Being Without Chasing: The Grateful Dead vs. The Top 40

Seth Godin's blog entry, "The Grateful Dead and the Top 40," looks at a band that only ever had 1 "hit record," but who were very succesful at what they did. They may have not hit the Top 40 more than once, but one thing is true, they knew themselves as artists, and were true to that.

In terms of chart success, Elton John is probably the polar opposite of The Grateful Dead. He's #2 on the list of most hits on the Billboard Top 40. The Grateful Dead and Elton John are very different artists and have sold records to very different audiences. Elton John has a bigger share of the mainstream and the Billboard charts. I would doubt that either of those attributes were ever a goal of the Grateful Dead, yet they commanded a loyal following who connected with them, and got their music to millions of fans through record sales, touring, and the bootlegs.

I'm not a fan, but so many of my friends in college were that I couldn't help but be aware of the phenomenon that is the Dead. Yet to the mainstream pop music listener, they may seem like small potatoes, and I've heard a few people in my time dismiss their music without acknowledging the rarity of their following.

Dismissive criticism was probably a much easier thing to avoid before the Internet. Godin points out that social media today makes it easy to notice the passing mutterings of the critics who aren't clued in to what makes you special in the market. To those finding themselves receiving this kind of attention and wanting to be reactive in order to reach Elton-status, he offers this advice.

The next time you have a choice between chasing the charts (whichever charts you keep track of) and doing the work your customers crave, do the work instead.

Doing important work on a product that isn't on the charts might be tough. You might be doing work that goes unseen compared to products that are easily noticeable and press-worthy. Every product is going to find a critic. If you're making a product, being Elton-famous shouldn't be your goal. Knowing yourself and your product, and being true to that are better ways of doing something meaningful.

Via Seth's Blog: The Grateful Dead and the Top 40.

Fred Wilson on Subconscious Information Processing

Fred Wilson shares advice from his father on how to take advantage of the human brain's capacity to subconsciously process information for problem solving.

He explained that I should start working on a project as soon as it was assigned. An hour or so would do fine, he told me. He told me to come back to the project every day for at least a little bit and make progress on it slowly over time. I asked him why that was better than cramming at the very end (as I was doing during the conversation).

He explained that once your brain starts working on a problem, it doesn't stop. If you get your mind wrapped around a problem with a fair bit of time left to solve it, the brain will solve the problem subconsciously over time and one day you'll sit down to do some more work on it and the answer will be right in front of you.

Read more.

How Color Already Blew It

Mike Rundle writes about getting the first impression right in an application by guiding the first time user. He offers 4 great tips for getting traction on mobile apps:

  • Delight users with a beautiful look & feel
  • Take a novel approach to an interesting problem or market niche
  • Inspire user confidence through user experience consistency and ease-of-use
  • Guide newcomers around so they can learn and then show others

He then goes through the first impression experience with the Color app and talks about what they did wrong, and how they can fix it. Read more.

See also: Jason Fried's Blank Slates article.

Eye Tracking Research on Reading on iPad vs. Newspaper

Miratech observed the difference between reading an article in a newspaper and on an iPad in an eye tracking study. They concluded that readers are more likely to skim over articles on an iPad than in a newspaper.

  • The type of medium doesn't influence reading time when the text is short (like an article).

  • It is easier to assimilate and retain information read in a newspaper than on an iPad.

They plan to write up another white paper presenting their results looking at ad visibility.

Read more in their white paper.

HUGE Launches UX School for International Design Talent

Huge has announced HUGE UX School, a graduate program for design talent interested in pursuing careers in User Experience.

Ten students, selected from hundreds of international applicants, will join HUGE’s UX team in New York, where they will receive three months of hands-on training and learn the fundamentals of UX design.

HUGE started the school to help prepare design professionals for successful careers in interaction design and to find and cultivate industry talent. Students in this year’s class come from the United States, Korea, Italy, Dominican Republic and Germany and have backgrounds in industrial, graphic, and interactive design as well as architecture and human-computer interaction.

UX trainees will be integrated into the existing HUGE UX team and each will be assigned a mentor. Students will learn the basics of interaction design, from developing user scenarios and wireframes to conducting competitive analyses and user testing, and learn how IDs at HUGE solve problems. Additionally, students will be responsible for executing a full project from brief through to design. Select students will be offered full time positions with HUGE following the completion of the program.

To learn more about HUGE’s UX School program or to apply for next year’s program contact

Project Rimino, The Future of Mobile Experience

Project Rimino is an interaction design project proposing a hypothetical e-paper mobile device. The project was created by Amid Moradganjeh, an interaction design student from Umea Institute of Design in Sweden, for his masters degree project on mobile experience design. The design is based on both observational and experimental design research methods. Watch the video below for the concept.

Some of the ideas are pretty exciting. I particularly like the emphasis on everyday tasks, utilizing the materials of the device to create minimal, task-focussed interfaces. I love the reference to hand-crafted materials, and the poster-inspired UI, which reminds me of the cleaner the Zune after it was redesigned, is quite nice. Dig deeper into the site to learn more about the process and research.

