Tickets still available: July 11, UX with Mud Hens

I am organizing a local get-together where you can hang out with others who are interested in user experience. We chose a truly-Toledo location: a Mud Hens ball game.

What: User Experience Day with the Mud Hens
When: Saturday, July 11 (first game of the double header starts at 5:30pm)
Where: Fifth Third Field, downtown Toledo, Ohio

Would you like to enjoy the company of fellow interaction designers, information architects, usability engineers, developers and others interested in enabling quality user experiences for their customers? And enjoy the world-famous Toledo Mud Hens in a double-header, with fireworks after the games? Bring your family, too, if they are willing to put up with us talking about user experience in between pitches.

40 tickets have been reserved for this group outing. Tickets will cost $9. The ticket order will be placed in mid June, so if you are interested, please contact me.

Tickets are still available! If you are interested, you can send me an email (keith2009 at this site) or leave a comment below. Help spread the word: I am hoping I can meet new people from Refresh Toledo and re-connect with colleagues from AIGA Toledo who I have not seen recently. And I will be happy to welcome anyone else who is crazy enough to come to a baseball game to share their passion about user experience.

We already have families coming from out of town (Detroit, Cleveland and Columbus areas) so we may also meet at the Toledo Zoo in the morning. Join the fun!

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Upcoming local (Toledo, OH) and area events

Spring is in the air here, and as the weather gets warmer, all sorts of things to do are popping up for people interested in user experience.

This is where you will find me in the next 6 weeks or so.

Add in a "spring break" trip to Boston for CHI 2009 and I will be busy. I have not recovered from IA Summit 2009 yet.

There is a lot more happening in the region - things I wish I could attend but I just won't be able to.

Whew! (I am sure I am missing some other things, too.) A good sign, tho: if you live around here and are interested in user experience, you have lots of opportunities to spend time discussing UX in lots of different contexts with lots of different groups.

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UX+IA workshop: Toronto, June 2008

In the better-late-than-never category, let me tell you about something I did last summer. In June, we took a family vacation to Toronto: while there, I did a TorCHI talk, and helped lead a "hands-on" workshop about information architecture. It is that workshop that I never got around to mentioning here.

The original TorCHI call for participation gives a good overview of what we set out to do. Paul McInerney, my co-collaborator who talked me into doing this and did at least as much work as I did, if not more, came up with this recap of the topics we actually covered:

  • Site sections: When to use, types, navigation design within and between site sections. Case study: Large IT vendors, specifically
  • Role based IA: Defining suitable roles, designing the top level categories and navigation based on the roles, if and when to use a role-based approach. Case study: City government sites, including Toronto and others that have contrasting approaches.
  • Wireframes: Challenges and best practices using wireframes, such as fidelity, ownership, expectations, tools, Agile methods. Case study: Examples provided by participants.
  • Putting it all together: A holistic discussion of web site issues, including those covered in the prior sessions. Case study: Transit authority web site.

We divided the day up into 1.5 hour sessions, with breaks and a nice, long lunch. So it made for an intense but very rewarding day.

Some of the key aspects of this workshop (that I think made it better than whatever might be considered the "usual"):

  • Making it activity-based, not lecture-based. Learning is more fun when you are doing it, not just listening to it. I have to admit that I started out too lecture-y at the beginning of the workshop day, but by the end, the participants were "leading by doing" and I was just sitting back and advising more.
  • Tackling some of the thornier issues in information architecture, like task-based and role-based organizational schemes. I know, "role-based IA does not work" is the surface-level response, but we wanted to dig deeper to really understand why it does not work - and perhaps, even, discover some situations when it does.
  • Adjusting the topics based on what the attendees wanted to talk about. "Wireframes" was not something I had in mind initially, but each participant submitted a list of "burning issues," we voted and wireframes came up to the top. (Note: Chapter 10 of Communicating Design was required reading for this topic.)
  • We had experienced people attend, and capped it at about 10. I love teaching the basics to newcomers, but this was about "doing advanced IA" with peers in a close-knit setting. I am sure the participants learned more from each other than they learned from me.
  • Using common, local scenarios to "make it real." We were in Toronto, so we gravitated towards Toronto-area local government and transit authority examples.
  • Preparing each section in detail, with "learning goals," "preparation materials" (aka "homework to do before the workshop") and "exercises." It was a lot of work to prepare, and it took some commitment from the participants. We did not always stick to the master plan, but it was good to map out the day in gory detail so that we could decide as a group when the flow of the day was pushing us in a better direction.
  • A "putting it all together" session at the end of the day. We debated whether this would work, or whether we should just have a 4th deep topic. This was my favorite part: I did see people incorporating the sub-site, task and role IA issues from earlier in the day into the holistic user experience session at the end.

