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Interaction Design Ramblings

Notes from the field

Where I'm posting now
You can find more current writings on my WordPress blog, "The Apprentice Path" http://www.theapprenticepath.com/

I also post as a guest to the following blogs
* Balanced Team http://www.balancedteam.org/
* Lean Startup Residency (LUXr),  http://luxr.posterous.com/blog
* The Cooper Journal, http://www.cooper.com/journal/lane_halley/

Personas help create empathy, focus and good decisions
(Note: Sometimes when I'm asked for advice, I like to post my response here to share the knowledge with a wider audience. Some details below have been changed for privacy.)

A colleague writes:

The Creative Director (my boss) wants to utilize user personas in the design process. The team/agency has not really employed this technique before, to the best of my knowledge.  We are in the stage of building content outline/sitemap and continuing to brainstorm the experience design. The team has 2 target audiences they want to focus on for design...  how detailed do personas really need to be and why? ... The team seems like they are a little resistant because they just don't get it, they think they already "know" the target audiences well enough to be fine, and I'm not putting up a good enough argument yet to make them create a document describing "Ted" and everything about his activities, motivations, goals, etc. for the site.

Here's my response:

You mention that the Creative Director "wants to utilize personas," that the team is "a little resistant" and you're not sure how to "make a good argument" for personas. Can you ask the creative director "why personas?' What are they in a response to? What does he or she expect will change? Knowing this will help you assess what to do next and how to work with the team so they feel value and ownership from what you decide to do. Once you understand the problem the Creative Director is trying to solve, you can figure out the best approach, and if personas are an appropriate tool for the situation.

Personas are a way to have empathy for the audience of your product and help the team focus on a set of product features that have a coherent presentation. Personas help you make decisions about how things look and behave and what's important to build first. Personas model what you understand about users so the team can avoid talking about "the user" in vague terms. The more you talk to actual users, and observe them using your product, the better your personas (and your product!) can be.

Your team they may think they have empathy for the user, but most of the time it's a customer or expert user, not the day to day user of their products. If you're not creating personas that model actual research, it won't help for the designer to go off and make things up. If you're not adding new information to the system, it can be a helpful exercise to create personas as a team to surface what everyone knows and create a shared understanding of who "the user" is. Then, take the opportunity to validate this understanding every time someone gets a chance to talk to a real user. This process of using inherent knowledge of the team to create user profiles is called "provisional personas" or "pragmatic personas."

Personas can help you make sure your site serves the needs of all the people you want to use it. For example, your home page may be designed for many users while internal areas may address individual users' needs.  An example of this would be a site that had different information areas for doctors and patients. A useful exercise is do a task on the site taking the perspective of each of the personas one at a time. That will quickly show you if you're delivering an experience that will have the result you want.

Another kind of focus is to focus on a particular persona's needs in a given release/push/sprint. I've seen teams very successfully focus an entire release on a particular activity for a particular persona (e.g. "Jacob can get information about his health condition and find a doctor for a consultation")

Good decisions
Effective personas are a tool that help the team answer questions and provide guidance about what to build and how it should look and behave. What's the most important information on this screen? Is the person reading this more likely to do THIS or THIS? What information do they need to see? What will motivate them to take the action we want? A useful persona description will have information in it that helps answer these sorts of questions. Typically developers find a "day in the life" or walkthrough of a site activity with specific context more useful than biographical background information.

Good luck and let me know how it goes!

Advice to BP - cross functional teams for better risk management?
At the Agile UX retreat (twitter hashcode #auxretreat) we talked about project citizenship. This recent article from ErgoWeb touches on the topic from a different perspective.



... you'll find that you'll be more successful at building product -- or extracting, refining and selling petroleum based products in BP's case -- if you follow these philosophically simple, albeit operationally challenging steps:

  1. Management Leadership
  2. Respect for People (employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders, communities)
  3. A Scientific Approach to Continuous Improvement (e.g., Plan-Do-Check-Act, Standardized Methods)
  4. Cross-Functional Cooperation and Teamwork
  5. Training, Knowledge and Skill Development
  6. Responsibility and Accountability (throughout the organization)

These characteristics are the makings of any effective, sustainable world-class organization. We could add a few things to the list, but these are the basic essential ingredients. If one or more of these features goes missing, the organization will certainly underperform, or worse, find itself in a position like BP.


Design Studio Workshop - update

Presented a Design Studio workshop April 29, 2010 at the Agile Experience Meetup NYC. The workshop materials are posted to SlideShare.

Design Studio Workshop - Instructions and Timing

What’s a design studio workshop?

A design studio workshop is a creative exercise that helps a group of people explore concepts and build shared understanding of a problem. Working from a shared context, individual team members sketch solutions to a problem, discuss them as a group, and then iterate concepts to improve them. The outcome of a design studio is a deeper understanding of a problem space, and a starting point for deeper discussion about the elements of the right solution.

