M-C DEAN

Designer

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.

Slow Design

I’ve been interested in the concept of Wabi-Sabi for some time now, so running into the concept of “slow design” was exciting for me.

Slow design means enabling people to spend the appropriate amount of time to truly engage with what they are doing. It’s all about bringing focus to the task at hand, getting rid of distractions, enabling deep concentration and the discovery of greater insights through timely reveal:

“To promote slowness or what we call ‘Slow design’ as a positive catalyst of individual, socio-cultural and environmental well-being…. Slowness doesn’t refer to how long it takes to make or do something. Rather, it describes an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.” (SlowLab)

It’s easier to explain with an example: a ceramic designer, Simon Heijdens creates dishes and cups that are plain white and erode over time, as people use them. They reveal cracks in the glaze and a flower pattern emerges:

Simon Heijdens “Broken White”

Simon Heijdens “Broken White”

This work to me is deeply inspiring and unspeakably beautiful.

This is quite a new departure from a world where everything is about being fast. We’re often trying to design ways to consume information as quickly and efficiently as possible, to get stuff done, to move on to the next thing…We’ve trained our brains to multitask and many of us spend all day chasing tomorrow in a fog of confusion and anxiety.

It’s no surprise to me that there’s growing interest in meditation and mindfulness. Some of us are realising that the way we’re living is not working for us. We’re starting to entertain the idea of slowing down and moving forwards with greater satisfaction. Caring about what we’re doing right now. Being attuned to detail and richness of each moment. And now we’re starting to question how we consume our entire lives.

This calls for a change in how we design experiences:

Don’t race me to the checkout in less than 2mins, help me question what I’m buying this for, and whether it’s the right thing. Don’t give me a snapshot of all the news that might interest me today. Give me 3 stories that will change me for the better. Don’t give me productivity tools that will help me fit in more activities that waste my life. Help me see that there are better ways to spend that time.

The 6 principles of Slow Design are:

Reveal: reveal spaces & experience in every day life that are often missed or forgotten.

Expand: consider the real and potential “expressions” of artefacts and environments beyond their perceived functionality, physical attributes or lifespans.

Reflect: induce contemplation and reflective consumption.

Engage: collaborative and “open source”, relying on sharing, cooperation and transparency of information so that designs may evolve in future.

Participate: encourage people to become active participants in the design process.

Evolve: recognise that richer experiences can emerge from the dynamic maturation of artefacts and environments over time.

As a community of designers in the software industry, can we apply these principles to our work, so we can influence people to lead richer, more nourishing and rewarding lives?

 

Don't destroy the world

Mike Monteiro's talk at Webstock 2013 was epic. I wanted to share it with you, here are some quotes:

"We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we fear speaking up. We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our ideas".

"The monsters we unleash into the world will be named after us"

"Responsibility isn't your burden to carry, It's your potential."

"We have a responsibility to the world we live in. This is not a choice, it is the job".

"A jacket that inflates when you get a Facebook like, that reinforces that warmth and comfort depends on your social popularity. I honestly can't imagine doing less with the time you have on earth".

"Too many people are deciding what problem to tackle, what problems to put their energy into, not based on whether those products solve worthy problems, or improve someone's life, but rather on whether they can be funded and flipped. If we only tackle the issues that Facebook, Twitter and Google are interested in, the when will we tackle those they aren't?"

"Don't work for anyone that you're afraid to say no to. Remember, you are not an order taker, you are a gatekeeper."  

"You are hired to do good design, not to make people happy. If you want your job to be making people happy, then make sandwiches. people love sandwiches."

 

Zeal for knowledge: A book list

I have been asked by quite a few people what I read during my recent imposed downtime, and so I am posting this list for you all. I'm currently totally engrossed in neuroscience and reading papers that I will share in a separate post. Here are the books I read in my last 2 months of convalescence:

The brain that changes itself 

I love neuroscience and this book was excellent reading for me. The case studies are very interesting and well explained for lay people. It was my my second favourite read on this list.

A general theory of love

3 eminent psychiatrists try to define and explain love. More neuroscience and such a beautiful and mind opening read. This was my number one favourite read.

Kitchen table wisdom

A physician shares stories of human resilience in the face of serious illness and injury. A very comforting read from a sick bed and a page turner strangely.

Zappos: delivering happiness

It was a fairly boring read tbh. I was glad when it was over.

Richard Branson: losing my virginity

An amusing and inspiring read from a true entrepreneur. This was really enjoyable. 

Steve Jobs

I put reading this off for ages and thoroughly enjoyed it. Steve Jobs was a man on a mission who did some awesome and some less awesome things.  Still, a real visionary.

