Posts about Techniques


Stretching Google Material to make better desktop navigation

My revised “Single Artist” view for Google Music: it allows for better horizontal navigation across albums and artists 

a.k.a., Making Google Music (on desktop) more like iTunes 

a.a.k.a., Tweaking Google Material for broader data sets 

a.a.a.k.a., Google Music annoys me sometimes, so I drew up some fixes instead of just getting over it like I probably should

Original article posted on Medium.

I like Google Material. It’s a well-documented and thoughtful end-to-end visual/UI language that’s adaptable to a lot of consumer apps. It’s obviously a mobile-first UI language: the card-first patterns are highly tangible and tractable, and its navigation structures tend to be very vertical. Take, for example, Google Music’s navigation structure:

The current Google Music navigation structure, from library to song 

This highly “vertical” navigation structure tends to work well on mobile devices: you don’t have the space needed for persistent on-screen navigation, and (perhaps) mobile use cases trend towards finding a particular item rather than, browsing around. But when you apply this pattern to desktop, you see limitations: that’s a lot of navigating up and down (a version of “pogo sticking”) if you’re navigating across multiple categories… think, “I want to listen to something from my music library, but am not positive which artist/album/song I want to listen to yet.”

A sampling of Google Music’s current desktop screens (June 2016). Lots of white space 

On desktop, Google Music's simple, vertical navigation leads to lots of white space, heavy-handed photography, and "clicky" navigation.*

While the “browsing” scenario I described above isn’t necessarily common — in fact, Google's research may have found that users tend to look for something specific in the app, so that’s what it’s optimized for — browsing can still be accommodated. Just look at the classic (and current) iTunes app navigation: persistent, scrollable list menus with immediate selection and visual feedback.

*It’s puzzling that they don’t at least use back arrows on Desktop (as they do on mobile) to help the user go back up the navigation ladder. This leads to troubling “get me outta here!” moments.

An older version of iTunes (left), and a newer version (right, June 2016). Plenty of persistent navigation.

I wanted to emulate some of this on Google Music’s desktop site, using Material Design, without breaking Material’s established patterns. I think I partially succeeded by employing some “cheats” that Google has used on other Material products. I also spruced up some of the UI according to my own tastes (sorry, couldn’t help it).

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Using Google Music's Desktop app as an example, we try to improve the navigation of a Google product using only elements from the Google Material toolbox.  

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The Women in Design and Tech Leadership Forum

Lean In. A leading light in design and tech leadership, Sheryl Sandberg, has called for women to lean in to their work and leadership roles just as they might be considering pulling back. One recommendation is increased and focused discussions of leadership and mentorship among professional women. Together, Cooper and WebVisions heeded the call for questioning and discussion of how to move toward leadership equality in design and tech with this event in the co: here series.  

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Cooper and WebVisions join together to host a conversation about how to move toward leadership equality in design and tech with this event in the co: here series.  

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Reflection: The Pause That Gives Insight, Part Two

In part one of this article, we introduced two common maladies of teams at the juncture between research, sense-making, and concept: diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis. And based on our own experience in projects and workshops, we suggested that making time for reflection can be a powerful antidote to these difficulties. 

“Take time to listen to our intuitive mind: that part of us that has been paying attention all along, but which cannot be heard in our usual business pace. …That side of ourselves is great at noticing patterns, but it doesn’t have language. And it is much closer to our values, our beliefs, our sense of the big important stories. We simply need ways to help it connect what it feels to what it sees, and give it a chance to express itself.” 

Four ways, all sharing similar steps

To find new approaches and methods, we’ve looked in places outside corporate design, where people include reflection in their work as a matter of course. We’ve borrowed from the arts, theatre, and writing, as well as wisdom traditions. There is a huge catalog of ways people do this, but we can offer four here that are easy to do in a corporate setting, easy to learn, and wonderfully effective. 

 All four share the same initial steps: 

  1. Set aside uninterrupted time (no colleagues, cell phones or cockatoos) 
  2. Get still (you can read more about getting still here
  3. Consider your situation and ask yourself (or your group) a question. We find questions like these to be at once specific and vague enough to let the good stuff out: “What is true here?” “What is really going on?” “What is possible?”

Then use some means to give expression to what shows up for you, like one of the following.  

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In part one of this article, we introduced two common maladies of teams at the juncture between research, sense-making, and concept: diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis. And based on our own experience in projects and workshops, we suggested that making time for reflection can be a powerful antidote to these difficulties. 

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Reflection: The Pause That Gives Insight, Part One

Diagram hypnosis and analysis paralysis


“Always make room for the unexpected in yourself.”

- Steve Martin


The fear of the blank whiteboard

We’re standing in a project room. Every inch of wall is covered with photographs from the field. Fat black arrows point to portrayals of key moments. Quotes on sticky notes form colorful clusters. Diagrams of space, ritual, and process complement the persona-faces looking back at us from the wall. And now it’s idea time. After the intensity of research and analysis comes the challenge of conceiving the right thing. How do we create concepts that are both good for business and responsible to the lives we have glimpsed through all this data?

We have all experienced that moment when the true complexity of life challenges the powers of our imagination. We are asked to translate complexity into concepts, but the complexity can be overwhelming and its patterns elusive. Together we turn to a blank whiteboard, we crack open a fresh pad of Post-Its, and feel the pressure to find The Answer.

