone color. So, the result was very promising. Just a week of data, the bounce rate decreased 10.7% and that’s a lot of improvement. And that also means that 10.7% more visitors or users are going into your site, exploring your site and these are 10.7% more potentials to sign up as a member and these are 10.7% more sales. Could be. Not exact number, Okay?
Also building up a note on that, we want to push, we want the United States map to be above the fold as much as we can because in our testing and a lot in our user base are still using 1024 x 768 screen resolution. And it’s interesting because a lot of my colleagues and friends, they never ever would use that screen resolution because it just enlarges everything so ugly and not that visually pleasing.
But even for a lot of design blogs whose audiences are supposed to be higher end and tech savvy, they are still 1024 x 768 screen resolution user base. So what we did was that we condensed the header ForeclosedHomes.com, the logo bar, a little bit and we also condensed the black ribbon a little bit. So you can see the second image is a little bit shorter than the first one.
Although these are just such tiny, teeny‑tiny enhancements or changes, our week’s data is very convincing. The bounce rate decreased by two percent. And then our home page bounce rate stays pretty much at 12% which is really good.
Okay, so social validation. This is also one of the anecdotes that Susan [unintelligible 21:08] in her book, Murder in New York City. This person was stabbed to death on the street while 38 witnesses watched and did nothing to help. And social scientists became fascinated by what they call the “bystander effect”. And a whole series of research studies began to study why it is that people would take action to help when they are by themselves but not if they are part of a group.
And all the research results pointed to social validation, which is the tendency to conform to conformities, the appeal to peer pressure and popularity. So the takeaway is that people will believe, people will do what others do and people will not do what other people do not do and people will believe what other people say in some circumstances. And I used to recruit our usability participants and I constantly got phone calls from our potential participants from outside and they would call me and say, “Hey, I saw your job recruiting ads so I know you’re legitimate.”
And the takeaway is that if you want to put up something on your site or registration pages to have somebody else saying how great they felt about your site, like testimonials. And what we did on our previous site ForeclosedHomes.com is we sponsored a TV show and it’s called Designing Spaces. It basically features ForeclosdeHomes.com the website as a foreclosure listing surveys to look for foreclosures. So we put the video on site and with value proposition and all reaction to sign up and it does increase our conversion rates.
Okay. So once you get your members, once you convert your users to members, what makes them stay? You know, conversion and retention, they are always paired and they are twins. And I want to say, cite some examples of websites that I like personally. I’m a big fan of travel, traveling. I’m a travelholic. I pretty much went everywhere in the United States. But I’m traveling on my own so I really have a limited budget and what do I really do when I’m booking for travel?
The first website I would want to go and would always want to go is Kayak.com. And what I especially like about Kayak is that you can put in your departure city and your arrival city, say LAX Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii. And after a second when you click outside the field you get a price calendar which shows lowest price that people search with the same departure and arrival city within the 48 hours.
So, if you are not specific or particular about picking your dates, for example if you have 10 days of vacation, in quote, “that you want to kill”, this is totally perfect for you to search for deals. Okay, so we got 342 dollars, this was a screenshot I took yesterday so it may still be valid, 342 dollars from Los Angeles to Hawaii. This is a really great deal. But my next question is, do I know if this is the lowest price I can get? Do I still want to purchase it or not or do I still want to wait to see if the price will go down a little bit?
The next thing I will do is go to FairCast.com which is bing.com/travel. It basically, you’re putting your departure state, arrival city and the dates that you want to go. Bing will give you a price predictor to give you recommendations if you want to buy or not. So for this scenario, Bing’s confidence is about 80% that the price will buy.
I believe in this site, that it is most of the time accurate because I read a lot of online reviews saying it’s pretty accurate and again social validation. You want to promote your social network and you want to promote any online commentary or reviews about your website. So in this case I will probably buy it. And the next question is where do you want to buy it from? Orbitz might be the option because for Orbitz they always have coupon codes that you can use. Like, 75 bucks off or 15% off. So there’s really good benefits that you can get from Orbitz.com.
Okay. So, but, what if out of the web, I just don’t want to work this Friday. I want to take a three day off from Friday to Saturday to Sunday to go somewhere. But I don’t have any destination, a set destination to which I want to go. So I will probably go to Travelocity, which is a good website to give you recommendations and combinations about the last minute package.
Especially it has a last minute package for this weekend and next weekend. And it also has a lot of combinations about flight plus hotel and luxury hotel and flight plus car and hotel plus car. So we have lots of combinations and choices that you can choose from.
Okay. So Southwest.com. The reason why I like this website is, reason one is because this website’s flight is not searchable at Travelocity or Expedia or Orbitz. I don’t know why but it’s very exclusive. They just do their own website Southwest.com and they always have some good deals you might want to take advantage of.
And the second thing about Southwest Airlines is that you can have two check‑in luggages for free even though a lot of other airlines like United and AA, like American Eagle, they charge you for even the first check‑in luggage for 15 dollars or 25 dollars. So if your home destination has Southwest Airlines then you may want to consider it as well. I’m not selling it and Southwest doesn’t pay me as well.
Okay, so my point is that what is the unique user experience that we can provide to our users to drive conversion and retention and what is our niche or your niche and tell your users what your niches are and tell your users what can differentiate your service from your major and big competitors. So, some references and ready to take questions. Go ahead. I’m sorry, can you say that a little louder?
Woman: I wanted to know if you used email validation and can you tell me a little about the experience on that?
Kejun Xu: Basically, we validate the email with our database, the emails that are in our database. So we exclude the duplicate sign ups. But if you’re just putting XYZ, ABC at Cfg.com, we probably couldn’t validate that.
Woman: Okay so you don’t ask me when we have validation, do you get a round trip with that.
Kejun Xu: We do validate our mails with our current database to prevent duplicate signups.
Man 2: I was just wondering on the testing at ForeclosedHomes.com did you end up using the results for foreclosed homes because it was showing the dropout rate being less farther downstream? Did it somehow have to do with the fact that the results that you had for that, the dropout at the first page in the registration process, did you choose those because it was further downstream or was there any?
Kejun Xu: Oh, that was because the change was on the second page of the registration. So we wanted to track the exact location of where the change is to see if it’s because of the change or because of something else. If we track from the dropout from page one to page two, because we didn’t change anything on page one, it wouldn’t make sense for us to track page one and page two, so that’s why we only tracked the drop off rate. Yeah, go ahead.
Woman 2: What analytics software did you use?
Kejun Xu: We used both Google Analytics and we also used another analytics site called [unintelligible 30:25]. It’s more robust than Google Analytics and it can do a lot of other things in [unintelligible 30:32]. And pretty much for these AB testing, multi‑variant testing and conversion rates tracking we’re all using [unintelligible 30:40]. But in our current company Alena.com, this was in my previous company that was closed unfortunately, and my company Alena.com they are strictly using Google Analytics. Go ahead. Oh, I’m sorry, you’re next. Promise, I’ll get to you.
Woman 3: I actually have two questions. I’ll try and make it quick. First, on the topic of professionalism, how are you qualifying that? I mean, I understand that you know, your users are somehow telling you that it’s professional or not but just from the screenshots you provided me, I wouldn’t have necessarily said that one was more professional than the other. And so how do you get that kind of information?
Kejun Xu: You mean how to quantify or how to qualify?
Woman 3: How do you qualify?
Kejun Xu: Quantify?
Woman 3: What constitutes professionalism?
Kejun Xu: Okay. So in our usability testing we always have pre‑screening and the actual task performing section and after that we’ll have one post‑survey that we’ll ask them to fill out and we also conduct a semi‑structured interview to ask my users what you think of the site, what you like and what you don’t like. And these are sort of the qualitative questions that I can’t really get from a usability testing session. And one in a post‑survey we have these like school questions 125 to 127 to ask them to rate… How you feel about the site, your ratings about the look and feel, your ratings about the design, your ratings about the usability. So we have pretty much very similar questions when we’re doing usability testing for ForeclosedHomes.com and BargainNetwork.com.
So we were able to get an idea, “Oh, they rate higher in terms of look and feel in ForeclosedHomes.com as against Bargain.” And also in a semi‑structured interview, that was very highly spoken of by all participants. They liked the site, they especially liked the design, they liked the professional looking, they thought it looked incredible.
Woman 3: Well, my other question, sorry, real quick, hopefully, is, how… Do you have any advice on trying to identify what kind of conversion rates you’re trying to hit. And I know it’s depending upon the company and the department goals but one of the problems I see throughout the company I work in, regardless if it’s a project I’m on, is nobody knows what they’re trying to hit so we don’t know if the conversion rates we have are valid. Is there any input you can give on that situation?
Kejun Xu: Well it really depends on the source of your traffic. So if your users just put in the keywords at Google or Yahoo or MSN or Ask typing some keywords and go to your website, that conversion rates could be lower from the conversion rates say, when you do a paid search or if you do a marketing campaign because users already know something, a little bit from the campaign about your site. So they may have more understanding of the site, they might be more qualified traffic society so that conversion might be a little higher. So just generally speaking for organic traffic or just generally speaking for website, the conversion rates based on total unique visitors, one percent will be very good.
Man 3: I am curious about the decision‑making process in your company. How do you drive the decisions about changing the registration or the first page, second page into the real products. The reason I ask this is because depending on the size of the organization, you could work with a product manager or a marketing manager or someone. There’s a big blur area between what we do and what the marketing or the product manager does. The examples you just gave, it seems to me that at times, a good site or a bad site are covering a lot of useful use cases. Use cases like for example you’ve shown, you want to find out the best rate no matter what time period it is. That seems to me like a use case, it has less to do with design. So I’m just curious to know what is decision‑making process in your company that drives the final decision to the products.
Kejun Xu: Well, just talking about my own experience, I do both design and research. I do testing, I do surveys, I do AB testing motive here and testing, usability testing. I have a feeling that what can we do to better improve the conversion rates and then I will talk to either product manager, project manager, any stakeholders that could make the decision to support me to do an enhancement. And I can’t say that I’m a 100% correct because Jakob Nielsen, who everybody knows is the guru of usability, his company just did a very interesting research that showed that 75% of designers who make their decision making based on personal opinions and assumptions were wrong. So its very risky for me and any designer to just make a decision and run it without any validation or testing.
So I can’t really tell my boss or any stakeholder say, “Hey, this is right and I saw this from usability testing so I want to do this and this is correct.” Although I have data to backup myself, but when your design actually goes through the registration process, the conversion rates, the data may not prove to be true.
So I will talk to them with the data I have and I will also talk to them with the design options that I also have because especially for conversion rates because it’s very quantitative. You can quantify your results if the success matches that you can quantify. So I might do some AB testing or multi‑variant testing to see. I always want to keep our control group as the current design. It’s been there for long and a lot of my experience like rate design of the site is not as successful at the first iteration.
So you always want to do some AB testing and multi‑variant testing to tell us if the control group is successful or not successful. And the test A and test B and test C and how these design variables could improve your conversion rates to different extents. So that’s pretty much my processes for decision making and design enhancements.
Man 3: Thank you.
Man 4: I just love numbers so could you tell us exactly how many pixels you reduced the overhead logo area which resulted in the two percent decrease?
Kejun Xu: The exact pixels for the logo? Just the logo?
Man 4: Yup. The one that you showed that you shaved off a little bit of it?
Kejun Xu: Oh, the difference?
Man 4: Yeah. Between the two.
Kejun Xu: Oh, I can’t tell you off the top of my head because I’m not a visual designer. I tell my visual designer, here’s what I want to do and he’ll do it for me. But I probably can find it out and get back to you. Here’s my contact, just send me a quick email and let me get back to you.
Man 5: I just had a follow up question to that. I was wondering, whenever you reduced the size of the header, was there some critical piece of content, for example, that was previously below the fold that had now come above the fold that you could attribute? That people now seeing that, more readily to the increased conversion or was it literally just that they were seeing more of the map?
Kejun Xu: They were seeing more of the map. And because we are using our user base screen resolution 1024 x 768 in our usability testing. They were complaining that, “Oh, because the United States map is what I want to click on to look for foreclosure listing information, I want to see the whole map.” Even though we pushed more map above the fold, they’re still not seeing the whole map but we’re already doing our best so… I think there’s another question there.
Man 5: Do you use personas in your design process?
Kejun Xu: Yes.
Man 5: Okay.
Kejun Xu: Yes. The answer to the question is yes. Before I came to the company we didn’t have any persona. And I brought in a concept of persona into the company. And we had five or six persona types either as singles or married and these were really helpful in terms of determining our content. Because at ForecloseHomes.com we had a learning standard to teach our users how to buy a foreclosure and a lot of foreclosure information to teach them the knowledge of foreclosures. So we constantly use our personas in our mind to determine what to kind of content that we want to bring to our users. Yes.
Man 5: Forgive me if you already told this. Of your recipes, your sample sets, how many individual users did you run through each of those on average?
Kejun Xu: Say that again?
Man 5: For each recipe of your AB testing, how many individual users did you run through each of those recipes on average?
Kejun Xu: We usually do three days of traffic. So if we can see very clear results from the three days or just stop it and use the higher conversion rates or whatever, better performing one and if in the three days we can’t tell then we run it a bit more time to see.
Man 6: On the foreclosed homes site, there was a two step kind of sign up process.
Kejun Xu: Mm‑Hmm.
Man 6: What if the people that finished the first part which was non‑intrusive, how many balance before they made it to the second part that was a credit card page, correct?
Kejun Xu: Yeah. You’re asking for a drop off rate?
Man 6: Yeah, what kind of drop out did you see and how did you… I’m sure it was high but what…
Kejun Xu: I think it was high but I don’t have the exact number off the top of my head.
Man 6: You’re not sure? And then you mentioned having an overlay that explained more information about why you needed a credit card? Did that improve anything?
Kejun Xu: Yes.
Man 6: And were there other techniques that you used to help people understand why they should complete the form?
Kejun Xu: Right. So let me find out where it is. Okay. Yeah. So, this is a ForeclosedHomes.com/BargainNetwork.com registration page is pretty much the same. Just that they look different. We put this link on registration page two saying it’s a free site, why do you ask for my billing information. Yes, so we have these tags here explaining why we need your credit card. Reason one, reason two and reason three. And after this designing was launched, the drop off rate from this page to the final confirmation decreased by 1.8%. So that’s the only design variable, design change on this page so we were able to determine that this is the design variable that affects the commerce rates.
Man 6: Just a more specific question: was that layer exposed when you got to this page? Was that something [unintelligible 43:22] ?
Kejun Xu: No, that’s actually a link if you don’t hover over it. And if you hover over the link for two seconds it’ll pop up with this overlay.
Man 6: And did you try anything else other than that overlay to improve conversion?
Kejun Xu: I wish I could but the company closed in March.
Kejun Xu: But these are really interesting testing and improvement and tries that I did at Bargain Network. So it’s still a good resource that I want to share although the company closed, unfortunately. OK. I think it’s 3:30 exact, sharp. OK. Thank you very much for coming again.
Kejun Xu: Thanks so much I really appreciate it.
Announcer: To hear even more presentations from the 2010 IA Summit, point your browser to boxesandarrows.com and click on the podcast link. There you’ll find access to the iTunes feed and even more information about each presentation. Our heartfelt thanks to the organizers and sponsors of the 11th annual IA Summit, the presenters and of course, to the global community. We look forward to feedback about future shows that will be of the greatest value to you, our listeners.
See → Sort → Sketch : Pen & Paper Techniques for Getting From Research to Design — Kate Rutter from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: The rich world of human behavior is fascinating to observe, yet difficult to interpret. People’s goals and motivations lay hidden beneath the behaviors. Masked from sight until user research and analysis exposes them. To bring clarity and traction to research insights, research and design teams are increasingly using hands‑on visual tools, including other stakeholders, in the analysis process.
How is this done? By using the analog favorites of pen and paper. In this talk, Adaptive Path’s Kate Rutter gives you a taste test of methods and activities that leverage the power of pen and paper as open, participatory tools in the research analysis process.
I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Kate Rutter: I’m a consultant and US practitioner for a company called Adaptive Path. We have offices in San Francisco and in Austin. Our mission statement is that to‑‑work with companies and clients‑‑to help them create great experiences for their customers.
And we do that through products and services, primarily consulting. We do a lot of web work, mostly digital interactive is our work. And I think the key thing on this is that it’s very mission driven. It’s about creating experiences that are actually making meaning in the world, and not just creating flashier, interesting or kind of just sites that are pretty tactical. But really, a way to create delight.
The thing that helps me get up every single morning, and I guess have a meaningful relationship to creating these types of things were experiences that are delightful, that are inspiring that are actually meaningful and have a role in people’s lives and are very meaningful.
I’ve talked a little bit about me, but I’d like to know a little bit more about you. And since this topic does span from research to design. I’m kind of curious, who in this room have a meaningful direct daily, or fairly frequent role or responsibility, in doing or using user research or exploratory research for your companies?
Great. OK, cool. And does, also for this group, how many of you touch on research or you’re downstream from research, “learnings,” or insights and you need to kind of adopt and digest those to forward your work.
OK, about the same, maybe a little more. And how many of you are working specifically around design? And when I say design, I mean design with a little “d.” Really embracing the idea of information architecture, interaction design, functional design, even content strategy or visual design?
How many of you are really [inaudible 0:02:55.5] in the world of design? I hope it’s the other half, otherwise I’m not quite sure about the other people. Is there anyone in here who’s not doing either of those as a major part of their work?
Kate Rutter: OK, good. So we’ve got a really good mix here. And I think no matter what part of the process or part of the relationship that we have with our company is, whether they’re internal or external, I hope that we all are trying to forward good things in the world. I think that’s something that’s really special about the user experience field.
So, I want to tell you this story, a little bit about how this handful of methods came about. And about two years ago I was working on an engagement to‑‑with a handset manufacturer‑‑to envision the future of mobile.
Which is funny looking back because the future of mobile is here, as I heard has been quoted, but it’s not just evenly distributed yet. But the future of mobile is here. But at the time, it was still, the iPhone hadn’t even launched, it was a really open, open question.
And so, that’s a really meaty project, right? The kind you’re like, “Wow, I get to help invent a world.” But it did have some really big caveats to it. It was a huge opportunity space. That was pretty much our challenge.
We weren’t given really any other things for traction or constraints and those are helpful tools when you’re starting to tread a new path in this vast opportunity space. And you had this large, shifting team. So you had the clients, they had stakeholders, they had designers. We were working very collaboratively.
And sometimes we’d had a few people in our sessions. Sometimes we’d had a few people more. Sometimes someone would come in one day and be gone the next. We never quite knew who was going to be in the room, and they kept parachuting in. And we were concerned because we knew that would happen. How do you keep a group moving forward with a pretty good firm movement and trajectory when you have to get people up to speed, or connect them with what happened when they were away? And it was a really big problem for us. We were concerned about it.
And the last one is, with any world you are dealing with time and money constraints. We didn’t have all the time in the world, we didn’t have all the money in the world. We needed to try and move this project forward as effectively as possible and not get bunched up into a bunch of rat holes up in the weeds.
So what we did, it was a team of about five of us from adaptive path and a team ‑ a primary core team from the plant ‑ of about five people and what we did was ‑ is ‑ actually some pretty standard research process but there were some really noticeable differences.
The first was, we went out and started to talk to people and we started to capture those insights. So does that sound familiar? Is that something people do? You go out, you listen, you observe, do field research. We were doing field research, not with users of Mobil but instead with people who had put their life on what thinking about the future would be, thinking about the future.
So we talked to futurists. We talked to researchers. We talked to science fiction novelists. We talked to an entrepreneur who was launching, who just had launched a very popular small footprint, maybe 140 characters type of service and he was interested in where that would go. We talked to some lead users so kids that were between junior high and high school that were really adept at using technology in ways that we old codgers were not familiar with. And so what we realized when we listened to this is that they weren’t talking about features and needs and pain points, they were talking in stories. And they were illustrating these world use of their current world view and where they hoped it would go, what they thought the future could look like and words weren’t cutting it for us.
We needed a way to better evidence kind of the emotion and the vibrancy and the passion in those stories without having them just get neutralized by only capturing the words. So once we had all of those little bits and pieces of these stories, what we did is we stood back through an analysis process for some sense making to try and put these things together into different stories. What could those mean if we were building products based on those stories?
And then the last piece is we took those stories, started to concoct and make and form, maybe mould those together and then think what are the direct implications that we have for some design concepts that could move forward this field of work.
And what we found by having pictures and illustrative methods all the way from the beginning, all the way through to the end is that we got some really different results. It was totally awesome. Like we have these parachuting teams, they seemed to be able to track to where we were. We could point to things on the wall, we were all working face to face together ‑ so that’s a consideration ‑ but there was this shared understanding that just seemed to permeate that work.
And it was really surprising because it was rare. It was something we weren’t expecting. Compelling insights, well you hope you get those, right? You always say they are compelling even if they are not but there were also clear implications for design. Like what could that look like in a product. And that felt like it was a little different too.
So after this project we sat back and said, what really made that work? Let’s deconstruct this, figure out how we could make this do, work again, etc. And here’s what we learnt. This visual approach had a really different way of working. People weren’t sitting around listening and talking. They were actually all together looking at shared visual artifacts together, adapting them, refining them. It was just a different play from the room.
The pen and paper tools we were using were really accessible. We were a little concerned that they would be intimidating but even for stakeholders who had no hands on experience in design and really no interest in developing it, they were very much able to visually communicate their thoughts and what they were hearing.
The third was those insights did carry very, with a very truth thread from research and insights into design, sometimes very directly in a surprising way. And what that helped us do was to hinge those designs or those insights directly into design concepts. So like, wow! That was a really good set of experiences so once you know how it makes it work, you kind of want to think, well, how could we do this again?
So what were some of those underlying principles that we felt that made the visual part so important? It was really the only different thing we did on this engagement. And here’s our learnings on that and how many, well, were most people at Dan Holmes keynote this morning? He did a great job. I’m like, “Yay, Dan!” About the cognitive way our brains work and how visual sense making is really different from just textual narrative type of experiences.