Leading change 

John Kotter's classic book is well worth a read.

The icarus deception 

Not Seth Godin's best work: it rehashed a lot of his usual messages and was quite repetitive even though I agree with him.

Insanely simple: the obsession that drives Apple's success

I really enjoyed this book, Ken Segall really nails it. It inspired me and trigged lots of new ideas. This is in third place for me on this list, I really enjoyed it.

Your brain at work 

I didn't learn anything I didn't already know, but then again I have read a lot of this suff in the past, might be a good introduction to basic neuropsychology.

Lean in: women, work and the will to lead

Everyone should read this. Everyone. I learned heaps, Sheryl Sandberg does a great job of sharing science and personal stories around the topic. It's an easy read and great book. 

Do the work

A great little book about getting stuff done. Practical, profound and beautiful. 

The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable

This is a weird book that talks about Mandelbrot's fractal geometry, Gaussian-based investment theory, the flaws of normal distribution and how we can't predict the future. 

Taking the leap: freeing ourselves from old habits & fears

I think I must have read everything from Pema Chodron, she writes truly remarkable, life-changing books. 

Authentic Happiness

Martin Seligman is one of my favourites, this is a phenomenal piece of work, a must read for those interested in psychology and neuroscience.

Learned optimism

Martin Seligman again, and this is a little different to his other books. It's a workbook for you to complete at the same time as you learn the fundamentals of positive psychology and how it can work in the context of your life. 

The sun also rises

Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite authors, but this is not one of his best books imho.  

Resilience

Ann Deveson writes form the heart in this well rounded compilation of resilience research and case studies, intertwined with personal experience. Touching and thoroughly interesting.

How I read: 

I love reading and learning new things so I spent some time figuring out how best to maximise this. I usually have 4-5 books on the go, and I read them in different locations exclusively (i.e. on the bus, in the doctor's waiting room, on a park bench...). I prefer real paper books but find my kindle too practical to not use it. I use audiobooks if I'm walking somewhere, or running, however they came in super useful when I couldn't hold a book or a kindle. I'm strategic about what I read: I pick on subjects that intertwine and also throw in some literature (I really like John Steinbeck). I think it's important to read outside your area of expertise to stay inspired, creative and curious. It takes me anything from a week to a month to get through each book. 

I'm currently reading: 

Psychopathology: foundations for a contemporary understanding

I have an obsession with all things to do with the mind and brain sciences.

Mindsight: the new science of personal transformation

Daniel Siegel's arguably most popular book

Walden 

I read 1/3 of this 2 years ago before abandoning it, so I'm starting again, maybe I'm ready for it this time.

I'm always looking for book recommendations so please feel free to share your favourites. 

 

Design: We're having the wrong conversations

I have noticed that much of the popular experience design news seems to be predominantly about visual design and to some extent interaction design, but does not ever really cover any of the other disciplines that make up experience design. We really are in danger of reducing the perception of this broad craft to something more akin to decoration than problem solving. I see blog posts showing "The best interfaces of 2013" or whatever and they all show a screenshot and talk about beauty. How does experience design ever get reduced to a screenshot like that? 

It's not to say that visual design and beauty do not have their place in UX, they definitely do and they are of great importance. Alone they do not constitute good UX though. I come from the school of thought that says that great UX makes the interface practically invisible. I'm always trying to reduce, simplify, get out of the way. Clearly not everyone thinks this way, and that's fine, the diversity of views keeps this profession interesting. The fact remains that you can't make something look awesome and call it UX. UX is about realising that that entire screen wasn't needed.

The job ads: 

I looked through some job ads for experience designers in particular, and I think they showcase nicely how confused everyone is about what an experience designer is supposed to do and where and how they add value. It seems to me that a lot of companies aren't really asking for an Experience designer, although that's what they're calling them. They'll want someone who can come up with the brand identity, create all the UIs, make everything look gorgeous and code it all up as well. And then they'll ask for Lean or Agile when the process they have just described is a waterfall ("must be able to make pixel perfect design").  Lean and Agile environments require a high degree of team collaboration, facilitation skills and tons of sketching. Why would I ever go to pixel perfect designs in a Lean team?

By wanting to hire people who do everything, we end up disrespecting the craft of visual design, coding, and experience design. Someone who studied graphic design at university for 4 years and then gained years of experience in that area is always going to be a better visual designer than me for example (I studied and researched artificial intelligence and HCI). We should celebrate and respect those differences.

I suspect that some companies are trying to save money by hiring one person who can design something that looks good enough, and code it up, instead of having a great developer, a great graphic designer and an awesome experience designer. All experience designers can do all of those things to some degree, but it's never going to be at the quality standard that a team produces, lets face it.

