Wednesday Oct 28, 2015

User Experience Research Methods - When to Use Which Ones?

A funny thing happened yesterday. I was going through recent posts from the Interaction Design Foundation in their Facebook feed, and what did I find? A chart that I'd created several years ago, on user research methods, which was the hook into one of their articles. A chart, ironically, that they'd found because I'd posted it here :) 

While I was naturally flattered, I was also a little horrified. It was like seeing and awkward teenage photo of yourself, because my thinking and the chart have evolved since then. I still use the chart to talk to stakeholders about all the tools we have in the user research toolbox, and when they are effective, but I've moved some things around, removed the waterfall stages (to more accurately reflect our Agile dev environments), and I've added a couple of things. If you want the updated chart, be sure to grab it quickly --  my last day at Oracle is this Friday (October 30, 2015), so I expect the blog to be decommissioned shortly after my departure.  Click on the image below, to get the full-size JPG.

One of the key changes that you'll see is the continuum at the top of the chart -- to reflect the goal of the user research, rather than the waterfall development stage. 

Monday Jul 15, 2013

User research on the cheap -- or even free :)

About a year ago, several UX colleagues were dismayed by an article stating that no-one really conducts user research as part of their design process. Really ... to quote, "Our user stories are sometimes created based on personas, which are hardly ever backed up with data. Field studies and task analysis are hardly used by any of the designers we interviewed."

While most of the members of UXPA are gainfully employed conducting user research to inform UX design, I get it. Pressed for time and pressed for budget, people cut corners. But you don't have toA friend and I researched several cheap tools and methods that can be used at any stage of the design lifecycle, and presented them to a crowd last December at the Boston UXPA monthly meeting. Need research for Agile teams? Got it covered. On mobile devices? We tell you how. No incentives? No problem.

Designers are known for being creative, so putting more constraints on the UCD process requires that we flex our creative muscles, that's all. Research ON!

Thursday Jun 27, 2013

Best practices for Persona development

Over the years, I have created a lot of Personas, I've co-authored a new method for creating them, and I've given talks about best practices for creating your own, so when I saw a call for participation in the OpenPersonas project, I was intrigued.

While Jeremy and Steve were calling for persona content, that wasn't something I could contribute -- most of the personas I've created have been proprietary and specific to particular domains of my employers. However, I felt like there were a few things I could contribute: a process, a list of interview questions, and what information good personas should contain.

The first item, my process for creating data-driven personas, I've posted as a list of best practices. My next post will be the list of 15 interview questions I use to guide the conversations with people whose data will become the personas. The last thing I'll share is a list of items that need to be part of any good persona artifact -- and if I have time, I'll mock them up in a template or two. 

Tuesday Jun 25, 2013

How do you report out user research results?

A couple weeks ago, one of my mentees asked to meet, because she wanted my advice on how to report out user research results. She had just conducted her first usability test for her new employer, and was getting to the point where she wanted to put together some slides, but she didn't want them to be boring. She wanted to talk with me about what to present and how best to present results to stakeholders. While I couldn't meet for another week, thanks to SlideShare, I could quickly point her in the direction that my in-person advice would have led her.

First, I'd put together a panel for the February 2012 New Hampshire UPA monthly meeting that we then repeated for the 2012 Boston UPA annual conference. In this panel, I described my reporting techniques, as did six of my colleagues -- two of whom work for companies smaller than mine, and four of whom are independent consultants. Before taking questions, we each presented for 3 to 5 minutes on how we presented research results. The differences were really interesting. For example, when do you really NEED a long, written report (as opposed to an email, spreadsheet, or slide deck with callouts)? When you are reporting your test results to the FDA -- that makes sense. In this presentation, I describe two modes of reporting results that I use. 

Second, I'd been a participant in the CUE-9 study. CUE stands for Comparative Usability Evaluation, and this was the 9th of these studies that Rolf Molich had designed. Originally, the studies were designed to show the variability in evaluation methods practitioners use to evaluate websites and applications. Of course, using methods and tasks of their own choosing, the results were wildly different. However, in this 9th study, the tasks were the same, the participants were the same, and the problem severity scale was the same, so how would the results of the 19 practitioners compare? Still wildly variable. But for the purposes of this discussion, it gave me a work product that was not proprietary to the company I work for -- a usability test report that I could share publicly. This was the way I'd been reporting results since 2005, and pretty much what I still do, when time allows. 