The objective of a design studio is to explore the problem space and generate ideas. We may not necessarily produce a complete solution in one meeting. Feel free to explore crazy ideas and have fun!

Mature drawing skills are not required to participate! All that’s required is a willingness to participate.

How does it work?

This session 90 minutes, remind the participants to please arrive promptly so we can get started together. 

Introductions (5 minutes)

Review timing for workshop
Arrange group into teams
Set context by reviewing persona and scenarios
(note: you need to create the context prior to this meeting, best if the team already knows this material)

Individual Drawing (20 min)

Each person creates rough storyboards that illustrate the scenarios.
Feel free to use paper, pens, stickies, tape and scissors. Get creative!

Presentation in groups (15 min)

Within your group, each person explains their solution to the group.
During this time, the other people can take notes, but there’s no conversation/comments/questions
The group is responsible to get through all concepts in the allotted time.

Discussion in groups, record feedback (15 min)

Each team discusses all the concepts one at a time.
Comments are in the form “This part is working because…” or “I don’t see how Sandy would accomplish this….”
Record comments on each individual sketch (stickies are helpful for this)
The group is responsible to get through all concepts in the allotted time.

Converge, redraw new concept as group (20 min)

Elect a person to draw the group concept
Each team collaborates to produce a concept sketch that represents the best direction produced by their group.Note: sometimes this new concept may include elements from several concept sketches, other times the group converges around one concept.

Presentation ( 15  min)

The last 15 minutes, each group presents their converged sketch to the other group.
During this phase, capture any issues or comments about unsolved issues, areas for further exploration/research, et

Congratulations! You’ve now completed a design studio workshop!

Agilepalooza: Visual Artifacts for Agile Teams
October 30, 2009 I attended Agilepalooza in Natick MA. The event was hosted by VersionOne. This was an openspace event, so the participant created and hosted the agenda. I wanted to talk about UX stuff so I proposed a talk "Visual Artifacts for Agile Teams." Here are my notes from the talk.

To start the talk, we did a silent brainstorm and collected topics for our backlog. I wrote out two posters that said "What is Working?" and "What are our Challenges?" to collect our comments. After that, the talk was fairly free form. As we ran down on a topic, we went to the backlog to see what else we wanted to talk about.

What are our Challenges?

The group identified a lot of challenges related to keeping everyone informed about the evolving product UI

1. Changes to mockup not communicated to QA, who test the wrong behavior
2. Marketing says "change this" to one developer, how does rest of team know?
3. Team decides to change product, how do you estimate impact of UI changes?
4. Going to code too soon. Failing to visualze and validate the user experience. 

What's Working?

Visual artifacts help keep the team focused on a shared product concept.

two kinds of visual artifacts
Product mandate: mission, scope, dependencies, agreements
Product look and behavior: sketches, storyboards, scenarios, user models

Integrate UX person into scrum team, attend standups, work with developers (50%-%100 works)
Get lightweight. Draw over printouts of existing visual design, rather than modify the source
When showing design concepts to people, don't ask &quot;do you like it?&quot; ask them to perform tasks so you understand what they can do and can't do.
Different artifacts for envision and construction phases of projects.

High res, Low res

We also got into a good discussion about the uses of low res and high res sketches and prototypes

Use of low res or high res depends on what you're trying to do. You can use high res during envisioning to help people imagine what it could be like, you can also use low res during envisioning to encourage people to participate in co-design.

Low res
More sketchy, observer can project/imagine
Easier to show to subject mater experts who can imagine what could be happening
Harder to show to managers and end users
Can be technology agnostic.

Hi res
Can be specific about look, information and behavior
More real, observer is responding
Easier to show to managers and end users who aren't good at imagining interactivity
If using for construction, you need to understand/take into account the technology platform so as to not waste effort creating things you can't build

Team Activities

At the end of our talk, we discussed some techniques you can use with your team to co-create visual artifacts and do visual problem solving

Design studio

Product box

We also talked about how scenarios can relate to user stories. In the early phases, a scenario can be a single story &quot;buy house&quot; later on, the scenario grows more specific and contains many user stories that define more specific activities.

It's good to have larger scenarios in your backlog before you break them down as they act as a placeholder you can keep in the back of your mind while you work on other things.

There are some photos of the event on flickr too.

Employee-driven innovation at BT

Notes from The Marketing Leadership Roundtable webinar “Employee-Driven Innovation: BT's Innovation Central”


“As marketers struggle to improve their innovation pipelines with fewer dedicated resources, many are experimenting with employee-driven innovation strategies. Unfortunately, most marketers find that few employees have the combination of skills, context, and motivation needed to make meaningful contributions to their innovation agendas.”

