UX Lessons Learned From Offline Experiences

Jon Phillips writes about how the user experience of restaurant flow can be redesigned by illustrating the flow in a cafeteria-style space from entry, order and pickup to seating and exit. In his great diagrams he shows how the orginal flow frustrated diners (users) and could be easily re-designed to consider a flow that was immediately understandable–the design he experienced made him feel stupid. Sound familiar?

I think about interior spaces like lines at Whole Foods, where sometimes it makes absolutely no sense (I'm looking at you Columbus Circle) and where other lines seem to have considered this (Union Square sometimes feels efficient). Whole Foods has the problem of not having enough real estate to manage their volume unfortunately.

I remember experiences from my childhood, however, in places like Disney World, where the wait didn't always seem so incredibly grueling because lines are split off to feel shorter, and because distractions make the line feel like part of the experience. Ugh, I take that back. That now makes me think about creative "Loading..." dialogs in Flash. Actually, come to think of it, there are some pretty cool loading experiences in games that give you something fun to do. I also experienced the same with the credits when we recently finished Super Mario Wii.

Jon's article is a must read, if only to think about the problem solving we do and how it is applicable in physical contexts. There's so much opportunity, but I think how unfortunate it is that we don't have UX designers in important places. I think of all the time following the "hanging chad" Florida elections and how poorly designed the polling place in my district in Brooklyn remains, for instance. There's no shortage of UX design need out there.


Interaction10: How to Design an Experience for Experience Designers

Jennifer Bove writes for Fast Company about how she and Bill DeRouchey designed the conference experience in "Interaction10: How to Design an Experience for Experience Designers." It’ a great behind the scenes look at how they observed the event the year prior, and thought about every aspect of the attendee experience and designed the IXD10 event to create a service that caters to what’s important to the conference-goer at every point. I’m sad I missed it. Sounds different from most conferences I’ve been to, for sure.


User-Centered Innovation

Roberto Verganti's article in HBR, "User-Centered Innovation Is Not Sustainable," discusses how focussing on what user's say they want isn't a strategy for innovation. Not news to you, but his take looks at what that means regarding innovation from a sustainability perspective. I found it thought-provoking in other ways as well. The main idea is this. Forward-looking designers and business or policy decision makers may have a greater role and influence regarding designing sustainability products than customers.

The article tells the story of the Toyota Prius, which emerged during a time when the SUV reigned supreme in the US, and customer desire reflected that interest more than any desire for small cars that had less of an impact on the environment. The proposal to produce that innovation came from a vision that started within company.

Verganti believes that decision makers "need to step back from current dominant needs and behaviors and envision new scenarios. They need to propose new unsolicited products and services that are both attractive, sustainable, and profitable." It's an interesting story from many perspectives, with environmental impact being only one.

To dumb the discussion down a little, because I feel more comfortable with my smaller ideas, I'll tell you a silly story from my youth. When I was a teenager, I used to hang out occasionally at this record shop to pick up vinyl. I, like countless male Filipinos in NJ could mix and would DJ now and then. This guy who owned the record shop, his name was Spike, would play whatever new stuff had come in that he thought I would want to play, or I would ask him if he had stuff that I wanted. He knew tracks that I would hum to him after hearing them in the city clubs I'd go to. He was like the reference librarian of the DJs to me.

In those needle drop sessions we would chat about what we had played and what the reaction was. One day I remember asking him what he did when people would ask for something he would refuse to play. As you can imagine, as a teenage boy, it's hard to ignore girls who come up to ask you to play something for them. His answer was this. "You play them what you decide they need to hear, not what they ask for. You're the dealer and they come to you because you know what's good for them." Or at least that's how I remember it. Not sure about the drug dealer analogy.

I laugh when I think about that story, mostly because it was funny. I thought, well that's what separates one type of DJ from another. But I based what I would play on that idea. A DJ is like a curator. Mixing ability is one thing, but it's nothing without taste and experience designing the vibe of the night. Or something like that.

So oddly enough, after reading this HBR article, I think back to this Spike story and think about the role of the designer and what we do with our user research. I think modeling products based on what we believe customers need to do is necessary. But somewhere in that process there's also this need to go on something else. Taste, authority, gut? It's something more like vision based on those things.


Design, the web, and craft

I'm a little late on getting to this one, but wanted to post before I forgot because it is a great topic for early and mid-career web designers. Matt (emenel) reacted to Mark Boulton's thoughts about whether or not designers needed to know html.

