The books

I’ve modified my page of recommended reading after noticing that the layout was broken, I suspect due to javascript, but it could have been some mistake on my part. Anyway, the grid masonry foolishness is gone and has been replaced with other foolishness. There is still some work to do with the assets but it will need to wait until my next period of task avoidance; which come as soon as tomorrow.

What this short experience has taught me is that I should either make a concerted effort to re-learn/learn development for the web or rely on a platform that delivers webpages not filled with massive amounts of cruft. Or I suppose I could just settle for the stasis quo. I suspect I will somehow find the time before Christmas to learn once again how to write clean simple mark-up for the web.

Looking at the list of books I also realized just how much my reading habits have changed over the years. My copies of “the polar bear book” and Interface Culture are worn out, but as time as passed I’ve moved more and more from deep slow reading, to referencing and skimming. This can’t be a good thing, but in my defence, some of those books, though important, are really really boring. Anyone who has made it through, cover to cover, the book “Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things” deserves some kind of a prize.

To change the mindset of your stakeholders from being naysayers to being advocates for user research, you must help them understand how research can add value to their product and that learnings from user research are an indispensable asset to a product team.

If I had this skill when I was freelancing full-time, I might not have watched as that period of my career floundered out of my own boredom. Without the clients to support UX methods of some sort, the problems and solutions all started to seem the same. But it was a hard sell then (and my business development skills were exceptionally poor) – anything that wasn’t writing code or creating concrete deliverables was deemed un-billable.

UX Research Is Essential to Product Success


This of all the photos I have taken of Catriona these now 15 years wouldn’t rank anywhere near the most “share-worthy”. Taken inside the environment we built to house my tangible interface exhibition, the work in which she inspired by her love of making music, with all manner of objects found around our home. She, and Camren, have continued to inspire me and send us in all kinds of directions that we would never have had the joy of exploring if we hadn’t had them. She’s 15 today, and adamant to follow her own path, which is exactly as it should be.

Work the algorithms

Emphasis mine

When has the CBC become like Buzzfeed and other purveyors of clickbait journalism? In what would otherwise sound like a great opportunity for anyone with writing and social ability, the CBC seems to illustrate it’s determination to join the ranks of Buzzfeed, Huffpost, Dailymail, et al. Why not just be open in their requirements – Write click worthy headlines to drive traffic to our website and A/B test outlandish copy to see which performs best. I expect more from a public funded organization such as this.

Social Editor/Presenter (English Services) – CHA00070

Jordan Peterson as bedtime author

In some political circles admitting that I read from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life for my son’s bedtime story would constitute a form of child abuse. But thats exactly what I did these past nights, delving right into how we are related to lobsters and tying in our usual talks about zombies (which seems to weave in well with Peterson’s storylines). The whole lobsters brains exploding is perfect stuff for young boys.

Though perhaps beyond the age of having a bedtime story my son always loved listening to my wife read to him in English, a great contrast to his daily use of Chinese, and wonderful mom and son time. They have continued this night time tradition despite being 13 hrs apart, but sometimes the stars don’t align, and we can’t find the time to connect via FaceTime. So I have been filling in.

I’ve seen Jordan Peterson called all manner of vile terms, often from people who prove they are unfamiliar with anything he has written beyond the occasional soundbite. Personally I’ve found him to be a skilled debater and I can find a number of things he has said or written that make particular sense to me. I’ve long hoped that someone far more intelligent than I would debunk him on facts, not ideology, but I haven’t had the privilege of witnessing it. I do find his writing a weird mixture of his interpretation of research, oversimplifications, weak attempts at humour, and conjecture as statement of fact.

I like exposing myself to all kinds of ideas (I like Jocko Willik too), especially from those who are so different from myself, or have ideas I might not readily agree. I would hope my children might do the same, and would study with an open mind the works of a wide range of thought leaders, forming their own opinions. Which is one of the reasons we head to church on Sundays, where they revel in the glow of liberal Canadian ideals, wrapped in a conservative establishment.

