Category Archives: user experience

Grids, Blocks, Behaviors and Attributes

Occasionally I work on projects that I know will turn out horribly.

This usually doesn’t slow me down, since I’m pretty confident I can turn it into something very cool.

Case in point, the shuffling block site I’m working on now. The projected behavior of the site reads like a list of UX no-no’s.

There’s a grid that doesn’t expand, despite the number of objects within, just starts scrolling downward.

The grid is filled with boxes of various sizes, interaction with the boxes makes them either grow larger, or link to other grids. No visible difference in boxes, just random behavior.

The grid re-shuffles every time a box is opened or closed, in a random order, like the system playing Tetris. Things that were there, are now over there.

Oh, but some boxes don’t move, and some boxes only have one size, and some boxes need to be marked so that on every shuffle, they get preferential treatment.

And somewhere in all of this is content.

If it turns out good, I’ll post a link. If it’s a magnificent failure, I’ll post a link.

If my worst fears come true and it’s sort of ordinary, you won’t hear another peep about it.

Core Concepts of the Ruthless Monk

The Ruthless Monk is my general approach to site conceptualization. Here is my general overview of the tenets of hitting something Monk Style.

Centrism
The user’s current position is considered the center of the site. Wherever the user is, they are in the right place. Bring content to them, don’t use your navigation as advertisement. This only makes the user feel they are in the wrong place, and all other places are better.

Proximity
Items that are of more relevance are closer to user. This means, stop carrying navigation and global elements around the site. If the user chooses a path, their focus is on that topic or action. Leave shit behind when it’s not needed.

Volume
The degree to which items are presented and the visual and cognitive impact they will have. Not everything can be cranked to 11. A simple visual inspection of every screen should reveal the top 2-3 actions you want a user to take. These are the items with the loudest volume, the rest need to be turned down.

Workspaces
Discreet modal shifts within a current space. I call these ‘Flips’ they are nothing more than div layers that contain a complete and concise task. They are called when needed, and should adapt to user position and mindset.

Story Shaping
Arranging user opportunities through a story metaphor. If I asked you to tell me about your new camera, it’s unlikely you would organize your thoughts in the same manner as a camera maker’s site. Think about how a conversation evolves, how people will interrupt at moments of interest and change the course of the discussion. This is real time Story Shaping.

Actionable
Content will always beget an action. If it doesn’t provoke action, it is likely useless. Also, ask yourself what questions a user would have based on a piece of content. That is likely to inform your choice of actions you provide, and think ACTION, don’t always think movement.

Boldness
If it doesn’t add something, remove it. Be ruthless in your dislike for every object on the screen. Strong, single and simple actions will always beat complex, wishy-washy activities. At some point, everyone is a uni-tasker… realize the power in this.

Mobile

Mobile. It’s kind of a bitch.

(Although, designing for a platform like iPhone makes it much better).

But here’s what I found to be the biggest problem : Sticking to a single concept

I work for a company that specializes in moving and manipulating large amounts of unique data. My gig is making sure that data is usable, understandable, and mashed up in a manner that end users find valuable.

So, I design products. Some people call them apps, some call them services, I consider them products. They are tangible things that people interact with, and get improved based on that interaction. They’re long term, not a feeble microsite.

Anyways, it seemed like a no-brainer to start moving some of these products to a mobile platform, as one of my main pushes this year is in the saving, sharing and moving of information off a primary site and onto where users feel they need to keep it.

In starting, I uncovered a continuum in design rationale…

On one end is the Encumbered Complexity. Things that are too large, too forked, too unwieldily to be useful on a mobile device. (Unfortunately, most of our primary products fit in this category).

On the other end is Useless Minutiae. Information and features that could be moved to a mobile device, and usually upon first glance, seem like a great idea, but are too detailed to be useful, or replace a real-world activity that doesn’t benefit from being digitized. (Usually, the ideas seem great because my company controls or manages all the data, and no one else could create this product).

So, I’m working in the sweet spot between the two of them, following three pure and simple approaches :

ONE

Mobile is one part of a larger experience, and should act in conjunction with other devices and products that are not mobile.

TWO

Any mobile product must provide useful content and features that have reason to be mobile… and “because we can” is not a reason.

THREE

Kick the Andrew “Ruthless Monk” Method up a notch. One thing at a time, a single Item=Response metaphor. Even more so than the internet, mobile is a conversation, and one that must be streamlined.

I’m showing off the first of 3 Automotive-based mobile products this month at our annual user conference in Savannah. I’ll share them once I’ve done the dog-and-pony.

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.

Joe Strummer, Wabi-Sabi, and the Fate of the Beautiful

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I’ve been accused on multiple occasions of being a music snob. I am not a music snob.

I’ve also been accused of hating what is popular, simply because it is popular. This also is untrue.

Popular is usually shiny, a bit too perfect, and ultimately quite fake.

This is why Joe Strummer will always be better than any auto-tuned, packaged, top 40, american idol.

Joe strummer was authentic. Not because he was perfect, but because of his flaws.

Authenticity is a hard thing to come by these days. Sometimes it’s hard to convey what is real.

I’ve been leaning hard on the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, The beauty of imperfection.

Wabi-Sabi carries emotion more than awe. The comfort of lived in furniture. The satisfaction of hand crafting a fence. The freedom from chasing the unattainable.

How does that relate to online UX?

Here’s how : The beautiful site has become ordinary and by that, untrustworthy. The site which promises value, but my not be pristine now has the advantage.

Oddly, the same ham-fisted “designers” who tell me they love things like Google and the iPod and Tivo, are the same to push a huge happy falsely designed world at me at every design review.

(sidebar: what the hell happened to subtlety?)

And then there’s a small, but very vocal group of people hollering about “Ugly Design” and promoting an aesthetic that is by design, horrific and just plain creepy.

Authentic is not beauty or ugliness… authentic is emotional reality, proven in design.

Grab a book on Wabi-Sabi… see where it takes you.

Users are Dicky and Selfish

Yes, it’s true.

Your users are dicks. They are a bunch of selfish knobs who have no appreciation for your efforts.

This is no reason to pander to them. After all, if they knew what they were doing, they’d have your job.

I’ve been seeing some alarming things lately. There’s a book out there called “worship at the altar of the user” or something like that. I’m not going to bother looking it up.

Here’s the thing… as a UX professional, I know the success of what I do depends on user adoption. I also know that my expertise gives me the ability to sway and influence users, to give them new opportunities and to move beyond what is common.

I agree that testing is important, and can inform many things, but I don’t rely on it to tell me any answers.

My friend Alan had a great quote “Don’t use research as a drunkard uses a lamp post, for support rather than illumination”

I have a similar one that I use “Stop using the rear-view mirror to figure out where you’re going”