That said, I have been continuing to evolve my methods and reporting techniques, and sometimes, there is no time to create that kind of report -- the team can't wait the days that it takes to take screen shots, go through my notes, refer back to recordings, and write it all up. So in those cases, I use bullet points in email, talk through the findings with stakeholders in a 1-hour meeting, and then post the take-aways on a wiki page. There are other requirements for that kind of reporting to work -- for example, the stakeholders need to attend each of the sessions, and the sessions can't take more than a day to complete, but you get the idea: there is no one "right" way to report out results. If the method of reporting you are using is giving your stakeholders the information they need, in a time frame in which it is useful, and in a format that meets their needs (FDA report or bullet points on a wiki), then that's the "right" way to report your results. 

Monday Jun 24, 2013

What books would I recommend?

One of my mentees (I have three right now) said he had some time on his hands this Summer and was looking for good UX books to read ... I sigh heavily, because there is no shortage of good UX books to read. My bookshelves have titles by well-read authors like Nielsen, Norman, Tufte, Dumas, Krug, Gladwell, Pink, Csikszentmihalyi, and Roam. I have titles buy lesser-known authors, many whom I call friends, and many others whom I'll likely never meet. I have books on Excel pivot tables, typography, mental models, culture, accessibility, surveys, checklists, prototyping, Agile, Java, sketching, project management, HTML, negotiation, statistics, user research methods, six sigma, usability guidelines, dashboards, the effects of aging on cognition, UI design, and learning styles, among others ... many others.

So I feel the need to qualify any book recommendations with "it depends ...", because it depends on who I'm talking to, and what they are looking for.  It's probably best that I also mention that the views expressed in this blog are mine, and may not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle. There. I'm glad I got that off my chest.

For that mentee, who will be graduating with his MS HFID + MBA from Bentley in the Fall, I'll recommend this book: Universal Principles of Design -- this is a great book, which in its first edition held "100  ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design." Granted, the second edition expanded that number to 125, but when I first found this book, I felt like I'd discovered the Grail. Its research-based principles are all laid out in 2 pages each, with lots of pictures and good references. A must-have for the new grad.

Do I have recommendations for a book that will teach you how to conduct a usability test? Yes, three of them. To communicate what we do to management? Yes. To create personas? Yep -- two or three. Help you with UX in an Agile environment? You bet, I've got two I'd recommend. Create an excellent presentation? Uh hunh. Get buy-in from your team? Of course. There are a plethora of excellent UX books out there. But which ones I recommend ... well ... it depends. 

Sunday Jun 23, 2013

When to use each user research method

There are a lot of user research methods out there, but sometimes we get stuck in a rut, conducting all formative usability testing before coding, or running surveys to gather satisfaction data. I'll be the first to admit that it happens to me, but to get out of a rut, it just takes a minute to look at where I am in the design & development cycle, what kind(s) of data I need, and what methods are available to me. We need reminders, or refreshers, every once in a while.

One tool I've found useful is a graphic organizer that I created many years ago. It's been through several revisions, as I've adapted it to the product cycles of the places I've worked, changed my mind about how to categorize it, and added methods that I've used or created over time.

I shared a version of this table at the 2012 International UPA conference, and I was contacted by someone yesterday who wanted to use it in a university course on user-centered design. I was flattered at the the thought, but embarrassed, because I was sure it needed updating -- that was a year ago, after all. But I opened it today, and really, there's not much I'd change -- sure, I could add some nuance regarding what types of formative testing, such as modality (remote, unmoderated remote, or in-person) or flavor of testing (RITE, RITE-Krug, comparative, performance), but I think it's pretty much ok as is. Click on the image below, to get the full-size PDF.

And whether it's entirely "right" or "wrong" isn't the whole value of looking at these methods across the product lifecycle. The real value lies in the reminder that I have options. And what those options are change as the field changes, so while I don't expect this graphic to have an eternal shelf life, it's still ok a year after I last updated it.

