Thursday, December 30, 2004

the CHI 2005 Development Consortium

User experience (UX) practitioners encounter numerous obstacles to their professional development. Among those obstacles are a large and growing number of professional associations that compete for their attention, involvement, and money.

At the same time and, in part, because of this competition, many of these professional associations are struggling.

What is needed to improve the situation? Increased sharing of resources among UX-related professional associations? More conferences like DUX 2003 and DUX 2005, targeted more directly at the UX practitioner and the joint-product of multiple UX-related professional associations? Development of new, better-targeted professional associations and/or a redefinition of the focus of some of those which exist? Creation of new professional association memberships that are comprised of products and services from multiple associations? Development of a new organization -- think UXnet -- designed to enable increased collaboration and coordination among existing professional associations?

Just prior to CHI 2005 in April in Portland Oregon, I'll be convening a two-day consortium focused on developing answers to these and related questions. Among the expected participants are leaders of many of these professional associations.

The goals of the consortium are to:
  • develop a deeper understanding of the situation and barriers to improving it;
  • examine a mix of potential or partial solutions that have been or are being attempted, or are being considered;
  • examine a mix of (partial) solutions developed for similar problems in other domains;
  • generate new ideas for improving the situation;
  • establish relationships and a roadmap to facilitate problem solution.
If you think you might like to participate, make your way to the consortium's CFP as soon as possible, because submissions for the consortium are due January 3.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The need for good facilitation

A month or so ago, a contributor to a popular usability mailing list asked others for pointers to materials on facilitation. As I recall, all of the responses referenced materials on how to facilitate usability tests.

Given the nature of the mailing list, the focus of the responses on usability test facilitation was not surprising. However, facilitation of usability tests is only a small subset of the types of facilitation which are critical to improving the role "user experience" plays in business.

Too little attention is paid to other types of facilitation, and too few people are well-prepared to provide them.

Hence, collaboration gets condemned as "design by committee," as it was by a panelist at an event held earlier this month in the SF Bay Area, even though the event was partly about the importance of increasing collaboration.

Numerous collaborative methodologies and techniques exist that work wonders, but only when they are well-facilitated.

Focus on developing the capability of your organization to be effectively collaborative via attending to the critical role of good facilitation. Bring in people who understand and who can effectively facilitate the full range of collaborative methodologies your business should employ, and who can leave your organization better equipped to be effectively collaborative on its own.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A different take on ROI

ROI is abit of a controversial topic in the world of "user experience," with some people arguing -- as did a panelist at last week's BayDUX event focused on the future of digital product design -- how important it is to talk in terms of ROI to executives and senior management, and with others -- as did Jeff Herman of eBay in a short presentation at CHI 2004 -- explaining how to estimate ROI for user experience projects, but with others -- as has Dan Rosenberg, Oracle's VP of development for usability and interface design, in a recent issue of interactions magazine -- arguing that commonly recommended ROI analyses are of little value in the real world.

With collaboration being so important in the business of user experience, a different take on ROI is worthy of note.

Linda Dunkel, President & CEO of Interaction Associates, uses the letters ROI to mean Return On Involvement rather than Return on Investment. According to Linda, "involving key stakeholders in decisions produces significant benefits, both emotional and financial," and she references evidence of this:
"Dr. Victor Vroom of Yale University, an expert in the field of leadership and decision making, recently pointed us to some remarkable data that supports collaboration as a business necessity. In his book, Why Decisions Fail, Dr. Paul Nutt examined the implementation rates of nearly 400 management decisions — and found that over 50% of the decisions failed. The decisions were not implemented at all, were only partially implemented, or were adopted, but later overturned.

Nutt found that the most successful implementation tactic was asking for the participation of those who would be affected by the decision. That tactic had the lowest failure rate: 30%. But at 23% usage, it was the least used tactic!

John Kotter and James Heskett in their book, Corporate Culture and Performance, showed that firms which focused on stakeholders and developed involvement strategies increased revenues over an 11 year period by an average of 682%, versus low involvement cultures which turned in an average of only 166%. Net incomes improved by 756% vs. 1% in these same firms."
How much is "involvement" valued in your corporate culture? Are there people in your company who know how to achieve effective collaboration among the appropriate stakeholders?

