I've started a new blog for long articles about the design of products called Designing Devices. I'd like to turn them into a book one day, but for now they're just a free blog for your enjoyment, so happy reading!
Some excerpts you might enjoy:
- Table of Contents and Chapter 1: What is Interaction Design? (2.6mb pdf)
- Chapter 4: Design Research (on the New Riders site)
- Chapter 6: Ideation and Design Principles (on Johnny Holland) New chapter!
Other new chapters include Design Strategy (Chapter 3); Design Research Analysis (Chapter 5); and Prototyping and Development (Chapter 8). Most of the rest of the book has been substantially re-written. All in all, I feel it's a much better introduction to the field than the first edition. (First edition readers: contact me and I'll be happy to send you the Design Strategy chapter as a pdf for purchasing the "Beta" book!)
I'm really proud of Kicker Studio lately. In the last month, we've unveiled what I consider to be two world-class, category-altering designs.
The first was the Canesta Gestural Entertainment Center. It's a way of controlling your TV without a remote, using only a small set of waves and circular gestures.
The second project was a touchscreen VoIP conference phone for small businesses, the Kicker Conference Phone. We set out to fix a known problem (conference phones suck) and ended up with something really special, I think.
There's no such thing as an interaction designer either. Not as a profession. Anyone who claims to specialize in [interaction design or information architecture] is a fool or a liar. The fools are fooling themselves into thinking that one aspect of their work is somehow paramount. And the liars seek to align themselves with a tribe that will convey upon them status and power.
Jesse James Garrett, The Memphis Plenary given at the 2009 IA Summit
Let me preface this response by saying that Jesse is a friend and colleague of mine, and I hope he wasn't trying to personally insult anyone, even though it's hard not to take the words above personally. Since I call myself an interaction designer and have sat on the Board of the Interaction Design Association, I suppose this makes me both a fool and a liar.
The design work I do is predominantly interaction design. I have a master's degree in it. I've written books about it. I practice it. Thus, this aspect of my work is clearly paramount to other practices that intersect with mine (e.g. visual and industrial design, information architecture) and that make up the umbrella of user experience. Prominent not to the overarching experience design itself (which everyone is working towards with the same goal of creating good user experiences), but to the other disciplines I work alongside.
To call everyone who practices in the field "user experience designers" is not only a web-centric attitude (where information architecture and interaction design are more closely aligned than elsewhere), but it will have the effect of making us all seem like generalists. "User experience designer" implies that you can design all aspects of user experience to at least some level of competence. It would be as if everyone who practices medicine was called a "general practitioner." Speaking for myself (and I suspect for many others), I'm not a generalist. I don't do everything equally well. You don't want me doing your visual design, nor your taxonomy, nor your content analysis. I understand them, and can do them if pressed, but I'm not an expert in them. To pay me to do them would probably be a waste of your money. There are people with more skill, talent, and experience in those areas and thus do those things better than me. I know, because I partner with them all the time to do those parts of experience design.
Are there going to be generalists? Sure. Many of them, working in small- or single-person teams. And perhaps since they will likely do the bulk of UX work in their organizations, "user experience designer" is a fine title and role for them. But my hunch is that, like general practitioners in the medical field, what generalists in the UX field will work on will be constrained to a set of limited problems. For anything really complex, specialists will deal with it. I'm pretty sure this is the situation we're in right now, in fact.
Specialization isn't a bad thing. In fact, for most industries, it's a sign of maturity. If we use medicine as an example again, a century or so ago, there were pretty much two kind of doctors: doctors (general practitioners) and surgeons (the people who cut your leg off when it had gangrene). As the medical field matured over the last century, specializations emerged because we learned more about the body and understood that not all medical problems are the same. Nor are all design problems the same; certain problems require certain specialized disciplines to engage with them. Complex situations often require teams of specialists to solve them.
Logically, if everyone who works in experience design should be called a "user experience designer," does this mean visual and industrial designers should take that title too? And how about architects? Sound designers? It's simply an impractical and illogical call to arms, and ultimately unlikely and undesirable.
