Monday, August 29, 2011

The Best Space Toy Ever Made, Before Paradigms Shifted

Past visions of the future reveal more about the moment than they predict about tomorrow.

This vintage space toy, for broadcasting TV from far, far away, reveals so much about the technologies and the hopes of its time, while solving the wrong problem:

    • Issue: Space travelers will need broadcast TV

    • Wrong Solution: Imagining a space tractor, with space treads, to haul around a mid-20th-century television studio setup.

    • Better Approach / Paradigm Shift / Poking the Box: Instead of figuring out how to haul around something really heavy, why not invent something lighter?

    Metaphor for innovators: Are you still imagining a space tractor, or are you thinking about how to shift away from that big heavy thing to something portable?

    Exit Strategy UX

    So, I thought it was pretty well established that EXIT signs (in the US) use red capital letters, sans serif font.

    Apparently not.

    If you search for "exit sign," the Google returns "About 16,500,000 results."

    Narrowing the search to images produces: "About 3,600,000 results." Here's a screenshot from this morning:

    What's your exit strategy?

    Do you communicate your calls to action clearly, in standard and instantly recognizable ways?

    Friday, August 26, 2011

    UX Fail: Error Messaging Hall of Shame -- Three All-Star Entries

    Mistakes happen. They are part of life. When you make one, gracefully apologize as quickly as possible.

    The same goes for UX mistakes. When something goes wrong, you can either:

    a. Politely smooth the experience, with helpful error messages
    b. Make a bad thing worse, with rude and uninformative error messages.

    Here are three all-star entries in the #uxfail #errormessaging #hall of shame. I know you can do better.

    1. In this example, if what they mean is "no support for mobile,"  they should say so -- in plain words. Otherwise, it sounds like they are telling me I need a sub-dermal chip implant:

    2. This error message from Facebook is repetitive and redundant, and says the same thing over again:

    3. In this Facebook glitch, the error message might as well just come out and say, "we are tech geeks and you are not"

    Thursday, August 25, 2011

    Word Crimes Against UX: Puffery, and Bloviation

    The Upscale Shopping Mall has two floors, and it has an elevator.

    Should the buttons say 1 and 2?

    You would think so.

    But they say ★LL and UL, as shown here:

    Elevator interface at the Upscale Shopping Mall

    LL (for lower level?) and UL (for upper level?) are the opposite of an empathetic, clear and simple UX that is helpful for users.

    The puffery and bloviation inherent in these labels are word crimes. Such language is bad enough in a rental agent's pitch -- "Put your store on the Upper Level, where the other expensive stores are, and the lease costs double!" -- and worse in an interface.

    Crimes against language are word crimes against users.

    Machines Should Be Quiet, Unless It's Something Urgent

    The new microwave does its job well enough. It reheats coffee. It cooks frozen cha siu baau and dumplings quickly and conveniently.

    But its personality needs work.

    Unless it's a smoke detector, or an alarm clock with a snooze button, one round of beeping, followed by a reminder, is all the noise I need.

    UX: Why Apple Won't Allow Flash on iAnything

    I missed this when it was posted, but here it is now

    Thoughts on Flash: Steve Jobs, April, 2010

    "We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."

    That also pretty much covers Silverlight, SharePoint ...

    Typing on my MacBook Pro and Talking on my iPhone: UX of Apple

    In order of remembrance and thanks:

    • Every day that I don't have to use a machine with a Microsoft OS.

    • Rip. Mix. Burn: There was a building-high ad along the West Side Highway, on your left, heading south, just before the World Trade Center came into view.

    • Tek-Serve

    • The rubberized "Batman" laptop that everyone had in the first Silicon Alley boom. Its hotness cannot be exaggerated. Mine is still in the house, someplace.

    • The original iMac (Mine was blue.)

    • The commencement speech at Stanford.


    • A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.

    • Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works

    • "The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products."

    • “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?