That said, if you find something missing or out of place, let me know :) 

Wednesday Jun 13, 2012

Getting stakeholder feedback on the impact of your research

I know that I haven't been blogging a lot lately, but I've been busy. In the last 14 months, I have conducted ~20 research activities including baseline tests, numerous formative tests and concept validation studies, RITE tests, and several large-scale surveys. I've had 5 major client teams, spanning the middleware spectrum, across Java, SOA, Cloud, and Oracle Social Network. This year has been the busiest research year of my UX career, but I've been able to work on some of the coolest products that Oracle builds. What a great time ...

But I'm  a worrier. And a pleaser. I don't want to just be fast -- I want to do a really good job. I want my client teams to value the work I do, and to ask me back for more. So far, so good. But my manager has another definition of success, which she refers to as "impact". It's not enough that I conducted the research studies or they've asked me back -- they need to have taken action on the results. Now this doesn't mean it's my job to file bugs or ensure they get fixed -- thank God for that. No, it means that research resources are scarce, and one way to allocate those resources (me, and the other folks who do the same work I do) is to give them to the teams who are acting on the results. Yes, there are business priorities, but we have enough demand that we can't support clients who don't want what we're offering.

Now the real impact of a study is usually not immediate -- the designers, developers, and product management have to determine what they can actually do with my results and recommendations. And because I'm busy, I don't have time to follow up right away, because I'm running that next study. But twice this year, I've sent brief emails to my stakeholders asking for their feedback on the impact that my research has had on the product design and development. I need to update the wiki page to include impact. Tell me what's happened since the study, and what value you got out of it. 5 teams, 5 emails. Low effort.

But the responses have been overwhelming, which is why I'm sharing this with you -- I want you to have this experience too. I feel like Sally Fields at the podium, crying through tears "You like me -- you really like me". How often in life does that happen? Never. And how scary is it to invite that kind of feedback? Very scary. But the rewards are so worth it. And now I don't have to write those paragraphs in my next performance review ... I can just quote my stakeholders. Ah, the goodness keeps on coming.

So do it! Ask for feedback on the impact and value of the research you've conducted -- it'll be a learning experience, a love-fest, or something in between, but I promise it's worth it.

Tuesday Feb 28, 2012

The Bell Curve -- is user experience evaluation a craft or a science?

I recall a presentation that Jared Spool gave to Boston CHI back in 2004, I think ... one of the questions he was asking was whether what we did as user experience professionals was a craft or a science. He postulated that it was a craft, because our results were not repeatable or reproducible across practitioners, as would be the case if UX were a "science". Following that line of discussion, he said that some people are just better at a craft than others, and a few elevate the craft to art. It wasn't an academic discussion, but really a marketing angle. The profession was adopting job titles like "usability engineer" and "user experience engineer", which sound very scienc-y. But I believe that Jared was trying to show that he and his team were better at what they did than the masses, making them a more desirable choice, if compared to others who might be able to perform the same evaluations, but may produce lower quality results.

Shortly after that, I recall reading an article in the New Yorker magazine, called The Bell Curve, by Atul Gawande. In the article, this author and surgeon demonstrated that doctors -- practitioners of "science" -- are variable in their ability to keep patients alive. He discusses that some are exceptionally good, and are in the tiny minority in one tail of the bell curve, some are exceptionally poor at what they do, ending up in the other tail, but most reside under the large "bell" of the normal distribution. Unfortunately, how long you will live as a patient who has cystic fibrosis, is determined primarily where your doctor falls on that curve. All science being the same, some doctors are just better at what they do than others.

So in 2005, when we were required by Joe Dumas to write a paper in grad school on the CUE studies (there had only been 4 CUE studies at that time), I recall that the notion of trying to find consistency among different practitioners using different methods as a little bit ridiculous. Why would you expect different practitioners using different methods, different tasks, and different participants to agree on anything? So I approached the paper looking at elements of variability, over the course of the studies, I saw some variables being controlled for over time, but postulated that even if/when there was a CUE study where all the tasks, participants, and methods were the same, I'd expect to see differences in the findings, as a result of the "evaluator effect". That's the term in the HCI field for what the field of Psychology refers to as "inter-rater agreement" -- essentially, the notion is that it's hard to get different people to draw the same conclusions or make the same diagnosis, even when presented with the same exact information or symptoms.

