Wednesday, February 19, 2014

To Know

To Know, you must seek to find

To Find, you must seek to discover

To Discover, you must seek to explore

To Explore, you must seek to leave what you know

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Backwaters, swamps, and deserts

We are undoubtedly entering a golden age of digital design. 15 years ago I caught that bug. I followed no anointed design school road; I learned it places far from the magic coasts. Backwaters and swamps hidden from the bay and the sound of trumpets of the new age.

What do I have? What do I know?

I'm an outsider to what's in. I am a span across canyons. I designed where no one wanted it. I kept caring while others zombied. I tended fields called barren and watched as fads and trends multiplied around me.

All while I learned.

Now I know what it is to coax a daisy from dried ground as others compare swaying treetops. I can speak of bringing something out of nothing when all there is, is a crushed seed and a drop of water.

I guess sometimes I wish that I had grown a tree or two. I didn't though. Not yet.

The lines I drew and didn't
Drew me here today
Words I said and swallowed
Tell me what to say

Burdens carried and dropped
In every moment weigh
Winds I faced and turned from
Steering me this sway

A shaped heart, crafted
A vision worn, once and future bid
Notes now in grid

Before you a designer
Take that as you will
A tired whiner
Stubbornly pointing still

I'll do what you don't
I'll try when you won't
I'll embrace when you avoid
I'll build when you've destroyed

A mover of the mixed
A winner for the lost
A dotter of weary eyes
A son of all tease crossed

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Music That Leaves Marks - 1307**

As I've gotten older, it's been more and more rare that a song becomes an instant and permanent favorite. Most of the songs I'll post in this series will have attached themselves to me in the 1980s and 90s. One reason for the rarity is that my tastes have grown increasingly varied. I tend to sample many artists from many genres and subgenres now, enjoying a bit of this and that, but generally not putting any one new track on repeat.

When The Night from School of Seven Bells revealed itself to me, though, it engulfed me and I listened to it hundreds of times in the span of a few weeks. It's hard to say why, exactly. It doesn't have the extremity of emotion in it's music or vocals that I tend to favor, nor a particularly strong melodic line. On the other hand, it is cinematic, has good hooks, and it deals with loss of love in an interesting manner lyrically. The combination of deep drone and driving rhythm are also attractive. All in all, it's a little mysterious, though, why it affects me so strongly. But it just does, and sometimes that's all that matters with a great song.

As a bonus, I'm posting a video the band declared the winner of a contest held for the song. It's much more artistic than 99.9% of most music videos, and features an impressively expressive young girl lip-synching, posing, and dancing in a surprisingly wistful depiction of the emotions of heartache.

**Yes, I know it's August. I'll post twice to make up for it. But this song was the soundtrack to my July.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Music That Leaves Marks - 1306

The past eight weeks have been very, very difficult. So much challenge compressed into so little time.

My time in college and the years immediately following were dark for me, as well. Peter Gabriel's duet with Kate Bush, Don't Give Up, was one of my coping songs. It's one of the few songs that explicitly try to comfort without coming off as cheesy or treacly. At least to me.

And so it fits now, too. Thankfully, blessedly, my connections to family and friends are stronger this time around. There are people I can fall back on. That river's flowing.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

7 "Features" I'd Really Like to See

A quick, incomplete list of what I'd really like to see in the list of features touted by digital product managers and marketers about their offerings:

1) Real Usability: The main things you want to do are easy to get to and uncluttered by what we are tempted to think is important to us.

2) Real Consideration: All the stupid things that used to frustrate you have been eliminated.

3) Real Priority: Your progress is our priority. All the complicated things going on inside our software will never ever get in your way.

4) Real Usefulness: We've made sure all the right things are included to make you able to get done what you want to get done.

5) Real Consideration, II: Anything we changed that you might have been using has been updated only in ways that make complete sense and are better for you.

6) Real Perspective: Our view is that our product is incomplete without you, not vice versa.

7) Real Priority, II: When you need to get in touch about this product, our responsiveness will show that we care, not some fluffy marketing copy.

