Posts about Design & engineering


The Secret to Giving Away Secrets

There’s a baker in San Francisco named Josey. He owns a popular bakery and coffee shop called The Mill. Josey’s bread is really good, but it’s also not cheap. Loaves sell for $7 and up. And they sell toast — with toppings like almond butter, cream cheese or house-made jam—for $4 a slice. This is a lot of money for toast, but it’s so good that people line up down the block to buy it. It is that good. 

Josey also wrote a cookbook teaching people new to breadmaking about how to make bread. He writes in an approachable, un-intimidating style. Joseys’ basic message:making bread is easy.  

In the same way Josey sells bread, and teaches people how to make bread—we do the same thing at the design consultancy where I work, Cooper. We sell our design services to clients. And as part of those projects, we also teach clients about design and our design process.

That sounds crazy.  

Why teach people how to design (or bake bread)? If you teach everyone how to design (or bake bread), then no one will buy your design services (or your bread). Well, the opposite actually is true.

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How design consulting is becoming more about teaching design (especially to non-designers)

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The Roles Trilogy

Modern product teams consist of three key groups working together—Design, Development, and Product Management. It’s surprising how many companies struggle, simply because they don’t recognize the need for all three to work on equal footing but with clear lines of responsibility. Putting expectations in place makes all three groups more effective, allows each to do the job they’re best at, and ultimately results in a thoughtful, well-constructed, kick-ass product. 

So let me tell you about your job.

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Modern product teams consist of three groups working together: Design, Development, and Product Management. Let me tell you how to do your job.

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Easy win: Twitter

Being an interaction designer means you’re aware of improvements that can be made in the things you use every day. This one is about the notifications in Twitter’s iPhone app. Hey, Twitter! Here’s an easy win.

So you’re on your iPhone when it buzzes in your hand. Hey, neat! A Twitter somethingorother. You open the app, only to see that there are no notifications for your current Twitter profile.

That’s cool. It must be for one of the other Twitter profiles you use. So you open the list of profiles only to see…nothing. No hint of where this little tweet of goodness awaits you.

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Being an interaction designer means you’re aware of improvements that can be made in the things you use every day. This one is about the notifications in Twitter’s iPhone app. Hey, Twitter! Here’s an easy win.So you’re on your iPhone when it buzzes in your hand. Hey, neat! A Twitter somethingorother. You open the app, only to see that there [...]

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Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Two-Part Conversation With Alan Cooper

 

Go behind the scenes in this two-part Masters In Conversation series with Alan Cooper, exploring the origins and applications of Goal-Directed Design (GDD). In Part 1 we rewind to the early 1970s when Alan was just starting out and the climate of programming and design was changing rapidly, forging the insights that led to the techniques of GDD. Part 2 brings us up to date with GDD as Cooper designers and teachers apply it today.

Part 1: In the Beginning…

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Go behind the scenes in this two-part Masters In Conversation series with Alan Cooper, exploring the origins and applications of Goal-Directed Design (GDD). In Part 1 we rewind to the early 1970s when Alan was just starting out and the climate of programming and design was changing rapidly, forging the insights that led to the techniques of GDD. Part 2 [...]

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Austin in SXSW – The Digital Master (2 of 3)

Last week I shared a number of trends, tech, and tips discussed at SxSW for harnessing physical objects and space within our digitally mastered world. But you might be wondering: "Patrick, why are you advocating making more crap we don't need? Doesn't that add to the complexity?" Clever you are. One of the most interesting trends we're seeing in design is a move to not only smart defaults, but to intelligent ones that can manage that complexity.

The digital master of intelligence

Two talks convinced me that automation will play an increasing role in our lives. From an engineering perspective, Amit Kapur and Jeff Bonforte explained the powerful robot applications that run within our phones, our cars, and our houses. From a design perspective, former Cooperista Golden Krishna shared the design principles that might throttle us toward more interfaces-less interactions. Now three scenarios to highlight the difference between the human, the machine, and the automaton:

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Last week I shared a number of trends, tech, and tips discussed at SxSW for harnessing physical objects and space within our digitally mastered world. But you might be wondering: "Patrick, why are you advocating making more crap we don't need? Doesn't that add to the complexity?" Clever you are. One of the most interesting trends we're seeing in design [...]

