Hearing but not listening

In moments of exasperation I’ll say to my daughter, you hear me but you are not listening. The meaning is clear, while I may have her attention she is not truly absorbing what I am saying.

I am an old uncool man in his 50’s and as such though there is a great deal of trust between us, my message gets lost in a sea of other more interesting messages that enter the teenage brain. Why try my advice, which may involve discomfort, when the lure of immediate satisfaction beckons.

People in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but few have acquired the necessary skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening. Perhaps in part because what you learn might not agree with what you want to hear.

How many conversations have I had with entrepreneurs that included: it’s a great idea, but the scope poses challenges in execution. Before investing equity you should really iterate on who your customer is and their problems and needs, by actually talking to them in a structured fashion.

If given time I might continue and explain yet again that I see 2 ways of creating a product: you can 1) go out and talk to people and understand their needs, pain points, or 2) invent a product and figure out a way to manufacture a need (marketing). Do you have enough runway to last long enough to pay for sales and marketing until you can create this need? Is this money well spent?

Usually this talk is followed by smiles and nods of agreement. Then they go right back to what they were doing.

Because if you actually talk to customers about your “world changing Facebook should really buy this” product, you may find out that it only solves a problem for you and no one else. Which is uncomfortable (but is also an opportunity).

I’m not a good teacher, leader or advisor, so this could be an issue with my delivery. But I think more likely is the fact that truly listening uncovers new knowledge that may lead to actions involving discomfort. It’s easier to keep your listening skills undeveloped so that you can hear what you want to hear.

The global pandemic might change how we interact with daily objects

By Tiouraren (Y.-C. Tsai) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82148132

Peter posed an interesting question: “What are the right Pedestrian Call Buttons for the Pandemic?” I thought of writing a comment along the lines of, there is nothing more cost effective than getting into the habit of washing your hands. But in the context of his blog I think it comes across as flippant, and I can be as flippant as I want here.

Giving it further thought, most high traffic areas in cities in Asia have a certain amount of automation – doors, traffic lights, and lighting itself often work on a no contact required principle. So no change in affordances are required, unlike in our building where I open the doors with the sleeves of my shirt.

In Affordances of the post-COVID-19 era Can Aslan briefly discusses how we might see changes in design often used public objects, including a concept by Dutch designer Thor ter Kulve who hacked a traffic light button by placing a lever on top of it which can be pushed by knee, elbow, or hip.

As every person is a potential virus carrier and each publicly used object is potentially contaminated, how we perceive and interact with these objects have been dramatically changed. Thus, the core concepts of product design might be subject to change as well.

One of these concepts is affordance, which was popularized by Don Norman, a researcher, professor, and author. In his book The Design of Everyday Things, he defines affordance as “a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent that determine just how the object could possibly be used”. In other words, affordances determine what actions are possible when interacting with an object.

Affordances of the post-COVID-19 era

The image above is of Xiaolüren or little traffic light man, which provides a delightful representation of when you can walk and how much time you have left. The character walks faster, and then runs, depending on the time.

See also: Taiwan’s Traffic Lights Just Got a Romantic Redesign for Valentine’s Day

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.

Somehow, we must find again our sense of individual values, lost in this century of enormous technological advance. This very freedom that mechanical aids are giving us has welded us into unmanageable megalopolises, where people are anonymous numbers and where communication with our fellow man seems a minus quantity. We must restore the warmth and spirit we had in the smaller community. I hope that in our leisure time we will once again know our neighbor — and, if everyone knows his neighbor and learns to live with him, the entire world will be at peace.
Henry Dreyfuss, Designing for People [Dreyfuss 1955, p. 261]

Disciplines of Product Design

I’m taking a break from the monotony of the work I am doing this week to take a short course on Product Design with May Kim. Below is her definitions of each discipline contained within product design, a common first step in introductory courses. As time goes on these type of labels have less meaning and in some ways too restrictive – but people like identifying themselves in a certain way and organisations like formal roles.

User Research: User research places people at the center of your design process and your products. It is used to inspire and inform your designs, to evaluate your solutions, and to measure the impact of your design.

User Experience (UX) Design: User experience design, or UX design, is a human-first way of designing products, putting the user at the center and creating products that provide meaningful and personally relevant experiences to users. This involves improving a product’s usability, accessibility, and the pleasure people will get from using it.

User Interface (UI) Design: User interface design, or UI design, is about translating a brand to a product’s interface, visually guiding the user with interactive elements across all sizes and platforms. This includes a mix of visual hierarchy and interface elements — the look and feel, the presentation, and the interactivity of a product.

Visual Design: Visual design is about creating and making the general aesthetics of a product consistent and it aims to shape and improve the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, color, shapes, typography, space, and layouts on the usability of products and their aesthetic appeal.

