Showing posts tagged adam connor

Learning to be awesome

Awesomeness is important.

I’ve been thinking a lot about who I choose to spend my time with, consider as friends, and why I do. I can’t pinpoint it other than the fact that I consider them all to be awesome. Which has gotten me thinking, “What does it take to be awesome?”

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Step 1: Always be helpful, no matter how small the act may seem.
  • Step 2: Say “please” & “thank you.” Don’t demand, ask nicely & always thank people, even if they’re “just doing their job.”
  • Step 3: Assume everyone else is awesome and treat them as such. If they prove themselves unawesome, just walk away.
  • Step 4: Realize that EVERYTHING is a learning opportunity.

Now of course, this isn’t to say that these are all things that I do because I’m super-friggin-awesome (hint: I’m not). Or that I’m telling you that you have to do these things. But I do think they’re a good set of principles to strive for.

I posted these on Twitter and asked how others would write A Guide to Being Awesome. What steps would they include? I got back some great additions:

  • From @geoffa: Realize everyone makes mistakes and that’s o.k. (including you).
  • From  @MicheleMelcher: Don’t let yourself get dragged into and wrapped negativity and gossip. Stay as far away and above it as you can.
  • From @TraciUXD: Listen empathetically with a mind to wanting to understand the other’s perspective - not change their mind to yours
  • From @brownorama: Take responsibility for your mistakes.
  • And a photo entry from @timcaynes

What would you add? Post it here in the comments or send it to me on Twitter and include the tag #beingawesome.

Join me this Thursday for a Virtual Seminar with UIE

This Thursday I’ll be presenting an extended version of Discussing Design: The Art of Critique as part of UIE’s Virtual Seminar series.

I’m outrageously honored to be doing this. Those of you familiar with Jared and his team know that they consistently deliver high quality content on super relevant and timely topics. I only hope I don’t break their streak and ruin their reputation :)

If you haven’t seen Aaron and I talk about the topic, now is your chance. And if you have, well, there will be more and new material in this updated version. So what are you waiting for? Go sign up! Get on it!

You can check out the 3 minute preview below:

IA Summit 2012 Video: Discussing Design - The Art of Critique

At this year’s IA Summit my fellow Mad*Powian, Jamie Thomson, was kind enough to record the talk that I gave with Aaron Irizarry. If you were at IAS but didn’t see us, now’s your chance. If you weren’t there, well, why the heck weren’t you? It was awesome!

Have a look!

Want to learn about Design Studio in Vegas? Sure you do!

I’m very excited to be hosting a pre-conference tutorial on Design Studio as part of this year’s annual UPA conference in Las Vegas.

Those that know me, know that two of my biggest areas of interest in design are collaboration and critique. And for me, Design Studio is the perfect blending of those two aspects.

Here’s the tutorial description:

The generation and exploration of ideas is a critical early step when designing products and services. The work done in this stage of the product’s lifecycle will help set a path for its future. It will also begin to solidify the problems and challenges the new product will and will not address.

But trouble often arises at this early stage for a number of reasons:

  • teams may lack an effective structure or process for generating ideas, falling back on the non-descript “brainstorm” session
  • various members of the team, beyond just the design team, may have their own ideas for the product.
  • there isn’t an efficient structure in place for capturing, evaluating, and eliminating ideas.
  • and more…

The Design Studio is a method for idea generation, evaluation, refinement and even elimination. It takes place in a collaborative, fast paced, interactive environment that leads to a shared understanding of the product, the problems it will address and how it will address them.

Participants in this tutorial will be presented with an idea for a potential product and a partial scenario describing how a user intends to use the product. They will then be split into teams and, through the Design Studio process, generate, evaluate, and refine their ideas for the product’s design.

Participants will be required to sketch their ideas, however no real drawing ability is necessary. If you can draw a rectangle, triangle, circle and wavy line, you have all the skills needed to illustrate your ideas.

Additionally participants will be required to provide feedback on other’s ideas and receive feedback on their own. Experience in a critique setting is a plus, but again, not at all required.