Off to Work in Italy

I'm off to work in Italy for a week with the Balsamiq team, so no posting on Konigi while I'm gone.

For the travelers who care about packing on the light side, here's how I'm going to roll on a single carryon bag.

- Goruck GR2 backpack (first trip with this bag)
- Gear
-- Mac short power cord
-- Euro travel adapter plug
-- Mini USB cords (I have a different set, but Griffin's looks cool)
-- Platypus 1L collapsible water bottle
-- Glasses
-- Sunglasses
-- Rite in the Rain notebook
-- Pen (Pilot G2)
-- Lumix camera and charger (bringing an older compact Panasonic Luimix DMCTZ5)
-- MacBook Air
-- Bose Headphones
- Toiletries
-- Adventure Medical Kit .9
-- Bug repellent wipes and wristband (I'm a mosquito magnet)
-- Sunscreen
-- Medication
-- Razor
-- Travel toothbrush
-- Travel toothpaste and mini floss
- Eagle Creek packing folder
-- 4 pair Capilene underwear
-- 3 bathing shorts
-- 4 Nike dry fit tshirts
-- 3 Nike dry fit polo shirts
-- 3 pair socks
-- 1 travel pants
-- 1 Patagonia Sun Hoody
- Sandals

Since it's a trip to Italy, I also temporarily upgraded my phone to an international data plan.

All packed in a single carryon bag that weighs in around 21 pounds. If I could leave the computer and other electronic gear behind, I think it would come in around 18-19 pounds, but this is a work trip. I'm also wearing a pair of Patagonia Guide pants, a Swobo wicking polo, and sneakers.

Why The Valley Wants Designers That Can Code

Jared Spool talks about why designers who code are popular in Silicon Valley right now, and for the most part, it boils down to this. Small software and web startups value and are able to use a broader range of skillsets, because one of the highest priorities, especially for bootstrapped startups, is to ship while lean on resources.

Jared notes that those who don't think designers should know how to code say this dilutes the designer's value. I think we're talking both interaction designers and visual designers here.

The main point for me is that particular organizations favor someone more M-shaped than T-shaped, which is to say, they need to be deeper in more than one set of skills. This is true of more types of organizations than just small startups, but the main idea is that multi-role people are valued in organizations that are open to having a person who can execute on a diverse set of responsibilities, even if they're viewed as "diluted" in terms of being less deep in one area.

I'll say this. I started out doing interface design and development work on databases in-house in a corporation. Early on in my career, I envied the people who got to work on the sexy, high-profile projects and made the switch to doing front end-development at an agency. Unsatisfied with that, I went back in-house doing both design and development, and then envied the design side, and went to a company to do interaction design only. I've never been satisfied in a silo, and have been happiest being involved across a project. I've found that working on both ends as a designer and developer to be ideal for me, even if the development is only front-end development and prototyping.

That said, I don't think it is particularly easy to find a home when you're more M than T-shaped. Certain types of organizations won't even let you interview for more than one type of role.

I've spoken to quite a few people looking to make a shift from one side to another over the years. It's kind of easy to recognize an M-shaped person. They may have worked in small organizations that gave them more room to flex their muscles outside of their role, or they may be freelancers that get to and maybe have to do design and development. For whatever reason, that varied experience can make it hard for them to find the right home and to convince hiring people to consider a cross-disciplinary role to fit them into.

This is why I think what Jared is talking about could be very helpful to both the budding UX designers out there, and those considering making a change in role.

It seems obvious to say, but if you can already do some development and you want to use it, you might look for an organization that values it. Small startups or in-house positions with small development organizations where multi-role people are valued is a good start.

If you can't do some kind of code, at least learn HTML5, CSS and a little Javascript, and maybe some other server-side scripting languages. If you can't convince your organization to use you in that capacity, then demonstrate your skill doing prototypes in code when the opportunity presents itself, and keep your skills sharp. When there seems like no way to flex your development muscles in your current job, work on personal projects continually to stay sharp and relevant!

Read more at UIE. Interested in learning to code for the web? There are some resources for that here.

Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity

From Aaron Koblin’s TED presentation:

“Artist Aaron Koblin takes vast amounts of data – and at times vast numbers of people – and weaves them into stunning visualizations. From elegant lines tracing airline flights to landscapes of cell phone data, from a Johnny Cash video assembled from crowd-sourced drawings to the “Wilderness Downtown” video that customizes for the user, his works brilliantly explore how modern technology can make us more human.”

Beautiful, incredibly creative use of user contributed hands for data-driven art.

Speed Wireframing a Click-Through Prototype Using Symbols in Mockups

Click the full screen icon, it’s much better that way. Headphones warning: rowdy party music ahead.

I rarely do click-through prototypes, but if I have to, then I use Symbols and links in Mockups to make it painless. This is a speed-wireframing video I whipped up to demonstrate to customers in a few minutes what the experience of wireframing with Symbols is like.