Friday, December 14, 2012

A collection of Design articles

I'm using this blog to also document/store links to UX-related things, so here's a dump of a bunch of them. This collection is a little more geared to good reading about Design & Great Products, in no particular order...

Startups, this is how design works
  • Pretty fundamental description of what design is and isn't.
  • Includes Dieter Rams' Ten Principles of "Good Design" (more about these ten principles here and here, with accompanying visuals)
  • Explains different types of design (UX vs UI, visual, etc.)
  • Design founders
  • How to find designers

What your company will look like when Millennials call the shots

Ten core principles that successful business will adhere to:
  1. Enable open collaboration across the organization. Remove silos and enable diverse cross-functional teams
  2. Ask for more from every employee. Continually present new challenges and allow for rapid growth for those who perform
  3. Value ideas over experience. Seek out and recognize good ideas wherever they exist in your eco-system, whether from the CEO, mail room clerk, supplier or even customer
  4. Engineer humanity. Utilize technology to make products more customized, communications more personal and consumers lives more enhanced
  5. Don’t skimp on quality. Consumers will quickly avoid those products that fail to meet their expectations and have megaphones to ensure their thoughts are heard
  6. Integrate responsibility into the core of the business. Don’t give back- be a company with a mission beyond just profits
  7. Be genuine. Don’t hide behind celebrity personas- focus on connecting to individual consumers and communities in ways that are authentic, relevant and meaningful
  8. Think 2-Way. Partner with consumers across all areas of the business- live and breathe transparency and open communication
  9. Foster advocacy. Build products and create marketing that invites consumers to share and leverages word-of-mouth, the most influential source of information
  10. Change. If your business is not continually searching, evolving and finding new ways to do things, you won’t keep up

Don't Let the Minimum Win Over the Viable

Helpful best practices:
  • "MVP" doesn't mean "smallest imaginable" -- it means knowing the core features and not adding anything beyond that.
  • Prototype (and test) multiple MVPs simultaneously, so that the team doesn't get anchored in one.
  • Embrace a smart business model design & hypothesis. It doesn't have to be perfect -- it should evolve as your MVP does -- but you should have some idea of the economics from the start
  • Stay true to your vision and the passion behind it
  • The market will change -- be aware of how you might adapt as it does

How LEGO turned its brand
  • Biggest point: You need constraints -- real problems, guiding principles -- for design to actually productively help

How To Ask--And Listen--Like You Mean It
  • Tips on inquiry and reflective listening
  • Includes pitfalls to genuine listening (it's hard!!)

Fostering a Culture of Dissent

  • On leadership: delegate, but be involved in the small things that make the biggest impact. Give employees a voice (in everything!), the power to influence, the knowledge that dissent is truly valued, and clear responsibilities and objectives.
  • On hiring: Involve a lot of people, so that new hire will have the support of them when they start. Would hire for good problem solving over experience.
  • Goal-setting: MORPH = Mission (what's your mission at the company, in one sentence?); Objective (top 3-5 goals for the quarter); Results (metrics to measure those objectives); People (what changes need to happen to achieve this?); How (as in, How did you do?)

Emotionally Intelligent Interactions

  • It's basically paying attention to details that give personality to your site/brand. It's great especially to turn a potential negative experience into something positive (like siteerror404's, timeouts, and such) or livening up dead points in the experience.

Ending the opinion wars: fast, collaborative design direction

  • Make sure you get past people's natural inclinations to jump to conclusions, and actually take the time to explore the why's, to look at the strength of the data to support design decisions (and saying no), and mostly allowing the whole team full participation in the journey.

Working Backwards
A way to get to shared vision by starting with the "end product" (the LEGO piece also has a bit of this).

A New Mobile UX Design Material
Applying principles from animation to mobile. Most of it is pretty straightforward, but good to think about anyway.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Adopting Design Thinking

I was scouring old information and decks today and found some slides/decks that, although fairly basic and targeted at the design thinking initiate, were still pretty relevant to the practice of trying to get non-believers to understand why design thinking matters, and what kind of difference it can make.

Traditional vs. Design Thinking
The first was this slide from an Innovation & Delight slide deck that sums up the differences in simple terms:

Of course, it's one matter to understand the concepts here, and another one entirely to actually be able to act upon these every day. Or, better yet, inspire others to start behaving like a design thinker.

How Design Thinking is Different from UX Design
The second is this deck from Sylvain Cottong on the differences between UX design, service design, and design thinking:

Overall this isn't anything that is new to a UX or design thinking practitioner, but looking at it from the lens of someone whose organization is not converted or equipped just yet to convert to using design thinking as a matter of course, it had some clear details about what is and what isn't different facets of design, and why one should care.