I look forward to sharing this method with you. It’s been a major component in the process I and my teammates use to approach new projects and can have long lasting benefits not just on quality of work, but on relationships and other collaborative opportunities.

If your going to be attending the conference, I hope you’ll consider attending my session. It should be a lot of fun.

And if you haven’t been thinking about attending the conference, you should. The line up looks pretty kick-ass.

See you in Vegas!

The Dardenne brothers: a great example of Experience Design at work

In my last post, I talked a bit about Experience Design. My goal with that post wasn’t to say that we should swap the term “User Experience Design” for “Experience Design”. To me, as they’re practiced, they are two very different things.

Additionally, I don’t see Experience Design as a description or label for what is designed, but rather for how something is designed.

Experience Design, is a mode in which design decisions are made. To employ it, first determine the experience you want your audience to have: What do you want them to think, feel, do, etc.? Then design whatever it is your creating in such a way that the chance someone in your audience has that experience with your product/service/whatever is maximized.

There’s no real connection between Experience Design and technology. It can be applied to most, if not all mediums and domains: fashion, architecture, presentation design, environmental design, and on and on…

I spent a good portion of my time in school studying to be a filmmaker and animator. When I turned to web design and eventually digital product design, I never lost my interest in film. I enjoy examining the filmmaking process, it’s tools and techniques in comparison to the ways we work and craft things in the digital space. As I see it, good filmmaking is a perfect example of Experience Design at work.

Last Friday, the NPR show All Things Considered aired a segment on the Dardenne brothers, French filmmakers known for their narrative style and winning a number of awards. Last year their latest film The Kid with a Bike won won the Grand Prix at Cannes.

The segment is short, but in it the Dardennes describe a bit about how they construct their stories and set up shots all in service of eliciting certain thoughts and feelings in their viewers. Give it a listen and then think about how you or your team make design decisions for any given project. What are the factors influencing those decisions? Is it about task completion? Is it about emotion, behavior, etc? A combination of both?

I plan to write and talk a lot more about film in future posts. This blog seems like as good an excuse as any to focus more of my time on that particular interest of mine. If you’re interested in the topic, and in particular its parallels to Experience Design and Interaction Design check out this video of my lightning talk at Interactions 11.

Adam Connor: Applying Film Making Tools to Interaction Design from Interaction Design Association on Vimeo.

I don’t believe in UX Design.

For a while now I’ve held the belief that UX Design doesn’t really exist, or more to the point shouldn’t. I’ve shared this belief a few times and gotten less than friendly reactions, so I’ve been keeping it to myself lately. But recent events have made me want to get it off my chest, so bear with me…

Users have experiences.

People have experiences all the time. Life is one giant experience that our brains break down, dividing moments into those that are memorable and those that aren’t and metaphorically “tagging” them as pleasant, painful, sad, exciting, etc.

I’m not arguing against that at all. What I’m talking about here is that User Experience Design doesn’t exist.

Reason 1: Users’ experiences are built on EVERYTHING.

An individual’s experience when using a product is affected by just about everything that went into making that product: the decisions on what functionality to include, how they work, how they look, how they’re built. As such, it’s important to recognize that everyone who was involved in the product’s creation had a responsibility to optimize that product for the desired experience.

Yet look at how we often set up our teams and organizations. We have our visual designers, developers, content writers/strategists, researchers… and UX designers. To organize our skill sets in a way that would give weight to the notion that one group in this list holds the responsibility for the user’s experience is counterproductive.

Reason 2: UX Designers often don’t define experiences.

Some will argue that there is a strategic component that the UX Designer is responsible for and that this is why they get the title. The UX Designer should be defining the experiences they want users to have.

I don’t necessarily disagree. I do believe in an approach to design called “Experience Design” (described at the end of this post) in which experience definition is the first step in designing.

But in most of the teams I’ve observed, this never happens. The UX team immediately dives into figuring out things like interface components, layouts, sitemaps and task flows. These things are critical, yes. But to say that UX design is the definition of how things are organized and how users will interact with them is inaccurate.

As I mentioned above, the user’s experience is built on much more than that. And besides, if UX Designers are just doing IA and IxD work, why aren’t we calling them that?