  1. Dunkel, L. "Return on Involvement."
  2. Herman, J. A process for creating the business case for user experience projects. CHI 2004 Extended Abstracts, pp. 1413-1416.
  3. Knemeyer, D., with Allen, S., Day, N., Gabriel-Petit, P., Leftwich, J., Wroblewski, L., & Ramirez, F. The future of digital product design. BayDUX, December 12, 2004.
  4. Rosenberg, D. The myths of usability ROI. interactions, September-October 2004, pp. 22-29.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"The glue" & Sara Little Turnbull

Last month, I had lunch with Sara Little Turnbull, Director of the Process of Change, Innovation, & Design Laboratory of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. Eighty-seven years of age, Sara has been a trusted advisor to corporate CEOs, national governments, and universities for decades, and she understood the importance to business of design to improve user experiences long before any of us.

I've had the great privilege of interviewing Sara on stage at two events: a BayCHI meeting at PARC during January of 2002, then again during the closing plenary of the first Designing for User Experiences conference during June of 2003 ( Later during 2003, I brought Sara into Yahoo! to speak to User Experience & Design personnel while I was working at Yahoo! as a consulting user experience research manager and a product development process advisor.

According to Sara, effective design emerges at the intersection of culture and commerce; hence, a deep understanding of how cultures solve problems can give businesses a competitive advantage. Hence, she has used her training in design and cultural anthropology, and her wonderful enthusiasm, to help her do what I have worked to do at Yahoo! and elsewhere: bring the worlds of design, business, and engineering much closer together.

Over lunch, my conversation with Sara was initially wide-ranging, including discussing Paul Saffo's claim that good management kills innovation (see my earlier posting on this) as well as what Bill Gates' mother would say many years ago whenever Sara asked her what the then young and unknown Bill was up to when the two good friends got together for coffee. But soon, the conversation became focused on glue.

I spoke with Sara about some of my efforts at integrating design and research and product management and marketing and ... -- at strategically increasing collaboration among multiple types of expertise and organizations -- and about the challenges of finding good opportunities to do that kind of work in a substantive way. Sara spoke of the challenges she has had in bringing multiple disciplines together both in businesses and at Stanford, and the cultural forces that tend to resist such collaboration, though the benefit is huge.

As put by Sara, I am a good example of "the glue" that most companies need, and I have the advantage of being very good at making it possible for people to express themselves effectively, as Sara has experienced in my conversations with her both on and off stage. But as also put by Sara, few companies recognize their need for that glue, and few companies understand that needed leadership involves making it possible for employees to express themselves in an effective way.

Does your company include people who effectively play the role of "glue"? What do you think of Sara's claim of the importance of such a role? Do you feel that your perspective and expertise gets heard and is involved in the best ways at the best times in your workplace?

For more on Sara, see:

  1. Lawrence, P. Stanford's Sara Little Turnbull on design. @issue, 7(1), 2001.
  2. Malone, E. DUX -- Five lessons learned. Boxes and Arrows, June 30, 2003.
  3. Vienne, V. The why of it all. Metropolis Magazine, November 2001.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

What is happening with UXnet?

I am a member of the Executive Council of the User Experience network (UXnet), an organization focused on furthering the User Experience (UX) field, in part by facilitating collaboration and cooperation among UX-related organizations and individuals. Earlier this year (in June), we "soft launched" UXnet to facilitate our networking with prominent UX-related organizations and individuals about UXnet while we worked on a roadmap for long-term UXnet governance and funding.

This morning, we disseminated an announcement about what we have been up to since the soft launch. Here is that announcement:
UXnet Update

The tremendously positive response since UXnet's soft launch in June has greatly strengthened our belief in UXnet's mission to help make connections between the people and organizations that represent User Experience disciplines. As you can tell from our early and incomplete list of both organizational and individual supporters (see, this concept of connection and collaboration is one that resonates for many.

We wanted to let you know that we have been busy moving UXnet forward. Since June, the Executive Council has been at work formulating a comprehensive, long-term strategy that will enable us to achieve our goals. Look for more about this sometime in January.

We have also been busy with our initiatives. Since June, UXnet's Local Ambassador initiative has rapidly gained momentum, with over 25 participants in 18 regions spanning nine countries and four continents. These Ambassadors have begun to provide user experience opportunities and resources in their respective localities. In fact, events in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Zurich have already been hosted in cooperation with UXnet.

The UX Events Calendar & Groups Directory initiative has been working with the Local Ambassadors to understand their needs as users and enablers of the directory and calendar. Additional research has included a review of existing calendar systems and the technology, standards, and policies behind them.

