Speculative Tools for Learning about Politics

Cooper has just published the third in a series about Elections for UX Magazine. Below is an excerpt from the article "Speculative Tools for Learning about Politics" written by Joe Kappes. Read the full article on UX Magazine.

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With all the noise of an election cycle, it can be difficult to parse out what you really believe when it comes to key political issues and with whom you actually agree. 

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Concept Mapping for Designers of the Future

Photo by André M. Pennycook

Recently, Cooper and the Speculative Futures group teamed up to conduct a joint workshop introducing designers to Concept Mapping Together, a collaboration protocol based on the work of Joseph D. Novak (see The Origin and Development of Concept Maps) and his fellow cognitive and educational researchers. The protocol is an adaptation of their methods oriented to design facilitation practice. Cooperista Kaycee Collins, Phil Balagtas, and I led the workshop with ten expert design facilitators to teach attendees the protocol and explore it’s powerful application to futures design. 

Why Concept Mapping?

Designing for future scenarios is especially challenging given what designers must consider while speculating about what the world is today and may become tomorrow. Designers can best address this challenge by using a rich set of research and design practices. One such practice is concept mapping, which helps to organize and structure knowledge, thereby extending a designer’s ability to understand and be understood.

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Recently, Cooper and the Speculative Futures group teamed up to conduct a joint workshop introducing designers to Concept Mapping Together, a collaboration protocol based on the work of Joseph D. Novak (see The Origin and Development of Concept Maps) and his fellow cognitive and educational researchers. 

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Heavily Regulated Industries Need Goal-Directed Design

Working in the insurance industry, an industry saddled with stiff regulations, has several implications for the design team. Generally, this means submitting each page to an internal review process and then to every state for their approval. If after filing there are additional changes, re-submitting a particular webpage earns extra scrutiny, increasing the chance that edits will be necessary prior to launch. As a result, every A/B test, every possible change, must be thought out ahead of time, without proving it first in production. Otherwise, the changes must be filed all over again. Because of these challenges, our digital experience and design team has adopted Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design (GDD) approach. 

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Working in the insurance industry, an industry saddled with stiff regulations, has several implications for the design team. Because of these challenges, our digital experience and design team has adopted Cooper’s Goal-Directed Design (GDD) approach. 

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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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Bringing together personas, jobs to be done, and customer journey maps

Is this something you've been wanting to do? Here's how these three tools fit together, in one diagram (and some supporting paragraphs of text). 

I've tried to keep this as jargon-free as possible.

What's the difference?

Personas provide humanizing context. What kind of emotional experiences does the person want? What is their social and physical environment? 

Job to be done provides the functional steps toward the desired outcome, and how you know if the user has achieved their desired end goal. 

A journey map provides the framework that holds it all together, and allows you to view the human context and the functional desires over the timeline of your choice. 

As a reminder, all of these tools should be based firmly in qualitative (and, if you have it, quantitative) research. 

Do you need jobs, personas, AND journeys? 

It depends. 

Without personas, jobs bury emotional and social needs under a thick layer of functional analysis. Jobs quickly become cold, clinical, and divorced from the kind of humanity that inspires creativity. 

Without an anchor in the desired outcomes of jobs, personas can sway easily into the troubling realms of unrealistically specific, overly vague, biased, or just completely prejudiced. 

Without journeys, it's easy to get lost in details and lose sight of both the scope of experience you're focusing on, and the scope of experience you may have intentionally or unintentionally set aside.  

There are many other factors to consider, and this post is in no way exhaustive. 

So what?

As with all of design, there's no one true answer. Choose your poison carefully, and let us know how it goes! If you need help, we offer both public and private training on personas and journey mapping.

We hear a lot of confusion about "personas vs. jobs to be done" or "jobs to be done vs. journey maps." In this post, a potentially clarifying framework. 

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How much interface does your analytics product need?

Original article posted on Medium.

While working on a project earlier this year, an interesting tidbit emerged from research: users tended to have just a few simple needs when it came to accessing data. Given that the tool we were working on is pretty robust, the lightweight nature of the most common use cases was a surprise… there is more “tool” available than what is necessarily needed. 

This reflects a broader trend among analytics providers: there’s a popular interface-first reflex when it comes to building data products. We opt for flexibility over convenience, often attempting to satisfy all plausible use cases rather than optimizing for the most frequent ones. Here’s an outline of some analytics use-cases, addressed in a one-size-fits-all way:

The approach is, in a way, straightforward. Give the user access to the data. If they have a question, they can go to the interface and “tell” it what they need. They then digest the information, isolating some meaningful insight (hopefully) before disseminating the information to their peers, supervisors, or other stakeholders. 

The interface-first approach is capable of satisfying many use cases for end users. Analytics tools can be used for all sorts of purposes — from status updates to fact-finding to open-ended exploration — but it’s not unusual to see a user base rally around a few lightweight ones (hint: open-ended exploration is usually not among them). Let’s think through a simple use case: a gym owner wants to know if member attendance has changed this week, as weather has been especially nice. Here’s how that scenario looks for an interface-first analytics tool:

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Taking a look at different approaches to analytics products: interface as a "tool" vs technology as an "assistant." Inspired by research done in the field. 

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Winning the Primary Election with Data Visualization

Cooper has just published the second in a six article series about Elections for UX Magazine. Below is an excerpt from the article "Winning the Primary Election with Data Visualization" written by Jim Dibble. Read the full article on UX Magazine

In addition to following your favorite candidate’s progress during election season, as a UX designer, you can find new inspiration for ways in which to help your users explore data.

Election season offers UX designers lessons and inspiration for helping users understand and explore data. In addition to following your favorite candidate’s progress during election season, as a UX designer, you can find new inspiration for ways in which to help your users explore data. In this article, I’ll take a look at a couple of the different news and political sites, and see how they’ve used interactive data visualizations to help readers better understand the complex data behind election predictions and results.

There are myriad ways to present election data. As with all information and interaction design, your method of presentation depends on the type of reader you’re trying to reach and the types of questions you’re helping them answer — do you want to help them understand the likelihood of future results or to help them interpret how demographics and behavior influenced votes in the past?

I’ll take a look at several strategies for presenting data, depending on whether the user is looking forward to predict potential results or looking backward to understand how demographics and issues influenced results. During election season, readers want to examine data from several perspectives:

  • Looking forward to upcoming primary results
  • Understanding election results as they arrive
  • Looking back to understand the meaning of what has happened
  • Predicting the future
  • Playing “what if” scenarios with the data
  • We’ll look at good and bad examples of each in this election cycle, and then pull out some general principles for data visualization that can be applied for any examination of data.

Read all of Jim's article here on UX Magazine.

In addition to following your favorite candidate’s progress during election season, as a UX designer, you can find new inspiration for ways in which to help your users explore data.

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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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