There is certainly a lot to unpack in this photograph. It’s the way we used to communicate, keep informed and be pitched to all in one location; like the iPhone or Facebook. You could also imagine seeing missing pet signs or offers for various personal services.
Yearly Archives: 2017
Disruptions and distractions prompt us to get creative
I heard this story during in an NPR podcast yesterday during my morning run. Beginning with my time at ITRI where the teams were made of people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities I’ve believed that change, disruption, conflict, friction and chaos can help foster great work. It at least spurs ideas and makes for an engaging and fun workplace.
In 1975, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett played a concert that would go down in history. For this performance in Cologne, he used an old, virtually unplayable Bösendorfer piano – the only one available at the venue.Jarrett couldn’t play the ancient piano like he would a new one. It was out of tune, too quiet, the pedals were sticky and the high notes had a tinny ring to them. So instead, he improvised.To cope with the poor resonance, he played rumbling bass riffs. To boost the volume, he played while standing, pushing the keys harder and thereby giving the piece a new intensity. It was by playing in this unorthodox manner that he created a unique work of art.This is not unusual: disruptions force us to find new, creative approaches. After all, as long as our habits and routines are functional, there’s no need to alter them. Novel, potentially far-superior practices are usually discovered in periods of disruption.
From Tim Harford’s Messy, which is all about order and tidiness, or rather, why they’re overrated. In his Ted Talk he gives a further example which anyone involved with design might relate to:
We’ve actually known for a while that certain kinds of difficulty, certain kinds of obstacle, can actually improve our performance. For example, the psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer, a few years ago, teamed up with high school teachers. And he asked them to reformat the handouts that they were giving to some of their classes. So the regular handout would be formatted in something straightforward, such as Helvetica or Times New Roman. But half these classes were getting handouts that were formatted in something sort of intense, like Haettenschweiler, or something with a zesty bounce, like Comic Sans italicized. Now, these are really ugly fonts, and they’re difficult fonts to read. But at the end of the semester, students were given exams, and the students who’d been asked to read the more difficult fonts, had actually done better on their exams, in a variety of subjects. And the reason is, the difficult font had slowed them down, forced them to work a bit harder, to think a bit more about what they were reading, to interpret it … and so they learned more.
We need to deal with the awkward strangers, we need to try to read the ugly fonts, we need to embrace difficult situations, and we need to place ourselves willingly in these environments. It helps us. It helps us solve problems and be more creative.
Camren’s Mark Wiens Impression
The kids have gotten me into the habit of watching Youtube clips during my downtime. We have never had cable or watched much in the way of TV (outside of our occasional Netflix habit) but somehow the kids have found a way to circumvent our no TV habit via Youtube. It’s their gateway to all kinds of good and bad entertainment and culture. One of my favorites recently is blogger Mark Wiens and his Youtube channel on food. He does great work but what we like the most is the reveal, that moment when he takes that first bite. The kids think it’s great. So for fun I recorded Camren, during a recent trip to The Diner on Guanxin Rd. in Hsinchu, trying his first Mark Wiens impression. We might make this a habit in the future.
How to ask better questions
Some simple good advice which can be applicable to user interviews as well. From the video:
#1 Can it be answered quickly?
#2 Build up from easy questions
#3 Give examples
#4 Don’t ask questions you could ask Google
#5 Don’t ask broad questions
Christmas weekend Star Wars
Though I make a habit of photographing as a means of remembering even the most minor of events, I have nothing to show for yesterday’s Christmas celebration. Just ugly shots of what was a delicious meal. Taiwan is only international when it comes to government sponsored propaganda so celebrating Christmas here can sometimes be a challenge but we manage each year to have a great time.
The above photo was taken on the 23rd after we had seen the latest Star Wars which left me with a distinct feeling of deja vu. Dinner was at a mall joint – expensive and not all that satisfying. Catriona introduces here dish here and Camren here.
Cannot connect to world
This was pretty much a central theme during my time working in China. When you are conditioned to always be connected to the hive mind suddenly losing access made for some adjustment. Ready access to information is central to experience design work today.
The original kind of lazy avoids hard physical work. Too lazy to dig a ditch, organize a warehouse or clean the garage.
Modern lazy avoids emotional labor. This is the laziness of not raising your hand to ask the key question, not caring about those in need or not digging in to ship something that might not work. Lazy is having an argument instead of a thoughtful conversation. Lazy is waiting until the last minute. And lazy is avoiding what we fear.
