“Using our imagination is harder than we’ve been led to believe. The problem is not that it quickly “runs wild”, or that we have “too much imagination”. The problem is that our imagination is so crippled by the fear of making mistakes, it quickly runs after easy patterns, and jumps on stereotypes.”—Putting Thought Into Things | Information Architects
“Watching Fouad teaches me how to move through public spaces. You never stop to let people through; you just adjust your pace and path to squeeze by as necessary. People in tight spaces will flow like a liquid, and it turns out that if everyone presses forward, the system works. The only way to screw up is by being unpredictable in your movements, or trying to apologize. People who need to get through more urgently will yell or honk as they’re coming up behind you.”—Sana’a
“I have spent the past 15 years, first as a management consultant and now as the dean of a business school, studying leaders with exemplary records. Over the past six years, I have interviewed more than 50 such leaders, some for as long as eight hours, and found that most of them share a somewhat unusual trait: They have the predisposition and the capacity to hold in their heads two opposing ideas at once. And then, without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other, they’re able to creatively resolve the tension between those two ideas by generating a new one that contains elements of the others but is superior to both. This process of consideration and synthesis can be termed integrative thinking.”—How Successful Leaders Think
Dipping my toes into Holacracy. It’s often compared to an operating system, something about its adaptability, scalability and ‘object-orientatedness’ appeals.
“This emphasis on organic growth has a side benefit of distributing authority. In Holacratic systems, individuals operate without managers because many of them have decision-making power in a particular area. And since everything is made as explicitly as possible, everyone in the organization knows who has authority over what. “It’s much better to have power distributed as widely as possible so more people can make more decisions to move forward,” Stirman explains. “This structure leads more toward moving fast, trying new things, and adjusting as needed. You don’t have to wait for everyone up a ladder to sign off. This can take weeks or months, when Holacracy says, ‘You know what, we’re going to hire the best people we know and trust them to make decisions for us.’ All day people make decisions, own parts of the company, and act on them. The momentum this creates far outweighs someone making a bad decision. You also have the momentum to change course quickly.”
“Winning organisations are continually experimenting, testing theories to learn what works and what does not. The reality is that fewer than one in ten of these new ideas or products will work, but the ones which do pass the litmus test could have a massive impact on the business’ future fortunes.”
And I know a few organisations who could learn from this too:
“Give your initiatives enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing. Focus on frequent demonstrable value and validated learning before further investment.”
We’ve just finished an interesting piece of work with a bank. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that, but scratch beneath the surface and there’s a fair bit of ‘disruptive’ stuff happening. Most of it design–led.
It’s hardy surprising. Banks used to represent the most trusted of all industries but through a combination of complacency and overt–greed, we’re now in a position where technology companies have replaced them.
Most of the changes are happening at the edges, not from the banks themselves. Bank Simple (they’re not a ‘bank’) are the posterchild, but there are a bunch of others trying to ride the wave. And then there’s Square, whose most recent service is a great example of how to differentiate on experience.
This article from Jin Zwicky is worth a read if you’re interested in this stuff. The focus on simplicity is something most organisations can rally around and has shown demonstrable benefits:
"We saw double-digit increases in sales in investment and insurance products when we simplified the communications material. We saw 100% adoption rate in using the digital needs analysis tool in our top branches after we simplified the tool. We increased customers’ satisfaction in our account opening experience by simplifying the system. Finally, our simplified website was not only listed as The More Gorgeous and Simple Banking Website, but also we could save about 0.5 million dollars per year by reducing the number of pages in the website."
But, for me, the stuff that really resonates is the emphasis on cultural change.
“I came to believe that ‘simplicity’ is not just a project. It is not just a team of simplicity specialists. It is a capability that we have to cultivate! Furthermore, it is an organizational culture that we have to create in order to achieve simplicity.”
This is the real challenge for ‘institutions’. It’ll be interesting to see if any of the old-guard can grok this and start innovating at the rate of people like Square.
“In my experience thus far, there’s a direct opposite-correlation between Information and Intuition. That is, the more noise I get, the harder it is to hear my intuition. And the less noise I get, the easier it is to make a very clear decision.”—The Intuitive Investor — The Josh Spear Blog
This won’t fit into a tweet. And sorry, it’s about job titles so feel free to scoot off.
A client recently asked me why I winced when describing myself as a ‘User Experience Designer’. Well, apart from the obvious embarrassment of it being a ridiculously pompous title, it has deeper ramifications when working with teams (almost always). It suggests user experience is the domain of an individual. It excludes – or worse still excuses – others from adopting this approach. But that doesn’t make sense. UX is a flavour not an ingredient. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a designer, developer or writer, we are all fundamentally invested in the user’s experience.
