I'm a product designer with a passion for user centered design. I am also an advocate of creative thinking approaches and design thinking.
I specialize in experience design for software. I've worked on lots of websites, web applications, mobile and social media products, applying principles and techniques from psychology and social sciences, human factors, human-computer interaction, visual design, accessibility and usability. My Ph.D focused on natural language generation and human communication with machines, a combination of AI and HCI.
I have a strong drive for innovation and have designed, envisioned and created new products for different market places and industries from scratch, as well as the strategy for bringing them to market and gaining user adoption. I bring the power and energy of design thinking to both startups and big companies. I like to focus my efforts on large-scale industry disruption.
I love to draw, take photos and skateboard. I'm a student and teacher of Yoga. I'm always exploring new things.
I remember the first time I heard the concept of a "Web page" and how perplexing that was to me at the time. It was as if the web were a book, and this here was a page inside it. I never thought of the web in these terms, even in the early days, because to me it was far more abstract and novel than that. Much more exciting than a "page" could ever be. It was a crazy graph exploding with possibilities in all directions.
It's no surprise that I went on to study computational linguistics and information retrieval. The web to me was a treasure trove of patterns with information ready to be used in interesting ways. The web is a huge amalgamation of links all intertwined together, nodes on a graph, and makes me lean more towards physics than books.
Why do we still talk about the concept of a "page" when we design?
This in itself is an odd mental model. We talk about the different "screens" involved in a user flow through a software system, but this again fails to capture the depth of the work we are doing as designers. You are not designing "screens" or "pages" that are destinations to information, or a logical step in a process. This is short-changing the user and yourself as a designer. You are doing something far more visceral than that. You are orchestrating the moves, following the trail of thought and the quirks of the mind to enable real world things to happen: an item to be delivered at my door that I'm excited about, a message from my mum that makes me feel good, or a photo shared amongst my friends that strengthens our bond...It's about crafting experiences that inevitably result in a human emotion, and that have real-world implications.
This idea of going back and forth is tiresome. It's as if I have started this book so my only options are to read ahead or flip the pages back. Why am I given a mental model that is so linear? The mental model of a "page" was important in the early days of the web, because people needed to grasp what it was about so they could use it, and have the right expectations for it. Surely by now, 15 years later, we have some grasp of what the web is? It is no longer just made up of static text. I think people have developed other mental models for it by now that weren't possible in the beginning.
The web is not a destination anymore (or a collection of destinations). I can go in any direction, I can do anything I like. Here, gravity does not exist and all the natural laws no longer apply. Design with this in mind. Focus on the real-world effect, the emotional consequences, the enriching of lives.
"Designers have the ability and the training to harness the tacit knowledge of the unconscious mind rather than being limited to working with explicit knowledge. This makes them good at synthesizing complex problems with large numbers of constraints. It also makes them bad at explaining or defining what they are doing or thinking. They will describe process and results because they are not consciously aware of their own rationale.
There's been a huge amount of discussion in the last few years on the topic of User-centered Design (UCD). Many have been saying that it's broken and never worked, that it limits our work as designers, that it is harmful (this is really great read btw).
Harry Brignull wrote a good blog post called "Is user-centered design broken or is it us?" exploring this discussion a bit further and raising some questions. I agree that this is starting to sound a lot like the "Agile is broken" argument that has been around for years. I think that the problem stems from people needing a particular recipe for success and following it down to the letter. I've always said that the Agile Manifesto is non-negotiable, but that how you implement it is really up to you and will and should change according to the circumstances. The same is true for UCD.
UCD is fundamentally about knowing who your end-users are in great depth and detail and using that knowledge to inform your design. It's a problem solving process that requires you to check your assumptions and validate your ideas with real users. The process is basically Think - Make - Create - Evaluate (sound vaguely familiar?) At first you go for divergent thinking and bring a preferably cross-disciplinary group, with users at the heart, to convergence. It's a widely used method, and Harry ponts out, it's a process not a fairy-godmother. Amazingly successful designs do not automatically pop out the other end. Those things take a whole bunch more than just UCD or any other kind of design process.
Frankly, UCD and ACD for that matter, are just common-sense to me. I have no idea why you would want to design any other way if you have the right circumstances for those. We have all been in a scenario where our years of experience and our vast knowledge about some area will mean that we can do "Genius design" and just make the thing already. In this case, I am always 90%+ sure that it will will work because I've done it before in very similar circumstances. Of course, I'll still test. Why would I prolong the process though?
In many other circumstances, I don't know what the outcome should be, because maybe I'm designing software for Alaska crab fishermen. I have never fished or been to Alaska or met any of these kinds people. I wouldn't have the first clue what they needed. In this case UCD serves me well, and so does ACD. It never occurred to me to separate them out and use one over the other. They go hand in hand in my design at least. One inevitably leads to the other. None of the design methodologies are broken, they're just misused and misunderstood.
The biggest misunderstanding I bump into almost every week is the notion that testing with 5 users is enough. It isn't always true, in fact most of the time, it doesn't work. more on that in this post. Saying that because you tested with 5 users and got misleading results, then user testing is broken is sort of the same as saying UCD is broken because you didn't know how to use it.
Personas is another huge stumbling area. Making up personas to try to make your team more emphatic will work to some degree...one could argue that it's not empathy that you're eliciting but sympathy mind you. These Ad-hoc personas can be useful when used with great awareness of their limitations. All too often, they become law and everyone forget that they were made up. Data-driven personas on the other hand are hugely beneficial. They are the result of extensive user research, more likely than not 100's and 100's of user interviews, surveys, data points...all distilled into one persona, or a library of personas. Which way you slice the personas is really crucial. Don't slice by role, characteristic, or demographic...look for the patterns that are emerging from your research. This is the catch, you'll only be able to se them when you have enough research. Personas aren't broken because most teams don't have them, have no idea how to use them or can't see the point in investing in the research.
Those who are really great designers are amazingly creative problem solvers, and are so familiar with all the tools and methods, that they instinctively know what to use and when. They supplement that with a double whammy of experience and talent, and don't get hung up on process. In fact, they deviate all the time. They're good enough that they know how to and when to break the rules.
Are there senior designers out there using one design methodology and never diverting from it, doing the same thing every time they are confronted with a design problem? I don't know, but it sounds pretty dumb to me.
Not everything requires a hammer. If all you have is a hammer, then you better learn to use it in unconventional ways.
The following list is what I have learnt in the last 10 years of my Yoga/meditation practice and of my career. It took a lot of good teachers and lot of faith in myself to let some things go and cultivate others. I think they made me a better designer.
If you are working on any kind of problem, to solve it effectively:
Be prepared to learn
Be open to the circumstances
Don't let your conditioning get between you and a good solution
Act, stop thinking
Know what it means to really learn:
You need to acknowledge that learning is not accumulative. it happens in the now, you have to experience it. Not remember it. You still can read a book that tells you all about someone else's experience of learning and all the wonderful things they did as a result. For you to be able to gain anything tangible from reading this, other than huge inspiration, you'll need to try things out for yourself. You'll need to experiment and go on that journey too. Only an open mind can learn: you need to be willing to go into the unknown, and leave the safety of the known behind.
You have been conditioned by schools, institutions, organisations, and even by your family and friends to see the world in a certain light. You need to figure out what is conditioning and what is you. You can't find that out by asking other people, by reading any books, or by going to some exotic place. You need to go inside rather than outside, and spend some time with yourself. Creativeness comes through self-knowledge. Creativity is not just the product of your thoughts. Until you know yourself, you will continue to have the same ideas again and again. You might not even realise that they belong to others. By knowing yourself, you access the world in a different way.
Give up on your beliefs:
Beliefs prevent us from really understanding anything. They get between us and ideas, and stop us from exploring new things. Having values is quite different and allows you to draw the line between what is acceptable or not to you. Beliefs on the other hand whether they are about religions, design, rearing children, typography, gardening or anything else will put walls up around you. Next time you hear yourself say "I believe ..." stop right there and try on something else for size. There aren;t very many rules that you can apply to every single situation. You need to adapt easily to new circumstances by being open to what they offer.
Stop having ideas, take action:
Ideas are not real, action allows you to experience things immediately. It's very possible that you cannot actually have any original thoughts, because they are always a product of your conditioning. Creativity is completely original, and comes from embracing the world around you and being open to it. To embrace it, you must be a part of it, actively playing a role. You cannot be thinking away for ever more. Your mind will lead you astray and you will miss the obvious along with the ingenious
There is no "learning to become humble", you either are or you are not. Humility opens up other people to you and the world around you. If you are unable to find humility, you need to start back at "learn" and work your way through the list. You will never know everything, and you will never be the best at everything. If you are the best at something, someone will eventually be better than you. When you land on a really brilliant solution, you have a lot of thanks to give: to whoever worked with you, to those who had all the ideas that you build on and stole from, to those who you observed and listened to, to those who taught you, to those who believed in you when you weren't so great. Give thanks where it is truly due and humility will find you.