Fortunately for me, CUE-9 was focused on the evaluator effect. I was lucky to be one of the ~20 practitioners who participated before UPAi 2012. The tasks were the same, we all watched the same recordings of the same participants, and we were allowed to take as much time as we liked to evaluate the sessions and record our findings. In fact, there was one variable in the study, in that half of us observed moderated sessions and half observed un-moderated sessions, but they were the same tasks. It shouldn't surprise you that even with the groups split among which videos they watched, there were differences in the time we took to complete the evaluation, how we reported our findings, and even the frequency and quality of the findings we reported. And least surprising of all -- whether it's a craft or science matters not -- some of us were better than others of us at what we did.

Wednesday Jan 11, 2012

Presenting user research findings

I'm excited to be presenting at tonight's New Hampshire UPA meeting with four of my friends and colleagues. We'll be talking about how we each of us deliver the results of our user research. I'll admit -- I'm a little nervous. I'm sure that my colleagues will have cooler ways to communicate with their clients, slicker templates, with more, less, or better information than I provide. But therein lies the opportunity, right? We can learn from each other. One of my fellow panelists, Carolyn Snyder, had a healthy perspective on it -- she said her goal was to find three things that she could "steal" from us and then use in her own practice :) So that's what I'll focus on ... not being the best, but learning from the good company I keep ...

Wednesday Jan 04, 2012

Something weird is happening with my research

I'm noticing that my research is not going the way that it had been ... I'm not complaining, just noticing. I'm trying to think back to when it started ... with which project and which stakeholder team, but why split hairs? This has been happening pretty much for the last 10 - 11 months. My stakeholders have been delighted with my results. I bet you think I'm crazy for worrying about this, but I want to delight my stakeholders, so it's critical to me to figure out what (if anything) I am doing differently ... so I can keep doing it!

This used to happen to me all the time -- I'd finish a talk or a presentation and someone would refer back to it, and call me a rock star. Believe me, I felt like one for a little while. But there was a down period, and it wasn't short -- it was a couple of years -- where I worked for managers who were not delighted with the results, but uncomfortable with them. Now this may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me, I'm doing the "same thing" over and over, and it's yielding different results. Einstein would call that insanity. My presentations went well in 2008 ... then not so well in 2009 and 2010 ... and now I'm effective and my clients are gleeful again ... what the heck?

I could just say, "those bad clients in 2009 and 2010 ... they were just jerks". And in some cases that might be true ;) But that's a cop-out, isn't it? That doesn't really help. So let's examine what's going on now that wasn't going on then. What's the same and what's different? Then and now, I conducted a variety of research methods, but mostly formative testing, with qualitative methods and data. Not much difference there. Then and now, I conducted both remote studies and local studies. Again, no difference. Then and now, I have used an evolving PowerPoint template for my presentations ... not much different. Then and now, I've worked with a mix of Product Managers, Designers, and Design Managers as my clients, so that's not it. Then and now, I've presented the findings both in person and remotely, so that's not it either. But there is one thing that I can think of, and it's kind of shocking to me. The difference is something that the stakeholders have or haven't done, not me.

The only difference that I can attribute to the perception of my success or failure is whether key stakeholders attended the sessions (or viewed the recordings in the same week). That's it. That is the only material difference ... now that is weird. I was just told a few weeks back by a dev manager who attended one of my talks that it was the best presentation she'd ever seen ... now she wasn't even one of the stakeholders who saw the sessions, but the PM and Architect who had attended every session were there in the remote presentation. One of the things I like to do is answer questions and think on my feet, but there are times when presenting findings that I will, instead, defer to someone else who attended the session to answer the question. And so maybe therein lies the answer... it's no longer my research ... it's our research, and whether the people who are lauding it were the ones in the sessions with me or the people who respect them, it's been a team effort and my credibility has increased exponentially as a result.

So if that is the case, I owe a huge thank you to my stakeholders! Thank you PMs and Designers and Architects for attending and observing my research. Truly, I could not be successful without you!

