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March 15, 2016 - No Comments!

Inside the Pod: Life on the HCM General crew

As Infor’s internal creative development group, Hook & Loop collaborates across disciplines to create beautiful, delightful enterprise software experiences. Our team has the fluidity and flexibility to tackle a broad range of Infor projects using the most efficient and effective workflows possible. When it comes to creating an exceptional user experience, we’ve found that closely-knit teams are the best way to quickly facilitate efficient team synergy.

And so we created the HCM General Pod: a small but potent crew of Loopers that designs UX solutions for Infor’s HCM products. All team members in the HCM General Pod sit within just a few feet of one another so that collaboration is never more than a chair swivel away.

Recently, the Pod presented to the rest of the Hook & Loop team about their process in designing the interface for SoftClock—an employee time clocking app. The presentation—which includes puppet shows, team cameos, and all sorts of visual gags—reveals the team’s unique quirkiness, and explains why they work so well together. Check out their video presentation:

 

December 3, 2015 - No Comments!

If President Obama can learn an #HourOfCode, so can you

HookandLoop_NYC_Infor_HourOfCode

Hour of Code is a global movement that has introduced more than 100 million students to computer science. Sen. Corey Booker did it. Ashton Kutcher nailed it. Even President Obama took an hour out of his day to learn to code.

What can a novice coder make in just one hour? Code.org’s tutorials are seriously impressive—students can build animated artwork, a Flappy Bird game, and a Star Wars galaxy using basic programming techniques. The end goal is to demystify the seemingly complex world of coding and to empower students to not just consume technology, but to know they too can create it.

We’re proud to host our own Hour of Code next week for 15 young women from Girls Inc. in the Bronx. Since Code.org started running Hour of Code, more girls have tried computer science than in the last 70 years.

Inspired to host your own? Sign up here.

Not yet convinced? Watch President Obama struggle with and triumph an hour of code.

September 23, 2015 - No Comments!

Woman In Tech: Emily Williams

Infor Apple Watch

Emily Williams is the senior product manager for Infor Ming.le™, a groundbreaking business collaboration platform. Over the past three years, Emily’s vision and leadership have brought Infor Ming.le to desktop, mobile, and, now, to the Apple Watch.

How would you describe your job to a stranger?
My mentor, Massimo Capoccia, says that being a product manager is like being a spider in the middle of the web. You have all these different teams—engineering, design, support, sales—coming to you and you’re the singular point in the middle of it all. You are your product’s number one advocate, so it’s your job to uphold its vision and make sure everyone else is working toward it.

Infor Ming.le for Apple Watch launched in the App Store this week. Why did you and your team decide to make an app for the Apple Watch?
Infor Ming.le and Apple Watch are a match made in tech paradise. The very essence of Infor Ming.le is to help users stay constantly informed and up-to-date. And then you have the Apple Watch, which is on you—physically on you—at all times. So let’s say you’re meeting with your boss or eating lunch with some colleagues or visiting a client—it’s really rude to pull out your phone every time it buzzes, but people still do it all the time because they don’t want to miss anything important. Infor Ming.le for Apple Watch delivers only the most relevant and time-sensitive information to your wrist. You can easily glance at it—probably without anyone noticing—when an alert comes in and instantly know whether you can ignore it or if you need to act.

How was it different than building Infor Ming.le for mobile and web?
We’ve designed each version of Infor Ming.le according to the way users interact with each device. The web version allows users to dig in if they need to, but they can also just check their latest updates and get in and out within a minute. For mobile, we took that down to thirty seconds. And now, with the Apple Watch app, we’re only delivering super-quick headlines so that a user can simply glance down and get the full story within just a few seconds.

