Posts Tagged 'designer'

The Ultimate Question to UX

When I was 15, I first read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. At the time I was amused by the snarky humor and tone. Recently I reread the first book of the series and while I found myself disenchanted by the writing, I was intrigued by a particular entry.

Spoilers Included. One of the themes of The Hitchhiker Books is the understanding of Life, The Universe, and Everything. A species in an alternate dimension develop a computer, ‘Deep Thought’, to uncover the answer to the ultimate question. The following is an excerpt between the computer and scientists as the answer is revealed.

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.” – Deep Thought

“But it was the Great Question! The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything,” – Scientists

Now what is interesting about this quote is when I first read the books I wasn’t involved in UX. I wasn’t even aware of UX as a field. Rereading this passage I immediately identify with the sentiment, to the processes I explore, and to the conversations I have with clients.

When addressing client engagements, we often come up with solutions before fully understanding the problem space. Even the best of us have preconceived notions on what a solution could be as we enter discovery. We rely on previous work, influence from clients or ‘best in breed’ examples and we tarnish our clean slate with these assumptions.

This passage from the book is a good reminder that while we might have a solution in mind or think we understand a problem, it might be for the wrong reasons. Knowing the question – the problem – we are striving to solve for is critical in designing the appropriate solution. Otherwise we end up with elegant solutions for the wrong problem, or for a problem that doesn’t exist. After all, we can always ask “How many roads must a man walk down?”

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Is Failure Necessary?

I have gone through the last few years waiting for the other shoe to fall. Moving from in-house to consulting, I have been continually tossed into the deep and and I have made it out still kicking – to some degree or another. Still, for the memorable past I have had the notion that I cannot truly succeed until I have tasted failure. As I socialize this idea with my friends and mentors, I question what type of failure is necessary.

A certain level of honor has become associated with martyrdom lately. Is figuratively “dying” to prove a point an efficient way to create forward progress for your team or yourself?

– Ian Smile, @endashes
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On Dropping the Adjective Before Design

Dan Willis, also known as @uxcrank on Twitter, gave the third keynote at Midwest UX in Columbus, Ohio (slides available here). Discussing how we artificially break down our profession, Dan encourages us to take the adjective before design in our title and drop it. During Q&A, Joe Sokohl (@mojoguzzi) challenges this direction, stating we need the adjectives. Joe points out that there are differences between fashion designers and web designers, architects and automobile designers, and we need the adjective to understand what type of work we do. Due to time, the conversation between Dan and Joe was limited. I leave my additional thoughts below.
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Treat every presentation like your first

I am nearing the end of Phase I of a sizable project with a client that, for the sake of simplicity, we will call Goldstar. Last week I presented my design concepts on Tuesday and had a pre-final presentation meeting Friday. In my mind, Friday was to review changes to the designs, new implications, and to obtain buy in from the core team before presenting to the larger audience. Assuming the audience was familiar with my work to date, I jumped right into the new designs and omitted the back story. The meeting immediately flipped and I was caught back pedaling, explaining design rationale and process – something I had wrongfully assumed the audience was familiar with. How could I have avoided this? Treat every presentation like your first.
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Humans are Feature Creep

Feature creep is the concept given to a product in development when scope explodes beyond control. Build a folding knife and add a razor and tweezers, you have a classic Swiss army knife. Add a file, scissors, spoon, fork, USB drive and you have feature creep, a product with so many features fused together none are truly effective. This theory relates to nature quite well.

Continue reading ‘Humans are Feature Creep’

My Design Preference

If given the choice I choose research over testing. Not lab research but genuine user research in the early stages of a project. The reason is simple, I prefer finding solutions over finding problems.

Now this might seem a little backwards, but let me explain. Research is completed after a problem, however vague has been uncovered. For example, this doesn’t work, my system crashes, or productivity should be increased are all problems. Research is performed to uncover the solutions inherent to each of these.

Testing on the other hand is performed when a viable solution has been developed from research. At this point, testing uncovers new problems such as the system crashing, lagging, or solving a different problem than expected.

It is this distinction that I prefer research and uncovering solutions over realizing problems during testing.

Interaction Design: Industrial or Communication, which training dominates?

At the Carnegie Mellon Design career fair last week I made up the statistic that 10-20% of communication design (CD) students switch to industrial design (ID) post graduation compared to 50-60% of ID students who switch to CD or interaction design (UIX). After much discussion to this general observation, I found the training involved in the ID field compared to UIX to be the issue.

The structure of Carnegie Mellon’s academic program and possible misrepresentation of ID and CD aside, I believe the UIX field is more closely related to traditional industrial design rather than communication design. My defense for this statement is based on the number of dimensions involved with the two subsets of design. In its most basic form, graphic design is a flat media with a ‘transmit only’ interaction with a user. Industrial design on the other hand requires active engagement on the part of the user. This is true for complex systems and machinery and simple products such as doors, windows, and chairs. This added engagement is complicated by the constraints of physics, human limitations, materials and so on. The questions how does the back of a TV feel when navigating blind, how do I instinctively grab the right non with confidence are questions industrial designers face within the systems they develop.

This complexity is what makes ID and UIX so tightly knit to each other. In UIX physical constraints are compounded with technological needs ad limitations. The methodology taught in industrial design programs creates a model of approaching problems that analyzes the full system from observation to engagement to fulfillment. Not to belittle graphic design, but I feel much of this work is based more on direct communication of information and less on manipulating it. Still important, communication within interactive media is only successful if the engagement is a pleasant well thought out experience.

So what does this mean for the field of UIX? As I have said before, I have a background in ID and Interaction design. I relate to and work most in interaction design, information architecture, an usability. I still need to work with graphic designers on final design treatment and styling. So one is by no means better than the other. Being said I believe it is easier for industrial designers to make the leap to the user experience and interaction role than graphic designers to make that switch. This is however, based on self reflection and completely made up statistics.


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