Friday Sep 16, 2011

Social "payment"? Awk-ward!

Let's be honest -- the words "social" and "payment" should never be used together, but now there is a new "pay with a tweet" app that does just that. Imagine that you are offered something for free -- just "pay with a tweet". What does that mean? Isn't that like the eBay seller or Amazon asking for a review before you receive the merchandise? Yes ... yes, it is.

No, I will not pay you with a tweet -- I won't pay you with a FaceBook status update nor pay you with a blog post that you write for me. No, you will not be paid. If your merchandise is worth the "price", I might tweet it or blog about it ... but not before I've received it.

Thursday Aug 25, 2011

Who are you designing for ... next?

On Friday of last week, we went up to Vermont, to get my step-son settled in his college dorm. He's 18, and his expectations of the world and his place in it are different from ours. He and his brother (who is 16) prefer to SMS their dad, as their primary form of communication. We gave him an iPad for his high school graduation, and I think he was happier than had we given him a car.

Patrick is part of a generation sometimes referred to as "Millennials" or "digital natives". But earlier this week, those differences were really brought home to me, as I read this article in the morning Boston Globe: College freshmen never knew a world without the Net. The article talks about their prior knowledge and experience as a generation -- for example, that LBJ will be interpreted by a college freshman as LeBron James, not Lindon B. Johnson.

We as UX practitioners know that mental models and metaphor are built on exactly that: prior knowledge and experience. So as we build products and services going forward, we need to understand that this generation's expectations are different from ours, and learn how to adapt what we are designing to their changing needs. Fortunately, Beloit University has been watching, and taking notes. They have been making a list: a mindset list. Now, I won't encourage you to read the mindset list for the class of 2015, but I will dare you ... I dare you to read it and not feel old ;)

Tuesday May 24, 2011

A funny thing happened on my way into the blog ...

It turns out that I have come full circle. My last blog post was in May of 2008, and now it's May of 2011. In between, I left Sun, worked for a small 3D CAD company, worked on Nokia's app store (Ovi Store), and then came to Oracle to work on software used to develop clinical trials. Along the way, Oracle acquired Sun, and about six weeks ago, I joined the Middleware team in Oracle ... ironically, I am once agiain working with several people whom I worked with back at Sun.

With regard to my last blog post, the publication mentoring seminar series ran for several months, and I had a lot of fun putting it on. As a result, a couple of my former classmates, Kris and Eva, sumbitted talks and articles that were published, so I consider that a success. And tomorrow, I'm exicted to be giving a talk on persona developement at the 2011 Boston UPA Conference, and to be on a panel discussing certification of UX practitioners. I'll let you know how those go ... and for the record ... it's nice to be back.

Friday May 30, 2008

This is my one small step; this is my walk on the moon

I know, I write a lot about one particular band, but I really like this lyric (the title of this post), and it got me thinking — what is my "walk on the moon"? What is the most revolutionary, amazing accomplishment of my life? Is it submitting patent applications? Getting my Masters degree at 40? Having papers published at international conferences? Having a child? Or having a great marriage after 10 years?

Those are all tremendous accomplishments, and those are the things that I'm most proud of in my life, but I just read Randy Pausch's book, The Last Lecture, and that's influencing my thinking. Randy was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon when he was asked to give a "last lecture" — a talk on what he learned in his life as though he were at the end of it; except that he really was at the end of his life, because, unbeknownst to the college at the time of it's asking, he'd been told that he only had a few months to live. He had three children who were all under the age of 6, so he used the last lecture to try to tell his children who he was, and what was unique about him.

So while I am immensely proud of the work I've done, of the child I've brought into the world, and the marriage that I've nurtured, those things don't make me unique. What Randy decided made him unique was that he had achieved his childhood goals. I suppose that is something I share with him.

No, I didn't always want to be a user experience engineer :) But I remember a letter that my kindergarten teacher wrote when I graduated from high school — she talked about how at age 4 and 5 I would help the other children with academic work. Yeah, I know, that was like the alphabet. Then in first grade, I was appointed "student teacher" to mentor my classmates through difficult math problems. In college, I tutored English, Calculus, Statistics, and English-as-a-second-language. After college, I volunteered to teach adult literacy. And the list goes on ... until this past month.