If we all switch to the title and role of user experience designer, finding the right specialist is going to get harder. How are employers and clients going to know which user experience designer to engage or hire? There is already a wide range of skills among the practitioners of information architecture and interaction design. To toss everyone together will make it even more difficult for the organizations that hire us to evaluate individual skills and experience to make sure they have the right person for the work they have. This is not a trivial problem; we want to make it as easy as possible to be found. (Findability, anyone?)
In a broader sense, it seems to me the movement to dissolve information architecture into user experience design is simply an admission of information architecture's declining visibility and, especially, how limited information architecture actually is in practice. Outside of large online spaces, the percentage of time most people in the UX field spend doing the structure and categorization of information is probably staggeringly small, even among people whose job title is "information architect." This is even granting that on the web, the difference between information architecture and interaction design can be trivial or academic. When we move to more functionality-rich (instead of content-rich) products, there is a huge difference between the two disciplines. A person with a library science degree and card sorting skills is likely going to be the wrong fit for a ubicomp or a consumer electronics project, whatever their title. But it would be easier to know that with a label, and isn't labeling part of what information architecture is all about?
None of this, by the way, negates my stance that user experience is everyone's responsibility, in the same way the health of the patient is every doctor's responsibility. No matter what we're called, no matter what role--specialist or generalist--we play on a project. Nor do I think that interaction design and information architecture are solely practiced by or the responsibility of those who have those titles.
I do not, however, want to be called a fool or a liar because I don't want to be homogenized with other disciplines that I mostly don't practice. I think you'll find that many practitioners of the other specialized disciplines that make up the rich and varied field of user experience design wouldn't appreciate it either.
Here's some places you'll find me in 2009:
I'm not speaking at it, but my client is debuting our product demo at CES in Las Vegas on the 8-11th.
In the Bay Area, I'm speaking at Stanford University's HCI program's Seminar on People, Computers, and Design on January 16.
Also in January, I'm speaking and signing books at the IxDA-SF's monthly meeting on January 27, held at Adobe.
In February, I have back-to-back workshops and two amazing conferences. First, in Denver, I'm at Web Directions North on February 3-4, giving a talk and teaching a workshop on touchscreens and interactive gestures. Use my discount code WDN09DSa to get $50 off the conference and my workshop. The Web Directions conferences are always a lot of fun.
Then, on February 4-8, I'm at Interaction09 in Vancouver. I'm co-teaching a workshop with Bill DeRouchey (already sold out!) as well as giving a keynote called Carpe Diem: Attention, Awareness, and Interaction Design 2009. If Interaction08 was any indication, I09 will be one of the best conferences of the year.
I'm unfortunately not speaking or attending SXSW this March for the first time in about three years. Nor am I speaking at ETech this year, sadly. But on March 26, I will be speaking at CHI Atlanta.
In April, I'll be speaking at the Voices that Matter Web Design Conference in San Francisco on the 27-30th.
May. Nothing scheduled yet?!
June brings two more blockbuster conferences. First is UPA 2009 in Portland on the 8-12th. And then on the 15-17th it's UXLondon, where I'll be teaching a workshop on brainstorming and giving a talk on designing from the inside-out.
July 19-24 finds me teaching a workshop at HCI International 2009 in San Diego.
Who knows where I'll be in August, but in September, I'm also likely speaking at d.Construct 2009.
Whew! That's a lot of hot air coming out of my mouth. I hope to see some of you at one or more of these events!
If this blog has been absurdly quiet lately, it is because I have a good reason. Over the last several weeks, I resigned my position at Adaptive Path and, with some colleagues, created Kicker Studio, a new design consultancy focused on products, not the web. We're combining visual, industrial, and interaction design to make products that are holistic from the ground up. It's something I've wanted to do for a few years now.
