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interactions article about Randy Pausch

My paper copy of interactions November / December 2008 arrived on Saturday. (The online copy was available last week, just never got a chance to check it out.) Included is an article I co-wrote with Fred Sampson:

Some of the back story. I was asked to write a review of the Randy Pausch story and what it means for user experience professionals. Inspired by Randy: "How do we, as a user experience community, make the world a better place?" But I could not write a decent article: I was too caught up in the emotional aspects (and this was before he died). My blabbering devolved into an article about my inability to write a decent article. Fred stepped in and wrote the core of the new article and used bits and pieces of my work.

So hopefully the article provides value, given its unusual origins. And difficult topic. Writing is hard for me, and this was the hardest thing I ever tried to write. Thanks to Fred for salvaging it.

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Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch died yesterday. His pages at CMU (such as his update page) have been hard to access because of the traffic, so let me summarize in case you still cannot get to them.

July 25th, 2008: Randy died this morning of complications from pancreatic cancer.

July 24th, 2008: The cancer is progressing. A biopsy last week revealed that the cancer has progresed further than we had thought from recent PETscans. Since last week, Randy has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He's now enrolled in hospice. He's no longer able to post here so I'm a friend posting on his behalf because we know that many folks are watching this space for updates.

I personally found the CMU article An Enduring Legacy the best single thing to read if you are not familiar with Randy's life. Let me extract one paragraph:

He is survived by his wife, Jai, and three children: Chloe, Dylan and Logan. The family requests that donations on his behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, CA 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon's Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which the university will use primarily to support continued work on the Alice project.

Donating money is one way to show you care. In this case, "living life the Randy Pausch way" is also a pretty nice thing to do.

Over time, I know we will see some very fitting tributes to Randy from his professional colleagues. So far I have seen:

  • Whitney Hess, one of his students
  • David Armano, who has already folded one of Randy's stories into his user experience presentations

Last week, I submitted the first draft of an article to interactions about the Randy Pausch story. It was by far the hardest thing I had ever tried to write. I cannot tell yet if the next draft will be easier or harder.

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Getting to "we"

When I first read Getting to "we" in the April 2008 Communications of the ACM, I really liked two things about the article:

  • The 4 categories of Information sharing, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration, with technology examples for each. Good framework: I will throw those terms around more carefully now.
  • The mention of whole system change methods like Appreciative inquiry and Charrettes to get to collaboration. The Change Handbook includes a lot more methods. Over the past 2 years, I have found the Nexus for Change conference a great way to learn more about these methods.

(You can download the article from ACM above. It is also available at The Profession of IT series from Peter J. Denning.)

A few other folks thought this article was also worth mentioning:

  • Thomas Vander Wal points out that "most of the tools and services...do not even come close" to what we need for collaboration.
  • Jack Vinson expands on "collaboration and community" and ties in another CACM article about social ties.
  • Mark Lindsey summarizes the punchline of the article: "collaboration comes by failure of other plans".

Weeks later after first reading it, I am still finding it useful (I have gone back to it several times lately), so I decided to mention it here. This article is another nice data point on the "IT systems" meets "social change" landscape for me.

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T shaped people - link compilation

Too many things in the queue to write about, from Nexus for change two weeks ago and Internet User Experience / UXnet last week. And now heading out for the IA Summit, so there will be more things to add to the list.

So I better start addressing the backlog before I leave for Miami.

Here is one: I was very pleased to meet Zach Smith at Nexus U for many reasons. He works in Japan now but we traced back our roots - all of the way back to attending the same elementary school, just a few years apart.

As we talked about what we are doing now, we found a common topic of interest: t-shaped people. At the end of the day with Zach, I had a few minutes to compile a list of links to t-shaped-people-references-from-the-UX-community for him.

Hope you find the list of links useful.

Short recap of Interaction 08 day 1

This is a very short and incomplete recap of my first day of Interaction 08. Overall, an excellent next-step on the road to establishing interaction design. During the day I was Twittering to interaction08 - as were many others - so that is another way to see what happened on Saturday, and to follow along today.