    Facebook UX: Thank You, Google+

    "Profile and post controls have been moved from the settings page and placed on an inline menu, so you can quickly change who can see your details and who can read your posts. You can also change your mind about who can read a status update after you’ve posted it, which wasn’t possible before." -- via PSFK

    Facebook is improving the user experience by making its privacy controls easier to use: they are surfacing the menu, and allowing privacy edits to posts.

    Would this have happened without Google+?

    Monday, August 22, 2011

    The Original Astro Boy: Mighty Atom

    I use the black and white image of the original Astro Boy as my online avatar because when I was growing up, the imagined future had the cheerful optimism that after the unambiguously virtuous hero is tested, she wins.

    There was also the belief that while technology can be used for good or for evil, the people using it for good would defeat the people using it for evil.

    "IN THE YEAR 2000..." Thus began many episodes of ASTROBOY, the first Japanese animated TV series to reach the American market.

    Today, the future is more complicated. Climate change is a greater threat than the cold war, but green technology has no funding equivalent to the Apollo program. Space dollars from the government built the foundation for the computer industry (and the internet) -- what changes could come from making green technology and green jobs as urgent?

    Meanwhile, technology does give us many paths back to the future:

    -- Flying cars are a decade overdue, but the idea is an anachronistic extension of current transportation paradigms, and not nearly as cool as pod cars that you take and leave.

    -- YouTube has the black and white intro for the first English language version of the Astro Boy TV series, featuring the unforgettable theme song.

    -- YouTube also has a home video of the Astro Boy theme song playing as the outro for trains leaving Takadanobaba Station (I want to go to there).

    -- Wikipedia has a long Astro Boy and a profile of its creator, Osamu Tezuka.

    21st century technology also offers ways to purchase memories:

    -- has the full original Astro Boy black and white box set on DVD
    -- eBay has old and new Astro Boy collectibles
    -- iTunes has a bunch of more recent stuff

    And the 1960's B&W Series: Opening Credits are, of course, online:

    There you go, Astro Boy,
    On your flight into space
    Rocket high, through the sky
    For adventures soon you will face!

    Astro Boy bombs away,
    On your mission today,
    Here's the countdown,
    And the blastoff,
    Everything is go Astro Boy!

    Astro Boy, as you fly,
    Strange new worlds you will spy,
    Atom celled, jet propelled,
    Fighting monsters high in the sky!

    Astro Boy, there you go,
    Will you find friend or foe?
    Cosmic Ranger, laugh at danger,
    Everything is go Astro Boy!

    Crowds will cheer you, you're a hero,
    As you go, go, go Astro Boy!


    Friends and Family: Wagon Train to SXSW 2012

    The always remarkable Allison Hemming and The Hired Guns have compiled this friends and family list of people pitching for SXSW 2012.

    It's an impressive group: I learned a lot just reading and voting for these pitches.

    See you in Austin?

    Laurie Kalmanson
    UX Leadership - See, Speak, Share
    Judy McGuire
    Allison Hemming
    Get Engaged: Job Hunt Better Than You Date
    Jen Pugh
    If you're creative, why does your portfolio suck?

    Ramona Pringle
    Avatar Relationships & Real Life Success
    David Alexander
    Let the film find you

    Jordan Burchette
    Eat Shit Sleep: Enlightenment Through Unemployment
    Tom Chernaik
    Marketing Responsibly In 140 Characters or Less
    Meryl Cooper
    Jessica Kleiman
    The Fame Game: Get Recognized & Rewarded at Work\
    Lisa Dickens
    Sheryl Victor
    8 Tips To Help Explain Digital to Normals
    Phil Gilman
    Leading Strategy & Creative in a 365 World
    Jeff Gothelf
    Demystifying design: fewer secrets, bigger impacts
    Allison Hemming
    Manage With Care: Employees Are Your New Clients
    Todd Henry
    How To Be Brilliant At a Moment's Notice
    Rachel Kramer Bussell
    Dating and Privacy Online Post-Weinergate