Lastly, bonus quote for those who read:
"Happiness cannot be pursued: if you seek it it will evade you. It is not a sensation, a memory of the past, a sensation needs gratification". (Desikachar)
I really enjoyed this little movie on the the future of Interaction Design and User Experience. It's interesting to hear the different points of view. How far in the future can you see? What are the consequences of those new devices and behaviours?
Yoga and Meditation are not really separate, yet they are. You can think of Yoga as the entire practice that prepares you for meditation. Before you can run, you must walk, and Yoga prepares you to meditate profoundly. Many people these days have heard great things about meditation and want to learn techniques so that they can be even more effective in their work. They want to optimise their minds so that they can learn faster think more effectively...Certainly meditation can help with this, but it's all a little bit more complicated than sitting quietly for 30mins. You didn't think it was going to be that easy did you?
Here's a little clarification from Master Desikachar:
"Mind is synonymous with experience: mind is always something other than itself. Through the practice of Yoga, one comes to see how the form of the mind is the same as its object. By projecting itself onto its objects, the mind becomes shaped and molded by them to the point where the impressions of the objects begin to hinder the clarity of perception.
The point of Yoga is to keep the mind clear of the build up of impressions. Once we understand that the mind assumes the form of its experience, we have the opportunity to choose the objects that shape our minds. Yoga is the practical application of this ancient yet simple insight." (Desikachar)
This is incidentally why you are what you do repeatedly. What is it that you do every day? Is this who you want to be?
Before you can meditate, you must have these 3 qualities:
- Curiosity about who you really are (Yogana)
- Go through a cleansing/purifying process (Sadhana)
- Have a positive attitude (Bhavana)
A consistent Yoga practice will give you these 3 things, and give you a good framework to work on all of them. The work is not purely physical but also mental, so you need to purify and cleanse your body as well as your mind before you are ready to meditate. This takes most of us quite a few years. It's a well worthwhile journey though, and improves people lives in staggering ways. Never underestimate its effects.
I often hear people say that the spiritual aspect of Yoga isn't for them, which is really like going to a therapist and saying as Brene Brown did "Here's the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit. I just need some strategies". You have to do the work and in this case it's getting to know who you really are. This is the spiritual aspect of Yoga. There's a lot of confusion with Hinduism and Buddhism, and lets face it most western Yoga studios propagate the confusion. Yoga and meditation are not religious practices unless you make them so, that's up to you. Getting to know yourself: not optional.
What do you do when you meditate?
You don't have to sit, you can walk, whatever is comfortable, but sitting with your eyes closed is really easiest to begin with for most of us. Meditation is a practice of the mind, so you are focusing your mind on an object, whatever it may be. You may pick an image, a thought, a sound, an idea...whatever works for you. Most of us sit still and quiet because be we're so concentrated and its easier to keep concentrated this way. Other meditators can focus whilst walking or chanting. There are different practices for different minds. Keeping that kind of unwavering focus on something for a long time is very very hard at first. For most of us just sitting still is hard enough.
You can think of meditation in 4 stages:
1. Come to a stop
2. Work towards clearing the mind
3. Refine it
4. Direct it
It takes a lot of work on yourself and in your life to get to through the 4 stages. There are really no shortcuts here, and believe me I explored many different routes. I was a very reluctant meditator, because I always wanted to do things and became frustrated. I wasn't ready. I started Yoga and began by loving the gymnastics, and that's all it was for me. Until of course the practice did its magic on me and broke me down to reassemble me. A wiser, more compassionate, kinder and gentler me emerged. Some days I still struggle just to sit still and come to a stop. Most of the time I can clear my mind and focus it. On rare days I break new ground.
What's up with your mind?
Everything that happens to you is dependent on the role of your mind. Everything you see and experience is filtered by the mind. Your mind can be the source of freedom or imprisonment. Everything can either be neurosis or sanity. It depends how your mind is trained to see things. Yoga is there to help you untangle things, and meditation to help you train your mind afresh. This is why we say that Yoga is about undoing rather than doing.
What's up with your body?
It is said in the old texts "As is the food, so is the mind" for example. Mind and body are meant to work in unison. Yoga helps your body and mind remember that, because many of us have forgotten. When you eat junk food, it affects your body and it affects your mind, and not subtly. Once you are in the process of purifying both, the numbness drops away and you become much more sensitive to these things. To everything. When you say "I have a gut feeling", it really is in the gut. The body and the mind together are capable of so much. The first rung of the ladder is to reconnect them.
Ultimately, as Krishnamacharya said "You learn by being with people, by taking responsibility for them". If you think you will end up somewhere new, you may be surprised. I came back full-circle, but far better equipped to be with people and take responsibility for them, and the learning continues.
Experience design is as complex as any other kind of design and follows to some degree the same processes. We look at problems that sometimes can be solved through logic and attention to detail, but the most interesting and far reaching challenges we take on cannot be solved in that way. They require highly divergent thinking, an excellent filter to narrow those possibilities down, and a fearless resolve. The work must be done, there are no epiphanies.
We often begin with introducing ourselves to the challenge, understanding the breadth of it, seeking any foothold onto that colossal and perplexing wall of ice. Have others been here before, and what paths did they take? What tools will help? What is within reach? Have I climbed something similar before?
You walk around this thing, playing through your head a million scenarios, remembering hundreds of things you've done before and pooling all your energy into understanding the problem. At some point, you'll exhaust yourself as you reach yet another dead end, yet another hurdle. Your solutions are not solutions at all, they're investigations that end in frustation. At some point you have to stop investigating and explore.
Exploration should be free of what has been, the knowledge you have accumulated and the things that you know. This is a new problem, and learning can only be experienced in the now, not in the past of your thoughts and ideas. You need to look at everything with beginner eyes, and have a sense of naive appreciation for the wild landscape around you. Stilling your mind from the noise of the inner monologue will allow you to experience all facets of the problem as it stands, not how you imagine that it is. You'll notice small things that look new to you now that see them, and you'll relax and stop to judge yourself and the situation. Where there is conflict there can be no freedom. Creativity can only exist in freedom.
Finally you'll be still long enough to hear the solution. It has been there for longer than you know, just you needed to slow down and quieten down to hear it through the chaos that is a mind in agony over a problem. The first thing you will do is draw or jot down some words, lo-fi, easy and tactile. The more you try and think, the harder it is to hear it clearly, so experiencing is the only way forwards. By prototyping and playing with the thing, you craft something that makes you smile. Something that makes you feel that vibration of joy that only comes from reaching this point on this kind of journey. It's only just begun though.
You are at the gross end of the spectrum. You are moulding your solution from fresh discovery as you experience it. It has rough edges, it is ugly, it is incomplete and raw. Yet it is full of promise, and insight. It's likely that its hard for others to understand it, without you taking them on the journey you have been on, so they also can share in its awkward awesomeness. It is probably but a few lines of sharpie on the back of a napkin after all.
After many many rounds of refinement, it will be a sophisticated, mature and fully thought through, original solution. It is subtle. Those who use it as a final product will feel the intensity of it, although they may not understand that vibration they get from it. They will break into a smile, be filled with passion using your product, and never really know how far you had to go to retrieve it. You sweated the details down to the last one. That's part of the beauty. When the work is not done, when the journey from gross to subtle is not travelled, you can tell. You feel the shallowness of it, you feel the immaturity in the work.
Either they failed reaching exploration because they pressured themselves to design a solution immediately, fearing the great unknown. Or they having never been on the journey, they never knew it was there, taking a bludgeon to the wall of ice instead of failing to se the possibilities.
In the gross end of the spectrum live sketching, brainstorms, and mappings. How does it work and does it fulfil their need? At the subtlest end of the journey there is look and feel, colour, texture...does it delight and consume them? This is a long journey for products, with many iterations in between, on the spectrum. It requires everything you have: left and right hemispheres, all your time, all your energy and all your courage.
This is the work of design. Although led by individuals, it is successful only in teams, for you will need the richness that different perspectives offer. For many, it is their first journey, and as the designer it is up to you to guide them through it to the other side and give them heart in the steep mountains.
Collaborative design workshops allow you to get decisions made in an inclusive, rapid and multidisciplinary way. They ensure that there is a shared understanding and ownership on a new project, and that it is set up for success right from the start. If you have never facilitated before, do not be fooled, it is much harder than it looks. Make sure you prepare yourself well, and before undertaking any critical workshops, give yourself a chance to get plenty of experience beforehand. Being a great designer does not qualify you to automatically be a great facilitator. There's a whole bunch of skills to develop and to fine tune before you can manage even the hardest of groups.
In a collaborative design workshop, you:
Define the MVP of the project so that everyone know what the requirements are and what the scope of the project is
Map the customer journey so that everyone is aware of the user flow
Sketch out the various screens that will be needed against the user flow
Take notes of any changes to existing screens and how those will be done
Make lots of decisions together
Align as a team before you start building
Collaborative design is a ensures that design, dev and the business are working together and iterating quickly, so that we have a better result due to better alignment and shared information and knowledge. We also fail quickly and as a result we all learn a lot more. Collaborative design allows us to rapidly prototype things. Prototyping is is better than talking: it is thinking with your hands. It forces us to try things and learn from them rather than talking about them and trying to make to decisions based on assumptions. We move past long-discussions in meetings into action fueled, effective workshops.