I really enjoyed it, and the feedback I got from the participants indicated they liked it too. It was worth their time and money, it seems. What prompted me to write this summary is that Paul/TorCHI are going to try it again. Check out the UX Irregulars post for some initial information.

If you are an IA in the Toronto area, I definitely encourage you to sign up to get more information about the 2009 version. While I am glad I did it last year, I am more glad to give someone else a chance to lead it this year (too darn busy). I think we showed that the basic idea of "a hands-on workshop for experienced practitioners to tackle deep problems" is sound. Now someone else can work on perfecting it.

Service Science: Design for Scaling and Transformation

IBM colleague Jim Spohrer mentions a new book by Cheng Hsu of RPI - Service Science: Design for Scaling and Transformation - that seems to be knitting together "Web science" and "Service science" - and perhaps other things (something that I have been struggling with).

Jim quotes part of the book above. I also found the preface (PDF) listed by Professor Hsu. I found these bits interesting:

  • "My original intent was only to write a different kind of a scientific book about offering an interdisciplinary explanation to why service matters..."
  • "What does 'a connected world' mean? Does service require a different kind of design science? What will be the next waves of the Web? How to make enterprise information systems adequate for service scaling? How to unite cyberspace with physical space? Is it feasible to massively connect independent information resources everywhere? Is a service-led revolution reality or gimmick?"
  • "The situation is not unlike what Management Science faced in 1950's and Computer Science did in 1960's. A counter example is Information Technology of 1990's, which is a would-be field that failed to materialize scientifically."
  • "If a new service science is for real, then it has to be interdisciplinary and integrative, as opposed to merely being multi-disciplinary."
  • "I believe a new population orientation paradigm has arisen in scientific research for the digitally connected world...Such a paradigm studies directly the population knowledge (laws and probabilities) rather than the inference of them through samples (laboratory prototypes and statistics)."
  • "I managed to establish a design theme for the new theory...the book also embarked on analyses of new business designs emerged on the Web since the original e-commerce/e-business, and projected the theory onto their next waves."

Jim is thanked for his contributions to the book, which is not surprising, since he is "Mr. Service Science" at IBM.

This is one of those "research" books, so it is expensive, and to be honest, I am sure I won't understand all of the theory in it (there is a reason I am a practitioner and not a researcher), but it still looks worth buying to me. I am not sure Hsu's "design" is the same as what I consider "design," but I will get the book and find out.

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Design and Adoption of Social Collaboration Software within Businesses

The special interest group that I helped propose for CHI 2009 was accepted. I am working with 3 IBM colleagues (Jason Blackwell, David Schwartz, Sandra Kogan) and John Sheridan.

Design & Adoption of Social Collaboration Software within Businesses
Abstract: Social networking and collaboration sites are having a large impact on people’s personal lives. These same applications, similar functions and related experiences are being adopted within businesses. This special interest group will address the issues around social collaboration software in the business setting. What is the value for the business and its users? How do you measure success? What strategic design and user experience issues are key for successful adoption? What roles do user experience professionals play in this type of social system?

Since one of the premises of the session is that the popularity of sites like Facebook are affecting how organizations are thinking about collaboration software, we thought it would be appropriate/ironic to use Facebook itself to promote the SIG, get feedback from possible attendees, and to document what happened at the SIG. Check these out if you are interested:

  • Facebook event for information about the SIG
  • Facebook group for discussions before and after the SIG, in case a group of people interested in the topic evolves

If you are going to be at CHI 2009 in Boston, I hope you consider coming to our SIG. If you are not familiar with SIGs, do not expect to just sit and listen to presentations. There will be lively debates, break-out groups so you can explore topics you are interested in, and networking. Get people interested in a topic in the same room for an hour and a half and see what happens.

If you are interested in the topic but are not attending CHI, you can still join the group and participate in the discussion.

