Wednesday, December 15, 2010
That's the kind of pep talk people need to hear when they get a "certification."
Friday, December 3, 2010
So it's a pleasure to read stories where some young gun has put the advice into practice and is rewarded appropriately. This is so easy to do and so rewarding, yet so few companies do it well.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
As the population of Japan grows older due to its declining birth rate, there is apparently an effort in Japan to create a variety of robots that can perform ordinary housekeeping tasks. The play mentioned in the clip is significant for addressing the not-unrealistic scenario that robots will soon become caregivers in Japanese homes.
Monday, November 8, 2010
You're a contractor or internal project team that is charged with implementing a new automated system. Because you need some requirements, you meet with your business partner and start taking their requirements. You may also get to interview some of the people who are performing the current work manually. The interviews with managers and employees sound like this:
"OK, first I open my folder and take out a blank form. I start filling in this field and then that one from the emails I got since last night. Then I call a department to get the information for this field or that field. And then I pull out my manuals to look this field up..." And on and on. If you ask why someone is doing a particular thing the answer is "because I need to do it to figure out what to put in this field."
When you start presenting possible solutions you get pushed on from the sponsor to "make it look like the current process so people won't get confused." What they want you to do is automate their horse. The first attempts to automate transportation usually included a lot of features that were present in the original biological equivalents: reins and manes and saddles for riding on land, feathers and wings and beaks for moving through the air, etc. Progress was made when the designers stopped thoughtlessly recreating the biological features and started to exploit the advantages of the technology itself: wheels and combustion engines and rudders and so on.
It also helped when the designers remembered the goal for all this activity. If your goal is to build a mechanical horse for a rider, then you spend your time worrying about putting in features that perceptibly satisfy that goal. If the goal is to build a device capable of carrying a passenger from one place to another by whatever means necessary then you can throw out your assumptions about the goodness of the existing solution start looking for a solution with whatever materials are available.
So you have to get the higher level goals for the activities that you are discussing with your business group. And this is often hard to do if your business people already have an "automated horse" solution in mind. But you persist, and try to use the automation project as an opportunity to re-think and redesign some existing processes, using technology to offload a lot of unnecessary work from the human operators. When this works, it's a big win for everyone. If you can't do a redesign, you often are left with a mechanical horse.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Friday, November 5, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
It's kind of like a metaphor for the US economy for the past two years, the way the bears have been punishing the bulls. Sorry, couldn't resist.
Monday, October 25, 2010
The funniest requirement for a usability report was given to me by a previous manager, thankfully long departed. I finished a test and report and told the manager that I was going to set up a meeting with the project team to deliver the results. She said the project team didn't have time and that I should just send the report to them and skip the meeting. This team wasn't familiar with usability testing or usability reports so I said, "What if the project team has questions?" The manager replied, "Just write the report with enough detail so they won't have questions."
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
The emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009 was illustrated by a simulation showing a map of the area and an animated path of the aircraft from takeoff to landing. Overlaid on the screen was a clock, an altimeter, and some of the voice recordings between pilot and tower. Some interesting details that the speaker mentioned:
- The entire incident until landing was less than four minutes. He formulated his plan in less than a minute.
- There is an SOP for a situation in which both engines are lost, but it’s three printed pages long, obviously written for situations where the aircraft is at a high altitude. Some SOPs are printed, some are electronic, and pilots have to know where to look to get the right SOP.
- He had never specifically trained to ditch a commercial aircraft in water. The only training he received was a theoretical classroom discussion about it years earlier.
- He had never experienced a catastrophic equipment failure in 29 years of commercial flying.
- He feels that he was relying on his experience, including his fighter pilot experience 29 years earlier, to land the aircraft.
- He didn’t realize that he’d done everything correctly until the investigation into the crash concluded two months later.
- He was unable to deploy the flaps as he wanted to due to a software misfeature that was known only to a few software engineers. This caused the plane to come in faster and at a steeper angle than he wanted. This caused more damage to the underside of the aircraft than was necessary, and contributed to an injury.
- Airlines are reducing training to keep costs down. They train only to minimum FAA requirements and no more. He predicts that training shortfalls will become obvious only in the future and in exceptional circumstances. In other words, disasters will have to occur and data collected before changes will be made to training requirements.
- Commercial flight simulators still do not train pilots in the scenario he experienced in Jan. 2009.
The conference was heavy on NextGen research for airline industry and the health care industry. I chaired a session on "Management perspectives on building UX departments," which generated a lot of good discussion. I took a tour of the Autodesk office. I even ran into some people from the rail industry from Australia. And, of course, San Francisco is an excellent city to visit.
