Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Why Motorola is selling its mobile division

I really appreciate Bruce Nussbaum's blog on innovation and design. His latest piece is on Motorola's sale of its mobile division. He makes the point that Motorola develops great technology, but can't seem to put that great technology to use in products that consumers want to buy. The take away lesson is that companies need a systematic process for moving their R&D into the marketplace.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

NCSU Design School presentation

Here's a great event that I'd love to go to, but it runs at the same time as my Thursday night Leadership and Ethics class. Bummer. I'll pass it along so that someone can attend for me.

Dear HFES Carolina Members and Friends –

Faculty from the College of Design at NCSU have graciously offered to give a collection of presentations next week at NCSU. They are interested in sharing their research and design ideas with the HFES community.

Time: Thursday, March 27, 5:30-8:00pm
Location: Kamphoefner Hall, College of Design complex, Burns Auditorium, NCSU

There will be a reception (with refreshments) in the lobby area of the Burns Auditorium from 5:30-6pm. Professor Haig Khachatoorian will moderate this event.

Presentations will begin at 6pm and will include the following:

  • Bryan Laffitte / Associate Professor & ID (Industrial Design) Dept. Head - "Visualization as a Tool for Collaborative Innovation"
  • Percy Hooper / Associate Professor & Director of I D Graduate Programs - "Invention, Innovation & Design : Transforming Propositions to Products"
  • Bong-IL Jin / Associate Professor - "The World Traffic Safety Design Competitions"
  • Dr. Sharon Joines / Assistant Professor - "Ergonomic Interventions for Ultrasound Technicians"
  • Tim Buie / Assistant Professor - "Game Design : Designing the Interaction Experience"

Each presentation will last approximately 20 min. and there will be a question and answer session to follow. If you plan to attend the reception, please let Miranda Capra know so that adequate refreshments are available.

Dave Kaber, HFES Carolina Chapter President

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stolen without a gun

My MBA program's Leadership and Ethics class had a guest lecturer last week. Walter Pavlo was a middle manager at MCI Communications in the mid-1990s. He was involved in helping MCI conceal millions of dollars in bad debt. His ability to hide bad debt led to a scheme to embezzle $6 million. He was caught and convicted, and served 2 years in prison. His book, Stolen Without a Gun, tells the story of his and MCI's downfall.

Pavlo is a very likable, outgoing guy. He was very open about what he did, and freely admitted he was wrong. The most interesting parts of his talk were about the corporate culture at MCI that put all value on making the numbers every quarter. Without using it as an excuse for his behavior, he described a situation where there was a lot of pressure to perform, no oversight, no positive corporate culture for accountability, and lots of money changing hands.

He had an interesting observation about the mortgage meltdown crisis going on now. "The mortgage industry is just the telecom industry in the 1990s." The subprime lenders and borrowers are telecom's wholesalers and high risk, high profit long distance resellers in the 90s. Pavlo says that the mortgage accounting tricks to hide bad debt occurred 3 years ago, and will soon come to light.

The talk was, in a way, a showing of the "Scared Straight" documentary for MBAs. Message: play clean, keep your moorings, resist the urge to bend the rules when it looks like everyone else is doing it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Design anti-patterns: Possession by hobgoblins

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Consistency in the design of a user interface is often a good thing. Re-using a small set of salient, simple interactions within a single application, or across a suite of applications, allows users to apply what they've learned during one interaction to many others. It makes the user interface predictable, thereby making it easier to use. Scott Berkun made a similar point in an extended meditation on consistency way back in 1999, a point that still stands.

I'm a proponent of consistency. I've written about the usefulness of standards and guidelines, one way of supporting consistency among applications. However, it's misapplied when the benefit of a local optimization outweighs the benefit of enforcing consistency throughout an application. It's also misapplied when a presentation style developed for one domain (like radio advertising or visual web) is applied to a wholly different domain (like VUI dialogs). I was recently handed a dialog by a company's branding expert that read like this: "Press 1 to do x, or press 2 to do y," where x and y were rambling treatises on what services could be obtained. It was thought that this dialog was "consistent" with the company's auditory brand derived from web and advertising dialogs. Unfortunately, it violated one of the really useful consistency rules in IVR design, which orders options like this: "For (goal), (press/say) (action)."

At times when I'm arguing against the misuse of consistency I say (with a nod to Emerson) that I'm practicing exorcism of possession by hobgoblins.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Digression: got my mojo workin'

Here's a video of the great blues master Muddy Waters. Proof that if you have a great team that works well together you can nail a tough project cold and make it seem effortless.

Nothing here about innovation or VUI. This is just one of my favorite musicians, and it's my blog.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Innovation meets the Law of Unintended Consequences

Sometimes you get an idea for a product or service that feels so profoundly good and so right that it seems there is no way it can fail with your customers. Funny thing about customers, though. They have their own agendas, and they don't always respond exactly as you predict they would.

Leah Santini is a home health care nurse in Peoria, Ill. One of her charges, 91 year old Rosemary Kramm, had seemed depressed for some time, and Ms. Santini was thinking of a way to cheer her up. She noticed that Ms. Kramm perked up at the sight of Uno, the champion beagle, on TV. Ms. Santini, by an amazing coincidence, knew one of Uno's owners, and a personal visit from Uno was arranged.

Slam dunk, right? Perhaps not, according to this story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

"Oh, I can't believe it!" Kramm said repeatedly, as she patted and stroked the dog. "I can die now. I can leave this planet."

"Leaving the planet" is exactly what the visit from the world-famous dog was intended to prevent. Let's hope that Ms. Kramm was speaking only metaphorically, or else Ms. Santini's career as a health care innovator will take a serious hit.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

GetHuman in the news

The GetHuman standard for call center customer service were covered in a recent BusinessWeek story. The gist of the story was that the GetHuman "movement" has lost steam, and gave some reasons why.

There's no doubt that customer service should be a top priority for companies, and that automated phone attendants are a frequent source of poor service. The GetHuman standard falls short because a company's call center needs to commit to a far higher level of service than is embodied by the standards. Companies that are committed to good service don't need the GetHuman standards; they have managers in charge who understand where the company needs to be and the amount work it will take to get it there. Companies whose call center managers think they can offer quality service by following a checklist are lost in the woods, and won't find their way out without some serious help.

I think standards and guidelines have their place in promoting good design practice if followed properly; I've said so before. I give GetHuman a lot of credit for raising the issue of poor customer phone service. However, standards can only take one so far; delivering great service is a matter of a company's planning, desire, and execution.