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Dreamy Kaftans by Phyllis Boho

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The Future is Here, It is Just Not Evenly Distributed.

There is a lot of talk of the Art of the Possible and what this really means five years from now. Creating and communicating a vision is a key part of user experience. Most clients want to know what is happening (best guess) for the next two years. For good a reason. Making the wrong decisions and investment could kill their business. They want to know that the system and the technology they are implementing will still be relevant when it is complete.  

Just a few short years ago most CTOs wanted stable mature platforms. They would not even look at products that did not have a strong track record of value and performance. There is a shift to conversations with start-ups, to provide new tools. Innovation is the buzzword of the day. There is a shift towards using innovative tools in a modular “swap in and swap out” style ecosystem architecture. This is a long term strategy that involves less risk than getting locked in to a single platform.  

The Dot.com boom of bust of 1999-2002 happened because the consumer infrastructure to support it was missing. Now it is the consumer that is driving it.

One person’s future is another person’s past.

A lot is being written about the kids that are growing up with digital. It is not just about them. A lot of people are zooming ahead. Historically there have always been early adopters. The difference is that in most cases the masses eventually caught up in the consumer technology. Being the first family on the block to get a TV was a big deal. It took years before the TV invaded every house in the neighbourhood. In between each wave of technology people had time to catch up and adapt.

This time the pace and the amount of technology is less like a serious of waves and more metaphorically like a tsunami. There is a worry that the early adopters are zooming so far ahead that there is a possibility that the divide may be deeper and wider as to put some people and companies at a disadvantage.

Not everyone has the mindset for digital. This is not about code or doing digital but about integrating into every day lives so this it is just there in the background.

People not Companies are Zooming Ahead

This time the speed of innovation is happening so fast that it is not just people that are falling behind but companies.  The bigger the company the more likely it is to be encumbered with old systems that creak and have out dated systems. This a huge challenge in the workplace. Given the current economy companies and government agencies are cash strapped. If a company has IE 6 there are now in the less than 3% of the population and on the wrong side of the technology divide.

Some People get Left Behind Others Choose to Stay Behind

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Is IE6 still holding the web back to State of the Ark?

Getting everyone online is still a huge challenge for government services who want everyone online to drive more efficiency through self service. The benefit to companies of getting people off more expensive channels of telephony and in person makes financial sense. There are challenges as research into user behaviour points that for a lot of people this is unworkable. This is not do with solely with economic reasons.

It is because not everyone wants to be online. For every person who seems to be online all the time there is another person saying “put that away” and treating technology as an unwelcome invader into their personal space.

Getting people online is not about cost. It is far more complicated. Some people do not want to be online. I have encountered people so hostile to technology they see it as this unwanted invader in their lives. Attitudes toward technology differ. The  younger “digital natives” will eventually become the more dominant strain (for a lack of a better term). Even among the younger digital crowd thought there is still a spectrum between the truly engaged and the ones that more passively engaged.

Moving Beyond Mobile

It is not enough given the speed that new apps and gadgets are coming out. The pace of innovation is having a profound change to our lifestyle.  The further a person is on the scale the more profound the changes. The convergence of mobile, social and digital trends We are moving to an internet of things. Not just smartphones but a whole range of devices. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be up to 50 billion connected devices and each consumer will have approximately seven devices connected to the Internet.

The New York Times has an interesting article on “The Kitchen Table of the Future“. In this vision the time spent around the kitchen table would be about “swiping through stories, ambient commerce and the quantified self”. This is already a reality for a lot of people now and has been since the iPad came out almost two years ago.

Waitrose has introduced a bar code scanner for self service in store shopping. The device is easy to use and has the added bonus of adding up items and they are added and alerting customers of savings on multiple items. It would be interesting to know how the take up progresses.

Beyond just making phone calls or sending text messages, people regularly look up directions, research products while in-store, chat and compare with friends and family, search for deals and pay for a coffee using a mobile phone.

These intelligent, always-connected devices and the consumers using them to their full potential are pushing merchants to react quickly, or die. Businesses that don’t have a mobile commerce strategy are losing out on significant revenue, and that’s only going to continue to accelerate.

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Epson MegaPlex turns an iPhone or iPad into a big-screen projector

HD 720p All-in-One Projector, Speaker and Apple-Device Dock Combo for Digital Lifestyle

HD 720p All-in-One Projector, Speaker and Apple-Device Dock Combo for Digital Lifestyle

I have been looking at docking stations for a while and always left the store empty handed. Now Epsom has come out with one that fits the bill of what I am looking for. The Epson MegaPlex. I want one that is more than just a set of speakers and a charger. It is a projector that just happens to be also a docking station.