Misconceptions about user experience design

Whitney Hess wrote what I consider a very good article to help people understand the term "user experience": 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design. I have seen others call it "brilliant" and other wonderful things. Great job, Whitney! The framing of what UXD is not is obviously one of the appealing aspects of the article.

I do have a few quibbles with her article:

  • #2. I would have said "it is part of the process" to stress that user experience methods should be woven into other business processes (like product visioning, requirements analysis and customer service) instead of replacing them.
  • #3. I would have said "it is not only about the technology". Her examples are good to stress that people come first, technology enables. Still, as technology becomes more pervasive in our lives, it will become more and more important to the total user experience.
  • #5. I would have positioned this more as "it is not just about the customer". A company, non-profit organization, university, government agency, or other institution has many different stakeholders, many different groups it has to serve. Customers are definitely a very important one, but there are also employees, shareholders, business partners, students, citizens, the public, reporters, and so on. I know there is a lot of baggage with the word "user" but at this point in time, it helps merge these groups together. It helps us focus on what their goals are and what they are trying to accomplish. Her focus on user goals + business goals is good, but I think it is actually bigger than this: UXD applies outside the business world, too.
  • And in the title of the article: I might have dropped the word "design". This is a tough call. For people who get that "design" itself is holistic, then this is a good term to include after "user experience". Unfortunately, some people still equate "design" with graphic design (or fashion design, or interior design, or any number of things), so then you have to explain that pre-conception away. The word "design" does not seem to be getting in the way of a useful discussion in this case, which is good to see.

Again, Whitney wrote a very good article. These are minor adjustments I would have made, and some people will think they make the article worse. Take them or leave them.

In the interest of full disclosure, I responded to Whitney's call for participation for her article. She did not include my stuff, which is fine. This blog posting is not sour grapes. It is really a "great job, Whitney" with a few points that might further the conversation (and hopefully will not derail the great conversation she has started).

And if people are interested, below is what I gave to Whitney on the topic. I think it overlaps with several of her misconceptions, so I can see why she did not use it: she divided her article up differently, she had more content than space, etc.

There are so many misconceptions that it is hard to pick the one or two to mention here.

I guess I would have to say the most significant misconception is that you can form a single "user experience design" team (usually made up of information architects, visual designers and user researchers) and expect that alone to make things better. That is only one of the first (and perhaps the easiest) step to actually creating better experiences for your customers / citizens / users.

Other important steps include:

* Getting user experience to be the focus much earlier than any "design" step in your organization. When the budgets are determined, when the projects are defined, when the requirements are determined: the people involved in those decisions need to be aware of UX considerations or else the design team will only be able to put a semi- workable user interface on a system that has UX flaws from the start.

* Establishing a collaborative culture where many parts of the organization are working together on the same UX goals. No one team can own the entire user experience, so the UX teams that are really making progress spend more time working with other groups (promoting the UX vision, explaining UX challenges, planning project interlocks) than drawing wireframes or designing novel interaction styles. Taking care of some of the details of the experience is still important, working closely with the front-end developers is still crucial, and so on, but without the collaborative culture, the core UX design team's work will not have a large impact on the total user experience.

* Building a really strong UX design team because it is really difficult to juggle many projects across the organization that all touch the user experience, keep up with an efficient Agile development team, keep tabs on the latest UX trends, and everything else the team is asked to do once the organization sees how valuable the team is. You need several senior people, with the right mix of skills and personalities, who are always in sync with the state of the company's UX, and who are also active in the UX community as a whole. A UX design team that feels overwhelmed with work tends to break into smaller pieces and do their work in silos, which will lead to a fractured experience. It takes a strong manager, too, of course.

There are other steps, and even these 3 have a lot more depth and subtleties into them. For example, how to do any of these steps is highly dependent on the politics of the organization: a Fortune 500 is totally different from a start-up which is totally different than a government agency.

So I guess in conclusion, the most important misconception I see is that you can form a "user experience design" team alone and make a difference. You need these other steps (and more) mapped out and executed on.