Seldom in my life have I ever felt more like my ENTJ personality type ("The Fieldmarshall") as have these last few weeks, to not only sell people on the vision for the company, but simply to marshall the troops to do all the myriad of tasks that are required to set up a small business. It is amazing how millions of people are able to do it. Between the accounting and the legal and dealing with all the rest, the set-up is amazingly tricky to navigate.
But anyway, most of my professional writing is over there now, on the Kick It! blog. Come join us, won't you? (Send clients.)
From White Noise:
I went to the automated teller machine to check my balance. I inserted my card, entered my secret code, tapped out my request. The figure on the screen roughly corresponded to my independent estimate, feebly arrived at after long searches through documents, tormented arithmetic. Waves of relief and gratitude flowed over me. The system had blessed my life. I felt its support and approval. The system hardware, the mainframe sitting in a locked room in some distant city. What a pleasing interaction. I sensed something of deep personal value, but not money, not that at all, had been authenticated and confirmed. A deranged person was escorted from the bank by two armed guards. The system was invisible, which made it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with. But we were in accord, at least for now. The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies.
In her veil and habit she was basically a face, or a face and scrubbed hands. Here in cyberspace she has shed all that steam-ironed fabric. She is not naked exactly but she is open—exposed to every connection you can make on the world wide web.
There is no space or time out here, or in here, or wherever she is. There are only connections. Everything is connected. All human knowledge is gathered and linked, hyperlinked, this site leading to that, this fact referenced to that, a keystroke, a mouse-click, a password—world without end, amen.
But she is in cyberspace, not heaven, and she feels the grip of systems. This is why she is so uneasy. There is a presence here, a thing implied, something vast and bright. She senses the paranoia of the web, the net. There's the perennial threat of virus of course. Sister knows all about contaminations and the protective measures they require. This is different—it's a glow, a lustrous rushing force that seems to flow from a billion net nodes.
When you decide on a whim to visit the H-bomb home page, she begins to understand. Everything in your computer, the plastic, silicon and mylar, every logical operation and processing function, the memory, the hardware, the software, the ones and zeroes, the triads inside the pixels that form the on-screen image—it all culminates here.
I really enjoy teaching the UX Intensive workshop on Interaction Design, especially now that it has evolved into a hands-on studio course. I think it is a meaty day that practitioners of all levels can get something out of.
I'm teaching it again in Minneapolis on June 19. Use my discount code of FODS and get 15% off the cost. Hope to see you there!
Oh, and that code works for UX Week too! Now with Pixar!
I don't usually review academic papers, mostly just design books. But in doing research for the new book, I stumbled across How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design by Scott Klemmer, Björn Hartmann, and Leila Takayama of Stanford. It's two years old (as of this writing), but I think its themes are dead on and even more relevant now than before, and if you are interested in the future of interaction design, it is well worth a read.
The basic thrust of the paper is that with the current keyboard-mouse-monitor set-up, we do every task, no matter if it is writing a paper or editing a movie or even playing a game, all the same way. Pointing, clicking, dragging and dropping, etc. The work has become "homogenized" and we can do better, creating richer interactions.
Here are their themes:
- Thinking Through Doing. There are a lot of skills you simply cannot learn by reading or listening alone. You have to try them out. Gestures aren't just for embellishment to communication, they can also be an aid to learning and understanding. Manipulation of items allows for greater understanding of the item. Artifacts have their own characteristics, and their "backtalk" uncovers problems or can suggest new designs.
- Performance. We should design products for expert users, able to use their hands and motor memory to perform action-centered skills. Thinking can be too slow; experiental cognition (learned skillful behavior like driving a car) can be more rapid and powerful than reflective cognition.
- Visibility. Through the performance of an activity, that activity can be made visible to others easily, so that collaboration and situated learning can occur spontaneously.
- Risk. Most products are designed to decrease risk, but retaining some risk can be beneficial. With risk comes trust, responsibility, and attention.
