The Big (D)esign Conference was an upbeat collaboration among designers, developers, and strategists. The common theme was finding ways to improve the quality of peoples lives through software. That's a theme that resonates with me, as I have made that my personal and professional mission.
This was a brand new conference. As such, there were some minor logistical problems, like a scarcity of water. But the attendees took to Twitter and the organizers responded. By the end of lunch, water bottles were abundant.
That's just one example of the dynamic nature of this conference. It wasn't about people expecting a solution to be handed to them. It was about people finding solutions, responding to needs, and making the conference a success. The organizers did a great job, but it was the attitude of the attendees -- who really made the conference their own -- that made this day a success.
The Twitter hash tag was in full force during the conference. Many attendees Twittered salient points of the presentations, their own opinions of the topics, or just their sandwich selection. The Twitter stream was as lively a conversation as any occurring in the hall. Through this conversation, I made several new friends.
In addition to making new friends, I ran into some old ones. One of my old friends, T. Scott, is a designer. He recorded his notes and uploaded them for all to enjoy. So I decided to do the same, in my own way. My writing is not so beautiful, so here is a transcription of my notes from the sessions I attended.
Keynote: Norm Cox, Interaction Therapist
Titles are limiting. When we think of ourselves as developer, designer, business analyst, or architect, we tell ourselves (and others) that that is all we do. We limit our own thinking.
We should instead become jacks of many trades, masters of some. Know all of the disciplines related to solving someone's problem. Know which ones you are particularly good at, but don't let your skill set limit your solution.
Clients don't know what they need. Don't do exactly as they tell you to. Be a therapist. See the big picture. Find the real problem. Don't limit yourself to the client's expectations.
Chris Koenig: Touch Computing
A Natural User Interface (NUI) is touch, gesture, manipulation, and more. It doesn't replace the keyboard or the mouse. It is designed for different scenarios. And sometimes, it augments them.
NUI is good for free-form exploration and social interaction. It is not good for precision. It is not good for data density. Those are best left to the keyboard and mouse.
Touch is not click. Don't take old metaphors and idioms and apply them to NUI. This is a new space, with a new set of benefits. Add it to your tool belt, but don't replace your trusted tools.
Stephen P Anderson: The Art and Science of Seductive Interactions
Good usability lowers friction. But that's not enough. You also need to increase motivation. That can only be achieved by understanding psychology.
People respond to levels and rewards. LinkedIn rates the completeness of your profile, and tells you what to do to take it to the next level. That motivates people to behave the way LinkedIn wants. This behavior benefits LinkedIn, but it also benefits the individual.
Seduction is deliberately enticing a person to perform a desired behavior. It requires feedback. The person needs to see that their actions modify the results. Their curiosity will lead them to try other behaviors and see how the results change.
People respond to visual imagery. They look for patterns in everything they see. They recognize, even if they can't recall. Software that uses these traits to its advantage will successfully guide users to perform the desired behavior. So show people images and have them find patterns that give you information about them. Don't give them a blank slate and ask them to recall that information.
Bill Scott, design patterns you should know
Nuance is where a lot of good interaction is missed. Pay attention to the details to eliminate friction.
Make it direct. Where there is output, let there also be input. Let interactions be symmetric; don't enter a feature one way and leave it another.
Make it lightweight. Interactions have a "click-weight". Too many interactions, and your users are going to get tired and go away.
Avoid confusing and annoying anti-patterns. Don't hover-and-cover, popping up new content over old content, or hiding navigation. Avoid "mystery meat" navigation, when the user doesn't know what a click is going to do until they do it. Follow Fitts' Law and give the users a big enough target.
Stay on the page. Use overlays (pop-out) and inlays (slide-down) wisely. Don't stop the proceedings with idiocy. Use carousels, endless scrolling, and deep zoom where appropriate.
Offer an invitation. Play on your user's curiosity. Give them a call to action. Show them the steps involved. Walk them through. Make it discoverable.
Show transitions. Fade in and out. Animate zoom and motion to draw people to the next state.
Garrett Dimon, Feedback and Feature Requests
The creator of Sifter talks about how he solicits feedback from his customers, and how he rolls that in to new features of the product.
The lifecycle of feedback is: generate, receive, reply, absorb, and respond. Generate feedback by actively soliciting it from your users. Receive it in the form of analytics, web forms, email, phone calls, and anything else that is accessible to your users. Reply quickly to tell them whether you're looking into it, or if not why. Take the time to absorb the feature request and consider its full impact. Then respond by implementing the feature, a different feature, or giving the customer the results of your full consideration.
Don't be afraid to be transparent in your product development process. People will not steal your ideas. If your idea is really great, you are going to have to shove it down their throats.
If it needs instructions, then it's broken. Instead of explaining to people how to use your software, fix the problem. If you have Frequently Asked Questions, you have feedback. Fix it.
The proportion of criticism to encouragement is absurd. It will bring you down. But always be upbeat when you reply. It will turn the conversation around and open a constructive dialog.
Always think about the need, not the prescription. Find out what problem people have. Don't give them the solution they ask for. Don't abdicate software design to the users. Listen to them, then deliver a solution.
There are no takebacks with features. Consider whether it really belongs in your product before adding it. It may delight some people but confuse others. If you add it, you will have to support it for the life of the product.
Todd Wilkens, Saying "No" and Failing
Saying "No" limits the scope and gives you clear focus. First evaluate features based on importance and feasibility. Implement the ones that are important and feasible. Consider the ones in the middle. Ignore the ones at the low end of the scales.
Design is about specific customer value. Start with the things that you can do exceedingly well, and deliver that value completely. Each evolutionary step after that should provide complete customer value for a new problem, not a new part of an incomplete solution.
Failure is always an option. Everybody fails often. Just make sure you are failing forward. Fail early and often, and learn from each iteration.
If failure is not allowed, then risk is not allowed. The companies that succeed openly encourage failure internally. Separate personal feelings from ideas, so that the ideas can fail without damaging the people.
Have a conversation with the materials. Through the process of making something, we change the thing that we are making in response to the stuff that we are making it out of. Create an informal iterative process for failing often.
Thor Muller, Work Like the Network
Challenge the assumption of industry: that it is expensive to coordinate a large number of people to build something. When we move electrons instead of molecules, those economics no longer hold. The use of a physical product reduces its value. The use of an idea increases its value.
There are six ways to remodel the organization to act more like a network.
It was a relief to hear someone talk about agile processes and flow without being dogmatic about it. Thor just demonstrated the value of these principles, and showed how organizations have applied them successfully.
Christina Wasson, When Design Met Anthropology
Ethnographic anthropology is the study of cultures by becoming an observant participant. It is a systematic approach involving capturing information, coding it, and analyzing it. These techniques can be applied to software to give us a scientific basis for measuring the quality of a design.
Ironically, the case study that Christina shared was juxtaposed against the spirit of the conference. a study of Social TV, a Motorola project to join families in different living rooms around the viewing experience. The case study was punctuated by videos of people talking about how they negotiate over the remote, how television fits in with their lives, and how their family members react. It was depressing to see people still engaging in a one-sided conversation with old media, instead of using their talents to create something awesome.
I'm excited to have met such a fantastic group of people. I look forward to working with them to improve the quality of peoples lives through software. I'm looking forward to checking in next year to see how we've done.