Reason 3: It’s not “not visual design”.

We seem to have let “Design” get away from us.  More and more often, when I hear people say “I’m a UX designer” it seems quite apparent that one thing they’re trying to communicate is: “I’m not a visual designer”.

It’s clear that for most of the general population “design” translates to “prettification” and I understand where the desire to distance ourselves from that idea comes from.

Having labels to differentiate between things is exactly why they exist, but I can’t help feeling that by bucketing people under the label “UX” Design, we are allowing a misunderstanding of what design really is to continue.

Design is problem-solving, plain and simple. It is the creation of a solution aimed at achieving a specific outcome/goal (or a set of them). It can be done consciously or subconsciously. The fact that making things look nice is what most people think of when they hear “design” does not change what it is, it just means we’ve done a bad job at making what it actually is clear.

Reason 4: It’s not about technology.

Another argument I hear often is that the “UX” in the UX Design label signifies that we’re working in technology, designing digital products and services. But how can that be?

Use of any product or service, physical, digital or otherwise, results in an experience. The term “user experience” doesn’t help identify us as working in the digital space at all.

Reason 5: We’re not doing anything new.

Great designers, regardless of the types of things they design, have always understood the importance of experience, and of understanding who will be using their product and in what context that use will occur. None of this is new.

What we’ve done is take these concepts and methods and expose them to people working in the digital space. A space that was very immature with regard to how to design well.

Why was it so immature? The space is an easy one to get into. It doesn’t take much access to a computer, some software and maybe an internet connection. And most of the people coming into the space have no real background in “design”. Think about it. Marketers, graphic designers, computer science and info tech specialists… none of these areas of study focus on the creation of a product or service.

What Jesse James Garrett and others credited with the introduction of UXD did was expose people working in technology to some of the concepts and considerations that are needed for designing well. They did this under the label UX and it stuck. But it wasn’t really anything new. We owe them a great deal for opening so many people’s eyes, but it’s time to let the label go.

I once saw Dan Saffer tweet something along the lines of “You can replace 99% of the instances in which people use the label “UX Design” with just “Design” and the meaning is exactly the same.” I completely concur. What we’re doing is just design. Let’s accept that and stop trying to separate ourselves here.

Experience Design does exist.

Now, after putting my reasoning out there, I want to come back and say that I do believe in “Experience Design”. And no, there is more to it than just dropping the word “user”.

Experience Design is a mode of making design decisions. In it you first capture the experience you want people to have with a service or product. There are tons of ways to do this: writing out scenarios, comics, journey maps, anything that allows you to articulate how someone feels, behaves, thinks, etc as they interact with your product.

From here you make your design decisions like:

  • What functionality should be included?
  • What should the interface look like?
  • What should the tone of content be?

… and so on.

Note that these decisions aren’t just IA and IxD decisions. They are ALL decisions that affect the individual having the experience. They can be visual design decisions, content decisions, development and infrastructure decisions, etc.

Now some people working under the title UX Design operate in this way, but many do not. As I mentioned before, most of the people I’ve met spend little to no time defining the experience before diving into the interface.

Also, please note that I’m not saying that as designers we can specify that a particular individual will have a specific experience when using a product. There are too many variables beyond our control for this. What I’m talking about is the optimization of a product’s design so that for most people in its audience, most of the components of the desired experience are elicited.

DTDT matters.

OK, so looking over what I’ve laid out, I can see that many people will see this as a semantic argument. I get that, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

What we call things is important. It’s critical in our ability to communicate well. Many of challenges we face in our various communities and societies stem from the fact that when we talk, we make agreements and arrangements because we’ve used the same terms and labels assuming they mean the same things to all of us. But then we walk away and do things differently, because to each of us, those terms and labels meant something a little different.

So yes, this is a DTDT argument I’m making. Love me or hate me for it, but I think it’s important.

So that’s my thinking. My goal here is not to discredit any of the work people working as UX Designers are doing. It is all important. Nor am I trying to call anyone a liar/scammer/con-artist or whatever. I’m merely trying to say that the label “UX Design” is not meaningful or needed.