After video, DVDs and then Blue Ray I am well past the point of being a movie collector. I am very selective now of which movies I want to have in my permanent collection. These days I prefer streaming. But with most of my viewing now done on the iPad this make the Epson MegaPlex a killer product.  I am already planning how I am going to use this as an out door projector for those rare summer nights.

Could this be a replacement to a TV and the end to the TV license?

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No TV necessary and no TV license either

The added bonus is no TV necessary. When moving to the flat screen I was aware of the increased cost in energy usage. The added bonus is that the Epsom projector is a lot more energy efficient. It also takes up a lot less space and just requires a blank wall or screen

It seems crazy that to buy a TV solely to watch movies and play games and also pay for a TV license.  Then I need to add cable and thus pay even more to watch movies.

I am already a fan of BBC iPlayer and several others for viewing video content online. Lovefilm owned by Amazon now has a streaming option making it ideal and less expensive than cable for watching premier films. Most people are quite selective in what they watch as well. For a lot of people this may make a  lot of sense and time to ditch the idiot box.

Features of the Epson projector:
  • It is a docking device and charges iPad or iPhone devices when plugged in
  • Projects up to 100 inches
  • Perfect for Movies -HDMI plus other audio / video connections
  • Great for presentations – is advertised as travel friendly with a handle but I still think you would need a case
  • Stereo sound and can be used without video to play audio files
  • Built in mic to amply the presenters voice
  • Can be used as a speaker doc
  • Rich, vibrant color and reliable performance — 3LCD, 3-chip technology
  • Can connect to Mac or PCs using a USB connector
  • Can use a USB memory device directly  into the USB port and present

Remarkable resolution and bright output (2800 lumens of color and white light output1) ensure vivid content, even when it’s enlarged to a 100-inch image. Add in the built-in stereo speakers and portable design and MegaPlex MG-850HD is sure to transform how you collaborate and interact, whether at work or at home. Simply connect, project and play. Epson website 

Of course I am leaving off the obvious that this is also a good tool for work as well. I am sure I can say for certain that this will be in my home a lot faster than I can fill out the procurement forms. 😉

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A Survival Strategy for Handling the UX Crazy Person

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UX is maturing. 2007 article bringing together consultants on a global scale.

This week the topic of discussion at the Hospital Club, during our usual UX Martini Madness, was about the difficulty in getting consensus on getting a UX Manifesto. Whenever it seems we are finally getting a common understanding of what UX is some new Crazy jumps up and wants to reinvent the wheel?  The UX wheel that is. It is like being on a UX merry-go-round. When actually UX on a trajectory path that in the last few years has seen what we do mature. UX has evolved a lot in very short period of time. This is exciting!

We call them Crazies the Crazies because their reaction is to behave like a crazy person and display increasingly odd behaviour the closer we get.

Instead of embracing the new emerging standards they want to re-invent their own, around them. We have seen user experience descriptions recently where they mention everything except anything to do with user experience. Instead of embracing the changes and wanting to get involved they go into a destructive and self protectionist mode.

Their crazy thinking is bad enough for them but it is even more damaging to the industry, the people they work with and the companies they work for. It is highly toxic and must be disposed of with extreme care.

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The UX Alliance is Global

 

Some of the best user experience people and teams are now client side. I have a tremendous amount of respect for what some of the specialists have done and are doing. Companies like Frog, User Focus, Foviance, Flow, Foolproof, Sapient, EMC, LBi have really raised the bar and helped user experience to mature.

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The Crazy response is doing more harm than good.

But there are still some toddlers out there who have not realised it is about the end user and not about them.

