What I’m Reading this week

But far and away the best news of the week (so far) is that Kathy Sierra is blogging again! 



UX gets the attention of Business (again)

The Rise of UX Leadership  is a recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog.

 Fortunately, there is a great training ground for new UX leadership: the startup market. MBAs and other aspiring professionals are seizing the opportunity to create something new, emulating start-up heroes like Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Dennis Crowley. Not all of these startups will succeed, but leaders who join their ranks will learn valuable lessons seeing products and ideas rejected by end-users firsthand. These new UX-minded executives will take top jobs elsewhere, seeding a new UX culture in corporate America. And they’ll certainly be looking to join companies that “get” UX.

Cliff Anderson, who I had the good fortune to work with several years ago, commented that he was disappointed that the article doesn’t mention testing–I think that’s an excellent criticism. While only a few rare geniuses have designs spring from their heads like Athena emerging from Zeus’ skull, the rest of us can make tremendous progress through gathering empirical data and iterating our designs.

I was also just alerted to this article, The Strategic & Tactical Aspects of UX Leadership  recently published in UX Magazine.

Which also reminds me–Jared Spool is working on opening a school to effectively teach & train this new wave: The Unicorn Institute. It will be exciting to see how they evolve, particularly since the state of current UX education is primarily catch as catch can.

Information Artist

A new title–Heather Dewey-Hagborg calls herself an Information Artist.

She creates portraits in the form of masks derived from DNA she collects from detritus on the street–cigarette butts, chewing gum.* She uses a 3-D printer to create her masks.

View some of the pieces from Stranger Visions.

From the article:

“If you care about privacy, you’d better do something, because we are probably the last generation that will realize what we’re losing.”

Abstract of the article here; unfortunately you must be a New Yorker subscriber for the whole.

*lollipop sticks, toothpicks–her subjects are all necessarily litter bugs, does that show up in their DNA profile? Although I suppose she could filch coffee cups from trash cans…or is that theft?

InfoGraphic: The Disciplines of User Experience Design

Interesting infographic as much for the way it can be criticized as for what it captures effectively. Needless to say, you will never be able to make everyone happy when we’re all so busy with our silos and empire building (aiming this criticism at myself as much as anyone).

Trying to figure out how to incorporate this into my Advanced IA course.

Midwest UX

Just a plug for Midwest UX, a regional conference that started a couple years ago and has been a roaring success. Strong speaker line up, reasonable registration costs.Karl has attended the last two years as a speaker, I’ll be attending for the first time this year. Looking forward to spending a few days in lovely Grand Rapids, MI.

Registration will open later this month.

UX Designer Memes

This should probably be a TGIF post, but it’s too delicious not to post today: Siliconrepublic’s “Career Meme of the Week is the UX Designer.”

My personal favorites:

“I don’t always user test 3 prototypes but when I do, the users like the one that was included as an afterthought.” (superimposed over the Dos Equis shill)


“I actually like pixel perfecting the wireframes.”

Gaze Activated Dresses

In the world of usability testing eye-tracking has become a powerful tool; in my experience it’s often more useful from a sales perspective and from the perspective of engaging observers than for what you actually learn as a result, but useful nevertheless.

Now we have eye tracking on a garment as opposed to a screen. 

Called (No)where (Now)here: Two Gaze-activated Dresses the project will be exhibited at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art in November, then at the Textile Museum of Canada in spring 2014.

(Coming soon to a wedding reality show near you, no doubt.)

(apologies for not making this a TGIF post…)

TGIF: This & That

Sheep & Goats

Since “gamification” became a buzzword a couple years ago I’ve been paying a bit of attention while also waiting to see if it is something that is going to stick or if it will become a passing fad (remember when everything had to include a tag cloud?). As I’m working on the advanced IA class I find myself paying more attention to topics that focus on learning/how people learn and motivation–this post from “Gamasutra” strikes at the intersection of both.*

“What do sheep and goats have to do with educational games?”

A few comments…

Sheep learners do as they’re told, and follow instructions disciplinedly. Goats don’t like to do as they’re told, and instead want to know why they’re doing it.

This is an interesting observation. (I’m trying to decide whether I’m a goat in sheep’s clothing or a sheep who longs to be a goat.) But having read a great deal about the growing educational divide between girls and boys (I highly recommend “The Trouble with Boys” by Peg Tyre), it’s hard not to notice that in the context of school girls are often more sheep like and boys are often more goat-like–and in that context sheep behavior is rewarded and goat behavior may lead to a recommendation for a Ritalin Rx.