As for the Organization Collaboration initiative, UXnet will participate in and is encouraging the participation of numerous UX-related organizations in the Development Consortium being held just prior to CHI 2005 in April in Portland, Oregon (see This two-day consortium will assemble organization leaders and others to identify strategies for working together to better serve the needs of the UX professional and of the organizations.

As you can tell, things are going well. But we welcome your help! You can find out more by visiting our initiatives page ( or by emailing us at

Thanks to everyone for their continued support, encouragement, and contributions to moving UXnet ahead.

The UXnet Executive Council

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Done any good improv lately?

Last weekend, I attended a performance by the outstanding BATS Improv company in San Francisco. It is always a delight to watch the members of this company get inside the heads and the experience of multiple characters so quickly, and to interact meaningfully and fluidly in those roles with others, without benefit of either script or rehearsal.

Have you seen any good improv lately?

Have you DONE any good improv lately?

I'm sure you have tried to put yourself into the "shoes" or heads of potential users or customers, in an attempt to figure out what they want, what they think, how they might react, what they might experience, etc. But few people fully employ improv in this effort, though role playing has been advocated and effectively used in this context for many years.

For example, IDEO has asked all sorts of people engage in role playing as part of "experience prototyping" (see Buchenau & Fulton Suri, 2000), and employ it from the earliest stages of design and throughout the entire design process (see Simsarian, 2003). They use it to help teams develop a shared understanding of existing experiences and use contexts, explore and evaluate design ideas, and communicate ideas to others.

Last month, Steve Portigal had a CHIFOO (Computer-Human Interaction Forum Of Oregon) audience in Portland engage in improv and drew important parallels between the rules of improv and the rules of good ethnographic research.

And there is much about the rules of improv that can be applied to facilitating collaboration in the workplace. As described on the website of Progettoratto Compagnia di Improvvisazione Teatrale (based in Rome), the rules of improv are about creating a solid work group -- requiring the application of knowledge, attention, listening, not prevailing on others, never saying "no," and accepting.

Have you done any good improv lately?

Improv classes are offered by lots of improv companies, community colleges, university extension programs, etc. Some improv companies are willing to teach their classes in your business or can come to engage in or facilitate role playing at different points during your product conceptualization and design process.

Readings (all but Portigal available in ACM's Digital Library):
  1. Buchenau, M. & Fulton Suri, J. Experience prototyping. DIS 2000 Proceedings, pp. 424-433.
  2. Portigal, S. Whose line is it anyway: Innovation, ethnography, and improv. CHIFOO (Portland, Oregon), October 2004.
  3. Sato, S. & Salvador, T. Playacting and focus troupe: Theater techniques for creating quick, intense, immersive, and engaging focus group sessions. interactions, September-October 1999, pp. 35-41.
  4. Simsarian, K. T. Take it to the next stage: The roles of role playing in the design process. CHI 2003 Adjunct Proceedings, pp. 1012-1013.
  5. Svanaes, D. & Seland, G. Putting the users center stage: Role playing and low-fi prototyping enable end users to design mobile systems. CHI 2004 Proceedings, pp. 479-486.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


A couple weeks ago, Julie Delpy appeared at the Rafael Film Center to answer questions from the audience after a special screening of her fabulous movie, "Before Sunset." That movie consists largely of a single, wonderful conversation between Celine (played by Julie) and Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) as they walk about Paris -- a resumption of a conversation begun 9 years earlier when they first met in the prequel "Before Sunrise." In that prequel, the two instantly connected, and their resulting walk around Vienna consisted largely of a wonderful, intimate, revealing conversation, akin to the followup in "Before Sunset."

Have you participated in those kinds of conversations -- conversations where a strong connection is established quickly -- a connection that enables the participants to be unusually open and to readily reveal much of importance?

I had had a conversation not long before that special screening that seemed to me to be of the nature of the conversation depicted in the two movies. The conversation began on our initial meeting immediately following my on-stage conversation with Don Norman (see earlier postings), resumed over dinner 4 evenings later, continued through coffee in a late night cafe, and then extended through rainfall -- mostly unnoticed by the two of us -- as we strolled along a San Francisco street into the wee hours of the morning. It was wonderful. It was unexpected. It was rare.

