Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Scrum pep talk

I took two days of training for Scrum product owners. At the end of some excellent training the trainer said, "We're going to send you a certificate that says you're a certified Scrum product owner. Take that certificate and put it on the wall. It doesn't entitle you to tell anyone anything. It will be there to remind you that you don't know anything yet, you really don't. But it's your job to learn everything you can and put it into practice."

That's the kind of pep talk people need to hear when they get a "certification."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Listening to customers pays off - really

People (like myself) who practice user-centered design spend an inordinate amount of time preaching to and pleading with various gatekeepers in companies to bring customers into the design process. There's always a dozen excuses why it can't be done: "too expensive," "the customers can't design," "they don't want to be bothered," etc. etc. etc. Sometimes I think the gatekeepers just don't want to know how unappealing/unusable/unwanted the company's products are.

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

Japanese robot actress

Here's a video of a Japanese robot actress that plays the part of a caregiver to a sick patient. I was in Japan in 1996 to attend the IROS robotics conference in Osaka. I had a chance to tour the robotics labs in Tokyo University. Many of the student projects involved creating humanoid robots, the idea being that the robots would be more readily accepted by their human owners if they appeared to be human. The robots were not very sophisticated at that time.

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

Design anti-patterns: Automating the Horse

This is one of the most ubiquitous of all design anti-patterns: the tendency of clients to try to automate a horse. It's more than a tendency, it's almost a corporate imperative. It works like this.

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

Carolina Student Design Competition

The official announcement of the first Carolina Student Design Competition has been posted. Students at universities in North and South Carolina are eligible to participate. Winners get prizes and the opportunity to present at next year's Innovate Carolina conference in Charlotte. I'm the coordinator, as mentioned in the announcement, so if anyone has questions, shoot me an email.

Friday, November 5, 2010

WSJ discovers speech IVR

A story about speech IVRs appeared in a very unlikely place, the Wall Street Journal. The story emphasizes the importance of the sound of the voice as a driver of customer satisfaction, but there's really more to it than that. I think the sound of the voice is important, and have done research to show it, but customer satisfaction also depends on understanding why the customer is calling and providing the right functions in an intuitive manner. The Comments section really show more understanding of this than the author of the article. Thanks to Jenni McKienzie for forwarding this.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Digression: Bears are killing the Bulls

I don't usually comment on nature stories, but this was too good to pass up. A photographer in Yellowstone park took some fantastic pictures of a bear chasing a half-cooked buffalo down a street.

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

Usability test report requirements

I'm in a discussion with some colleagues about the requirements of a good usability test report. I don't get too wrapped up in the details of reports, since I'm usually the only one who reads the reports. I'm more concerned about the content of the presentation and discussion. I often don't send the report out in advance, since I've sometimes had project managers take the report and decline the meeting. It depends on who I'm dealing with. The content of the presentations contain the basic findings of a study, but the conclusions are written specifically for the audience. I try to connect the work to their own concerns, which are different by area: development, marketing, operations, finance, and so on. Sometimes the most valuable part of the exercise is the discussion following the presentation of results. It tends to surface a lot of the assumptions, attitudes, and opinions of the people receiving the report, and gives me a chance to respond to a lot of concerns.

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

Official Google Blog: Goodbye to an old friend: 1-800-GOOG-411

Google will shut down its speech reco application GOOG 411. I had written about this service before. I don't have a smartphone, and this was a handy service when you were away from your computer. Google rarely hesitates to pull the plug on a service that isn't meeting expectations, so I guess this is no exception. Thanks to Phillip Hunter for alerting me to this story.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Summary of HFES conference in SF

I went to the excellent Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference in San Francisco last week. The keynote address was delivered by pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. Some of the talk was motivational, and some was specific to the human factors of the design of airline cockpit alerts, crew training, and performance under stress.

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

HFES in September

I'm going to the Annual Meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in fabulous San Francisco. I'm chairing a panel on How to Build a User Experience Group within your company. We'll have an All Star lineup and lots of good discussion.