- Thick Practice. Because there is so much benefit to the real world, we should be careful with replacing physical artifacts with digital ones. The best case scenario is to augment the physical world with digital behaviors, and thus "admitting the improvisations of practice that the physical world offers."
One of the few academic papers I have enjoyed recently.
Annoyance at spam twitter accounts had me lock up my twitter updates last week. The upshot of that was that by doing so, I moved some 500 people who had been following me into twitter limbo. For the last few days, I've been having to decide, one by one, which ones I let return to seeing my updates. Rather than do this willy-nilly, I came up with some basic rules that might be interesting to you as well.
In order for me to let you have a glimpse of my life, I've decided, I need to know you or know of you, or at a minimum want to know you. If I don't know you or know of you, the only way I can tell if I want to know you is from your online identity, which in this case means glancing at your twitter profile. If you follow thousands of people, I'm probably not going to let you follow me, because it bespeaks of a lack of interest in me as an individual. If the "person" is a company, product or service, forget it. There has to be some benefit to me in your seeing some of me, and that is unlikely to be the case with most companies. I can see how it might benefit them, but me? Unlikely.
The bar is much higher for me to choose to follow someone. In order for me to do that, there are two criteria: I have to know you well (we've at least had drinks or a meal), and you have to use your twitter account in a way that I find acceptable. By that I mean you don't twitter excessively or have long @ conversations or only @ people. You need to have something to say for me to want to hear it, not just responses. I have to know you well for the simple reason I need to understand a little of your life to make sense of some of your messages. Where you live, your family life, what you do for a living, your sense of humor, etc. Without context, a twitter stream can simply be stuff and nonsense.
Now, abstracting this just a little to all social networks isn't much of a stretch.
- Have something to say.
- Pick and choose who you follow and who follows you carefully.
- Offline context still matters.
- Reveal only as much as is necessary.
- Give me a reason to follow you--and to share with you.
It's a start anyway.
Believe it or not, we're already thinking about next year's Interaction09, following the sell-out success of Interaction08. But we're not resting on our laurels: One of the things I'm curious about is why some of you chose to attend other conferences—IA Summit, CHI, etc.—instead of (or in addition to) Interaction08.
Obviously, we're not going to change the focus of the conference away from interaction design, but if there were other factors that caused you to instead go elsewhere, I'd be curious to hear them. Everything is up for grabs: location, program, etc. Email me at dan AT odannyboy DOT com or leave a comment.
Ok, maybe that isn't the best way to sell this job, but Adaptive Path is looking for a new CEO. If you or someone you know (or even know of) would be an interesting fit (combining business and design savvy), we'd like to know. Send an email to bryan dot mason at adaptivepath dot com.
At the airport on the way to Austin last week, I bought a bottle of water. Or, more precisely, I bought the plastic container that the water came in. The water was just a bonus. The bottle, by SEI Water, is shaped like a large hip flask or canteen instead of the typical round cylinder, and it feels sturdier too. I spent a little bit more for this water bottle because I liked the form factor. The bottle drew comments everywhere I went, because (and here is the point) when I was done with it, I didn't throw it out like I do with every other water bottle. I kept refilling it, rather than discard it. It fit so well in my hand and looked so good with its sleek Helvetica Neue logo, I didn't want to get rid of it once its initial "use" was up. Five days later, I still have it. An airport water bottle.
That's good design.
In advance of my Tap is the New Click presentation at ETech, O'Reilly has graciously allowed me to post a draft of the first chapter of my new book (now titled) Interactive Gestures: Designing Gestural Interfaces. It's pretty much my unedited first draft, but I think it reads pretty well. Comments welcome, of course!
Download Chapter 1 (5.4mb pdf)
If you are looking to meet/talk to/get a drink with yours truly, here are the conferences I'm speaking at or attending in the next few months.
This week, it's Adaptive Path's UX Intensive in San Francisco, where I'm teaching the (newly rebooted) Interaction Design Day this Friday. Some seats are still available, so use my code of FODS and get 10% off. It's very hands on, so watch those x-acto blades!