The wall is the new desk:
Get your group working together at the wall, whether it's displaying and discussing design, or creating a user journey, or brainstorming. Get them to make all work visible. Also working together at the wall means that they will be physically active, which keeps the energy up in the room.
Running these workshops is fun for the group, and also a lot of hard work. As a facilitator, there are a bunch of things that you need to do to ensure the session runs well, and that you get the most out of your time together.
Your role as a facilitator:
Think of yourself as a group nurturer and a process guide.
Support everyone to do their best thinking
Encourage full participation
Promote mutual understanding
Reach inclusive decisions
Cultivate shared responsibility
Reach the goals you set out to achieve
How to run your session:
You need to prepare. It's really important to have a clear understanding of the goals you have for the workshop, and that you plan activities that will enable you to get to the outcomes that you need.
List your top 3 goals for the session (More than 3 in 2 hrs is usually difficult)
Work out what you need to accomplish to get there
Decide on activities that will allow your group to achieve these things
Carve up your time into activities, time boxing each one meticulously (schedule breaks, introductions, ice breaker and a little spare time)
You will have a well prepared collaborative design workshop all ready to go. Making sure that you have time for each activities is really important. If you don't timebox well, your session will be rushed, out of focus, and ultimately won't allow you to succeed. If what you want to do won't fit into the time you have, then you need to be realistic and cut down on the number of things you;re trying to do in the session. It's always better for morale to have 2 shorter session than a whole afternoon in a workshop.
A kitchen timer (nothing works better than a big red tomato...don't use your phone, people will ignore the ring)
Lots of sharpies of different colours
Sticky spots or stars
Large roll of paper or butchers paper
Water and snacks
2 - Workshop time
There are a few things that help when running these workshops, and starting with ensuring everyone understands the point of the session and knows how to behave during the workshop is really important. Never assume people will be ok to follow you blindly, you'll need to make them feel comfortable before they trust you to get them where they need to be.
Spend 5mins introducing the session and its rules:
The parking lot (keep the team focused by writing all out of scope ideas on cards that are placed in the parking lot wall).
The timeboxes (Show then your timer, and explain why you are timeboxing and how its helpful to them).
Workshop conduct (No talking over others, no shouting, no closing down other people's ideas, no chatting during brainstorms...).
Write the activities you're going to run on the whiteboard, along with the goals of the session, and how much time is allocated to each one.
Run an icebreaker
This is especially useful if you have a large group who don't know each other well. For groups who do, it's a great warm up. An ideal activity is giving them a sheet of paper with circles on them, and asking them to fill in each one to represent a different thing in 5mins. It gets them drawing and doesn't give them time to worry about it. Get everyone to share how many they managed to complete and show what they drew. It usually leads to some giggles and sets you off in a good atmosphere.
Run your activities
This is where you all get to work hard. As a facilitator, it is your job to keep everyone within the allocated timebox, to keep the group energy up, to ensure everyone is heard, and that all of the ideas are on the table for consideration. You'll also need to deviate from the plan sometimes, yet still get the right outcome in the allocated time. Interrupt people when they are off topic and ask them to use the parking lot, which you will sort at the end of the session. Encourage the group to work together, support individuals who are struggling for whatever reason (shyness, intimidation, bad behaviour, etc...) and keep control of the session. If you allow the group or any individual to not play by the rules, your session will flounder very quickly.
Don't tell them what you think, help them get there themselves by asking a lot of the right questions. It will have a lot more impact and you won't have to explain everything. The best facilitators can keep it fun and focused at the same time. Practice makes perfect.
Close the session
Make sure that you end the session on time. People will not want to come to your workshops if they have a reputation for running late. Remind everyone what the goals were and sum up what you achieved as a group today. Make sure any actions that have merged from the work have an owner who is responsible for following up or doing something. Ensure you group ideas in the parking lot, and ask the group whether a further session should take place to resolve those things. If there's no clear grouping, and lots of unrelated things, ask the group how they'd like to handle those.
As your group scurries off to enjoy the rest of their day, you still have a little bit of work left to do:
Photograph all the walls and whiteboards
Throw away paper that has served its purpose
Roll up and keep any that you need for further work
Write up the workshop outcomes together with photos of the work on a collaborative space for everyone to refer to
There is still a lot of confusion around what "Agile" means in terms of software development. There is even more confusion now that Lean has been popularised. Agile is really not a complex thing to define, in fact the Agile Manifesto does it perfectly:
Principles behind the Agile Manifesto:
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer's competitive advantage.
Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.
Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
Working software is the primary measure of progress.
Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.
Simplicity--the art of maximizing the amount of work not done--is essential.
The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
Things to debunk when you hear them:
"We don't do the full Agile thing, we pick the bits that work for us" - the Manifesto is non-negotiable. If you're not following these principles, you are not being Agile. You might have very good reasons for doing so, but it's still not Agile. There are degrees of Agility though...
"We are Agile we use Scrum and Kanban and <insert tool here>" - Using tools developed for the Agile team does not make you Agile, in the same way that buying a Chris Boardman bike does not make you a world class cyclist.
"Agile is a process/method/framework" - Agile is a philosophy
"You start with the backlog" - You start with creating the backlog
"Agile is faster" - Not necessarily, it takes the time it takes
"Agile scales naturally" - Not necessarily, in some cases it can be very hard to scale
"If you use heavyweight tools, you can't be Agile" - You can still be Agile and use Prince2 for example
"You're either Agile or waterfall" - It's not a binary choice, there are degrees in between
"It's always the same Agile environment from project to project" - Needs will change according to the team so let them structure their environment
"You can't do Agile with remote teams" - Yes you can, you need to create a working environment (even if it's virtual) that works
"Agile means you never have to write documentation." - You will need to sometimes, it's about having just enough
"Agile is simple" - It seems deceptively simple when you read the manifesto, but it takes time (and patience) to put in place
"You can learn Agile from a book" - Nothing teaches you better than being part of a truly Agile team
What about Design then?
The Agile manifesto mentions design once, around self-organising teams. Having design as an integral part of a software delivery team is new to a lot of companies, and there are still a lot of problems in teams around how to work with the designer. Designers are not all the same: they have different strengths, come from varied backgrounds, and have more or less experience with software teams. While some of them will be a good cultural fit for software, others will struggle. If you have been trained to have ego about your work, and to never show anything until it is perfect for critique...then Agile is going to be a big change.
Integrated and collaborative rather than handed of the fence
Considerate of customer, business and technology needs rather than biased toward a single factor
I see this manifesto as supplementing the original Agile manifesto. Striving to uphold these values and ironing out the creases is all part of the fun, all part of learning what works and what doesn't. Different teams need different tools, processes and people. What works for one may not work for another even if the circumstances are similar. These manifestos help us stay true to Agile, when we have decided to adopt it. How you go about that is another matter entirely!
I hear a lot of people using "Usability" and "Experience design" interchangeably. This is quite a big mistake. They are both important for product success, both are tested differently, both are successfully crafted differently, and they both need quite different focus and skill sets.
Usability answers the question: "Can the user accomplish the goal"?
Experience Design answers the question: "Is the user delighted"?
Imagine you go to a retail website to buy a pair of jeans. You arrive at the homepage and easily find and navigate to the jeans that you want. You pick your size and the colour. You add them to your cart without a hitch, pay and check out. Job done: awesome.
This is usability. Your customers can easily buy products off your website. They understand what to do, it all works as expected, it's easy, and fast.
Ok. It's 5 days later and your jeans have arrived, but 3 days later than promised. They are the wrong size and the wrong brand. You can't find out how to send them back and ask for your order to be filled properly. None of this information is with your package. You go to the website and after 10mins of searching find a phone number. You're not sure whether it's a customer service number or not but you call it anyway. You listen to 5mins of options to choose from on a recording before you even get to speak to a human. Finally a tired sounding man sighs and then says "whateverjeansdotcomcustomerservicehowcanihelp?". You begin to explain your problem and he interrupts you and transfers you to somewhere else. A woman picks up and asks you what you want. You explain your problem again. She tells you that you have to go to a post office and send the package back yourself. Then you need to fax them the receipt and they'll reimburse the postage costs. She needs to refund your money for the jeans to you and needs you to go back to the website, order and pay all over again...
Will you be ordering from here again?
This is experience design. I can delight you by taking full responsibility for my mistake, and ensuring that you not only get your order the same day, but that you also are compensated for the mistake. I can also take into consideration that because I sell jeans, sometimes people will order the wrong size, so I can delight you by not penalising you for it. Instead I will include in every package a ready paid empty mail bag so you can just drop it in a post box and return it at no cost. I might determine that my customers want to experiment and try products they have never bought before. I can create a whole experience around that so that people can select a whole bunch of clothes, we ship them out to you, you try them all on and send us back what you don't want to keep. We'll charge you for the ones you keep, you don't need to go back on the website to do anything.