I enjoyed episode 69 of 99% Invisible: The Brief and Tumultuous Life of the New UC Logo. It was fascinating for all the usual reasons that designers find the religious debates around logo-reboots interesting. We sympathise with the poor misunderstood designer. We chuckle at the well meaning but ignorant opinion of the layman. Before finally returning – with a collective sigh – to where we were started. And with a shrug we accept this as the Designer’s Lot. In 25 minutes I think I passed through all five phases of the Kübler-Ross model. Sounds horrific but actually this was a great story, expertly told as always by Roman Mars and colleagues.
For those that haven’t had the pleasure, the show recounts the story of the ‘failed’ redesign of the University of California identity. Or more specifically the logo. In fact, it was even more specific than that – it was the monogram itself that seemed to get peoples’ goat.
And therein lies the problem. As the Creative Director points out, a monogram in isolation means very little. The goal is symbolism but it has to earn its meaning – firstly as part of the visual system – and eventually as a totem, emblematic of the collective experience of that brand.
Problem is, this one never had a chance. It was pushed out in the world, isolated from its system and – like a pack of wolves – the Status-Quo bias took hold. The monogram had earned its narrative, it was just the wrong one.
Anyway I made a bunch of notes about this side of things.
Innovation (as opposed to plain old ‘good design’) can feel uncomfortable. Finding a balance between excitement/momentum/making and ambiguity/uncertainty/creativity is a challenge that someone needs to take the lead on.
Stewardship is so important here. The groups needs enough structure to avoid disorder/chaos but not so much that this it inhibits bold/exuberant thinking (often the source of the most exciting ideas). IMO, we underestimated how much stewardship was required. With hindsight, an (independent) facilitator and A LOT more preparation would have been a smart move. Think of each day as a collaborative design workshop and you’ll be getting closer to what’s required.
Design Games are, as always, your friends. We adapted versions of exercises we use with clients (especially Design Studio). But they come with a few words of warning. A lot of these games are focused on reaching consensus. However, this often comes at the expense of some of the sharper edges. At times it felt like regression toward the mean. In some ways this is desirable during client workshops but at Hack Farm we were a little too hasty to smooth those edges. Again, structure/planning/facilitation would have helped here.
People will approach the problem from different places. I tend to work outside-in, looking at big picture stuff like strategy/vision before moving on to details. Others prefer material exploration. On Hack Farm a lot of material exploration meant playing with the various APIs and data-sources already working in the UK political space. This blend of conceptual/abstract thinking with exploratory/investigative hacking was one of my personal highlights from Hack Farm. Definitely something I’d like to see more of on live projects.
Some people will struggle with this way of working. This is inevitable. After all, it’s hard to stay engaged for an entire week, especially when everything (environment/process) is unfamiliar. But it can be a little toxic for the rest of the group if there are stragglers, especially if it happens too often. Again, a good moderator will stay on top of this and adjust if needed.
I went into Hack Farm wondering whether the model could be applied to client work. The answer for me is yes, but with a lot more work. The logistics, not to mention the cost, would make this a significant investment for anyone. But the potential is clear for me. Let’s see where that goes.
“Leadership is 50 percent fiction/50 percent nonfiction. That is to say, leadership is the confidence in knowing what you know and what you know you’ll know. It’s the ability to speak confidently, knowledgeably, and easily about the latter that sets some apart. Be comfortable with the fiction.”—Bobulate
“Design is no longer concerned only with things. Increasingly, design is concerned with systems—and now systems of systems or ecologies. In a sense, these systems are alive. They grow and coevolve. Designers and product managers cannot always control them. Instead, they must create conditions in which they can emerge and flourish. All this requires new thinking and new knowledge. It requires design practice to learn.”—Hugh Dubberly
Everywhere the current look is classic, vintage and plain. We’re dressing like artisanal leather workers with sidelines in egg collecting and a thing for moustache wax. Where are the futuristic fabrics, the exoskeletal tabards?
This is for an app – seems to be Instagram but for video – which may not be earth shatteringly innovative, but it’s still compositing video and music with a handheld telephone. On the fly.
Me: No, that’s kinda the point. I want to tell you so I can work out what it is.
James Burke says we ‘abhor complexity, and seek to simplify things whenever we can by whatever means we have at hand.’ I agree.
He also says ‘through fear of chaos we impose system on it’. I agree, again.