This past month, I asked my former graduate adviser if I could have permission to launch and run a new program — a mentoring workshop series to help students and alumni to get their work published in a professional journal, magazine, or presented at a conference ... and he said "yes". So we start next Thursday, with a panel of 7 speakers, and 20 participants. It's not a class. There's no grade. I won't get paid. But this is my one small step — this is my walk on the moon.

A Tale of Two Talks
or Presentations going "green"

One thing that I've learned from musicians is that they perform a song over and over again. They don't just write it, sing it once, and then move on to the next song. But we do. As user experience practitioners, we tend to give a talk or write a paper, and then never give it again. Not very efficient, is it? It's like saying that just because I sang a song in California, no-one will want to hear it in Massachusetts. That's just not true.

I have given numerous talks on persona development at Sun, which prepared me for the talk I gave at CHI in April. Since returning from Italy, I've given that talk again, twice. Once, two weeks ago, at the Boston CHI monthly chapter meeting, and then again on Wednesday, at the Boston UPA Mini Conference on Usability and User Experience. I re-packaged it just slightly for the Boston CHI, and added 30 minutes of content for the mini UPA conference, but that same 10 - 15 minutes of material has gotten a good workout, as fas as talks go. I've also received two invitations to talk about persona development at local companies, so I may get even more mileage out of those slides.

Reduce, re-use, recycle ... words to live by.

Tuesday May 27, 2008

A little more on CHI 2008

Several weeks back, I published a blog post on my talk at the ACM CHI conference, in Florence, Italy. For Andrea, who asked, and for any other interested parties, here are the slides for the talk I gave.

Let's face it, Florence is beautiful. But it's a noisy city, much like Boston. We were extremely lucky with our hotel room. There were only two balconies in the hotel (at least on the front), and we got one of them. The room had high ceilings covered in dark wood panels, and tall doors onto the balcony that must have been two hundred years old. The people were nice. Everyone was willing to speak English to us, and they were happy to help us try their cuisine. I've returned with an entirely new appreciation of pasta.

The weather was sunny on Sunday and Monday, and while it sprinkled a little bit on other days, we were never in a downpour -- actually, I think there was one hard rain, but we missed it while we were eating dinner. Tom and Rachel traveled with me, which sounded like a good idea when we booked the tickets, but they were both suffering from the flu while we were there, and wished I had left them at home. That said, we saw a lot of Florence when they were hopped up on Advil and Benadryl.

We took a lot of pictures. I think we printed 164 in all, but there were many that didn't make it to the photo printer.

Monday May 26, 2008

My $1000+ concert tickets

I've penned a number of blog posts expressing my appreciation for the music of Great Big Sea. So, when they announced that they'd be playing in Massachusetts this Summer, I bought tickets right away. Last year, they played in Lowell, which is only 15 minutes away. This year, they were playing in Edgartown, a town I didn't recognize.

I know, I should have Google-d, MapQuest-ed, or researched in some other way where Edgartown was, but I figured it'd just be a drive away in any case. The show was 21+, so my 8-year-old wouldn't be able to join us this time; we'd leave her with my Mom, who'd be visiting.

So imagine my surprise when I found that Edgerton is a town on Martha's Vineyard, which requires a ferry ride to get to. The round-trip ferry is about $200, and you need reservations. But for that price, we may as well see MV, since I've never been there, so we'll stay for 2 nights, and since we'll be gone that long, we may as well take my mom and Rachel with us. Of course August is high season at MV, so the hotel room is going to run us more than $400 a night, including taxes. The term "slippery slope" comes to mind.

$75 for concert tickets, $800 for the hotel, $200 for the ferry. And three days of eating out for four people. Oh well. I've never seen Martha's Vineyard, and it'll still be a lot cheaper than our trip to Florence.

Friday Apr 18, 2008

How to innovate, not just make incremental improvements

Back in December, I asked a question on the design@sun blog, and then posted a summary of the responses. In that summary, I said that I'd write a presentation with more details, which I did. In February, I presented the detailed findings as a "half-baked" talk to SunLabs East. At the end of the talk, an intern or a new employee (someone young, who I didn't recognize) asked me this question: "How can user research help you to innovate, rather than just make incremental improvements?"