Lazy feels okay in the short run, but eats at us over time.
Laziness is often an option, and it’s worth labelling it for what it is.
Friction in experience
Many years ago I did a design study of the shopping experience at the then new IKEA store in Taipei. Their guided approach to shopping was novel to me at the time and in stark contrast to the undesigned experiences I experienced elsewhere.
Most shopping centers follow a similar strategy when dealing with moving customers through-out their space. The escalators force you to walk through the aisles at each floor, or expose you to different stores, thereby exposing you to more product, and there are few short-cuts or direct routes (for fire safety reasons IKEA has somewhat hidden routes that bypass their experience).
This is fine if you come to spend the day inside and you enjoy browsing through the shops in a mall, Taiwanese shopping behavior is often like this, especially on a hot day.
But this design does not accommodate goal directed behavior. When I visit a shopping center it’s for a very specific reason – go to the book store, or sports shops, or see a movie. I might browse within these areas but customers like myself prefer direct paths and don’t appreciate the friction that many shopping centers purposely design for. A great design would accommodate both behaviors, but would it result in increased sales?
Big City in Hsinchu has direct access to the theatre via a long escalator, but to leave requires you to use the stairs. Many instead walk through the jam packed food area.
I haven’t seen any data, but I would guess that this sub-optimal design does result in increased sales. An example of an in optimal experience being best for business.
Communication, like conversation, isn’t something that we should be optimizing. Communication, whether it’s from a newspaper, a social media platform, or a search engine, is information that we should be able to explore, interrogate, and spend time with. Something that’s sadly missing today.
Did we do something wrong?
Sometimes adding friction allows for a more thoughtful and useful product.
Anytime is TV time
Watching a Chinese soap opera while waiting in line for coffee at a Starbucks in China. With all too common use case, even in my household, you miss out on so much of what is happening around you. It’s also creating a generation of patients for physiotherapists. In an age of this kind of media portability I am an extreme edge case. I can stand in line for extended periods of time and simply think and observe.
Imagination is the source of our creativity
Creativity takes imagination one step further and puts it to work – creativity is imagination applied.
Being creative means coming up with original ideas that have value and doing something with those ideas. This is not limited to the arts, but can be in math, engineering, writing or business.
There are two steps to the creative process. The first is generating new ideas and the second is evaluating those idea in order to evaluate, elaborate, refine and maybe ultimately reject them.
Having ideas alone is not enough, these ideas must be applied and evaluated. Of course not all ideas are immediately accepted or celebrated, many will face ridicule or scorn.
1 out of 12 seems about a correct ratio for people who would not continuously look at their phone while standing in line here in Hsinchu. I suspect he forgot his.
Social media is not just personally unhealthy, it has become a threat to democracy. The tech companies that give us access to an infinity of information have become all-powerful and morally corrupt. And the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley fosters the development of products that idolize efficiency and greed, points us towards a dystopic future global monoculture. We don’t just hear all this, but we feel it, too. Something is profoundly wrong.
As designers, we are not without some responsibility for this situation. We fought for design to be a strategic partner to business. We developed methods and frameworks that could be incorporated into corporate cultures. And we successfully offered design as a tool that could improve business outcomes. The result was that our work was used by and influenced millions, sometimes even billions, of people. Did we, along the way, stop asking if what we were doing was right?
Did we do something wrong?
I don’t entirely agree with all contained in this quote, it’s all too easy to label large organizations like corporations and governments in an evil abstraction, but much of the essay rings pretty true to me.
A recent day in Hong Kong
I spent most of the day yesterday recovering from Tuesday trip to Hong Kong – it was a day of coffee and books. I hadn’t slept much the night before my trip and spent all my time in Hong Kong tramping the streets.
After 19 years of living in Taiwan it’s hard to believe that I still have to do visa runs. Since my Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) expired while I was in China this year I haven’t had the time or now the necessity to go through the process, especially since I have been told that the Hong Kong TECO doesn’t do fast tracking of VISA applications anymore. As long as I don’t make a trip to the hospital I should be fine with my current status as interloper.
Of course this is all my own doing. Many long term foreign residents here apply for what is called an APRC, which if you qualify, allows for open work rights. Many are excited about the reduction in friction when its comes to changing jobs, and the elimination of yearly or bi-yearly ARC applications, but I never really saw much in the way of other advantages. Since my wife has only had 2 different jobs over the past 19 years, she didn’t see much benefit to going through what was once a lengthy time consuming process either. Even with an APRC you still face at the very least hassles in acquiring basic services here, like phone, credit cards, and etc.