So visual ideas just got through faster. There’s a whole body of work about the cognitive reasons, but that was just our experience. Visual ideas just seem to have a quick trajectory. And they communicated a more complete idea. Even if that idea was right, it was something you could look at. The team could adapt together, and that made it more complete.
And the last was, when you’re looking at a picture, you had a shared picture in your mind. So the visual communication of it bypasses that interpretation your brain needs to do to make a holistic sense around just linear text. And all of that was in service to this broader idea. Making things that actually have a meaningful relationship with people in their everyday lives.
So we thought, “How could we do this again?” I’m not a real big methods fan. I don’t think there’s any one way. We wanted to have a catchphrase that we would just always be able to remember. Something very simple, something very clean that we could use to refer to this in the future. And we came up with this container, it’s really just a shorthand, of this method as it kind of connects and advances these three different types of work into one great result. We just called that See Sort Sketch. That’s what we’re going to be talking about today.
So I’m going to cover what you need to get started. Some of the tools, techniques, just very simple, but things that are good to remember. We’re going to go through the See Sort Sketch and how those different results build and adapt user research and source stories into design implications. And we’re going to do a couple activities, this is hands on. Last, I hope there’s a way for you take something home with you.
So, to start out, let’s get a little bit warmed up here. I want to introduce the incredibly crinkly paper bag packet that you all should have [background crinkling noise] . If you don’t have one, there’s some up at the front. Get your crinkle out now, kids, because it doesn’t get any quieter than that. Inside this bag, you’ll find a few things. If for some reason you didn’t get a packet, there are crayons, we can all share our crayons. We’re a very open kind of community so we should do that.
Inside the packet is a workbook. A lot of this is for future reference. You won’t necessarily need it today. But it has some printouts from the slides. It goes into a little bit more detail on a couple of the approaches. You also have a set of quarter cut pages. Some will have up to 20, some will have probably less than that. If you run out, reach over to a neighbor and beg, borrow, or steal. You have a sharpie because sharpies are the ultimate idea generating tool. And, as I like to say a lot, they smell like ideas.
So, hopefully, the whole group will smell like ideas.
Then you have the shortcut for visual communication, mostly for information differentiation. And that’s a box of crayons. Thinking beyond decoration, you really only need three but you got six. It’s the bonus day. You’ve got a bright, a highlight, kind of accent color in either this alarming peachy orange thing or the yellow. You’ve got a warm color in red and, if you want to use it that way, purple. You can also use the orange that way. Then you’ve got a darker, more base color in the blue or the green, OK. So that’s your toolkit.
What I’d like you to do is make a nameplate for yourself on one of the little sheets of paper. So, on a piece of paper, just write your name and something that communicates about who you are. You can choose to write your name in a kind of script or a word form that feels a little bit like you. You can do a short, simple, clean illustration. But just something that says something about who you are in the world. We’re just going to take a couple minutes to do that. Any questions? OK, I’m starting the timer now, let’s get going!
OK, I’ve done a workshop version of this, and we have a chance to go into our rich and full stories about what this might represent. But, sadly, we have a lot of us here today in the room so, instead, I’d just like you to kind of hold it up. Just put it around and look at other people’s. Just look at the wide diversity of what we’ve got in this room. Some people really focussed on text. There’s size issues. Did anyone draw it like this? I’m just curious. Stunning. Oh my God! You know, that’s true almost every time. I don’t know why I never think of that. But you know this is the way that name plates go.
OK. So, however it is, even if you don’t think you have a lot of drawing skills or pictorial skills, or however you want to frame them, you have the ability to communicate something about yourself if only someone just asks. Thank you for doing that.
So I want to go a little bit into this idea of the toolkit. When we were working with this method, we did need to prepare a few things that were different from the traditional research capture approach. So, there’s four different kind of main categories on this, and I’ll go through them very quickly. Again, very simple, but it’s an important foundation to have.
So you’ve got your surfaces. For most of the projects that I’ve done this way, we’ve used half sheet or quarter sheets or squares. I don’t know why I really like squares. You can also use sticky notes. I actually find the color distracting, but that can be meaningful in other ways. Just sheets of paper, eight and a half by 11. Pretty standard. 11 by 17 if you’re a big thinker, like a lot of space and that.
Templates can be very effective, especially if you’re working with people who aren’t used to working with some pen and paper tools by nature. And all you need on a template is just something that says “Name of idea” and a line, and then a dashed line around a target space on that page. It’s bizarre, but I’ve seen that really change how people actually put something down. Sometimes the blank page can be really intimidating.
Poster boards and rolls of paper. When you start working larger with the group, start putting together and assembling some of these stories, you just got to spread out. So, there’s some really long rolls of paper you can get online, butcher paper, sometimes wrapping paper as long as it’s neutral. All of that works for you. And then posterboard or large pieces of cardboard.
So in the mark makers, I think in the work jargon, they’re called utensils. That always made me hungry.
Kate Rutter: So they changed them to mark makers. They’re Sharpies, and at the minimum, you want three sizes. You want your everyday utility tool, which is the fine point. You want the ultra fine point for a little bit more detail. And then you want this big, hefty chisel tip, which allows you to draw a variety of lines. So the bare minimum, that’s a great tool.
There’s also other markers. Whatever you’ve got in your usual kit. It feels a little like kindergarten sometimes. Colored pencils are great for, again, evoking that quality of line. Colored chalks, if you’re working with something you’ve got to make more like a presentation type of version, but you don’t want to lose that hand sketchy quality. Colored chalks allow a really beautiful, almost airbrushed quality. And then of course, there’s our crayons.
Now what do you do with those tools? There’s just a lot of variety you can do with these very, very simple tools. And actually, as I talk through this, go ahead and just play around.
Experiment with some line qualities. The idea of this is it’s like stretching your muscles. You’re just going to warm up a little bit.
But words. We still use a lot of words. This doesn’t mean that you’re trying to abstract the language out of this. But how words can be expressive and punctuate and be more infused with emotion. That was what we really noticed when we do this technique.
And lettering. So you can use words in case and lettering, very simple. Line weight makes a huge difference in the energy that it starts to communicate through these pictorial elements. And textures and shading. And then symbols and pictures. This is where people usually start to be like, “Oh, don’t talk to me about picture and symbols.”
But as you can see from Dan’s talk this morning, some very simple, if you can draw a square and a circle and an arrow connecting them, you’re totally set up to do this. As you do more of that, you’ll just a natural instinct to try and get a little bit more evocative with your imagery and more clear.
There’s symbols, very symbolic type of simple elements. You can do some icons. You’ll actually find that as a team, you can develop a shared language for what those mean. And then more pictorial elements, like drawings and charts.
We’ll get into this a little later, but where you put things on a page also communicates part of the message. So there’s a whole world, a body of work around these different types of layouts. But these are some of my favorites. Something smack dab in the middle of the page says, this is the thing to focus on.
You still have text and lists. Grids so that you can start to see relationships across different attributes or parameters. Clusters, saying these things are like each other, but we don’t quite yet know why. Linear and time flows, as Dan covered. Trees and radiance develop a sense of connection of how those ideas or thoughts are connected. And then throughout this entire thing, you have elements like size, shape and color.
So I could take a moment and just talk about that plaguing thought of I can’t draw! And I think the idea of the Yellow Pin person is about you see it, you can adapt to it, but you are not necessarily go out there and grab a pin first thing. It is a really good approach. But we have also heard this and I wanted to address them with the thinking. I think changing your thinking on this, both yourself and to help stay focussed and other people in your team to it is a very fundamental part of making this approach successful.
So these are some of the common things I fear, like “I can’t draw”, “I don’t know where to start” or best yet, “my stuff looks crappy.” Yeah! Well, everybody’s stuff is going to look crappy every once in a while. So how you can reframe that is instead just think slightly differently. Instead of “I can’t draw”, try “I’ll do a little each day”, and I have never really met anybody who can’t draw, but I have met a lot of people who don’t draw. And they just don’t kind of work that muscle and you’ll notice immediate and exponential returns on your investment with that.
The second is that, “I don’t know how to start.” Won’t we write words down a lot when we are capturing insights or trying to filter through information? Just start kind of enhancing those words for a little bit more of spirit, little bit more of line, quality and texture. And “my stuff looks crappy,” this is not about art and it is not about beauty and there can be a little… seductive, this visual technique, but it’s really more like grammar, right? Like I don’t know how many people in the room would say, “I’m a writer. I’m a professional writer.” But I think we all write everyday. You put sentences together, you communicate your meaning and the visual elements are exactly the same as that. It’s just a grammar.
So here is the process that we used to assemble these different favorite tools together in service to moving from research to design. We have, see, really the fundamental question here is what did we hear, right? We have done a field research, we have done some learning out in world, what have we heard through that?
And then assorting it through, this is the analysis phase. You think, “What does that mean? What are these stories and what meaning does those have to the people who shared those with us?”
And then the last is why does it matter? And specifically for our purposes, why does it matter for design? What are we going to do with this information? I think some of the larger companies i have worked with have a very hard line between research and design and I recognize a specialization in the body of work in each of those fields. But I think when you don’t think about research as an end of a process instead of beginning of the next, you lose some important opportunities.
First, let’s dive right in. I am going to show you some images and talk through how this method kind of works in the world. And you if have questions, just jump up a hand and then we will do a little bit of experiments you can actually experience and feel this for yourself.
So underneath, see… this is not new, right? Like people go out do observational research and there is all kinds of stuff that comes out of resource material. There is the experience you have and the empathy you get from that. There is also thing like transcripts and videos and audio and spreadsheets, lots of data that you are trying to collect. I would like to call that is in the fact world. This is stuff that’s really really happened, right? Raise your hand if you doubt any of these types of outputs, I have raised with you in the fact. Great! [indecipherable 0:21:31.8] there’s tons more and new everyday. We are an inventive field.
How we interpreted this, on looking back at the visual elements of note‑taking and capture was looking at that source material, we created an interim source material called ‘Jotting’ and that is the technique that I would like to talk through today.
So these are jots from that initial project and you can see how word centric they really are. Couple of interesting things we caught on this is, this is pretty simple stuff, but what we did is we sat in a room as a team and we listened to or watched the video, it is actually easier to just listen to the audio. And as we played the audio, when someone said something that was hooking into a story or something that was interesting, kind of sparked up, we captured that. Sometimes it was just a phrase. Sometimes it was a phrase with a little highlighting‑‑I think we got a little bit over the top on this.
As this kind of matured, what we realized is these little one‑offs, these little nuggets, we started to put those together in a visual way that created almost a grammar to those. So, that is where the yellow and red come from is those were just little pockets, bright spots, in the conversation.
There were also other ones that were more about the story element. So, as people were talking, they got a picture in their mind, whether they’re recounting an experience or talking about a future. Those stories actually have pictures along with them. So, you talk about the one that looks like the orange and the green bar, tech moves from business to consumer. It was a really rich story, with a lot of examples of going from serious to social. It was kind of how technology adoption happens.
Well, the examples were great. We could have gotten caught in the weeds with them, but what we really cared about was there was some kind of interesting inflection point for adoption, and that changes it. That was the story inherent in that. Those stories were just blossoming throughout all of the different user interviews that we listened to.
So, at its fundamental part, jotting is about taking these elements of the stories and identifying those bright spots, finding those elemental parts. Sometimes disconnecting from the story, but sometimes connecting, pulling out the punctuation within that full story, and capturing the weight of the idea, and the energy of the idea. That is where the visual elements really helped take us forward.
So, I would like to do an experiment. It is one thing to talk about this, but it is something else to kind of experience it yourself. I would like you to have a taste of that to see if this is something that you want to work with on your own, and if you can be comfortable with it.
So, what we are going to do is two different jotting activities. The first is we are going to jot from a text quote, and the second is we’re going to jot from a fairly extensive audio clip. As we do this, what I would like you to do is just try and listen to those words as they come in, read them on the screen, the first one. On the audio one, listen to those words as they come in, and then try to capture the things that really seem to occur to you or seem interesting in those user stories.
So, our first one is to read this quote and jot what you observe. So, jotting one observation per piece of paper, and we’re going to take just a couple of minutes when you’re done. When you’re done, lookup, but if you need less time then that is fine.
So, I am curious. Are there any questions before we get started on this, because I want to make sure that even though it seems pretty clear, sometimes it can be a little confusing?
OK. So, let’s go ahead and get started. I am going to set the timer for two minutes, and just capture things out of this quote. So, the context of this is this is a series of interviews of people and their things, and because of confidentiality, I actually needed to rerecord something. So, you’ll hear my voice on the next one, but it’s the idea of the world view for this project is trying to understand products and services that would help people organize their lives, kind of physical possessions more effectively.
OK. So, a couple of minutes and lookup when you’re done, and we’ll move on.
I am just curious, just as far as pieces of paper, one idea per piece. How many people got a couple of pieces of paper, a couple of ideas jotted down? OK. Good number. How many got three or more? A lot. Anybody get more than 10? OK. Yeah. I don’t know that is possible, unless you capture each word. OK. Good job.
Our next one, this is the experience that we started using, which is listening to an audio transcript. I want you to listen to this three minute transcript, and as you listen jot what you hear.
Again, we are looking at the line weight, the imagery and kind of the energy of that line to help evoke what the spirit of that person is speaking, and to distinguish the big things from the small things.
We’re going to have five minutes for this. I am going to go ahead and kickoff the audio now.
Weave In Audio starts.
Kate Rutter: So, tell me a little bit about how you feel about your home?
Woman 2: Well, there’s … Well, I love to come home after a long day, because when I get here it just feels like this is the place I can go, and kind of hide from the world or recover or just be alone and it is all my stuff and it is everywhere‑everything is in the place where I wanted. It is kind of like a nest, I think it feels like a nest and especially when there has been a really busy day and I can just kick back.
Sometimes it is a nest though but sometimes it is not, it is more like a project because my husband and I are always looking around and seeing things that need to be done and that we want to do whether it is bookshelves or furniture painting and there always seems something to be done‑so it is kind of a nest and it is also kind of a really big project. I can get a little overwhelming because projects cost money and they can be expensive, they take time and if you are in the middle of something, you don’t want to have people over.
And that is another thing‑we are pretty social and so we like to have people come over and just friends, I must say we never had a room for dorks, maybe a huge difference to have people just come and drop by and that is really important. Hopefully, we will be able to do more parties at some point in future.
So I guess, I mean a part of is just being able to relax and just be at home and then there is getting stuff done around the house, that is important.Then, you know, entertaining people and having them be here with us and you know a part of that is also, I don’t know if this sounds horrible but showing off a little bit.
Right, like we really “like” our house and we like the “stuff” in our house and it is kind of fun that people come over and perceive that. So in that way, it is like the house is a gallery; it is nice that it is a gallery but there is something about that, like having a showcase or some things that we love and that we think, make us who we are or out on display.
So, especially I like Gray, like you say, huge huge thing that us…..it is one of the reason that we met, my husband and me. And the library is the real point of pride for us and we use it. It is a point of inspiration too.
I can never really find anything in it but i am happy to love because i just like to browse through things so, and that is one of the things I like to do after a long day is come home, pick out a couple of non‑fiction books I haven’t seen in a while and kind of, just look through them and relax.
Kate Rutter: So that was three minutes of an hour interview and every time I hear it, I think, “Holy Crap” people talk a lot, right? Like, words per second is really intense, that is one of the thing about doing this approach be prepared to pause and go back or listen to these a couple of times. Well it’s interesting is, did you hear some recurring things like there was that going back to relaxing and the intensity(like the highs and lows), that is the type of thing that I think the tone of voice can really communicate.
And sometimes you want to pick a couple, that you thought were interesting or things that you would really want to be able to talk to more or delve in to more. And just hold them up so you can kind of, see what other people chose to capture in their observations of that.
Right so you could use some color, some simple but evocative shapes [laughter] a “I love you”.
Create a nest, a nest is really recurring, “Wow, someone could see that all the way back here.” So Hearts, …and so I am curious, what was this, how did this feel, what were some of the differences between reading and capturing and then listening and capturing? Anyone has thoughts on that? Yes…on the back.
Male 1: [inaudible 0:30:44]
Kate Rutter: It’s interesting, you can actually hear that emotion and feel a little bit about the interpretation based on the cadence of the conversation. People have intonation and they go up and they go down. There is an energy infused in that and it was easier to pull out of audio.
Woman 3: I found it easier to get images when I was listening than when I was reading.
Kate Rutter: Interesting, so imagery was more potent when you were listening.
Woman 3: Because my eyes were not competing.
Kate Rutter: Because your eyes were not competing with that. Nice. I like that. There is something about that. As you do this more you start realizing that you kind of hear and then out, and you are not really interpreting as much. There was a comment over here.
Woman 4: In the rhythm quote I had to sort of guess what the most important parts to the speaker were. Where as in the audio quote you could tell because her voice got higher and louder on the things that she really valued.
Kate Rutter: Louder and faster. Cool, so we are just going to do three more at the back.
Man 2: I thought when I was working with the written piece I was sketching things that were probably from the earlier pages that were there, whereas when I was listening to the audio portion I missed them.
Kate Rutter: You were more directly literal and honoring that fact rather than the interpretation of it.
Man 2: It seemed like more was really written when it was actually more my imagination. When reading the text it’s my imagination inside of me. If you listen to it though you actually get all the story telling she would do, and it is her imagination. [inaudible 0:32:40.5] It’s always interesting doing both of those and seeing what comes up.
Kate Rutter: It is interesting doing both and seeing the different comparison. Last one.
Woman 5: With the written lines I could see ahead and then decide what would you want us to draw about. With the audio you just had to keep going and catch up. You can’t filter ahead.
Kate Rutter: Interesting, so the filtering ahead and being able to scan ahead and understand and go off of your own mind. So the feedback on doing this is that it both can be a gift, because you are moving forward and not self analyzing it and over thinking it. and it can also be difficult because you don’t know where this conversation is going to go. How many of us have been in interviews where you are like, where is this going? How do we bring it back home honey? So that’s not uncommon. I think, honestly, they work best so you should get the transcripts. You should have some of that fact base to go for but this is growth and I hope you are OK with it.
Digestion starts in the mouth way before food gets down to your digestive organs. When I think about research, I think that interpretation begins at the earliest stages of impression. That’s what this secondary capture, after the fact, of the experience into this early interpretation is still very connected to the fact, I think, has a lot of legs.
So this brook shot… Before I showed some other jots from our project but I wanted to be realistic that these are the kind of things that come out of it. This is actually from that same transcript. These are all four different interpretation of this idea of loving and coming home and a place to be home. And here is a little bit more where this story is already starting to come out that after while listening there was still this sense of this nest and this duality. You are already starting to see this is the perspective of this woman’s library and home within her life. The idea of a showcase and a highlight. You can have a different interpretation around that story, even just those words. Even the “my home is a nest”, those words are actually encompassed. I don’t want to get deep into the “what is the true meaning of that?” What happens is that the meaning is somehow in that imagery and it carries more directly forward.
What do you do with all this paper? This is a generative activity. I don’t know how many you have but generally people get between five and seven to 10 just from that three minute transcript. If you have 20 interviews and they are all an hour there will just be a lot of paper.
Here is the phase about sorting through it. This is pretty typical, more on the same side of analysis that other methods approach but you start to ask what it meant. Start assembling these stories and elements into different stories and different ways that they could possibly be true. There are techniques for that. There affinity diagrams, relationships, or loose clustering. You are trying to come up with this thematic approach to find these patterns. We do the same thing. We just call them theme boards because we wanted to have a name for it so that we could actually communicate it.
This is what that stage looked like for us. This is a different project. This is from a charmer project, which is an adaptive path research and design project for a concept for Type one diabetics to better manage their materials and insulin. And these theme words were just around a specific pattern or design principle like [indecipherable 0:36:0.5]. He needs to move beyond the jotting stage that you can see that anything related to that theme is on this one board.
And these are six foot high cardboard sheets that you can physically move around. And we found this to be a really nice balance between flexible but also having a home for these things and so that you can still move them around and adapt and adjust them. And the purpose of theme boards is to really start to show those patterns, to start to connect things and reassemble them so that you can bridge that next piece of the design process.
And the last piece, and this is really the connective tissue, is asking why it matters, so this is where design insights might come out. Often they come out as from a cluster or you can start pulling out some potentials of what that could mean. They’re often abstract. And they tend to take form in these types of containers or artifacts, like reports and presentations. And I find that the biggest risk of these is that they tend to honor the fact instead of the interpretation, and you should always have your source materials reinforcing, but when you get tied to it too much it just keeps you back into that world of facts.
And the purpose of this kind of research and where this research is really interesting and fruitful is when it’s qualitative and when you’re looking at exploratory purposes, not trying to test the reality in the world market size and quantitative types of things. So a lot of these techniques are really good for quantitative market type of stuff, but they don’t tell the stories in the same kind of effective way.
So as an output that we worked through is what we ended up developing were these concept sketches which was taking these stories that were assembled from all the little bits and bytes and putting them in together into sometimes fairly complex world views. So in an honor of the world of simplicity, when people say, “I can’t draw” … I overdraw, right? [laughter] A lot of these drawings were mine, and I really want that rich world view, and so that’s something I’m working on. But the point [laughter] is that as you do start to assemble these things, you get things like concept diagrams or models or other things that feel a little bit more like the type of design work that’s more within the realms of IA kind of strategy design.
These, however, out of a very short workshop, based on the material and experience we just had, are some of the early concepts that even resulted from that. And so the idea that there’s a personal and a public and that the home is this interstitial space between them or a grid with bad and public and good, so these ideas and stories are becoming abstractive. They’re becoming frameworks and models that you can then fill through with other design implications.
Mind maps, this is a fairly complex around this one looking at this continuum between productive and consumptive and balancing that with some of the experiences and quotes and attributes happen that kind of broach those lines. So the purpose of concept sketching is to take that story and really illustrate out the relationships of all the different features and components so they can communicate a coherent set of ideas. This is where it’s very helpful to have some of the visual layouts, because the way you organize that visual information can actually reinforce or detract from that story. So there’s some more descriptions in your workbook, and there’s a whole body of work around visual practice, visual thinking, sketch noting, where these become much more better described and flushed out. But this is the type of vocabulary that you get acquainted with and start to use as your grammar and these techniques.