March takes me to ETech in San Diego for Tap is the New Click from my upcoming book. Use my code et08fd and get 20% off. March is also SXSW in Austin, where I'm leading a Core Conversation on Feeding the Creativity Beast.
April 1-2, I'm speaking at and dropping in on classes at Indiana University's School of Infomatics. Then I'm back in San Francisco to attend Adaptive Path's MX Conference on design leadership. Use my code FODS and get 10% off. (The early bird price is still going on too.)
There's more lined up for summer which will be announced shortly. Hope to see you somewhere!
Take a look at the tabs from the new Firefox 3 Beta. Not only are the tabs smaller in size than in previous versions (and thus creating a smaller target), they have foolishly added borders around them (which aren't clickable), making the targets smaller still and far more difficult to hit. The vertical borders between tabs are no big deal, but needlessly adding the border below seems a poor design choice. As crazy as it sounds, we could use those 2 or 3 pixels of height for the tab, because it will make using them much easier.
Since when do tabs peek down from above anyway? I'm all for experimentation, but let's be reasonable.
The talk I gave last year at ID's 2007 Design Research conference is now available as a video!
In no particular order:
- Jeff Howard's Designing for Service always uncovers interesting links with good commentary on service design.
- Brian Oberkirch's Like It Matters always has clear-eyed commentary on products and the web.
- Marc Andressen's pmarca blog has become required reading, not only for its insights on technology and Silicon Valley, but for its hilarious commentary on pop culture too.
- Design A Day by Jack Moffett is probably the best pure design blog on this list. Daily goodness.
- Adam Greenfield's Speedbird isn't exactly interaction design-oriented (although let's be honest: few of my picks this year are), but it does contain a host of critical thinking about topics interaction designers should care about, namely architecture, cities, and ubicomp.
- Putting People First constantly uncovers (and summarizes well) great UX posts.
- Making a return to the list is Basement.org. Not only good analysis of trends, but links to great practical tools too.
- Nicolas Nova at Pasta and Vinegar posts too much, but often finds things, especially from the academic world, that others miss.
So that's the list! There are lots of other blogs I follow of course, but these have been the most consistent, the most insightful over the last year.
See you in 2008!
As part of my winter break reading list, I've been trying to plow through Essential McLuhan by Marshall McLuhan because for a while now I thought I was missing out on some crucial piece of my education in media theory, some lost piece about the medium I'm working in.
As it turns out, not so much.
While still an interesting read and while some of the concepts, namely "The Medium is The Message" which the internet makes perfectly obvious day after day, are still sound, a lot of these writings seem hopelessly dated and almost laughably irrelevant now, 40 years later. Saying that, for instance, radio is Hot (demanding the use of a single sense) while TV is Cool (requires more participation) seems, if not obvious, then at least non-helpful as a model in the age of satellite radio and TV like Lost. And the internet? Well, it pretty much blows the Hot/Cool thing to hell. It's Hot and Cool, often at the same time, and as far as I can tell, the Hot/Cool model doesn't much help us understand the medium (or its message) any better.
His simplistic take on the electronic world seems quaint now, almost Victorian in its language, filled with bad puns and quotes from Shakespeare and Joyce to prove his points. He's not a fan of television and god knows what he would make of the web. He saw electronic media as the end of civilization and of the printed word. Satan is a great electrical engineer, he noted. And although he invented the term "global village," he certainly doesn't seem like he wants to live there.
In short, I don't know what to make of his work. He could simply be one of those seminal figures who turned a critical eye on something overlooked (in his case television) and went on to influence other critics. Maybe he's the Velvet Underground or Big Star of media theorists. Or maybe, just maybe, he was wrong about a lot of things. Electronic media like what you are reading now hasn't destroyed the world or the printed word. The global village? Probably a good thing. Television? Awesome.
The most damning piece of evidence? The Wikipedia articles around McLuhan do a better, more concise job of explaining his theories than he does.
As for me, I'd rather watch TV.