What else would you include?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Music That Leaves Marks - 1305

It's been almost 30 years since I picked up acoustic guitar. I wish I could say I was 30 years skilled, but I'm not and that's a different story. At the time I was a fan of general rock music, but in college I was introduced to Eric Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and everything changed in my appreciation of guitar playing. The deep blend of soulful emotion, technical ability, and genre mastery astounded me, even with my very basic level of skill and knowledge.

Johnson's Ah Via Musicom, which came out in 1990, simply blew me away. From the transcendent joy of Cliffs of Dover to the tasteful cool of East Wes, I loved every note and have listened to the album hundreds of times.

Johnson and Vaughan, of course, were not the only guitar players making splashes in the 80s and 90s, but no other contemporaries moved me the same way. There are many I respected, and some who contributed singular pieces that I completely love, but after Stevie was killed and Johnson went into a sort of reclusiveness, I began to despair of finding another blues- and jazz-influenced rock guitarist who could move me the same way. I coped by broadening my appreciation historically and across genres, but longed for the player who could move me physically and emotionally in the same ways.

In 2010 I came across a 2009 release from Andy Timmons, Resolution. A Pandora station (thank you Pandora!) I set up for instrumental guitar played the title track and I was immediately smitten. Since buying the full album, I've played it through more times than I can count. The songs are very original, yet many have clear ties to influences, SRV and EJ included.

The entire record is phenomenal, and several songs will be permanent favorites. For a while, Resolution was the one I'd listen to over and over, but over time I found that the final listed cut was becoming part of my constant mental playlist. The Prayer / The Answer is a fugue of sorts that expresses a single call and single response across a powerful dynamic range. It's emotional power for me is visceral and leaves me speechless at times. Even now I feel unable to describe it, so I'll just let you listen. Here's a live recording that I am very sorry not to have been present for, but fortunately was preserved for us.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Don't Make Data-Driven UX Mistakes

Following up on exploring the differences between data, evidence, and knowing, and that understanding only occurs as you engage all three, I want to look at the considerations needed when designers interact with data. I believe these apply to data sets of any size really, though the stakes go up as the amount of data and people involved grow.

In general, the more data we have and the more access to it we have is a good thing. Much has been written about the possibilities and promises. We may be on the verge of discoveries and solutions that will amaze us. Cures we've been imagining for intractable problems may start to appear as we learn how to farm "the new soil." There's no question that we what we have is astounding and that we will learn amazing things. There's no question that this technological development will yield benefits to humanity beyond winning baseball and political campaigns. (Though not everyone believes that.)

There is a lot to learn, though, and a lot of issues to address. Failing to do that is going to be the source of many problems. Many of us will cause or run into those, ignorantly or inadvertently, but some of us can avoid them. And avoidance can start with what UX researchers and designers are good at: asking questions.

Many are already being raised about what, how, and why we're beginning to use large data sets. 'We The Data' wonders how data that is generated by a private individual gets handled. Stephen Sinofsky asks how do we view and validate business decisions based on massive data? The answers to those questions will profoundly influence our collective and individual well-being on personal and professional levels.

Other, less obvious, questions are the reasons that I'm no fan of the phrase "data-driven" that's being used in front of "design" and "decision-making." Those emerging business and engineering philosophies grant data a primacy and authority that is inappropriate. We have to face it. Data is stupid. Because it can be wrong, and even more because it is value-free.

To go back to the soil metaphor, the same rich dirt grows plants that sustain and plants that kill. The dirt doesn't care. Our data is the same. We will be able to see and justify the good and the bad from data. It will lead us to what is false as easily as it does to truth. The numbers will be there uncaring and aloof. We have to treat them accordingly and use judgement, context, and empathy to apply the right values.

What that means is that the data, the sources of it, and the questions we are trying to answer must be clearly thought through and assessed before we look for the answers. In the Sinofsky article above, he includes a section of questions that are a good start toward the evaluations needed. Steve Lohr of the NY Times notes that we need intuition and other judgment skills. Others argue for imagination.