Delving into your user journey, seeing that this is a single purchase, I question needing to have to add it to a cart. After all in a store you wouldn't grab a shopping cart or a basket if you are about to buy one item. If I wanted to improve on the usability, I might investigate this in more depth. Can I reduce friction even more? If you are a repeat customer, can I remember your payment and shipping details for you too?
Can you see any other opportunities? I'd be learning about my customers as much as possible. Not just about the things that they tell me they want, but also by using ingenious methods to gain insights into the things they never knew they wanted. What are the unarticulated needs? What is my competition doing and how can I be a better? How do I give you a totally kickass experience that you will love and remember? How can I reach you on an emotional level?
If I have a physical store, I'll do more. I'll want to ensure that the entire experience of our brand, be it online or in the store, is always the same kind of awesomeness that you deserve as a customer, or even as a potential customer. What do you think the Amazon physical store would be like if there was one?
The Four Seasons hotels have found a common pattern where people enter their hotel room, throw their bag on the floor and coat on the bed, and then drop into the armchair...and exhale. They refer to this as something like "the exhale moment". You want to savour that moment. They have ensured that everything is in place to make that moment especially amazing. The seat itself, the proximity of reading material and the mini bar...(more about this in Tim Brown's book). Where is the "exhale moment" in your software product? I think it has its place in experience design as well.
Things you might talk about when considering usability:
Path to completion
Time on task
In short, you are in the minutia of user interface design.
Things you might talk about when considering experience design:
End-to-end customer journey
Real world context
It's a much larger subject area than usability. It involves a lot of diverse and complex skill sets, and requires a solid understanding of psychology, business strategy, design principles, brand strategy...it is cross-disciplinary.
As a developer, you should know all about usability, especially if you are a front-end developer. You should have a fantastic grasp on how to lay things out and know all the rules and how to break them. This is not the sole responsibility of the "UX" person on your team. It is your responsibility too. It's fundamental if you want to create a quality software product. Usability is the responsibility of the team.
The real crux of the job for experience designers is being outstanding at experience design. This does not mean that as an experience designer you don't care about usability. On the contrary, it's one of the keys to success. On the other hand, you should know where the areas of improvement are, how to find out about the ones you don't suspect, know how to benchmark and measure quantitatively and qualitatively, and know the customers. You should know what they want, what they want but can't articulate, what they need from your services/products, who they are, who they might be in future, how to persuade them, know how they behave in every different scenarios, be able to understand if this reconciles with the current business strategy and know what to do if it doesn't.
Where does visual design fit in?
It is fundamentally important to have excellent visual aesthetics for your product. There is plenty of evidence about what a huge difference it makes and I rarely find anyone argue that it isn't. The mistake here is to think that this is the only aspect of design to take into consideration when actually designing a software. When you are designing a service, there will always be visual touchpoints and these need to be cared for as much as any other detail in your work. If the experience is awful like in our jeans buying example above, do you think you'd be more impressed with the service if the website and packaging looked stunning? On the other hand, do you think that you would even consider buying jeans from the website if it looked terrible?
It's not "usability design" it's just "usability". Why does this fall to the designer on so many occasions? It is the responsibility of the whole software team to ensure that what they are making is at least usable. It's called "experience design" because it is a practice of design. Design is fundamentally about problem solving. Innovation is a design problem, for example. Design is about solving problems by finding out what they are exactly, and then executing the best solution possible. Jonathan Ive does a lovely job of summing up what it means to be a good designer in this interview. He's an industrial designer rather than an experience designer, but still design is design.
I think that the following quotes sum it up neatly:
"Design needs to be plugged into human behavior. Design dissolves in behavior." -Naoto Fukasawa
"A lot of what we are doing is getting design out of the way." -Jonathan Ive
To conclude, if you are worrying exclusively about what colour that "Add to cart" button is, rather than considering whether you need a cart at all, and finding out what to do instead...You're not doing experience design.
Design is a pursuit that requires you to be very methodical, logical and smart. You must be able to spot patterns that are not obvious, see things from many different perspectives and bring together seemingly disparate ideas. There is a need for great attention to detail as well as having the ability to abstract something down to its raw components, and being able to sense how it fits into a wider ecosystem.
That beautiful object, interface, gadget, or tool is highly practical as well. You enjoy touching it, you enjoy using it, you enjoy looking at it and having it in your life. It enhances your day, and makes you react emotionally. You love it. It solves a problem, and delights you at the same time. In fact, thinking about it now, it just seems like an obvious solution and you really can't imagine life without it. Someone however did have to sweat the details and work on many many prototypes before you even knew it existed. Why didn't you think of it?
This is where "Design Thinking" fits in. It is a method that allows you to deconstruct a problem, view it from all possible angles, and then craft a solution for it. It is a highly potent recipe for innovation, bringing together people from varied areas of expertise an intellectual and cultural persuasions, to solve a wicked hard problem together. Design Thinking can be applied to any sort of problem from running a hospital to evolving a product and anything beyond and in between. It applies the way that designers think about problems to just about anything.
Design is not a beauty parlour. It is not where you go to pretty things up. It's where you go when you have problems to solve.
Design Thinking is a user-centered process for innovation based essentially around observation, collaboration between individuals from different disciplines and user group, rapid learning, focus on visualising ideas through prototypes, business analysis and strategy. When I mention "innovation" I don't mean having a lot of ideas, I mean actually making good ideas a reality. Innovation requires action or else they're just ideas. Design Thinking in my mind should be applied to all software development pursuits and can easily integrated with Agile and Lean methodologies. To some extent there's quite a bit of overlap. Using Design Thinking in your software teams will help you get the results you're looking for from a product perspective.
User-centered design is not design by committee
You must develop a deep understanding of your user-base. You must develop empathy for your users, and determine what the best way is to gain insights into unarticulated needs. You need to gain the experience, knowledge and ability to frame the real problem.
Many people mention Henry Ford who reportedly said that "If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses". There's no evidence that he actually said that, but it is clear that he believed it. Ford made the T-model in black only, and dominated the market for nearly 20 years. Ford's mistake was to stop innovating, and to refuse to understand what the market wanted. Harley Earl was GM motors head of Colour and Trim from 1927 to 1959. He not only introduced the idea of the clay prototype (still used to this day), but carried out user centered design by understanding what Americans wanted from their cars. This led to the strategy "A car for every purse and purpose". GM made 5 distinct brands from the Chevy to the Cadillac, and dominated the market. Ford was forced to shut down and re-tool his factories. (You can read more about Henry Ford and the "faster horse" thing on HBR)
This story is sadly still repeated in many industries and companies today, from Kodak to sony and beyond. If you fail to balance your portfolio, failure is a high likelihood.
Companies like Patagonia for example, have continuously innovated and listened to their customers to ensure they were responding to their needs and growing in the right direction as a company. Listening to users does not mean that you should act on every demand, but rather that you get good at sorting the wheat from the chaff, and making well balanced design, business and technical decisions. This is not easy to do, and there are a lot of great tools and techniques to help you get it right. This is the discipline of user-centered design, and it sits at the heart of Design Thinking. It overlaps a great deal with sociology and anthropology. We use ethnographic methods where we seek to understand people by observing, listening, discussing and through open-minded collaboration. If you think you already know what your end-user wants...you're starting to sound a lot like Henry Ford.
Take the time to do it properly and you will be leagues ahead of where you hoped you;d be. Do it wrong and it will cost you dearly as Target found out. They asked consumers in a survey whether they would prefer the aisles to be less cluttered. That was a 1.85 billion dollar mistake. Surveys have their place and this was not one of them. Asking leading questions will also never get you good results. User-centered design is a science, and if you want to do this yourself, then you need to learn how it's done. Learn from the mistakes of others first. Here's a quick overview on surveying to get you started.
The Method in a nutshell: Think - Make - Check
This very same cycle is being seen all over the "Lean" software methodology at the moment. It has been around for at least 50 years, and is finally being popularised and applied to all sorts of different industries by companies like IDEO, who drive large scale innovation in almost every industry that touches our lives.
During the "Think" stage you should be ideating, encouraging a lot of blue sky thinking, introducing yourself to the box so that you can think outside of it, and imagining all of the possibilities. It is a time to think big and broad. Invite specialists from different areas of expertise and give them a voice. Invite end-users to your workshops and brainstorms. Get all of the ideas on the table and then converge towards a few key directions that work from a business, design, and technical perspective for you and your market.
Tip: Include users by interviewing them, observing them using your current product or a competitor's product, visiting them in their environment.
