Friday, August 31, 2007

Good: a magazine for design lovers

I was killing time in an airport earlier this week when I picked up a magazine called Good. The cover showed an x-ray image of an AK-47 below the heading "Is there design this good that doesn't kill people? See 29 examples inside." Awesome hook if you love design!

I couldn't buy this magazine fast enough. Articles about the design of products large and small, using design to solve problems, educational approaches to design, green design, lots of illustrations, and a whole lot of other good stuff. Pick up Good if you see it in your local news stand, or go to

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Customer preference for live CSR?

Customers prefer to speak to a real person instead of a speech IVR: we in the speech industry have heard it said a million times, and never with any data to back it up. Now, there's a survey that claims Australians prefer to speak to IVRs than to CSRs in overseas call centers.

Now, the first thing I want to know when I read about a survey is the methodology used, the questions asked, and the see the real data. This CNET article that I linked to doesn't give specifics, and the published report is very expensive, so I can't vouch for the quality of the research. I'm quite sure that the survey respondents were thinking of efficient, well-designed IVRs, since there's almost nothing so aggravating than a malfunctioning IVR. But, if the generalization that a group of English-speaking callers prefer speech IVRs to overseas CSRs, then there exists data that partially refutes the argument that customers always prefer to speak to a live CSR.

Personally, I always take a shot at using self service on the phone, since I never know how long I'll be waiting in queue before talking to a person. Maybe it's just professional curiosity, but I like seeing how different IVRs operate. And if the IVR can't give me what I want, I haven't lost anything. I'm assuming that a lot of people feel the same way, but I don't have any data. The CNET article is a pointer to some real research that should be replicated in the US and elsewhere.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Speech recognition for handhelds

When Google gets into something, it does it in a big way. I've blogged about the well done 800 GOOG 411 speech-driven search service before. It made me wonder what else Google was developing with speech.

Then I saw this article about speech recognition and GPS for handheld devices. The article rightly points out that manual input is difficult to design and implement on small handheld devices, and speech (once you get the recognition working correctly) is a natural candidate for input. Hey, there's no training involved - we already know how to talk into small devices, right?

The article states "Google research director, Peter Norvig, has indicated that Google is currently spending more on speech and translation than any other area." The article goes on to suggest that Google will produce a competitor to the iPhone that incorporates both speech and GPS. This makes sense. Google took a big step away from desktop-based search with GOOG 411. Enabling location-based search on an easy to use handset is a next, very large, logical step. I'm guessing that Google will partner with a company that produces handsets to implement their ideas. It will be interesting to see what they develop.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

NCSU MBA orientation

I'm starting the MBA program at North Carolina State University in the fall. I'm in the part-time program at the RTP campus rather than on the main campus in Raleigh. I and about 75 others just completed our orientation - two and a half days of lectures at Nelson Hall on the main campus.

If you've read my blog, you know that my interests are in design and innovation. The NCSU MBA offers a concentration in Innovation Management. When I was researching MBA programs in the area the description of this program, and what I learned from talking to people in the program, sold itself to me. It's exactly what I was looking for in an MBA. I knew that NCSU also has very good human factors and engineering departments, so I'll be able to collaborate with people in those departments as well.

All of the students in the part-time program work full time at companies and already have significant work experience, so I'll be learning from them as well as the instructors. I must admit, I'm pretty excited about getting back to school and learning this material, and networking with professionals who are at the same place I'm at in my career. This is going to be an interesting tw0 and a half years.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Remarks on The Myths of Innovation

The Myths of Innovation
Scott Berkun

O’Reilly Media, Inc. 2007

This is a short, readable little book about the current state of thinking about the concept of “innovation.” In it, he addresses what he’s identified as the conventional wisdom on innovation from a variety of perspectives: historical, process, outcomes. Some of the myths could be summarized in this way.

  • Popular stories about inventors claim that great ideas, including problem and solution, spring fully formed into the inventor’s head in a moment of “epiphany.” In fact, according to Berkun, this almost never occurs.
  • The published histories of invention usually describe a straight line between idea and realization. The real histories of inventions are often littered with false starts, dead ends, and bad decisions; the published histories tend to leave out the messiness and uncertainty.
  • We’ve all been conditioned to believe that great ideas sell themselves, and we become discouraged if our ideas aren't recognized immediately for their value. In truth, people (customers, clients, investors) usually fear truly innovative ideas.
  • The more impressive the manager’s title, the better their ideas. Managers are managers because they produce, recognize, and properly evaluate innovative ideas.

In short, our understanding of how innovation occurs is wrong, and therefore our ability to judge innovation in the present is faulty. Berkun debunks these myths with an excellent selection of anecdotes and research into the history of innovation to support his thesis.

So how should we judge whether an idea or product is innovative? Judgment is best applied in retrospect, after the idea or product has been accepted or rejected. In the present, it’s impossible to tell whether an idea is innovative, in part due to the myths we subscribe to about innovation. What the author is doing is applying the Darwinian theory of natural selection to the domain of product innovation. Products are placed on market and fail or succeed based not only on the features of the product but on the characteristics of the environment, i.e., the marketplace, or what the environment is selecting for. An innovative product may fail in the current environment, but succeed later, when the environment has changed. It is only in retrospect that we are able to view the product as innovative, because it has succeeded.

Berkun’s book is an easy, but thought-provoking read for anyone interested in the topics of innovation and product design. Recommended.

[This post was reprinted in the Triangle Usability Professional Association's (TriUPA) Fall 2007 newsletter.]