After I read chapter 1 of Jordan Peterson’s book, I wanted to discuss the lobsters, wrens, and the more complicated stories within, and what it all might possibly mean. But my son had already fallen asleep which might just make Jordan the best bedtime storyteller ever.

Design for the ears to provide information, to communicate and to experience.

I haven’t finished absorbing all that is contained in the article but it’s really worth digging into if you have any interest in the UX of sound. Sharing this also gives me a chance to complain about the poor sound UX (is that a term?) of Walmart in Charlottetown’s credit/debit card terminals. That extra beep drives me crazy as it infers an error.

As we move into an artificially intelligent world whose logics of operation often exceed our own understanding, perhaps we should linger a bit longer on those blips and clicks. Compressed within the beep is a whole symphony of historical resonances, socio-technical rhythms, political timbres, and cultural harmonies. Rather than simply signaling completion, marking a job done right, a beep instead intones the complex nature of our relationships to technology — and the material world more generally.

Things that Beep: A Brief History of Product Sound Design

One reason not to choose Public Mobile

I gave both my kids accounts with Public Mobile when they arrived in PEI for a combination of reasons: the price came slightly under any family plan offered by other providers, they supported their older iPhones, and I saw the lack of interaction with store personnel as a big positive. The fact that their website, with it’s wireframe aesthetic, seemed more task focused as compared to the others Campbell alphabet soup approach, worked in their favour too.

But, my son hasn’t had any data in what would appear to be over a month. We utilize all the features of the iOS platform, including the blue bubbles of iMessage, location sharing and etc. When these features never worked for him I figured he had just turned something off, and I didn’t have time to investigate further. It nows seems this is something with Public Mobile.

I’ve never had a network problem, at least in the past 10 years, that a simple restart wouldn’t fix. The problem seems a bit deeper this time and after spending 40 minutes on the community website looking for answers, the required course of action, I am left with the same unresolved problem.

This “You’re the boss when it comes to your account” philosophy sounds nice if the service works as advertised, but if you loathe troubleshooting mundane problems such as this, or don’t have time to waste it might be worth investigating someone else.

The index card was a product of the Enlightenment, conceived by one of its towering figures: Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, physician, and the father of modern taxonomy. But like all information systems, the index card had unexpected political implications, too: It helped set the stage for categorizing people, and for the prejudice and violence that comes along with such classification.

How the Index Card Cataloged the World

Whereby I torture my son into recording a video

We spent some time on the North Shore on Sunday and it was surprisingly pleasant. It’s a surprise as I hadn’t considered a beach visit during any time other than the summer. It’s a bit like beaches cease to exist once the cold comes – except in Thailand of course, where the beaches become more enjoyable and exist all year round.

My son’s interest in becoming a Youtube star has waned, he blames the fact that we don’t have our old iMac here, but I suspect it’s just part of his changing interests

Card sorting

Before going to China I expanded my collection of books to include all kinds of less generalised design topics – just in caseCard Sorting by Donna Spencer was one of them. Living without instant Google search results resulted in all kinds of changes to how I worked and remembered. No need to remember I’ll just Google it later. Kudos to the local Chinese designers who grew up with the resources linked to by Baidu – it’s a desert of quality info there.

I haven’t done a proper card sort in many years, but at the time it was one of my favorite methods. For the audience I was working with it was a respite from the monotony of their work and a somewhat fun activity (people love holding or working with things in their hands). It was also much more approachable than other methods at the time.

In order to procrastinate from doing tasks that I don’t want to start I decided to read a couple chapters to refresh my lizard brain. This opening piece could have been written by myself, as it is in part my justification for not just using card sorting at the time, but what piqued my interest in user/customer centered in the first place.

How did I find my way to card sorting?

I was designing the information architecture for a large government website. The navigation categories had evolved over time and weren’t labeled clearly, so people had a lot of trouble finding even basic information. I now recognize this as a common problem, but at the time I just felt overwhelmed. The fact that this was a government site, and so contained essential information, added pressure—if potential users couldn’t find the information they needed, it would be my fault.