It's time to think with your hands. Make some rapid prototypes of the directions that have emerged from your "Think" phase and try them on for size. A prototype can be anything from a role-play (like the Google checkout one for example), to sketches, 3D models made out of cardboard and tape or a user journey draw on post-it notes. Made sure that you only do enough to learn what you ned to. Once you have learned that, it's time to move along and throw this prototype away. You'll be iterating on it many times before you get to your end product. When I say this I don't mean that it is going to take a long time, I mean that in a week or even a day you can make many iterations on a single prototype. Don't get attached to anything, stay open-minded.
Tip: Include users by getting them to participate in collaborative design sessions. Invite them to show you what they are thinking by drawing, role-playing, acting out and modelling.
Check that your ideas so far are actually in line with what end-users need and want from your product. You can test with humans (anyone who is human) to test if basic interactions and flows are going to work. You should test with end-users and gradually more and more specific user groups, the more you have evolved your prototype. This is a time for stopping a direction dad in its tracks, adapting it to be something else more useful, or giving it the OK. Remember that you may still decide to not go ahead in future, so keep it as rough as you need,and don't waste time on cosmetics and documentation. The documentation is the learning. It is the prototype.
Tip: Include users by getting them to evaluate your prototype, but also by inviting them to tell you what they would change if they were in your shoes, and why.
Rinse and repeat:
You will go back through Think-Make-Check many more times, however many times you need to be comfortable with the result. The early Think-Make-Check cycles are gross and the later ones subtle. The key here is learn quickly whether an idea has legs and what is needed to make it a reality if it does. Learn by making it. Don't waste your time on long meetings where you endlessly discuss the same small details or where groups disagree and theorise over things. Put every to the test. Get people making rather than talking. Call out facts and assumptions. Check the assumptions. Make informed decisions.
A few tips to put it in place:
You don't need a lot of time or effort up-front to get Design Thinking working for you. You just need to do it.
Start by getting the people you need together, being mindful to include people who view things from different perspectives
Timeboxing all of your workshops together and keeping the focus and momentum rolling will help you greatly
Make sure everyone is heard by using different facilitation techniques
Don't shut down ideas, build on them. Encourage groups to say "Yes, and..." rather than "No, but..."
Don't allow any "Devils advocates" to exist in your groups, encourage people to speak for themselves. As Tom Kelley says "Devil's advocates can go to hell". It's too easy to shut ideas down and hide behind the devil.
Having direct responsibility for your thoughts and ideas in a safe environment where failure is ok, will speed things up
Prototype all the time. Every time we fail, we learn something important. When we make a paper prototype that fails, we didn't put a lot of time and money into making it, so we are less attached to it. If you have ever spent months working on something and polishing it only to find it isn't what users want anyway...you will know how painful and costly a lesson that is. You can learn those things in a matter of days at little cost. Focus on learning quickly through rapid prototyping
Don't try to avoid the mess, the failure and the chaos that can sometimes ensue - keep moving towards a solution do not lose momentum. Those spaces of high emotion are where creativity lives.
Different environments will have their own challenges that you will need to deal with of course, and I am confident that it can be done. This is a really short intro to Design Thinking, I encourage you to delve deeper starting with the resources below and to experiment. If you are in a software environment you can work to iterations and soundly incorporate Design Thinking practices within the Agile or Lean framework you are using. More on that soon.
Wabi-Sabi, simply put, is the ability to see beauty in simplicity, the ordinary and the imperfect. English is too clumsy a langage to explain it fully, and I am too much of a clumsy writer to do so well, but you can think of them like this:
Wabi: The ability to make do with less; A "wabibito" is a person who can make something out of less parts than anyone else. It means content with little, and taking pleasure in the ordinary.
Sabi: The gift of time; To grow old gracefully and with dignity.
Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is also described as "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete". The beauty of those things is found in their simplicity, their unpretentiousness, their humbleness. They are unencumbered by anything unnecessary but not to the point that they look or feel clinical, rather their raw essence alone is left. They are not the center of attention but are unassuming and command a quiet authority. Wabi-sabi isn't just about the aesthetic though. It's also about the object giving you a feeling of serenity and having a connection to the object.
"Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent." (Tadao Ando)
Wabi-sabi in Life:
I've always loved the wear on my beloved denim jeans and old shoes.The wear on my moleskins that I dragged around the world with me. My cherished old family photographs, yellowing and frayed at the edges. Our old children story books from when we were small. I love asymmetrical things and simple design. I find magnificent beauty in less. I found joy in fewer possessions, less waste, big passions, being in nature and an uncomplicated life. Not striving to have it all and not trying to predict what my life should be like next year or next month or next time. Learning to be content in the present, and finding enjoyment in every day things. Wabi-sabi exists in my life, and I wager that it has its place in yours too.
Wabi-sabi in experience design and Lean/Agile teams:
As experience designers and as members of Lean/Agile teams, I think we are very Wabi-Sabi in our work:
Our work is never finished, and so always incomplete
We try to fail fast
We try to limit waste
We never release anything that is perfect
We try to keep our experiences simple and unencumbered, without losing the humanity in them
We strive to keep them subdued and honest
The work we do will always evolve and age, and we will work with the downsides of design decisions we made earlier
We never do "big upfront design", so our worldview is ever-changing and intuitive
Our emphasis is always on working code and not on beautiful looking documentation. In this sense each artefact is one of a kind
We know that our design will evolve, so we think about the present moment rather than projecting far into the future
We work in iterations, in an organic way
We adjust to change easily and avoid deliberations
If we can do it with less, we do
We pay attention to the ordinary (all those habits people develop to deal with bad design)
We ensure our software "fails gracefully"
Users "wear in" our designs and their relationship with the product changes over time
The more people use our designs, the more they connect to them (like your relationship to your email account)
We reuse code and design elements where we can
The team has a history and a shared knowledge that seeps into the product
BERG London have a beautiful blog post written by Tom Armitage on Wabi-Sabi right here.
There are so many styles of Yoga to choose from, and so many studios and teachers, that finding your sweet spot in the Yoga landscape can be tough. For many it is a gamble, where you pick a class at random and see where it takes you. That's not a bad option to be very honest, but being aware of a few facts might help you find your way a little easier.
A little history:
In truth, there is no "style" or any particular tradition of Yoga. There is just Yoga. Yoga is defined in many ways but the way I like to define it is "equanimity of mind". The Yoga Sutra is the book at the side of my mat, and it mentions nothing of religion, sweating, core strength, vegetarianism...it's just all about Yoga.
The first thing you need to do before picking a class is to figure out why you want to begin (or return to) a Yoga practice. Have five reasons and try to prioritise them for yourself. Use that list to guide you through the forest of possibilities, so that you stay true to yourself and are not seduced by advertising, or something other than what you are after. Don't judge your reasons either, there is no bad reason to start a Yoga practice. If you want to lose a few pounds and that's top of your list, then that's where you begin. If you have no interest in meditation, in philosophy, in chanting, and you just really want a strong stomach for the first time in your life...that's ok. Desikachar says that taking up a Yoga practice does not require you to give up smoking, become a vegetarian, becoming a Hindu or a Buddhist or changing anything else about yourself. Come as you are and work from there.
Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa, Viniyoga, and more all really at the heart all the same thing. Even within the styles of Yoga you will find that there is a variance in how it is taught according to the teacher that you have. Really, all Yoga is essentially Ashtanga Yoga anyway, because the eightfold path is at the heart of the practice of Yoga. If you go to an Ashtanga class though, you will experience a beautiful sequence taught to you one Asana (pose) at a time. If you go to a Yin Yoga class, it'll be different each time and amazingly gentle and inspiring. I often see Vinyasa Yoga on timetables, and "Vinyasa" means "the correct placement" or "to place in a special way". It basically means that we're not just hanging out in postures and dropping into one from another. It's accurate, careful and done with great awareness. In that sense, then again, all Yoga is Vinyasa yoga.
There is no right or wrong here in terms of what you pick to do, just be honest with yourself and be sure that it's what you need right now in your life. If one class hasn't worked for you, try another teacher, a new studio, a different style. Your teacher is out there somewhere.
I have my own ideas of what I think Yoga is and also how I like to teach Yoga to students. I don't however think that my way is the only way. I personally loathe Bikram, but know that many others get a lot of benefit from attending those classes. There is no right and wrong, and as you grow as a Yogi, your views will change. You will be plenty flexible enough to change your mind when you need to. Try not to judge the styles you try or the teachers, but focus on what is working for you and be honest when it's not. If it isn't, walk away and try somewhere else. It's nobody's fault, it just isn't what you need right now.
You must be able to breathe calmly and evenly. If your breath is staggered or laboured, what you are doing is too hard. You will not achieve Yoga by doing whatever it is. You also won't achieve a strong and flexible body either, because you leave yourself open to injury. Ask for a modification or go to a different class. Ideally the teacher should be able to modify the posture for you, until you are ready to open yourself to it in its entirety. This is not you being defeated by the practice, but rather one of the first lessons of Yoga: compassion and humility.