So you bring it all together using the concept sketches, the jots, the source material. How does that get crafted into implications for design? So I’m curious is this familiar to us? Are you guys familiar with the waterfall method, right? It’s this.. It’s so clean and so clear and there’s no floods and water just flows. [laughter]
And it’s so easy. You show this and this. They call a meeting. We’re going to do this. They’re like “Great! We’ll pay for that.” Right. Well what I’ve found is that it really is the Niagara. You can have unexpected things and huge foam and everybody wants to get involved right as you get across that research into design cliff because that’s when you stop observing, and start interpreting and deciding.
Interpreting and deciding is about influence of power, and who gets to call the shots, and that can be a very contentious place when people have different objectives and motivations. So I think if you want to change a behavior, you can change your language, and that goes a long way in rethinking how to approach something.
I want to introduce this idea of this hinging from research to design. What’s really effective about this hinge metaphor, is that it values both sides of that equation, but also values the connection between them.
Here’s a couple examples of conceptual type of diagrams, and then what those implications were in a more designerly or a more traditional type of experience deliverable. So you can go from concept sketch. This is a life cycle. Apparently we’re never going to draw in a circle again. You should always do life cycles straight, according to Dan.
The idea of what happens with home, and where as a strategy, could a product focus. So you go from this concept sketch into something like a storyboard, that can really illustrate what that means in people’s lives. So the storyboard has things like receipts, and boxes, and packaging, and script for check‑out, and interfaces that happen digitally. Those are things you design, but they’re hung within the framework of the story that’s connected to this conceptual model.
Here’s another one that hopefully will be close to many of our core IA hearts. Here’s this concept model for a medical institution. It was a school, a working hospital, and they’re having trouble with findability. A lot of jargon, a lot of very specialized medical information. So this concept model emerged around there’s these four kind of ways people think about things, and that directly informed the labeling and the navigation system that we have.
And the last one. Even the most fanciful illustrations that evoke kind of a spirit or a feeling of something, can be very, very meaningful, and more direct than you might expect. This is a sketch that came from this Future of Mobile project, and then when were looking at the prototyping, we actually were talking about the implications that this kind of snow globe type of interaction could have, and what that could mean, as a way for connecting people with their peeps.
So overall, when you start stitching them together, you’ve got the tools and foundation, and you’ve got framework just so you can remember why this works, and how it connects. You have these kinds of things that you can take home with you, and I think ultimately, we do this. So that no matter what part of the process we get involved in, no matter how interesting, or fun, or weird, or funky, or inventive the methods are, that we capture these true stories, and the spirit of those stories, and how those stories can actually become pieces of design that have a role in people’s lives.
Really, as experienced designers, I think that’s when we kind of get to pure awesome, right? It’s funny, because you can say “pure awesome,” and it’s a great word, but I think to really illustrate pure awesome, you just need an image.
Kate Rutter: So let’s hear it for the unicorns and for our favorite guy.
Kate Rutter: Cool. So I would like to leave you with this. Of everything that we’ve covered today, if there’s one thing that you can take home with you and capture tomorrow, I want you to think today about what it could be, and maybe jot it down in your workbook, and just give it a try. I think practice is a great way to just get better at something.
Speaking of getting better at something, there’s more UX goodness. Our company, Adaptive Path, has a couple events coming up. I’ll be at Web Visions talking about strategy, and how visual methods can inform that.
I want to do a couple shout outs to people that helped co‑create this presentation. My colleagues Leah Buley and Rachel Henman, who I’ve worked with, as well as how you can get a hold of me, and the fact that the slides and the workbook will be downloadable from SlideShare and from my ‑ I used to blog, but now it’s just kind of a home for other things ‑ site, which is at intelleto.com.
So thank you so much for coming.
The Commoditization and Fragmentation of the Information Architecture Community — Nick Finck from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: We, as information architects, stand at the crossroads of our profession as a whole. One road leads to the looming fate of a fragmented industry struggling to stay alive among politics and self‑important needs of individuals. The other leads to a unified community with active individuals helping others and sharing a mutual respect for their fellow practitioners.
In this open format discussion from the 2010 IA Summit facilitated by Nick Finck, practitioners talk about how our profession can pave the way to a bright future. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Nick Finck: So this is the Commoditization and Fragmentation of the Information Architecture Community talk. It’s not actually a talk. How many people here read the description? OK, so good. You might be in the right room.
I tricked you in coming here a little bit. I decided to post that just to make sure I got the right people in the room here. Clever, wasn’t it? Yes, I do. Just by looking I could tell. So this is a talk that was originally going to be a talk I submitted to the IA Summit, and they approved it. I’m not sure how or why or what happened, but…
Female 1: That was Christina.
Nick Finck: That was her fault? OK. You can blame Christina there. And it was something that came to mind. If anybody knows, recently somebody proposed that I take a particular role in an organization that we all know and love. I did a lot of research like most information architects would do. I did a lot of user research.
I interviewed the people inside the organization, the people who were members of this organization, and the people in the community who weren’t members as well. And, of course, past staff members and such. I learned a lot about the information architecture community‑a lot more than what I realized.
I thought I had been doing the information architecture for a while, and I thought I knew a lot. I learned a lot more through that process, so I submitted this talk to vent a little bit. Right? I mean it’s clearly written as a rant in some ways.
But what I learned through the process of talking with those people for an ongoing period of time about what issues they were seeing in the information architecture community, what they thought about the future of the information architecture community, where things were going, and how things were happening for them in their careers is that this is not going to be productive as a rant.
So what I decided to do is make it into an open discussion. And the reason why I tricked you is because I wanted these individuals in the room to be able to help contribute to this discussion. I want to have open discussion. I don’t want to be the person answering all the questions. I want us to be the people answering the questions.
Male 1: Do we get to rant?
Nick Finck: If you want but I saw that video, and I’m not sure you’re allowed to rant anymore.
Nick Finck: So anyway. I have a few things I want to do in this discussion. There’s a few slides, ground rules, and stuff and also some kind of topical leading questions to get us talking about the things that I feel we might want to cover.
To diffuse the situation that might add tension just having this rant there and stuff, I decided to do it with robots.
Nick Finck: Because we all know and love robots, and they help us kind of feel comforted and such as geeks. So, I want to do a quick survey, and I kind of know the answers to these already. But, how many people in the room consider themselves ‑‑ not by job title, but by roll ‑‑ an information architect?
OK, maybe a better question is how many people don’t by roll consider themselves an information architect? I think the same hands are going up.
Nick Finck: How many people in the…
Male 1: It’s a loaded question though. It isn’t [indecipherable 04:56]?
Nick Finck: Yes, you can be.
Male 1: So, it’s not either, or.
Nick Finck: It isn’t necessarily.
Yep. So, we have a heckler in the front row.
[laughter and applause]
Nick Finck: So, what I want to do is ask another question about everybody’s experience with the roll and the practice of information architecture. How many people have been doing information architecture for, let’s just say 10 or more years? OK, quite a few people.
How many people have been doing it for less than five years? OK, a few hands. A few hands. OK, good, because the people that raised their hand for less than five years are the people that I want to hear from the most.
So, I want to say some ground rules real quick, and then we can get started doing discussion. The first thing is, is it’s not just about you. It’s about the information architecture community across the board, OK? I don’t want to hear about the problems that you have, and why you’re not getting somewhere in your career. I want to hear about the problems the industry has, OK? And you… That’s going to reflect upon how we’re going to proceed with this.
But, the next thing is, you need a place… There’s no need to place blame or be defensive, OK? So, we might get into some topics that might be a little bit hairy and I don’t want to be like, this is not an attack session, and this is, you know? So we also don’t want to be going down the direction of this little guy here.
Nick Finck: Which, I don’t know if you can tell by the illustration. This is a garbage compactor/roller coaster/something else robot.
Nick Finck: I thought it was kind of fitting for that slide. The other thing that’s kind of important to know is that as much as I want to find insight and stuff through this discussion, we’re not going to be able to solve everybody’s problems in, like, an hour, or 45 minutes, or whatever they give me here, right?
This is not going to be the end all, be all. I mean, there’s a lot that’s going to happen beyond this, and I want people… I want my emails at the end. I want people to have open conversation with me, and the rest of the community, beyond this session.
So, now for the good stuff. Now for the questions, right? I’m going to start simple. Start with one that I think everybody can kind of answer. But, I want people to stand up when they’re going to respond to each question just so we can hear them amplified across the room and everything, and that we’re not all trying to answer the same question exactly the same moment.
So, do you feel loved as an IA?
Nick Finck: Anybody? Take a, come on.
Male 2: Well Nick, I think we… I got to ask a question about your question.
Nick Finck: [laughs]
Male 2: Kind of back to the point of… If IA is one of the things that you do, it’s hard to do.
Nick Finck: “If IA’s one of the things that you do it’s hard to?”
Male 2: If you… I can’t respond to this in any way, because my title’s not IA, and IA’s absolutely what I do. Part of the four major things.
Nick Finck: OK, OK.
Male 2: How do we address this?
Nick Finck: But it’s part of your role. It’s one of the four things, or for you, five things. Right? Jerry just took the mike. [laughs]
This could go quickly out of control.
Nick Finck: Joe.
Joe: If the question were, “While doing IA work, do you feel loved?” Would that also fit in with your topic and theme?
Nick Finck: I removed a slide from the ground rules that said don’t be overly analytical.
I’m just playing with you.
Joe: And the answer…
Nick Finck: I love you, man.
Joe: I love you, brother.
For me, yes… sometimes.
Nick Finck: OK. Over here in the corner.
Female 1: Hi. I used to work at the BBC in London. We used to have a stream of people that were called IAs and what we found was that you just weren’t appreciated at all. The IAs, they do the matter data. And that was what the IAs did.
So they’ve changed all that at the BBC now. I don’t work there anymore, incidentally… but I know they’ve changed that for exactly that reason. The visual designers did all the user experience, and we did the matter data. So, no, I don’t think we’ve evolved as an IA at the BBC.
Nick Finck: So you don’t feel appreciated in your role… Right? Others?
[Inaudible speaker talks off microphone]
Female 2: I’ve had much more career success when I avoid using the term Information Architecture in most cases.
Nick Finck: You’ve had more?
Female 2: More career success, yes.
Nick Finck: OK.
Female 2: Now that doesn’t mean I’m not doing it every day.
Nick Finck: Yeah.
Female 2: It’s just if I frame it that way, a lot of times people just want to put me in a box, kind of like she was saying.
Nick Finck: OK.
Female 3: [talking without the mike] … or people don’t even know what that is.
Nick Finck: But they hired that person, right?
Female 3: Right, but the moment you start using Information Architecture, you’re finding deer in the headlights. They don’t understand it.
Nick Finck: Yeah. You had a question up in the front here. Was there a comment?
Female 4: But who doesn’t feel that way?
Nick Finck: Who doesn’t feel loved?
Female 4: I’m sure there are garbage collectors who don’t feel appreciated. I’m sure there are milkmen who don’t feel… you know? I mean, why is that relevant, I guess?
Nick Finck: I’m getting to the next questions. Start small… baby steps. We’ll get there.
Female 5: So in answer to the question, “Do I feel loved as an IA”… two years ago, I was hired as an IA… well, five years ago, I was hired as an IA. And I did IA work, but we weren’t getting any… is this on?
Female 5: But we weren’t getting any…
Female 5: … we weren’t getting any information from users, and that really frustrated me, because I wanted to incorporate that into the work I was doing. So I went to be usability. And so I’m a usability analyst, but I have IA skills. To the people around me, the company I work for, there are no Information Architectures, so I am magic. And I feel loved. Sorry!
Nick Finck: Sweet. I’ll tell you a quick story… just kind of my answer to it. I’m only saying this to contribute to the discussion. I don’t want to be seen as if this is the right answer or anything. There is no right answer. A few years back, I worked for an engineering firm in Portland. They hired me by job title and by role as an Information Architect. They had a client, a rather large utility company, and I had written the spec while I was working for the client. So I went from the client side to the agency side, so to speak.
I worked there for… boy… close to two years. I had never touched a wire frame the entire time I was there. I never touched a site map. I never did a taxonomy. Never did anything that you would imagine I might do.
One of the last projects I got there was for a hospital. Actually, it was a series of hospitals that had merged. They had 20 different websites. They had databases all over the place… some external, some internal… and it was basically a giant mess. And they wanted to unify the whole system. Build one website, one Internet, a single place for all their data, a way for certain types of data to talk to each other in different departments. Everybody used a different type of system.
They go up to me and they go: “Is something you can do? I know you’ve been debugging Java for the last, like I don’t know how long, is this something you can do?” And I’m like: “This is what you hired me for! This is what I’m here for.” [laughter]
So I started working with them, and by the time the end of the project wrapped up which is just before I got laid off ironically, I felt loved. Prior to that, no love the whole time through. I was doing stuff that I hated doing.
That’s my own personal story. It depends. The answer is: “It depends.” Do you feel loved as an IA in that role? Do you feel loved by the company? Do you feel loved by the community?
I noticed nobody here talked about ‑“Did they feel loved by the IA community?” Like, as an IA. It’s all about the business, about their personal role, about what they’re doing on a daily basis. That’s maybe where the rubber meets the road sort of speak.
You have a question?
Male 2: Right, so my non‑love I guess isn’t from the customer or the fellow IA’s, it’s typically from the development staff who felt threatened. After I’d taken a management position, I’d placed an IA and they actually forced her out by not giving her work. They said, usability?
Well, we’ll just make a usability committee of the users and they can pick the colors, they can design the screens and give it to us. We’re the developers and we know it.
I think that that has been the biggest challenge of love as an IA.
Nick Finck: So, I guess that brings us into the next question. What are your challenges as an IA?
Oh, question from the front? Yup?
Male 3: I don’t need any mic.
Nick Finck: He can shout it!
The people behind you in the recording might disagree.
Male 3: I don’t care about the people behind me!
I don’t understand the love thing. The young lady to my left who I just met so it’s not a plant, said she didn’t understand the love thing and I don’t think love has anything to do anything we do whether it’s IA or running a conference or as this young lady does or anything.
David Gray just sat down with me and said that he remembers one thing I said years ago that meant something to him. I know this sounds corny but it’s just: “Do good work.” I think that’s in itself love. A feeling that you solved a problem by doing good work. But it’s not external love.
Nick Finck: No, right.
Male 3: Love is not a part of my life.
[speaking into mic] Did you hear that?
Female 6: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Could you repeat it?
Nick Finck: [laughs] Boy, I’m trying to paraphrase that. I’m not sure how to…
Male 4: He basically asked, “What’s love got to do with it?” [laughter]
Nick Finck: This is where we break out into the song.
Male 3: I think that’s better than what I said.
Nick Finck: The only thing I’ll say is that I agree, love as an emotion has nothing to do with it. The more your loved within your company, the more strategic influence you have. That is why it matters. That is the only reason it matters. It doesn’t matter on an emotional feel good level. It matters on the impact you have on important problems.
Male 5: The value. I wonder if people would use the world to describe Bill or Steve Jobs?
Nick Finck: Probably not. Again, we removed the slide I had about being overly analytical. [laughter] I’m talking about not just love, emotional love, right? I’m talking about value. Percieved understanding. Respect. Those kinds of things.
Male 5: [inaudible 17:14]
Nick Finck: That’s a very good question, I’m going to get to that. Yup?
Male 5: So, I’m going to answer actually both questions. It has to do with challenges and it has to do with love.
Nick Finck: Great.
Male 5: Challenges to me is, what value can I actually add, how much visibility do I have in the projects that I have, and what I can do with the tools and methods that I have.
So recently I finished up what should have been a full four weeks worth of work, according the project plan, in about a week and a half and, pardon the French, but the stakeholder came out of her office (and I work in an agency) and she was screaming, “Fuck yeah,” and it was like, “Oh Wow! That’s awesome.”
But the challenge to me was, I’m just doing wire frames. And it was wire framing something that already existed, but I took all the other IA stuff I had and I put a little invention, a little innovation in it, tweaked a few things I knew would help the client, and she was just like over the moon. Not only had it been done quickly (quicker than she thought it was going to get done), but there was also stuff in there, the client was like, “Whoa! This is great! We needed this!”
So the challenge was, how do I bring value to a routine wire framing project (that I love) and then by meeting that challenge, the “love” came. It was one of the greatest moments of my life to have this woman run out of her office and scream at the top of her lungs, “Fuck yeah!” It was awesome.
Nick Finck: Yeah, I could totally see how that would be awesome. I probably need to do that more in my company. “Fuck yeah!” [laughter] (This is going to be censored later, right?).
Male 4: Yeah.
Nick Finck: To kind of go with the “challenges” question, one challenge that I have found, and I’ve only been doing this for five, six years (before that I was in visual design front‑end development), but I find that when I talk IA with other IAs, we spend a lot of time talking about the tools we use to get the job done instead of trying to solve problems.
So I’m trying not to rant too much on that, but like this morning, I sat in on that prototype talk, and it was all about Axure. I thought for a second the guy worked for Axure, but it’s this tool that he uses. I brought up about Flash Catalysts, because some of Orbit involves Flash, and he wasn’t sure if it was right thing to do, and I’m like ‑well, we’ve been using Flash Catalysts to do some prototyping, and it’s been successful.
But because I mentioned that, right now, Catalyst, you have to copy/paste from other tools, he’s like well, I’m not really interested in learning about a tool I have to do that in. I’m like, “But with Axure, you have to do that, so why is the method I am talking about is dismissed so quickly?” “Because it’s not a label of Axure/Visio on the ground floor,” and whatever else.
So in the end what one of the big challenges I have is, I think we talk too much about the tools that we use to get the job done as opposed to the problems that we’re trying to solve.
Nick Finck: Yeah, I definitely agree. I think the best tool for an information architect is your brain. Right? Thinking. The design thinking, the thought process that goes into that, not a process, your thought process. And I think the best, closest thing I’ve seen to that is writing and drawing, you know, sketching, just getting that stuff out somehow.
Tools I mentioned (I don’t know if anybody went to the Axure talk, it was a great talk, I loved it), there’s a learning curve of every tool. Like maybe we use Visio all day, or Axure all day, or Omnigraffle, or whatever it might be, and we’re so used to it, but it’s always that reality check, you get somebody totally new, he’s never done this before, and they open up the tool, and you see that learning curve happen right there. Some of it’s quicker, some of it’s slower.
But I get asked that all the time, like, what tools do you use, and I wrote a blog post and I just point people to it. But it’s really not about that. You’re right. It’s so much more than that. And that’s one of the challenges we have, I think, as an industry.
Male 5: Yeah, I was going into talking about the tools themselves are making getting the work done a challenge. So kind of where you were going, the sketching and being able to just kind of think through ideas and get things out, and that’s certainly a challenge.
But then I also thought about the documents themselves as tools right, to discuss the projects and the organizations a challenge.
Because one component is that a lot of times they don’t understand what you know what the client or even people with team or the account managers or whatever. Don’t know that the tool is for they haven’t they assume that its one thing when it’s really another.
And the other thing is they get you know its you get hung up on having the wire rights when its not. We have to have a wire frame because that’s what user experience and the architects do. That’s what eyes do you have to have a wire frame, you have to site map and the big challenge is sometimes no you don’t. You can really get the job done with an iPhone, a pencil, and a piece of paper and your brain.
So I think that’s kind of a nice challenge. That runs up against large organizations, and they try and push back like ‑no this the client has to see this. The client is not going to get it if they don’t see it.
I’m like…really? Maybe you can just tell the story, about the way it works and they might get it. We can save hours of work and put dollars in our pocket, whatever. That’s probably one of my biggest challenges.
Female 7: Hi, one of the challenges that I see I tend to me the glue that puts everything together. And we have multiple customers through our deliverables so we usually come up with a single deliverable through multiple audiences.
So you’ll have the marketing folks, you’ll have the business analyst; you’ll have the developers or the designers who are going to look at your wire frames. And you’re trying to convey one single thing with one object to those multiple audiences. I find that that’s a big challenge and you got to do it in a time limited or one single tool.
At least that’s where I am working right now that’s requirement to produce one element, one result. But I find that a very pervasive challenge for the IA, but the good thing is we are the glue. The good thing is we are the glue that connects all those pieces and its up to us to ensure that the communication stays consistent and congruent.
Nick Finck: Yeah, limitation of the deliverables, limitation of the tools you know can be a challenge especially when you’re talking to different people. I mean that same health hospital website I was working on that project. I created a site map at some point for them, I helped organize there Internet and set it to them and they were just like I don’t understand.
And I walked throughout it, we had meetings you know and they just couldn’t understand like what they were really looking at. And then I threw it away I said OK, forget the site lets just talk about this. So I went through this user research that speaks on the client and then I delivered another site map on a form of an outline and they got it.
They totally got it; give them a site map in boxes and lines they don’t get it. So every client is different and thankfully most people like got the outline concept of that and the ones who didn’t already saw the site map. But yeah, it’s a challenge the stuff I do or kind of pursuing more lately has been there are no tools for it.
There is only tools in other industries that create things that could be used you know. It’s like Michael’s talking about you know they have this story board pad and it got picked up by the film industry. Right, they heard about it and all of a sudden they start buying all these things and talking about it.
It’s like it’s totally wasn’t intended for that but its great for that because it works. I think were doing the same thing as information architects is kind of borrowing from a lot of other stuff. And story boards are just one example because that actually did come from animation and film industry.
Well actually you debated that one don’t you with me like it was from somewhere else? Anyway does anybody want to add anything else before I put it to the next kind of talking point? What is the future of IA?
I used this image because you know I hear a lot of people saying ‑oh you know IA is kind of a there is all these other people doing this other stuff know its kind of more the trendy thing, you know where not just building content based websites and they have to be dynamic you know or you know content is the key.
This is stuff we all know, and we’ve heard for many years. There’s people that do that stuff. There are still, somehow, information architects, or at least people who do IA as part of their role.
I want to bring this up, because it’s like I hear this from one side of the crowd. And again, going back to the question that I asked about ten years and more, and then the five years and less people. Five years or less people, I don’t know.
