Thursday, August 18, 2005

Effective collaboration and fun

One of the submissions I reviewed recently for DUX 2005 was a paper about a game designed to facilitate the analysis and synthesis of diverse collections of data (some from ethnographic studies, some from participatory design sessions, some from technological explorations, ...) by diverse, multidisciplinary groups of researchers and designers. The output of the game is intended drive the process of identifying and designing needed, desired, and sustainable technologies.

A game? Why a game?

The authors of "Facilitating Collaboration through Design Games," a paper presented at PDC 2004, provide this partial response:
"The overall aim of the design games is to help facilitate a user-centered design process for cross-disciplinary design groups early in the design process. Framing collaborative design activities in a game format arguably improves idea generation and communication between stakeholders. By shifting focus to the game, power relations and other factors that might hamper idea generation are downplayed."
The impact of those power relations and other factors appears to be minimal during what is described as a typical, well-run session of The Bridge, a collaborative analysis, design, and assessment methodology involving users, engineers, design/usability personnel, and potentially others as designed by Tom Dayton and former colleagues:
"The athmosphere is fun, sometimes goofy, with periodic showers of paper as discarded index cards and sticky notes are torn up and thrown over shoulders." (from chapter 2 of a book on Bridging the Gap from User Requirements to Design)
Writing on emotion and design, Don Norman describes the relationship between affect and behavior:
"Affect...regulates how we solve problems and perform tasks. Negative affect can make it harder to do even easy tasks; positive affect can make it easier to do difficult tasks.

The positive affective system seems to change the cognitive parameters of problem solving to emphasize breadth-first thinking, and the examination of multiple alternatives."
And according to Patricia Ryan Madson, in her new book, "improv wisdom: don't prepare, just show up":
"Having fun loosens the mind. A flexible mind works differently from a rigid mind. The pleasure that accompanies our mirth makes learning easier and creates a climate for social as well as intellectual discovery."
However, there are dangers. According to Don Norman, positive affect "has the side effect of making people more distracted." Plus, people not participating might complain if you are having more fun than they are having, as I once learned when facilitating collaborative ethnographic data analysis and synthesis sessions a few years ago.

So, find a sound-proof room, facilitate the sessions well to address distraction effectively, ...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

On concept design, ethnography, MRDs, and product vision

At a BayCHI Usability Engineering BOF meeting last month, Suzanne Pellican, a User Experience Lead at Intuit, described the process via which the new and very successful Quicken Rental Property Manager was conceived, designed, and developed. According to Suzanne, one of the reasons for the success of this product was that she was able to deviate from common product development process and design the product concept -- iteratively involving potential users -- prior to the creation of a Market Requirements Document (MRD).

In many companies, MRDs are generated before user experience professionals have an opportunity to get involved. Many product development processes tend to imply, if not dictate, that design doesn't begin until after identification of market requirements.

At Yahoo!, a product development process that I had a hand in creating had a "Design" phase preceded by a phase that ended with development of an MRD. Troubled by this labeling, I put alot of work into developing diagrams showing how design and user experience personnel should be involved at different points which led to the development of the MRD. I also promoted development of means to help product managers and other personnel follow such a process.

Doing iterative concept design prior to generating an MRD was not the only reason for Suzanne's success. One of the other key reasons: she and others had done a great deal of ethnographic research which gave rise to the product idea and which provided crucial design guidance.

Because of the success of Quicken Rental Property Manager -- the first new product released by the Quicken team for many years, Suzanne's title was extended. She is no longer just a User Experience Lead; she is now also called a Product Visionary.

Are user experience practitioners playing major roles in envisioning new, innovative products in your business?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Join us in sponsoring DUX 2005

The response to the DUX 2005 Call for Participation was enormous. So, we are now beginning the thrust of our campaign to invite companies to join us in sponsoring DUX 2005.

We'll be initiating our big PR push for the conference later this month as we publish many more details about the conference program. This PR push will extend up to, through, and even after the conference, but now is the time to join us so to achieve maximum benefit from your DUX 2005 sponsorship.

As stated on the DUX 2005 website:
"Sponsorship of DUX 2005 demonstrates that your organization understands the impact user experience has on business success and identifies your organization as a leader in supporting the development of the practice of designing for user experience."
Hugh Dubberly and Robin Bahr of the Dubberly Design Office are taking the lead in inviting companies to join us as sponsors. Multiple sponsorship packages have been pre-designed to facilitate sponsorship discussions, but feel free to propose deviations from those. You can contact Hugh and Robin via

We hope your company will choose this way to become an important and highly visible part of the premier conference for user experience practitioners.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Start anywhere

Where do you start if you would like to change the role user experience plays in your business?

According to a chapter entitled, "Where Do I Start?" in the new book "Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas" (see my recent "Patterns for Achieving Change" for more info on the book and its contents):
"an effective change agent begins as an Evangelist. That is, we see this pattern with this name as the starting point for the rest of the pattern language. The name has a religious flavor and there's a good reason for that: We've found that unless you are truly passionate about the new idea, others will not be convinced to leave the tried and true ways and follow you."
In a chapter entitled, "Strategies to Make E-Business More Customer-Centred" in the 2001 book "The Usability Business: Making the Web Work," I and my co-author answered the question in a different manner. We called a strategy we used in a variety of organizational contexts, "Starting in the middle and working our way backward and forward simultaneously." As I state on my website:
"this strategy employs techniques which enable development of the kind of understanding of user experience that is needed for moving forward appropriately but that could have provided critical direction to earlier activities. Recognition of the latter by those responsible for the earlier activities can increase the chances that this kind of understanding of user experience will be developed earlier in the future and, hence, will play a different and more valuable role in the process."
A tweak of the label to refer to organizational hierarchy rather than process yields another starting point that can be a good one: "Starting in the middle and working your way UPWARD and DOWNWARD simultaneously."

The most appropriate starting point, and how best to frame it, will depend on the situation in which you find yourself.

However, I like the advice of Patricia Ryan Madson, as presented in the new book, "improv wisdom: don't prepare, just show up." Patricia describes why a particular San Francisco improv trio is so successful:
"They understand this vital improv principle: All starting points are equally valid. They begin where they are, often in the middle."
(See "Done any good improv lately?" for more on the relevance of improv to changing the role user experience plays in business.)