What’s next for Infor Ming.le?
We’re thinking about gamification. I’ve seen other vendors use gamification where they’re like, “Oh, Billy posted 100 times, he gets a star.” But that’s not useful. I think it will be really meaningful if we can add gamification elements to core business processes. Take, for example, order to cash. That process might take a company two or three weeks. We’re exploring ways to gamify the experience and help users get it down to ten days. Gamification shouldn’t be about acknowledging someone when they’ve done a task that they’re supposed to do. It should help motivate employees along the way and celebrate them when they succeed.

What is your proudest achievement?
Taking Infor Ming.le to market. I’ve been working on this product since the very beginning, when it was just an idea and a few mock-ups. Now we have this real product that customers love using to help run their businesses.

Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in tech?
Learn to code. If you can code, you’re going to rule the world.

Read about the making of Infor Ming.le for Apple Watch in this blog post by the app’s designer, Maksim Petriv.

September 3, 2015 - No Comments!

Creating great enterprise UX for the people, with the people

Mary UX Research

One of the major hurdles in enterprise user experience is that the people who use the software (“the users”) are usually not the ones who get to select it (“the choosers”). Users, whether they like it or not, are stuck with whatever the choosers pick. This isn’t an issue in itself—after all, just because enterprise users are a captive audience, doesn’t mean the software has to be of lower quality. The real problems surface when product teams don’t consider the needs of this captive audience and only develop software with the choosers in mind. This is one of the main reasons why enterprise UX has lagged so far behind its consumer counterpart, and it’s one of the key issues I look to rectify when I’m conducting my research.

Amazing usability can’t be achieved without a deep understanding of your users, but unfortunately, enterprise software can be a challenging space to acquire that understanding. While it’s easy to interact regularly with the choosers, the end-users in an enterprise scenario are typically much less accessible.

Unlike web-based research projects, you can’t just pluck a random user off the street to test your enterprise software and then send them on their way with an Amazon gift card. It takes some Nancy Drew-style sleuthing to get in contact with potential interviewees, making the act of navigating through organizational barriers an incredibly time-consuming and frustrating process. Often, the choosers won’t even know the users personally, meaning that you’ll have to go down several levels in hierarchy and across multiple departments just to get in touch with them. Still, connecting with actual users is critical to success, and it’s well worth the steep investment of time.

What can we do to connect with our users? Since they are usually unable to come to us, then we must go to them. In enterprise UX, customer site visits are crucial. We’ve found it enormously beneficial to familiarize ourselves with environmental factors such as the devices they use and where they sit— in an open office or a cubicle, on the shop floor, or if they rarely sit at all.

Mary UX Research B

Rethinking methods

Connecting with users is only half the battle. Applying the right methods to the project is the other big challenge. For example, when it comes to learning more about users, I’ve discovered that it’s often better to evaluate them by creating “profiles” instead of the “personas”. Whereas personas create fictional, nebulous user archetypes based on market research and user data, user profiles are much more qualitative. Based on secondary research including job postings, LinkedIn profiles, and industry-specific websites, it provides me with more than just a description of my user: It tells me what they’re doing, it tells me how they’re doing it, and it allows me to better design an experience to suit their needs.

The best part about creating a user profile is that you don’t necessarily have to jettison the user persona approach. I’ve found a happy medium between the two, leveraging user profiles to create a few hypotheses that are either validated or invalidated by conducting user interviews. These interviews offer additional context about the users, such as how their role fits into the larger organization or a better idea of what stage in the process their work might apply.

A successful enterprise UX project considers the user needs, client objectives, and organizational priorities, striking a perfect balance to please every stakeholder in the process. It takes persistence and mental flexibility in no small amount, but at Hook & Loop, making users happy in the workplace is a key component of success—for both our users and us.

August 13, 2015 - No Comments!

Marc Scibelli on internships, creative leadership, and the best advice he’s ever received

8_12_15_blog_Marc Interview_B[1]

Marc Scibelli, Chief Creative Officer of Infor, is an ambitious creative. Under his leadership, Hook & Loop is reimagining Infor’s brand identity and reinventing its products with a user experience that’s intuitive, engaging, and purposeful.