Back to her very good article (tired of me saying that I liked it?). One other piece that is missing is the "executive version" - something you can scribble on the executive washroom wall so that the top dogs in your organization can read it during one of the rare times when they are not distracted by other things. Here is my version of a recap:

  1. User experience design is not merely user interface design. The user interface is just one piece of the total user experience.
  2. User experience design is not a single step in the process. It is about focusing on the user experience at all stages of the product/service lifecycle.
  3. User experience design is not only about technology. People come first, the technology helps enable a good experience.
  4. User experience design is not just about usability. Emotional aspects are important, not just efficiency.
  5. User experience design is not just about the customer. It is about all of your stakeholder goals (including business goals).
  6. User experience design is not expensive. There are many techniques available, depending on budgets and other constraints.
  7. User experience design is not easy. It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming that you know what users want and need.
  8. User experience design is not the role of one person or department. Responsibility for the total user experience belongs to everyone.
  9. User experience design is not a single discipline. Specialists can address one aspect of the experience, but the design happens as a team.
  10. User experience design is not a choice. It is a core part of what your organization needs to do in order to survive.

This is too long to write on a stall wall - and I would never tell you to vandalize anyway. But I think some sort of simplification to her wonderful article ("stop brown nosing already!") adds value.

ASIS&T meeting impressions

Last month I attended the ASIS&T 2008 annual meeting. I have attended all of the IA Summits (also by ASIS&T) but this was my first "annual meeting." I typed up some notes during the conference, but wanted to wait to compose my thoughts and reflect a little longer. Here ya go.

Highlights for me:

  • I liked spending time with colleagues that I have not seen in years. Like: Gary Marchionini and Cathy Marshall, to name just a few. I caught up on their research, they caught up on the challenges for my job.
  • I got some IBM work done, meeting David Millen and connecting some of his research to initiatives. It still pays to find IBMers by going to (outside) conferences.
  • Both plenary sessions helped me think outside my box and see how the rest of the world is using the Internet these days. For example, the Digital Youth Project report has now been officially released. Check it out.
  • Strengthened/made local connections, such as old colleagues at IAKM and LexisNexis, new ones at OCLC and Wayne State.

So, net, it was worth attending, for sure. Any time I can drive a few hours and hang out with fellow user experience professionals who have traveled here from around the world, I will be there. I do all I can to support UX-related gatherings in the midwest.

What I found really interesting about the event (neither good nor bad, just different), were the elements that made it a meeting first and a conference second. When I compare it with other professional association annual gatherings that I have been to (like the CHI conference by SIGCHI and UPA's conference), then I notice some things that stand out here:

  • Business and committee meetings, special interest group planning and other things to "do the business of ASIS&T". These things happen at "conferences" too but they were more prominent here.
  • The "intellectually stimulating" content (the conference part) is driven by the ASIS&T org chart. Special interest groups, in this case, sponsor the panels, seminars, etc. In other association events, I think the sessions are more driven by individuals, not "each SIG organizes their own track".
  • Lots of fellowship, awards and recognitions. Since this was my first ASIS&T meeting, it sort of felt like my first big reunion with my wife's extended family. I only knew a subset of people, I did not get all of the inside jokes or the personalities, but everyone was very welcoming and wanted me to come back for next year's get-together.

I can see how this type of annual event builds up loyalty. Come to one meeting and you could get "hooked", volunteering for all sorts of worthwhile ASIS&T activities for the next 12 months. You will almost have to attend the following year.

The meeting-focus does provide some challenges for the "technical program" side of the event, however. There is a lot of competition for compelling conference content, and when people ask me "where can I go to really stretch my brain for a week?" then it will be hard to recommend this conference over the many other choices. Making the conference sessions better would also help draw in some "outsiders" (non members), which would hopefully lead to some getting "hooked", and so on.

Which leads me to my only real complaint about the conference. To be blunt: There were too many academics on stage talking for too long. There were not enough researchers from companies on the panels. There were not enough practitioners giving their views. Most sessions did not leave enough time for audience questions and conversations.

I really do not hate academics - I love them, actually. I knew this would meeting would be research and academic focused, I was looking forward to that aspect. I had some great conversations with professors and students (at the SIGUSE symposium, in the hallways, at lunch and at the poster sessions.) But it was too unbalanced for me. If you know me, you know I do not bitch that often, and I only do it because I care and I want to make things better. So let me offer these suggestions for future technical sessions at the annual meeting:

  • Each research-oriented panel must have at least 1 member who does not work at a university. A researcher from IBM, Microsoft, some other organization, who talks about the topic from their company's point of view.
  • Each panel must have at least 1 practitioner to act as a sounding board. "I hear what you are saying and here is how I deal with it in my world" sort of thing. Get more practitioners up on stage.
  • Encourage people to follow "best practices" for presenting. Like: more pictures and less text on slides. Take "clarification" questions during their talk and leave lots of time for discussion after. Provide an overview (only) up front and leave the details for Q&A (so if no one cares about your details, we do not have to hear them).
  • When a student is presenting their research, do not allow their advisor on stage. The advisor can only help answer questions after the student has done their best. I do not mind going to a session where students are presenting their work, but I want the students thinking on their feet and answering questions, I do not want their professors explaining things for them.

