Notes from Midwest UX 2015 Day 1

These are my notes from day 1 of Midwest UX, held October 2-3, 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.

Table of Contents:

Keynote: Practical Creativity

Dan Saffer (@odannyboy)

  • Reframe creativity
    • Not just artists and geniuses
    • Michael Bierut - design needs imagination and knowledge, you can’t create design from nothing
    • In design, constraints come from outside, (often) unlike artists
      • e.g. time - forces you to make choices, which can be good, unless you make them before you’re ready
    • Steve Jobs - live with the problem
      • user research gives you the time to do this
  • The grappling hook
    • 2 parts: the hook and the line
    • The hook draws in users; without it, the product is boring
    • The line is what gives the work resonance, why it is meaningful; without it, the products is frivolous, disjointed
    • Inverting the problem constraints can help you find the hook. The line may be harder to find.
  • Building creative habit
    • What do you do day to day? What can you do differently to be creative? Create new habits and routines
    • Creativity needs preparation - you need a backlog of immagination and knowledge to have when you need it
      • Fill the well so you can be creative at a moment’s notice, collect good ideas and new ways of seeing the world
        • Read books (especially outside your field), see art, travel, take a different way home, window shop, etc.
    • Block out time for creativity
      • Consistent, small chunks that actually happen are better than planning big blocks that don’t
      • When are you most creative? For most people only 90min to 3hr/day, don’t squander on non-creative work
    • Start creative time with a ritual to get you in the frame of mind
    • Keep a list of big questions of what you should be thinking about to allow subconscious to work while doing other things–allows serendiptiy
    • Keep notebooks to remember
    • Take walks–gentle movement helps the body to relax and the subconscious to work
    • Efficiency can be the enemy of creativity–less efficient processes let you explore side roads, find different hooks and lines
    • Turn off the stream, give the mind time to process; being bored is ok, allows ideas to enter
  • Failure and getting unstuck
    • Intant feedback, e.g. on Twitter, can be hard to take
    • Focus on making a body of work, not just individual things to divorce your ego from each thing–not everything you do will be great, e.g. Picasso
    • If the task is boring, make the way you do it interesting. What do you want to get out of it?
    • If the task is too hard, are you the one making it hard? If it’s really too hard, it’s ok to ask for help.
    • Power through or procrastinate
      • Power through if you know what to do and how to do it
      • Procrastinate when you’ve hit the wall or haven’t found the hook/line yet; something is missing, let your subconscious work

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Interactive session: Use Tactical Goal Setting to Design the Right Thing

Michael Metts (@mjmetts)

  • Many projects work like 6 blind men trying to understand an elephant–need to shift to shared experience and common goals
  • Change from designing the thing to designing the process, even in small projects
  • Work on goals collaboratively
    • catch stakeholder feedback and prespectives beforehand
    • make sure everyone feels heard
    • keep it quick, insert into meetings
  • Goal setting framework:
    • Design goals - what problem do we want to solve
    • Communication goals - what do we want the customer to know
    • Business goals - what do we want to achieve
  • Guidelines:
    • Goals should be clear and actionable, must be possible to actually do
    • Descriptive, not proscriptive - effects, not solutions - designer needs to remain in control of solutions
    • Agreed on by team to prevent redoing later, use to justify designs and frame conversations

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What is Beautiful Software?

Matt Nish-Lapidus (@emenel)