How to spot a Crazy:

  • Crazies want to define what a UX consultant is and not use industry standards
  • Crazies want to define the exact skills set now and for the next xxxx years
  • Crazies see the value of UX to “differentiate”  and want to brand it (or call it something else), own it and use it for their own needs
  • Crazies obsess about code, tools, process, scripts, levels and methods and so on…. everything except what UX is about!
  • Crazies talk a lot but do not do and almost never show… their own site looks more “State of the Ark” than “Stake of the Art” [If they have a graphical header they are a crazy]
  • Crazies moan about themselves and why they are not being plucked from obscurity [From Andy Budd] rather than learn about the industry and do something of merit
  • If the crazies are not getting their way they feel victimised
  • Crazies talk and care more about themselves and less about the end user or anyone else for that matter
  • Crazies are all about producing the end result (user interface) but pay very little attention to the journey

 

Crazies want UX to be about them and their skills. Really, does the user care how a UX Consultant defines themselves and whether you know some bad ass scripts? No. It is about the user and creating a stunning user experience. That is a worthwhile and measurable objective. User experience is a team effort. As a user experience consultant the role is to ensure the user is considered and accounted for.

 

UX Crazy Survival Tip 1: Go where the industry is going. Look at what companies like Frog and User Focus [David Travis] has to say. Follow the leaders.

Google “user experience” and you will find a stack of books, conferences, methods, tools, magazines, clubs and lots of like minded thinkers willing to share their information and perspectives. No where is it about tech. It is all about the user. It is the user that unites us.

Frog mind design

The Frog Mind puts users first. Frog gets it.

The crazy may try to bounce with a book they read that is 10 years old. “oh yes I read this years ago and have my diploma from xxx”. Stay with what is current and take a consolidated view from what is currently out there on blogs and in workshops. The big players all seems to have a similar view of user experience with varying  nuances in descriptions.

The Peer Index top 500 from Foolproof is a great please to start

UX Crazy Survival Tip 2: Share the reading lists and as much information as possible with as many people as possible. Knowledge and research is a powerful weapon against the Crazy. 

Crazies  do not like the fact that UX people meet up and want to share knowledge. They seem to ignore the fact there are degree courses, certifications and standards emerging. They want… errrr.. demand a description that fits their often narrow minded and outdated view and skills. UX people are in huge numbers and have a big voice in the world of digital. UX is not a bag of tricks it is about a mind set that puts the user first.

dark arts

Would you want to be operated on by self assessed surgeons?

Do not limit that information just to the team but educate widely. Invite other people in to discuss. UX is about collaboration and empowering. It is not a Society for the Dark Arts. The more people in your organisation who understand what user experience is the less power the crazy will have and the focus will shift to UX.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 3: Go to as many events as possible and talk to people in the industry. Listen to the people who matter and who are doing great stuff. Let their voices drown out the Crazy. 

The rest of us (non crazies) seem to want to help the users. We recognise that users are important. They can make a product successful or not. We want recognition and the professional status that a profession brings. We are not all out to be mavericks and ninjas.

We have evolved from the UCD, web design time line

UX evolution diagram

Click on the diagram to see the UX evolution

 

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. User experience is about the user. It is not about me or you. Users belong to tribes and share common traits. We are trained to look for common traits. UX brings convention (in an innovative way). It makes sure the end result works for the majority of people. The awards now are for usability and are about delivering a measurable experience. They are not the subjective far out designs of old (that probably did not work either). We want inclusiveness and accessibility. We wants standards. We are people people.  That is probably why we have a million conferences ;-).

UX Crazy Survival Tip 4: Embrace web and user centered standards and change with them. Do not let the Crazies define you. It is your career in the end. 

Taken from Wikipedia:

Recent advances in mobileubiquitoussocial, and tangible computing technologies have moved human-computer interaction into practically all areas of human activity. This has led to a shift away from usability engineering to a much richer scope of user experience, where user’s feelings, motivations, and values are given as much, if not more, attention than efficiency, effectiveness and basic subjective satisfaction (i.e. the three traditional usability metrics[4])

Just because you are a UX Consultant does not mean you can not specialise. In fact it is the opposite or not and entirely your choice. Specialise away if you want. But put the user first and understand the core skills of UX. If you think being an HTML5 expert will help then go for it. If you want to be the best in user research then that too will be a huge advantage. Just remember that complete specialisation is a cul-de-sac. New tools and graduates are emerging. The whole industry is changing. Typographers learned the hard way of what can be a fickle business.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 5: Be flexible, adaptable and design for change. Learn as much as you can and go with your own instinct. Do not let the Crazy paint you into a corner. Be vocal and have your own sense of who you are. Think ahead. What is in demand now will be redundant tomorrow. 

Digital is about change. It is not fixed. There is no description of UX today that will be still relevant tomorrow. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. UX Consultants must be first and foremost be flexible and willing to adapt. Understanding the user and keeping abreast of change is the way forward.