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Interaction13 - Day 2 Recap

Yesterday we brought you designing strategy through a nonprofits eyes, ethical robots (depending on who you ask) and of course, the kegel organ. Here's what we have in store for you today.

Follow all of Interaction13 through daily recaps on the Cooper Journal. Here's Day 1, Day 3, Day 4. IxD13 day2 collage

Designing Everything But the Food

By Sara Cantor Aye (Greater Good Studio)

This year, in partnership with SAIC, Greater Good Studio designed a built a new public school cafeteria. Although that sounds like an architecture project, it really meant looking at the interactions between kids and food, staff, space, and other kids.

Kids will be kids

Sara Cantor Aye walked us through the process of researching elementary school cafeteria design in order to help schools serve healthier food, reduce waste and educate. Along the way, her team discovered some interesting things. For instance, kids want to eat what their friends eat and don’t deal with forced choices well (who knew?)

Making cafeteria food fun?

Their constraints were tough, but the breakthrough was going from a cafeteria line to serving courses to the table. The magic was in the discovery of unanticipated benefits; kids were finally eating their lunches! Cafeteria lunches were fun again, for students and staff.

The shared eating experience wins over all

By focusing on the kid’s experience, using head cams, interviews inside family homes, and observing the cafeteria, they discovered that kids waste food because they don't deal well with many choices on their plate. They were able to have a shared experience by having one item served to everyone at the same time. Just like a restaurant.

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Yesterday we brought you designing strategy through a nonprofits eyes, ethical robots (depending on who you ask) and of course, the kegel organ. Here's what we have in store for you today. Follow all of Interaction13 through daily recaps on the Cooper Journal. Here's Day 1, Day 3, Day 4. Designing Everything But the Food By Sara Cantor Aye (Greater [...]

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Strategies for early-stage design: Observations of a design guinea pig

Where do you start when you're approaching a complex software design problem? If you work on a large development team, you know that software engineers and UX designers will often approach the same design problem from radically different perspectives. The term "software design" itself can mean very different things to software architects, system programmers, and user experience designers. Software engineers typically focus on the architectural patterns and programmatic algorithms required to get the system working, while UX designers often start from the goals and needs of the users.

In the spring of 2009, I participated in a research study that looked at the ways in which professional software designers approach complex design problems. The research study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, was led by researchers from the Department of Infomatics at the University of California, Irvine. The researchers traveled to multiple software companies, trying to better understand how professional software designers collaborate on complex problems. At each company, they asked to observe two software designers in a design session. At my company, AmberPoint, where I worked at the time as an interaction designer, I was paired with my colleague Ania Dilmaghani, the programming lead of the UI development team. In a conference room with a whiteboard, the researchers set up a video camera, and handed us a design prompt describing the requirements for a traffic control simulation system for undergraduate civil engineering students. We were allotted two hours to design both the user interaction and the code structure for the system.

Jim-and-Ania-at-the-whiteboard.jpgJim Dibble and Ania Dilmaghani at the whiteboard in their research design session

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Where do you start when you're approaching a complex software design problem? If you work on a large development team, you know that software engineers and UX designers will often approach the same design problem from radically different perspectives. The term "software design" itself can mean very different things to software architects, system programmers, and user experience designers. Software engineers [...]

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Excerpts from an interview with Alan Cooper and Chris Noessel by Theory and Practice

While in Moscow, Alan and Chris were interviewed by Igor and Anton Gladkoborodov, who are with edutainment blog Theory and Practice to talk about education and learning in the modern world.

Alan and Chris with Theory and Practice

Theory and Practice began the interview with two large questions.