The research/practitioner divide was exacerbated for me because of the gap between the SIG Information Architecture community and the ASIS&T membership as a whole. That fracture runs deep and goes beyond the ASIS&T annual meeting, so I do not want to get into it here. Those things will get addressed.

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World Smart & Usable Planet Day?

Are "Smart Planet" and "World Usability Day" a match made in heaven or is it a silly idea to link them together?

Smart Planet is the buzz within IBM. More than just our next marketing ploy around "innovation" and unlike the declaration that the web was for real, this is something bigger. I am no expert at it (and I was not one of the bloggers given early warning), but I did know it was coming since is going to be an important part of whatever it turns out to be.

Here are a few of the things that I have been watching/reading (the things I can share with you, at least):

There are many aspects that interest for me. A few things Sam mentioned during the Q&A of his talk hit home the most. One was mentioning Service science efforts within IBM. Another were the ways we have to work to solve these problems: multi-disciplinary, end-to-end, and collaboratively. Sounds like how I have worked as a user experience professional for many years. And the third piece is the overall importance that connecting things via web technologies will be, something else I am starting to get pretty good at.

What does this have to do with World Usability Day (which is going on as I write this, on the other side of the globe from me)?

  1. This year's theme is WUD Transportation: see the Global Transportation Challenge, read transportation experiences and many of the events will focus on transportation issues. For Smart Planet, one of the examples is about changing driving behavior.
  2. Last year WUD was about Healthcare, another common problem cited in the Smart Planet work.
  3. More generally, my participation in WUD the past few years has forced me to think more planet wide, more "worldly." I think it has helped prepare me for something like Smart Planet.
  4. I suspect I could make many more connections between the Earth-Day inspired World Usability Day and Smart Planet, but this is getting too long already. You get my point.

I have zero pull within IBM, but it makes sense to me that IBM should sponsor it in some way in 2009. If the company is really serious about Smart Planet, it needs to start sponsoring ways to foster the conversation, and World Usability Day 2009, with a theme of "Smart Planet" would be the perfect fit for a design thinking angle. If Sam gives me a call [LOL] then I will happily introduce him to Elizabeth Rosenzweig.

So as I reflect on this blog posting, and in anticipation of my World Usability Day starting tomorrow, I am left with one last thought.

User experience and information architecture cannot solve the world's problems, but with a push from the business world, the right political climate, and some inspiration, I am ready, willing and able to chip in and do my part. I do not really care what we call it.

World Usability Day 2008 plans

World Usability Day 2008 is next week: Thursday, November 13th. Find an event near you (and please try to attend). See for more information.

This is the fourth year for WUD. The first year I was too involved, working on the web site and in charge of the last beer of the day in San Francisco. Two years ago we hosted a small local dinner in Bowling Green to celebrate the day. Last year I was in Chicago for meetings, DUX and for the annual holiday shopping spree, so I attended the WUD session there.

This year I tried several times to organize a local event, but failed each time. I had several possibilities around the "transportation" theme, including something hosted by the University of Toledo Transportation Center. Didn't work out.

Fortunately, I have plenty of choices of things to attend in the Michigan / Ohio region:

I was invited to talk at both the MSU and LexisNexis events, but I could not commit since I was trying to organize something locally. The nice folks at NEOUPA are willing to add me to their panel at the last minute, so I will be in Cleveland this year.

Now the question is: can I attend another WUD event and still make it to Cleveland on time? I could drive 2 hours up/back to Michigan State in the morning. Or I could drive 2 hours to Dayton to catch the first hour of their meeting. Or maybe hit the "lunch hour" at AEP in Columbus. Not sure these will be worth it, but you might see me make an appearance in one of those places.

I hope you get to celebrate World Usability Day with your local user experience community, too.

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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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