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We have all experienced that moment when the true complexity of life challenges the powers of our imagination. We are asked to translate complexity into concepts, but the complexity can be overwhelming and its patterns elusive. Together we turn to a blank whiteboard, we crack open a fresh pad of Post-Its, and feel the pressure to find The Answer.

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Designing for Moms

Cooper’s Founder, Alan Cooper invented the modern-day design persona. Personas are archetypal user profiles that describe the key goals, behaviors, and attitudes of target users. Personas are created through a framework that identifies behavior patterns through individual ethnographic interviews. 

At Cooper, design personas are an important tool in our everyday work. Once they are crafted, they allow for a more focused understanding of user needs. We use them in our consulting projects to drive and evaluate approaches for creating meaningful and effective products and services. 

Personas are often used to: 

● Audit existing products and services, 

● Provide context for evaluating new products and services, 

● Build empathy for a diverse set of audience members, and 

● Avoid creating solutions based on self-­referential assumptions.

To learn more about the history at personas at Cooper, read: The Origin of Personas by Alan Cooper

Since 1992, Cooperistas have created thousands of personas for clients large and small. We design many products and services with moms in mind. To commemorate Mother’s Day, here’s a gallery of some of our favorite “mom” personas. 

Note: These personas are borrowed from actual Cooper consulting projects. Enjoy!

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Since 1992, Cooperistas have created thousands of personas for clients large and small. We design many products and services with moms in mind. To commemorate Mother’s Day, here’s a gallery of some of our favorite “mom” personas.

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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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4 Days of Change

By Rob Vanasco, @nocuberequired

“Please sign my petition asking for M&M’s to be made without artificial dyes.” 

That was the plea of a mom of two kids. In 2014, realizing the petroleum-based dyes in her son’s M&M’s were causing adverse effects to his behavior, Renee Shutters partnered with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to help her son and other parents dealing with similar situations. She wanted to rally people to ask the makers of M&M’s to stop using harmful dyes.

It seemed like a difficult task, but Renee found Change.org, which enables people to start a petition around virtually any topic and share it via social media. Renee received 217,123 electronic signatures in support of her cause over two years. In this forum, people shared their stories and discussed how removing dyes helped their kids.

In February of 2016, M&M’s announced they would no longer use toxic dyes in the production of M&M’s. Renee’s petition was a confirmed victory. If you visit Change.org, you will see a long list of similar victories. People are making a difference in their communities, and around the world, by using this technology.  

But, what if you want to do more?

What if you want to go beyond the limits of a petition and rally people around a cause? 

What if you want to organize people within a community?

How do you engage and motivate that group?

How do you provide that group with a delightful experience while giving them the tools they need to accomplish their mission?

These are the questions that leaders at Change.org asked the participants of UX Boot Camp to address.

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Cooper’s UX Boot Camp allows participants to learn the art and science of user experience design, and to put it immediately into practice with a real-life client. So when my company encouraged me to consider professional development opportunities, I researched all the options out there. I reviewed all the workshops offered by Cooper U, and UX Boot Camp was exactly what I was looking for. 

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Learn More about Non-Verbal: Do Your Own Research

By: Katherine Hill & Robin Zander

In our last two installments on designing for the non-verbal in UX Research, we suggested you keep your eyes open for non-verbal cues in your existing research methods and then add prompts for them as integral pieces to your future processes. However, interpreting these cues may prove challenging at first, if you don’t know what you’re looking for or how to encourage such expressivity from a user.

This is where acting, dance, and improv training come in handy. The study of human behavior is wide, and we suggest incorporating physicality and expressivity to your already deep knowledge base of behavior. 

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In our last two installments on designing for the non-verbal in UX Research, we suggested you keep your eyes open for non-verbal cues in your existing research methods and then add prompts for them as integral pieces to your future processes. However, interpreting these cues may prove challenging at first, if you don’t know what you’re looking for or how to encourage such expressivity from a user.

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Rethinking UX Research: Non-Verbal Clues

By: Katherine Hill & Robin Zander

Understanding the end user is a complex and sometimes daunting process. Typically, we as humans don’t know what we want until we see it. We need experts to interpret our segmented requests and half baked ideas in order to design something we think we might like to use.

As the researcher, designer, or expert in any creative field this can be maddening. The individual uneducated in the specific field attempts to describe details and nuances without the proper language, experience, or expertise.

However, when working with clients, interpreting their needs is the name of the game. So, we’d like to propose a new (and old) way to go about it- pay attention to the nonverbals.

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As the researcher, designer, or expert in any creative field this can be maddening. The individual uneducated in the specific field attempts to describe details and nuances without the proper language, experience, or expertise. However, when working with clients, interpreting their needs is the name of the game. So, we’d like to propose a new (and old) way to go about it- pay attention to the nonverbals.

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Invest in brains

There's a special kind of fear-mongering you see in certain circles that always gets my goat. It goes something like this: "[some new behavior that people are suspicious of] has been shown to make detectable changes to the brain!" The implication of this is that the new behavior must be bad because it alters the brain from some perceived pure or natural state.

Is there other language we can use when talking about experience leading to changes in the brain? Yes, yes there is. It's very simple. It's called learning. (Next time you read one of those fear-mongering statements, replace "changes to the brain" with "learning" and see if it sounds so scary.)

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If you are serious about user-centered design, then you should be investing in the brains of your product team by giving them the experience of talking directly to your end users.

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