Yes, you do need a teacher. Buying a DVD to learn Yoga is the same as buying a DVD on Skydiving to learn how to jump out of plane. In the same way as a skydiving instructor will be able to guide you through all the safety requirements, through the technicalities, through the necessary training, and through the fear, a Yoga teacher does much the same for you. You can really hurt yourself physically and also emotionally by doing these practices in the wrong way. You do need help, believe me.
When choosing your teacher, the most important thing is really your connection with them. I have studied with some very famous and wonderful teachers who I felt I just didn't connect with. Find the right teacher for you by trying as many as you need to until you are satisfied that you have found the right person for you. You should respect them and you should feel respected by them in return. You should feel a connection to them. A connection is the feeling that they understand you and your needs, and that you also trust them completely to guide you. Know also that you will perhaps need a change of teacher at some time. That's ok too, and don't be afraid to chat about that with your teacher. I'm not the right teacher for everyone, and I know that I am for some.
"The teacher within" is something you will hear about at some point. At the end of the day you are the hero of your own life, and your can have many guides...but you will discover that there is a teacher inside of you. Even for those who have discovered the teacher within, a teacher from the outside is useful too. Brene Brown says that a therapist who sees other therapists is just a therapist with a higher BS monitor. My Yoga teachers are very much like this for me.
There are many teacher training courses out there and there are no real standards either. This makes it harder for you to pick a good teacher, but on the flipside it opens you up to many different types of teachers. I know some courses will put someone through a teacher training program when they have less than a year of Yoga practice under their belt, and will do so in a matter of weeks. There are no shortcuts though, and you will see the quality of the teaching will be affected. Trust yourself to sense that. If something doesn't feel right or sound right to you, ask. If you are really not satisfied with the answer, seek it elsewhere.
These days I tend to attend workshops more regularly that I do classes, but when I do I appreciate it when the studio is local so I don't have to travel far, and it's important to me that it have a light and easy going atmosphere. Like everyone I appreciate good customer service and I think that a Yoga studio especially should be walking the talk.
You will have your own ideas about what you want and don't want from a studio. Keep in mind though that it doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of teachers who teach there. Many teachers work at more than one studio, and in most places I have found teachers that I loved going to and others that I just didn't. Try a few different things and see what works for you.
I have attended classes in school halls, on beaches, in churches, in community centers, in parks, in ashrams, in plush studios and very austere ones. It doesn't really matter to me so much, I have appreciated them all immensely.
Buy a good quality mat of your own, because it's hygienic to have your own and environmentally responsible to buy one that will last you. Bring a hand towel, it will be useful for mopping up any sweat, or tears. Bring a water bottle, but don't have a tummy full of water before practice, and only drink if you really need to during the class. Drink plenty afterwards if you feel you need it. We are usually working on building some heat into the body, and by drinking cold fluids you extinguish it. Wear comfortable clothes that you can move in. You do not need to buy any specialist clothing from any specialist Yoga clothes supplier. Shorts and t-shirts work pretty good. I've even practised in my PJ's and they work fine too.
Introduce yourself to the teacher when you are new to a class. Let them know how much experience you have and if you have any injuries questions or concerns. Ask someone else which way the class faces if you are unsure, or where you should place your mat. Usually this is made pretty clear, some studios have tape that indicates a mat space. Be open minded. You may be invited to chant, or to do some other thing that breaches your comfort zone. Give it go, you might like it. If you don't like something, talk to your teacher about it at the end. Ask yourself why you didn't like it. Do not judge other students, the teacher, or yourself. Take it all in one breath at a time and let it all out again. Don't look around the room and compare yourself to other people. This is totally unproductive. You are working with a different body to everyone else. There can be no competition here.
You should question things though. If something doesn't ring quite right with you, enquire, do some research, read, learn and make up your mind. It's ok to disagree with something, this is your journey. Be respectful in your disagreement, but be honest and true to yourself. I have many friends from many different walks of Yoga and I count myself lucky to have them in my life, although we don't agree on everything.
My friend Maria says "don't wait to find the perfect studio, the perfect teacher, the perfect equipment, the perfect time...to start going to a yoga class. So many times it happens to me that...and I never start doing what I want-need to do. Simply...just drop in. Then if you don't like something you can always change it. And after trying one and another class, yoga style and teacher, if you are open enough, you will realize that everyone has given you something useful for your practice...in or out of your yoga mat."
Things I wish I'd known before I started:
The postures don't really matter in the long run, but in the short term they will help
The Yoga practice I need will change as I change
Practice, practice, practice...just for the sake of the practice
Using props is not being defeated
The practice is embodied: you have to walk the talk to feel it
Being flexible and strong is not a prerequisite
Neither is being calm
I will look silly sometimes and that's ok
Some postures will take me years
The breath is where it's at
My compassion must include myself
I wish you a lot of heart on your Yoga journey. It is worth the time, it is worth getting up for, it's worth sharing, it's worth all the effort, and all the resources invested in it. You will eat humble pie and you will learn to savour it each bite at a time. You will love the things it unlocks for you, and how shiny your life becomes as a result. I wish you courage, and many wonderful supportive teachers. Enjoy!
Here is Philip Askew, who never fails to inspire me (and no, after 10 years, I still can't do it all!):
This post has been on my mind for some time, and I think that the time has come to share my thoughts. Maybe you are a manager somewhere, maybe you are a CEO, maybe you are a team leader, a design or tech lead, or maybe you bring in freelancers or consultants to help you deliver something awesome. In all cases, you really do want to get a brilliant end-result that will please customers, excite the team, make you some money and feel like work well done.
For this to happen, you are going to have to have to do a few things and refrain from doing a few others. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to just bring in a great team and wait for something breathtaking to pop out the other end. I'm going to focus especially on how to work with your experience designers, but a lot of these Do's and Don'ts apply to developers and every other kind of expert you might hire in to help. (I'm assuming in this post that you do want great work to happen. If for whatever reason, you want something mediocre, say so. It will save everyone a lot of time.)
How you work with the team will dictate the design that you get. The same people can deliver a dogs breakfast or an awe-inspiring result. You have a hand in this. Be clear, support them to ensure everyone is heading in the same direction, and feed back often, without getting in the way. This is not always as easy as it sounds, so here are a few things you can do to ensure that the team has what they need from you and that you remain a great client/boss/team lead, etc...
Take the time to brief everyone on the job at hand (don't skimp on this, it will cost you dearly)
Go to the team with a vision (Steve Jobs briefed the Frog Design team with "Give me Bob Dylan songs" to get the first iMac)
Get involved (make suggestions, be part of the discussions)
Speak up, draw, role-play (use a variety of communication means to ensure you are understood)
There is a revolution going on, gathering pace, made up of revolutionaries who have had enough of mass marketing, consumption, bad food, being told they're not enough, being driven by money alone, ruining our planet, ignoring poverty and of working in jobs that turn them into lifeless drones. They are voting with their actions. Tired of waiting for change, they are making their own changes. They are designers, entrepreneurs, developers, farmers, managers, company owners, mothers, fathers, gardeners, artists, carpenters, medical professionals, architects...Many are becoming inspired by the actions of others and are changing the way they live, the way they shop, and work.
Patagonia have embraced William McDonough's "Cradle to cradle principle" with their Common Threads initiative. The Boisset Winery in France is returning to horse drawn plows and using sheep to keep the grass short, so that they can restore the depleted topsoil. Volkswagen is selling 85% recyclable and 95% reusable cars. General Electric is spending 1 million dollars a year to be able to desalinate water and reduce dependency on fossil fuels. People are increasingly shopping local and the New Economics Foundation published stats that show that when people purchase produce at a local farmer’s market instead of at a chain supermarket, up to twice the money stays in the community. Soapwalla make organic products for your body by hand and from natural ingredients, voicing a clear "No" to bad chemicals. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution has inspired people to eat healthier and more varied foods. Kaiser Permanente has changed the way that it provides healthcare to patients by using a human-centered design approach to its services. Aravind Eye hospital in India has re-imagined the hospital to be able to provide eye care to the poor and put an end to needless blindness. TOMS shoes donates a pair of shoes to a child in the 3rd world every time you buy a pair. More in the software industry are following these practices too, and turning their eye to doing social good. This respect for the world around us is reaching more and more industries and people all the time.
What you can do in your day to day life to join in:
Be responsible for your belongings (don't throw away electrical items, clothes, pens, shoes, toys...recycle and donate)
Be a minimalist (don't buy things that you don't need and donate the things you have and don't need)
Shop locally (avoid buying things online when you can get them close by)
Make wise food choices (favour organic when you can, eat things that are in season, know where your food comes from)
Put you talents to good use (volunteer, work for an ethical company, decide how your talents will be used)
Grow things (learn to grow your own food)
Slow down (learn to undo the negative effects of modern living by meditating, practicing Yoga, playing the piano,...whatever floats your boat)
Switch off (turn off your devices, leave home without them sometimes)
Initiate change (If you're not happy with something, find ways to change it yourself)
Make choices (do things with awareness of why you are doing them)
Get out into nature a lot more (walk, bike, run, stroll...)
