Notebook

Jared Spool talks about why designers who code are popular in Silicon Valley right now, and for the most part, it boils down to this. Small software and web startups value and are able to use a broader range of skillsets, because one of the highest priorities, especially for bootstrapped startups, is to ship while lean on resources.

Jared notes that those who don't think designers should know how to code say this dilutes the designer's value. I think we're talking both interaction designers and visual designers here.

The main point for me is that particular organizations favor someone more M-shaped than T-shaped, which is to say, they need to be deeper in more than one set of skills. This is true of more types of organizations than just small startups, but the main idea is that multi-role people are valued in organizations that are open to having a person who can execute on a diverse set of responsibilities, even if they're viewed as "diluted" in terms of being less deep in one area.

I'll say this. I started out doing interface design and development work on databases in-house in a corporation. Early on in my career, I envied the people who got to work on the sexy, high-profile projects and made the switch to doing front end-development at an agency. Unsatisfied with that, I went back in-house doing both design and development, and then envied the design side, and went to a company to do interaction design only. I've never been satisfied in a silo, and have been happiest being involved across a project. I've found that working on both ends as a designer and developer to be ideal for me, even if the development is only front-end development and prototyping.

That said, I don't think it is particularly easy to find a home when you're more M than T-shaped. Certain types of organizations won't even let you interview for more than one type of role.

I've spoken to quite a few people looking to make a shift from one side to another over the years. It's kind of easy to recognize an M-shaped person. They may have worked in small organizations that gave them more room to flex their muscles outside of their role, or they may be freelancers that get to and maybe have to do design and development. For whatever reason, that varied experience can make it hard for them to find the right home and to convince hiring people to consider a cross-disciplinary role to fit them into.

This is why I think what Jared is talking about could be very helpful to both the budding UX designers out there, and those considering making a change in role.

It seems obvious to say, but if you can already do some development and you want to use it, you might look for an organization that values it. Small startups or in-house positions with small development organizations where multi-role people are valued is a good start.

If you can't do some kind of code, at least learn HTML5, CSS and a little Javascript, and maybe some other server-side scripting languages. If you can't convince your organization to use you in that capacity, then demonstrate your skill doing prototypes in code when the opportunity presents itself, and keep your skills sharp. When there seems like no way to flex your development muscles in your current job, work on personal projects continually to stay sharp and relevant!

Read more at UIE. Interested in learning to code for the web? There are some resources for that here.

From Aaron Koblin's TED presentation:

"Artist Aaron Koblin takes vast amounts of data -- and at times vast numbers of people -- and weaves them into stunning visualizations. From elegant lines tracing airline flights to landscapes of cell phone data, from a Johnny Cash video assembled from crowd-sourced drawings to the "Wilderness Downtown" video that customizes for the user, his works brilliantly explore how modern technology can make us more human."

Beautiful, incredibly creative use of user contributed hands for data-driven art.

Click the full screen icon, it's much better that way. Headphones warning: rowdy party music ahead.

I rarely do click-through prototypes, but if I have to, then I use Symbols and links in Mockups to make it painless. This is a speed-wireframing video I whipped up to demonstrate to customers in a few minutes what the experience of wireframing with Symbols is like.

Jason Toth of Viget discusses the danger of blind devotion to simplification in design, and writes about the role of UX designers as curators of content. He offers useful suggestions for how to play that role so we don't come off as content hackers.

I think the argument for facilitating curation is as apt for feature selection and design as it is for content. I view the role of someone doing content strategy as being able to take in the glut of information for analysis and providing direction for how to deliver the message with greater efficiency and maybe at times, poetry.

Curation and editing go hand in hand in my mind. It's as much the role of the curator to question the body of content to find the core of the message to deliver, as it is of the editor to guide a writer to find the lede. That could mean eliminating parts that detract from the message or it's delivery, rather than simply combining and compressing a lot into a small space.

Application interfaces provide problems similar to content. When taking in the number of possible use cases and stories that the application can support, a designer provides direction in terms of the delivery of an interface users interact with. On the interface side, it could mean questioning the necessity of the thing you're hiding for progressive disclosure, rather than finding clever ways to hide it in the first place.

Read more on VigetAdvance.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

—Steve Jobs on product development, from "Steve Jobs: Get Rid of the Crappy Stuff" in Forbes.

Gallo exaggerates a little, but I like the point he tries to argue later in the article about focus and reduction. It takes courage to reduce and say no, and that is a big differentiator when it comes to Apple hardware and software.

