Sunday, December 31, 2006


2006, the year of people; creativity; connection; consumer participation, interaction, and influence; 2.0; business+design; ... -- significant aspects of 2006 in regards to marketing, advertising, and user experience, according to David Armano's 2006 In Your Words.

As I've reflected on 2006, the above prompted me to ponder whether it described significant aspects of 2006 in regards to my "user experience."

So, let's see... My 2006 included:

- multiple visits to San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Yum -- what a special place this farmers market is on Saturday mornings. Wonderful produce; wonderful setting (on San Francisco Bay); wonderful farmers and sales people, all of whom really know their stuff and many of whom we know on a first-name basis, including Louis of Iacopi Farm, John of Far West Fungi, David of the Star Route Farms booth, ... We sample their offerings, share in their business and personal updates, and enrich our food preparation knowledge as well as our lives. Always an eggceptional eggsperience!

- multiple visits with multiple kids. So many friends and relatives have the most wonderful children, and they are a delight to be with. There is Simi (a.k.a. Maddy, the mad scientist who created me, Frank N. Stein), Sierra, Fiona, Anisha, Tyler, Elana, Meliza, Mason, ... Yum again and again.

- an independent and foreign film discussion group. A high school teacher, two film professors, a psychotherapist, a resident of Portland Oregon, an artist, a middle school teacher, someone who has a vote in the British equivalent of the Oscars, a couple of high-tech folks, and several others comprise this wonderful group of people who are passionate about movies. At least once a month, the group meets in a group member's home to discuss at least two movies selected the previous month to be seen in theaters. Volver, Army of Shadows, Half Nelson, Little Children, Look Both Ways, The Science of Sleep, Water, and Cache were among the movies we discussed in 2006. Wanna listen in?

- unconferences. I attended two of these, leading a session in one of them -- DCamp, an unconference focused on design and user experience. Often no less flawed than the conferences they try to better, such events increase attendee participation in ways I hope to see integrated with conventional conference elements in future events. (The photo shows one view of a promising technology used during the Interactive City Summit to enable attendees to reveal their presence and their opinions via use of their cell phones.)

- co-developing and co-teaching a university extension course. It had been several years since I last taught a university extension course -- a successful, full-semester User-Centered Design / Usability Engineering course. The focus this time: the first ever substantive Managing User Experience Groups course -- a course spanning far more than "managing" user experience groups. We taught it twice during 2006 to people in various management and practitioner roles from a wide range of companies. And because of the course, I've been able to connect with many others in similar roles around the world, learning how much they would value access to such a course, and also learning -- and teaching -- how many have increasingly moved user experience into a position of significant influence in the businesses in which they work.

- a Holiday Cookie Baking, Decorating, and Eating Party. Of the many parties I attended during 2006, this was, I think, the most fun, as the many attendees got involved in a highly creative way. Now, I might be a bit biased, since this is a party that Claudia and I put on, but...

- blogging. I guess that one goes without saying, though I haven't quite caught my stride in this blogging game...

- Burning Man. Wow -- what an amazing and unique festival of art, creative expression, and community! Held on the playa of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, Burning Man brings together an eclectic mix of people from around the world "to be part of an experimental community, which challenges its members to express themselves and rely on themselves to a degree that is not normally encountered in one's day-to-day life." Via theme camps (Fear No Martini was one of my favorites), art installations, and numerous activities, Burning Man enables participation like no other event. And as a nearby photo reveals, Burning Man 2006 even included the long tail!

So, were people; creativity; connection; consumer participation, interaction, and influence; 2.0; and business+design significant aspects of my 2006?

OK, the above review of my 2006 might not have been exactly comprehensive, but... ;-) "Should auld acquaintance be forgot..."

Also, yes, I excluded "video" from Armano's list, thinking it not all that applicable to my 2006. However, while writing this blog entry, I watched a Happy New Year animation, ABBA singing Happy New Year, and fireworks greeting 2007 in Taipei on YouTube. So...

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2006

"The three-legged stool of collaboration"

Effective multidisciplinary and/or cross-organizational collaboration remains a challenge for many. And it is an important challenge to meet. As nicely stated by the authors of the recently published "Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want" (see "The way we work has enormous power"):
"Collaboration is powerful. Only through collaboration can one gather the skills and knowledge needed to solve most important problems and make an impact. Most of us enjoy working on collaborative projects with supportive colleagues. We want to make a difference and have our contributions valued. These are strong human needs."
And since user experience is inherently multidisciplinary and often impacted by multiple organizations within or across companies and cultures (see, for example, "Co-design, China, and the commercialization of the mobile user interface")...

In past postings, I've addressed some of the elements that successful collaboration sessions have in common, including effective facilitation, walls, and fun.