I had been tasked with reorganizing and relabeling the main groups of content on the home page and second-level pages. I had some ideas for how the content could be organized, based mainly on my own intuition. But how could I be sure that the categories that made sense to me would also make sense to someone else? What’s more, the team I was working with had been developing the website from the beginning. They weren’t about to restructure it just because the new kid thought something made sense—they wanted “evidence” that my intuitions were correct. Whatever I came up with, I’d have to be able to back it up.
Donna Spencer

By way of a definition …

Card sorting is one of a family of user research techniques designed to give you insight into how people think. Card sorting is best understood not as a collaborative method for creating navigation, but rather as a tool that helps us understand the people we are designing for.

Card Sorting by Donna Spencer

Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame. Pain is an inextricable thread in the fabric of life, and to tear it out is not only impossible, but destructive: attempting to tear it out unravels everything else with it. To try to avoid pain is to give too many fucks about pain. In contrast, if you’re able to not give a fuck about the pain, you become unstoppable.
Mark Manson

Spelling will come in time

I think it was my son who tried to fill out “Choir” on our fridge whiteboard. The latin alphabet and their connections to phonic sounds is still taking root, but I’m certain he will be speaking and writing like a local in no time flat.

For kids, putting these events on a physical representation of a schedule, and at eye level, seems to serve as a better reminder of the weeks activities than my preferred method of putting it all in a shared Cal. I’m debating whether to teach them how to manage their time using digital or analog tools; daytimer or iCal/reminders/etc. I’m leaning to the analog.

My Current Problem

While money is nice, caring about what you do with your life is better, because true wealth is about experience.

Naturally life is full of problems; how to convince your kids that money doesn’t grow on trees, how to convince your teenage daughter that yes I know some things about life and people, how to tell a young boy to do something once instead of ten times, how to make money, and perhaps the biggest of all – how to stop needing to sleep.

These are all real problems, but the one I have been thinking about recently, as I bob my way through Charlottetown bumping into people I used to know, and sort of making new acquaintances, is how to distill a lifetime of activity into a conversation, a sentence, a document or a resume (my CV makes me cry every time I look at it). And should I even care.

During a Pitch Camp workshop I attended, Robert (Bob) Williamson in a sideline conversation, provided me with some valuable advice in how to answer the simple, and somewhat annoying question, that I was failing to answer time and time again, “what are you doing here?” His advice wasn’t something new, but served as a reminder to keep responses to one complete sentence and then pause, allowing those truly interested to ask further questions.

But this doesn’t help with the broader problem.

My wife has a similar difficulties, but she’s pretty much had a singular focus all her life – different roles maybe – but easier to relate to. In short: She has taught kids from all over the world in a foreign country, worked with and managed Taiwanese and international colleagues, raised her family in Taiwan, and travelled the world. Pretty awesome.

Some people would say that I don’t care what you have done in the past, only what you can do now. Or 10 years ago is irrelevant, what did you do this past year? I don’t agree, experience has value, it matters.

Relating experience is tricky. My family (had) recognizes outcomes like a new car, a house, shiny useless objects and job titles with understandable nomenclature. A big house means you are either somehow managing a crushing debt load, or you “have made it.” Taking 6 years to be able to negotiate a contract in Chinese doesn’t compute.

My years playing trumpet have had a profound effect on me. Studying Chinese and subsequently using that ability to secure and hold employment changed me immensely. The struggle of living away from home without any support, government or family, shaped my (our) character.

Linear career paths in traditional corporate structures are easier to understand. You start as an intern, maybe get a masters, then your first job at the junior level, followed by no junior title, and then they add senior. If you like telling people what to do you get to manage ever larger amounts of people, then maybe dictate strategy, and by the time you have forgotten how to do the job as well as those with a junior title, you get a “director of,” added to your name.

I deliberately do not have such a complete experience.