And we talk about the these kind of systems a lot. We heroicise them. Because the output – the system, the solution, the boxed product – is mainly what we set our sights on. And get paid for (as designers). And cry wank over with our peers.
I have no problem with this. It’s good, and worthwhile and it gets us somewhere comfortable and often meaningful.
But the last few days, to me, seem to have been less about the end and more about the getting there. Tom’s celebration of toying epitomised this for me. So did the glorious working parts of Maker Faire. And the variousprovocations of SF.
The divergent bit of design – where everything is half-formed, and possibly wrong, and likely to embarrass – is often forgotten. Mainly because it’s not at the end. But also because it doesn’t make for a shiny press release. Or a cohesive presentation. Or a 10 tips on how to do this better blog post.
I want to find a way of making these things more evident and more discursive. Exposing ideas at their most fertile moment, when they’re ripe for change and would benefit from nurture.
James’ Happenstance work does some of this. I love the idea of people being able to walk through the problem and see the debris of design (before it gets swept away). And eventually start to play with it themselves or just talk about it.
“Beyond a certain critical mass, a building becomes a Big Building. Such a mass can no longer be controlled by a single architectural gesture, or even by any combination of architectural gestures. This impossibility triggers the autonomy of its parts, but that is not the same as fragmentation: the parts remain committed to the whole.”—Brute Force Architecture and its Discontents - etc Rem Koolhaas, Bigness essay in S,M,L,XL
They [clients] effectively pay a premium for an agency who knows what they’re doing to do that thing well. It tends not to play well for an agency to then spend the duration of the contract being actively uncertain, making hypotheses and validating them, using the client’s money to ‘learn’.
This, traditionally, is not what we pay a top class agency to do. We pay them to know stuff and to get stuff right, and to be the people we blame if it doesn’t work out well. Until clients get comfortable with this (will they ever?) it will be difficult, nigh impossible, for an agency to be properly Lean or even agile.
“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.”—Jim Glymph, Gehry Partners
“Unlike products, services are often designed or modified as they are delivered; they are co-created with customers; and service providers must often respond in real time to customer desires and preferences. Services are contextual – where, when and how they are delivered can make a big difference. They may require specialized knowledge or skills. The value of a service comes through the interactions: it’s not the end product that matters, so much as the experience.”—Everything is a service
“The biggest impediment to service innovation is not a lack of ideas. It’s the inability of companies to deliver them the way they are currently structured. Service designer Ben Reason notes that “Coming up with innovative services is easy. What’s hard is getting companies to adapt.””—Everything is a service
Or consider this 2009 experiment, published in Science. The psychologists, at the University of British Columbia, were interested in looking at how the color of interior walls influence the imagination. They recruited six hundred subjects, most of them undergraduates, and had them perform a variety of basic cognitive tests displayed against red, blue or neutral colored backgrounds.
The differences were striking. When people took tests in the red condition – they were surrounded by walls the color of a stop sign – they were much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail, such as catching spelling mistakes or keeping random numbers in short-term memory. According to the scientists, this is because people automatically associate red with danger, which makes them more alert and aware.
The color blue, however, carried a completely different set of psychological benefits. While people in the blue group performed worse on short-term memory tasks, they did far better on those requiring some imagination, such as coming up with creative uses for a brick or designing a children’s toy out of simple geometric shapes. In fact, subjects in the blue condition generated twice as many “creative outputs” as subjects in the red condition. That’s right: the color of a wall doubled our imaginative power.
“We’ll get to why this is important and necessary in a moment, but first we need to face up to a painful fact. It is that almost everything we have done over the last two decades in the area of ICT education in British schools has been misguided and largely futile. Instead of educating children about the most revolutionary technology of their young lifetimes, we have focused on training them to use obsolescent software products. And we did this because we fell into what the philosopher Gilbert Ryle would have called a “category mistake” – an error in which things of one kind are presented as if they belonged to another. We made the mistake of thinking that learning about computing is like learning to drive a car, and since a knowledge of internal combustion technology is not essential for becoming a proficient driver, it followed that an understanding of how computers work was not important for our children. The crowning apotheosis of this category mistake is a much-vaunted “qualification” called the European Computer Driving Licence.”—A radical manifesto for teaching computing | Education | The Observer
“Maybe tiki taka, like democratic government, is fast emerging as the only game in town, meaning we will all soon inhabit Barney Ronay’s personal dystopia where every team plays like Barcelona, passing sideways until they reach the edge of the earth. Somehow I doubt it.”—Keep Calm and Carry On - The Run of Play
“I see an analogy between the process of science and of evolution by natural selection. For evolution, too, is characterized by periods of stasis (= normal science) punctuated by brief periods of accelerated change (= paradigm shifts) based on mutations (= anomalies) most of which are lethal (false theories) but some lead to the budding off of new species and phylogenetic trends (=paradigm shifts).”—Vilayanur Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor with the Psychology from Responses | 2011 Annual Question | Edge
“What’s the take-away? When you are solving a difficult problem re-ask the problem so that your solution helps you learn faster. Find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again. If the problem you are trying to solve involves creating a magnum opus, you are solving the wrong problem.”—You Are Solving The Wrong Problem « Aza on Design
I’m sitting in a restaurant. I pick up the menu and my choice is made: Eggs Benedict it is. The waiter approaches – he’s called Dave – and I place my order. Dave dutifully records my choice, smiles and retreats to the kitchen.