    Inna Kurbatsky
    Four Simple Steps to Launching An Online Movement
    Brandon Lee
    Social Networking: Giving Cancer Patients a Voice
    Bryce Longton
    Panel: DIY Flashsale (Create & Concept One)
    Jenine Lurie
    Urban Intelligence: Messages from a Smart City
    Erica Reitman
    Brooklyn the Brand: How The Internet Made BK Famous
    Noah ScalinGet Unstuck: Creative Inspiration from Skull-A-Day
    Larry Smith
    Marshalling Your Army of Interns 
    Matt Smith
    Panel: Complicating Products Is Easy, Simpliflying is Hard

    Nichelle Stephens

    Major Laser Focus: From Dilettantes To Polymaths
    Beth Temple
    How to Thrive in the Attention Deficit Economy

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Three by Three, They Came

    Why the WordPress Three-Column Layout Became the Web Standard, Until It Wasn’t Anymore -- A Discussion of User Experience Evolution and the Adoption Curve in Pattern Libraries, Interaction Design, Visual Cues and Calls to Action, with References to The Wayback Machine, Popular Culture, and Art


    Changes in the pattern libraries, interaction designs, visual cues and calls to action of web sites, mobile tools and online applications come in waves, and they follow the typical adoption cycle: bleeding edge, everywhere, over.

    While we don’t always have a working theory of where these changes are going, --  just the knowledge that change is the only constant --  the law of evolution is:

    (a) observable in action and

    (b) enforced by the market.

    Figure 1: The Technology Adoption Lifecycle, as it Applies to Anything that Plugs In or Has a Battery, plus Popular Culture and Art*

    * The version of the adoption lifecycle referenced here is from Crossing the Chasm.
    This custom illustration is from Wikipedia. 
    The adoption curve concept also applies recursively to the adoption curve.

    The Present and the Recent Past

    Here are three examples of  user experience evolution in full effect: adaptations in pattern libraries, interaction designs, visual cues and calls to action that appeared in a few places, spread, and are already fading out of coolness into ubiquity: 
    1. Three-column webpage designs: Totally new at first, these clean and simple slabs of content and color upended overly art-directed sites. But now they’re as prevalent as daisies; they’re everywhere.   
    Prediction: Something else is coming soon. 

    2. AJAX/jQuery Action Bars and Plugins: Functional and sleek, these tools do so much that used to be handcoded or impossible.  
    Prediction: They’re here for a while, until they aren’t.  

    3. My Account / Login / Sign Up: Typically tucked into the top right corner, the utility nav area has been around for long enough for an overhaul.
    Speculation: Something will replace it in the future. What will it be?
    Compare and Contrast: The Present vs. the Ancient Past (in Internet Years)

    Using the upper righthand corner of websites for account management tools is typical today, but it wasn’t always thus. In the beginning, these functions barely existed.
    Q. How did the toplevel utility nav come to be the way we expect to see it today?
    A. Like most things -- slowly, then all at once.
    On the homepage from 1998,  “Buy Books” was a category, and “Shopping Cart” and “Checkout” were subcategories:

    Figure 3:, Earth’s biggest bookstore: July 1, 1998 
    (via The Wayback Machine.)

    Today, the old interaction metaphors Amazon used feel like the website equivalent of maps from the "here be dragons" era of cartography, but without the cool drawings.

    The Future is Already Here — Just Not Evenly Distributed

    Websites, online tools and mobile apps of a given time and place go through periods of change and equilibrium:
    1. They look and work the same

    2. They differentiate

    3. They start looking the same again.
    This cycle of user experience evolution follows the older adoption curves of popular culture and art:
    1. Styles and schools are invented

    2. Defenders of the status quo cling to the old thing

    3. The new thing becomes standard, and upstarts differentiate.

    The law of evolution doesn’t predict how things will change: just that they will.