My life and professional experience has been a windy road full of challenges, wonderful people and interesting work. As a jack of all trades, and just generally lucky, I’ve been exposed to projects, people, and responsibilities far above my station.

How can you possibly relate 30 years of experience in a LinkedIn profile with the route I have taken?

You can’t. Experts will tell you to contextualize, to build a personal brand, have an online profile, engage on social media, and blah blah blah. I’m not so interested in their advice anymore, I’ve tried those things, and I’ve never really been comfortable taking a loud approach.

In Taiwan it was easier. No one really cared, as it often just seemed about status, so I would share in Chinese that I worked at such and such a company, graduated from such and such a university, and where I lived for the past x number of years and I was done.

So why care at all? There are only so many things we can give a f**k about and devoting any cognitive time to this may be stupid. For years I didn’t bother, no one knew what I was doing and where I had been. Few care to hear about your 15th trip to Thailand anyway. But my kids do and finding a way to share what there mother and father have done with there lives seems like a worthwhile effort. Of course, since I am poor, and need to work, there is that whole are you any use to me thing.

And so it goes.

Reducing the volume of a track in Garageband

Isn’t it amazing how a company can create polar opposite experiences – magic and distress.

At the same time that I was watching the magic of the new Apple watch during the Sept. 12th keynote, I was cursing the time I was spending trying, through trial and error, to reduce the volume of a simple audio track in Garageband.

It should be simple, and since it is Garageband it doubly should be, but it isn’t. The first course of action is always a Google search but nothing I found applies as they have changed the interaction design of the app. so many times over the years people can’t keep track.

Volume control at the master level and track level doesn’t work (it doesn’t appear to function as a real mixer). Gain is for input but it sometimes worked with an already existing track but other times didn’t. When Gain works it’s from a massive change, fine tuning results in no discernible difference.

So after an hour of stubbornly trying to effect change I gave up, downloaded Audacity, and created the effect I needed in 4 minutes.

Later, after a required cooling off period I found the required controls staring at me in the face in the mix menu. Generally, in desktop software you should have 3 ways to perform an action, as an ex: to delete a file on the desktop you can drag it to the trash, select and then go to the file menu and select move to trash, or right click on the file to move to trash. Garageband does not follow this heuristic and for the context I was in, listening to a keynote and doing what should have been a mindless task, brought about frustration.

I’ll be spending more time these coming months editing audio for a podcast and for our app. Perhaps it’s time to venture outside the Apple software ecosystem and try something that offers basic controls that fit my mental model of how audio software should work.

/end complaint

Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit

The above video is from an earlier talk from a year ago and tends to have a slightly different focus than below.

The term Product/Market Fit was coined by Marc Andreesen back in 2007 and it’s been a key goal for any new product or startup ever since. But like any buzzword, it is often oversimplified and misunderstood.

For the next month I am spending as much time as possible addressing #3:

While each company and product is obviously different, this is a framework covering the universal conditions and patterns that have to hold true to achieve product/market fit. Each layer in the pyramid is a key hypothesis that you need to get right in order to build the next layer and ultimately achieve product/market fit.

1. Target Customer – who are we trying to create value for?
2. Underserved Needs – for that target customer, what are their needs?
3. Value Proposition – your hypotheses about which customer needs your product addresses, how the customer benefits from your product, and how you meet their needs better than other products
4. Feature Set – the functionality that conveys those benefits to the customer
5. User Experience – what the customer interacts with in order receive the benefits

Taken together, the first two layers – target customer and underserved needs – are the market. You don’t control the market – you can choose which customers and needs to target but you can’t change those needs. What you do control are the decisions you make at the next three layers in the pyramid – the product.

Mastering the Problem Space for Product/Market Fit by Dan Olsen

The start of an adventure

Last week not only marked the first day of Canadian school for my kids but also the first time they have had the opportunity to ride a school bus. In the days since, all seems to have gone well, with the biggest complications being that the girls that my daughter has met “only seem to only talk about their looks”, and the fact that everyone plays Fortnight and my son doesn’t. I think we can live with challenges like that.