Apple is the easy example, but for good reason. Many argue that hindsight analysis of Jobs' strategy might be easy, but the company's success in product development continues to provide lessons to learn.

The idea of knowing when to say no seems obvious and is something you might say is always top of mind. But, if you're working on a product, you're likely to be challenged every day with decisions to say yes or no to the possible products you might design, and the features you might build into your products. Every one of these challenges requires courage to say no if the outcome compromises your vision, because in the moment it will seem like the world is begging for you to do it.

I know as a user of different products, I've been vocal about the pet features I've wanted as a "power user" of said products, and bitched when that voice didn't get heard. But I believe that the tech products that I continue to use and that are of value are those that hold onto a clearly defined vision and purpose, and whose features reflect that with selectivity and refusal to deviate from it. More often than not, to me, these products have provided a more focussed experience.

Via Core77

Jumping in and immediately starting to build the product, even if it does get completed and ship, is almost guaranteed to produce a mediocre product in which there is little innovation or market differentiation. When you have only one kick at the can, the behaviour of the entire team and process is as predictable as it will be pedestrian.

—Bill Buxton in Sketching the User Experience
Buxton writes in this passage on the impact of iterative sketching on risk, exploration and innovation.

“The more you know, the less you need. The experienced fly fisherman with only one rod, one type of fly, and one type of line will always outfish the duffer with an entire quiver of gear and flies. I never forget Thoreau's advice: 'I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes...'"

—Yvon Chouinard in Let My People Go Surfing.
Chouinard is a mountain climber, environmentalist, and founder of Patagonia. He was writing about product design in the quote above.

I love these two posts by Mark McGuiness on the 99% on why eccentricity and how daily routine helps trigger creativity.

He points out three characteristics of a hypnotic trigger:

  1. Uniqueness - it should be something (or a combination of things) you don't associate with other activities, otherwise the effect will be diluted.

  2. Emotional intensity - the kind you experience when you're really immersed in creative work.

  3. Repetition - the more times you experience the unique trigger in association with the emotions, the stronger the association becomes.

I live by daily routines, but I also associate that with my need to feel balanced and in control of my time and the living and working space around me. I also have a tendency to be impulsive or to dive very deeply into activities, so routine acts both as clock and trigger.

There are some excellent anecdotes about the routines of famous creatives. I find myself really intrigued by the more eccentric ones, like those of Victor Hugo and especially that of Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk's act of re-creating his "walk to work" trigger is pretty ingenious. Read more...

Sketching interfaces is a path focussed on generating many ideas and finding the right design. Lately I've been thinking about how to adapt the activity of physically sketching on paper to get the same results in Mockups. On the Balsamiq UX blog, I wrote about a technique I've been experimenting with to do sketchboards in Mockups using a Symbols library.

"Music is the space between the notes."

—Claude Debussy, as quoted in Turning Numbers into Knowledge (2001) by Johnathan G. Koomey

"It is always better to improve and strengthen your own line or knowledge than to try and cut your opponent's line."

—Ed Parker, Martial Arts Instructor and Author

Will Wright's talk at the Summit on Science, Entertainment, and Education looks at how game play can be relevant to education. These are my notes from this talk.

How we process information

Our basic model for processing and acting on data that we receive in the world looks something like this:

- Behavior
- Models (Predictive) ↑
- Schema (Abstractions) ↑
- Metaphors (Patterns) ↑
- Examples (Data) ↑

How our minds work when we play games

Games become relevant in education because they offer a more effective way to use and build knowledge.

Game play is about:

- failing
- changing your model
- repeating

Game players, through experimentation and repeated failure, ramp their model of the game up over iterations of play. Their model becomes more complex as their understanding and ability to succeed increases over each interaction and learning experience.

Wright tells a story about a pottery class, in which a teacher tells one group of students that their grade will be based on one single pot they are produced. The second group is told their grade will be based on the amount of pots they produce. The second group ended up with the highest grades.

When your work is based on building the most rather than creating the perfect work, you fail repeatedly, update your model, and produce the best work.

What makes a good educational experience

Wright applies what James Paul Gee lists as attributes for a good education experience and says these are the same for game play.

- allow identity
- offer a reason to do it
- allow and mitigate risk
- encourage failure
- provide situated meanings: you're learning for things you immediately need
- get you out of ordered problem solving

Blurring the lines of maker/player

In addition to becoming effective tools for learning, the game community is blurring lines between the game ecology and the community. Social experiences afforded by games like Spore and LIttle Big Planet are good examples. Players become creators and contributors. Learning and creation and contribution are one and the same.

Thanks to Alex for pointing me to this vid.