Thursday, September 16, 2010
I haven't been to HFES since 2006, so I'm really looking forward to getting back and seeing all my human factors colleagues again. Drop me a note if you're going to be there.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Nevertheless, I was able, one time, to directly quantify UX contribution to cost savings for a call center I did some consulting work for. Callers were unable to correctly enter a policy number in the IVR to obtain automated information on an insurance policy. The problem was that the policy number had four fields, three of which were variable length, and some fields contained letters the A - F. Nearly all callers errored out and wound up in the call center. I and a developer wrote an algorithm that correctly parsed the callers' keypad input, I re-wrote the prompting and usability tested it, and we implemented it. Correct policy number input went from 10% to 90% immediately. Since call centers know their average handle time and the amount they spend per call, it was easy to show how much money was saved by our fix. We knew how much time we spent on the effort. We estimated savings to be $300,000/year due to our one-time fix. We even wrote a paper showing our calculations, and recommended that we be allowed to make similar fixes to the company's 40 other call centers.
This is a well and good, and should have led to an enormous cost savings across the entire company. Unfortunately, there was simply no one to execute this excellent recommendation. The 40 call centers all operated independently, so there was no single person, or even committee, to push for improvements to all call centers. The opportunity was lost because the developer and I simply didn't have enough standing within the company to push for changes.
Bottom line, ROI studies are great, but even if you have them they don't automatically lead to changes. Managers with a mandate to lower costs by some means other than layoffs are the ones who drive change. Sometimes they're harder to find than you might expect.
Friday, August 27, 2010
The Innovate Carolinas 2010 in April of this year at the UNC Kenan Flager School of Business was attended by over 120 professional product designers, product managers, executives, and university faculty. That's a pretty good audience for a winning college design team.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
If you're a developer, what kind of project would you rather work on? A project to build a product that could impress customers and generate a lot of revenue and gain you some recognition, or a project to build a big toy for a business person who may or may not figure out what to do with it at some unspecified future date? Business people could help themselves a great deal if they would do their part to think through a request for technology, and then engage developers early in the concept formation stage of product development.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
The article also mentioned the project my team completed, a video conferencing system for PT patients. It was based on Microsoft's Natal technology. It was a killer project, if I do say so myself.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
“This technology could help paediatricians screen children for ASD to determine if a referral to a specialist for a full diagnosis is required and get those children into earlier and more effective treatments,” ‘The Daily Telegraph’ quoted lead scientist Prof Steven Warren of Kansas University.Very nice. I love to see speech research put to practical use.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Some people think certifications are a waste of time, but I've gotten a lot out of studying for them, and then trying to apply the knowledge.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
IVR: "What's you license plate number?"...and so on. Seriously, though, wouldn't putting flashing messages on the backs of cars be just a little distracting?
Caller: Well, I'm not sure. If flashes and shows a movie of kids eating cereal, or something like that...
IVR: "Sorry, I missed that. What's the license plate number?"
Caller: I told you, it's just a bunch of pictures. Happy kids, parents, that sort of thing...
IVR: "Let's try one more time..."
Sunday, June 20, 2010
FYI, Ancestry.com is a great place to learn about your family history. You can search census records online, and it's always improving its service. They sometimes have specials that allow you free access for a couple of weeks. I've used this service before and was delighted with what I learned about my father's family.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
And of course, if we didn't have pronouns no one could have written this excellent haiku:
I am he as you
are he as you are me and
we are all toge'er
Thursday, April 29, 2010
I've complained before about mis-designed interfaces that are used to extract money from consumers. This sort of stuff gives interface designers a bad name.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
The thing is, IT people complain often about people consulted too late or not at all on the purpose and function of new applications. Well, if you sit around and wait for someone to "give you requirements," you've assigned yourself a pretty junior position on a development team. If IT people would actively engage in helping to define the application purpose and scope in a positive way, business people would be more inclined to treat them as partners. And everyone would win.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
By the way, if anyone wants to work on next year's event, please contact me.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Execs make decisions. That's what they do. So rather than asking that a product be developed, they ask for "alternatives" so that they can make a decision. Because, as any exec will tell you, making decisions is the hard stuff, and that's what they get paid to do. Generating alternatives is the easy stuff, they believe. So it's up to the designers to generate a lot of alternatives and allow the execs to choose one.
Designers don't see things exactly that way. Designing a really good product is hard work. And once a great alternative is designed it's relatively easy to pick a good one out of competing alternatives. In fact, experienced designers regularly generate alternatives early in the design process as a way of expanding their own space of possible solutions. They'll then try to work the best features of each alternative into a final design.