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

Strategic business metrics for UX designers

I'll be presenting a session on the topic of strategic business metrics for UX designers at the TriUPA meeting on October 6, 6:30 - 8:30pm at Railinc Corp. in Cary. You can register on the TriUPA web site.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Computing ROI for usability activities

Nearly everyone in the usability field is challenged at one time or another to justify their contribution to a project. UX practitioners hear this statement as a request for some sort of ROI study that presents data showing the unique contribution of usability to, for example, money saved or revenue generated. Since it's pretty hard to separate out the contributions of various players on a project, this usually is very hard to do.

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

Carolina Student Design Competition

How do aspiring product designers in the Carolinas win acclaim as innovative designers, not to mention prize money? By winning the first Carolinas Student Design Competition, sponsored by Carolinas PDMA. More details coming soon, but the contest winners will present their designs at the Innovate Carolina 2011 conference in Charlotte on April 15.

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

Build me a widget...

Developers get a lot of requests from business people that sound like this: "Build me a widget (or a framework, or a proof of concept, etc.) that I can play with. It has to be flexible so I can tweak it myself and change stuff and maybe even show it to a customer." Implied but not stated, the request is also to go away but remain available if the business person needs significant changes. Business people don't realize that, from the developer's point of view, this is a very low-value request. They're asking the developer to do a great deal of work without having thought through the business case for the request. If the developer is experienced, he or she will have seen a lot of this sort of work just sit on a shelf unused.

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

10 most innovative business school courses published a list of the 10 most innovative business school courses. Any list like this is going to be a little arbitrary, but I was happy to see NCSU's Product Innovation Lab class listed as one of the ten. I finished that class in December, and it was the most effortful and unique class I've ever taken. (That's saying a lot, because I've been through three grad school programs.)

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

Usability test sample size bibliography

Jeff Sauro does an excellent job of detailing all of the work that's been done on the topic of sample sizes for usability testing. His bibliography is annotated and many of the entries have links to pdf files of the original papers. If anyone is interested they can go through the literature very easily. I'm happy to point out that I have a couple of entries on the list.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Voice test for autism

This is interesting. Speech researchers claim to have invented a voice test for autism. From the article:
“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

Prepping for the NPDP test

I'm doing a self-study course for the New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification. There is no test prep material like there is for the PMP test. Fortunately, there's a reading list that's not too extensive and the books and articles are easily available if you have access to a good library. Many of the books and articles are real classics in the field.

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

Turning license plates into commercials

I wonder if the speech IVR at the California DMV is going to have trouble with this one. California license plates may soon display ads and other commercial messages.

IVR: "What's you license plate number?"
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..."
...and so on. Seriously, though, wouldn't putting flashing messages on the backs of cars be just a little distracting?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day, everyone. If you're a father, enjoy the day.

FYI, 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

Dolphin gets an iPad

Merlin got an iPad...and the first thing he said was, "so long, and thanks for all the fish."

Friday, May 7, 2010

The anti-creativity checklist

I found a nice little feature called The Anti-Creativity Checklist, a tongue in cheek presentation of typical responses to new ideas. It may seem strange, but a lot of people try to make their reputations by shooting down others' ideas rather than generating their own ideas.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Pronoun haiku

A recent scientific study shows how the use of pronouns saves processing cycles in the brain.

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

Evil interfaces

The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls out Facebook for its deliberate attempts to compromise its users' privacy. Good for EFF for taking the fight to Facebook.

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

Usability, Scott Adams style

Here's another good strip about usability from Scott Adams. Some of his previous strips have described usability testing as well. It's interesting that he keeps working this topic.

Monday, April 19, 2010

They didn't give us good requirements

"They didn't give us good requirements" is an explanation that I sometimes hear from IT people to explain why a certain system turned out to be unusable. "They" are the business people who were asking for the system in question. In fact, "giving requirements" is a fact of life in a lot of companies. Business people furnish requirements and IT people develop the applications.