Why you need an Experience design team: 

Experience design is a really hard job to do because it requires so many different areas of expertise. That's also what makes it uniquely enjoyable. The harsh reality though, is that it is rare to find someone who will be a gun at Ethnography, visual design, research, code, interaction design, IA, content strategy, product strategy,...I have found that people who list all the skills down as their area of expertise tend to be average at most of them and crap at some of them. Those who really add value to your product are those who bring to the table a real star quality to some of those areas. This is why assembling a design team is important as together we should be able to cover all the bases to the highest standards. 

The other important aspects: 

I don't see any mention of experimental psychology, cognitive modelling, task analysis, ethnography, conversation analysis, activity theory, design thinking, organisational approaches, anthropology, data manipulation and statistics, and many more important and fascinating areas of experience design. In fact, all of the more scientific aspects are hardly mentioned. Experience design is a science as much as it has an "artistic" aspect.  People talk about "creativity" and ask to see screenshots. This is all good and well but creative thinking is not limited to aesthetics and visual design is not all about aesthetics either.  

Experience design is not art: 

I also disagree with experience design being "artistic" anyway. The artist create something with the purpose of provoking the person who experiences it. They will either love it or hate it, but it will provoke some kind of emotional response.  I don't think anyone wants to be provoked when they're trying to check their bank balance on their phone.

The right conversations:

 Ben (6Wunderkindertalks about the changing role of the designer in the 21st century and says this:

 "We create experiences for people. An idea that, once you embrace it, shows clearly what our profession is really about: The things we create serve human needs. So, should we really care about the medium or tools we use to create these experiences? Should we really discuss a millions times, if skeuomorphism or flat design is the ultimate sophistication?—Or do we want to shape a world where design is at the core of every business and recognized as an essential management skill."

This is a smart thing to say because it really focuses on the right kind of conversations, the ones we should be having. IDEO are looking at how we might resolve poverty, bring water to african nations who need it, they're asking the questions that matter. If you are working in banking or retail or wherever, you should be asking how you can solve core problems in that space and figuring out how to do that, not having arguments about NoPSD, flat design,...even process. I mean it's pretty clear to me that  you need to tweak your process every time depending on who is on your team and what you're trying to achieve. As a senior designer you lead the engineering team through a good design process. That's part of the job and something that teams should be asking of their designers. 

There is no "one size fits all"  approach, and every designer has their favourite tools. I don't care how the problem gets solved, I trust designers will know how to work. What I care about is what problem we should be solving and how we solve it. Too many people are deep in the details and missing the fact that the whole is broken.    

Is design changing the world? For sure, but lets keep some perspective here: so is medicine, neuroscience, physics, computer science,...I'll leave you with Phillipe Starck who is one of my favourite designers. In his TED talk he makes a good point whilst being totally himself: Are you a designer who designs for other fantastic designers? 

 

The hospital experience

Not long ago I was a very fit and healthy person, with a dedicated daily Yoga practice and a pretty good program of fitness. I had a surfing accident and walked away with a collapsed disc in my neck which required spinal surgery and a hospital stay. Being a designer, I couldn't help but analyse my experience and think about what would make a better one. The last hospital I had ever been to was in a small town in Thailand and had grass growing inside and a cat walking around. This is my first western private hospital experience.

5 Truths:

- When you're in that much pain, you don't care about anything 

- Lack of information is disarming & disempowering

- Your friends and family also need attention

- More people than you will remember are responsible for your care

- Having structure in your day during a hospital visit is important

- Bonus: Nurses are super important

Pain:

My injury caused me to experience acute nerve pain, which is the highest degree of pain that I have ever felt. It also lasted for 10 days, until the medical team were clear on what had happened to my spine and what the best course of action was. Sustaining that degree of pain alone is exhausting physically and mentally. Strong pain meds failed to help. It hugely impairs your decision making abilities, as everything revolves around stopping the pain at any cost. For many people, this is the time when they need to make important life decisions about the future of their health. 

There is room for improvement here, because there is no support for patients in this situation. Tools to help you weigh up the pros and cons, and having someone to help you analyse your thinking and support you here would be great.  

Lack of Information: 

The array of different doctors that I saw during this process fell into 3 groups: 

Patronising - Don't you worry your pretty head about anything

Patronising II - "This is called a vertebrae..." 

Helpful - "Do you want me to explain the surgical procedure to you?" 