It was published in 2009, so there are certainly some things in there that I wouldn't agree with (particularly some of the definitions of design thinking on page 53), and some things that have definitely withstood the past 3 years (slide 58).

Particularly worth a skim for anyone thinking about doing UX (the first section on UX is pretty comprehensive), and understanding how design thinking is gradually moving forward business.

Why Design Thinking Matters
Finally, another deck, this one from Jan Schmiedgen, focused on introducing design thinking to the business-minded (he calls them "convergent thinkers" -- haha):

A great summary, I thought, of arguments for design thinking. (I bet there were several illustrative stories told to accompany this presentation.) Toward the end, starting on slide 74, he gets into highlighting the differences between traditional business thinking and design thinking. I particularly liked the quote on page 89; it really highlights the gap we have today and where we could be.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


A colleague forwarded this yesterday -- What a great concept! And what beautiful visual design and CSS, too.

I'm looking forward to seeing all the goodies this month!

Friday, November 30, 2012

TED talks on creativity

Adding another item to the "storage of great information" list -- here's the 10 TED talks on creativity that are worth taking the time to watch.

I'm slowly making my way through these, and will add on as I do.

Julie Burstein, 4 Lessons in Creativity
The biggest nugget for me out of this one was remembering not to take the world and our everyday experiences for granted. How might we appreciate what happens to us daily? How might we learn from those experiences that we'd rather not have, like loss or disappointment, and grow from them?

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius
A great storyteller (yes, she's a writer!), Gilbert's main focus is on not getting hung up in the psyche or pressures of needing to deliver the best work, all the time, every single time. She talks about the creative genius as something that happens to you, or passes through you -- of course you have to bring your own hard work, too, and keep working even if you don't succeed every time, but the burden isn't necessarily always on you as a person. Sometimes it's dependent on everything else around you, and you just have to be aware enough to catch it.

David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence
I strongly believe in IDEO's approach to design thinking, and David Kelley is a great spokesperson for it. Understanding that so many people are driven by a fear of judgement is crucial to understanding why people are motivated to do the things they do. Kelley's points here are really around how we can get past that fear and allow divergent thinking, and he rounds it out with the idea that once you've overcome your fears, you start to focus on the more important things in life and have a stronger feeling of self-efficacy (that you can do what you set out to do).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Frog's Collective Action Toolkit

FastCompany wrote an article about Frog's Creative Action Toolkit that was very focused on empowering communities to solve problems via design thinking. Frog's own page about this toolkit also uses language focused around these communities, but it's not a far leap to see how this can apply to business. (Not that business is a more "worthy" recipient of these tools -- not by any means -- but by their very nature, businesses are able to affect change for the better beyond themselves.)

A quick aside -- I noticed that in business, we tend to skip over the "Build" activities to go straight to "Seek," "Imagine," or "Plan" -- but it was a good reminder that sometimes, we don't know who or what we have at the table. How might we leverage each unique skill or perspective to broaden our thinking? What do we leave behind when we assume we know what we can or can't do?

Download the toolkit at Frog's page for it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

TED Talk: Shawn Achor, The Happy Secret to Better Work

I watched this TED talk this morning, and it really resonated with me in how we might help ourselves lead more fulfilling lives.

Here's the transcript toward the end of his talk, where I think he talks about the psychology behind our happiness, and how we might re-wire our brains to have a happier outlook (bolding from me):
And what I found is that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I'll be more successful. And if I'm more successful, then I'll be happier. That undergirds most of our parenting styles, our managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior.
And the problem is it's scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we're going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we've done is we've pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that's because we think we have to be successful, then we'll be happier.
But the real problem is our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody's level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we've found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You're 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we're able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.
What we need to be able to do is to reverse this formula so we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of. Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you're positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.
We've found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. We've done these things in research now in every single company that I've worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they're grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.
Journaling about one positive experience you've had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we've been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand. And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness. We get people, when they open up their inbox, to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their social support network.
And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we've found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution. 
A quick search brought up the 21-day, 5-step "regimen" to happiness, here:
    1. Write Down What You're Grateful For. Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. Research shows this will significantly improve your optimism even six months later, and raises your success rates significantly.
    2. Focus On The Positive. Write for two minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This is a strategy to help transform you from a task-based thinker, to a meaning based thinker who scans the world for meaning instead of endless to-dos. This dramatically increases work happiness.
    3. Exercise. Exercise for 10 minutes a day. This trains your brain to believe your behavior matters, which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day.
    4. Meditate. Meditate for two minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time. It also decreases stress and raises happiness.
    5. Send A Positive Email. Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member on your team (or social support group). This significantly increases your feeling of social support, which in my study at Harvard was the largest predictor of happiness for the students.

    I think I'm going to try this.

