Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Riander Blog receiving growing attention worldwide

I'm delighted that lots of people and companies are finding value in my blog.

People around the world have contacted me about it, and blogs around the world have referenced it.

One of the most notable references appeared in Putting People First, a blog by Mark Vanderbeeken in Italy that is read by approximately 2500 people every day.

Recently, UX Magazine -- a 2007 Webby Awards nominee for Best Business Blog, posted an entry from my blog and added another blog entry to their article editing queue.

And others, including Viaspire -- a 2007 blogger's choice awards nominee for Best Marketing Blog, have posted compliments.

I hope you'll find future Riander Blog postings warrant your attention and others' attention worldwide.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Metaphors for understanding organizational and process issues

Metaphors come in handy for communicating about and even identifying organizational issues of relevance to user experience. For example, in "Changing the course or pace of a large ship," I wrote about a couple of commonly used boat metaphors:
"... the head of a now large and quite successful corporate user experience organization recently told me, early on (i.e., ~5 years ago when he joined the company as manager of a very small UI group), he felt like he was rowing a small boat to try to change the course of the large ship to which it is attached via a rope.

Interestingly, a director in another very large corporate user experience organization recently invoked a similar metaphor, describing the pace of change he was able to achieve as akin to the pace of an oil tanker rather than a speed boat. However, he was talking about the situation now, not years ago when the organization was in its infancy."
The speed boat metaphor appeared again in "What is holding User Experience back or propelling User Experience forward where you work?", answers to which were solicited from working professionals via collaborative "Speed Boat exercises":
"For one exercise, I drew a speed boat and several anchors hanging from it on the whiteboard, and asked everyone to write onto post-its whatever has been holding User Experience back where they work and then place those post-its on the several anchors.

... To learn what the students believe has been key to propelling User Experience forward where they work (to the extent that it has been propelled or is being propelled forward), I shifted the focus of the Speed Boat exercise from the anchors to -- you guessed it -- the engine propellers (see nearby photo). Interestingly, in several cases, "propelling forward" encompassed "moving upstream," to use yet another metaphor which, at least on the surface, is moving in the opposite direction!

... Why bother with the speed boats and the anchors and the propellers? There are several reasons, but one of the most interesting, in my view, is how they appear to help tap what participants actually 'experience' in their workplace."
And I've referenced other metaphors, including a couple of "three-legged stools" (e.g., of collaboration) that will fall over if any leg is missing.

Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of clever and more complex metaphors of a related nature.

In Thoughts on Microsoft Spark UX Summit, Adam Richardson wrote:
"...I had kind of a funny thought about UX while sipping from a plastic bottle of Ritz Carlton water. I noticed the nutrition label on the water, where everything was 0%. Now if you knew nothing about water and its importance to life you would think it was a completely useless and trivial liquid. It’s all around you and thus taken for granted, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but exactly why some is good and some is bad you can’t really explain. It suddenly hit me that user experience is treated like water: on conventional business metrics it shows up as a 0 all across the board. However, user experience is something companies deliver whether they mean to or not, but they lack the means to see it or understand how to quantify what makes it good or bad. And increasingly UX needs to be treated as the life-sustaining element that keeps them alive by separating them from the competition. Achieving this requires addition of new metrics that actually reflect it."
And in a paper submitted to CHI 2007's alt.chi venue -- an experimental venue for "unusual, challenging, and thought-provoking work that might not otherwise be seen at the conference," Anna Swartling and colleagues described how a football metaphor can help one visualize organizational responsibility (or lack thereof) for usability.
"In our study of a procurer organization, we saw that even though both procurer and developer were positive towards usability, no one in particular took responsibility for it. Rather, for some, usability was perceived as omnipresent in many processes, and for others, if it wasn't included in the requirements specification, it was more or less absent. Usability was always someone else's problem or responsibility. We came to think of usability being "kicked" around, within the organization as well as during development. This transformed into sports and for us, closest to mind was football."
Anna and her colleagues developed this metaphor extensively, associating various systems development project roles with goal keepers, team captains, the referee, the audience in the stands, the home and visiting teams, and others. And by doing so, they were able to better understand why usability gets "kicked around" as it often does.

As the authors state:
"The advantage of a metaphor is that it enables the possibility to see things from a new perspective."
What metaphors have enabled you or others to better understand organizational and process issues of relevance to user experience?