Igor Gladkoborodov Igor Gladkoborodov: In your blog you write a lot about the specifics of the post-industrial era. The new economy heavily influences all aspects of human life, and now we are entering an era of post-everything. I am most interested in the aspect of education, what can you say about the post-education era?

Anton GladkoborodovAnton Gladkoborodov: In the industrialized world, education was reduced mainly to the technology of working with a tool or a machine. Similarly, mental activity was usually reduced to a set of algorithms. Today, we need to raise another kind of worker, one that is more flexible and dynamic. However, modern education does not meet the requirements of modern times; it is still based on the principle of factories. What, in your opinion, needs to be done to education?

It’s a good, long conversation, and if you’re down with the Russian you can read the original at the Theory and Practice website. (Special thanks to our friends at Innova for providing the source translation for us.) Below we’ve excerpted some of the most interesting stuff, and arranged it so we don’t sound as jetlagged and meandering as we actually were.

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The notion that education is cramming as much information as possible into a child's head is antiquated. We have more information than we know what to do with. Now we need skills to get the right information and to know what to do with it.

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Descent into irrelevance

Microsoft's upcoming OS release, Windows 8, will finally replace a vital component that has remained largely unchanged for the last 30 years. It is the BIOS, and it has faithfully performed a simple but vital function: isolating the operating system from its underlying hardware. It quarantines all hardware-dependent code in one location with a publicly defined interface available to the rest of the operating system. BIOS is an acronym for "Basic Input Output System." It was invented way back in the 1970s by the brilliant computer scientist Gary Kildall, and was one of the more important conceptual breakthroughs that led to the success of the personal computer. Bill Gates copied the BIOS idea in MSDOS and built his company on its strength.

Thirty years is a long time even for brilliant software, and the Windows BIOS has become both a security liability and a performance limiter. It is past time for a replacement, and the upcoming Windows 8 will ship with a UEFI instead of a BIOS.

The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, or UEFI, is much smarter than the old BIOS and, in particular, it can detect boot-time malware. Of course, one way to define "malware" is "any other vendor's product." Microsoft has said that it will not use the UEFI to block legitimate software from other companies, but fears are rising in the industry that it will do just that.

Because most of the UEFI needs to be implemented by hardware vendors, it will be written and deployed by third-party developers, not Microsoft itself. If these third-parties want to earn Microsoft's compliance certification, they must follow stringent guidelines. If these guidelines are followed, operating systems other than Windows 8 will not be allowed to boot up. In other words, if your computer, pad, or mobile is running the Microsoft OS, it will not run Linux or any other vendor's OS.

This is not a particularly onerous limitation for about 99% of the human race. Very few people want to mess around with their computer at the operating system level. It's complicated, dangerous, and unnecessary to do so unless you are a programmer. Ah, but if you are a programmer, it raises a significant question.

Programmers may not be large in number, but they are certainly large in influence. In the 1990s Microsoft rose to overwhelming dominance of the industry for the simple reason that it catered to the needs of programmers. What programmers believe is true affects what other people in the software industry believe, and they, in turn, influence everyone else. If programmers didn't believe in Microsoft, then Windows would rapidly lose its hegemony as a platform.

In the last few years I've seen a remarkable thing: development shops using Linux hosted on Apple computers instead of Windows machines. I wrote about this almost a year ago on my personal blog. If I were Microsoft, I'd be very worried about losing influence in the developer community. Yet, with UEFI, it seems Microsoft is making it problematic to run Linux on Windows, and this may alienate even those programmers loyal to the Windows platform.

I'm sure that executives within Microsoft look warmly on the UEFI as a powerful mechanism for combatting what they view as competition. Too bad for Microsoft that the programming community doesn't see it that way. This move could be Microsoft self-administering their own coup de grâce, sending their remaining stalwarts into the arms of Apple, and accelerating Microsoft's descent into the irrelevant.