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

Innovate Carolina 2010: review

I attended the Innovate Carolina conference yesterday at the Kenan Flagler business school at UNC Chapel Hill. (Full disclosure: I was on the conference committee.) The sessions were excellent. The best part of a small conference like that is the chance to talk to the speakers and attendees. I collected cards from people I'll be talking business with in the next few weeks.

By the way, if anyone wants to work on next year's event, please contact me.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Generate me some alternatives"

Executives' requests for "design alternatives" has lead a lot of designers to engage in an elaborate ritual for the purpose of managing the executives. It works like this.

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

Remarks on Managing as Designing

I was excited to find this book, Managing as Designing, because I think design skills can be put to good use in management and organizational design. Richard Boland and Fred Collopy edited this slim volume that contains contributions from authors who participated in a 2002 workshop. The participants came from business, sociology, architecture, dance, semiotics, economics, and history.

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

Getting max impact from user testing

Usability testing has traditionally answered questions about whether a given application or product is easy and satisfying to use. Questions about whether anyone would actually buy the product are usually left to sales and marketing. I tweaked my latest user test and it paid off in a big way. Rather than simply run a test of whether users could order a report online, I dug into the content of the report and had customers tell me if they understood the data, what data were missing, and what else they needed in order to do their jobs. The test ended up being a combined usability test and a needs analysis, something that hadn't been done previously on this product.

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

ACC tournament roundup

The ACC tournament is over and done, and it was the first time I got to see the rivalry up close. Almost everyone wore their school shirt to work on Friday. Depending on the shirt you wore people said, "Nice shirt," or "Ugly shirt" when they walked by. As an alum, I proudly wore my NCSU Wolfpack t-shirt, and some of those in red had a good deal of fun at the expense of the people who wore UNC powder blue. It was all in good humor.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's a usability problem?

This Dilbert comic strip raises an excellent question that usability people often talk about. What constitutes a usability problem? The PHM says, "...a user might need several steps to do something that should only take one." Out of context of the application, it's impossible to answer that question. If the application is a payment form on an e-commerce site, then this situation may affect conversion rates by some percentage and lead to lost sales. If it's a desktop application that is complex and only intended to be used by trained users, than perhaps it's not an issue. Often there's disagreement among usability people whether a usability issue is a genuine "bug" or not.

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

Demotivation 2.0: secret leader list

This article on talent management reminded me of an odd approach to leadership development I encountered a few years ago. The company I worked for announced it had created a "secret list" of the company's future leaders. The selected future leaders were to be informed of their status by their managers. The employees didn't know who was on the list, and it wasn't even known who in management knew who was on the list. These future leaders would be given special developmental opportunities and visibility with current leaders and other perquisites, also unstated.

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

Jamming applications into bad templates

I've had a lot of conversations with business people and developers who want "templates" that will work for any application they develop. This is usually in the context of their wanting to cut out all "unnecessary" analysis and design work so a project can jump right into coding. I've tried to explain that jamming your application into an inappropriate template is harmful at worst, silly at best. I'd never found a really good example that I think makes the point, until I found this:

I may put these on my X-mas list.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Branded sounds

A company I used to work for many years ago had a highly distinctive, memorable jingle that it used in all of its TV ads. I was doing full time IVR design at the time, and I realized that this jingle could be used as an earcon, a branded auditory icon for the company's many IVRs. I wrote up a proposal on auditory branding and gave a big pitch to one of the execs, explaining that with all the attention and money being spent on visual branding at the company, it would make sense to spend a little time thinking about auditory branding. I offered to lead the effort. The exec listened politely and nodded several times, but nothing ever came of it.

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

Remarks on The Speed of Trust

The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey is well-written, actionable advice on how to build your own credibility with others, and how to intelligently extend trust to others. There's a section on building trust in your own organization with external stakeholders. It's particularly timely as people have become deeply suspicious of institutions and of others. Recommended.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Business metrics for UX designers

UX designers would do well to learn about business metrics. Business metrics had been a gaping hole in my own education until recently. Companies tend to measure what they think is important. If the stuff you do doesn't track to something the company is measuring then you need to find out why. It could be that the company isn't good at measuring stuff. It could also mean that what you're doing isn't going to get a lot of attention, which isn't a good thing in a slow economy.