As an Infor Scholar, I was interested in learning about Marc’s own internship experience—and in interviewing the CCO, of course! Read on to find out about Marc’s career beginnings, the best advice he’s ever received, and why he thinks creatives are natural-born leaders.

In college you were an intern at New York’s Newsday. What was that experience like?
It was the most important thing I’ve ever done. Just to set the scene for you: I was 18 years old and attending a decent—but not prestigious—university, majoring in visual communications, all while working retail and other odd jobs full-time.

Newsday always felt like a big deal to me. They’re based near my hometown and college campus and, at the time, they were the sixth largest newspaper in the country. Their internship program was well-known because they hired dozens of interns every summer—but mostly Ivy League kids. I knew if I wanted a chance, I needed to stand out. I tailored my portfolio to Newsday’s graphic style—I spent weeks creating new maps and infographics. I guess I impressed someone there—I got the internship, and it was great. Eventually, I was even hired full-time when I was still in school.

At Newsday I learned how to be humble, how to meet deadlines, how to constantly improve—all things that are still helpful to this day. And, maybe for the first time in my life, I learned my value. Every day my illustrations made it into the paper with my name in six-point type in the corner. That kind of frequency was unusual.

What advice do you have for leaders who work with millennials?
I’ve heard many managers express that they're worried about millennials taking their jobs or marginalizing them. Good—you should be. This cycle has been going on forever. You just need to add value. Nurture those behind you and everything will work out. Bottom line: don’t be scared, be better.

What’s the most surprising thing the Infor Scholars will learn this summer?
The Scholars will need to become great problem solvers—and I know they will—but actually feeling the weight of that responsibility will be challenging. Other than that, this experience, I hope, will give them a taste of real life. They’ll learn that no matter how cool a job seems, it’s still work, and, sometimes, it can be boring. It just hits you at one point—the realization that you have to be somewhere every single day.

What do you think young people who are starting their careers bring to the workplace?
Young hires—they’re so enthusiastic, and it’s great when they’re excited to dip their hands into every project they can. When they come in with the attitude that every challenge opens a new possibility, then they are tremendously appreciated.

What guidance can you give to creatives who are currently in the workforce?
Now that business leaders are learning how dynamic creatives are, they’re bringing them closer to the business side of their organizations. Creatives have this innate flexibility that is necessary for success in business. They don’t just attack a problem through one lens. They look at all of their options and figure out a plan of action—one that might be unusual, but will work.

But here’s the thing, it’s essential for creatives to get out of their comfort zones and educate themselves on the business side. Coupled with their natural curiosity and problem solving skills, I believe creatives are a natural fit for leadership roles.

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Do you have any words of wisdom for the Infor Scholars?
Add value to your team. Get into the thick of it and try to help however you can. If you see something that needs to be rethought or changed, speak up. If you’re asked to do a simple task, do it right—and if you think it can be bigger, make it bigger. When you add value to your team you become an asset, and that’s how you’ll succeed here.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Shut Up.” Seriously, stop trying to show everyone what you know. Ambition is great, but cockiness isn’t. Take it all in. Just listen, digest, and when you have insight, it’ll be received.

Author bio
Adam Poplawski is an Infor Summer Scholar on the Hook & Loop writing team. He attends Macaulay Honors College and is a part of the CUNY Baccalaureate Program. This fall he will study abroad in Prague.

Photos by Dominique Goncalves. Dominique is an Infor Summer Scholar on the Hook & Loop video team. She attends the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

August 6, 2015 - No Comments!

Meet the Infor Scholars

H&L Hero Images_1

They’re known as interns in some places, but at Infor, they’re called Scholars. Who makes up this diverse bunch of high school and college developers, designers, filmmakers, and more? I—a Scholar myself—wanted to find out.

