“User” is a catchall and ultimately a mean-nothing word. It reflects
a technology-centric, rather than a people-centric, view of the Web.
To call someone a user is largely meaningless…The phrase “user-friendly” should never have had to be invented. It implies that technology is inherently hostile and that a new discipline — usability — had to be invented to make it friendlier. After all, we don’t refer to cars as “driver-friendly.” We don’t refer to bicycles as “cyclist-friendly.”
We don’t refer to chairs as “bum-friendly.”
Gerry McGovern, gerrymcgovern.com

Lunch and learn

I’m hosting a “lunch and learn” this Thursday at the StartUp Zone. This is the first talk I’ve held in Canada, and I think the first time I’ve given a presentation in front of an English as a first language audience.

Design talks are generally poorly attended in Charlottetown, so this is a low key trial run, a “user test”, to see if abstract topics like this are of any interest to the StartUp Zone community.

As such I am only looking for a handful of people to attend, 6 – 8 being ideal, which sadly is usually the number of people who attend the design meetups I have been to. At the end of the talk I’ll ask for some open ended feedback and the participants will be compensated with lunch.

The talk description:

Experience is the new Product.

Goods and services are no longer enough. In a world saturated with largely undifferentiated goods and services, the greatest opportunity for value creation is in the staging of experiences.

This in-house Lunch & Learn is a condensed version of a workshop that I have given over the past 15 years. We will take a deep dive into having a more fundamental understanding of experience, impress the need to be sensitive to time (time is the currency of experience), and introduce a simple method for analyzing experiences in the hope that it can influence future and current product development, and deepen understanding of experience itself.

That first paragraph is a direct grab from one of Joseph Pines books, which along with Nathan Shedroff, Don Norman, and many more, form the basis of the ideas contained within.

The last time I gave this talk it lasted almost 3 hours, so I have thus far deleted about 2 thirds of the slides – mostly bits about emotional design, mental models and such – topics which I assume few really want to talk about.

There is a good chance it will bomb, but I’m enjoying spending the day revisiting an old topic and seeing it through older myopic eyes.

Why walking helps us think

What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

Any work that requires a problem solved or a touch of creativity is more often than not solved when I am on my feet. At one job, I used to slyly punch the clock, or in this case give a thumb print, and then go for a long one hour run where I would solve (or attempt to) the problems of the day. I tried to involve colleagues in this habit, under the guise of coming up with new product ideas, but for some reason running 10k first thing in the morning was not attractive to many. At another company, since were in the R&D department we had the luxury of a late start to our work day (9AM). This meant that I had a few hours to be mired in all kinds of problems, and the lunch hour to repeatedly walk around the block trying to solve them.

Sitting at a desk typing at a computer for an extended length of time is like death to me. It’s a place for production, more than anything else.

Why walking helps us think

Just make

From a book called Art and Fear, but I’m sure I have read it quoted in a number of other books and articles:

The ceramics teacher announced he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would begraded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right graded solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

This story, for better or worse, encapsulates my approach to many different things. Making something (a prototype, a MVP, or a “1st version”) creates the opportunity for learning that sitting around a table debating does not. It won’t be perfect but it will teach you something and give you an artefact which you can use when you continue talking to users. You’ll also get some feedback, some insight on how building your product can be better and you’ll do a better job the second, third, and forth (etc.) time around.

Making is far more fun than planning.

Monster mash

I’m sure these came to me from weChat or Line, or perhaps something I saw at Eslite book store, but this is how I spent my morning today – at least that period sandwiched between getting the kids out the door and preparing for a noon time meeting. I created many others but I’m most partial to the color of these.

I think it’s always wise to take a break from the monotony of whatever you do, and create something new; especially if that something new utilizes a nascent skill. At the very least it’s more enjoyable way to procrastinate, than say cleaning the house.

Enabling Empathy

Through her talk, Indi Young explains how we must ask and listen more as a means to get past our assumptions. Absorbing eclectic ideas, understanding varied work patterns and incorporating different ways of thinking will help broader ideas sprout. She categorizes Empathy into Emotional and Cognitive Empathy, giving us examples of both.

I’m hoping to take Indi’s advanced training series but thus far the ~$800US cost is prohibitive; at least in the context that the skills may not be directly applicable to what I will do in this part of the world.

A blog is like exhaling

A somewhat meta discussion about blogs, back in 2006, which feels like a long time ago:

One of the most delicious things about the profoundly parasitical world of blogs is that you don’t have to have anything much to say. Or you just have to have a little tiny thing to say. You just might want to say hello. I’m here. And by the way. On the other hand. Nevertheless. Did you see this? Whatever. A blog is sort of like an exhale. What you hope is that whatever you’re saying is true for about as long as you’re saying it. Even if it’s not much.

I often don’t have much to say, or lack the ability to state what I would like to say, which might partially explain why I have kept this project alive for over 20 years; blogs exist for people like me.