Make something (software, jewellery, art, music...feel empowered)
Know that you are enough (Explore yourself, discover yourself, enjoy!)
May you also enjoy taking part and seeing how the little things start to change everything around you. Voltaire once said "You have to cultivate your own garden". Start with yourself and see how changing small things changes the world.
There's an awesome essay by Keith Yamashita called "15 things Charles and Ray teach us" (PDF), that I found via SwissMiss. I wanted to share it with you and summarise the 15 points here for those who don't have time to read the whole thing, but I encourage you to have a gander, because it's really beautifully presented and well written. I've applied the 15 points to experience design of course :)
01. Keep good company
Surround yourself with other awesome people, it will inspire you. For us experience designers it means brilliant people from different backgrounds, areas of expertise, industries...Making the effort to get out and meet them, and spending some time learning and sharing.
02. Notice the ordinary
Notice the simplicity in people's desired interactions and design them in that same way. If someone wants to drag and drop an item with a finger, don't make a complex dropdown menu. Use patterns that work well and are familiar to people where appropriate, so the learning curve stays manageable. Don't over-design things, keep it simple.
03. Preserve the ephemeral
Don't be afraid to design something that will work for a while and then be replaced by something new. I keep notes on things that I made to serve a purpose for a little while (lean start-up style), and then replaced and redesigned as I discovered more about the user needs. Those things in turn get redesigned again. As the user's relationship with the software evolves, so should the design. In the same vein, keep note of fads in experience design. They reflect a culture and a need at a certain time. There are interesting patterns there.
04. Design not for the elite but for the masses
Design things that will work on all sorts of devices, make your designs responsive, and cater for all kinds of connection speeds. Make your interaction design easy for most people to grasp, and allow your visual design to tell a story that many will appreciate. Ironically, observing extreme users will help you identify needs not so easily spotted in the average user. The designs you craft as a result will delight the majority of users.
05. Explain it to a child
In the same way that toddlers are able to pick up an iPad and use it immediately, your should strive to design software that is so simple to use that even a child could pick it up. I think this can apply to accounting software as well as games and anything else. This is not to say that it is designed for children, mind you. Your product/service/process ideas be solid enough that you can explain the essence of them to a child and have him/her understand with no difficulty. In fact you might get some pertinent questions!
06. Get lost in the content
Reach out to subject matter experts, read up on the new industry you are designing for, immerse yourself in the needs of users and the lives they lead...understand what their world is like, how it looks form the inside of their world, and what they aspire to. Understand the technology, speak to developers, try it out.
07. Get to the heart of the matter
Make sure you are solving the right problem, and articulate it clearly and concisely. Don't make documentation for documentation's sake. Just what you need, when you need it, aimed at the correct audience, and get to the point swiftly.
08. Never tolerate “O.K. anything.”
Fight for great design, in your work and in others too. If you are working in a lean way, ensure that your product is a great MVP, not an ok one. "Just enough design", does't mean "ok design". If you think something isn't good enough, that it could be better, say so.
09. Remember your responsibility as a storyteller
Collect user stories, tell them in a convincing way, either through role-play, customer journeys, a video clip, presentations, illustrations...Tell the story of the design clearly, and in appropriate detail. Get good at storytelling. Read up on this and practice, it's a really useful skill.
10. Zoom out
Never fail to see the big picture.
"Never get Bored". Don't restrict yourself to designing websites, apps or whatever. Expand your horizons and apply your skills to whatever you can, whatever comes your way. Design a garden, a process, a book, a shop, a shoe, a room, a city, a bus or a spoon. Anything.
12. Prototype it
And early on.
Have fun. Play on words, play with ideas, with software, with images, with objects...can you use something in an unusual way? Have fun for fun's sake and share it with others.
14. Make design your life… and life, your design
It is awesome when you are lucky enough to find a career path that you love so much that the line between work and play ceases to really exist anymore. I think that's when you can say that you're in the right job. Make your own design for life, your own philosophy, and live it.
15. Leave something behind.
Our work lives through the people we work with, those who use our products, our clients, our friends. Beyond our craftsmanship, we should have the kind of positive presence that allows everything we stand for to emerge and remain once we have gone.
So you've tested your paper prototypes, and you've had feedback which has driven your work in a particular direction. Now that you have a working product, maybe you' ve used device emulators to do some further testing. Now, you'd like to test it with people and find out what the perceived quality of your offering is to your users. How do you do that with a mobile device?
Cut to the chase: the usual rules of user testing apply as always. The hard part is to get rigged up properly to be able to capture the users' actions. You will however be alert to a whole bunch of new potential issues...
Differences when testing on mobile devices:
Context is much more important (indoors vs outdoors)
Make sure you test your app in te environments that it will be used in as well. You can find most usability issues by testing in your office, and once those are fixed up, it's good to trial it on public transport. Usually, the user will lose the signal at some point, might not have earphone on them, are conscious of the other passengers, it might be noisy, they may be stood up in the aisle. Basically a whole bunch of new variables come into play. This is "stress testing your app': see if it can hold up even in the worst scenarios! You won;t be able to get as much data as in "lab tests" obviously, but it'll still be useful.
Use the actual devices you intend to release on. There's a lot of controversy around lab vs field testing for mobile apps. Some experts say that you don't really find any more issues in the field than you do in the lab, and others say the reverse. In my mind it makes sense to do some field testing, because it leads to further insights around how you can make your app really effective for people. Field testing can be much more time consuming than lab testing, so be prepared.
Designers of all kinds, in particular experience designers, come from a variety of backgrounds. They are different in many ways, and will always disagree with each other to some extent (minimalism, Helvetica, logo size...the list is long) but great designers have a number of qualities in common. I am fortunate to know a bunch of really brilliant experience designers, and was thinking about made them so great. I found that I could distill that into 8 main qualities that they all have in common.
To engineer a great design you must have great respect for all of the rules, and break them when they need to be broken, not just because you can. You also need to continuously learn about new interaction patterns, seek out interesting designs, and read up on up and coming methodologies in all areas that touch experience design. Working on your project alone will teach you more than you knew before, but won't be enough to sustain you in good ideas for long. Great designers are always seeking out the cutting edge of their discipline, and spend many hours reading, learning and practicing.
It can be tempting to cut corners when you have designed something a thousand times before. It's important to keep the rituals in place, and keep looking for a new way to do something, question everything until you are sure that it has a legitimate place in your design. Explore, find inspiration first, then ideate and find a solution. Don't get sloppy.
You must be attentive to the details, check your design, and communicate it effectively to the team. Wireframes should be clearly annotated and thorough, assets should be high quality, the end product should be excellent. You should be a master of your craft, at every stage of the design. This means that you need to identify any areas for improvement and actively work to get better at them all the time. The craft of experience design goes beyond deliverables such as wireframes, sketches, interactions, and so on, but also includes facilitation skills, communication skills, presentation skills, diplomacy, and more.
This means awareness of new technologies, design patterns, trends and so forth, but also awareness of the current project space. You are never designing a noun (an app, a shopping website...) you are designing a verb (shopping, discovering, enjoying...). Ensure that what you think you have been asked to make is really what the business and the users need. Make it your business to be aware of the full implications of what you are designing (does it impact the world in a positive way?). How is the evolution of the design being perceived by others? Are your stakeholders scared of your unusual design? Be ready to explain, show, convince at all times.
Take some time on each project to be alone. Even on a fast Agile, collaborative team. Even if it's just 10mins. On every project there are a lot of people to listen to and work with, from people in your team to people who will be using the product once it's made. I noticed that great experience designers take a little time alone on each project to think slow. Everyone I have ever met has an opinion on how a design should be. Has a decision been made because it's easier to agree and move along, or was it legitimately thought through? Do you really agree with the decisions that have been made? Are they really for the best?
Decide on what the end goal is for your design at the start, and focus on making it happen. This saves you from adding in unnecessary features, trying to design for too many needs, and making something that is a complicated Swiss army knife rather than a slick, easy to understand design. Define your design language and stay with it. Go for a colour or a set of principles and stay with them. It is important to be able to pivot and change course quickly, but it's also important to focus long enough on what you're doing so this can be sensibly judged.
At the start of a project there is always excitement, everything is new and shiny, full of potential. As you make your way on the path to completion, the best designers enthusiasm remains high, and they continue to commit themselves fully to the work. While we all have ups and down on projects, and it's important to acknowledge that there are low energy days, we still need to give ourselves to the work fully each day. Beware of situations where you have more than one project on the go, and be quick to voice any problems you see up ahead. It's all too easy to commit to more than one project and then see all of them turn out mediocre. This will exhaust you and you won't get the satisfaction you get from doing great work. Don't muddy the water. Dieter Rams during his whole career has been committed to particular principles of design. Do the same, even if your principles are different.