To get at the right uses of aggregated data, I believe we need to list and answer questions like these when data becomes part of the UX decision-making process:

- Who are the people represented in this data and in what ways are they involved and affected?
- Are they aware of the data and what is being done with it?
- What say should they have and is it being given to them?
- What circumstances were the people in when the data was produced?
- What was true then that is not now and vice versa?
- What do we think matters that might not? What seems to not matter but might?
- Why are we asking the questions we are trying to answer?
- What other questions are behind those? Are there different perspectives about the data?
- Why are certain data sets being chosen to examine and are they the right ones?
- How do we know we have all the right data? Are our queries comprehensive enough in terms of sources and time? (example 1 example 2)
- What are our plans for the data possibly becoming wrong or irrelevant in a short time frame?
- What do we do when the data points in a direction that seems wrong or disagreeable?

The right available data should absolutely be part of a UX decision-making framework. But not the decision-maker. Good decision-making includes answering questions, considering assumptions and possible outcomes, making sure we have the right information involved, etc. And most of all it centers around caring about the people involved.

It is all too easy to let the data bear the responsibility of our decisions. (Great Recession, anyone?) It is easy to optimize for data we prefer to see, for what we measure. In other words, when we focus on certain data, especially when we label them "results", we tend to start to steer our thinking, processes and practices toward producing those results. If that focus was improper or off-target, we can create a flawed but self-reinforced system that will be difficult and expensive to change or dismantle, and could be extremely harmful if left unexamined or unchallenged. This very human and universal tendency must be consciously and conscientiously acted against to ensure we do good for design and beyond with our growing abilities to gather, analyze, and synthesize data into ever more useful knowledge.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview on The Digital Life Show

I'm really excited to be featured in an interview by a couple of the fine folks at Involution Studios in Columbus. You can find it here: Making things people want, Not making people want things with Phillip Hunter.

Erik Dahl, a friend from Twitter and IxDA, and his colleague Jon Follett reached out to me a few weeks ago shortly after I posted Marking the Shift: Making Things People Want, Not Making People Want Things at the end of March. They wanted to explore the topics deeper on their podcast. We talked for a little over an hour about the post and related subjects such as the role of designers in society and emotion-driven desire. It was a great conversation and really enjoyable to be part of. Many thanks to Erik and Jon.

Dirk Knemeyer, who was not part of the interview conversations, added a wonderfully provocative opening that challenges the notion that the shift is really happening or even can happen. He makes some strong points that boil down to basic human imperfections: greed, avarice, immediate gratification, etc. For sure, a relatively few higher-minded designers aren't likely to make large shifts within the historical and economic gargantuan that we call the world economy that has been built up by traditional commercial practices. I don't agree that there are zero-sums involved or that the effort isn't worthwhile and noticeable, but the complexity and size of the systems involved can make it seem so. I'm glad he brought up this view. It's not really opposite mine so much as helpful in seeing a more accurate big picture.

It was a real treat to be involved in this. Give it a listen!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Music That Leaves Marks - 1304

So many songs have captured me over the years. Songs that rock me, make me laugh, bring me to tears, and just keep me company. I love all kinds of music and all kinds of artists and all kinds of songs.

Some, though, are more than what catches my ear or mood. These are songs that grab me and rip through whatever facade I have up currently. They bring me face to face with unexpected truth or emotion. They overwhelm me with feelings that I might not have even wanted to or know I could feel.

It seems interesting to document them. Here and here are the first two in this series.

For April is a track from Johnny Cash's American III: Solitary Man, I See a Darkness, a song written by Will Oldham (as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy) who also provides backing vocals on for Cash's version:

This song found me in the middle of a very difficult time, which included trying to sort out two wanted but challenging friendships. The lyrics and feel, a powerful and almost contradictory mixture of hope and despair, love and loss, captured perfectly what I was going through.