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    Welcome to UXD

    Read this fantastic, albeit lengthy, article today -- UX design for startups: the age of user experience design. It's really a quick dive into why UX matters, what it is, and ways to leverage it.

    Some choice quotes:

    “Design and marketing aren't just as important as engineering: they are way more important.” says Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups – one of the most important startup incubators in the world, and he’s got a point. The world has changed and products now succeed if they provide stunning UX.
    I wish corporations understood this, as well as startups!

    A UX designer’s work should always be derived from people’s problems and aim at finding a pleasurable, seductive, inspiring solution. The results of that work should always be measurable through metrics describing user behaviour. 
    Too often I feel we don't have a good way of quantifying our work. Yes, not measuring user behavior is a problem because we UX need them in our fight to prove our importance. But the lack of them is also a problem for any business...otherwise, how would you know if you're succeeding?

    in any commercial project UX design cannot be separated from the business model of a product. Designing UX without any knowledge about the business side of the product is a futile and stupid thing to do. A product that doesn’t bring home the bacon will soon cease to exist and the whole effort will be a huge waste of time.
    Marcin Treder finishes with talking about using the Lean Canvas, which reminded me strongly of this article -- Lean Startup is Great UX Packaging. A bit simplified, but gets the major points of the Lean Startup Movement across.

    Mostly I'm worried now that the secret is out, and all these people who embraced Lean Startup principles will suddenly realize it's just more UX and stop trying it.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    Good design is good business

    In keeping up with reading design-related articles, I skimmed this article today (and some of its following case studies):

    I particularly liked these passages, as they address a struggle between design and business (even though there should be no separation there!) in the corporate world:
    The phenomenon of designer-led startups, which also includes companies such as Pinterest and Path, is a telling variation on something legendary Braun designer Dieter Rams once told me. "My work was only possible because I was reporting directly to the chairman of the board," he admitted. "Design has to be insulated at a high level. Otherwise, you can forget it."
    Business is shifting now, toward recognition of the value of design. It used to be technology that was growing leaps and bounds, where all the innovation was happening. But that's slowing now: what one company can do, another can mimic within a few short years. So design has started to become the differentiator for business. However, it's hard to break people out of their entrenched ways of thinking, on focusing on whether we can technically do it or not.

    Changing How We're Used to Working

    In a large company, it's rare to see design reporting into its own chain of command that reaches up to the top. Instead, UX typically rolls into either product development or product management. What kind of message does that send young designers? That there's no future or career path for design, except going up a technical or people management chain?

    And let's not forget the attitudes of the people with whom a young designer directly interacts. In a DACI model (driver, approver, contributor, informed), it's usually the PM who is the Approver, leaving designers as pixel-pushers or deliverable-creators. At best, a designer is driving the project or product. I've seen so many clashes between designers and their "business counterparts" -- if they're about to figure it out between them, the end product is usually a sad imitation of what it could've been. If they're unable to settle their differences and escalate the issue, usually the response is, "The PM is the final approver," which is to say, the design voice isn't worth anything if you can't back it up with business logic.
    When designers lack influence, superb products become almost impossible. Good designs seldom stay good for very long if they must navigate a gauntlet of corporate approval. That’s because the design process is as much reductive as anything else--figuring what can be simplified and taken out. Corporate approvals are usually about adding things on to appease internal overseers. When something has been approved by everyone, it may be loved by none. 
    Note that I specify that we designers must back up our decisions with a solid business case. It isn't helping our cause for us designers to say that something is better because of our gut feelings -- something that I think happens often and discredits our craft . We're here do do business, so let's make sure we drive toward business outcomes, couch our goals in terms of business outcomes, and essentially prove that we're thinking business via design.

    Bring it, prove it, turn perceptions around. That's how we'll change attitudes.

    Getting Us All to Think Like Designers

    And then we can't rest our our laurels, either:
    A reliance on design-driven innovation poses a challenge for the companies that live by it: You can’t easily patent how something looks, or the feel of a user interface. Features, subtleties, and finishes spawn imitators with unprecedented speed. That means that design-led companies must innovate constantly to maintain their edge. 
    This means we not only have to get good at leading innovation by design, but also at identifying the areas where it's ripe for innovation, where we'll make the biggest impact our our users and thus our business. And who knows the users best? Shouldn't those people be much more valued, if not calling the shots?

    Okay, so there's only so many designers to go around. But then, shouldn't we all learn how to think like designers, so that we all can push the envelope? We don't have to learn the craft. We just have to learn how to approach and solve problems the way designers do, and thus open up the space to allow creativity to flow and innovation to happen.

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Designing for experience or for memories?

    Today a colleague forwarded the following article for perusal:

    The author tried to make the article read as incendiary as possible -- it seemed that he was trying to imply that User Experience Design was unnecessary (and check out the comments; lots of people read it that way, too!).