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

Business model generation

I sketch everything. Screens, call flows, processes, hierarchies, etc. It drives me crazy to be in a meeting and people are throwing ideas around and arguing and stating their points and not seeing the connections between things, and no one is trying to capture anything on a whiteboard. It so much easier to see the relationships between things when you write them on a board.

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

Innovate Carolina 2010

The Carolinas Chapter of Product Development and Management Association is organizing the Innovate Carolina conference on April 10 at UNC Kenan Flagler Business School. I'll be there.

Monday, February 8, 2010

When did "social media" come to mean "spam?"

I used to like to read and participate in some of the LinkedIn groups about design and human factors but lately it just all looks like "make money fast" schemes and diploma mills. Somebody sets up an account and joins about 50 groups and the spams every group with the same message once a month with a link to website that just screams Virus Central. If you look at the account there's never any information about the user and they have no Connections. Some group owners are good about kicking the spammers out, and other group owners don't seem to care.

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

Today's fire drill was, well, a fire drill

Today's helpful tip from the Helpful Tip guy. This one's a little more subtle than my last helpful tip: don't throw frozen iguanas in the back seat of your station wagon. Anyway, today's tip is:
Don't operate a blowtorch near a smoke detector
If 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

Best user interface certification

I see a lot of questions from user interface designers about the "best" certification for designers. Truth is, there isn't a highly regarded certification for UI designers. I know that a private company, Human Factors International, grants a "certified usability analyst" credential, but it looks to me like an entry-level certification. It doesn't account for experience or the ability to actually design a user interface, which is documented in a portfolio.

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

The Media Equation applied to sex toys

This story is so annoying I hardly know where to start talking about it. Apparently an entrepeneur has decided that adding voice response to a life-size sex doll will encourage customers to emotionally bond with his product (and thus allow his company to charge a premium price). This is the worst application I've ever seen of some already pretty questionable research, e.g., The Media Equation and the like. And I thought Aiko was creepy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guerrilla usability on the LA freeway

"Guerrilla usability methods" refers to cheap, lightweight usability techniques that can be used to quickly improve the design of a user interface without drawing too much attention to themselves (and therefore don't get shut down). This article, about an L.A. artist's effort to fix a confusing highway sign on an L.A. freeway, takes guerrilla usability to an absolute extreme. I'm in awe.

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

A business model based on technological escalation

I've been thinking about technological escalation, or a situation in which two agents in conflict improve their own technology in order to win. Think about police radar and radar detection units employed by drivers, or caller ID used by homeowners and ID blocking used by telemarketers. I read about an admissions officer at an Ivy League college who started her own consulting practice for teenagers (actually, their parents) who want inside information on admission criteria for Ivy League schools. You get the picture.

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

Beware of falling iguanas

This story about hibernating iguanas falling from trees is my favorite story of the year (so far). There's even a video. I used to live in South Florida, and some of the stories I tell on the place people just don't believe. I really have seen a lot of iguanas during my last couple of trips back there, so this doesn't surprise me at all. Tip: don't throw frozen iguanas in the back of your station wagon, because they'll wake up and jump on your back.

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

Consistency <> Copying

I told someone recently that I was working on a project to improve consistency among some web-based applications. Their response was, paraphrased, "It's boring when everything looks the same." And that's true, it is boring when everything looks the same. And even harmful, if the things that "look the same" behave in different ways or mean different things. Useful consistency comes from an agreed-upon set of rules for presentation and what that presentation means. If the layout of two pages are the same, it's done for a explicit reason. If the layouts are different, that's for an explicit reason.

I think I need to find another word besides "consistency," since nearly everyone I talk to understands it to mean "look the same."