Maybe you guys can answer this, but a lot of the people that I’ve talked to that are new to it, the future of IA, defining the damn thing, and all these other things, it’s like they don’t care. They just need help with their jobs. They just need help figuring out where they need to go. Where they need to go to find resources. Where they need to go to find advice. How to approach a particular kind of problem.
That’s where we come in as a community. That’s where our support comes in, is to take these people that are new to this and bring them to a level that they can start doing on their own. They don’t have to ask more questions.
So, if you’ve ever been in a community space forum, or whatever it might be. A website or something, and you find yourself asking questions that nobody’s able to answer, maybe it’s time to find another level, like maybe a mentor or some sort of peer that can help you. But, maybe it’s also time to put back into it what you got out of it, because you got there somehow. Somebody helped educate you to that level. Question?
Female 8: So, I think I’m the third oldest practitioner of IA, so I hope it’s OK that I can speak, because I’m not under the five year old, and I’m not an IA at this particular moment in my life, but I think the juxtaposition of these two questions next to each other has hit something that I care about deeply, because I care very, very deeply about this profession.
And that is, the challenges are a lot of the people with the name Information Architect that I work with are doing things that are increasingly irrelevant. They are making wireframes, which are not… They’re wonderful thinking tools, but if that’s all you do… You don’t do flows, you just make a wireframe, and hand it to the designer, and color it in. If that’s 100% of what an IA is, I’m a little nervous.
And then, they’re working on the navigation. I’m like, Is that really a job title? Is that something to dream of, and be proud of, and enjoy?
I think the answer is the future… The problem is, we used to build these huge taxonomies, but it’s all done dynamically via algorithms. I think Dan Brown, who is a marvelous man, gave a talk a couple of years ago which told us exactly what the future of information architecture is, is that we need to start building the rule sets. We need to start designing the human aspects of algorithms.
It’s just like 1000 years ago, when we suddenly went, “Wait a second. These people who are building human spaces don’t actually understand or care about humans.” It’s time for us to bite the bullet, understand the engineers, and start making algorithms for human beings, so that we can have information spaces that are more humane than ever.
I think this is really critical and important, and I want to challenge everybody who wants to call themselves an information architect to think about what information architecture means when the rooms move like Hogwarts.
Nick Finck: Nice.
Male 6: I’d like to follow up on that, and address this question on what’s the future of IA.
There’s a number of people in this room who were involved in the early to mid 1990s, who helped to sell a particular version of information architecture into the business world. At the time we were doing that, people weren’t asking for information architecture. We had to sell them on the ideas. We had to sell them on the importance of this work. It was an uphill battle for several years, until the name, and the role, and the need started to take hold.
I personally feel like we’re at a transition point in time, where we have an opportunity to do the same kind of missionary sales work. For those of you who know the work of Andrea Resmini, and the pervasive information architecture. Talking about ubiquitous computing, multi‑channel information architecture.
Whether you call it ubiquitous computing, user experience design, or service design or what have you there is tremendous opportunity to help executives and entrepreneurs to figure out: “How do we design experiences and services across channels?”
A lot of organizations are not asking for this yet, but they need it. There is a huge opportunity to sell this. If we good back to the original definition of information architect from Mr. Warmen there is an important word in there, the word is map. We are very well positioned to help create the maps to help people understand or describe the problem.
As Dan Rome said this morning: “If you can describe the problem well, people will start to see the solution and you can have a lot of influence in designing that solution.” I think we are at a really exciting point in time. There’s a real opportunity to move forward in a new version of information architecture.
Male 7: It would be great to hear from some people who actually are part of the future of IA too. Not that, I love what these guys had to say…
No! No! This is why you should never give me the microphone.
Like Nick was saying, we have some newer practitioners and some of the people who are newer to it. As another old fart I would like to say, not that they are… Jesus! I am so digging this hole! [laughter]
Nick Finck: Careful, careful.
Male 7: I forgot what the hell I was going to say.
Yeah, that is the future.
I’ve come to feel that basically, the reason why I call myself an information architect is because my main interest in this profession, even though I do a lot of interactive design and I do a lot of other stuff. My main interest is, how do I use information to structure meaningfully, human experience? How do I use information to create things that are going to lend helpful, meaningful structure to people’s lives?
That doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with wire networking or tools or taxonomy or anything. It has a lot to do with semantics. It has a lot to do with explanations. It has a lot to do with taking this ephemeral stuff called language and making things out of it in digital stuff. That’s going to change from year to year.
I would say, as soon as you find yourself focusing too far in on one tool or one particular thing maybe you should correct yourself a little bit and kick your butt a little bit. Go wait a minute, I need to pull my scope up a ways and realize that’s not the be all end all.
I’m just agreeing with what everyone else is saying, I suppose.
Nick Finck: Valid point.
Male 8: If I had known this slide had been here, I would have not talked before because I could go on forever about this. I’m going to channel Yoda. Let go the inner face, you must.
Fifty, sixty years ago, so now actually more seventy years ago, radio was the information channel. That was it of the electronic age. Then you had the television. Each step you couldn’t foresee. Now it’s the computer. What is going to be there fifteen years from now?
Something in the realm of haptics or something may change the experience completely so what we’re doing may go out the window. But information will always be there. Information doesn’t have to be tied to the interface. You can provide so much more to an organization with the skills you use as an information architect than just designing or experience of an interface. Whether it be a form or a computer screen or what have you.
Rise up above the small tasks that we’re doing now within information architecture and effect everything. Be the advocate for the information. In know I’m probably going to be shot by the usability police, but [laughter] be the advocate for the information and enable the usability experts from the good information that you have organized, designed, found, and coddled for them so that they can build a better user experience.
Nick Finck: OK. The glue has been raising [indecipherable 35:17] and it’s going to fall off pretty soon. [laughs]
Male 8: I’m going to push back against Christina a little bit. Yep, look up because I’m going for you. Come on, bring it on.
I want to speak in defense of maybe not the wireframe but the wireframer. Because we’ve been taking, for years now at these events, me included, a lot of potshots at commodity work. I think, in effect, it’s kind of shortsighted because, in any field that’s got a life ahead of it, a future ahead of it, there’s a mix of people who do different things.
So, yes, a lot of people here at this event are futurists, and we need them to keep pushing the boundaries. But what about the probably 50% of the people who are here at this event because they need to do a better job wireframing and doing other operational tasks? That stuff’s important. That work has to get done. Peter, you’re talking about mapping. Someone has to draft the map.
So I think we’ve got to be pretty careful, especially at a place like this where maybe these are junior folks that have to start by putting in their time doing wireframes. We’ve got to support them. We’ve got to make them feel welcome at events like this especially.
We also got to remember that just because to certain people, myself included, wireframing is the last thing I’d ever want to have spend my time doing, there’s huge innovation to be made in those very, very concrete tactical areas. Like, hey, think of all the people that are making these huge advances moving from wireframing to prototyping. I mean that’s incredible stuff.
That blows my mind. And I’ve got a lot more respect for that kind of work than I used to. So it’s not all kind of thinking at a strategic level, I think that’s important too. But it’s got to be a well‑rounded community and a well‑rounded field that incorporates all kinds of people at all points in their career who are good at different things.
Male 8: OK, one second. We’re going to go here in a second [indecipherable 37:08]
Male 3: I will talk into the mike now.
Very nice being here. Some young lady said that she was the third information architect. I want to know the first two. Oh, I want to know who the other two were.
Female 5: Well, they’re known as [inaudible 37:26 . These guys that you are [indecipherable 37:27]…
Male 5: No, no, but see…
Female 1: [indecipherable 37:32]
Male 5: Let me just tell you a couple things. I don’t understand everything that people say. I don’t understand. I had to ask what a wireframe was.
I don’t know what a wireframe is because I don’t think in terms of wireframes. I don’t think in terms of information architecture. I think in terms of understanding. I’m interested in understanding things that interest me. And I’m interested in the rigor, a systemic rigor of being able to explain. My good friend Nigel Holmes calls his firm Explanation Graphics. He likes to explain things. That’s fine too.
Ultimately, it’s not the modality. It’s not the wireframe or computer. The first books I did were in 1962 when I did maps of 50 cities in the world to the same scale. I thought that was information architecture. It had a rigor about explaining something. Computers weren’t around then.
What just came out now, the iPad, you’re not going to be doing screens. Everything, on that machine, is going to be a movie. It’s going to be a continuum of flying through understanding. The old Muriel Cooper flying through information idea that was presented at TED. TED was another thing that I was involved in.
Don’t you want to just try to figure out at any moment in history how to explain something to somebody else, to another human being with whatever tools happen to be around then. But, don’t invest in the tool, invest in your curiosity and the rigor of your curiosity and the rigor of your explanation and being able to explain it to another human being which would be quite different in five years or ten years.
I think the best thing we do is have conversations with each other. I think the best thing I can do is just have a conversation with one other person. Now, is that information architecture? Well, if they understand something and I understand something and I have rigor to my language, clarity to my language.
I don’t say, “I go”, instead of, “I said”. I don’t say “Ya know”. I don’t say any of the languages that make us not as clear as we can be. If we’re clear about our language and our imagery and about the ordering of that and we give examples that allow each thing that we say to be understood relative to something else, so we make little baby steps from understanding to understanding.
Most of you’ve heard a very old question I ask people is how big is an acre. And, somebody remembers, oh, from their junior high school days it was 43, 560 square feet. But then, it doesn’t mean anything to somebody else because you can’t understand what 43, 560 of anything is.
So, in context of having a conversation and you say an acre, you say it’s about the size of an American football field without the end zones. And even if you don’t like football or play football, you’ve seen in your high school or some place a football field. So, you all now know what an acre is. It’s about the size of an American football field.
That’s information architecture, too, because you thought of a rigorous way of explaining something to somebody else. It’s not always the facts that explain something to somebody else.
Bhopal, India. If you say it’s the largest city in central India, which in 1984 they had a terrible, terrible accident with the spill of all the chemicals. If you say it’s the largest city in central India, most people think it looks like a village because that’s what the photos look like. So, the photos lied and saying it’s the largest city in central India is the truth.
But then, you think from that statement, because you don’t know another city in central India, that it has millions and millions of people and it only has 600, 000. So, what I’m interested is in communicating with another person and I say, Bhopal, which is not only the largest city in central India, but about the size of San Francisco or Boston.
I’m interested in communicating with another human being whether it’s in a conversation, which is all I can do with a microphone, I can’t do it with these wire frame things [inaudible] , and I don’t have a computer, I can only do what I can do with this. And, this is my modality, my mouth, my voice box in this, and I’m communicating to the people in this room.
And, I’m doing it with rigor and with responsibility. And, that’s what information architecture is. Not the modality, not the particular technology, not a wire frame, not an iPad, not a computer, not color, not no color, millions of colors, certainly not pie charts.
It’s just making yourself understandable which is what we do as human beings with memory, which it seems that other animals don’t, and I love my dogs. And, they have some memory but they don’t pass on their history in the way we do.
Anyway, I did use a mike, so I was good. And, I didn’t say fuck more than three times.
Strategy Matters — Harry Max from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: From every level in the organization, what’s above you can look strategic, and what’s below you tends to look like tactics stepping up to a new level of demands, sensitivity and understanding of the important differences between them.
Drawing on his experiences as an information architect, customer experience designer, executive and leadership coach, Harry Max decodes how to play to stay in the game.
I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers.
Harry Max: So, I see a lot of friendly faces in the crowd. Thank you for coming. And I did, as I was mentioning to Samantha earlier, I did what I normally do when I’m nervous and have to get up on stage, I went and drank a double espresso to calm down.
Harry Max: And, I did a thing on Wednesday morning at some heinous hour and I read the little green sheets that come back that have the feedback. And I was reading through them and they’re like, oh, we really liked your talk and Harry talks too fast. And we really, really liked the talk and we really liked this particular point, and Harry talks too fast.
So, if I talk too fast, slow me down. If you have any questions while I’m talking, raise your hand, jump up and down, do something and I’m happy to take questions in the middle of things. I think in general the most interesting stuff comes out of those particular questions and those particular answers. I know we’re trying to capture this for podcasting so I’ll do the annoying thing of repeating the question which you have just heard so that you can all hear it again so that we capture it on the recording.
Let’s see. I know this is a longer session, so some of you may want to get up kind of half way through and run out to something even more important, and I would like you to be able to do that. However, I would prefer if you do it in mass, so if you decide to leave, so we’ll try to stop at some rational point for those of you who do want to leave so that you can kind of wander out to whatever else happens to be important.
Let’s see, where do we start? How about the airplane? So, some of you may have heard this story before. And, for those of you I apologize profusely. However, it’s so applicable I wanted to just sort of call your attention to the fact that strategy and the design of strategy and the strategy of design are so tightly coupled that you see it in the oddest of places.
And this comes from a time when I was traveling back and forth to Burbank every week. I was running the web team at DreamWorks Animation. I got to the airport and I ran, I managed to get onto the plane and everything. I looked at my seat and I was all happy, I thought I was going to have a very, very narrow person who was going to be very quiet and read a lot and I was going to have a large seat all to myself, and I was going to be able to do what I usually do which is ignore people and listen to music and what not.
But, that’s not what happened. What happened was a very, very large and very grumpy looking man sat down next to me and proceeded to play with his cellular phone while we were taxiing down the runway. And, you know, I’m not the paranoid type entirely, and I do have a theoretical plasma physicist father who specializes in test and measurement in the nuclear age, and most of his friends died in small accidents. So, it’s not that I’m paranoid, but I grew up with a little bit of paranoia.
So, I took the liberty of saying to this fine gentleman, you know, as we’re taxiing down the runway, the very nice woman standing at the front just said that we should turn our electronic devices and cell phones off. You know, I don’t know if they actually cause any problems, I haven’t read the Carnegie Mellon report, have you?
And, he looked at me and said, “Shut up.”
Harry Max: And so, I said to myself, “You know, before we land I’m going to turn this guy into my best friend” because I just thought that would be really fun to try to do. And, she reiterates, “Turn off your cell phones. So, if any of you happen to have your cell phones on right now, don’t worry, we’ll single you out if the phone goes off.”
So, I, of course, am sitting here worried that we’re taxiing down the runway and this guy’s skitzing around with his cell phone doing all sorts of stuff. He’s told me to shut up. He’s three times my size. I don’t have any room in my seat. I’m figuring this is all going to end in some kind of fireball and I’m basically very unhappy about the whole situation. But, I’m determined to turn the guy into my next best friend.
So, we get up to the 10,000 foot mark where the little, you know, ding goes off and you can take your laptops out and stuff. And, I turned to the guy and I said, “So, what do you do for a living?”
And he said, “I work in the blue cube.”
I said, “The blue cube?”
Do any of you know about the blue cube? You know about the blue cube. You must know about it. If you don’t know about the blue cube, it’s right next to Yahoo. So, this is driving down 237 on the way to Yahoo from Mountain View. Google is off behind the, well anyway, we’ll leave that as it may.
The blue cube is this building and it’s about four stories tall and it’s painted powder blue. It has no windows. And, it’s behind two layers of barbed wire fence and signs that say, “Do not take your camera out.” So, I used somebody else’s camera. I was amazed that this wasn’t blotted out because this is where the NSA, well they do interesting things there.
And so I said, “Well, what do you do in the blue cubes?”
And he said, “I fly satellites.”
And I said, “Ah, this is how you know that cell phones are not dangerous on airplanes.”
And he goes, “I don’t actually know if they’re not dangerous on airplanes.”
Harry Max: And that didn’t make me feel much better, but at this point I noticed he had put his phone away and done with whatever he was going to do with it and I said, well, you know, what can you tell me about flying satellites.
And he said, nothing or I’d have to kill you.
Harry Max: And I said, “Why, I don’t really want that and I was already about what was going to happen with the cell phone. Is there anything you can tell me?”
And he said, well as a matter of fact there is. He said, “Satellites are incredibly expensive to fly. I sit there in what looks like a game console in a very, very dark room with a little green screen and a little red phone next to me.”
“And I get a phone call from somebody who’s typically very important and they tell me there’s something they want to take a picture of or there’s something they want to do. And, I have to figure out how to get the satellite from wherever it is doing whatever it’s doing to wherever they want it to be without running out of fuel. So, you really have to know what it is you want to accomplish.”
And I said, “Wow, that’s cool. How do you do that?”
And he said, “Well we have to start with what the satellite’s currently doing.” He said, “We have to figure out what direction it’s facing because it’s not always facing forward.” He said, “We have to figure out where it’s going, how fast it’s going, whether it’s accelerating or whether it’s decelerating. We really don’t have a lot of degrees of freedom and we have a very, very, very small amount of fuel.”
“So, we have to figure out how to chart a very simple, efficient path from wherever it is, doing whatever it’s doing, facing whatever direction it’s facing, to wherever it is we need it to be and we need to get it there at that time because, of course, if we fly over it, we’ve got to go around the planet again and that’s a bummer and it uses a lot of gas.”
“So, thoughtful planning is really important. And, when we get to the point that we’re ready to execute, we need to execute efficiently. And, the reason that we need to execute efficiently is because we don’t get to do it very often. It’s expensive and in fact, it’s not that efficiency on it’s own is a good thing, it’s that efficiency allows us to be effective.”
“So in this particular case, it’s about figuring out how to make the smallest possible moves to have the largest possible effect. And then, our job is not to screw it up.”
So, I was like, “Wow, that’s just like user experience design which is what I do, sort of.”
And he’s like, “Well what do you do?” I’m on the path to making a best friend.
So what this talk is about fundamentally is about the relationship between the process of figuring out how to use roughly the same set of tools that you have in your quiver or tool set or whatever it is you have that you would normally use for the architecting information spaces or for designing effective user experiences online or figuring out how to create customer experiences that are delightful. Figure out how to do that in a way that allows you to contribute at a higher level.
The problem with that, however, is that ‑ and this is how I ended up in this unfortunate career at this point ‑ the more you do and the better you get, the higher the expectations and the harder it is to succeed. The more important the meetings are and the higher level of people are that are in those meetings, and the tougher the questions they’re asking. Some of you have probably had that experience.
The good news is I started studying how to ask and answer questions so I could fight back. This involved figuring out how to speak the language of business, which some of you I know were in the Wednesday morning session where we talked about some of that. It involved figuring out how to translate the things that we do as designers and developers into concepts and language and perspectives that make sense for people that are trying to figure out how to create and deliver value in the marketplace.
The thing that’s really cool is that this notion of strategy is, in a sense, a little bit convoluted because if you think about it….I don’t know why this seems to be the light bulb that goes in everybody’s head when you think about it. When you look up from whatever position you are and whatever company you’re working for ‑ if you happen to be working for a company ‑ and you look up, you think whatever’s about to fall on you is probably strategic, right? If you look down from whatever position you’re in, you’re probably seeing tactics.
There’s this weird relativity that exists in the process of essentially participating either in the process of setting direction and developing strategy or doing design work because it often looks the same, right? You look up, and “Wow, that’s a really cool strategic thing we must be working on.” It comes down to you.
You work on this important thing. Then you want to delegate stuff to do. Those things look like tasks. Tasks look tactical and all of sudden you’ve got the same problem. It doesn’t matter where you are in the supposed hierarchy. You have this odd relationship between what’s above you in concept and what’s below you.
Strategy, what is it? Everybody’s got… it’s a little bit like Information Architecture (sorry, Lou). Anybody you ask is going to have a slightly different opinion. I don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to get you to believe my particular definition of strategy.
What I will focus on, however, is the notion of strategizing. It’s a little bit like designing. We’ll talk a little bit more about this. We’ll look at the essence of what strategy development or strategizing looks like when it’s happening and we’ll talk about that a little bit more.
We’ll take a look at the tool set from a conceptual point of view in terms of what it takes to actually make strategy happen. I was going to call this “Strategy Happens,” but that has sort of a negative connotation, I think. So that’s why “Strategy Matters” I thought was somewhat better. It’s really not “Strategy Matters” that is important. It’s “Strategy Matters” that there are these things that we need to pay attention to as it relates to strategy as a direction‑setting vehicle and the relationship between that and design becomes apparent as we go forward.
I felt really smart when I figured out the answer to this question. You know what the difference between strategy development and design actually is? Does anybody have any idea?
It’s really easy. OK. I give it away. Design is about envisioning stuff. It’s about creating things. It’s about the conceptualization and manifestation of experiences that have substance, in a sense. They, on one hand, can turn into satellites. On the other hand, they can turn into user interfaces that allow us to tweet. But it’s stuff, right? It might be digital stuff, but it’s still stuff.
That is not what strategy is about, strategy is fundamentally about envisioning ideas and ideas are not stuff, unless you think of them as stuff of mind which is the way to conceptual and philosophical to the win to. But the point is that strategy is really about coming up with ideas and figuring out which of those ideas you want to do. Which of them you do not want to do, which is perhaps more important than which ones you do want to do.
And it is about the notion of directionality, thinking about the satellite again. What do you want to do? What do you want to accomplish and how will you now when you get there?
It’s stuff verses ideas, and so if you hold that distinction in your head and you forget about everything else the process of strategizing becomes the process of sort of framing up, imaging, clarifying, and manifesting ideas. And those ideas have a purpose and will talk about that more in a minute. So before I go on are there any questions and feel free to interrupt me in the middle of any of this.
No, OK, so if you step way, way back like really far back and you squint your eyes and you look at what is the process for designing stuff? You think OK, we have some idea what it is where trying to accomplish and from that, we get a sense of how with we know if it is happening.
And from there we go into a process of how to create something and we figure out how to get information from one place and we figure out to bed it with another. And we try to figure out how to take all of that and mold it like clay into something that we can then measure in theory.
Right, because not everything is measurable there is quantified stuff and there is not quantified stuff. The not quantified stuff might be measurable and you might be able to figure out how to turn it into something that is measurable. But often you are fooling yourself because there is stuff that is just not measurable. Or really, really hard to measure or even if you are measuring and it is arguably not useful to measure.
Strategy on the other hand that strategy development process which is really what I am talking about here. And I want to make that point again were not talking about strategy as noun. Were talking about the notion of strategy development or strategizing as a process. It is really about setting direction with ideas. If you step way back again the process looks the same.