(Thanks to @BobMacNeal for technical editing)

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Microsoft's upcoming OS release, Windows 8, will finally replace a vital component that has remained largely unchanged for the last 30 years. It is the BIOS, and it has faithfully performed a simple but vital function: isolating the operating system from its underlying hardware. It quarantines all hardware-dependent code in one location with a publicly defined interface available to the [...]

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If you want a game-changer, you need to change the game

The World Series is barely over, which means most of my thoughts this time of year get colored by baseball. Events in game five got me thinking about design exploration, of all things. I'll try not stretch the metaphor too much.

I work throughout the year with product managers, technologists, and executives at companies ranging from small startups to Fortune 100 megaliths. Many of these companies have a vision for creating a game-changing product within their industry, “the iPhone of the xyz market.” They mean it, too. But as conversations progress and a project plan begins to take shape, many of the project owners start piling on technology constraints before any design work has even begun.

“We need to use these off-the-shelf components.”

“Don't explore any solutions that won't let us use our current technology platform.”

“Actually, what we really need is just a facelift of the presentation layer.”

Not exactly the words I imagine Steve Jobs used to drive the creation of the iPod and iPhone.

Sometimes this slow degradation of vision is a result of poor or conflicting communication...which brings me back to last night's baseball game. St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, already a two-time World Series winner and owner of the most wins by an active manager, had a vision for which pitchers he wanted to be warmed up in the late innings of a tight ballgame. He called the bullpen coach (using a land-line telephone in the dugout), and, amazingly, not once but twice, the bullpen coach misheard LaRussa's instructions and warmed up the wrong pitcher.

I don't know if that's happened before in a World Series game, but in the corporate world, we see the wrong product get sent into the game all the time. Executives have a vision for the future, but don't clearly articulate it to the product owners (other than specifying a deadline which is often arbitrary and not tied to actual work milestones), so what gets built isn't visionary at all but driven by the calendar...which means introducing lots of constraints from the beginning. The result may be an incrementally better product, but not a game changer.

We like the saying “reality bats last,” one of Alan Cooper's original design principles. For us that means for any design we create to actually be a solution, it needs to be buildable by our client. It has to live within their unique technology, price, deadline, and resource constraints. However, we have been pushing more and more for the opportunity with our clients to do at least some unfettered, unconstrained design exploration on every project, even ones that have a narrow scope. We don't completely ignore constraints (especially things like regulations which are out of our client's control), and we won't explore designs that rely on telekinesis or nuclear fission, of course. That said, we will definitely push the envelope on what's possible—for a few days or even up to a week—so we can begin with the mindset of the absolute best experience for the user. Over the course of the project we'll push to achieve as much of this game-changing vision as we can.

Design exploration Allow some your design team to let their imaginations run wild before they get saddled with constraints. (photo by Peter Duyan)

Typically, the output of this design exploration is a collection of hand-drawn sketches that target key plot points in the most important scenarios, and signature interactions (parts of the system fundamental to the experience). The sketches often explore a range of ideas, some that can be implemented within all known constraints, but also others which may bend (or break) constraints. After that, it's really a business decision our clients need to make about how to proceed. Sometimes it makes sense to restructure deadlines, add resource, buy a technology, or abandon a legacy infrastructure to get that “killer app.” Other times it doesn't make sense...but as designers it's our job to imagine the future and enable business decision makers to make the most informed decision they can.

Which brings me back to baseball. You are the manager of your company: what's your strategy? Reality is a heavy hitter, but it shouldn't bat in every slot in your lineup. Can you really afford to play it safe every game? Even if your competition is miles behind, spending time to imagine a better future for your product will position your company to more nimbly take your offering to the next level when constraints go away.

And while you are at it, I would recommend upgrading those bullpen phones.

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Designing within technology, business, and deadline constraints is important, but focusing too much on constraints may result in an incrementally improved product rather than a game changer. Allowing your product team the opportunity to spend at least some unfettered design exploration time will better position them to take your product to the next level.

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