December 2006  
2006: A Year of Words and Travel

You'd think in a year when I wrote and published a book, that would be the thing I think about the most when reflecting about the year. But, oddly enough, it isn't. Instead, I think back on the travel I've done this year, easily logging more air miles than probably the last five years combined. Every month, to my family's chagrin, I was somewhere:

  • January: Los Angeles
  • February: Atlanta
  • March: Austin
  • May: Atlanta (again)
  • July: Portland, OR
  • August: Washington, D.C. and Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
  • September: Sydney, Australia
  • October: New York
  • November: Toronto, Canada
  • December: Knoxville, TN

And that doesn't even count the short trips to Mammoth, Seattle, and San Dimas! Next year will probably be just as travel-full, with trips already scheduled for Helsinki, Chicago, London, Austin, Las Vegas, Sweden, and Washington D.C.

But yes, this was a year I wrote a lot. Not only did the book come out (to mostly good reviews), I also wrote a few other things: So You Want to Be an Interaction Designer 2006 and Everything You Wanted to Know About Designers (But Were Afraid To Ask). I've been interviewed a few times: by Liz Danzico for AIGA and BusinessWeek, Brian Oberkirch for an Edgework Podcast, Dan Brown for some Hot Dan-on-Dan Action, and Jim Leftwich for The WELL's Inkwell Series.

I spoke at five conferences in three countries. I taught four workshops in four different cities. I started a new blog/project and have contributed quite a bit to Adaptive Path's blog (most of my best blogging this year has been done there, I'd say). And, oh yeah, I worked on seven projects, one of which launched (here's a case study I helped write about it).

I read at least three books that changed the way I think about design and designing products (and no, not this one): What Things Do, Everyware, and The Evolution of Useful Things.

It's been a busy year, and I wouldn't have missed any of it. If next year is half as interesting and fun, I'll be doing well. I hope you and yours have a happy holiday season and a great new year. See you in 2007.

Originally posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (0)


New Interaction Design Techniques to Try in 2007

I'm always trying to increase the toolbox. Here's some stuff I want to try on projects next year.

  • Objects and Actions Analysis. From Blink. "A method of documenting what data (objects) need to be manipulated and what functions (actions) can be performed on the objects."
  • Task Analysis Grid. From Todd Warfel. "This single document allows anyone looking at it to see the entire scope of a project, figure out what’s in this release (1) as well as what we’re planning for future releases (2, 3, and 4). It’s an extremely effective artifact for getting everyone on the same page."
  • Movies for Motion in Product Design. By Ben Hopson. A "method for sketching motion concepts."
  • Bucket Testing. via Gino Zahnd. "A great tool for designing emergent systems."
  • Digital Diaries. From Celine Pering at frog. A "novel hybrid technique [in which] participants used voicemail, email, and digital photographs to “record” their daily behaviors."

Any more I should try?

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Crossing Over to the Dark Side: Thinking the Unthinkable about Design Research

I've spent a good part of the last five years learning, teaching, and practicing design research. I've slipped it into every project I can. I've preached its virtues, sometimes publicly. I wrote a whole chapter about it in my book. So why, after all this, do I find myself lately wondering whether or not design research has any value, and if so, how much? I find myself asking, How useful is design research really?

Many of my colleagues won't do a project unless it includes some research, but more and more I'm finding myself tilting away from research, or at least to a less dogmatic view of it. On projects, I've found myself not doing design research or very little of it, and the projects seem to have turned out fine. Luck? I dunno. But I know I'm not alone; Apple doesn't do any research that I know of.

I also keep thinking back to Jesse James Garrett's seminal essay ia/recon (which is probably long overdue for a re-reading) and Jesse's admitting that, in the end, he has hunches: "[G]uesswork is an inescapable part of our work. More importantly, the quality of guesswork is what differentiates a good architect from a bad one." Michael Bierut reveals the same in a recent essay as well: "Somewhere along the way an idea for the design pops into my head from out of the blue. I can’t really explain that part; it’s like magic."

One of the reasons designers are hired is for their expertise--those good guesses--part of which is knowing what works and what doesn't in most situations (more on this in a minute). One could argue that that expertise (intuition, experience, understanding, taste) is more important than an understanding of users. I'm not sure I want to go that far, but I have decided a more reasonable approach to design research is required than the dogma that it has to be included on every project. I'm convinced that for many projects, the 80/20 rule applies: without research, I can get 80% of the way there, and sometimes that 80% is enough. Research can be an effective tool, but it can also be a time waster and ineffective. You can follow users (and time and money) down some serious rabbit holes, never to return. Here's some guidelines I'm putting around research for myself.

Use design research when

  • You don't know the subject area well. I am no expert in investment banking. Designing a product for investment bankers might require learning about what they do and why they do it.
  • The project is in a different culture than your own. China is a very different culture than the US. So is India. So is Western Europe. Cultural differences can be cause differences in behavior and expectations for a product.
  • The product is one you'd never use yourself. Luckily, as an affluent white male in my 30s, I have a lot of products directed at me. But I'm not a doctor or nurse, and I'm not likely to use medical devices, so I'd have to use research to find out how they would use them.
  • The product contains features and functionality that are for specific types of users doing a specific type of work you wouldn't do yourself. MS Office contains a bunch of features I would never use, but if they were removed, some power users would scream bloody murder. Sometimes you have to understand the nuances of a specific feature or, often, a specific group of power users that use a product.
  • The designer needs inspiration. Sometimes you get stuck and an afternoon away from your computer screen can spark ideas.
  • The designer needs empathy. Some types of people and groups are harder to identify with than others. Illinois Neo-Nazis for example. Not that I'd ever do a project for them.

Of course, it could be argued that I just outlined every design project. Which is true, to a degree. (Who doesn't need inspiration?) But I want to think about research differently, namely that research should be a tool, not a methodology. As Jesse pointed out, "Research can help us improve our hunches. But research should inform our professional judgment, not substitute for it." Like other tools in the designer's toolbox, it should be used when and as necessary, not applied to every project unthinkingly.

Originally posted on Tuesday, December 19, 2006 | Link | Comments (7) | Trackback (0)


Best Interaction Design Blogs 2006

Another year, another new (or at least new to me) crop of great blogs about or related to interaction design. Here again, in no particular order, the best interaction design blogs of the year:

  • Pulse Laser has come on strong at the end of the end of the year with a set of really excellent essays.
  • For the second year in a row, Functioning Form consistently delivers great discussions, conference notes, and stuff to chew on.
  • History of The Button looks at what's behind the interaction designer's best friend, the button. Always an engaging and a surprisingly deep read at something we now take for granted.
  • Small Surfaces gets the nod as my favorite mobile device blog of the year (Little Springs Design is a close second). Sure, it's mostly just a collection of links about devices, but they are good links.
  • Jensen Harris' Office UI Blog for the past year should be required reading for all interaction designers. It's really about how to make good design decisions.
  • Design Observer continues to awe.
  • Wisdump tells it like it is, deflating the web-hype machine.
  • Josh Porter's Bokardo has really come into its own this year, with provocative topics and good discussions.
  • The frogblog has come out swinging with its debut recently. I have high hopes for it to sustain.
  • I really don't want to like Creating Passionate Users, but I do.
  • And for sheer readability and laugh-out-loud comedy, Valleywag has to finish off this list. With Nick Douglas gone, it's probably not going to be as mean or snarky anymore, which was, really, it's sole appeal. It was fun(ny) while it lasted though.

So there you have it, folks. Happy reading!

Last year's picks

Originally posted on Monday, December 4, 2006 | Link | Comments (0) | Trackback (1)



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