In my job as a designer I have to constantly assess the level of design aptitude those I work with have, so that I can ensure that I am not patronising them, but also that I am not depriving them of any useful information. Medical doctors are hugely busy and don't have time necessarily to give an explanation about everything to an inquisitive patient. The lack of information that you receive however,  makes you feel very vulnerable. I wanted to know mainly:

- Who this new person was who had just appeared by my bedside

- What drugs they were injecting into me and why

- Where I was right now (seeing as you get wheeled all over the place) 

- What was going to happen next (immediate future)

- What I could expect after the surgery & where I would wake up

- What all the tubes and things were that were stuck into me

- The nurse's names

IDEO came up with a solution around this for  Kaiser Permanente hospitals in the US, it's a framework that promotes information sharing for hospital staff. There is a board that sits on the wall of your room and is updated to reflect your journey home. It has information about drugs you are taking, procedures you have had, how you are doing etc...I would have liked to be able to read this kind of information during my stay. There's a pdf by IDEO that documents nicely where additional information and tools might be useful, and they highlight that medical staff also suffer lack of information. This can't be good for anyone. The problem is highlighted in greater detail in BBC Horizon's documentary "How to avoid mistakes in surgery" where we see Great Ormond children's hospital use checklists and the same kind of method as an F1 pit team.

Friends & family: 

Whether you like it or not, they are along for the ride as well. They also need information, to feel included, and food. A lot of the focus is on the patient but an essential part of the care team are family and friends. They are important for morale, help nurses with day to day care, and are often also worried and exhausted themselves. I saw a lot of family members visiting patients who were sleeping a lot, and they would sit there. The fact that patients were in individual rooms meant that the carers didn't really interact.

In some cases it could be very beneficial to bring carers together for mutual support in a communal area. Ensuring that they have meals as well, and that they are treated as part of the patient team would be helpful. My friend B kept referring to herself, her son, my mother and my husband as "Team MC", where everyone had a job. This allowed me to lean into them and them to support me.

So many people: 

When you go in for surgery or through the emergency system, there are so many people involved in your care that you will not meet them all or remember those you did meet. The current system has it so that you only really actively deal with your surgeon, your GP, your Physio and any other main subject expert. I did not have a relationship with my anaesthetist, for example, he sort of rocked up, injected me and I never saw him again. There were a whole bunch of people that came by and did things either to me or the equipment around me but who never introduced themselves. As you can see on my journey, I only list the main people who I saw in charge of my care, when in fact I suspect there must have been dozens.

It would help if staff had a badge or something visible on them saying who they are and what their job is today in the patient's world. Not knowing is also very disempowering and causes a bit more stress in an already stressful situation.

Afterwards: 

A hospital stay is an odd experience. You feel very quickly institutionalised and you are not in charge of your day. My day started at 6am with tea, then breakfast at 8am, then the lunch tray at 12, more tea at 3pm with a cookie, dinner at 6pm. I personally hated the pattern at first but after a few days I realised it was the only thing giving my day any kind of shape. Other than that I would have a visit or two between 10:00-12:00 and  15:00-19:00, and a shower in the morning. The rest of the day was spent sleeping or listening to audio books. The regimented tea and meal times really provide some structure. 

The nurses changeover also provides structure as it happens at set times during the day and night. You know that this is going to be a highly interactive time and that you're going to talk to someone other than yourself :) 

Nurses: 

Nurses are a huge part of your life in hospital. They come when you need anything, they look after you, they ensure you are comfortable, they bring you medication at the right time and dose, and they get to know you. They listen to what you have to say and offer humour and advice. 

The relationship with nurses is really important and needs to be optimised further. In my case I was well looked after, although others have reported not experiencing this, due to the nurses always changing. This means that they can't get to know you. The consistency of care is important and we should value nurses a lot more. They work in tough conditions doing a hard job, and there are no video games, chocolates, drinks, free food, etc...that I am used to experiencing in the software industry.

Conclusion:

This is just a very small snapshot of what the hospital experience was like for me, and some of the big things that I thought could be improved upon. I think that the whole experience can be reworked to ensure that it's less distressing for people before and after as well as during their stay. There is a lot that can be done to include family and friends more, as well as a whole bunch of things around the emotional aspect of being in hospital for everyone.  Decision making tools would be useful here because we are asked to make huge life changing decisions when we may not be at our best. Lack of information and education around your illness or injury can cause even more stress, although not for all patients. Some people prefer to know as little as possible. For the rest of us, there is plenty we could do to provide more information.

Here's a quick journey map of the experience, focusing on discomfort over time and the pain levels at each stage. 

Empathy & Sympathy: UX Skill

The profession of Experience Design requires you to have empathy for the people who will use the service or product. The best designers I have ever met are highly emphatic, very humble and of course very able. Empathy is however often confused with sympathy and it is not well understood how much we need to work to create empathic designs. This is ultimately what is meant by "delighting the customer". 