    Love songs are examples of popular culture calls to action, and here are two examples of how they have changed across four centuries:
    Had we but world enough and time” Andrew Marvel, 17th Century
    Online, the ways we create engaging user experiences have already changed at least this much, in much less time.

    What will happen tomorrow? 
    I can't take credit for discovering the evolution of online user experience, but if I wanted to name it Laurie’s Law, and say it was discovered by you, that would be an appropriate example of Stigler's law of eponymy. *

    *Stigler's law of eponymy is a process proposed by University of Chicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler in his 1980 publication "Stigler’s law of eponymy".  In its simplest and strongest form it says: "No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer." Stigler named the sociologist Robert K. Merton as the discoverer of "Stigler's law",  consciously making "Stigler's law" exemplify Stigler's law.


    UX Leadership - See, Speak, Share

    Here's my SXSW panel proposal for 2012: UX Leadership - See, Speak, Share

    Your clients aren't sure what UX is, or IXD, IA, or content strategy, but they know what sites they like when they see them.

    Teaching clients, colleagues and staff how to recognize that "blink" moment, and giving them the vocabulary and concepts to evaluate and recreate engagement, interaction design, features and functionality, conversion paths, calls to action, content strategies and brand appropriate coolness factors, across the user experience -- well, that's win x win for them and for you, plus awesome sauce.

    Also, it makes work more better.

    Putting tools in the hands of the people you work with -- clients, colleagues, consultants or vendors -- so they can see, speak, show and share UX

    (1) helps them make the best choices for their sites, and

    (2) helps you structure and deliver the right results.

    How do you teach others to see UX, to speak UX, and to share UX collaboratively?

    Areas of attack include conversion, calls to action, content strategy, navigation structure, interaction design and emotional design.

    There's also intuitve stuff -- capturing that "blink" moment and the vocabulary for describing it -- and objective stuff (put calls to action at the end of the line and on the right because that's where the line ends and the eye stops, and it's closest to the hand.)

    1. How do you help clients know what you do so they want you to do it with them, and so they can do it themselves?

    2. Content strategy: Do you do it at the beginning, the middle or the end? (Hint: All the time)

    3. Interaction design: Coolness vs. users still using the mouse vs. iPad vs. mobile -- how to choose

    4. Visual design: When to dial it up and when to dial it down; apps vs. web applications vs. e-commerce

    5. Agile, Sprint Zero, Waterfall? Yes. Also: learn the rules, blend, and cook at 450 degrees, altitude adjusted. 

    Sound good? Vote it up here.

    Also, leave a comment if you want me to do it as a presentation for you.

      Emotional Design and NonProfit Copywriting: Here's the Pitch

      In all the nonprofit work I've done online, the two things that connect people and organizations are the good they can do together, and the chance to make a difference.

      Here are three nonprofit stories, with three kinds of need and three kinds of connections.

      1. Matching a pet who needs a forever home with a person who can offer one is a life-changing event for both. People who find their new best friends at Bideawee, NYC's oldest nokill animal shelter, help others make that change with their donations. Bideawee families also contribute long, detailed progress reports and photos, which are posted online and passed around by the staff.

      2. Supporters of The Actors Fund, which helps people in entertainment who are in need, feel a personal connection to the performers and backstage professionals whose work yields so much delight. They show their thanks with their gifts. Gifts also come from former clients, when they rise from their fallen circumstances to a place where they can give back.

      3. The Nashville Ballet brings smiles and dreams to thousands of underserved children through its outreach programs, supported by large gifts and small. "Beer at the Ballet" is a new kind of outreach program, now in its third year, teaching young professionals that supporting the arts is part of being a successful and accomplished adult.

      What kind of stories do the nonprofits you support tell?

      What kind of connections do they have with their clients and supporters?

      See also, Seth's recent column, Selling the Benefits of Charity

      Unicorns, Hedgehogs and Foxes: Which are You?