The authors of the above-referenced "Innovation..." book describe what they consider to be the essential elements:
"Imagine a three-legged stool where written on the seat is 'collaboration' and on each leg is one of these three elements:
  • shared strategic vision
  • unique, complementary skills
  • shared rewards
...if one leg is missing the stool will fall over and collaboration will stop."
Regarding the first of these three elements:
"First, you must be able to understand and agree with the vision, goals, and objectives of the project. ... A clear, compelling vision is a force for change -- it pulls us forward."
Clement Mok, when he was Chief Creative Officer at Sapient, put it this way when I interviewed him on stage at CHI '99:
"Collaboration, I think, requires engaging the individual or the group to take on a change. The minute that the metalevel of understanding within the group that the group is about to do this one thing is not there, collaboration is not going to work. When people are in disagreement, they don’t have vying at the metalevel that they are about to alter something fundamentally. You have to operate at a concept level so that people are engaged and ready to accept a change."
Regarding the second element (back to quoting the "Innovation..." book):
"Second, you must be able to see clearly how your contribution is unique and essential to the success of the project. If your skills are redundant with those of others, then you are constantly worried about your role in the endeavor. ... Afterall, you can't dance when someone is stepping on your toes."
User experience professionals "forced to defend their position as user experience experts" will be happy if fewer others would step on their toes, but overlapping responsibilities can facilitate collaboration in lots of cases (see, for example, "pair design pays dividends").

And lastly:
"And third, you must be able to articulate clearly how you will be rewarded fairly as a member of the team. ... Rewards, like good meals, should be shared."
But there is more:
"...these three ingredients are not satisfied automatically. Constant, respectful communication is needed to keep the Three-Legged Stool of Collaboration intact. Respectul communication is the glue that holds the three legs together. Without it, the stool falls over."
As Clement Mok also said in the above-quoted CHI '99 interview:
"Another piece of the equation is about communication and really listening, and about creating a forum in which disagreement can happen. Agree to disagree, and create a respectful environment to facilitate that. You can agree to disagree without having the respectful environment; that will destroy collaboration."
The "Tips for Working Successfully in a Group" presented by Randy Pausch during his opening plenary address at CHI 2005 provide some guidance for achieving such respectful communication. Among those tips:
  • Meet people properly.
  • Find things you have in common.
  • Let everyone talk.
  • Check your egos at the door.
  • Praise each other.
  • Avoid conflict at all costs.
  • Phrase alternatives as questions
The quotations from the "Innovation..." book all come from Chapter 12 "forming the innovation team: how we won an emmy for hdtv."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Borrowing from the field of child development...

At last week's BayCHI meeting, an audience member asked speaker Dan Russell for advice on how to go about countering the great resistance she experiences in her workplace to doing any of the types of user research (e.g., field and usability studies) Dan had advocated in his presentation.

In a blog posting of a bit earlier in the week last week, Chiara Fox lamented the many "folks in the trenches" who are still fighting "a constant battle, where they are forced to defend their position as user experience experts" just as she and others did not long ago in a former place of work where they were "always putting out fires, being reactive instead of proactive, and constantly fighting against being treated as order takers" by others.

In a London pub three weeks ago, a London-based user experience research manager told me how so few people in his place of work and and in others' workplaces throughout the UK understand user experience and, hence, greatly limit what user experience personnel contribute to the companies.

These are recent examples of the kinds of situations I read or hear about on an ongoing basis. And they remind me of a comp.human-factors newsgroup posting of November 1995 entitled, "Why Don't They See the Need?" in which Deborah Wagner complained about the difficulty she was having finding a place to work "that truly believes in user-centered design methodologies." (I remember this posting, because I quoted it in an article several years ago.)

Have things not changed in eleven years?

At last week's BayCHI meeting, Dan Russell told the questioner that instead of struggling to convince people in her workplace to do user research, she should consider finding a place to work where they already value and do these kinds of things.

Indeed, there are now multiple companies that do value and do those kinds of things. But, there are more companies that don't, and many companies that do do so only somewhat and do not yet do the work in such a way that would be of greatest benefit.

Various models of aspects of corporate "user experience" maturity -- see "Changing the course or pace of a large ship" for a reference to one of the models proposed earlier this year -- describe stages of maturity that attempt to capture these differences between companies and sometimes even between different parts of the same company. And moving a company or a part of a company up such corporate maturity scales is something many need to attend to, even in Dan's place of work.

A User Research Lead who took our most recent Managing User Experience Groups course described one maturity stage worth targeting in the following clever way:
"My mental model is that the product teams think of me as 'that fun friend who drops in to occasional meetings, provides valuable input, and is often out-in-the field or other parts of the company advocating for our users.' … Isn’t there that stage in child development where the child realizes that an object still exists even when you can’t see it (object permanence). That’s the stage I think we need to get to with the product teams. And on the flip side, to flip the metaphor, we need to believe that mom and dad still love us even when we are out of the house!"

Friday, December 08, 2006


Lots is going on in the world of User Experience in India these days:
As I referenced in a previous posting, I played a role in getting things going in India (as well as in many other countries), and I've continued to provide a bit of help over the years, in part by finding keynote speakers for CHI South India's annual conference in Bangalore. This year was no exception, though a new conference format features no single keynote speaker.

If you are in India or plan to be in India early next month, look into swinging by the Leela Palace in Bangalore for Easy7 on Friday, January 5. It promises to be an excellent event.

My humble thanks to Pradeep Henry and CHI-SI for including an interview of me on their website.