My time in Hong Kong was spent walking from one side of the island to the other – visiting a couple coffee shops and a number of running pro shops along the way. Hong Kong, like Taipei, has all these interesting narrow alleys where you can discover all kind of interesting slices of city life. There is an advantage to the density of a place like this – you can fit in so much visual information and experience with little physical effort. Try to gain the same experience in Canada and you would be exhausted from the distance traversed.
I have been to Hong Kong many many times. I used to ensure that I visited western food establishments, as Hsinchu of the past didn’t have much in the way of quality food from abroad. That isn’t the case now, and though Hsinchu can’t compete with Hong Kong on selection, its good enough for my tastes. Especially coffee, as Hsinchu has some of the best roasters I have seen anywhere.
One of the many changes I have noticed with Hong Kong can be found in the city’s drug stores, which admittedly is very important. Coming from Canada where the toothpaste aisle overwhelms you with a 100 different types of toothpaste, Taiwans drugstore selection always seemed very limited (lack of choice does reduce anxiety). Things like deodorant, toothpaste, and other products that help keep a man clean and smell free are still lacking in selection. Hong Kong used to be a place I might stock up on these items, but all the shops I visited are now “China-fied” with an over abundance of Chinese medicine, heat rubs and cheap vitamins. I guess the Chinese tourist dollar has spoken.
I always make the same mistake when visiting a place. I try to cover too much ground within a short space of time. I try to experience as much as I can in the little bit of time I have. The result is usually exhaustion. I think for my next trip I’ll simply pick a location to sit, drink coffee, watch the locals and maybe be little bored. That I think might be a great luxury.
The Cupping Room
The more I drink coffee elsewhere, the more I appreciate the coffee we have in Hsinchu. 18 years ago it was difficult to find a coffee shop let alone good coffee and now each time I am away I miss the quality we find here. What a change time has brought to this city.
… courage was more important than confidence. When you are operating out of courage, you are saying that no matter how you feel about yourself or your opportunities or the outcome, you are going to take a risk and take a step toward what you want. You are not waiting for the confidence to mysteriously arrive.
An interview with Debbie Millman in Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World
- Were all pros already.
- We show up every day
- We show up no matter what
- We stay on the job all day
- We are committed over the long haul
- The stakes for us are high and real
- We accept remuneration for our labor
- We do not overidentify with our jobs
- We master the technique of our jobs
- We have a sense of humor about our jobs
- We receive praise or blame in the real world
From the book The War of Art.
Kids and mobiles
To design for experience, we must know what an experience is and how it comes to be. Designers need to understand how interpretation takes place when people interact with products. How do people make sense and meaning of the world? How is the intent of a person shaped by an interaction, and how does the subjective interpretation of the interaction become an experience?
From my notes.
Gaining feedback on software
Early last week we had a session at a local classroom modeling future experiences and testing prototypes for software for iOS that we are working on.
The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding. … the doing is the reward.
What I have been up to
I have been back in Hsinchu since July, staying under the radar, as I often do, but have been asked on a number of occasions what I have been doing to keep myself busy. As is also often the case my responses have gone off in all kinds of directions – my conversations are still often like hypertext and it takes effort to focus.
Though it was only official in September, I left NetDragon at the end of June, immediately packed my bags, and got out of Fujian as fast as Cathay would take me. Which as it turned out wasn’t that fast, as I had a layover in Hong Kong. I had been thinking about writing about the experience but I have decided that there is little point in sharing much of the details. If we think of companies as products, like Apple reportedly does, NetDragon ticked all the boxes, the feature list was long, but like so many tech. products the actual experience was poor. Poor to the point that I wasn’t going to achieve what I set out to do. There are some good people there and I worked on some interesting things, but over the long term it just wasn’t worth being away from my family. As I get older I have less patience for wasting my time, our greatest commodity.
Now, I am taking a risk by spending time on pursuing something different. I would like to say that it’s all puppies and pizza but it isn’t. It’s hard, frustrating, and very often boring. Through a combination of books, online courseware, and tutorials I have been spending my days learning programming with Swift. I’ve taken programming classes in the past, worked on apps. in Xcode, and did a lot web development, but with the exception of mark-up languages I was at best a hack. A cut’n’paster. So I am giving myself 4 – 6 months to see how far I can advance with my studies. To be honest I am not making great progress, boring tasks plant the seeds of procrastination, but I’m not ready to quit yet.