Interaction (IxD) Design: Interaction design, or IxD, is concerned with the way people interact with products and services. It considers how the user is interacting with the product, how the product responds to the user’s input.
May Kim

Further Reading:

User Research: What it is and why you should do it, by Ditte Mortenson
A Process for Empathetic Product Design, by Jon Kolko
User Experience (UX) Design
The Definition of User Experience (UX), by Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen
The Difference between UX and UI Design – a Layman’s Guide, by Emil Lamprecht
The Building Blocks of Visual Design, by Teo Siang
Visual Design
Interaction Design
What is Product Design?, by Geoff House

Product Design: A PBS Off Book Documentary

… the world of product design, from its aesthetic and pizzaz to its ethic and values, featuring fuseproject’s Yves Behar, Peter Schmitt of MIT’s Personal Robotics Group, and Dr. Harvey Moscot of Mocost Eyewear. Though limited in both scope and “cast,” the film squeezes an impressive amount in its measly 6 minutes and offers a welcome prompt to think a little more deeply about the myriad products with which we interact daily.

Via Maria Popova.

Designing Products Your Customers’ Customers Will Love

From Stanford’s 2004 ‘Entrepreneurial Thought Leader Speaker Series’.

The Hiptop founders designed the product in the way that was the most appealing to them. They had strong convictions about what the product should look like and the things it should do, which were not necessarily the same ideas the carriers had. However, the innovative design won them over.

An Ive for Design

Businessweek retrospective on Jonathan Ives.

The man who, after Jobs, is most responsible for Apple’s amazing ability to dazzle and delight with its famous products, chose instead to talk about process — what he called “the craft of design.” He spoke passionately about his small team and how they work together. He talked about focusing on only what is important and limiting the number of projects. He spoke about having a deep understanding of how a product is made: its materials, its tooling, its purpose. Mostly, he focused on the need to care deeply about the work.

Read: Who Is Jonathan Ive?

Ross Lovegrove Presentation via TEDTalks

From the TEDBlog: “Ross Lovegrove is an industrial designer, best known for his work on the Sony Walkman and Apple iMac. In this highly visual presentation, he presents his recent work — from furniture to water bottles — which is organic in form and inspired by nature. (Recorded February 2005 in Monterey, CA. Duration: 20:14)”

Interview with Kim Jin

Kim Jin is the chief of LG Electronics’ mobile phone design lab.
“”Designers must see many things, and must experience many things to raise their sense appreciation. It doesn’t need much money. You just have to do the town-watching […] I urge young designers to go out to the chic streets of Hongdae or Chongdam-dong. Each time they go, they can see differences in the shops and in the people even from a month before. Designers need to catch such subtle differences.
Modernity, simplicity and minimalism were popular trends before. But these days, you may notice more irregular, and more natural shapes of designs on the street, for example, in buildings. That is the way we are heading. In the end, we are going to have more emotional designs.”
The Korea Times : LG’s Top Phone Designer Says Tactile Is Future

Interview with the designer of Lumix SLR camera

“Ever since the LC5, my aim has been to design a camera that, to put it simply, ‘looks like a camera.’ For example, if you hand someone a pencil and paper and ask them to draw a picture of a camera, most people will probably draw a camera with a square body and a round lens. This is exactly what we adopted as our ideal. More than anything else our goal was to create a design that would reflect the image that an ordinary person has when he thinks of a camera, what you might call an archetypical camera.”
Interview Link.
Found via 37 signals.

Grobag® Egg™ Room Thermometer

“The colour of the ‘egg’ changes to let you if the room temperature is too low, too high or just right, helping you maintain a safe sleeping environment for your baby. No need to put the light on to read a traditional thermometer!”
An interesting and rather useful ambient interface implementation. What are ambient interfaces? Tom Gross at Fraunhofer gives a good definition based on the work of Gross, Weiser and Brown:
“Ambient interfaces use the whole environment of the user for the interaction between the user and the system. They present digital information through subtle changes in the user’s physical environment such as variations of light, sounds, or movements. They capture natural interactions of the user with physical devices such as switches, buttons, or wheels and translate them into digital commands (Gross, 2002; Wisneski et al., 1998). Ambient interfaces go beyond the classical graphical user interface and do not consume real estate on the computer screen; they make user interaction with the system easier and more intuitive. Their properties of a calm technology (Weiser & Brown, 1996) are particular useful for situations, in which users want and need permanent background information without being disrupted in their foreground tasks.”
Despite just being a working proof of concept, the ambient interface we created called “Girls Ambient Room” has proven to be pretty popular despite little or know marketing on our part. I wonder how we will deal with all these new bits of information entering our environment. Instead of dealing with understanding the complexity of a screen based GUI will be now have to start learning how to read our environment? Hopefully we won’t have to learn to deal with more information but better information. Thinkingliving – egg thermometer.
Via Popgadget.