But I've had many conversations of a related nature -- conversations I've initiated and that emerge from the very quick establishment of a connection which facilitates participant openness and substantive revelation -- conversations with colleagues or with people who have reported to me in a workplace, or with potential users of a product or service as yet to be conceived or in some stage of design, or with experts in business, design, or the like on stage before an audience at an event -- all conversations essential to "changing the role user experience plays in business."

I had several such conversations with potential users of a product earlier this week. And they, too, were wonderful. No, not as wonderful as my conversation in the rain, or the conversation between Celine and Jesse. But they left all participants happy they had established such a connection, and they revealed much of great importance to the design of the product.

According to Julie Delpy, the conversation in the two movies, which was so real, had been entirely scripted. But it had emerged from a collaboration among Julie, Ethan, and director Richard Linklater, all committed to developing a rich, real experience -- just as my partly-scripted portions of my conversations with potential users emerged from a collaboration among designers, engineers, other potential users, and business personnel committed to developing the best user experience possible.

How well does your business connect with users or potential users of its products and services? Are those essential connections unexpected and rare? Or are they initiated frequently, and conducted in such a way that they contribute greatly to developing the best user experience possible?

Friday, October 29, 2004

Is it true that "good management kills innovation"?

Yesterday, during one of a series of forums at PARC on invention and innovation, Paul Saffo, a forecaster and strategist at the Institute for the Future, spoke about the Silicon Valley and about why it has been and continues to be the center of so much technological innovation.

According to Paul, technological innovation is "extra-logical," and in the Silicon Valley, "advances from failure to failure, not from success to success." As such, according to Paul, "innovation gets killed by good management."

I discussed Paul's claim with a friend following the forum, and though we accepted Paul's claims as being valid in the context of the tech sector and what Silicon Valley has been and is still largely about, neither of us believe the statement that "good management kills innovation" is always true.

I had the privilege of interviewing Paul on stage with Jaron Lanier back in 1997. Paul is an amazing fellow and much brighter than I can ever hope to be. But I don't think that Paul himself even believes that statement is always true.

Whether or not it is true depends, my friend and I agreed, on what one considers good management to be. Perhaps what is often considered to be good management of engineers tends to kill their ability or attempts to innovate. But good management, in the context of fostering good "user experience" and "design," facilitates innovation -- my friend and I humbly believe ;-). And does so in the Silicon Valley.

Is the impressive innovation achieved over and over again by, for example, IDEO (see The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman) a product of "bad" management? Or is it, instead, that the kind of management that fosters innovation is difficult to replicate within most companies, particularly in the tech sector?

During the opening plenary session of the first Designing for User Experiences conference, Bill Buxton pretty much agreed with Paul Saffo by arguing that after software companies develop their initial products, new, innovative products tend to come from those same companies only via acquisition rather than from internal development. And when they do emerge from internal development, "it is generally due to a skunkworks project, rather than something that is 'managed' and part of the organizational process." Bill also talked about how installing a good design process that is distinct from engineering can be upsetting to a company, even when the process results in a new product that proves to be successful in the marketplace.

Why is this true? Does it have to be true? Is it not possible for "good" management to foster innovation beyond initial offerings in more companies?

Monday, October 25, 2004

"Big Night"s

I spent several days in Sorrento Italy this past April, staying at a fabulous B&B that is also a cooking school (see Each evening's cooking lesson would begin at 4pm and end just prior to the evening meal which was served at 8. As you might have guessed, the cooking lesson involved preparation of the evening meal, and to varying degrees, students participated in that preparation. This was delightful, and Chef Biagio is a masterful cook, enabling preparation of amazing, multi-course meals every evening.

What made things even more delightful was the fact that we prepared these meals for, and ate these meals with, 20-30 people from multiple countries every evening. The dinners were long, with me always among the last to leave. And the conversations and connections made with the many guests were truly wonderful.

These great experiences made me determined to attempt to recreate them, albeit on a much smaller scale, in my home. And I've been delighted to have been able to do that with success -- involving guests in the preparation of the meal, dining for hours, and creating or strengthening multiple connections.

At one of these dinners, a plan was hatched to tackle the preparation of timpano, an amazing and complex Italian dish that plays a prominent role in the movie, "Big Night." And our version of "Big Night" was held this past weekend in the home of a friend.