Lastly, I started with Sheryl a new company. It’s called Smart Bean, and I see it is as a new kind of family business, with everyone involved in it’s success. It’s akin to stalls at the farmers market, a breakfast shop in Hsinchu, or what younger, more hip people than myself, call a side hustle. When I was a musician we called it surviving. Though it’s my main focus in the months to come we don’t have grand ambitions like so many start-ups you read about in tech blogs. We just want to work hard at something that’s fun to do and hopefully be rewarded with experience and enough business success to smooth out the rough spots as we transition away from Taiwan. Our company has an educational product focus with Apple’s iOS being our platform of choice, for now. The iOS app business feels like the “Pro Blog” trend of past and we are going in realizing that it’s very difficult for a small independent developer to make money. I think it’s fun to be working on the whole product development stack, not just writing reports or managing the work of others.
Other than that, it’s great to see my kids everyday again. I spent the better part of a year in China and Canada, and visits were sparse. I’ve had to lay off running for a while but I’ve been training and hope to be running again ASAP. Now that the heat has gone, Hsinchu is a pretty decent place to be right now.
We participated in the chocolate run 5K yesterday that was held in Zhubei. I think we were envisioning a repeat of a similar event in Taoyuan a few years ago, which was great fun for the kids (chocolate donuts at the aid stations) but unfortunately this race was poorly organized and poorly attended. Holding events is hard but for the most part, with the exception of some rough spots, most races in Taiwan are well done. Being as this was a branding opportunity for the sponsoring company, it must have been perceived as a disaster – there weren’t even many representatives from the company helping to run this slipshod event.
Complaints aside it was a fun run and the weather cooperated with cool temperatures and no rain. And what other time can you have chocolate ice cream for breakfast?
I ran with Sheryl for the first 3 and a half, then ran through a red light (they weren’t holding traffic) and ran at race pace for the last 2. It felt fine but for some stiffness in leg leg, likely my IB band. Unfortunately, my plantar fasciitis hasn’t disappeared despite 3 months of relative rest and daily training. I now doubt whether I’ll return to marathon training at the start of December.
Telling your story
This bad habit keeps coming back to bite me. I’ve realized for years and lamented on more than one occasion my lack of good documentation, that I can use for myself, of the work I have done on projects (not to be confused with my project deliverables which are fine). Recording the process, the problems, results, success, disasters, and hopefully some nice attractive imagery goes a long way to communicating to others what you do or have done. I’ve worked with people who are absolute masters of this, I am not.
This is especially essential when most of our deliverables don’t necessarily result in immediate results that can be easily communicated via screenshots. Industrial designers and graphic designers have it easier. I am exaggerating, but show people a beautiful render or a lovely poster and they are sold. An excel file and their eyes gloss over. Righty so, as I too hate excel.
What makes it worse, is most of the work I have been involved with over the years does not even exist anymore, or has changed beyond recognition.
Story telling is more important than ever and it’s a skill I must spend more time honing.
Modelling children educational activities
We had a short session this week to model an analog game to see if children respond enough to make it work as a digital experience. A bit like paper prototyping but with popsicle sticks. Teachers are a wealth of knowledge in this domain – they are often tasked to creatively come up with short fun activities without anything more than the basic items they have in their classrooms or homes.
On the art of flipping it…
Towards the end of my 30s, I learned to accept that things sometimes don’t work out and that life throws curveballs. One thing that I always say at work, and that my team has adopted, is when something comes our way that is seemingly a problem, or is really not good, I just say, ‘Let’s flip it, let’s flip it.’
So you say, ‘Okay, this sucks. This is absolutely not what I anticipated. It’s absolutely not what I want, but I’m going to flip it on its head and make it good.’
I feel that is something that I’m also teaching my children because you can really do that. You can either start complaining and feeling sorry for yourself or you can channel all of that frustration into how can we look at this from a different angle and make it to something good.
Seriously. It starts with really small things but it is such a powerful tool to remind yourself to flip it.
This year has certainly thrown me some curve balls, but it’s important to see opportunity in the midst of big problems.
Under the auspices of Time Well Spent, Harris is leading a movement to change the fundamentals of software design. He is rallying product designers to adopt a “Hippocratic oath” for software that, he explains, would check the practice of “exposing people’s psychological vulnerabilities” and restore “agency” to users. “There needs to be new ratings, new criteria, new design standards, new certification standards,” he says. “There is a way to design based not on addiction.”
While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.
The Binge Breaker