Empathy is the ability to understand the emotions that someone else is feeling and being able to identify with them, to put yourself in their shoes. You share their feelings.

Sympathy on the other hand means that you can identify the feelings of another, not that you share in those emotions. You acknowledge hardship, but don't necessarily feel the emotion. 

It's possible to have empathy for someone and have no sympathy, for example if someone done something stupid and hurt themselves (think back to all those Fail videos on Youtube), you might feel their pain but feel no sympathy. On the other hand, if someone hurts themselves coming down the stairs, you might feel both.

Active empathy is when you react through sensations and feelings to the emotions of another. You might feel stressed if they show fear for example. You experience active empathy from when you are a baby, through sensing emotions physically. 

Cognitive empathy is your ability to understand and identify other people's emotions. You develop this around 3-4 years old, when you begin to understand that people experience the world differently.

Compassionate empathy is your ability to understand and identify with emotions, but also feel spontaneously moved to help. This is something you develop yourself through a deep understanding of yourself and others. 

Having empathy is the first necessary step towards compassionate action. Nurses, medical doctors, counsellors, teachers,...all require compassionate empathy. So do experience designers. When you have empathy for the people who will use the product, or the service, you enter into their experience of it. 

It's even tougher for experience designers, because they need to develop empathy for a large number of people who they will never meet. There lots of tools that we can use to cultivate the empathy required to design something great, as well as triggering compassion in the team. Personas have long been used to remind everyone of the people we are designing for. Storytelling allows us to role play the experiences, and develop a greater understanding and awareness of user needs. Dogfooding (using your own service/product) allows you to experience everything first hand, with the caveat that it is one kind of experience amongst many other perspectives. 

Emphatic people are good communicators because they can undersand that people can have different perspectives.  They know how to allow room and respect for those different points of view, and can change their communication style to adapt to the situation.  It allows you to get a software team on board and to listen and learn from to all kinds of people. 

Emphatic experience design examples: 

  • Shared language 
  • Pre-populating form fields
  • User research (listening & observing)
  • User journeys

It pays attention to the feelings of the people using the product / service.

Sympathetic experience design examples:

  • Help text
  • Documentation
  • FAQ
  • Surveys

It ensures that the people using the software / service can accomplish their task.

Empathy is crucial for experience designers, much more important in my opinion than the ability to code or do visual design. Without an empathy-driven design process, it's impossible to create something people will enjoy being a part of, a valuable and delightful experience.  

The difference between Usability and Experience Design

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:

  • Accessibility
  • Interaction design
  • Layout
  • Path to completion
  • Funnel analysis
  • Time on task
  • Eye tracking
  • clicks
  • ...

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
  • Personas
  • Behavioural
  • Real world context
  • Scenarios
  • Ethnography
  • Social science
  • Perceptual psychology
  • Design Thinking
  • Environmental design
  • ....

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?

"Design"

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.

 

What is "Design Thinking"?

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.

The backstory 

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.

Think:

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.

Make:

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:

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.

Some useful resources:

"Change by Design" - Tim Brown (book)

"Design Thinking" - Thomas Lockwood (book)

"The art of Innovation" - Tom Peters (book)

"The 10 faces of innovation" - Tom Kelley (book)

D-School Standford - Stanford school of design (website / course)

Tim Brown on Design Thinking - HBR (pdf)

Design Thinking - The movie

Wabi-Sabi in Experience Design

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
Resources:
BERG London have a beautiful blog post written by Tom Armitage on Wabi-Sabi right here.
Leonard Koren wrote a book called "Wabi-Sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers".
Marcel Theroux discovers Wabi-Sabi through the experience of the Japanese tea ceremony: "

 

How to pick a Yoga class

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:

"Many modern schools of hatha yoga derive from the school of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who taught from 1924 until his death in 1989. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga in the West were K. Pattabhi Jois, famous for popularizing the vigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga style, B. K. S. Iyengar who emphasizes alignment and the use of props, Indra Devi and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar who developed the Viniyoga style. Desikachar founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, with the aim of making available the heritage of yoga as taught by Krishnamacharya.

Another major stream of influence was Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh (1887-1963) and his many disciples including, among others, Swami Vishnu-devananda - founder of International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta CentresSwami Satyananda - of the Bihar School of Yoga; and Swami Satchidananda - of Integral Yoga". (Thank you Wikipedia)

Styles of Yoga:

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.

Teachers:

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.

Studios:

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.

Equipment:

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.

Etiquette:

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!):