Key points

Why innovate? In soft economic conditions, companies that don't invest in innovation don't rebound as much as companies who do. "Starving investments in down markets sets us up to fail when markets rebound."

How do we balance the expertise and experience of dedicated innovation teams with the scale and customer proximity of employee-driven innovation initiatives?

BT created an innovation central team with the objective to get greater participation and higher quality input from employees

BT’s process has two guiding principles:

· Open the door to innovation: Create an environment where employees are encouraged to participate in innovation

· Franchise the innovation expertise: dedicate experts to boosting the organization's ability to innovate

Tools to open the door - employees are encouraged to participate, provided with enough context to contribute meaningful ideas and are rewarded for contributions:

New idea scheme

Innovation charters

Global scouting program

Recognition and reward systems

Tools to franchise innovation experience - Proven innovators act facilitate the process so that innovation is available to all employees and provide coaching when an employee has a great idea.

Innovation central team

Coaching network

Innovation toolkit

My take-away

I see a role for interaction designers as the "proven innovators" who help build an innovation culture, provide context and help shepherd good ideas from concept to reality.

Make it just like that, only better

In this Advertising Age article Al Ries muses on the difficulty of weeding out good creative ideas from bad and observes that "most people tend to make their judgments against a background of 'accepted standards,'or conventional wisdom."

As an example, he contrasts the classic Doyle Dane Bernbach "think small" campaign for the VW Beetle with other automobile advertising of the 1950's. Existing automobile ads contained people, used artwork rather than photographs, included mutiple illustrations and used color.

The Beetle add was simple, black and white and included a realistic photograph. This ad is credited as the start of modern advertising. The new form of ad worked because it stood out from the crowd. It said what needed to be said simply, and in a way that reflected the brand values of a small, simple car.

Ries concludes with this statement "People don't want to be different. They want to be better. Clients want advertising à la mode. And most creative directors want the same thing. They want advertising "in the fashion" of the times, only better.That's why it's hard to recognize a great advertising idea. It doesn't look right because it goes against accepted wisdom. "

Interaction designers have the same problem. People often ask them to create something "out of the box" or "really innovative." When they see the wireframes/concepts they react from the context of what they already know. When presenting an idea that's really revolutionary, it's important to explain who it's for, and why it will be efffective.


The rise of the netbook

In Today's AdvertisingAge Simon Dumenco writes:

"To give you some background, in late 2007, I tested the Eee PC, a mini laptop from Taiwanese laptop maker Asus. At the time, the "netbook" moniker hadn't quite congealed around this emerging category of sub-sub-notebooks, so when I wrote a column in January 2008 about my experience with the 2-lb. wonder, I didn't even know what to call it. But I knew then it was going to change everything. The $300 machine, I wrote, "has me contemplating nothing less than The End of Microsoft." That's because I tested a version that was Microsoft-software-free -- it had a simple customized interface built around Linux (the popular open-source operating system) and was obviously set up to encourage users to compute on the "cloud," using free web-based services such as Gmail, Google Docs, Facebook, etc. I totally didn't miss Microsoft's balky operating system or its pricey apps, because I was mostly using my new little buddy as a front-end to the internet (sort of like an oversize iPhone, with a real keyboard) rather than computing locally on my hard drive."


I bought an Asus Eee in 2008, but found that the screen resolution made it impossible to use Yahoo mail and other net aps with top-heavy page layouts. The browser and advertising cruft at the top of the page made the form factor impractical.

Fast forward to 2009. I've abandoned the Asus, and love my new Dell Inspiron mini, with a screen resolution that works, even with chrome-heavy MS applications. This is my new buddy for note-taking, photo storage, email etc.

However, in the long term the iPhone seems like the better solution for walk-around computing (messaging, maps). Waiting for July when I see what Apple comes up with.

Clues that collaboration is catching on

Heineken to Agencies Outside NYC: You Need Not Apply

CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Heineken USA's creative review has an unusual qualification for agencies: Non-New York shops aren't welcome.

In a statement confirming the review this afternoon, the White Plains, N.Y.-based importer explained that it was planning a Manhattan marketing headquarters and "is pursuing a New York-based agency in conjunction with the office move."

As a result, it's taken creative duties on its flagship Heineken and Heineken Premium Light brands, previously handled by Wieden & Kennedy's Portland, Ore., office, and placed them up for grabs between Wieden's New York office and Manhattan hubs of three agencies it has worked with previously: StrawberryFrog, TBWA/Chiat/Day and Euro RSCG.


Of course, in these cost-conscious times, marketers may be increasingly wary of paying for their agencies to travel to them. A Heineken spokeswoman said the decision was driven by a desire to collaborate better with agencies, not to save money.