  • Alan Cooper's "best-to-market trumps first-to-market" is a great message that we need to get out to the CEOs. His "time and money are not scarce" reminded me of "You can always get more capital; customers are the scarce resource" from Martha Rogers a few weeks ago. I appreciated his call to action to bridge the worlds of business and IT, but it would have resonated more with me if it was positioned as a user experience team effort; it is going to take many of us, from many backgrounds, to have this large of an impact on the organization.
  • I came in late to Jared Spool's talk, and was glad to not get heckled like some others. Classic Jared - funny and insightful. I am starting to wonder if his schtick would work on a real stand up comedy stage. Enough ordinary people are frustrated with using technology that they would appreciate stories of hard to use web sites and cryptic Microsoft wizards.
  • Sarah Allen's application of cinema techniques was a good example of the other areas of study we need to bring onto the UX team. This was reinforced at lunch when I talked with 2 people from Walt Disney Animation. (Note to my kids: I met someone who worked on the 3d effects of Meet the Robinsons. Does that make me a little bit cooler?)
  • Saskia Idzerda gave an honest recap of the process and designs they went thru for a new Sony Ericsson catalog. The 2 questions I did not get a chance to ask: (1) Did you look at any faceted browsing user interfaces for inspiration, or did you avoid them on purpose? (2) Did you consider localized versions for countries like India or China? Being "consistent" worldwide has some value, but I suspect in this case, being localized and more usable within each locale would be the better experience overall.
  • Bill DeRouchey wins the prize for the best "package": a clear and entertaining presentation (great slide format) fit nicely into the time slot, with a handout and web site to supplement. And, of course, good content.
  • David Armano was right on target with his agency fuzziness talk about DaVinci.

I am late for breakfast, so this will have to do.

Nexus for Change II

It is time to start planning for Nexus for Change II, a conference at nearby Bowling Green State University (March 29 - April 1) about participative change methods. If you have been to a BarCamp or Unconference, you may have experienced one of these methods, Open Space Technology. The Word Cafe and Appreciative Inquiry are other change methods (buy The Change Handbook for even more).

The first two days of the conference is "Nexus U" - "U" for "university" and "you" - where you will learn the basics of whole system change principles and delve into a few of the methods. The 2nd half of the conference is about interacting with other professionals in this emerging community. And, of course, the conference has been designed by change agents to make sure you experience the methods as you share and learn about the methods.

Why would a user experience professional be interested in this conference? Many times organizational hurdles get in the way of quality user experiences. Fundamental changes in the business, processes or culture are needed in order to pull off what customers and other users need. User experience practitioners and information architects are becoming agents of change.

The Nexus for Change II conference is a way to learn about change methods and to immerse yourself in them. If we want to be change agents, we should learn from the professionals who specialize in it. Being able to better facilitate change will make you a more effective UX professional - just having the traditional user-centered design methods at your disposal are not enough.

I think user experience professionals can also contribute to the change methods toolbox. Often user research we do is a key aspect driving change (for example, when the Voice of the Customer is one of the compelling reasons for change in an IT organization). We also tend to be in tune with the impact of technology on change. If "improve the user experience or else we will go out of business" is what people are talking about within your company, then a combination of user experience and whole system change methods may be what you need.

I attended last year and will be there this year. Hope to see some of my UX friends there.

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Rules to break and laws to follow

I know I am not reading all of the business books a well-rounded user experience professional is supposed to read these days (in topics like business and design, change management, business of experience), but I have kept up with the "1 to 1" series by Martha Rogers and Don Peppers. The next installment is due out in February: Rules to Break and Laws to Follow.

This one looks like it will be right up my alley, knitting in many things I have learned while focused on web user experiences the last decade or so.

An excerpt from a recent 1to1 magazine article (you need an account to read the article online). Added emphasis is by me.

To succeed with your business today, you might need to start breaking some rules -- rules that for the past century or so have underpinned most businesses' efforts to grow, meet financial goals, and make shareholders happy.

As we scanned the business landscape researching our next book, it became apparent to us that new interactive and information technologies have created a dramatically different business environment -- an environment in which customers share information with other customers easily and efficiently, the pace of technological change is not just rapid but accelerating, and organizational structures are becoming less important as the lowliest employees can leap tall hierarchies in a single click.