One thing that every Scholar has in common is a sense of pride in what he or she is accomplishing at Infor. Whether they’re developing a new app, learning how to collaborate with a team, or digging deep into data analytics, everyone was eager to talk about what they are working on when I asked.

Meet this summer’s New York Scholars. Get to know them a little bit. And find out the biggest challenges they’ve faced, their evolving perspectives on tech, and what they would do if—gasp!—the Internet ceased to exist.

Adam, Hook & Loop (H&L) writing team, Macaulay Honors at John Jay College

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
The atmosphere and the fact that the work I’m doing actually matters. It’s not just small errands to keep me busy.

Have your impressions of tech changed this summer?
Tech was a completely foreign field to me. I knew how to use a computer, but I was never aware of how much work goes into the apps that people use every day.

Antonio, H&L development team, Binghamton University

How would you describe Hook & Loop to your friends?
It's a place for open-minded people who aren’t afraid to put their ideas out there. H&L is accepting of everyone and filled with a wide variety of people and talents.

Have your impressions of tech changed this summer?
I now look at everything with a critical eye. I’ve realized that anything I build should be up to industry standards. It should all be beautiful.

Divy, H&L development team, Stevens Institute of Technology 

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this summer?
The way I code is different from the way that Hook and Loopers code. Learning and adapting to that change has been challenging, and I still haven’t reached the point where I feel comfortable with it. Right now, I’m just taking it slowly and step by step.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
I would come up with a solution to replace it. I’d create an alternate Internet, for the use of the people, which would be superior and more robust.

H&L Candid Images_7

Dominique, H&L video team, School of the Art Institute in Chicago

What are your expectations for this summer?
I want to learn more about the video field and the process that brings it all together. I’m glad it’s such a hands-on internship.

What’s the one tech gadget you couldn’t live without?
My phone! And my camera! But I have a camera on my phone and I use my phone for everything, so yeah, my phone.

Handy, Infor Local.ly team, Pace University

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
The culture is very refreshing—it’s definitely different than most companies. People work hard and everyone interacts with each other.

What do you think life was like before the Internet?
It was slower and not as hectic. Now, everyone has to think fast because everything is done so quickly and with higher expectations.

Helena, Infor Mongoose team, Pace University

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
I have such quality teammates from all over the world. They are so accommodating and helpful, even from a distance.

What’s the one tech gadget you couldn’t live without?
My phone. My generation has a real fear of missing out. My phone allows me to stay connected, trendy, and current.

Isabelle, H&L product management team, Academy of Notre Dame de Namur

What are you currently working on?
I’m designing an app. I made a road map, and today I’m meeting with a user specialist to discuss how to make the app usable. Then I’m going to meet with designers, copywriters, etc.

What is your favorite thing about Infor?
It’s giving me a really great experience. IT is something new and different. It sets me apart from my friends.

Justine, H&L video team, Baruch University

How would you describe Hook & Loop to your friends?
The office has this really cool vibe. Everyone has loud personalities and styles.

What do you think life was like before cell phones?
Oh, that’s troubling. What if there was an emergency? I mean I guess you’d have to use a payphone, and be much more precise with what you’re doing, especially when it comes to planning.

H&L Candid Images_6

Kevin, Infor development team, City College

Have your impressions of tech changed this summer?
I’m working on an ecommerce website right now and when I initially saw it I thought it was fine. Then, as I learned more about quality assurance, I saw how much help the site needed. It’s also cool to see how teams from all over the world are collaborating on this project.

What do you think life was like before the Internet?
It was probably a lot more interesting. People just stare at their phones now. I wish people would talk to each other more.

Kevon, Infor Value Engineering team, Baruch College

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
I love that I have a heavy workload. I’m never bored and I’m not doing menial tasks. It’s challenging and requires me to be critical of myself.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
Other than die? Okay, I guess that’s a little extreme. I’d force myself to actually talk to people. The Internet makes everything feel so connected, across the world. It’d be weird if you had to learn to communicate face to face with everyone.