We try to figure out OK, in the largest possible sense what are you trying to accomplish? And how sort of will you know if it is working? Then you go through some kind of process where you mold it like clay and then you turn it into stuff that you can do. And I that process you get information from different places and you try to turn it into something you can measure.
So what I want to walk you through was the fact that the tools that you have as designers, as user experience people, as usability people, as product developers, as product managers. Did I say information architects I cannot remember? Those tools are largely the same they’re called different stuff because the strategy development process they don’t name them. And in the work that most of us do we do name them.
If you recognize that you have these tools at your disposable all of a sudden, you can have an entirely different conversation with people about how to design ideas to set direction to figure out where to go.
So this is a distinction where I was not sure I wanted to make. But it seems to matter a lot which is to say that in the design process there seems to be a bit of a distance we place between ourselves and the thing that we’re designing. And that is because we take the position of trying to understand who they are and what they want and how they know when they have it. And what will be sufficient for them. What will be hopelessly idealistic for them.
What would be the first set of steps they would go through, to accomplish this, what would their experience be? Strategy does not work like that. If you are going to develop strategy, if you are going to develop the ideas to figure out how to set direction and go somewhere ‑-separating yourself from it does not work very well.
It is significantly easier to figure out how to set direction in a strategic frame, if you ask the question: “Who are we?” “What do we want, right?” “How will we know, when we get there?” It is very different‑‑in the designer frame‑the designer has the identity of the designer. In the strategic frame, the people who are strategizing have the identity of people who want to accomplish something.
It is not necessarily the strategist‑there are strategist and companies, but they know this already. They don’t generally think of themselves as strategists that are separate and apart from the, direction setting and development process of the strategy. It just happens to be a title that they have, it’s not who they think they are.
And this separation between who we think we are and who we think we are serving, turns out to be central to the idea of figuring out how to set direction in a way that allows people to say; “Wow, I get that. I really want to help get there, too.”
The next distinction I wanted to make which I think, I struggle with as well, is the “Scope of Impact.” From the design side, the scope of impact you could think about it as, the way to think about the positive change that is going to take place and on the design side you have at the lowest possible level, the idea and at the highest possible level, you have an impact on an industry.
So my favorite example is Skype just because I was involved with that company very early on‑not as a full‑time person but as somebody who was a technology provider to them. And Niklas Zennstraum, the founder of Skype ‑- he was somebody who wanted to run and own the industry and so, from the design experience ‑- Janus Friis, the other co‑founder. When they thought about, what they were doing, they were thinking about it in terms of…OK, on the product side, on the design side; “We want to take these ideas and we want to turn them into features and capabilities and generate those into products and then figure out how to create other products and form a company around that and figure out how to take over telecommunications industry.”
But from the strategy perspective, what they had, was they had things that they were trying to do and they had the distributed technique, they were amazing. They had a four sets of developers in Estonia. I don’t know how many of you have been to Estonia. It is an amazing place, it may have a stone. You know, Niklas and Janus, the other Founder, Jeffery Prentice were in London and then there were some folks that were here.
So, it was just an incredible process managing what everybody was doing and the threads of activity that sort of linked up to tasks, which hopefully sort of manifested in objectives which were things that they could see that fed up to goals, that had an overarching purpose that they were trying to achieve, which they did. In ultimately selling the company, which was now what they wanted to do, it just looked like but in the end it turned out to be the thing they….was most expedient of the time.
The point is that they ran these things very separately and very clearly differently in their heads, right? I think this was the part of the reason they were able to move so fast and it was the part of the reason they were able to get such a big‑had such a big impact. Because Jeffery, the business development guy sort of sat on the side and helped figuring out, how they were going to make the strategy happen.
So, he was the implementer of strategy. Janus was the product guy, he was figuring out how to create the product and‑‑Niklas was figuring out how it was, he was going to go try take over industry. So, this notion of “Scope of Impact” there, happened to work very, very well, because I think they kept these things very clean and very separate and I think when you have a company that only has 14 people or 20 or 30 or 40 people, keeping these things separate is not all that hard just as long as you’re clear about them.
When you have a company that has 1500 or 2000 or 20,000 people, keeping these things separate is almost impossible. But it’s useful to recognize at what level you’re operating in and which side of the fence you’re on in your thinking. Are you really working on the making stuff side or are you are really working on the ideas side of things?
So, as I said, we’re not going to talk about the definition of user experience design and all that, but the definition of strategy, which is useful from this perspective, is that it’s really an approach to winning, and it’s very specifically about how to not lose. As a development process, it’s sausage making like everything else that we do as designers.
Audience: Do you think you can turn up the mic a little bit? There’s just so much noise that I…
Harry Max: If I stand closer, does that help?
Audience member: Not really.
Harry Max: Can you move up?
Harry Max: Is anybody else having trouble hearing? Matthew?
Audience member: [Inaudible 23:35].
Harry Max: I don’t see one here. I don’t see one here, but I can speak a little bit more… A mixing board, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello, hello. We’re talking about important things. We’re trying to drown out the people in the back. OK, I will move this a little closer. Thank you.
Just in terms of getting clear about what the idea of what strategy is, there are different kinds of strategy, and I just want to clear up some of that because lots of people through around lots of different kinds of words to define the different kinds of strategy and makes it very confusing, I think.
The other thing is there are things that very specifically strategy is not, and a lot of people think about these things and talk about, but in terms of them being strategic activities, and while they may serve that purpose, that’s not what strategy is.
So my working definition of strategy is really that it’s fundamentally about designing a new future, it’s an approach to winning, and it’s a framework, a thinking framework, for establishing an overarching set of conditions that allow you to achieve arguably a very, very high level goal. It’s about gaining and maintaining an advantage over other people or other organizations or other institutions that are vying for the same competitive space, as it were.
It helps you define what specific things you’re going to do and what specific things you’re not going to do. It gives you a framework for making tradeoffs. It is very much about helping you look at what kinds of things you’re going to do differently from what you’ve been doing in the past. It helps you to identify what you’re going to do differently from what others are doing.
So there are schools of thought on the theoretical side, and I’ll go through those really fast just so that they’re not foreign terms to you. Because it’s really helpful when you’re in the process of engaging in an organization in direction setting and trying to develop ideas and develop strategy to recognize that if somebody says, “What about the X strategy?” You can say, “We’re not really talking about that. What we’re really talking about is engaging people to try to understand what the right thing to do is.”
It’s just recognizing when these terms pop out at you that they’re not threatening, that they’re not going to hurt you. You don’t have to know what they are, how to do them necessarily. You’re welcome to go to business school and learn them if you feel like you need to. But there are plenty of good reasons not to do that. We talked a lot about that Wednesday morning, as a matter of fact.
One of the key distinctions, and I think this is significantly important to understand where most of the confusion in the strategy development process lives, is this difference between big “S” strategy or big ass strategy, depending on how you think about it. This is between… I generally characterize as strategy that’s between an organization and the marketplace. It’s between the executive decision makers and the space in which that particular organization is trying to win.
It’s often characterized as a very top‑down kind of ivory tower command and control kind of experience where there are evil consultants that get brought in. They go around and talk to people. Then a bunch of very thick, very expensive binders get created. Then a bunch of executives go off and have an expensive off‑site. Then the binders get set on the shelves and the strategy starts rolling downhill where you run into that problem of everything you look up to looks like strategy and everything you look down to looks like tactics again.
The challenges with that are numerous. Most of the time it has to do with the fact that when people are not intimately engaged in the process of creating and developing that strategy as if they had been involved in the design of a product or a service. It’s very hard for them to feel like they own a piece of it or that they want to embody what the results are going to mean or that they’re really going to put themselves on the line to make something happen. They may simply misunderstand what it is because the very same words can mean such different things to different people.
There’s also a planning school which is sort of when you think about strategy or you read about strategy. If you happen to get the Harvard Business Review and you find an article about strategy, you’re probably going to find something that fits inside the planning school of strategy. Which is very much this notion of strategy development as a strategic activity for planning how you’re going to act. Which is almost the complete opposite of the strategy development process that I imagine works that Matthew Milan, who’s sitting in the back of the room who now doesn’t want me to point out, probably would promote in that it …
A much more successful approach has to do with figuring out how to get information from where it’s most relevant and pull it in to a process to come up with the best ideas and then figure out which ones are the most likely to win.
So the small s strategies… the big ‘S’ strategy was between the organization and the marketplace. The small ‘s’ strategies really… these are the kinds of strategies that most of us deal with on a regular basis, right? These are the kind of strategies like you have some organization inside your company and that organization wants to figure out how it’s going to organize its resources over time to win. It’s not beat the company, it’s help the company succeed. That is very much a small s kind of strategy activity.
These kinds of activities typically involve getting the people involved in implementing those activities involved in identifying what the strategy ought to be. It often involves getting very specific, very timely information from the place that is going to be affected most by that strategy as it unfolds.
There is a school of emergent strategy which is to say that you do a bunch of stuff and you look what falls out of it and you can engage with the people in that process in a somewhat intentional way. People like Minceburg or Merchant, who I worked with for a couple of years, are large proponents of that.
So you have this top‑down approach. You have a middle‑out or bottom‑up approach, and you have one that sort of bubbles up.
The most important thing to recognize is that the fact that we’re making all these distinctions doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you just recognized there are differences and that the differences confuse people.
Because everybody talks about strategy like everybody talks about information architecture. Everybody’s got a different definition of what it is. They’ve got a different definition of how to do it. They’ve got a different methodology for what’s supposed to work, etc.
Once you start recognizing that there are different approaches and there are different levels at which strategy can be developed, it starts to become very helpful. Because you can now boil most of the irrelevant stuff away and recognize that it’s really about figuring out how to win in a context that’s relevant to you and the people that you’re working with.
On the definition side, back to the… there are these specific kinds of strategies that people specifically in the academic world, talk about, but these academic strategies, because they’ve been derived from case studies of looking at different companies, and they get clever little names, and they get great little articles written about them, and they’re often incredibly effective wherever it was they happen to have worked, they get these great little names. Like the Judo Strategy, or the Lighthouse Strategy, or Beachhead Strategy. I mean, most of this stuff fundamentally falls out of the military at its roots.
But, as these things are effective in business, and business often as a domain tends to look at some of the metaphors from war as a way of winning, you start to see some of the metaphorical language leak into the domain of business. And so these different approaches to winning don’t necessarily reflect winning in a “games” sort of way, they reflect winning in a “kill ’em and move on” sort of way.
The purpose of getting clear about that is just that we’ve got these generic types of strategies. We’ve got targeted strategies, so there are different general kinds of targeted strategies like a “go to market” strategy. How are we going to take this cool new product and get to market in a way that’s going to work, in a way that’s cost effective, and a way that is going to help people adopt this brand, and a way that is going to get people over the early adopter’s curve and help them jump the chasm (in the Jeffrey Moore sense) to recognize the splendor of this particular product?
So, there are targeted strategies like “go to market”, like “defend an existing market”. So Microsoft has come after you for some reason, you have this little software company that happens to sell security software, and you have this big, giant company that says well, we want to eat them for lunch. And so what do you do? Well, you have a defensive strategy. So that’s a different kind of targeted strategy.
Or, you have an IP strategy. And you have a company that says “well, we want to make sure that we have a portfolio of patents that surrounds some particular technology that we have, so if anybody starts to violate us, we have something to trade, or we have some buffer.” So there are different ways of thinking about IP strategies, and that would be a generative IP strategy.
There are also IP strategies, like the now thankfully defunct SCO, which essentially tried to kill Linux by taking the approach that their strategy was “let’s sue everybody who might possibly have any claim to this particular technology so that we can figure out how to start getting paid since we don’t have product and since we have no money.” That’s an IP strategy, in the not‑generative sense.
And then there are specific focus kinds of strategies, so you have a product strategy or portfolio strategy, or capitalization “how you’re going to raise money” strategy, right? Or a research and development strategy, like “how are we going to create this particular product or product line,” “how are we going to do this,” “what is our research approach”, “how are we going to win by investing in the research and development of new technologies and new products to bring them to market, so that we can actually make more money.”
So, what strategy is not? It’s not strategic planning, and there’s a lot of confusion around this. If you hear the words “strategic planning”, run! I mean, run really, really fast! Because this means that somebody’s got a really bad idea and you’re about to get involved in it. Because planning is planning. Right?
Planning is you know where you’re going, and you’ve got to figure out what resources you’re going to put together, what are the capabilities necessary, what’s the capacity of those capabilities that’s necessary to line all that stuff up over time, you figure out where the gaps are, and you go. Right? That’s not about creating a new idea for winning.
So, the idea of strategic planning, it probably ought to be about how you do long‑term planning, but long‑term doesn’t sound sexy. So they call it strategic. And that’s the confusion between “let’s do something important over the long term” versus “how are we going to win over the long term.” Strategy development is not strategic planning. Just know it now and move on.
Scenario planning is also not strategy development. Scenario planning is a fantastic tool. It’s somewhat unwieldy most of the time, but it’s a fantastic tool for understanding the kind of variability that might exist in the future, which you might then want to use to inform a strategy process. But it isn’t strategy development. It’s risk management in many respects.
So, strategy development’s not stunningly brilliant execution either. I mean, some companies win based on brilliant execution and they don’t do strategy. And, that’s OK. And, some of those companies look back after years of winning and they say, well, how did we do it? And, you know, pick out the things that make a lot of sense and you justify them into a story and you build a PowerPoint deck and well, there it is, brilliant execution, not strategy.
And as we talked about earlier, it’s not some kind of externally generated large book of stuff with PowerPoint presentations that people don’t understand.
So, we’ve eluded to the notion of why strategy is important because it’s a fantastic way of looking at the past and picking out the things that might have led to success, that might have been intentional, might not have been intentional. It’s a great tool set for making trade offs at an intellectual level, between things that you have to decide now and resources that you have to allocate, resources that you might need, priorities that might need to shift.
It’s really great in terms of, you know, if you have a really big decision to make, whether it’s a really big decision to make, I love that. It’s a great tool set for giving you an opportunity to take much more effective action when that action is really important.
But, none of that stuff’s what we want to talk about here. What we want to talk about here has to do with creating a future. And, what’s cool about the idea of using strategy development as a tool for creating a future is that it’s a way of intentionally going about creating new ideas and then figuring out how to engage those ideas in a way that allows you to win.
Any questions so far? Yes.
Audience member 2: I was wondering [inaudible 38:22].
Harry Max: So, the question was can you have, if I understood correctly, can you have the small “s” strategy from more of a top down approach? And, the answer is yes.
So, the idea of small “s” strategy is that it’s really inside the company and inside the boundaries of the organization. And typically when it’s done well, it looks more like design than it does like strategy development.
So, the distinction I’m making has more to do with big “S” strategy engaging the market and small “s” strategy being internal. But, poorly run small “s” strategy looks like big “S” strategy in its development, just like poor product development, yeah.
Audience member 3: [inaudible 39:17]
Harry Max: A little hard to hear you.
Audience member 4: [inaudible 39:29]
Harry Max: So, I have to admit I’m having a little trouble hearing you.
Audience member 4: [inaudible 40:07]
Harry Max: Do you mind? Yeah, maybe that would be helpful, thank you.
Woman 1: I’m just thinking about why you’re making the distinction between design and strategy?
Harry Max: Yes.
Woman 1: And, I’m thinking about the term like design thinking.
Harry Max: Yes.
Woman 1: To me, that’s just a term that’s trying to get a little bit of design and a little bit of strategy packaged in it. So, could you just speak to why then distinction is important, too, in the way you’re framing this?
Harry Max Yes. And, I really appreciate the question. I realize that it was pre‑supposed into everything I’ve said so far.
So, the distinction between design and strategy, the intent behind making the distinction is to help you understand that if you’re interested in participating at a higher level and helping to set direction in the organizations where you are working, then you don’t need to opt out of those discussions for fear of not having the tools necessary in order to participate in a profoundly effective way.
You have most of the tools that you need today to do this. You have most of the thinking tools. And, in fact, you have some significantly sharper intellectual tools for engaging in a strategy development process than almost anybody doing strategy today.
And, this was a huge light bulb for me a couple of years ago when I started doing a lot of strategy work. I ended up doing the social strategy for Symantec. I did the open strategy for Adobe where understanding the distinction between open implementation and open process was like once I recognized the kinds of things that were necessary there to reflect back to them that I could create this thinking framework for them to pick the direction. And of course, I was leading the witness the whole time because just by framing the discussion I allowed them to see what the direction was that they needed to go.
And so, it was there. It was the intranet strategy in DreamWorks. It was recognizing that my ability to put together a PowerPoint deck and tell a story that oriented people in space and time and helped people understand what the experience was that they were having today and what experience would be significantly better tomorrow and what would be necessary to get from here to there.
These were all IA/UX tools I was using and yet I was reporting to the CIO and the VP of HR. And, to carry that deck into those meetings and to basically say, look, here’s what’s happening in the company and here’s what people are saying and here’s what success could be, and here’s what would be necessary to get there, and here’s where your attention ought to go.
All of a sudden I was having an entirely different conversation with people. I graduated from information architect to strategist almost overnight, right? I didn’t know it had happened. And that, I think fundamentally, is what it is.
It’s that if you attend to the tools that you have and you recognize where they fit in the process, you, yourselves, can participate in a very powerful way. And, there’s no reason for you to sit back and expect that it’s going to be done to you so that it starts to look like you’re implementers and they’re strategists.
The fact is if you’re willing to have the conversation, you’re willing to sit forward and participate and recognize that you can use the tools that you have to engage in a meaningful way, as long as you stop talking about design and you start talking about setting direction or developing strategy, you can now participate in a way that the insights that you have as designers and as information architects and as user experience people can now significantly leverage your position to help the company or the organization that you’re in get where you want to go.
Did that answer your question? Thank you, Olivia.
Woman 1: [inaudible 44:30]
Harry Max: Hmm? I can’t hear you.
Woman 1: [inaudible 44:31]
Harry Max: Oh, not a real break. It’s a fake break, yeah.
Audience member 5: [inaudible 44:36]
Harry Max: Hm‑hmm. It depends. Let’s talk about that later.
Participant: [inaudible 45:07]
Harry Max: You’re welcome. Awesome. Thank you.
Audience member 6: [inaudible 45:49]
Harry Max: The escapees have left and Olivia has moved closer.
Harry Max: Makes me happy.
Audience member 7: [inaudible 46:18]
Harry Max: I don’t like this slide, so I’m going to skip it. It’s probably really important. This slide I like better. And so, we’ll talk about this.
So, why would you engage in the process of intentionally creating strategy?
So, you’ve either got a problem or you’ve got an opportunity, right? You’ve either got something that’s looming down on you or there are rumors of something looming down on you and you want to start figuring out how to close the apparent gap between where you are and where you could be to create some additional distance between whatever is looming down on you and wherever you’d rather be.
So, it’s exactly like product development. It’s exactly like information architecture. It’s exactly like user experience design. You want to be somewhere else. And, you want to be there as smartly as possible. And, it’s one thing to manage risk this way or to try to save yourself. It’s another thing to look at opportunities to thrive.
And, I think we have a strong tendency to look at the immediate threat in front of us and think that’s the most important thing. And, it’s often not the most important thing. It’s the thing right behind that because that sucker’s running for a reason. And, it may be running toward you but you may be standing in front of it.
So, the best thing you can do is figure out where you want to go and figure out how you can get there as fast as possible because if you’re reacting to something, you are not necessarily taking the best course of action for you. And so, the process and the tools that you have at your disposal for engaging in strategy development may allow you to identify new ways to win that would not necessarily have been self‑evident had you been reacting to things that you thought were going to eat you.
This is a classic problem in the companies or the organizations that are characterized as the 800 pound gorillas. If you work in a Symantec in terms of revenue, are they five times or six times the size of the nearest competitor? Why are they looking at what that competitor’s doing?
Sure it makes sense to pay attention, but you’re much better off to look at what opportunities you have with the resources you have, with the market opportunity you have, and the customers and the brand and all this stuff, and figure out how you want to line up to go be successful that way. Because if you’re running as fast as you can backwards, you’re doing a lot like the satellite that’s out of control. You’re quickly going somewhere and you can’t necessarily see where it is. And, you’ll get somewhere.
So, looking to find a new market or looking to identify a new customer segment or looking to figure out how to separate capabilities in a product that might help you better serve different segments, this is a smart use of the kinds of tools that we all have.
Context changes. So, what’s a context change and market change, like your market collapses, like you’re a money transfer agent like a bank sort of, and all of a sudden the entire world looks different because countries, other continents are failing. The context is changing around us.
This creates huge opportunities, but if you’re worried about saving your money so that you can get through this time, you are not taking advantage of the fact that there are probably numerous opportunities to either buy technologies or buy companies.
And, smart people, I was talking to, I don’t know how many of you know Christina Wiki, but I was talking to Christina earlier and she was saying, I just found a great source of new developers. It’s failing startups, right, because developers are hard to find.
Well, you can go get pods of them that already know how to do good stuff that work together if you simply go buy their companies. That’s a whole lot more effective and efficient than paying recruiting fees to get onesie, twosie kinds of people. That’s an opportunity, right?
And so, if you’re in a situation where the context is shifting and the ground that you’re standing on is not the same as it used to be, those are early indicators that there may be an opportunity to sit back and say, OK, what are we really going to do, how do we really want to win?
So, there are, if you’re not performing as well, if a product or product line or an entire brand is not doing well and you’re not sure why because it seems like it’s perfect, great time to apply design thinking. What are the gaps? Who are the people that are representing the gaps that exist there? What’s the gap between what they want or what they should want and what it is you have to offer? And, what would it take to actually line all that stuff up in a sensible was so that you could express this to people that need to make decisions about what to do differently.
So, this is where it gets a little more interesting. So, the process, as we said earlier, is basically identical. I mean, if you step way back, the process of developing strategy and the process of designing are roughly identical. There are lots of differences in between. Some of the tools are different. There are different approaches and different optimizations, now if he was smiling again and that is OK.