My two friends, both of whom sadly aren't really part of my life now, could barely have been less similar. And I needed both of them in ways neither understood very well. They each knew me  differently and saw me in skewed perspectives that were true but terribly incomplete. I selfishly wished they could be melded into a single person who would be more fully my friend. And so this song, which speaks of knowing, but maybe not well; love; but not forever; peace, but not yet, was all of the sudden there as an aural description, or even decree, of what was happening. As if my life contained the fire and iron, and this song gave shape to the brand. And I was marked.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Rational Unpredictability

Rational unpredictability. This odd phrase occurred to me while I was reading Bruce Nussbaum's Creative Intelligence, an exploration of why productive creativity seems to elude so many people who pursue it.

In the book, Nussbaum lambasts supposed creativity techniques such as free-for-all brainstorming for generating new ideas. The kind where everyone's invited, any idea goes, and nothing gets judged. I agree that there's a lot of crap generated in sessions like that. The book offers up some interesting recommended alternatives, among them incorporating play within more tightly constrained and bound groups. This is not a new idea, of course, though it's not commonly followed. However, though it probably deserves more attention, the thought of "rational unpredictability" came from wondering why play works, not why people do or don't use it.

Possible answers are that it loosens our brains up and gets us thinking in ways and about things we don't very often, allowing new connections to form paths for new ideas. But the "why" might be even deeper than that. One of the primary components of play, oddly enough, is rules, which seems counter-intuitive. Interestingly, whether a group of kids or two sports teams are playing, rules make it possible. They create an agreed-on space in which one or more people can engage, explore, compete, and accomplish. But thinking about it from the perspective of rules is opposite the way most of us think about play. So another question might be, 'why is rule-based play fun?'

I'm getting way out of my depth here, but I think it's because the rules give us a way to enter a context that is different than the norm without us seeming abnormal. We get to be or act other than how we usually do or are allowed to. And yet the rules satisfy our minds' desire for things to make sense, for patterns to extend, and for the edges to match. However, back toward my point, this allows us to also weave in-between the rules. A little outside and a little in. Never violating the rules but seeing where we can go. What non-rules can be busted? What can we get away with without breaking the game?

Doing things differently means breaking the false-rule patterns around the pattern of the real rules, and behaving that way can appear unpredictable. The non-rule patterns are emergent and almost always assumed, yet we treat them as if they were real rules and most of us follow them accordingly. But they aren't real rules, so they are breakable, but only in ways that don't violate the actual rule patterns. So we have to stay rational. Stay within the sense and context we have agreed to. Be rational and be unpredictable.

Back to creativity, and even innovation. What we can learn is to pick the places to go outside the rule patterns and off the track. Look for the non-rule patterns being followed and take a sharp left when everyone expects a veer right. Be rationally unpredictable. Find the direction that doesn't make sense on the surface, without sacrificing the things that create the surface, and go that way.

This could be a great way to frame conversations about making big changes in products and businesses. So often new ideas are resisted with phrases such as "no one does it this way / we don't do things that way / that seems too out of character." Almost always, those reactions are based not in the rules of the space, but in the non-rule patterns that get treated like rules. These patterns can be a goldmine, though, especially if competitors are behaving the same way. Finding those patterns, those non-rules could be your next success, so go be rationally unpredictable.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Marking the Shift: Making Things People Want, Not Making People Want Things

I'm one of those slightly twisted persons who think about the things behind other things, like thinking about how people think about change. That's handy for design territory, of course, but more than utility, there's something about it that leads my mind off into the fields, wandering blissfully. Fortunately, there's always plenty of raw material and I get to indulge in this often. One thing that fascinates me is how people try to frame or explain what they see as new or different, ascribing characteristics that fit their take on or help their resistance to it. But what I really enjoy is the grappling with the change and the meaning and impact of and reasons for the change in an honest, open way, acknowledging discomfort, unwieldiness, and the unknown. Most of us are not confident about that sort of struggle, so we avoid it, despite the richness of life it contains and the resilience it teaches us.

