Thursday, December 20, 2007

I Think, Therefore What?

Here are two sentences that capture where I am at the moment:
[O]rganizations have simply lost a sense of what it actually means to be creative. For some reason, thinking and speaking are accepted as more important work than thinking and making.
Chris Conley of Gravity Tank, in discussion with Adaptive Path's Henning Fischer

Does this apply only to organizations? Looking at the amazing people that surround us, I'm struck by how much effort the design community expends in talking, blogging, and documenting every little thought and experience we have. I'm just as guilty as anyone else,* maybe more so as the things going on around us tend to set me thinking and thinking and thinking...

In the end, we are going to see some great transformations of work and life experience in the next several years. Gravity Tank is only one example of smart people having an impact far beyond the website.

Right now, I'm dedicating myself to the making part for a while and looking forward to sharing what happens to my thinking and speaking as a result. That dedication has taken the form of joining CloudRaker, an amazing design and development agency in Montreal.

Creative potential exists everywhere -- in every person, and as such in every organization -- but the current environment inhibits our ability to tease it into action. I will come out of this new experience not only re-grounded in making that happen, but also hope to do so in French. Here goes nothing!

Happy holidays to everyone.

* Yes, I know, not talking here, mostly in person. Maybe I should at least be typing. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Not Getting Ahead Of Ourselves

Recently on the excellent bplusd blog, Jess interviews Brandon Schauer of Adaptive Path about designers' desire to contribute to the strategic discussion with business folks.

I really like this statement, as it reflects a trend that I'm seeing (and may be guilty of myself):
I think it gets reinforced by some people in the design community who make the leap from the fact that "I identify as a designer, and therefore I am a design thinker, and I can make these great strategic contributions if they’d only let me."

There’s this note of almost entitlement that has crept into the design community. That’s something I’m particularly cautious about because I think that most designers aren’t design thinkers yet because they don’t have the concrete fluency with business, and many visual designers don’t face the same constraints on actual usage that an interaction designer or industrial designer face.

As designers, we get used to exploring possibilities and finding creative solutions, but we don't necessarily ever pay the price or see the real impact of what we create.

I'm troubled by that note of entitlement, particularly from people who have added business vocabulary to their repertoire, expecting that to be enough. It's not enough. We must also take the time to truly understand what it means to make business decisions and deal every single day with the repercussions.*

There is a reason that most business conversations include a healthy dose of reality checking, namely that in business, you make a decision, see how it worked, and make another. Designers can help widen the considered field of these decisions, but we must also be willing to see the constraints and know where to push the envelope.

In some ways, the relationship between design and business is the same as that between design and technology. Design creates something; technology builds it.

These relationships work far better when there is some involvement of the builders during design (and vice versa) along with feedback once the building is complete and the result out in the ether.
This conversation is why you often hear about "accountability" in post-mortems on software projects. (In fact, I should probably label that arrow as such. Let's imagine it for a moment.)

So back to business and design. How do they relate to the design/build discussion? Well, instead of just being told what to design:

Designers want input into the possible solutions to a problem.

We need to learn to talk to each other better to make this work.

At the IIT Strategy Conference (link from bplusd), Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, gave a great talk about the approaches based on validity (design) versus reliability (business). He covers both what both designers and businesspeople can do to smooth communication and, therefore, benefit from a better working relationship.

Schauer illustrates just how that might work with this anecdote from a recent project:
We helped identify key metrics that people actually cared about that the web and the interactive marketing group could actually impact, and how can we calculate the impact that a potential project could have on those numbers. Suddenly, they are having this financial dialog, when before they were just talking about personas or user flows and things like that. So that really changed their relationship with the rest of the organization by being able to think through and articulate things in a way that was valued.
Don't you want to have that same relationship with your colleagues, regardless of your perspective? We would all benefit from it.

Check out the full interview, which includes many ways designers can get smarter about business.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

No Dearth of Words

Hello, all!

Though quiet the blog front be for me, the words flow ever more. Trust that, when I've something to say, it will appear in this exact space. If you catch me in person, I'll talk your ear off, to be sure.

Portland was lovely, thank you very much. WebVisions plays mellower than the IA Summit, which I appreciated with my need to keep my mind on my presentation and enjoy my Portland friends.

Jeremiah Owyang of and Podtech caught me in the hallway at the Portland Convention Center to ask me a few questions about how corporate managers can understand and leverage IAs in their work.

Dissecting Big and Little IA on the fly was not an easy feat, but I enjoyed the conversation and the challenge. Thanks, Jeremiah!

Also, Jaman continues to sprout happily. Over the last couple releases, we've made huge upgrades to the software, website, and the movie catalog. For those foreign film fans out there, look for many familiar classic and provocative movies coming online shortly. For more about Jaman and what we're attempting, see me blab further about Jaman on Lunchmeet.