    But in the end, all he's really saying is that we ought to remove the blinders and look beyond the experience itself, to the memory of that experience.
    Attempting to instill fond memories will be possible only via UX design, but it will require a different kind of UX design, that is laser-focused on the memories we hope will stick.
    Essentially, great experiences lead to great memories, which lead (hopefully) to a great Net Promoter score.

    Therein lies the reason that it's so important to design not just to meet user's expectations (thereby creating no notable positive memories), but to design for that delightful or WOW! moment. And as one commenter aptly put it, "We need the user to complete the experience before having any memory of it."

    The Peak End rule also applies here. (That's where we judge our past experiences on how we felt about them, which really boils down to our peak positive or negative emotions and the emotion we feel at the end of an experience, irregardless of the length of that experience.) I attended a talk by Colin Shaw at SXSW 2012, where he talked about that as well as 20 different emotions that drive & destroy value (where increased value leads to an increase in customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention):

    • Destroying emotions
      • Irritation, feeling hurried, neglected, unhappy, stressed, frustrated, disappointed, unsatisfied
      • If your user experiences these, you're probably going to lose them
    • Attention cluster
      • Interesting, energetic, stimulated, exploratory, indulgent
      • These will lead to short-term spend
    • Recommendation cluster
      • Trusting, valued, focused, safe, cared for
      • As the name suggests, these will lead to users who will recommend your experience. (I'd say probably the 7-8 range in Net Promoter)
    • Advocacy cluster
      • Happy, pleased
      • This cluster, along with the recommendation cluster, will drive long-term engagement
    UX practitioners spend a good chunk of time designing flows and how easily one can accomplish the task we want them to accomplish. We'll do usability testing to see when this breaks.

    But how much time do we spend ensuring that they are experiencing the emotions we want them to experience? How can we accurately test our flows to map out what emotions are experienced when? And, is the self-reporting of emotions accurate? (We certainly know it isn't for perception of accomplishing a task!)

    Update 3/28/13: I found a LinkedIn article that Colin Shaw wrote about this very topic (where I got my inspiration from):

    Tuesday, September 11, 2012

    Design thinking for the masses

    Recently I've spent a good amount of time talking about design and design thinking to some people who don't practice the craft of design. It's been an interesting experience, starting first with debunking misconceptions about what design as a craft or practice really is. What's the difference between interaction design, visual design, industrial design, user experience design, product design, etc.? You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers. Trying to explain makes me feel like I'm splitting hairs.

    Then there's the hairier challenge of explaining what design thinking is.

    I remember preparing to graduate from the Product Design program at Stanford (which Facebook insists is "Industrial Design," no matter how many times I try to change it) and talking to my advisor at the time about how to "sell" what we've learned in the industry. "You've been trained in design thinking," I remember him saying -- paraphrasing, of course, as that was many years ago -- "Think of it as a methodology to approach and solve problems." (Well that's a helpful way to frame it, but it's still hard to sell someone on being able to think in a particular way.)

    Maybe because it has always felt natural to me that I still find it difficult to quantify what exactly design thinking means.

    I can wax eloquent about how design thinking is a means to achieving delight, of solving the real problems in order to ultimately make the world a better designed place. I can speak to the need for deep customer empathy, for really understanding what mental models someone holds, for discovering things about someone that they perhaps haven't even admitted to themselves. I can shed light on how to get beyond our own egos and business methodologies to branch out into new, creative pastures, and how to test those ideas to see if they can hold water. I could keep going on about all the multifaceted aspects of design thinking, but it is ultimately not a well-crafted elevator pitch.

    (Wikipedia, by the way, has a similarly long-winded definition of design thinking, here.)

    But while design as a craft is the realm of a few, I believe that design thinking is something that we all can do.

    We can make smarter decisions and make this world a better place. As Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon once said, "Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones."

    Why not? It's just a way of thinking. But it's always difficult to change habits for yourself, never mind others. So bringing along others toward the gospel of design thinking then ends up being a journey in creating experiences to allow people to come to their own conclusions about design thinking.

    Thankfully, I'm not alone in this belief. We're all just trying to go about it in different ways -- making tools to suit different people's learning styles. Two quick examples off the top of my head:

    • ZURB's manifesto, especially the "Everyone Can Do This" page, is completely in line with this...although they don't make much of a distinction between design craft and design thinking. (Maybe it's just semantics.)
    • I found my entire sense of being resonating with a strong "YES!" while reading Tim Brown's book, Change by Design, earlier this year. (It's a quick read, focused more on the stories to show how effective design thinking is and providing a business case for it.)

    What other ways can we bring design thinking to the masses?