Three recent articles, and a talk and meet-up with one of the authors, spoke to me about change in the air that I've also been noticing. Two of them are connected, but have different focal points that make one stronger than the other relative to the change they discuss. The other is a wonderful example of the struggle that should be part of big changes. I'll highlight these and offer a few of my thoughts about them.

The context is the shift from how we design to make products and services more attractive to people to designing products and services that people want and need. Though we've talked about people-centered design for years, the practice of the former is still company-centered in reality.

John Maeda highlights this in a piece that I missed somehow when it came out last fall. He wrote to ask If Design's No Longer the Killer Differentiator, What Is?, stating along the way that "what people are looking for now is a way to reconnect with their values: to ground how they can, will, and should live in the world."

This is an important statement about a vital idea and one we designers would do well to keep forefront at all times. But I find John's framing a bit off, because I think people always are, and always have been trying to connect to what they value. So, his assertion is perfectly valid, except the word "now" is a bit of a red herring. Thinking about the right thing, but with a bent toward feeling like it's new when it isn't.

What really seems to be happening is that we are becoming more acutely aware of the subtle business-centrism we've maintained even as we designed under the proclamation that "People are what matters!" There's a tremendous difference between making people want products and making products that people want. It's not that what people truly want has changed, it's that we're finally realizing we're not helping them get it.

Of course it's true that many people got caught up in what they were being offered and lured into, but mainly by empty promises falsely representing greater or deeper meaning. We are starting to understand that we can help them see their way beyond that because the human passion for true meaning and beauty are ancient and ageless. So when John writes, "Art speaks to us as humans, not as “human capital.” Art shows us that human beings still matter in a world where money talks the loudest, where computers know everything about us, and where robots fabricate our next meal and also our ride there," he is tapping into something that goes much further back than the Occupy movement and the appearance of MakerFaire.

I do think he very correctly pulls us into the effort to focus more clearly on things of value, even charging it with a sense of responsibility. It is important for all of us to ask "how do we have more of these successes? ... Just how do we make – not just find – the next generation of artists who will propel us and reveal the way forward?"

Jim Jacoby might answer that they are not for us to find, but for us to realize that we are them. We can become those artists, both of product and people, as we make and teach.

In Dissing Disintermediation, Jim argues that "we need to rebalance ourselves in the context of layered systems. and the american (sic) differentiation in global markets can be the celebration of craftsmen once again...they should be meaningfully designing at multiple layers in a complex system. and we should be actively involved in the dialectic with them." A conversation has begun that does something else I'm very fond of, that shows how together the single and the multiple, the simple and complex are bound in a real way to move and shape the world around us. The systems that exist and are constantly in motion can be realized, engaged, and consciously and conscientiously reshaped. Part of the change is in the widespread realization that what is really going on around us is bigger, more connected, and more subject to our influence than we have been aware of.

Understanding and practicing good design gave us an entry into both the realization and the opportunity to act on it. The past 20 - 30 years of tremendous growth in the craft and its role in business is an important change, one that has taken a great deal of fight and perseverance. But point of the current shift is that we are only part way down the path of learning how to design and how to use it truly well.

Bruce Nussbaum reinforces that in his article, So You’ve Discovered the Importance of Good Design. Don’t Make These Mistakes, the goal of which appears to be to shake up the comfort levels, laurel-resting, status quo-maintaining we might be doing now that design is seen as a factor in recent successes. He accuses the design practice, and businesses embracing it, of tying themselves to a past we need to move beyond. The push is to acknowledge that enabling and engaging with meaning and value is not just about incorporating about designers and design practices into business. I agree, but this is something that mature designers working at deeper and broader levels have known. Case in point, he hammers on the practice of user experience design as coming from "a design culture...where passive consumers “experience” something provided by someone else." The front line of designers know that experience is emergent and collaborative and we designers simply try to optimize the chance of conditions in which good things happen.

Bruce underscores our need to go deeper on growing "creative intelligence," similar to emotional and intellectual intelligences, "to move away from the outdated relics of design and towards creative competence." Personally, the three are one to me. The idea of divided or compartmentalized intelligences, a la right / left brain, no longer seems helpful, and is possibly stigmatizing and constraining.