As I mentioned, recent events (including some new goals I’ve set for my career path) have lead me to want to put this out there. I’m glad to see that others like Peter Merholz are thinking similar things. Honestly, it’s scary to be of the opinion that the community you’re a part of is based on a falsehood. I’m happy I’m not alone in it.

Suggestions for writing a good conference presentation

I feel very lucky to have started a new phase of my career over the past year and a half as a public speaker. It’s the realization of a goal I set for myself a few years ago. And while it’s not the same as being an educator, a role I experienced only briefly, it gives me a lot of the same satisfaction and enjoyment.

Over the I’ve been speaking, and in conjunction attending many more conferences, I’ve formulated a few guiding rules for myself to help make sure I create solid presentations. In the off chance they’re helpful to others, I figured I’d share them here.

Set the right goal.

In my opinion the goal of a good conference talk is not to “teach” but to expose. You want to get your audience to open themselves up to a new idea or way of looking at something. You don’t have to explain every intricate detail. There won’t be a pop quiz for them at the end. Just give them enough interesting points that, when you’re done and get off stage, they’re left saying to themselves: “Damn, that was kind of cool, I should look into that more.”

Show them you’ve been there.

I owe this one to Jared Spool, who told me that in order to get an audience’s interest right from the get go, you need to show them you’ve been where they’ve been. Identify the pain they’ve felt or experiences they’ve gone through and tell a story about it so that they feel like you were there with them the whole time. Then start talking about your solution or new way of looking at things.

Don’t sell yourself.

So many speakers, especially new ones, spend a significant amount of time telling the audience who they are, what they do, who they’ve worked for, etc. It always feels to me like they’re trying to convince me that they belong up there.

Introducing yourself is necessary, but keep it as short as possible: your name and (if pertinent) who you work for, that’s it.

I know that at least I, as an audience member, assume you must already have something that the conference committee feels is worth hearing, and that’s why you were selected. Nothing you can say in your introduction is going to convince me of that more. Your on stage, it’s time to show me what you’ve got.

Include frequent little “ah-hah”s.

Most sessions that I’ve been to average 40-45 minutes, which depending on how you look at it, can seem like a ton of time, or no time at all to both the speaker and the audience.

On the speaker’s side, if it feels like not enough time, you’ve got too much. If it feels like too much, you may not have enough to talk about.

For your audience though, you’re in control of how it feels. You’ve hopefully got their attention for the first few minutes while, and you want to make sure you keep it. It feels pretty bad to look out into the audience and see multiple pairs of eyes slide shut as the heads their embedded in snap back on their necks due to talk-induced snoozing.

To avoid this make sure that your talk’s content is exposing little “ah-hah” moments frequently, about every 3-5 minutes. And don’t leave those “ah-hah”s to be determined by the audience, be explicit with them. Quote them in your slides. Think about the kinds of things that someone would want to quickly post on twitter, short and too the point. That’s what you’re after.

Be cautious in using only one example.

In the last few conferences I attended, I sat through a handful of talks that tried to use a single example to illustrate their entire concept.

Now this isn’t always bad. If that example can illustrate a number of smaller sub points, all of which are “ah-hah” worthy, it can work. But in all of my recent experiences, the speaker had no frequent “ah-hah” moments. If they did, I missed them entirely.

It just felt like they were going through an overly intensive examination, the kind you’d be subject to in a college lecture, and going back to my first point, the goal is to expose, not educate. The examples dragged on and on, until at the end I had lost all interest, no matter how valid the point the speaker was trying to make was.

The other challenge with single example presentations is it can sometimes give the impression that there isn’t a lot of validity to your point. Were you not able to find other examples to illustrate with?

Agree or disagree?

Like I said before, these are just a few things I’ve picked up on and come from my own personal opinions and experiences. I’m sure their formulation is due in large part to the types of conferences I attend. They may very well not apply to other types of conferences, for example, more academically focused ones.

If you’re just getting started speaking, I hope you find them helpful. If you’ve been speaking for a while and have different or conflicting opinions or suggestions, feel free to share them.