Thanks to the advent of technology, “we now have the ability to self educate in ways we never had before,” Schell says. Before the industrial age, no one had the luxury of questioning whether their education or skills were purposeful — largely education was directly related to making things necessary to live. A society of sheep, in other words.

Was it that no one had the luxury of questioning whether their education or skills were purposeful–or is it that when you can draw a clear line between what you’re doing and survival that there isn’t a need to pose the question? Knowledge workers and service workers may well question the ultimate purpose of their work–the subsistence farmer knows the answer. In many ways the industrial revolution has been a curse and a blessing–it brought us the Rat Race, afterall.

What does it take to become a curious person? Telling a child that a game might be out of his or her reach makes a student want to defy that instruction, makes the child curious about why they can’t do something and motivated to try to find out.

Well, it might make *some* students want to defy the instruction, but I think that kind of obvious reverse psychology schtick stops working on most kids once they’re in early elementary school. My four year old is already showing signs that he’s catching on and I’ve had the approach backfire.  I don’t think a simple one size fits all “trick” is the right answer to the question–although I think posing the question and then trying to answer it is a worthy goal as well as something that should be of supreme importance to parents and educators.  To that end, I’d be very interested to hear what pre-school teachers think; do they observe that all children are curious or are some genuinely not? Is it really the case that we need to help people become curious or is it more a problem that culture & lifestyle drain our natural curiosity? This is essentially what  John Taylor Gatto argues, and I think he’s absolutely right.

It’s a lot to spend on a piece of paper. Why don’t goats just go and learn things on their own? “It’s not just a piece of paper,” Schell asserts. “It’s not just a piece of paper — what the diploma represents is social proof, and as human beings we care about social proof. We care about the fact that the ‘elders of the tribe’ said ‘yes.'” People who presume higher education will just go away are missing an important part of the human mindset, he says. (emphasis added)

This, I think, is a very powerful observation. And one that should probably motivate me to be more diligent about my kid’s college fund. I think the system is going to collapse or experience some fundamental revolution or shift due to the sheer weight of the debt load it is producing, but I don’t know  that I can afford to bet on it happening in the next 15 years.



*The biblical connection is apparently purely coincidental.

Backwards Design

I just started working with an instructional design team on developing a new course.

It’s interesting to be introduced to another discipline’s design process, particularly when you work in a field with a fairly well defined process of its own. At yesterday’s Akron UX Meetup we talked about the tension that can exist between IA and marketing given the overlap of focus (“ownership*”) on “the customer” / “the user.”  Someone made the observation that marketing excels at understanding customers by knowing a lot about their perceptions and opinions whereas UX focuses on their behaviors–and that both knowledge points are important. I think instructional designers would say that they know  a lot about how people learn–which both is and isn’t behavior.

The process they follow is called “Backwards Design” where you start by defining the desired learning outcomes and then back into the course structure, assignments, and materials. It is definitely a different approach from my previous course development experience where I basically visualized the semester broken into two halves by spring break and then further broken down into weeks and lectures. I had some clear objectives I wanted my students to achieve, but I probably left them to their own devices in terms of connecting the dots between what I was saying and what they were doing with what they were ideally supposed to be learning.

This process begins by having the instructor pose “essential questions” or “eternal philosophical questions,” which initially sounds pretentious and like the worst kind of academic navel gazing when it comes to the terminal master’s degree, which is by its nature a practical endeavor that may not even belong in the academy in the first place (and wound up there more from the absence of alternatives (and the insatiable demand for income universities are beset by now that the state has  abdicated any real funding role)). I digress…

Anyway, despite my initial reaction, it turns out to be great fun to attempt to define eternal philosophical questions facing Information Architecture as a discipline. My rough draft start is as follows:

  • Can information architecture be defined? Is it important/necessary to DTDT**?
  • Is IA art, science, or craft? (Does it matter?)
  • Information overload has become a fact of life and only appears to be increasing (we’re no longer dealing with information scarcity)–what is the role of IA in alleviating information overload?
  • Will we still need IA after the algorithms have all been perfected? (I think this is the parallel to the claim made very few years that libraries are on the verge of becoming extinct)
  • How can we most effectively bridge the inherent gaps that exist between the people who are disseminating information and the people who are consuming that information?

What do you think–are there other more pertinent questions I’ve missed?



* Just today I got an email from a colleague noting “I’m trying to locate an article/blog post/interview I read at least a few years ago. I’m going to paraphrase some points I remember from it:

– the designer/UX doesn’t own the design
– design is a process/methodology, not a thing to own

Surely that is true of our customers/clients/users as well!


**DTDT=Defining The Damn Thing