I recently had the privilege of listening to Bruce speak and chatting with him afterward. It was a great treat and the depth and color he gave to the topic was enlightening, powerful, and motivating. He's a very gracious conversationalist, too. I am in agreement with his mission of growing creative abilities, especially in high-functioning groups, I simply think it is the next part of a journey, not a replacement for something that was necessarily faulty or mistaken.

It's an amazing and wonderful path we're on. I get the sense that the social, economic, and technological changes underway are leading to another societal shift and am very hopeful that we can do well with it. We designers and makers have big charges, responsibilities to make good and make well.

With that, I'll close with another quote from Jim: "so, get back to work, but think about what you're building… what you’re doing… that you’re not a hacker, or info-worker, writer, designer, or programmer but a ‘maker.’ you're a craftsman in your own right. the dialectic you can create between yourself and the world around you is the craft you are charged with every day. you exist in the context of a layer in this system ... now it’s simply a matter of becoming conscious to it.

we’re waking up to the creation of the world around us."


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Initial Musings on Data, Evidence, Knowing, and Understanding

Back in January, my wife and I were driving back from an evening event. Heading down the highway to home, she let out a gasp, "Look at all the apples!" Thousands of apples were strewn along the shoulder over about a quarter of a mile. Amazingly, the roadway was free of them and their potentially slick mess. As we passed them by I couldn't help but wonder how they'd gotten there and who was going to clean them up. We remarked on the oddity for a few minutes, but soon arrived home and got distracted by other things.

This story returned to my mind recently as I was thinking about the difference between evidence and data. Shortly, the ideas of knowing and understanding started poking in from the sides and I figured I had something to write down.

Big Data is all the rage right now and I agree that it's fascinating to explore the ways we can visualize and interact with unbelievable amounts of information. This trend is also shining new light on quantitative analysis and data-driven decision-making. Some of what I see and hear, near me and generally, is concerning, though, as a highly empathetic people-focused designer. Before I say why, I want to make clear that I love examining and playing with data. Having lots of strong data is the kind of aid we only dreamt of as recently as 7 years ago. Making this information visible and accessible is a huge boon to our craft. But it bears wielding thoughtfully and keep in mind some critical considerations.

First, there's a difference between data and evidence. Consider the apples. The only thing I knew after driving past them was that they were there and there were a lot of them. What didn't I know? How they got there. Were people involved? Who? Was it an accident or on purpose? Did the apples come from a truck? Did the driver know what happened? ...You get the idea. I couldn't have decided anything from the data except that apples were on the road and I needed to be careful. The data gave me no evidence of source or cause. Some other sensory element would be needed, like fruit cargo boxes or a truck with a blowout. I should point out here, though, that sometimes data tells us something useful that we weren't looking for. Evidence tells us that probably something specific happened, but then we find data that helps us see how. However, sometimes the data simply seems to be interesting, but, as in an example from the video above using "I just landed in..." tweets to understand people movements, we can link the merely novel to the useful, such as looking for ways that diseases spread through transience. But most of the time something more is needed, something to point in a direction of being able to tell what happened, which leads me to...

...the second point, that evidence is a precursor to the more important stages of knowing and understanding. When the degree of certainty rises due to stronger links between data and evidence, we can begin to know what happened or is happening. Once we begin to know that evidence, traces of people and events, means something, that in turn begins to point to characteristics surrounding the something such as intent and method. Then we can get glimpses of why and start to truly understand what led to the production of the data, which in turn can inform effective decision-making toward useful solutions. Data itself cannot really ever tell us why something happened. It needs additional contextual information accompanying it, sometimes a great amount of it. Proceeding without the contextual information can be very risky, even dangerous.

That's because these elements: data, evidence, knowing, and understanding, all work together, like a formula. Though we almost always have varying amounts of each and rarely know when we have sufficient, let alone all, that we need to have in order to confidently move in a certain direction, we have to strive to have as much of each as possible. Perhaps the elements work best in ratio to each other. Lesser amounts of one or more should maybe make us less certain. It's like exploring when a sense or two is malfunctioning or missing. We will be missing input that could be crucial to the best outcome.