With little more than a grunt, Hans (the chef) takes the order from Dave and sets to work on my breakfast. He’s done this a million times.
After just a few minutes, Hans has finished; “Service”. Dave returns and in one swift motion the eggs benedict pass from hot plate to waiter’s arm and begin their journey back to my table.
I pretend I don’t notice him re-entering the dining room but secretly I’m thrilled. As Dave approaches the table, my silent mental preparation gives way to the physical. Knife, fork: armed. Dish placed. “Thanks. This looks lovely.” And it is.
Restaurant service reminds of the web. And by the web I mean the original sir-tim-at-cern-web-as-pages-connected-by-hyperlinks version. Substitute me for the user, Dave for the browser & Hans for the server and you have a stupidly tenuous analogy for the experience of loading a web page.
Tenuous it may be but both processes – ordering food in a restaurant, requesting a page from a web server – have one thing in common. They are asynchronous. Each step of the process has to wait until the preceding one has finished before it can start.
In a restaurant the ‘wait’ is part of the experience. I’d go as far as to say I enjoy this. There’s an element of theatre to the whole thing wouldn’t you say?
Of course on the web, the wait is over in split seconds. But it is undeniably part of the experience. Rendering engines get faster, bandwidth gets wider, but there remains a momentary pause between clicking that submit button and the confirmation page loading. Watch closely. It’s surprising how often you see a blank screen between pages, albeit for a millisecond or two. It may not be ‘by design’, but I’d speculate that this is still the most common form of feedback on the web. We’ve become accustomed to it and in a fairly crass way, it works.
Fast forward to the ‘realtime’ web and things have subtly changed. Pages load and the lack of an obvious page refresh means I don’t even notice it. Pretty snazzy I guess. But you know what, I don’t mind the gaps. It gives the web rhythm.
Still, there’s lots of interaction design to be explored. If the native feedback mechanisms of the browser (blank page, loading animation) aren’t enough, we’re going to have to design these ourselves. Something we seem to be pretty bad at so far. iOS has helped demonstrate the gaps between pages (or states) are important to the experience. The transitions are subtle, tasteful and have an element of physicality, but only designers pay attention to them. For everyone else they’re just the seams, the edges of the experience and unbeknown to them, feedback.
“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled. Nor will we proceed with force against him, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”
Composed in 1215, this (design?) principle from The Magna Carter remains as relevant to today’s society as it did some 800 years ago. Atonishing and gratifying in equal measure.
“A gesture is an action that you finish without conscious thought once you have started it. Example: For a beginning typist, typing the letter “t” is a gesture. For a more experienced typist, typing the word “the” is a gesture.”—design rules by Jef Raskin - mprove.de
“The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”—Leo Tolstoy
“We agreed to hurt people who tell others “Looks like someone who has too much time on their hands” as it betrays the false belief that those who are busy deserve higher status than those who have free time.”—What I learned at FOO Camp ‘10 « Scott Berkun
It’s strange, but when I have to speak in front of an audience, I find it more comfortable to use my far-from-perfect English than Japanese. I think this is because when I have to speak seriously about something in Japanese I’m overcome with the feeling of being swallowed up in a sea of words. There’s an infinite number of choices for me, infinite possibilities. As a writer, Japanese and I have a tight relationship. So if I’m going to speak in front of an undefined large group of people, I grow confused and frustrated when faced by that teeming ocean of words.
With Japanese, I want to cling, as much as I can, to the act of sitting alone at my desk and writing. On this home ground of writing I can catch hold of words and context effectively, just the way I want to, and turn them into something concrete. That’s my job, after all. But once I try to actually speak about things I was sure I’d pinned down, I feel very keenly that something—something very important—has spilled out and escaped. And I just can’t accept that sort of disorienting estrangement.