      There's a great post by Jeff Gothelf on the roles UX people play: Unicorn: a Visual Designer with UX Chops. It's earned a long and thoughtful string of comments.

      My take on it: As engagement architects, user experience consultants, and customer experience practitioners, we share core skills and deliverables, and we bring our own extra bonus knowledge. People can be unicorns; they can also be hedgehogs or foxes.

      In my case, I'm a little of each -- a UX and CX lead who is originally a communicator. I worked as a newspaper reporter in the dark years before Senator Gore invented the internet, and the years I spent asking questions, synthesizing information, writing it down, and making sure I got it right is pretty much the foundation skill set of #UX and #CX -- plus boxes and arrows, which I learned working for Seth Godin's startup, Yoyodyne, back during the late 20th century.

      For others, coding, visual design, marketing or project management are the deep competencies they bring along with their #UX and #CX skills.

      Shorter: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

      In the future, I see the creative hierarchy looking like this:

      Experience Director / Engagement Architect
      o UX director / UX staff
      o Art director / production artists
      o Content strategy director / editorial staff
      o Marketing Director / Online marketing team

      On any given project, these hats all need to be worn by someone, but people can wear more than one hat.

      These are my UX skills and capabilities; what are yours?


      The internet was originally a government program, and Senator Gore supported it. He began to craft the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 (commonly referred to as "The Gore Bill") after hearing the 1988 report toward a National Research Network submitted to Congress by a group chaired by Leonard Kleinrock, professor of computer science at UCLA. The bill was passed on December 9, 1991 and led to the National Information Infrastructure (NII) which Al Gore called the "information superhighway".

      Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn have noted:
      When the Internet was still in the early stages of its deployment, Congressman Gore provided intellectual leadership by helping create the vision of the potential benefits of high speed computing and communication. As an example, he sponsored hearings on how advanced technologies might be put to use in areas like coordinating the response of government agencies to natural disasters and other crises.[3]

      CX, UX: Chicken Fingers, and Cancelled Flights

      The ice was already melted in my to-go cocktail from the bar down the street (they look the other way, as long as you return the glassware) when I realized that the two lines at the Chicken Fingers ʻnʼ Beer Place for After Soccer were roughly equal, but I was waiting on the slow line.

      As a professional Engagement Architect and User Experience consultant, I had questions.

      Fortunately, I also had a framework:

      1.0 Why?
      Always the first UX question

      1.0.1 How hungry were the children and parents waiting for me to order for them?
      Create personas for users, and prioritize their needs When would the inevitable meltdowns begin?
      Time the rollout of phases and features for user acceptance and engagement

      2.0 If I left the line to get another cocktail, should I (a) come back at the end of the fast line, or (b) ask someone in the slow line to hold my place?
      Consider and plan for social options

      And then a phone behind the counter rang, revealing the workflow issues throttling the slow line, and proving once again that there's no substitute for observation in the field in UX work.

      Figure 1: Customer Service Workflow: Chicken Fingers ʻnʼ Beer Place for After Soccer

      This was amazing to behold:

      i. Two cashiers.

      ii. Two lines.

      iii. One phone.

      iiia. The cashier on the slow line answers all the phone calls

      I perceived a pattern here, and I had questions:

      (a) How many people in the slow line had no idea they were also effectively in line behind people calling on the phone?

      (b) How many noticed?

      The situation reminded me of the debacles at airport gates when flights are cancelled and some people start banging on and shrieking away at their phones, while others remonstrate with the ticket agents.

      I had a proposition to test: What if, while I was standing in line, I called my order in?
      Would I see the cashier answer the phone and take my order ahead of, well, me?

      I pondered the ethics, until it was my turn.

      And I thought about how situations like this are everywhere, and how the questions around them are always the same:

      • What will it take to fix this?
      • What is the price of not fixing it, vs. letting things continue as they are?

      At the chicken shack, the possible solutions are obvious. Only one phone? Get another. Too short staffed? Staff up.

      What are the issues where you are? How would fix them?