Metaphor is critical to human thinking, particularly when dealing with abstract concepts as so well documented by George Lakoff. Check out the classic Metaphors We Live By for more information.

A user experience metaphor of a different nature that I stumbled upon recently: Mike Kuniavsky's use of magic as a metaphor for the design of ubiquitous computing devices. Those interested in exploring the benefits of this design metaphor should look back in the archives for Bruce Tognazzini's description of the insightful relationship between "Magic and Software Design."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

So, whose advice really works?

Two weeks ago, I led a session during the CHI 2007 conference entitled, "Moving User Experience into a Position of Corporate Influence: Whose Advice Really Works?"

As I described in a preview, a major focus of the session was five means of -- according to many -- moving user experience into a position of corporate influence: documenting and evangelizing user experience work, owning the user experience, proper organizational positioning, calculating return on investment, and conducting "ethnographic" research. Indeed, according to many, each of these five means is critical to moving user experience into a position of corporate influence. However, one can find arguments against the use or importance of each means. Hence, of interest was which means played critical roles in moving user experience into a position of influence in the diverse mix of workplaces of six panelists, all in or having been in senior management positions via which they have moved user experience into a position of corporate influence.

During the session, I introduced each means, referencing arguments and evidence in support of the means, and referencing arguments and evidence to the contrary. Then, after the audience members proclaimed whether or not they believed that particular means was critical to moving user experience into a position of corporate influence, the six panelists moved to a location on stage reflecting whether or not the means played a critical role in their workplaces (see sample slide).

Note the dissimilarity of the configuration of the panelists in the two nearby photos showing their configuration for two of the five means. Indeed, there was a lot of movement on stage during the session. All six panelists were never together behind the same table, and different combinations of panelists were behind different tables (or "sitting on the fence" in the center) for all five means.

After moving into position for a means, panelists addressed how and/or why the means played or didn't play a critical role where they work.

So, what did the panelists say? Why is it that important words of advice regarding moving user experience into a position of corporate influence should be followed in some cases but not necessarily in all? When should one follow what advice?

The session, which received rave reviews, was recorded for addition to ACM's Digital Library, so you'll all have an opportunity to learn answers to those questions as provided by the panelists via that recording. I'll let you know when the recording becomes available.

However, you can find partial answers to these questions in previous entries in my blog, and I'll address the panelists' answers and the session further in upcoming entries. (I hear that a couple of other people might also be preparing online reports about the session.)

Justin Miller's final words during the panel provide some good overarching guidance. After referring to Jakob Nielsen's stages of corporate usability maturity as providing some good guidance regarding when to do what, Justin said:
"But the really important thing is referenced in the very last sentence of Jakob's article: 'Once you learn how to tickle the organization sufficiently to make it move, you can start planning for your next upgrade...' You have to know how to influence your own organization, because that is what is going to make you successful. And that is going to be different from organization to organization, and within the same organization, it is going to vary over time. So, you've got to be plugged into how to change and influence things where you work, ... and you've got to be sure that you have the right capability (to do that)."
Justin Miller is Senior Director of Product -- Europe, eBay.

For a couple of my thoughts on Nielsen's stages of corporate usability maturity, see Changing the course or pace of a large ship.

Photos courtesy of Nancy Frishberg.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

How would you change "interactions" magazine?

Let's say you had an opportunity to become an Editor-in-Chief of interactions magazine (subtitled "New Visions in Human-Computer Interaction" and a bi-monthly publication of ACM SIGCHI), or that you at least had an opportunity to provide input to the incoming Editor(s)-in-Chief.

How would you change the magazine? Would you change it? What, if anything, is missing? How could it be improved?

I have greatly valued interactions magazine over the years, from the initial issues overseen by Editor-in-Chief John Rheinfrank (the first issue was published in January 1994), through a period of time during which it looks like there might not have been an Editor-in-Chief, through Steven Pemberton's years as Editor-in-Chief, and most recently, while Jonathan Arnowitz and Elizabeth Dykstra-Erikson have been sharing that role.

Indeed, I have quoted and otherwise referenced content from interactions in several of my articles in this blog.

But there are some things about the publication that I think could be improved. Are there some things about interactions that you think could be improved?

Please let me know (riander at well dot com), as I have an opportunity to significantly impact the nature and content of the magazine.

How could interactions magazine become more valuable to you?