They list three "rules to break" in the article:

  • The best measure of success for your business is current sales and profit. Short-term optimization leads to long-term problems. Give tools to your employees so they can provide a quality customer experience. And then trust them to do a good job. That will give you the customer trust you need for long-term success.
  • With the right sales and marketing effort, you can always get more customers. Customers are the scarce resource and now that they are all connected, you cannot focus on only the one-to-one relationship with a single customer. You need to address the social network around each customer.
  • Company value is created by offering differentiated products and services. Products and services are important, of course, but they mean nothing without customers. When you measure the value of your company based on your customers (instead of your inventory or revenue or costs), the customer experience becomes a key factor. A bad experience by a single customer: the value of your company goes down just a little bit. Good experience: value rises a little. The touch points all add up. We can track these small changes better now with technology. And because customers are so well connected to each other, a small pebble dropped in the customer experience pond can ripple out to a large wave.

I am looking forward to reading the other rules to break and which laws are still worth following. Some of the topics listed in the table of contents that sound interesting to me:

  • A "Perfect Storm" of New Technologies
  • Which Do You Choose? Customers or Money?
  • Treat Employees the Way You Want Them to Treat Customers
  • Galloping Decentralization Means Culture is More Important
  • Reputations Go Online
  • Technology Seen Through the Wrong End of the Telescope
  • Customer-Inspired Innovation
  • Technology, Progress, and Change
  • The Power of the Network

I notice that this book is published by Wiley, part of their "Microsoft Executive Leadership Series". This may be the first book in the series.

Finally, with a new book comes the book tour. I might get to attend the first stop, January 22, sponsored by the University of Toledo Center for Family Business. The talk will be at The Pinnacle, which is 1.8 miles away. It is nice that Martha starts her tour in her "hometown".

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Collaboration week in Chicago

I am fortunate to be in Chicago now, where all sorts of collaborations across the various UX-related disciplines are happening. Today and tomorrow are face-to-face meetings with other User Experience Network volunteers (at the IIT Institute of Design). Then several days of the "fowl" every-two-years AIGA-SIGGRAPH-SIGCHI shindig, DUX: Designing for User Experience conference. Then on Thursday, World Usability Day Chicago: November 8th is the one day this year we can all get along.

Succeeding through Service Innovation

I was asked to give feedback on the IBM/University of Cambridge discussion paper Succeeding through Service Innovation. Like many such requests, it was prefaced with "it should only take an hour" - I do not know how long it took me to read it, and comment on it, then to turn my feedback into something that made sense. It was much more than an hour. But at least I am done now, and it was worth it.

We shall see what, if any, aspects of my feedback appear as the "green paper" evolves into a "white paper." Most of my comments come from looking at service science and innovation through the lens of user experience (and my focus on corporate information architecture for almost a decade). Some of the things I found most interesting about the document:

  • In Section 1, I like that fact that they proposed extending the "Service Science, Management and Engineering" with a "D" for design. Adding more letters does not appeal to me - too many already - but adding in "design" (even though it is such a mooshy term) is one way to increase the focus on the human element (which I think does not come through enough in SSME literature in general).
  • Also in Section 1, I think the shift to a "try before you buy" economy helps customers focus more on the value of the end-to-end services instead of only considering the surface features of the product, like the price. The obligatory mention of "Web 2.0" was included.
  • In Section 2.2, key questions about architecture are listed, but I think they are missing one. How do we architect a service system to enable a quality experience for the people involved? (Both the customers and the front-stage staff that interact with them.) We all have a lot of stories about how hard it is to design for a quality experience when the fundamental building blocks of the system do not fit together ("lipstick on a pig"). And an even harder challenge: design an architecture for a service system that lets you build a seamless experience with a different service system.
  • In Section 3, the 4 clusters made sense to me because I see a large corporate web site as an example of something that includes all of them. It has the (1) marketing element, with (4) tons of information, requiring (2) sophisticated software engineering and metrics, and based on (3) a thorough understanding of individual and group behavior.
  • In section 4, I agree with the need for "inter" disciplinary instead of "super" or "multi" (but the "inter" diagram needs to look like a network, not a ring).
  • Also in Section 4, I like the "broad and deep" skill analogy, even though I am not sure "T-shaped people" is the right way to explain it. Nonetheless, we UX folks have been arguing about this for a while already. Examples: one Peter likes the T while another Peter thinks more holistically and suggests balanced teams should be the goal.
  • In Section 5, the recommendations were lacking an emphasis on the human element and enabling innovative experiences.

All in all, I see enough synergy between service science and user experience that I plan on seeing what other connections are useful to make. Feels like the tip of an iceberg.

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