But, the idea is that with a sense of what you see is possible, if you can run a movie in your head, if you can create, OK, so maybe it’s a dull, black and white small picture. And, you start with that. And, you think, OK, I’m going to take this dull, small, black and white picture of what’s possible and I’m going to increase the frame around it to try to see how it sits in the world.
Now I’m going to make it color. Now I’m going to turn it into a movie. And now I’m going to try to run different scenarios through it to see what might be possible. Coming up with one of those and going that is what we want is a great way to begin the process of either designing or strategizing, right?
If you know that that’s the movie that’s going to help you win or that’s the movie that represents the products or the services that are going to help you win, you’re onto something.
How do you translate that into a major suite of activities that are going to allow you to take the sense of vision that you have and turn it into success? What are the elements of that success? If you look at the mission as the overarching goal and you look at the goals as still quite large opportunities on their own, what are those? Each of these can be represented either in a movie in your head, in a nice bright picture or a text description, right? It’s just like design.
So, the process of starting any project often starts with an audit. What are you starting with? Where’s the information coming from? And, how are you going to look at reality as it is as opposed to what it is you might imagine it would rather be?
What would be necessary to turn it into something real? I mean, we all know how to do that on the product side of things. What would it be if we wanted to take this movie, this bright, vibrant movie that we have, and turn it into a set of activities that would allow us to get from where it is we are, to where it is we would rather be.
What are you going to measure? How are you going to tell if you’re winning? Even if you don’t have something that you can do numerically, what are the big‑ticket items that will allow you to say “we’re getting closer” or “we’re getting further away”?
From our toolset, we have discovery tools. We have learning tools, we have ways to understand the world. We have ways to express mental models. We have ways to articulate through use‑cases how a current set of activities, a process might work, or what the desired process might work, swim lanes, swim lanes are like the simplest tool that are fantastic for strategy! Right?
Just making the distinction to show people how things happen at different levels offers incredible clarity to people that are trying to figure out how to win. Right? It’s amazing. The tools that we have at our disposal for communicating are astonishing by comparison to what you find business school grads or “strategists” using day‑to‑day.
So this is my very favorite slide, this is “pin the tools on the process.” So we have: precision questioning, assumption checking, stakeholder analysis, scenario development, categorization, outcome specification, constituency analysis, card sorting. Card sorting ‑ what an amazing tool for strategy development! I mean, talk about the process of vetting ideas!
The listening skills that all of us have are stunning! Most people, and I’m excluding myself at this particular moment, who design things know how to listen. At least in the context of the processes that you engage in when you’re designing, you have the ability to listen for what’s being said, to listen to what’s not being said, and to do it without judgment. And, if you’ve ever wanted to see an idea die fast, just apply judgment. Right?
So, by gathering ideas, listening to people with an open heart and with an open mind, you’re way, way, way ahead of where most people are because most people spend roughly 80 to 90 percent of their time advocating for what it is they think should happen, without spending enough time to figure out what either is happening, which way the satellite is pointing, or what it is that ought to be done in order to succeed, whether that has to do with product design or whether that has to do with winning in a marketplace. It’s astonishing to me.
So, as we alluded to earlier, I never really talked about this, so about 70 percent of my work is straight‑up, hardcore consulting, like “solve the tough problem,” and about 30 percent of my work, I’m working one‑on‑one with people, largely in the design space, as a leadership and development or executive coach.
So I work with VP‑level people, I work with senior technologists, I work with founders and what not, and when I said 80 percent of the people advocate, that comes from experience and it comes from talking to people in the field who are doing coaching.
And when I talk about your ability to turn up the dial on listening, and not just from a quantitative point of view, that is to say, that your general skills will allow you to run inquiry at roughly 80 to 90 percent, I’m also saying that from a qualitative point of view, your ability to listen is far better than most people when it comes to gathering information that matters.
And so, the strategy development process itself is really broken down into some major components. So you have the idea of a vision mission goal, so what is it we see as possible, how is it in the largest frame that we know we can accomplish something, and what is it specifically in big chunks that are going to allow us to succeed.
And this is really about framing the problem, and we are far better at framing problems than strategists, in general, and we’re far better at framing problems than most business. And the reason for that, I think, is that we tend to look with a significantly broader view. We look at the cultural angles. We look at the utility angles. We look at the interaction angles. We look at the design angles.
There are so many different (I don’t know what to call it; I hate to use the word “facet” because it’s just so misguided in this context), but there are so many different little “portables” we can use to slice up reality and to understand what we are actually talking about.
This is the thing I do, that I get paid for. I get paid for framing. Because I frame better than most people. And what’s happened is, I’ve been very lucky to be able to place myself in situations where, for one reason or another, framing is very difficult to do. But the framing tools that I’m using are all the same tools that I was using as an information architect and user experience guy.
So what’s framing? It’s no great shock there. It’s really about characterizing the situation. And even characterizing it as a problem is misguided. Because how do you know it’s a problem? A “problem” says that it’s not just an opportunity, it says that it’s a “problem.” It says that there is a gap between what should be happening and what is happening, as opposed to what could be happening and what is happening.
So framing is a very nonjudgmental place that says I’m not even going to use words like “problem” until I understand whether it is one. Even “situation” is loaded, because that presupposes all sorts of stuff.
So the idea of really using your skills, really using your ability to ask intensely good questions, to be able to test assumptions, to aim for incredible clarity, to understand causes and effects, and to get a sense of the action that needs to fall out of that. To use basic critical questioning skills, like is the data good. Who did you get it from? How old is it? How motivated was somebody to put that data in front of you in that particular way?
These are just basic critical thinking skills. And we have all of that stuff at our a disposal on a daily basis. And when we walk into a strategy meeting, we throw it out and forget it and we start advocating. I don’t know why. But the point is that you have all this stuff, and you can use it.
And if you can start framing stuff, if you can just sit back in these meetings and ask smart questions that rely on your ability to be nonjudgmental in exactly the same way that you would be doing design work, you’re going to be invited to other meetings. And those meetings are going to be increasingly higher level over time, until people start asking you questions you can’t answer.
It’s a classic case of, you know, you go to some country and you know one phrase. I mentioned this the other day. I know one phrase in Hebrew. It’s [Inaudible 1:01:31]. “I want cookies.” If I go to Israel and I say that, somebody is going to start speaking to me in Hebrew, and I have a problem at that point. Because now I won’t be able to find the cookies, because I don’t understand what they’re saying.
So asking smarter questions is a really great way to start‑‑you want to be careful about using that as a platform to start speaking things that you think you know. The tools that‑you know stuff in the design world‑‑but the tools you have from the design world are incredibly applicable in the business world.
So figuring out how to translate from the process of getting from the grand idea of what it is we’re going to do to win to the big ticket items that allow you to know whether you’re winning. OK, are we going to‑is this about‑are we going to exit the season as the leader in this particular sport? That would be, potentially, a mission. And are we going to, you know, which games are we going to win.
I hate to do this, because on some level it seems so straightforward. We all know the differences between an overarching vision, mission, overarching goal, goal, task, thread. All that stuff. We know this and yet, we go into these business meetings and we forget: These simple distinctions are incredibly powerful.
So getting incredibly clear about testing assumptions. I love the idea of testing assumptions because you can use tools like precision questioning, which is probably the sharpest, most dangerous set of tools that I have acquired. If you’re curious and want to learn more, you would check out a company called Vervago. The founder of Vervago is an ex‑Stanford philosophy guy, who developed a toolset for business by studying executives and how they communicate.
He had seven categories of questions that allow you to move a conversation forward in a very analytical and very fast‑paced fashion, but the most powerful set of those tools is the assumption checking stuff. The assumption checking stuff is the same set assumption checking stuff that all of us would use, right out of any good book on critical thinking.
The thing is, if you start testing assumptions, you start testing your own assumptions, and you start testing others assumptions, you’re going to find yourself getting asked back to meetings or you may find that you are dis‑invited from meetings. Both things happen. You want to pay attention to who is dis‑inviting you to meetings, because your ability to now identify assumptions may be a threat to people.
So, you want to use those tools carefully, because using design tools in another context is a lot‑‑you know the Shurikens, they are these little stars you throw, and they stick in the wall? Design tools are like that. They are really dangerous little tools, and yet they are incredibly powerful.
So, what else was I going to say? Scoping. Scoping is another thing that we are incredibly good at, because once we understand how we are going to characterize a situation, we can size it and we can put boundaries around it. We can decide how porous those boundaries are. We can decide how thick those boundaries are. We can decide what is inside of the conversation, what is outside of the conversation. We can speak to the distinctions that we are making there, because we understand how to do that. We have tools for doing that.
So, design research methods. I don’t know how many of you are interested in such matters, but simple design research tools that allow you to do data gathering and synthesis and reflection, give you incredible capability to start looking at who is involved, internal to an organization and external to an organization, that is going to be able to provide the kinds of insights that are necessary to inform the process that you are going through.
“User Level Use Cases”, is as simple as it is. Mental models probably to‑‑Indi Young’s book on “Mental Modeling.” I love that book, and I have seen some fantastic work that Sarah has been working on at PayPal. Being able to create clear distinctions and categories of distinctions to help people understand what they ought to be paying attention to is sorely missing from the process of helping business people set direction. We somewhat talked about that.
I mentioned this earlier. I got a client in Portland, Oregon who I love. It is Powell’s Books. I don’t know if any of you know Powell’s Books. I love Powell’s Books. It’s just a fantastic place, and I love the Powell’s. They are the most wonderful people you have ever met. I walked into their development organization, and my heart stopped. I didn’t see any design artifacts, nothing visual. I thought, “There is a problem.”
We have an amazing set of tools for reflecting back reality to people. We have an ability to use flowcharting. We have an ability to use mental modeling. We have an ability to do presentations, not as sketchy as mine, but I have seen more beautiful things that allow us to tell stories and design artifacts, whether they are physical experiences that you run people through, whether they are presentations that are well‑constructed, thoughtful stories that help people make meaning out of complex situations or whether they are beautiful pictures to help people see things in a way that they haven’t been able to see.
These are the kinds of tools. They are the difference that make a difference, because if you are having a conversation with somebody, the conversation gets lost when the conversation is done. And even if you have recorded the entire thing, then it is a serially accessible recording, which means somebody has to listen back through most of it to figure out what was in it. The context in which it was captured is gone.
Our ability to create useful artifacts out of the stuff of our discussions, of the stuff of our conversations, the stuff of the commitments that we are making, gives people an ability to look backwards in time. It gives us an ability to compare what is right in front of us, in terms of options, and gives us something to aspire to, in terms of the kinds of opportunities that we might want to have even if they are just not possible today.
I see Dave Gray sitting back there, master of storytelling and visual artifacts. Very, very powerful tools are accessible to us in this world, and these are sense making tools. It is the sense making tools that help people understand what the options are that they have, and which are the most likely options that are going to help them win, and which ones are most likely to have the biggest effect.
You may take a utopian view, and there are people that take dystopian view. They take, “How are we going to use artifacts to scare people, and get them to recognize at an emotional level that there is a problem and we need to react to it?” Both things are possible. Sometimes it is a healthy dose of those things in concert, which really gets people to sort of snap to the grid and recognize that if you are asking them to turn around and walk forward as opposed to walk backward into the future, that they will be motivated to do that.
So, outcome specification and prototyping. Not a lot of people, even in this crowd, I believe are doing effective outcome specification. I don’t know how many of you are doing really thoughtful user level cases. I like Alistair Coburn’s work. If you are not doing that stuff, it is really, really useful. It is so central to the kind of work that we do.
While it is a little bit on the text heavy side of things, it helps establish a reality that is very hard to describe otherwise. Because if you can articulate what something is, why it is important, how people will know if it is in fact true, and you are using sensory‑based evidence, and you have pictures to back that up and flowcharts to show interaction … It is incredible to be clear at sort of almost the atomic level of what you are talking about, because it is very hard to be specific if you are not actually clear about what you are talking about.
So, Alistair Coburn’s, “User Level Use Cases,” that would be one. The “Outcome Specification,” which falls out of the field of NLP, Neuro‑Linguistic Programming. a very, very simple structure for describing things. Those are two really useful tools.
I think the reason I have placed it here is because at the point that you start dealing with, “What are the options?” it starts to get a little bit messy. We lose some of our ground here, and the reason for that is that this is where often it becomes a question of numerics. It often translates from “What is the idea?” to “What is the impact of that idea?”
When you get to “What is the impact of that idea?” often people will want to translate it to money, so other people will get brought into the conversation at the business level, who may not necessarily be able to hear the somewhat more qualitative aspect of what it is you have to say.
So, being as crisp as possible here is very helpful when it comes to figuring out how to create relative priorities. Because if you are clear about what you are talking about, and if you are as clear as possible about having done the thinking that goes behind how success is going to be measured, even if you don’t have the right set of numbers and even if you don’t have the right set of metrics, if you’re pointing people to what they ought to be paying attention to, you are more likely to be able to have a conversation that continues forward.
Yes. Gluing all of this together is the part where you have the options on the table, and now it is a question of what criteria are you going to use to pick the options that matter the most, and how are you going to stack order them? How are you going to stack order them, how are you going to lay them out over time.
This is road mapping, right? I don’t know how many of you do [Inaudible 1:12:35] feature road mapping, but strategizing at this level is road mapping, right? You figure out where you want to go. You figure out what’s necessary to get there, and you figure out what’s necessary to get there. You figure out what’s necessary to get there. You figure out if there are any meaningful distinctions between phases of time that might be logically related, what the critical success factors are, right?
The road mapping tool is the same tool in strategizing as it is in design work. There’s no difference. I use that tool so often it’s unbelievable. And, people don’t know whether I’m there as a designer or whether I’m there as a strategist.
I had this great experience the other day where I was working with this CEO of a law firm. And, he’s a CEO of I think it’s like a 14 person law firm that specializes in working with start ups. And, he has this cool new idea that he wants to develop. And, he started talking about how he wanted to get from where he was to where he wanted to go and how he was going to try and take his firm there and what kind of partners he wanted to have.
And so, I took my arrow road map. You know, this is a big arrow, right? So, on the right side is the head of the arrow. On the left side is the foot of the arrow. I took it and I put it inside a bigger arrow, right? So, now we had nested arrows.
And I said, “Let’s talk about the inside one first,” because he kept mixing up the vision for where he wanted to go and what winning was. And, I just wanted to clear them up. I just wanted to separate them so I could say, OK, so let me get this straight.
So, winning in the big for you, and this is like over the next 30 years, would be out here, right? And, he’s like, oh, yeah, that’s exactly right. And, winning in like the next five years would look sort of like this in the inside arrow. He’s like oh, my God. The lights went on, the clouds parted, the angels started singing.
And then it was a question of whenever we were talking we could figure out what we were putting in each arrow and where the dependencies were and what the relationship was. And, all of that generated a third arrow which was outside of these two arrows and pointed in a different direction, right?
And he’s like, “Oh, my God, now I know why I’m confused, right? Now I understand how it is I was trying to make my law firm successful while I’m trying to actually create this other thing that’s going to have this dramatic industry impact where I’m working with John Mackey of Whole Foods and trying to create conscious capitalism.”
And I’m like wow, those are big words, you know? Let’s map it out over time. Let’s make pictures.
So, on an eight by four foot whiteboard we just drew all this stuff out, took pictures of it, recorded the whole thing. And he’s like, that’s fantastic. And I’m thinking, “I’m the strategist.”
So, what’s next? You have the tools you need to help set direction. And by helping to set direction, you can help get rid of a lot of the chaos that exists around you because a lot of this work you can do on your own. It’s amazing. It’s very much like the kind of design work that you would do on your own.
You could do a lot of rapid prototyping. You can have conversations with people. You can kind of figure out what’s important to people. It doesn’t have to turn into a big, giant thing. You can figure out how to put it into a PowerPoint deck or a keynote deck or whatever. And, you can have a conversation with your manager, your director, your VP or your CEO and you can say here’s what I’m thinking, right?
And, you know, I think it might be worthwhile to collect more data over here to see if it makes sense, or it might be worthwhile to spend a little bit more time and see if this particular segment of our customers has the same vision for this as we do.
And, all of a sudden it’s not about design. All of a sudden it’s about setting direction. And, it’s about figuring out, well why are we investing in this one thing over here if we could take that same, and that thing’s not really doing much for us, when we could invest in this thing over here that might really help us get to where we want to go.
That brings me to another book I’ve recommended to a number of you. I love serendipity. Serendipity. We’ve got to be careful not to lose serendipity. Serendipity is an amazing thing. And, here’s a story about serendipity.
So, I was at Powell’s Books. How many of you have been to Powell’s Books? Those of you who have not been must go, right? It’s a city block, five stories tall of new and used books integrated into a book store where each room is color coded so that you can find stuff. It’s an amazing experience. It’s probably the best used bookstore in the world, if not, one of the top two or three.
And, I was in a rush. I had to go meet somebody and I raced down this aisle and there’s like a cart and there’s a person and there’s a ladder and all this stuff. And, I changed aisles and I go down this other aisle. And, I’m walking down this other aisle kind of in my own little world and there’s this book like glowing.
And the title of the book is “Seeing David in the Stone.” I’m like, ah, that’s cool, I use that metaphor all the time. Snap, grabbed it off the shelf and started looking at it in the line just because I like the title. I mean, how many times have you picked up a book that you liked the title so much you actually grabbed the book?
And, I’m looking at it in the line. I’m like, holy smoke, this is the best book I’ve seen in a long time. It’s all about idea and identifying the right idea, right? And so, I bought it and I started looking through it and I’m reading it. It’s written like a story so even I can read it, and I’m enjoying it. And, I’m now, it’s got this incredibly simple model for how to identify and capture and focus on the right idea.
And, I’m about three quarters of the way through it and I was reading a passage. I read a passage on Wednesday to the folks in the Wednesday session on how to speak the language of the CEO or whatever we called it, I can’t remember at this particular point. And, I read a passage that was on page 84.
And so last night, Jess McMullin, who some of you may no, and I are rooming. And so, we got into this discussion about idea identification. And I said, “Ah, I’ve got to read that passage to you. Remember that passage I read the other day?” He’s like, “I’m too tired, don’t read it to me.” I said, “Well, it’s on page 84.”
So, I got up this morning, right, and there’s this little post‑it note sitting on the desk on his side of the room that says to read page 84. And so, I put my presentation together, and 15 minutes to spare and a double espresso in my hand, zoomed up to the seventh floor, walked in the room and Jeff said, “I’m on Chapter 6.”
Harry Max: He said, “I started. I realized after I read 84, page 84, that I was going to have to read Chapter 6, 7, and 8.”
So, it’s a really cool book and it’s relevant to what we’re talking about. It’s a fast read, but it’s right on the topic. So, “Seeing David in the Stone.” I never in a million years would have found that book had I not walked down the wrong aisle.
Audience member 8: [inaudible 1:19:17]
Harry Max: Somewhere I can find that for you. I don’t think you’re going to find that many books by that particular name.
Audience member 8: [inaudible 1:19:27]
Harry Max: Yeah.
Audience member 8: [inaudible 1:19:38]
Harry Max: So, thank you.
So, you have the tools you need. You have all the design tools you have and if you’d spend your time investing in more design tools, they, too, will be relevant. So, you don’t need to go off and develop a bunch of new tools. You don’t need to read a bunch of books on strategy. You don’t need an MBA, necessarily.
The idea is if you want to help participate at a higher level in your organization, start having the conversations you’re already having now except do it about ideas, not about stuff. That’s the difference.
The processes, the tools, the techniques, the methods, the conferences, the books you read. Once you start recognizing that these things are applicable in another context and you start applying them, you’ll start to see how rich the opportunity is to start making a difference.
So, I don’t know, I think if you find books like this “Seeing David in the Stone” and you start recognizing it is exactly as applicable to design, it’s not a design book, as it is to business, which it’s not either, it’s right in between.
And, you start recognizing when you’re sitting in a meeting and somebody’s talking about something that you think is either a good idea or not as good idea, and you start looking at it through the lens of, well, you know, who does this matter to?
And, if we had to segment those people into sort of behavioral groups, what would that mean in this particular context? And if we wanted to get more information about them or from them, how would we go about doing that? There isn’t a strategist in the room that’s asking those questions.
I’m going to tell you another story. This is James Stoval. James Stoval is an artist and I met him…I was walking down I think it was Emerson Ave. in Palo Alto and there is a used bookstore, matter of fact. I just realized that. And I walked in and I looked up in the wall and there is this amazing painting.
I mean this amazing painting. I mean I am not an art guy. I’m a watch guy. I’m a stuff guy. I’m a drive fast cars guy. I’m an information architect guy. I’m not an art guy. I don’t buy art. I buy electronics. I buy things that are flat black. I buy cameras. I buy anything that is cool and new. I buy computers, but I don’t buy art.
But I walked in and there is this piece of art and I looked at this piece of art and I think that is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever seen that wasn’t human. So, I asked…I walked to the counter and I said, “Is that for sale?” She goes, “Probably. Here is the artist’s name.” So she gives me the name and number of the artist James Stoval and so I called the guy up.
He is a weird guy. He has been sniffing a lot of something. But he is an amazing philosopher. One of those guys that has been sniffing too much but it’s kind of an amazing philosopher maybe he says more about me than him. I’m not sure which but the point is I have this great conversation with him. And I said, “I would love to see your studio and would you consider selling that painting?”
And he said, “Oh, yeah. I got annoyed. I think about selling it for 18 or something. I don’t know.” And so, we set up an appointment and my girlfriend and I go over to his house. He is in Menlo Park, California. Not the kind of place you walk in to a house that has cement floors and paint over every single wall. You expect to see a really expensive house. That is not his house. His house is his studio.
I think he sleeps in the kitchen. I am not sure and I am not kidding. There is paint splattered everywhere. He is a real live, honest to God artist. He works in stone. He works in metal and he works in what is this stuff called polyurethane, of all things. The kind of stuff they paint your car with.
And so I am just amazed and there’s this picture that I am interested in because of course he knows that I am interested in and he brings it back from the book shop and it is sitting there in the wall so that we can have a discussion about the possibility of me buying it for 18.