  • Examples:
    • Norton commander gave shape to something abstract (the file system)
    • LOGO lets you draw in a new way
    • Both are visual, make the abstract concrete, inspirational, use metaphor (perhaps poetically), allow exploration
  • Beauty is not an afterthought
  • Beauty is shaped by biology, but framed by cultural values
  • Pre-modern (western) art
    • Biological: symmetry, light and shadow, human form as ideal mate
    • Movement draws the eye
    • Asymmetry creates tension
    • Framed by cultural values: religion, mythology - these are the metaphors people used to understand the world
  • Modernism (starting in the late 1800s)
    • Beginning of galleries and salons, non-commission art–the world is changing, this is the art of the people, not just the rich
    • Experimentation in form, inward, personal view of the world
    • Response to industrialization and the chaos of WWI
      • Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 is a mechanical view of the human body: rules, orderly
      • Bauhaus is mass production over individual craftmanship
      • 60s takes that to extreme, perfect version of the object, exactly what it needs to be and nothing more
  • Post-modernism
    • Rejection of rules, formalism–the planning and top-down-control didn’t work the way people hoped, want to play again, see the world in a new way
    • Chaos is beautiful–reaction to mass media
    • Implication, meaning over form, statement over craft, subjective view, death of the author
    • Mix high and low culture, old and new
  • Software age–how do changes of the digital age influence our values and how we see the world, and what do we want to say about it?
    • No single form
    • Ephemeral, impact but no substance
    • Fundamental change to the things we can do with media artifacts: automation, variability, modularity
      • Hypertext, deep connections and relationships
      • Interactivity, things talk back to us–passive consumption becomes active participation
      • Networks and systems–everything talks to everything else, communication in snippets between people and systems
    • We may not have a strong cultural point of view yet

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The Wicked Craft of Enterprise UX

Uday Gajendar (@udanium)

  • How can we elevate the craft of enterprise UX to level of consumer companies like Apple, Nest, etc.?
  • Sense of humanism and beauty is second to (or opposing!) many other enterprise needs
  • Change definition of craft from precious, final object (aesthetics, romanticism) to facilitative anchor–it enables teamwork and collaboration
    • (but you still need the aspirational values of craft–aesthetics, attention to detail)
  • Something well-crafted instills confidence, trust, integrity
  • Use craft to
    • Clarify goals and intentions between buyers and end-users
    • Wrestle with multi-faceted relationships–thousands of objects, rickety databases
    • Navigate political currents
  • Craft as an anchor
    • UX artifacts form focus of discussion, break out of analysis paralysis
    • Use disagreements, strong opinions to tease out deeper issues
    • Drive debates and decisions
    • Artifacts are transient, last just long enough to come to a decision–not part of 100 page design doc that no one reads
    • Force non-designers to see problems differently
    • Allow others to get their own epiphanies
    • Empower a design culture through demonstration and role modelling
  • Reactive model: use design artifacts (diagrams, flow charts, etc.) to highlight questions, show deeper issues in existing systems and force reaction to unrecognized problems
  • Interpretive model: create design artifacts with stakeholders to create mutual understanding and figure out what they want
  • Collaborative model: create design artifacts with group to align diverse opinions and goals, get the system out of everyone’s heads and expose conflict

(Pam’s comments: I have a lot more to say on using artifacts collaboratively with teams and stakeholders, I’m working on a blog post on that now)

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Interactive session: Design Essentials for UX

Jennifer Smith

  • Tidy = trustworthy
  • Be familiar with design history–current design came from the past
    • Bauhaus - function is form, eliminate elements–don’t sacrifice the message for the design
    • Jan Tschichold - page layout
    • Swiss style - asymmetric, grid, sans-serif, flush left rag right, photos instead of illustrations
    • Dieter Rams, Braun - design must be innovative, useful, aesthetic, unubtrusive, long-lasting, as little as possible
  • Balance and proportion
    • White space prevents distraction–too many elements and they get lost, become noise
    • Rule of thirds
    • Golden ratio
    • Rhythm creates a sense of motion
  • Typography
    • Serif or sans doesn’t matter, but test with your own users
    • Type ramp to create hierarchy: 6 different type sizes/styles; test to make sure they work with your font; differences can be exaggerated
    • Build a grid based on body copy baseline
  • Start with a sketch

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Natural-Born Cyborgs

Manuel Ebert (@maebert)