Also, Boxes & Arrows hums along quite well. I generally act behind the curtain there, but plan on occasion to emerge with an article or two over the next few months.

So, that's my story for now. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you're up to.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Tour '07 Continues In Portland Next Month

Hey all,

Back in minor self-promotion mode, I'll be speaking at WebVisions in Portland, May 3-4 on the how technology allows (or makes!) us step out of our comfort zone to follow our ideas into new places, connect with people with whom we can make them happen, and find real innovation in spite of the cynicism and inertia of entrenched institutions.

I got the idea for this talk after seeing many friends going into business for themselves, hearing folks speak of such paths at the IA Summit, including Joshua Prince-Ramus amazing architecture projects. At WebVisions, I'll zoom out to explore what this might mean not only for Web professionals, but for the petri dishes of change (buzzword: innovation) in many facets of our lives.

This is a conference that I've heard good things about previously, but this will be my first time attending. The lineup is an incredible mix of designers, coders, entrepreneurs, and strategists (too many to detail here). One talk I'll be watching closely is David Pescovitz' (of BoingBoing fame) thought about how info overload will be conquered. That intrigues me to no end.

If you're going to be in Portland for WV, let me know!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


So as I noted a couple of posts ago, this year has gotten off to a very interesting start. First the articles on Boxes & Arrows and the IA Summit precon took things in a new direction, now film festival season rejuvenates the batteries.

Along the way, another huge opportunity came a-knockin'. Liz Danzico the Great has handed over the B&A Editor-in-Chief reigns to me, with Christina making the official announcement during 3-minute Madness at the Summit. Thanks, Christina, for trusting me with your baby.

Finally, a bit more attention will be paid to how this blog communicates what I'm thinking. Those of you who know me well probably laugh at my posting frequency, as it's basically a minute fraction of my brain cycles. However, even those folks know that I'm quite considerate in my attempts to keep from creating noise. When I have something to say, I'll continue to show up.

Taking a look at the postings I've been making and in recognition of these new currents, I'm making a small change to the blog title - from User eXperience to eXperience. Minutiae to be sure, but I feel better about that electronic visage. I still love the users, but I'm more interested in these days about the whole enchilada of relationships we need in our lives.

My experience tells me that by facing just that one way (towards customers), user experience professionals do a disservice to the environments we want to help create -- where we discern how the web of relationships affects everyone involved, whether direct or indirect.

This little change nods to where I'm going. Shall we?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

All Talk?

Hello, design world.

What will you do with the influence that you have collected over the last couple of years? Some people are doing great things, obviously.

Dan's lament is right on the mark, however. Have we stopped teaching designers to do? How can we design great products when we don't have the people to do the work with us?

And my concern not only applies to designers. I worry that in our ever-expanding information and opportunity space, we have misplaced the ability to discern and focus on real problems. As a cynical optimist, I remain hopeful, but cautious.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Slight Bit of Horn Tooting

Hi All,

I have been somewhat remiss in not mentioning a couple of things that I've been working on with my friend and colleague, Jeff Lash.

Jeff and I, both UXers now in product management roles, have been busy over the last several weeks on two projects for others considering whether the move is right for them:
  • Boxes & Arrows articles on Transitioning from User Experience to Product Management (Part 1, Part 2), already published. There's been a good bit of discussion around Part 1, and it's getting started on Part 2 (just published yesterday).

  • IA Summit 2007 Pre-conference session, So You Wanna Be a Product Manager..., scheduled for the afternoon of Thursday, March 22. The session will be much more than a boring rehash of the article with Q&A. If you're going to be at the Summit, come join us!
'07 is revving up nicely!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Organizations & The Conceptual Age

In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink discusses the transformation of the worker from left-brain focus to a more balanced approach. He also discusses at length the transition from the "Information Age" to the "Conceptual Age." His arguments are interesting, but what about organizations? Won't they have to change as they become populated by people with different skills and approaches?

As I read the transcript of a discussion between Jesse James Garrett and Lou Carbone, I see where an answer to these questions might be forming:
When you look at the organizations of the past, [they were like] bus drivers driving buses along the prescribed route, [with a] certain number of stops to make and doing the same routine over and over again. And the customer really came along for the ride. Today, [when it comes to] doing business, the model is considerably more like taxis. We're not even sure what the customer needs until the customer communicates [it to us] and we can anticipate what they want. Then what we end up doing is snapping together a set of capabilities to deliver the experience that they want. And that's very, very different.
Excellent analogy, Lou. I really hope that at some point this transformation that can happen. The interim might be very painful.