And so of course I am thinking like a thousand eight hundred dollars. I am thinking 1800 dollars, but I consider buying that and so he is telling me and I asked him about his process. I don’t talk about my process. It is a very artistic process. And so he just gesticulates wildly and tells me about his kid and his dog and all the neurological damage he’s had from sniffing all this stuff and shows me his other art and what not.
And he said, “I might be willing to negotiate a little.”
And I was like, “Cool, what would you consider taking it for?”
He goes, “Maybe 15K.”
And I was like Oh, I was off a magnitude and I was thinking to myself this was not $1800.
This was like…He was starting at $18,000 and it just hadn’t occurred to me because I don’t buy art and I’m thinking how do I gracefully get out of this. So, in whatever seemingly graceful way, I got out of it and we manage to have a nice time and I thought to myself, one day I want to own that picture. That is just the most beautiful picture ever and that was the end of that because I was not going to spend $18,000 on a picture.
I won’t spend $18,000 on a camera. It’s a lot of money for anybody. So, there are people in this room that would spend $18,000 on a camera probably, no. OK. They nodded from the back of the room they wouldn’t. And so, I held in my mind very clearly that someday I would own this picture. Well, eight months later I got this text message from James Stoval, artist.
“Hey, wonder if you’re around.”
I called him back and I was like, “Yeah? What’s up?”
He’s like, “Well, times a little tough. I was thinking that maybe you’d consider I don’t know, maybe you would consider 12, 11?”
And I’m thinking that’s $12,000. It’s not $1200 and I’m like, “James, that is probably the most beautiful painting I have ever seen in my life and I would love to have that. But I want to buy a house. I haven’t had a house for a while. I’d like to buy a house. It’s the bottom of the market. It is time to make an investment on a property. I haven’t done that for a while. I took the last house I had and ported into a start up and that didn’t work so well.”
So, I thanked him. A couple of months later, I got a phone call. He is like, “Still interested in that picture?” and I’m like, “It’s the most beautiful picture I have seen James.” He said, “I’m really, really honored but the thing is my son, he wants to go to Brazil with his girlfriend and I don’t have any money for him to get a plane ticket.” I said, “What are you saying James?” He said, “Well, I don’t know, maybe we can work something out.”
I’m thinking that is not likely. And so I said, “Look, why don’t you tell me what you are thinking because I don’t want to make an embarrassing mistake I made last time.” And he said, “OK. I am thinking four or five thousand bucks.”
And I said, “James, I just can’t do it. I apologize. I mean I love your work, I think it’s worth every penny of $18,000. It is beautiful but I can’t afford it. I am going to buy a house.”
And he goes, “Well, maybe we could just hang it in your house.”
And I’m like, “Hang it in my house? That is something appealing. What would it cost to hang it in my house?” He said, “Oh, I don’t know. I had tickets about two grand for my son. And I don’t know, I could get a little beer money. That would be all right.”
And I said, “James, why don’t you bring that down tomorrow?” So, he drives down to the house and this thing is like five feet wide by six feet tall. You can’t tell what this thing looks like because it has sparkly paint and all these crazy weird stuff that looks like it came out from an Ferrari Factory gone bad.
It’s the most amazing thing ever. And he goes, “You can just keep it. Twenty‑two hundred bucks and it’s yours.”
I was like, “Oh, my God.” It’s the most beautiful painting ever. And I’m thinking I was very, very clear about the fact that thing was going to be hanging on my wall and I was very, very clear about the fact that I wouldn’t pay a penny over $2500 for it. If you know where you are going, amazing things can happen.
Amazing things can happen and so, it’s is profoundly useful not just to recognize that you have this cool tools at your disposal. And not that you can do strategy and you can do design and you can do this and you can do that. None of that on some level really matters. What matters is that if you have a sense of where you want to go and you hold a crystal clear vision of it, not in that the secret kind of way but more in that kind of just get clear about what you are about and get clear about what successes for you.
And get clear about successes for your organization. You have the tools that you need. The gaps are relatively small. If you can identify what those gaps are, go close them. They are the tools, read the books. It doesn’t really matter. You are way ahead of where you think you are right now. Way ahead.
And what matters is asking good questions, showing up in a nonjudgmental way with open heart and recognizing that you are now a participant. In the process of creating the kind of world that you want to live in.
This Is Your Brain On Design How neuroscience can help us create better user experiences ‑‑ Andrew Hinton from Day 1 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.
Announcer: Ever wonder why you just can’t seem to get through to some people? Or how users do such unpredictable things with your designs? Or even why sometimes you look back on a project and wonder, what the heck was I thinking when I did that? In this presentation, Andrew Hinton examines recent research in neuroscience and related fields. Pointing out how some surprising discoveries not only affect the designs we create, but how we should go about creating them. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!
Andrew Hinton: I want to make sure these people who are just right outside the door have a chance to get in. So I’ll tell you the irrelevant stuff first. I’m Andrew Hinton. I work at the Vanguard, the mutual fund company, as a lead information architect, UX person. I’ve been there about six years. Before that I was a consultant in a small consultancy for a few years. And anyway that’s my background. None of that, my background, has anything to do with neuroscience. So this is not going to be an advanced neuroscience anything.
What this is, is stuff that I kept running into as I was listening to podcasts and watching TED videos, and reading blog posts, and articles in the New Yorker, Stuff and Wired. And I just kept hearing all this cool stuff about brain science that was coming up into the mainstream chatter and being really fascinated with it. And I just kept sort of thinking of what this means for design. So that’s how I ended up doing this.
So if there are any actual neuroscientist in the audience, please hold your angry corrections and comments until later, and then you can lambast me. No seriously, if there’s something that needs to be corrected for the public record I’m happy for anybody to do it.
It’s about one minute after, two minutes after, so I think we’ll jump in. First I should get rid of my gum, sorry. It was rude. OK welcome back everybody, how was tea? Was it good?
Caffeine, got some caffeine? Not much apparently. [laughter] So this is your brain on design. How understanding our gray matter helps us do better work.
And we’re just going to jump right in. I’m going to start with an anecdote. I recently decided that I’d get some sugar free gummy bears. See my fiancee and I, we’re doing like a South Beachy thing and we were really tired of not having something kind of sweet‑tasting around the house for just when we are watching a movie or something. So I saw these and I thought, “Hey this’ll be fun, let’s get these.” So it’s a five pound bag, I ordered them and thought this is going to be fun.
And I did glance at the comments, didn’t really look at them that closely. Later on she said, “Hey, did you read the comments?” I was like, “Yeah I saw them, but I didn’t really take them that seriously.” See the comments said things like, “Not your normal gummy, it will make you run to the bathroom in 20 minutes.” [laughter] Or let’s see: “A few handfuls, a couple of hours later I started to feel really sick.”
So I had seen a couple of these, but I just thought well these are people who were eating a bucketful. I mean come on, this isn’t going to happen to me. Another one said, “Gastrointestinal Armageddon.” [laughter]. These are actually really good reviews. You ought to check it out, the listing. So here’s the thing…So obviously from what I’ve already said the reviews of the gummy bears on Amazon, do you think it kept me from eating the gummy bears?
Andrew Hinton: No! Because I had already decided, I want to eat them gummy bears. That is the best of both worlds. No calories and they taste delicious. And they’re chewy. So ordered them, they came in, we put them in the freezer because that’s how they’re good. Right? You get them really cold so they’re really hard. You gnaw on those things. So we just ate a handful each, no big deal. That can’t possibly cause any problems. What do you think happened? [laughter]
So let’s just say I didn’t get much sleep that night. Gas‑X, no effect. Pepto‑Bismol, no effect. I just had to wait it out. It was like… I won’t go there, let’s just say that, you people just ate.
So here’s the thing, I had a long time to think about this. What the hell was I thinking? Why would I do that? Why would I read comments on the gummy bears, the sugar free gummy bears that said, “These gummy bears will cause your stomach to explode.” OK I’m going to have to back it up now, because all these new wonderful people are coming in and you’re not going to hear about the…
Welcome everybody! So we were just talking about how sugar free gummy bears are delicious and you should eat a lot of them.
[laughter and applause]
So anyway, we ate these gummy bears and they made our stomachs blow up. And we thought, what the hell were we thinking. This got me thinking about the fact that I do stuff all the time that I look back on and I think, why the hell did I do that? Didn’t I know better, like all the facts on the ground were telling me differently?
And I realize that I’m not as rational as I think I am. I feel a lot like Brian. Anybody familiar with Brian? Family Guy? I love Brian as a character because he’s so human. And especially he’s so human because he’s a dog. And what I mean by that is…Brian is really the most intelligent and sophisticated character in this family. But he’s a complete slave to his nature as a dog. He can’t help but be dog‑like in spite himself. Even when he tries to rationalize his way out of it, he still has to be a dog, even though he’s got this intelligence.
In case you are not familiar with what I mean, I’m going to see if we can hear this.
[Family Guy video clip]
I actually do that sometimes. I’ve got one more.
[Family Guy video clip]
I’m gonna turn that microphone up…
Once again, I do that all the time. So that’s what I love about Brian, it’s just the fact that he is so human. And we find ourselves doing things we look back and we think why did we do that. Only we actually have all kinds of reasons why we do the things we do. We’ll get into that in a second.
So as designers, we are supposed to seek to understand our users, which is a good thing. There’s a designer, right? And we often forget that we are part of the equation. That the user isn’t the only one with behaviors and impulses we need to understand. They are not the only one with human foibles and flaws. So what about understanding ourselves. What if we put the microscope on our own behavior. Where do we start with that?
Basically this presentation is really not going to be at all about how do we design things for users, understanding their neuropsychology. Even though I’ve had to shift it a little bit based on what the description says, because I didn’t have room to get into that, for one thing. But also, I just ended up realizing, to me, this is a more important topic right now. I think this presentation is really about meta‑cognition. It’s about thinking about how you think, it’s about self awareness.
At least for me, because I’m an analytically minded person, understanding some of the science behind brains helps me to have a better mental model for understanding why I do some of the things I do, why I think the way I think and it helps me to have a better control, hopefully to improve the way that I behave as I go.
So, just a few basics about learning, thinking, and deciding.
This is a brain in a jar and a common misunderstanding is that the brain and what it does for the human organism is somehow independent of the rest of the body.
My timer says that I’ve been talking for 23 minutes and so that’s really going to screw me up. Let me take my watch off for a second because otherwise I’m not… So I’m supposed to end this, when?
OK, cause I’ve only been talking for eight, nine minutes. So I’m supposed to end at 4:45. OK good, thanks. Back to where we were.
So if you ever took Intro to Philosophy, a lot of times this question comes up, “If you were a brain in a jar what would experience be like to you?” Well it turns out, not much of anything. The brain only can do what it does because it grew in an organism that has sensory experience. You have to have…
[disgusted sounds and laughs coming from audience]
I don’t want to offend anybody… As the brain grows along with the whole organism it learns through physical sensory experience and that’s the only way the brain can make any sense out of anything, even all the abstractions, even all the feelings and everything that we’ve got, trying to solve problems. It all comes from building blocks that came from touching physical things in the world.
So the truth is, if you didn’t have a body, if you were just a brain, you really wouldn’t be much of anything. It wouldn’t resemble anything that you think of as a sentient being, hardly at all. And by the way, this is why our brains really do need to think with objects, some of us more so than others, but all of us at a base level.
Because everything that we think, our language and all of that stuff is really based on building blocks that came from being an infant and picking something up off the floor and sticking it in your mouth because, an infant’s mouth is really the most exquisitely accurate sensory mechanism that it has. It’s eyes aren’t so good, other stuff isn’t so good, but that mouth, man it can really figure stuff out, so that’s why babies are always doing that.
Anyway, visual thinking is just not an option, it’s really not an option, it’s necessary. It’s just some of us have more talent than others at it, but it’s just like athletes, some athletes have more talent at running and jumping, but we can all run and jump and we can all get better at running and jumping.
So that was my Dan Roam segue slide.
So as our brains grow through childhood and they experience the sensory world, they build a library of patterns, and those patterns become the stored templates that our brain uses for making sense of future experience. Now this really blew my mind when I first heard it, basically the deal is your brain only comprehends what was useful in the past. OK, or I should say only easily comprehends what was useful in the past. Basically you’ve got a library of patterns that forms not just bits and pieces, but the majority of what you’re cognitively experiencing as your immediate reality.
So what you’re experiencing right now is really based on a sliver of information that your machinery can process in real time. But the rest of it is being filled in by memories of having already looked at that side of the room, or having been in a room like this, or having seen arrows before and having expectations about what arrows are going to do in a slide. All those things are stuck in there somewhere and they’re being used to fill in the gaps. So perception is largely made up of these remembered patterns and our brain doesn’t clear cache. We’re all web people right, most of us, so we know what we mean there right? Your brain doesn’t clear cache with every moment, there’s no point in that. Our brains also abhor uncertainty, so they fill the gaps with this prior experience in order to let us feel like we’ve got a full picture.
Well that works pretty well, but I think it’s important to understand that mechanism because it’s sort of at the root of a lot of things that sometimes we may overlook or not fully comprehend unless we have some discipline to be fully present to the facts in front of us and to really look at them anew, when we need to.
So one way to sort of understand this is the brain is made of layers that evolved over time. In some ways the sort of the structure really sort of reflects that evolution. The oldest part of our brain controls bodily functions; basic instinctive behaviors like breathing, heartbeat, indigestion.
It also controls things like if you’re drowning it makes your body struggle. You really just can’t help it, you’re not thinking, “Oh, I should struggle now” it’s just going, “No, you need to freaking struggle because you’re going to die.” So this is sometimes called the lizard brain.
Now the midbrain is where emotions get processed. [sarcasm] These are by the way highly scientifically accurate terms for the portions of the brain, I just want you to know that. No, actually I stole these from a book called Neuro Web Design, which does do a nice job of sort of simplifying a lot of these things. It’s a pretty good book.
So the midbrain is where emotions gets processed. It’s what causes you to impulse buy or to feel emotions. And a lot of our deep seated moral and ethical stuff comes from this part of our brain, like loyalty and stuff like that; “No we have to do this now, we have to get our friend because he is alone.”
Was that a pretty good… We have to get our friend.
So the new brain, the sort of frontal cortex, the cortex area, is this sort of thin layer that has evolved very recently, but recently meaning you know a long time but in terms of evolutionary time really, really recently.
And it’s this sort of this layer on top of all this stuff and it’s basically the really rational side. And it’s the side that’s very analytical, it weighs all the options and tries to be very rational.
So we have to be careful though not to take this model too literally. Because science is discovering that these areas of the brain actually depend a great deal on each other for making sense of the world. In fact the older parts of the brain, the midbrain especially and the old brain, they can be very wise.
They’ve had millions of years to evolve and work out all the kinks. The newer part of the brain hasn’t had as much time to evolve. So it’s got a few quirks and we’ll talk about some of those later.
There’s another sort of misconception of gut feeling versus rational choice, so this is mostly a false dichotomy. Very recently experience been finding out, science has been finding out a lot of the parts of the brain that we used to think were just sort of like these old parts that the new part had to keep in line and everything… It turns out it’s more of the other way around much of the time.
The older brain areas use emotion to communicate with the newer parts. So the new part of the brain doesn’t necessarily recognize that as very smart you know, because it’s just emotion. But it’s never just emotion, it’s actually a lot more important than that, it’s just the language that the older part of the brain uses to tell the new brain stuff it needs to know.
This is actually what drives most of our actions, because the truth is that without that emotion signal the rational brain would just dither and dither and dither. It would have analysis paralysis all the time. There are actually people who have a rare condition that sort of makes the older part of the brain dysfunctional so it doesn’t really work that well, the emotional part. So they’re mainly having to make decisions with the new part of their brain. They just take forever to make…. Red pin, blue pin? Well the red pin I could find it easier, the blue pin, it’s a little more stately. But the red pin goes with my tie, the blue… You know literally people would take two hours to figure out which pin.
We make tons of our decisions every day just because our emotions go, “Fuck it, do that, just go, just do it.” But we don’t realize it. Why don’t we realize it? Because the front brain goes, “Ugh, I meant to do that.” Right? “Oh yeah, I meant to do that. Well here’s why I did that.” And there have been experiments that have actually caught people in sort of obviously making up reasons why they chose a certain thing or did a certain thing.
One of the technologies that’s really brought a lot of light to this is functional magnetic resonance imaging, FMRI, where they can see in real time what’s going on, where activity is happening in the brain.
They could see that at the moment of making a certain decision it was the midbrain that was going “Do this.” And the newer brain was like, “Oh, OK.” But then when they’re asking, “Well, why did you do it?” it’s the newer brain that’s saying, “Oh, well. Here are all my reasons. Da, da, da, da, da, da, da.”
OK. If you think you’re immune to this, you’re wrong. We’re doing it all the time. You did it when you were trying to decide whether to come in to see this or something else, right? There was something that just was emotionally kind of like clicked it for you. It cinched it for you.
You considered the options and you’re like, “Yeah, I’m going to do this.” Maybe it was somebody you knew was walking in. Maybe it was just because I sounded awesome. I don’t know. Right?
So anyway, no I don’t even think that.
In fact, many of the choices that we think we made rationally turn out to really be driven from emotions. Now, the thing is that this is a lot of work, but we have to do it every day all day long. We’re always making decisions, and as designers it’s our job to make design decisions, to decide between this or that, this or that.
The problem is that it’s like a battery that just runs down through the day, and we get worse and worse at making these decisions as we go. In fact, one experiment showed that if you just made somebody do a somewhat difficult math problem earlier in the day, that later on it would cause them to not make as solid of a decision on something completely unrelated.
If you think, “Well, I don’t have to do math,” they also did one where there was a cookie. You just had to decide, “Am I going to eat a cookie?” And it also caused a noticeable difference in the ability to make a decision later in the day. Now I like cookies. I don’t even like math that much, but I like cookies. So this matters.
Another part of the brain that I think is fascinating, well it’s all fascinating, but one part I really want to bring up is the amygdala. It’s actually two little, I don’t know, like pecan shaped, I guess, things that are back in part of the midbrain. But the amygdala is the part that forms and stores memories of high emotional experience.
So basically when it’s creating those patterns, it’s making sure that the midbrain is remembering things like, “OK, the world felt, smelled, and sounded like this when I fell down.” “The world felt, smelled, sounded like this when the tiger tried to kill me.” It’s very helpful evolutionarily, but it’s overkill in most of our lives now.
So we find ourselves in a lot of fearful situations sometimes where if we’d used a little more self‑awareness we might understand, “Oh, I don’t need to feel like the tiger’s going to eat me. It’s just my boss.”
Well, depends on your boss, I guess.
So the interplay of all these parts of our brain worked pretty well, like I said, to get us to the point we’re at. But now that most of the experience that we have through the day is artificially created experience that we’ve created for ourselves ‑ like buildings, cars, roads, computers, newspapers, conversations ‑ it turns out to be not as well suited to a lot of the things we do there.
What we end up with is these bugs in the wet wear, so to speak. Here’s a list of cognitive biases on Wikipedia. It’s a really long list. If you ever just want to feel like, “I will never be able to make a sound decision again in my life,” just go check it out. Just read it through lunch because it’s a little disturbing. But it’s all, I think, very important to know and to understand that we all are prey to these things.
Let’s just take a look at a couple of them, so I don’t totally depress you. How many times have you found yourself soldiering on with something that is clearly turning out to be the wrong thing to do, especially in design situations where you run into this?
We’ve done a lot of work that we don’t want to throw away, even if we know that continuing on will likely make it more expensive or harder later on or be a lot more painful later on. We just can’t let go. Or we’re just not convinced that that’s going to happen. We think we’re going to rescue this thing. We’re going to make this work.
The problem is that if even if you realize, “Oh, my God. I’m succumbing to loss aversion. I need to just shake out of it,” you are working with other people who are totally under its spell. And they will never be able to…you are a heretic in their midst because you’re saying, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. We just wasted like two months because this really is not the right thing to do.” They’re going to be “Sorry. No!” Because they have to answer to somebody else who is succumbing to loss aversion. And they don’t want to have to go and explain it to them, so it’s a really tough trap to be in.
Another one is confirmation bias, this is particularly pernicious in design. This is rooted in the ways our brains perceive. We see what we’ve seen and understood before based on prior experience, rather than what’s in front of our faces. It’s hard to look at something and see it for what it really is, rather than all the assumptions we bring to it. But the reason I explained how your brain creates patterns and then perceives based mostly on prior experience helps make it clear that “Oh OK there’s a mechanism for that,” and we have to trick ourselves into making new patterns and paying more attention, and more thorough attention. So we’ll get to that in a little bit.
So again, don’t think for a second that you’re immune to that, it happens to you all the time. One example that we often run into is with data. We often look to data to make things clear for us. Partly because data is catnip, yes, Richard especially appreciates the queen reference; I think I see him smile. This is catnip for the new brain, the new brain, is like…“Oh, oh wow, clear demarcation, and this is obviously bigger than this, and these are mutually exclusive categories, and there is no ambiguity here. I love this! I love this; I’m going to decide this!” Even though it’s the emotional brain saying, “No you’re just going to do that anyway, so just come up with some reason for it.”
Well biases powerfully shape how we interpret data. And I’m sure all of us at one point or another, have been looking at data with somebody else and realized they’re seeing a rabbit and I’m seeing a duck. Or if you’re more of a rabbit person, you’re seeing a rabbit and they’re seeing a duck. Whatever you want to go with, I don’t want to offend any duck people or rabbit people. So the reasons for rocking you, might actually mean something completely different to two different people.
So now that I’ve completely depressed you, and told you all the ways in which you are completely useless in terms of making decisions we’re going to talk a little bit about what happens when you’re being creative. A recent study scanned jazz musicians’ brains, while they were playing prewritten music versus completely improvised music and they found that the region of the brain, know as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ‑ you can tell, this is just tripping right off the tongue ‑ this part of the brain stands down when musicians are improvising.
It goes: “I’m going to take a little break. I’m just going to let the boys play for a while.” Right? And this is the part of the brain that’s responsible for self‑censoring, and for planning action. It just kind of gets out of the way, and musicians have a way of being able to, or once they are good at improvising, have a way of being able to let that thing fall back for a ways, but just far enough, to where they are not playing something totally chaotic. So basically a lot of that decision making apparatus that we talked about before has to step out of the way a little ways.