I was taken aback. ... What a great question. Nicole jumped in and gave a really good answer about how user research allows us to get at the root problems that the users are trying to solve, and that we're not asking them to tell us what's wrong with the software, per se, but figuring out their goals and how to better meet them. Of course! Why didn't I say that?

But there was a bigger question, which is why I'm pretty sure that I didn't come back with the answer that Nicole did immediately ... and that bigger question is, "When faced with challenges, how do we leap-frog over just solving the symptoms of a problem and do something really innovative? something fundamentally different?"

I have an answer to that question, but before I tell you what it is, I have to put in a plug for the very-much undervalued "incremental improvement". If we continually made incremental improvements to the user's experience, we'd be far better off than we are now. Quite often, the designer says something like, "This [site | application | device | experience] needs a complete re-design", at which point engineering management rolls its eyes at what they think a complete re-design is going to cost. As a result, nothing gets done, and the user experience stays just as bad as it is. So, for goodness sake, make the incremental improvements! They are cheap, fast, and will have an immediate benefit for your users. Now, back to the question at hand...

There are probably a million answers to this question (how to innovate), but I have one, and here it is. Imagine what the solution would look like, behave like, or provide, if there were no constraints. If money were no object. If you had an unlimited engineering team to develop it. If the existing standards that everyone used were thrown out. If you were in charge ... then what would the answer be?

It's only by putting myself in that frame of mind that I have been able to truly innovate. To have a problem and then imagine the ideal solution, without boundaries placed upon it. Believe me, the boundaries will come. There will be functional requirements and business requirements, and of course, user requirements. ... but before then, dream big. Live outside the box. Read Plato's Republic. Think differently.

To borrow a line from Steve Jobs, "innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat."

Thursday Apr 17, 2008

Finally back to blogging

I guess that I was a little burned out on blogging ... I'd said what I wanted to say on my own blog, and had posted a lot on the design@sun blog, so I needed a break. And, at the same time, I started working with a new team in the Chief Technology Office on a really interesting project, and I just let that consume all the time I had.

But then before I left for Florence, Maya asked me to write a blog post on my CHI talk for the design@sun blog. I wrote it in just a few minutes on Monday, and it was fun. And having been away from blogging for over 3 months, now, I have a nice list of things saved up, which I'll be writing about in the coming days:

  • My experiences with my new iPhone
  • My experiences with my new MacBook Air
  • A well-designed UI for a door
  • How to innovate, not just create incremental improvements
  • My upcoming talk at the Boston UPA Mini Conference
  • A little more on Florence, and CHI 2008
  • Mentoring:
    • When should you take your mentor's advice?
    • Treating yourself like a business

So, I'm here, and I'm writing again. And for the first time in a little while, I'm really enjoying it.

Tuesday Jan 08, 2008

Waiting for a new iPhone - I think.

I can't believe how long it's been since I've posted here (there were some interim posts here), but that's life. The holidays were great, the New Year has begun, and I'm starting fresh ... with work, with my diet, and, hopefully, with my phone. A few weeks ago, I asked, "What do you really want from your mobile device?" (and then I posted the trends in the answers).

I know what I want, but it doesn't exist yet. Not even on the iPhone. Now don't get me wrong, I've been following the iPhone since it was first announced, and I really want one. But what if I buy one and then they release the next cooler version that has something that I really need? ... sigh.

I've even bought the ringtone that I want to use (yes. I spent the 99 cents, much to the chagrin of many colleagues -- it's a dollar, for Christ's sake, not a war of business ethics). I can't wait to use it ... it's the first eleven seconds of the title track to turn.

It was rumored that the next iPhone would be announced before Christmas, so I waited and watched ... Nothing. Maybe they were referring to this. Of course, we still did our share to buoy the Apple stock price over the holidays, but the MacWorld Conference and Expo is only a week away, so I wait ... hopeful.


I am a Senior Principal User Researcher in Oracle's Middleware division. Essentially, I work with users, customers, and consumers, to try to make the software we create easier for you to use.


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