If you don't love the work you are doing, if you don't love the act of designing, you will never truly do any great work. It's really difficult to be focused and committed to something you don't genuinely have an interest in. All great designers of any ilk really do love what they do. If you don't, then find what it is you do love and go and do that. There's nothing satisfying about being mediocre at your job. Pure love for what you do is a nourishing thing, that helps you grow as a person and drives you to want to improve and break barriers. It lights up your life. There is a real blur between what is considered "work" and "play" when you love what you do.
Retreats of all kinds (Yoga, Meditation, creative, contemplative...) have become more and more popular with all sorts of people looking to unwind and get away from their busy lives. They have also become quite expensive, and not everyone has the luxury of being able to go away and leave work, families, pets and so on for any length of time. The most awesome thing (for me) about going away on retreat, has always been that it forced me to disengage from my day to day life entirely and that I could relax back in the capable hands of a good teacher. I realised a few years ago that I could also be that teacher for myself (for a short period of time anyway), and that I didn't need to take off to some exotic location to restore and disengage. When I need it, I write myself a retreat program spanning a day or a weekend.
Here is a sample of what I would consider a relaxing and restorative day:
7am - 8:30am: Yoga Asana
8:30am - 9:30am: Pranayama and Meditation
9:30am: close morning session with chanting
9:30am - 10am: Tea and breakfast
10am - 11am: Hot bath with essential oils
11am - 1pm: Reading a real book & more tea /snoozing
1pm - 1:30pm: Lunch
1:30pm - 4pm: Artist walk out in nature (take photos with a camera or find a quiet spot to draw or write)
4pm - 5pm: Come home and have tea (again) & write postcards to friends and family
5pm - 6pm: Yoga Nidra
6pm - 6:30pm: Seated Meditation
6:30pm - 7:30pm: Dinner (make and eat)
7:30pm - 8:30pm: Read a real book
8:30pm - 9pm: Restorative Yoga Asana
9pm - 9:30pm: Prepare for sleep
9:30pm: Go to bed
It's important to stick to your schedule if you can, and also leave plenty of time for each activity you pick to do. If you fall asleep for the whole day, you probably needed it, so don't worry about not making the schedule. See it more as a sign that you probably need more than a day or two in retreat. Make sure you select truly relaxing activities, that encourage you to "rest and digest" rather than anything adrenaline inducing or depleting. I love to surf and skateboard, but I leave those activities out of my retreat days, because although I'm used to doing them, they're dangerous and not quiet, safe, and restorative in this sense. If you have kids and/or a partner, send them all away for the day.
Switch off all your devices and your laptop
Don't invite anyone over
Be present - enjoy this special time
Make sure your program is realistic (I am long time Yoga practitioner so this sample is good for me. Make sure you pick activities that are comfortable and familiar to you. This is not a time to achieve goals and strive for something new)
Make sure you have everything you need prepared in advance so that you don't have to go to any stores for supplies
Of course early the next morning, you may, as I do, frantically run to check your email and phone only to discover that the world has survived a day or two without you.
Dieter Rams was chief of design at Braun (1951-1995), where he emerged as one of the most influential industrial designers that has ever lived. His legacy is of immense importance to us all. In the 80's, as consumerism went wild, he felt unhappy with the way things were going and penned his "10 principles of design", sometimes also called "The ten commandments". This sound advice resonates with me, and applies even in the world of software, where the level of complexity is typically very high. It takes a lot of practice and patience to be able to mentally abstract out all the angry noise out and provide a quiet and balanced design. Dieter Rams also penned my first and foremost rule of thumb: "If you can do it with less, do it". As he says here, design is not all about "making it pretty":
“To use design to impress, to polish things up, to make them chic, is no design at all. This is packaging. When we concentrate on the essential elements in design, when we omit all superfluous elements, we find forms become: quiet, comfortable, understandable and, most importantly, long lasting.”
Here are the Ten principles, re-framed for the software industry:
1. Good design is innovative
This about not blindly using pattern libraries to address interaction problems, or with no forethought, going ahead and doing something you have done a thousand times before. Even if it is "just another web form" for example, and that you have made thousands like it before, what is it you have become blind to? What is it that you can change? Is there a better way? Does there even need to be a form? Every time you approach a piece of work, "empty your cup", and try and see it with beginners eyes.
2. Good design makes a product useful
Question whether the features you are designing are really needed, and ask users even if you think you're sure. If you make features that nobody uses, its wasteful and already bad design in itself. The Standish Group’s statistic is that 45% of features in software go unused. It's your job as an experience designer to ensure that the user gets what they need, not what they think they need and not what anyone else thinks they need. This is why it's good to do prototype testing, and also role-playing. Role-playing will enable you to work out what the interaction users want to have with the system is, better than asking them what features they want. The same goes for unnecessary images, links, text, screens, clicks, cognitive load...keep it simple and balanced. Do away with anything that detracts from the original user intention.
On another note, before embarking on building a product or a service, system or process, ensure that it is going to be used, that there is a genuine need for it. Please don't make the software version of one of these.
3. Good design is aesthetic
This sounds like a no-brainer, but there is a lot of awful looking software out there, some that I am sure you use quite often as well. It's one thing for it to be functional, useful and that it "does what it says on the box" but you're not selling a can of beans here. This is where you really need to have someone who understands what makes a good design also visually pleasing. Different aesthetic directions will work for different cultures, sub-cultures, demographics and so on. The visual designer does not make something that s/he wants to see, but rather something that will work for the audience and the brand. S/he will use their expertise and experience to ensure that it looks good as well.
Don't underestimate this part, and over-simplify it. If you have ever had to make presentation slides, you will know how time consuming the visual design can be. It requires a really creative thinker and an accomplished expert to make an excellent job of this. Beauty is in the execution.
4. Good design makes a product understandable
The software you make should be self-explanatory for users. Help text and lists of FAQ's are a poor substitute for good design. It should be obvious to the user what it is they need to do, and what the software will do for them. That conversation between human and software must be smooth and simple. Continue to refine the design until users can easily and quickly achieve their goal...without frowning or looking worried.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
Your software is not a work of art. Its function is not to provoke a reaction in anyone. It should fulfill its purpose and do so elegantly, without arrogance and without trying hard to be noticed and loved. It should be a comfortable enabler for people. Dieter Rams defines "unobtrusive" as "both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression". The same is true for design in software. Imagine that the software is telling a story, and allow the user to write the ending.
6. Good design is honest
Always deliver on your promises to the people using your software, even if they are implied. Software needs transparency to gain trust from the people using it, and to gain their loyalty. We need to be clear about what we're doing with their information, with their money, with their actions, with their social networks...and be sure that we've communicated that really well. We also need to be transparent about what our software can and cannot do.
7. Good design is long-lasting
Dieter Rams said that "It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated". In the world of software, there is a lot of waste. An Agile philosophy, with well integrated experience design practices will ensure that the right thing is delivered, and that it fundamentally lasts. It will go through iterations and then more iterations and really never be finished, as software moves and morphs with needs and changing technologies. We should ensure that our decisions are not based on what's hot, but what's needed and what is best for the business and the people who will end up using our software.
8. Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
I said in my "Experience design manifesto" that I would "Sweat the details so that you don"t have to". A great execution of an idea is fundamental to it succeeding. Every detail of the experience design needs to be thought through, so that we can ensure that it's not clumsy to use. The information architecture needs time and testing to get right, interactions that seem like a good idea in your head don't play out as planned, and not everyone uses the same language as you do. Testing with enough users will allow you to hunt for the details, as will running an "unfocus group" with users from polar extremes of the spectrum.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
Let us please put a stop to all those horrible websites that litter the web, software that gets left unused or abandoned by those it was intended for, and the software that causes pain, anger, and sadness in people. Software needs to be human-centered to be environmentally friendly, because its environment is people's lives.
10. Good design is as little design as possible
Good experience design is about taking things away not adding things in. Can you design fewer steps in the process, fewer clicks, fewer screen reloads, fewer minutes waiting, fewer distractions on the screen...Can you create an experience that is less hassle and less painful than any other? We often talk about making experience design more enjoyable, or delightful or something else. Really I think that we should not be "making" but "unmaking" the experience, at least to begin with. What is the most direct path for a person? If that path involves being delighted that I can browse shoes or that I can quickly pay for something, then that should be the focus. Anything that distracts from it should be taken away. Each part of the software must not overload me with choices but point me to where I need to be. In order to do great experience design, you have to be able to synthesize all of the information that you have about about it, and distill it down to the crux of the thing. Then simplicity emerges.
A couple more quotes from Dieter Rams for your pleasure:
"A designer who wants to achieve good design must not regard himself as an artist who, according to taste and aesthetics, is merely dressing-up products with a last minute garment. The designer must be the gestaltingenieur or creative engineer. They synthesise the completed product from the various elements that make up its design. Their work is largely rational, meaning that aesthetic decisions are justified by an understanding of the product’s purpose.”
"I hate everything that is driven by fashion. From the beginning it was hating the sixties American way of styling. Especially the cars. They changed their styling every two years to sell more. Which has nothing to do with good design".
“Good design is innovative. It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product.”