Another really important thing kind of recently that they’ve figured out is daydreaming is unbelievably important for creativity. It’s vital! People who engage in more daydreaming score higher on experimental measures of creativity. It’s a relaxed state that just sort of helps you make these improvisational connections. And it’s not enough to just to daydream, you actually have to be just conscious enough to catch the connections, but without interfering with the daydreaming that’s going on.
So daydreaming all by itself is great, and it does help for creativity. But if you want to get something out of it, you have to again, exercise these skills for paying just enough attention without screwing it up. And it turns out that’s kind of hard to do. But when our brains are at rest, the reason why this goes on is while our brains are at rest we’ve known for a long time there is sort of low level…I say we because I’m a scientist in a lab and all. But we’ve know for a long time that there’s a sort of low level noise going on in the dark reaches of the brain.
But they used to filter it out, when they were doing these studies. Somebody said, “Hey, maybe we should figure out what that noise is doing.” So they realized that there’s something going on and they named it “The Default Mode Network.” And they nicknamed the stuff that happens as dark energy. Basically, much of the conscious stuff that we do is actually just a small percentage of the brain’s activity. In terms of volume of activity going on in the brain, having to do with what we are doing, the conscious part of our brain is just a tiny part but there’s all this other stuff that’s going on that’s informing it, probably informing it of context and lots of other learned stuff, and all these patterns and everything.
I’m making that part up. It might not be true. I don’t know. But I know that… The important part is that there’s this part of the brain that we’re just finding out needs to be sort of thought about, and taken care of, and cultivated or at least made space for.
Play is really important for that. Science points to the particular importance of free play. There’s games and structured play, but free play, in particular, is really powerful.
Rats… Play is actually really ancient, evolutionarily speaking. They’ve taken rats and had their neocortex removed, so that they just have this really old part of their brain. They’re just sort of running around but they still know how to play.
What that’s telling us is that this is a really, really core part of… It’s pre‑mammalian, play. It means that the core genetically provided circuitry for play is situated in these really ancient parts of the brain.
Play is necessary for cognitive function and emotional health. Play, it turns out, makes kids smarter. It makes adults healthier and better adjusted, and more able to solve problems. One really important thing that is coming out of this is that a play deficit can be as detrimental as a sleep deficit to your health, to your well being, your mental health, and especially to your work.
Play is also social. From the earliest development, we start socializing through play. We use social objects as toddlers, and we start getting social. And so, the actual social interaction becomes one of the things that we’re playing with. It’s a way of learning about how it works, and trying things out.
You probably remember seeing little kids… One of them will walk up to another little kid and just pound them on the head, just because, “I want to see what that does.” And they learn what it does, because they’re playing with that other kid. It looks mean, but sometimes they’re just going, “Oh, I wonder what that does. I saw that on TV. I’m going to do that.”
I remember I did that in kindergarten, actually. Just a couple of days ago, I think.
In fact, it’s this social aspect of play that we especially tend to lose in our work, because the workplace has so many new brain, linear expectations, and rigors, and social conventions that it’s very hard for us to find this social play time. When we’re getting together with other people, it has to be efficient. It has to be on task. Blah blah blah blah blah, right?
There’s very little time for us to get together and just throw ideas around, and goof around. So, what happens is… You see it happening in the cracks and the crevices of the workplace.
Around the water cooler, in the lunchroom, or just after work, in the hallway, or whatever. It finds a way to sneak in there, but what I’m getting at is it would be great if there were and official way to do that.
Some official way, but it probably wouldn’t work if you just say, “For one hour, everybody get in there and be playful with each other.” It has more to do with a pervasive culture. So, anyway, those of you in management positions, go and make that happen.
The thing is, we don’t work in a bubble. We have to deal with other people. We have to create with them. And so, even if we know all this stuff, and we’re trying to do all this stuff, not everybody else is doing all this stuff. We’re always in situations where we’re having to collaborate. We have to be aware of how powerful social influence can be.
Social conformity is really powerful as an influencer, and it’s really because we evolved to look around us and learn quickly from what others were doing, as a necessary instinct for our survival.
If I’m out there gathering berries with the other people in my berry gathering group, and one of them goes, “Ahh!” and starts running like hell, I don’t have time to sit and think, “I wonder if I’m going to… I might subvert the paradigm of that running. I think I’m going to question… Wait a minute. I wonder if I should run that particular way, or if I should run some different… Hang on. Let’s have a conversation about how we run, and why.”> By the time I got that out, I’m tiger meat. I’m food for something else.
So evolutionarily speaking, great to conform. Especially when you’re under stress. When you’re under stress, you immediately fall into conforming, man, because evolutionarily, chances are, you have a better chance of survival that way.
Because the worst thing that’s going to happen is, you’re going to run a longer ways and you’re going to look at each other and go, “Oh ho! This wasn’t a tiger. Let’s go back and get some more berries.” That’s the worst thing that can happen.
But in our job, the worst thing that can happen is, you make crap. [laughs] OK? You make really bad decisions together.
So there’s this really great article that I keep going back to and getting some references from called, “The Neuroscience of Leadership.” And it was in a Strategy + Business magazine four years ago, but there are a lot of great points in there. But among them is that change is painful. Change physically hurts, partly because… We actually physiologically feel uncomfortable when we’re trying to move out of the groove that’s been etched into our heads from all the pattern‑making, all the prior experience, all the expectations that we bring to the world around us. Trying to change that is hard, so…
But it’s hard in the same way that doing Pilates is hard, when you start trying to do it, or something like that. It’s an exercise that you have to practice and you have to think about. And as designers, I think it’s a really important thing for us to think about and practice, being able to subvert our… to change our expectations and assumptions.
Attention density shapes identity. What that’s getting at is the fact that certain kinds of personalities tend to cluster toward certain kinds of jobs. I think we know this, it’s kind of obvious, but it turns out that being in those jobs and in that culture actually just etches it further, right? It just makes you even more and more and more like that.
So you end up with these cultures that are so radically different. And so you’ve all run into this. You run into business people and they all think like MBAs, and talk like MBAs, and they all read the same stuff.
You talk to engineers and they’re all sort of the same way… dah dah dah dah dah. The thing is, they’re thinking, “Oh my God, designers, they’re all the same! They’re always thinking about this, they’re like elves running through the elysian fields, blah blah blah…”
“They never want to get anything done, blah blah blah, you know, oh my God, please don’t bring in a designer, we’ll never get this thing done!”
So everybody has these… we cluster and we dig in. And the thing is that carrots and sticks, it turns out, don’t work very well for changing that. What works for changing it is being patient, taking time, figuring out ways to see things from each other’s point of view.
But group norms can definitely kill creativity. That’s because, like I said, our brains evolve to fall in line with social norms. That doesn’t mean that group are always bad, it just means that most of them are bad.
The ones that… the times that you have collaborated on something and it came out well was either an accident, or somebody in the group knew how to facilitate that group, knew how to set expectations, knew how to make sure people were involved who were going to have the right frame of mind and put the right structures in place so that there was enough room for play, or there was enough room for making the right kinds of decisions and whatnot.
And that’s a real skill and it’s really undervalued and underrepresented in any workplace.
One thing I really want to make sure I bring up is fear. So the geeks in the room are noticing that I’m mixing my sci‑fi references here. And I apologize.
So fear is an especially powerful emotion because it has to do with our very survival. Like I said before, the tiger’s in the woods, we’re scared, we have to run, right? So we evolve for so long where this thing was going to kick in mainly for that. And there wasn’t that much else going on that was going to make us feel that way.
But now, we encounter all kinds of stuff, like most of the stuff we encounter isn’t stuff that’s necessarily going to kill us, but our brains respond as if it might.
And so what happens is, we only have this blunt instrument, right, for making us feel like, “OK, well, I might be in some danger, I might… So I’m going to go to into a meeting where other people might not agree with me. I know they tend to not agree with my point of view on this particular topic.”
And your heart’s palpitating, you’re getting a little sweaty, you’re really… And suddenly you realize, you’re unable to really think of other options, you’re unable to be creative. You’re unable to because fear is the play‑killer. Fear is the options‑killer. Fear makes you retreat back into old patterns. It makes your brain retreat right back into what your older parts of your brain know.
It’s going to make you do stuff that you’re going to look back on and go, “God why didn’t I do this, why didn’t do that?” All of us have looked back on times when were really nervous or anxious in a social situation or some other situation where we look back and go, “Why was I so stupid?” Right? And that’s why, it’s because you know sometimes we act a little stupid because we’re afraid.
If we can sort of control that fear, and the thing is once you start getting a little meta‑cognitive and you start recognizing it in yourself, you start seeing it all around you. You see other people like project managers and other designers and technologists making these decisions and just storming ahead on something.
Because they’re just scared to death that if they don’t do exactly what they’re assuming they’re suppose to be doing that somebody is going to get them, they’re going to get in trouble, somebody is going to be disappointed in them, they’re going to fail. Oh my God, I might fail. Right, so what do we do, what on Earth do we do?
Well, you either sort of get into another line of work where nobody has high expectations and you don’t have to deal with complex problems. That’s a possibility. Or you figure out how to make the conditions as much as you can where you’re going to be able to do this kind of work better. And you figure out how to sort of parse the strategies that you have for different situations in dealing with the environment around you.
So one thing I think we do need is room to play, and by that I mean both space and time to play in. You need time during which you have permission to make things for exploration rather then production. Fear of doing something wrong, like I said, is a play killer and it takes sleep cycles by the way, to do this. You can’t just say, “OK, OK we’ll just go ahead and do the work that we were going to do all in one day.”
Well if you got some problems to solve, there is going to be some creativity involved that’s needed there. Chances are you’re going to screw that up because your brain really needs time to sleep. Remember the thing about the battery going down? That was just one of the factors that you need sleep to kind of rectify.
Also, you need time for that dark energy to do some work. Right, you need time to where the rest of your brain is shut off because I mean your brain eats incredible amounts of energy while you’re sleeping. Unbelievable amounts of energy, while you’re sleeping it’s doing stuff that whole time, it’s not just idling.
And we need physical space for collaborating because we’re sensory creatures. And we need that physical space where we know that when we go in here nobody is breathing down our neck. For the next three or four hours nobody’s breathing down our neck, nobody’s telling us, “No you can’t say that or no that’s never going to work.” Right? You need that space.
Bill Buxton talks about the shape of design and he says that this spiral that we tend to think of where you know, “Yeah we’re iterating, iterating, getting smaller, smaller, smaller.” No that’s not actually how it works. This looks really great to your front new brain, it looks nice and neat. Oh yeah, every time we’re getting closer that’s great. He says, “No, this is actually how design works.”
Design is about discovering alternatives, considering alternatives, trying shit out, writing something down and throwing it away. There’s this great scene in Mad Men, like last season I think, where the sort of accountant guy, the British guy that’s running the office, is talking to Don Draper, the creative director, and he’s saying, “We’re going through way too much paper. The other businesses I’ve run have never gone through this much paper.” And Don Draper says, “We’re an ad agency, that paper is not being wasted, that paper has all the bad ideas on it that we throw away. You don’t get it.” Well the truth is, no, they don’t get it.
Mainstream management culture doesn’t get it; they think this is wasteful and inefficient. We’ve had generations of efficiency philosophies crammed down the throats of business. So that they’ve wrung all of the bubbles of air out of it, there’s no elbowroom because that’s inefficient.
But design isn’t efficient. Design needs room OK, to try out new… Now he does say, “Yeah,” you reach a point where you reach some inflection points where you go, “OK, OK, now we’re going to take… Out of all these things we’ve considered, we’re going to hone in on this one. Now, we’re going to blow it out. We’re going to hone in on this part, and we’re going to blow it out.” Before long, you actually get to a level of granularity, where you’ve got a solution going.
So yeah, you do get somewhere. And I’ll get to this in a minute, we need methods to help us do it well. But there has to be room for that playful, exploratory thinking to happen.
Now, that makes a lot of managers nervous. I understand that. But I would argue that giving this room for design is non‑negotiable. But here’s the thing you might not want to hear. It’s our responsibility to be sure that if we’re given that room, that we make the most of it. That means the responsibility is on us, to be ever vigilant of our own biases, cognitive flaws, all the stuff that might get in the way of really doing good work.
But, if we don’t do good work, then they should get new designers. If they give us the room, we have to do good work. We can’t bitch about it and say, “Oh, you didn’t give me time to do this. Oh, I didn’t have the room to really come up with a good answer.”
No, we won’t be able to make that excuse anymore if we’re given that room, so that scares us a little bit. I think it keeps us from fighting for that room. It’s a lot more comfortable to sit around and moan and whine about it. I know I have.
So, much of what it means to be a successful designer means the ability to think outside of our own assumptions. And so, before you think I’m letting designers off the hook, obviously after what I just said, definitely I’m not. I need to stress that we have to be continually vigilant. We need to learn to be meta‑cognitive. We always need to be keeping an eye on ourselves, making sure we’re not falling prey to biases and the tricks our brains play on us.
The good news is, guess what? We already have some great tools for this. We already have excellent methods. A lot of the methods that have emerged and evolved over time through various design practices, this is what they’re for. This is what they’re for. They’re called design methods, and in many ways, what we’re learning about how our brains behave is giving us validation for existing user experience design methods.
Things like user research, personas, scenarios, collaborative analysis. We can argue about what these things mean, and how best to do them, and that kind of thing, but let’s set that aside. We have lots of ways and tools that we can use to keep us from just making too many assumptions, and doing stupid stuff.
So even in the space and time that we set aside for design, we have to use methods to make sure that we’re letting ourselves generate ideas, and understand users, and make the best design decisions. Methods can help us do that.
I want to describe just one particular trap we tend to fall into, the designing for deliverables trap. This is my most frustrating trap that we fall into as designers. Here’s the deal. There’s an important difference between design artifacts and project deliverables.
The reason I bring this up is because, like I said before, so much of our work in concretized in the artifacts that we work with, because we are sensory beings. These things that we work with are important.
There’s the artifacts of our design work, which are just the sketches for exploring, playing, making mistakes, trying again. The papers that we use and we throw away. A lot of what we should be doing during this time is making sure that we’re using good habits and good methods, and that we’ve got the room to try and to fail, but that’s what that room is for.
Those artifacts are only for that. They’re only good for that. They’re temporary. They’re ephemeral. They’re good for you and me getting together and saying, “What do you mean by your idea? Oh, now I see what you mean by your idea. OK, pfft. Done. Now we understand each other. OK, now here’s what I think we should do about that. Pfft.”
And, you just keep going and going. That’s what those things are for. They’re just for us to communicate, and to get shared understanding, and do that branching thing that Buxton was talking about.
Now there’s the project process. There’s the expectations of stakeholders. There’s all the stuff in the linear world that you’re having to interface with. That stuff is for communication, for production. Communication and for persuasion. Or communication just to sort of get somebody to understand where you’re coming from, who hasn’t been in the bubble with you doing all that work.
And it’s also for self‑protection. Let’s face it, probably half of the shit we make is to cover our ass. It’s to make sure that, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Here’s your deliverable that you need,” so that nobody can come back to me and say, “Oh, you didn’t deal with that,” or, “You didn’t discuss that,” or, “You didn’t cover that.”
I’m not putting that stuff down. I think it’s really important. The problem is, we get so focused on doing that crap, we don’t do the other stuff. Right? You start sketching something out and somebody’s like, “Oh, OK, but I can’t show that to the stakeholder. Can you do that in Visio, instead? And can you make sure the logo’s on that? And can you get the colors on that for me? And…” Well no, that’s not what that’s for.
And as designers we have to be able to tell those other people, “Hey, guess what? We have work we need to do and we’re using stuff to do it. It may look like the stuff that you want ‑ but it’s not. If you want the other stuff, just don’t make us use this stuff for it. We’ll take some extra time and make that stuff too.” [sarcastically] Extra time, ha! Right.
But it’s the reality. The reality is that every project has three design challenges in one. So the reason I’m focusing on artifacts and deliverables is that that’s the concrete world in which our brains are doing this work. By dividing these things up I think it can help us to avoid some of these traps.
So you have to design the conditions for doing the work. Basically you’re designing for yourself and for your team. You’re picking the right methods for the project you’re on ‑ the thing you’re dealing with. You’re making sure you’ve got the right space for it, you’ve got the right tools for it, you’ve got the right people on board ‑ everybody’s cool. That’s design. You’re designing for the process.
Then you’re also designing the product itself. You also have to design your interface. How you’re working with stakeholders. Now that doesn’t mean stakeholders can’t come and help out, but they need to be trained. They need to understand ‑ this may look like stuff you do, but it’s not exactly the same thing. So hang back, see how we work…You know, see if they can pick up on what you’re doing.
Making this distinction can really help. Maybe it’s just because it bugs me that we don’t make this distinction. But, I really think this can help us to avoid some of this stuff.
Anyway, if I really had to sum all of this up in one statement it is: Be meta‑cognitive so that you’re not an ass hat [laughter]. This is really about just getting our heads out of our asses. It’s about getting our heads out, and really looking at stuff, and really being present to the facts of what we’re doing. It’s a really important skill, that I don’t think anybody teaches ‑ except for in psychology school.
So design schools, design training programs ‑ I’m really interested to see if we can do some of this meta‑cognitive training to get us to understand that our brains are a tool and we have to learn how to use it right. We can’t just let it run rampant on its own. Otherwise we’re an ass hat. That is the end of my presentation. Thanks a lot for coming.
Lauren. Is Lauren still here? Supposed to introduce me, no? We’re at a break…Oh, hang on Lauren. We’re going to take like five minutes in case somebody has a question or… That cool? Question. Joe.
Jay, can you turn it down a little bit?
Joe: Does this mean that devotion to best practices…Does this mean that devotion to best practices…
Andrew Hinton: Just modulating, sorry.
Joe: Yeah, is creativity killing?
Andrew Hinton: No. Well, no devotion to might be. Yeah, [inaudible 47:39] would be. Right? When I say methods, I picked that word purposefully because we need methods. In a previous life I was a poet, and as a creative writer you need methods. You need ways to help the creative part of your head do what it needs to do, and get the monkey‑mind, the editorial side, out of the way. Everybody has come up with certain methods that they use to do that. There aren’t necessarily standardized methods that work for everybody.
I’m just saying that we’ve got a lot of great tools ‑ we just need to sort of use them, but we need to use them honestly. You can’t sleepwalk through them. A lot of times best practices end up being paint‑by‑numbers. Like, “Oh, OK. Best practice… If I do this then it’s going to fart out the right solution ‑ like magically.” It doesn’t really work that way. You actually have to do it mindfully. You have to do it thinking about why am I doing this method, and what am I getting out of it?
I did have a whole thing about personas in here as an example. But I just don’t have time to get into it. It’s one of my favorite things to talk about in those terms because the persona is just me understanding the person who’s going to be using this. That’s all it is. Whatever you have to do to make that happen ‑ whether you have to record them and listen to them under your pillow when you sleep. I don’t care what you do. It doesn’t have to be a document, because that’s just an artifact or a manifestation of, hopefully, your understanding. But too often what we do is we make the artifact and don’t bother to understand. So it’s backassward. Hence the ass hat.
Audience member 1: What’s the role of empathy in this understanding and how does that tie in with the emotional brain?
Andrew Hinton: Empathy, shmympathy. No. So the question was: “What’s the role of empathy in this and how does that tie with the emotional brain?” Very much so. The key insight of the user‑centered or user‑experienced, user‑blah blah, person‑centered ‑ whatever you want to call it‑sort of design movement if you will, was this focus on “Hey, we’re missing out on having empathy for the people we’re making this stuff for.” They’re not just warm‑bodies that we want to buy stuff. They’re people, who are actually having experiences, and they have needs, and they have goals, and they have lives. We want this stuff to actually fit with it and work with it. If we do that then ‑ they’re going to buy our stuff. So empathy is key.
Again I think we miss out on it a lot. We’re not trained to be empathetic. We’re trained to do all of the documentation about empathy. But then we end up doing things like ‑ “Hey do you have a persona for this kind of person, this demographic? Can I use it? I need one for my project?” That’s completely missing the frickin’ point. [laughter] It’s about finding out these people ‑ going and meeting them if you possibly can, a lot of times we don’t get to. But you do what you can to try to get these people under your skin.
But, also, empathy for the people you’re working with, and the people you’re working for. I think that’s a key problem a lot of us have. We tend to have a little bit of a superior attitude toward business people and toward others. We sort of approach them like ‑ I know what I’m doing, and your just a Philistine and OK, whatever.
No. There are some really brilliant people in business. There are some really brilliant people in IT who really mean well and who are really doing great work. If we just shut the hell up and listen to them and try to understand them with some empathy? We’re going to get a lot farther with those people. We might learn stuff. I’ve learned things from business people.
I’m saying! I’ve learned things from IT people. I’m not kidding. It can happen. So empathy is really key for anything you’re doing in life, but especially this kind of work. Anybody else?
Dave: Over here.
Andrew Hinton: Hey, Dave.
Dave: Along the empathy lines. I’m even more of an amateur cognitive scientist than you are. I’ve just recently discovered there’s this whole thing about mirror neurons and empathy. That one of the things about user‑centered practice is mirror neurons only work when you’re in contact with another person. It’s very hard to get them to fire right if you’re at a distance. So the whole thing with empathy, it’s the contact. Personas are great.
Andrew Hinton: I’ve likened it to if somebody is trying to describe the Grand Canyon to you. You might get sort of an idea of what it’s like, but you don’t know until you stand and you see the frickin’ Grand Canyon ‑ “Ohhh. That’s what it’s like.” So you can get some idea of it. It’s really hard in my current role to do this.
But, ideally all the key people on a project have at least some personal connection or contact with the people that they’re making whatever they’re making for. At least a little bit. I think it’s magical. It’s like this little drop of leavening or this little chemical that just drops in there, and suddenly it just takes a little bit of exposure sometimes to sort of contextualize all that data and all of that other crap. Anyway, it’s time for everybody to go because the break I think, is about to end. Thank you. [applause]
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