UX is a moving feast. No one can say what the tools are for tomorrow will be. One thing is the same. The user. The user is there. They are changing too. They also do not play to stereo types. Follow the user. What are they doing now that they were not doing yesterday? When I am in meeting and some one says, “oh generation X only uses social media”. Oh really, then why is the average of a twitter user 45? Research, research research and know your stuff. Have the goods to back up what you are doing with conviction.

I also had to remind some one that we are not building for tomorrow we are building for 400 tomorrows. It will take 400 days for a complete relaunch. At the day of launch the new system must be ready for that day, not tomorrow.

UX Crazy Survival Tip 6: Collaborate and share ideas with other UX people. Nothing beats a get together with other UX professionals and having good verbal bashing of what the Crazies are doing.  Having people you can rely on to help keep your sanity is a wise strategy.

Having a group of like minded peers can help. Nothing beats unwinding when you can have a sensible discussion with sane people. We have all been there. Some of us still have crazies in our life. Who knows when the next one will pop up and start wrecking havoc.  The good news is that the UX Crazies’ days are numbered. Let’s keep meeting up, coming together and working to common standards. In the end they won’t win.

It is an ongoing process of education and learning by example both good and bad.

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It’s a Dev Tool, No It’s a Design Tool, No It’s a Moose.

Jeremy Keith of Clearleft

Jeremy Keith of Clearleft

I love Adobe. Let me say that up front. Adobe has been very good to me. Oh yes. Adobe and Apple issues aside with the whole flash thing, I remember what is was like to use a tool dipped in ink to draw a straight line. White out was my best friend for making crop marks. I had the typographer’s phone number memorized. He knew how to read my scamps and hand drawn text and know exactly what font to use and would get the kerning right.

Adobe and Apple liberated me. So you can imagine how I jumped at the chance to go to tonight’s Adobe HTML 5 Camp aimed at developers with the odd designer taking an interest.

They could not have picked a better or worse (depending on your point of view) presenter. Jeremy Keith of Clearleft. The man needs no introduction. Everyone knows Clearleft love their code so much their cleaning staff could probably give a lot of devs a run for their money.

So to make a long story short, Jeremy goes nuts on a long rant. He goes on this long tirade of how Adobe Muse is insulting to both designers and developers. He does not stop and he goes on to call it WYSISWTF! [if you need me to translate – you should not be reading this article]

wysiswtf

Uh oh! He had a point I suppose.

The most infuriating thing is that Muse pays absolutely no respect to the discipline of design. We are not some bastard child of print.  Tweet from Goodonpaper

From there (a good start in my eyes) the event just seemed to get better, with some great talks by Greg Rewis, Sam Dutton & Mark Anders. Adobe Edge looks promising if a little rough on the eyes. Intuitive – not really. The new CS5 Dreaweaver tutorial was basic but good.  I am not a developer and I tend to downplay what dev skills I have just so I can avoid getting my hands dirty on a 6 month development gig. I can code CSS and HTML mark-up, but I mainly keep my skills up only to give me an deep understanding and allow me to help me in design/UX. This is an advantage for me. I am a fully paid up member the “you cannot have too much information” club. Knowing the code structure and keeping up to date can only help.

Cue dark and scary music. Last session of the day and the Adobe product evangelist walks on the stage.

  • PowerPoint agenda…uhuming and hawing – not a great intro
  • PowerPoint bullets and all about Adobe Muse
  • Demo slow to load
  • Uninspiring demo
  • Kept saying “job done” and silly phrases
  • Sounded like more more Moose than Muse

 

I really felt sorry for the presenter but it was a car crash from start to finish. Over 60% of the audience walked out. I was one of the last to walk out. Only because I was sitting in the middle and needed the people to one side of me to empty out first. Plus I did try to be polite. I wanted to hear the end wrap up but as it also was running over… well it made sense… 😉

Everything was aweful. Here was Adobe with a chance to end on a high note and prove that Jeremy Keith guy wrong and they failed. It was PowerPoint bullet points. The actual demo was terrible and with a design so dreadful it made the banner Mark Ander did worthy of a Webby award. But I digress.

The one thing I left with was that Adobe Muse is neither for designers or developers and is in fact a Moose. A Moose aimed at designers.

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Welcome to the Conceptual Age. So Long Information Age.

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A Whole New Mind

Let me start off this blog post by challenging one of the myths I have encountered recently. A creative solution was perceived as a strategy and thus a person assumed that creative and strategy are one and the same. They could not discern the creative presentation from the strategy behind it.