Do you think the execs get to see these early concepts? Well, only if the designer is inexperienced or wants to see disaster strike. No, experienced designers will drive toward a good design from among several alternatives, then generate some relatively bad "alternatives" for a dog-and-pony show with the execs. Unless lightning strikes the d&p show, the good design is chosen from among the alternatives. Designers get their solution chosen, and the execs get to make a decision. Everyone goes home happy.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
This is no how-to book. There's lots of theory. The various authors write comfortably within their own knowledge areas, but don't really help the reader make the translation from their own specialty to management. So, if you are wondering how semiotics can inform the management arena, you'd better be familiar with semiotics. I was delighted by the chapter on the application of interaction design to management, but I know the language of both pretty well. Otherwise, it was a tough go. Recommended if you like to stretch yourself.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I've been dinged before because I didn't run a "textbook" usability test as described by an accepted guru. The thing is, usability testing is so flexible it can be used to answer any number of questions, and the questions in this case were around what customers needed and the actual marketability of the product. The responses were pretty decisive, and the direction of the development of the product is going to change drastically. That's not something that happens often by following textbook usability procedures.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Interesting that the PHM brings this up, because historically we know he doesn't really understand engineering or usability very well. I wonder where Scott Adams encountered this topic.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
There was some discussion in the ranks of who these secret future leaders might be, but the topic was quickly dropped since there was no other information passed on about it. One thing was very clear, though. If you weren't contacted and informed of your special status you were quite sure that you didn't have any opportunities to move up at this company. The company already had a well-earned reputation for a good-old-boy, insiders-only culture with few paths for career advancement, and this program seemed to solidly reinforce that image.
As someone with an interest in organizational design and leadership, I've often wondered about this program, who initiated it, and how it turned out. I've never heard of anything like it. I still can't imagine what good was expected to come out it. I do know that the possibility of promotion and visibility within the company is one of the most reliable tools managers have to motivate their direct reports, and that was taken out of their hands by the program.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I may put these on my X-mas list.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
So, I was interested in this article about auditory ads and attention. Despite the breathless title, there is probably nothing in the actual research related to addiction. Rather, there are definite neurological correlates to memory and attention, which is probably what was being measured here. In fact, the research was conducted by a company that is selling its services, rather than by a science lab, so I have questions about the validity of the findings.
In any case, my ex-company's memorable ad jingle appears in the "Top 10" list. When you own a inimitable resource like this it pays to figure out a way to leverage it. There is certainly an idea here that should be followed up on.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
I've been working on a paper that explains business metrics to UX designers. Some day soon I'll get it submitted somewhere.
Friday, February 19, 2010
I was so delighted to find the book Business Model Generation by Osterwalder and Pigneur. Here is a book that elevates the importance of sketching and group facilitation and design thinking to the highest importance in creating new business models. It has been out of print for a while but it's finally back. Highly recommended.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
In some cases, I think the spammers are just clueless individuals who read a poorly-written article about social media and have implementated the first idea that came into their heads.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Don't operate a blowtorch near a smoke detectorIf you do, the fire alarm will go off and the building will be evacuated, and everyone's work will be disrupted, and the fire department will arrive. So don't do that. Please.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
A better certification for designers is the PMP certification from the Project Management Institute. One of the knocks I hear against a lot of designers is that they don't know how to work projects. Studying for and passing the PMP test addresses that concern.
It's important for designers to understand how to navigate projects in order to deliver their service effectively. I worked a company that offered free PMP training and paid for its people to take the certification test. The company understood the importance of having all of its people know how to operate in projects. Unfortunately, my supervisor at the time didn't understand. "You can't take that training, it doesn't have anything to do with your job," I was told. I took the test some years later, and wished that I had done it earlier.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
And I really like Good magazine, the non-technical design publication for people who love design. I get the print version, because the magazine even feels good in one's hands. I've blogged Good before. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Some people seem to build their entire business model around supplying the latest and greatest technology to both sides of the conflict, e.g., black hat hackers who change into white hats when trying to get security consulting gigs with e-commerce companies.
I've been wondering whether technological escalation could be developed as an explicit business model. That is, you could look for conflict situations and ethically develop a series of products that sells to both sides. As long as you keep developing products that help one side or the other get an advantage, you're in business. More formally, you create a market that is modeled by the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma, and make sure that Nash equilibrium doesn't occur for very long.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
My last blog entry about Florida had something to do with finding an alligator in the kitchen, if I recall correctly.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I think I need to find another word besides "consistency," since nearly everyone I talk to understands it to mean "look the same."