Matt summarizes what he believes:

As a designer there is a continuum you travel over the course of your career. It starts with making - crafting objects in your selected medium - and progresses through a point where you internalize your craft and can design without making. Even at that point, most designers continue to make things. It helps solidify design choices, and keeps you in touch with changes in the medium. Career wise, at this point you might be an art director, creative director, or design director… Before that point it is imperative that designers engage with their medium and craft - wether it be websites, clothes, telephones, chairs, or responsive environments.

Matt's post started with an observation of fashion designers, through watching Project Runway. These designers are judged not only on concept, but also on execution, or inability to execute. I think this is one profession in particular where the craft of constructing and prototyping are important. You see it when looking at process. Some designers make cartoonish sketches and others beautiful concept drawings. But in the end, the concept can't stand alone if they're judged equally on execution.

Learning html for Mosaic is one of the reasons I was drawn to the web. It was like taking a toaster apart only to learn how to put it back together. I took my first job basically to apprentice, even though I would be learning most of the HTML techniques on my own and through mailing lists like ALA. All that time and experience helps me every day that I draw a UI schematic. The immersion over time is what makes it become part of your language, and gives you the confidence to design without limitations.

I don't think that everyone needs to create production-quality html. I agree with Matt on the main point here. UX designers benefit from developing a working knowledge of the craft of html and css, and should at least put in some time working on prototypes to understand the capabilities of the medium. Even if new designers only work on personal projects, the experience helps them if they never use that skill in producing a deliverable. At best, it gives one the ability to personally demonstrate interactivity with a prototype resembling a working product if they have to.

The biggest point of contention may be whether they need to maintain this ability over time. I don't necessarily think that's true. I, like many other UX designers I know, are familiar enough with HTML to prototype, but are good enough at sketching or with using tools to demonstrate ideas so that someone better suited to building the interactive prototype can execute. That's not to say that we'll all let those skills drop by the wayside as our careers mature. I certainly try to prevent that from happening, which is one of the reasons I blog. But there are resources that can prototype faster and better once we select and refine an idea enough. In the end, execution for me means communicating a refined concept, and doing that doesn't always mean making html or writing code. But the process certainly is informed by understanding it.


The Ten Commandments Of User Experience

View more presentations from Nick Finck.

Nick Finck and Raina Van Cleave’s presentation slides from the SXSWi talk are up. Here’s a summary:

User experiences are your everyday experiences—anything from operating a car, to making a pot of coffee, to ordering a pair of shoes online. User experience is the result of your interactions with a product or service, specifically how it’s delivered and its related artifacts according to the design.

In this presentation Nick Finck and Raina Van Cleave will explore the ten characteristics of a great user experience. They will cover all aspects of user experience design such as user research, information architecture, information design, technical writing, interaction design, visual design, brand identity design, accessibly, usability and web analytics. Nick and Raina will also explain how following the ten commandments can boost your web sites, web app, or mobile app’s ease of use, appeal, conversion rates, and more.

Read more on Nick’s site.


17 guidelines for better information architecture from 1991

Jussi Pasanen of Volkside pulls out an HCI gem in Kent L. Norman’s The Psychology of Menu Selection: Designing Cognitive Control at the Human/Computer Interface, and repurposes the list of guidelines from the Checklist for Menu Design to provide a set of suitable guidelines for information architects to use with today’s websites. Norman’s book is available for free on the web.

Via @BogieZero


All the Right Way to Wireframe Videos

I wanted to capture all of the slides and videos into one entry to compare each of the guys’ approaches. The right way? There isn’t one right way. That’s the point. The one thread that does carry through, however, is a general process of discovery/research, sketching/ideation, selection/refinement, visual design.

Will Evans

Todd Zaki Warfel

Russ Unger

Fred Beecher

BBC News: The top 100 sites on the internet

The BBC charts the top 100 Internet sites in terms of traffic (unique visits) using January 2010 data from Nielsen. Data covers the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, US and Australia.

The categories - such as retail, social networks, search/portal - were defined by the BBC. The maps were produced using the Prefuse Flare software, developed by the University of California Berkeley. You can mouse over the squares to see site names. Would be nice to have a ZUI to focus on a quadrant. A few comments in this Fast Company article point out that some of the data seems a little odd. I don't see MySpace in the social networking.

Via swissmiss