Monthly Archives: April 2008

IdeaBooks

When I was at college (drinking beer and making some effort at that degree in design) all the professors told me the same thing : keep a reference book.

Yes, the reference book. A book of work that others had done that would someday inspire and inform future work. Or, as I called it, the copycat folder.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to be inspired, and when I see something that’s really cool or innovative, I will certainly swipe it for future use, but to maintain a book of crutches never made sense to me.

It does to some… I know designers and creative directors who have made a career of aping the latest thing. I’ve probly got some tooth damage from all the gritting done when I used to go to design reviews and heard “Did you guys all see this thing that VW did….”

Now, it’s doubtful these people go home and flog themselves relentlessly while chanting “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maximus culpa…” They seem to be fine with what they’ve done, and that’s cool… it’s never lonely in the middle and they all seem happy enough.

But not me. And to some degree, it’s a big ‘fuck you’ to all the hacks I see in the world, but I do the opposite of a reference book. I keep IdeaBooks.

Everything I’ve ever done is stored somewhere in one of these books (PDFs really). I’ve got IdeaBooks for pretty much every topic out there. My favorite is the “Cute Orphan” book, all my favorite ideas that never got used.

Some ideas are tiny (a tidy ‘what do you want to do’ widget that turns Navigation nouns into user verbs) some are bizarre (The tiny site/control panel that acts as a guide to related topics… Modernista, you owe me $20 for that one) and some are giant sprawling concepts for sites that may never exist (I name these things like “Fluid Louis” “Uncle Nodey” and “Crusty Bob”).

It’s really less the output of the books and more the effort taken to take a small idea and see if you can play it out a bit. Tinker with something that’s uniquely yours, not a copy of something you just saw. Explain it and put some basic requirements together, see if it’s a real idea, or just a cheap parlor trick.

I think everyone should give it a try, I’m guessing you’d be surprised how many cute orphans you’ve left untended.

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Analogy

I give loaded pistols to chimpanzees… sometimes they hit a target, sometimes they shoot their toes off.

It’s always a user problem (a slight ramble)

I don’t even know where to start on this one.

I recently had a pretty big presenation. It was a magnificent disaster. I’ve decided to regard it as a very successful dada event (Dada on Wikipedia).

From that event, one thing really bugs me. The phrases “We’ll make it look nice later.” and “Well, that group does the user experience when you’re done.”

I’m employed by a technology company. I’ve done all sorts of work, from very straightforward MarCom stuff though all manner of digital marketing. But currently, I am, as my Parisian friend Julien put it “working in the basement.”

As the king of all UX at this place, I’ve been working very hard to get a single, simple point across : Everything we do, is done for the user.

Now, this is ripe for argument from all manner of code geek, account lizard, and those strange animated business suits that wander around.

They will say things like “it’s all about cost reduction for the client” or “the collaboration software enables rapid deployment of robust technologies” or some other bullshit.

Here’s the gist tho.. if all these things are so convoluted and require all manner of help from outside groups, then the client is going about the business wrong and should really just close up the majority of their online presence. It’s obviously too difficult to manage.

But we all know that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that ultimately, we want to keep on communicating with users, we want them to love us and our products, we want new and shiny things on our sites.

So it always ends up back at the user. What we do is for them.

Now, back to my original thought….

In the past few years, I’ve helped develop a few key products for my company. I’ve stressed that all the work we do towards technology is useless unless it results in something amazing when it’s seen by a user.

So I start at the user and work backwards. “What I want to do” is the basis for “How will this work”

Luckily, I have a team of very smart technologists who have similar views of changing the world, or at least having some monument erected in their name at a later date.

So… NO! it doesn’t get pretty after the fact. It gets developed from the lowest point of origin into something that was always designed to be seen, touched, smelled, felt, and used by someone.

One group is not responsible for UX, everyone is. You clients of freakish nature may have forgotten how to think about your users, but I have not.

Object, Action + Method

I was talking with a friend about car configurators, which is a topic I spend a lot of time on.

He was discussing this idea about inline config, having a small window open at specific times and ask the user to add or select an option.

In essence, a very good idea, I have several prototype screens for this sort of thing.

The problem became that the designers were struggling to figure out how the window operated, how it minimized, how the user re-activated it, and so on.

Here’s the root of the problem : They devised a Method that did not support the Object or the Action.

The super-duper Tigerstripe Approach tells us every task-based design problem has three main components. In this case they were The Car (The Object), letting users do partial configs (The Action) and the small floating window (The Method).

When one starts with a method, as many people like to do (“Dude, what if it just popped up there randomly!”), problems usually arrive.

Similar problems arise when a site-based method or set of rules is used inflexibly for all manner of data display or user interaction.

Here’s a tip, go in the right order :
Q: What are we talking about?
A: The Object

Q: What is the user response we want to promote?
A: The Action

Q: What is the best way for the user to interact with the system?
A: The Method

Save yourself some grief, there’s a reason UX is a different discipline that UI.