Differentiation is Key to Success

“The introduction of the ultra-slim Motorola V3 clamshell mobile phone has helped Motorola sharpen its brand recognition, and the product is among the top-10 models in all the major handset markets, including China. Jim Wicks, vice president and director of the Consumer Experience Design group at Motorola, outlined Motorola’s latest design concepts during a recent interview with DigiTimes.”
Differentiation is key to success: Q&A with Motorola design director Jim Wicks

Conversation Notes on User Experience Design

The context of the following mishmash of ideas was from a planned conversation in last nights design class. The talk was to serve as a sort of recap of some of the things we had been talking about.
“User experience simply refers to the way a product behaves and is used …. A positive user experience is one in which the goals of both the user and the organization that created the product are met. ” – Garrett
Designing user experiences – websites, software UI – replaces human to human interaction and bring whole new kinds of interaction not before possible.
People bring with them a lifetime of experience as to how they want to interact with your product. Your interface should fit their model of how they will interact with your product – you should not deviate from this drastically but gradually, if at all …
This should seem blatantly obvious, people should form the center of any design to be used by people … you need to strike a balance.
If we are paying attention we will notice patterns in our products that produce successful experiences … and we can notice and replicate these and other patterns … are we paying attention to the successful experiences we have in our everyday life.
There are challenges:
… challenges in how people perceive “spaces in their mind” … IA is more about peoples perception than machine readable categories (though they do need to be machine readable)
… visual design is perceived differently by different people … color, form, type, all may mean different things to different people. This is especially true across cultures.
How do we understand our customers?
Some companies obviously employ very deep research programs and there is allot of science involved.
But you and I are thinking small … were not Motorola or Coke …
It’s entirely possible if you employ a small team of very experienced designers to just jump right in. To rely on their experience to create good usable products. User research still needs to happen but we need to be quick .. agile.
Start from the middle and don’t get bogged down with process. Produce something and if you are small and fast enough you can react … react to the knowledge you learn from your future end users. Allot of development today allows for this nimbleness, though you may not see it in many companies today as they are still heavily vested in the large enterprise system mentality.
Otherwise it’s wise to not only start testing early but involve your users from the very beginning. You can do this at first in the most simple way possible … talking to your target. Getting to know them, their needs, their environment. Humanize your strategy by referring to real people every time you talk about your site or product …
Tools and techniques of basic user research.

Technology as an Enabler to Experience

During one of my last design classes (they are more me having a one sided conversation) I tried to reinforce the idea of technology as an enabler to customers/users/peoples goals, objectives, and desired experience. So often technology drives the experience irrespective of what people actually want in a product. A company launches a new internal email system not based on what people want or can use but on what features the particular vendor is selling. This leads to allot of internal dissatisfaction which is often expressed either through frustration or simply lost productivity.
It is a very common approach in Taiwan and one which is very hard to break free from. Companies need to make money and selling a system based on a feature set is much easier than more qualitative measurements. I don’t necessarily have the answers but Taiwan being the copy and remix culture that it is, I bet if someone created a successful product following a customer centered approach (in practice not in theory) than others would copy.
Some large companies who make physical devices are doing this but it has yet to filter down to smaller and medium sized enterprises.
Tonight I will quickly introduce an interview with Jim Wicks, the Vice President and Director of Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design, as he has some great ideas on the subject. I find Taiwan students and business managers always tend to appreciate the advice of an outside expert, so perhaps his voice will add some credence to the idea.
Weaving Design into Motorola’s Fabric
Jim Wicks
“We are a technology leader. However, a big change in mobile devices has been to move from being technology-driven to being technology-enabled. This means things are driven by consumers’ needs, wants, and desires. Consumers don’t say, “Hey, I want a (blank).” They don’t talk about technology in terms of what they want to do. They talk about what their objective is or what their desired experience is.”
“The product is the brand. You build brand in our industry through the product and the experience. Those manifestations are tangible evidence of that change. It shapes what people internally and externally think about the company.”
“However, you could also create a product that succeeds by accident and not realize it. You could make a mistake by not building on a successful product or not being able to repeat a success. There’s a lot of things that can happen that show a product doesn’t really change the culture of a company or change the company. But a product can really bring a lot to the table to enable other things to happen that really do mean the company is changing.”
Find the patterns of your successful experience and iterate.
“The intention isn’t to trump functionality. Our products are highly functional. …
If you look at what most people are doing with their devices and what they say they care about most, you would offer functionality that addresses those primary uses really well. Plus you would create something that ‘meets their style,’ something that they see as an object of personal expression that they feel very good about, proud about, and comfortable with carrying around.
I think of it more as a balancing rather than a trumping of functionality.”
“It’s like when someone says, “Are you going to invest in design or usability?” I’m respond with, “Well, that’s the same thing.” Design is always about synthesis–synthesis of market needs, technology trends, and business needs.”
The full interview is available the Institute of Design | Strategy Conference website.

Is It Real?

After decades of being surrounded by synthetic, mass produced, generic products, consumers are yearning for the authentic: For the tactile sensation of genuine materials, for the %u201Creal thing.%u201D For goods that make an emotional connection with the artisan who crafted them. This yearning is evident in both marketing and product design, where perceptions of quality are strongly associated with the presence of authentic materials.
Continue reading Is It Real? The Trend toward the Authentic in Product Design