Creative and strategy require different types of thinking. In user experience you need both types. This doesn’t mean two people or roles. This means the application of different kinds of thinking.

Creative thinking is coming up with ideas. Brainstorming is one aspect of it. Another aspect could be the creative output or conceptual model to describe that idea. The conceptual idea is not the final design but a vision of what it could be like or a metaphor. The purpose is to communicate the idea visually so that it can be understood and evaluated by non creative people. Ideally the creative process should create as many ideas as many as possible. It is unconstrained and is the merging of ideas which have not been merged before to achieve a positive business outcome. From a user experience perspective this should create a positive emotional experience. The ability to consistently and quickly come up with lots of creative ideas is a good indication of how creative some one is.

Strategic thinking reduces information down to exact values based on unique insight. It is an essential part of critical thinking to judge whether a specific situation or piece of information is right or wrong, based on its ability to help achieve a positive business outcome, or solve a business problem or issue. A definition of how strategic some one is could be based on their ability to evaluate, analyse and judge multiple alternatives at once and to consider a range of scenarios and make strategic choices

Conceptual thinking requires both.

This is whole brain thinking. This is being able to create ideas, evaluate them and make strategic choices.

Daniel Pink expanding on this idea in A Whole New Mind (2005) defines Economic Development as:

1. Agriculture Age (farmers)
2. Industrial Age (factory workers)
3. Information Age (knowledge workers)
4. Conceptual Age (creators and empathizers)

Pink identifies winners as designers, inventors, counselors, ethnographers, social psychologists, and other right-brain folks, while lawyers, engineers, accountants, and other left-brainers will see their jobs migrate to Asia. We are coming out of an information age and in the early days of a conceptual age.

Creativity is the most crucial factor for success, giving companies a constructive advantage and setting the company apart from the competition. This new brain thinking is critical for innovation.

I recently had a conversation with a web designer who said “he can’t see himself ever winning a web design award”. I couldn’t help but think how short sighted and faulted his thinking is. A lot of clients want awards. These are not the visual design awards of years ago. These are now awards based on innovation and solutions. Being innovative and seen to be a leader in the industry is the core values of a lot of organisations. The awards are in recognition of that and carry a lot of prestige. If that is his attitude he might as well give up.

If you are not driving innovation and creative in a field such as user experience you are doomed to fail. UX is at the heart of generating fresh solutions to problems.  Ultimately everything comes down to a user problem. The convergance of social media, mobility and digital access is driving change at a warp speed. It is no longer enough to apply the rules of usability, accessibility and best practice. So many people seem to be still caught up in the pixel pushing.

Companies recognise the need of constant change to create new products, processes or services for a changing market. This is part of the intellectual capital that gives a company its competitive edge. Creativity is a crucial part of the innovation equation.

The left brain gave us processes. The conceptual age will be ruled by empathy, creativity and artistry. Empathy with end users and clients works by understanding and balancing the needs of both. Creativity and concpetualisation is a core competency for ux practictioners and one of the best ways to set yourself apart from delivery. This is a straight value proposition. Being able to do the research to measure the user experience will ultimately prove the worth. The actual design and execution will be done in the delivery stage and yes this will still largely be processed driven.

But one of the biggest misunderstandings I have encountered seems to be that UX is the same as UI. It is not. Saying that devalues what we do. UI is only one component. UX is more pervasive now.  Delivery is about deliverables and quality assurance is about execution. Focus on the creative aspects only. The deisgn will come later.

Of course it helps if you have a great design eye. Being creative and also design challenged is not going to help you communicate ideas. But visual design is not creative.

Looking at HP’s guide for innovation & creativity as a starting point I have reworked it for how I work.

  • Work collaboratively in small teams
  • Have belief in what you are doing and focus on the value
  • Work quickly and visually
  • Share and collaborate
  • The customer and end user will have the end say
  • Invent
  • Resist the temptation to re-use – throw out the templates
  • Embrace change
  • Tolerate ambiguity
  • Radical ideas are not automatically bad
  • Consistenty improve
  • Update new tools and ways of working

 

While working on the concept forget for the moment that creative is about deliverables, more specifically execution (in the design sense).  In the beginnign it helps to scribble, sketch, explore ideas and create cartoons rather than going straight to wireframes.

Fostering an environment for creativity and innovation means confronting the old mindset.