Also, within that formula, in a mixture of knowing and understanding, there's the quasi-independent substance of empathy. It doesn't need much, or any, data to be activated. Which is interesting, because often when big data is touted as a salvation tool, empathy is often left out of the discussion. It might be that data vs. empathy is the new design vs. code. Like the old fight though, the new one is a false argument. Both are needed: empathy can tell us when our data might be skewed, myopic, or incomplete. Data can provide empathy with certainty. Empathy is almost always an invaluable asset and can often be a failsafe against disastrous action.

So, where am I going with all this? Basically to this point: Big Data is a great tool. Like we always seem to do with great tools, though, we are tempted to weight it with too much potential too early. What we really ought to do is learn how to use it well before we declare what it's really capable of. Let's learn what it will and won't do through wise and iterative experiments, ones in which we acknowledge the context, evidence, knowing, and understanding that are or aren't there. Ones that include empathy for the people represented by the data. Most of all, don't throw away other tools in the toolkit just to make room for this one. Not everything is a nail for the Big Data hammer to pound on.

I'll have more to say on this later.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Built-in Risk: Are Useful, Usable, and Desirable Maybes or Mandates?

The often quoted 'Useful, Usable, Desirable' mantra is not new but is still a powerful truth to design products by. There are many facets that make a good customer experience good, but aiming for these three will almost always get you close. All too frequently, I'm confronted by products that didn't do it right.

After running into the latest one today, I thought about what an increasing risk it is for companies to not try to incorporate all three into what they are selling. While a few companies these days let things out the door only hitting one of the marks, many more try harder but still seem like Meatloaf must have been part of their decision-making process. Enabling two out of the three may seem like a worthwhile effort, but it's becoming more and more risky, and it's pretty easy to see why. This simple set of combinations shows what I mean:

Useful +Usable +Desirable = The People you're after will probably want it, use it, and love it.

-Useful +Usable +Desirable = People might try it and will probably find it easy to use, but (risk) they get distracted or bored, forget about it quickly, and move on to something else. Lots of shallow games and social apps fall into this area.

Useful -Usable +Desirable = People are drawn to the intent because they see it filling a need, even to the point that they are willing to be somewhat frustrated when using it. But (risk) as soon as a competitor helps them do this more easily, they'll be gone.

Useful +Usable -Desirable = People get a need met in an easy to use fashion, but engagement is low and no real emotional connection is made. (risk) When a competitor makes this enjoyable, people will switch easily.

So where does the experience your products provide land? Are you busy selling, or busy explaining why people should look beyond shortcomings? Do people want, use, and love what you make? Take a hard look now, because this might be your only chance to do something before someone else does.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Melancholia and Music That Leaves Marks (1303)

I am a melancholic. I came to grips with it years ago, and my wife sort of mostly has, as well. I'm not sure my children, though they're teens, fully realize it, but I suppose they will sooner or later. Fortunately I have plenty of parts of life that balance this out, too, so getting too far down in the hole hasn't been a problem in a long time.

Recently on NPR I heard an interview with Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. Crowell talked about "engag(ing) melancholy as if it were a kind of revelry." I can very much relate to that. Melancholy for me is often a rich and textured feeling that brings on a sense of life that few other emotions match.

My taste in art, especially music, certainly reflects this trait. Moody, cinematic songs that explore the unintended fate-changing twists and turns of life, so often accompanied by regret, sadness, mystery, and pain, are the ones that draw me in, the ones that leave marks on me and my heart.

A while back I shared a particularly meaningful cut, and tonight I wanted to post another. This one was written by someone not old enough to have built up what he sings of, yet somehow he manages to capture the essence of how 40, 60, or 80 years of life can haunt us.

"I could use another twenty years to fix the last fifteen, but it never seems to work to my advantage."

Here's to a richness in life, even if it's weary and worn.