  • Phenomenology: philosophical study of experiences; first person, analyze own experience, how things appear to us
  • The boundary between “me” and “world” can shift
  • Sartre, Being and Nothingness
    • Attention shifts from typewriter to tired eyes, subject of perception to medium of perception
    • Medium of perception then becomes the subject of perception
  • Heidegger, Being and Time
    • Present-at-hand: a hammer is a thing in the world
    • Ready-to-hand: hammer is part of your body, don’t think about how to hold hand to manipulate hammer, hold hammer to manipulate nail
      • hammer becomes means rather than subject of action, fundamentally the same as Sartre’s shift in perception
    • Tool moves from ready-to-hand to present-at-hand if it breaks
  • Gibson - Affordances - how things become part of the body
  • Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs
    • Human software hasn’t improved in ~100 million years, but we can do things now that didn’t used to be possible–we use the world as an external memory
    • Can’t not use tools, this defines the species; indistinguishable from using your own hands
  • Neuroscience experiment: train monkey to use tool to reach food and measure inter-parietal cortext (where visual cortex meets sensory cortex)
    • Neurons react to anything within reach, and area they react to expands when they use the tool, like it is an extension of their own body
    • Effect remains when the monkey can’t see the food and tool directly, only abstract representations on a screen
    • Effect remains even when the abstract representation of the tool only shows the tip (e.g. just like a mouse pointer)
    • Effect goes away if experimenters introduce a slight lag in the pointer
  • In other words, the mouse pointer is an extension of your own body into digital space
    • Don’t chop off your user’s hands by violating the world/body boundary (e.g. Mac beach ball–if the system is broken, show a broken system, don’t break the user’s hand)
  • Sensory-motor-contingency: if it moves together it belongs together; motion of muscles and response of body parts is regular and continuous, but lag or irregularity breaks the connection
  • Tools of perception (e.g. glasses) are also regular and continuous, part of the body
  • Most current wearables don’t do anything, response is not regular and continuous, but it could be–watch could slowly heat up to indicate closeness of upcoming appointment, would be like a new sense

Pam’s comments: If the mouse pointer is an extension of the user’s hand but jankiness breaks that association, poor performance may mean that manipulating the system changes from an unconscious process to a conscious process. Conscious thought is a limited resource, so using it for basic interaction takes resources away from performing the primary task–in other words, poor performance makes the primary task itself more mentally challenging. No wonder it’s so annoying!

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Keynote: What makes things cool?

Karen Holtzblatt (@kholtsblatt)

  • Concepts of “cool” apply to both personal and business
  • Joy and delight is at the core of coolness–can’t think your way to joy, it’s a gut reaction
  • Wheel of Joy in Life - born-in sources of joy
    • Accomplishment - most important
      • We are born to get things done
      • Getting things done in the unstoppable momentum of life
      • Used to design for feature lists, then designed for activities, now design for all of life
      • We get things done in small pieces of time in any/multiple contexts/devices–all the time, any piece of time, no time unfilled, all tasks interleaved
    • Connection
      • We want to belong and be a part of something
      • Tech lets us connect to real relationships–work and home
    • Identity
      • Celebrate and express our best selves (could be professional, home, hobby, etc. identity)
      • Tools should make us feel our best possible selves in any role
      • Cool factor decreases when tools make us feel stupid or incompetent
      • Identity elements in your population probably aren’t in your personas!
    • Sensation
      • Experiential–music, tactile, altered states of consciousness, etc.
      • Aesthetic (visual) design doesn’t matter that much–don’t get cool points for modern design, but you lose them for not having it
      • Could be subtle, e.g. curling pages of virtual book, or central, e.g. experience of driving a car
  • Triangle of Joy in Use - functionality alone is no longer good enough
    • Direct into action - most important
      • Create magic
      • “Think for me”
      • Automate or support no-thought decisions: bring things together in one place for this moment for what I want to do
    • The hassle factor
      • Joy of relief - remove the horribleness of tech, e.g. no login/setup/preferences
      • Get out of the way so it becomes direct into action
    • The learning delta
      • Learning is invisible, get started in moments–built on what you know
      • Creating a language of finger-swiping is not direct into action
      • No complexity: what do I need for this intent in this place on this platform?
      • Say no to “what if the user wants to…”, this is adding complexity
  • Design for life, not tasks
    • Moments and intents; small, integrated activity across time, place, and platform
    • We have never done head-down work, we work in chunks and self-interrupt all day

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