The many ingredients of the timpano -- quail, pasta, meatballs, chicken livers and hearts, fresh peas, hard-boiled eggs, multiple varieties of wild mushrooms, buffalo mozzarella, ragu napoletano, and more -- were prepared by the 9 participants working in a coordinated and collaborative manner over several hours. Then came the climactic point at which the prepared ingredients were placed in layers within a pastry dough that lined, and later also covered, a gigantic bowl.

After cooking the timpano in the oven, the long feast ensued.

The timpano was magnificent.

One of the extra special moments of the evening was the toast just before the meal -- a toast "to collaboration."

How do you effectively help people achieve recommended organizational change?

Last week, Cooper published an article in its newsletter in which Kim Goodwin writes, "Building better, more innovative, and more profitable products requires organizational change on a deep and difficult level." These words are similar to the words of many others, including Mark Hurst who wrote, "Changing the organization is the most difficult and most important part of user experience work," in a June 2003 version of his newsletter, and Dennis Wixon who, in the July+August 2003 issue of interactions, made a similar point indirectly by criticizing the formal literature as "failing the practitioner" since it "treats usability studies as if they were experiments, when in reality they are more like organizational interventions."

Advice regarding how to achieve such change has come from many (see the lengthy list of references, old and recent, that I include with my "evolving commentary" on "Changing the Role 'User Experience' Plays in Your Business" --, but lots of people still struggle with this difficult task.

During my on-stage interview of Don Norman on October 12 (see my initial blog posting for my first blog words about this event), Don refered to a forum he ran for "user experience executives and those on the executive track" on, among other (related) things, "how to advance the cause of 'User Experience' throughout your organization." Quoting further from one of Don's announcements of this October 2003 forum:
"I have long been bothered by the lack of senior management from within the ranks of the user experience community. I believe that user experience-based design will make the greatest impact only when the executive ranks of corporations adopt UE design as part of their culture. This is only likely to happen when UE professionals become UE executives."
According to Don, few enrolled in this forum, it lost money, and he offers it no longer.

Also according to Don, few enroll in tutorials offered during the Nielsen Norman Group's User Experience tour that are intended for people with experience.

I recently started to offer a workshop focused on "The Critical Role of Collaboration in Enabling Your Business to Provide the Best 'User Experience'" and intended for a similar audience, though offered for delivery in-house.

But are workshops/forums/tutorials not the best way to reach and help the people who are in a better position to influence the organizations in which they work? If not, what is? The combination of everything else that is out there, including the many relevant publications I reference above, does not appear to be enough.


Monday, October 18, 2004

When and where will the next DUX conference be held?

I've been receiving an increasing amount of email asking when and where the next Designing for User Experiences (DUX) conference will be held.

I was a Program Chair for the very successful, first DUX conference, and I am a Conference Chair for the second. And DUX 2003 was held in early June. Plus, there is no information to be found about the second DUX conference on the web, except for an news item on the home page of the first conference which invites people to join us for DUX 2005.

So, it is not surprising that I've been receiving such email.

DUX 2003 was held in San Francisco, and interest was high in keeping the conference there, at least for the second edition. So, you can look for DUX 2005 to be held in San Francisco.

But we are presently targeting DUX 2005 for much later in the year than June.

As soon as the specific dates and venue have been nailed down, you will be able to learn about them here.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

In a business, which organization should own the user experience?

This past Tuesday evening, I interviewed Don Norman (author of the recently published, "Emotional Design: Why we love -- or hate -- everyday things") on stage as part of a special BayCHI/BayDUX event entitled, "User Experience: Why Do So Many Organizations Believe They Own It?" The focus of our conversation ranged from what "user experience" really means (Don coined the term years ago while a VP at Apple Computer), what he now thinks of that term and of how it is used these days, the range and role of professional societies which address some aspect of user experience, and how important it is for those professional societies to collaborate much more.

In answer to the question of, "In a business, which organization SHOULD own the user experience?," Don answered (in short), "All of them."

I've worked in companies where multiple organizations believed they alone largely owned or should own user experience. And changing that belief has been a challenge.

Last Tuesday evening, Don said that he still believes the assertion of the title of his first BayCHI presentation delivered to a crowd of 600 back in February of 1993: "Where HCI Design Fails: The Hard Problems are Social and Political, not Technical."

Getting multiple organizations in a business or in the world of professional societies to collaborate in such a way that they all share ownership of user experience in an effective manner is a difficult social and political challenge. But it has been and can be done. And it needs to be done much, much more.