Kia, H&L brand design team, Macaulay Honors at City College

What do you think life was like before cell phones?
I should be able to remember that! Probably less stressful. I feel like being constantly connected can be problematic because it sets up the expectation that we should always be available.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
I know it would be way more difficult to find information and to connect with my friends. I use social media a lot. I would hate not being able to be able to look up or post art.

Linda, H&L project management team, Baruch College

Have your impressions of tech changed this summer?
I never realized how much effort goes into enterprise software. Working here has made me realize how important it is. The other day I was on the PATH train and took a look at the software they were using. It was terrible! Before working here, I never paid attention to anything like that. Now I can’t look at software the same way.

What do you think life was like before cell phones?
Well, I experienced it firsthand growing up in Russia. If you wanted to make a phone call, you had to go to the post office. It wasn’t a huge deal, but you had to do so much for something so simple.

Meredith, Infor sales team, University of South Carolina

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
I mean come on, we’re in New York City! When you think of a dream job, you always think of a big city and New York is the quintessential big city. It’s great to be out of my comfort zone, and I’m starting to learn more about what I want for my future and for myself.

What are your expectations for this summer?
I’m here to gain a better understanding of how a global organization operates, and I’m glad that I have an internal view of the process.

Mikaela, H&L product management team, Deerfield Academy

What are you currently working on?
I’m creating a recipe app with my mentor, Meredith. Instead of the typical apps that just show you recipes, “EasyCook” will allow you to input whatever ingredients you have at home, and then show you which recipes you can make with only those ingredients.

What’s your favorite app?
Instagram, because it’s fun to see where people are and what they’re doing, and you can show others what you’re doing. It’s almost like Facebook, without actually having to say anything.

H&L Candid Images_5

Peter, Infor Local.ly team, Pace University

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
Other places I’ve worked were strict with no room to be yourself. Everyone here acts so naturally. I also love seeing the leadership team around the office—it gives me something to aspire to.

What do you think life was like before the Internet?
It was bearable. People were more social; they wouldn’t walk in the street with their phones all day.

Preston, Infor Mongoose team, Pace University

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
I’ve had the opportunity to lead some projects. It’s cool to produce work that I can show off.

What do you think life was like before the Internet?
I lived it and it was fine. I mean, I had to plan things differently and the Internet does save time. But it stinks that there aren’t many hole-in-the-walls anymore.

Rajat, Infor Value Engineering team, New York University

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this summer?
Having so many new responsibilities has been pretty challenging. I don’t have much experience with anything that I’m working on, so it’s all about learning quickly and adapting.

What do you think life was like before the Internet?
I think people put a lot of value in learning from each other, instead of Googling everything like we do now.

Saffia, H&L video team, Macaulay Honors at City College

How would you describe Hook & Loop to your friends?
Two words: Fun and creative! In terms of the people and the work.

What’s your favorite thing about your experience at Infor?
It’s so different than most internships. My mentor, Peter Gagnon, has given me the creative freedom to develop new projects and run with them, which is awesome.

Scott, Infor corporate development and M&A team, University of Colorado

How would you describe Infor to your friends?
I know that Infor uses the term “world’s largest startup,” and that’s completely accurate. The New York office has a casual feel and people have a legitimate desire to work together. It’s just an amazing opportunity and place.

What’s your favorite thing about Infor?
I love that I’m getting hands-on experience and I’m working on important financial projects. A lot of internships aren’t like that, and I’m so happy to be in one.

H&L Candid Images_2

Shriraj, Infor Alliance Partners team, Brandeis University

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this summer?
Getting up to speed has been tough, but I’m trying to be proactive about it. I’ve even created an acronym list for future scholars who will have my position to help them integrate as quickly as possible.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
Would that be such a bad thing? There is way too much Googling and not enough communicating with others to find your way around a problem. Our generation is so dependent on tech instead of supplementing it with our own thoughts.

Tristan, H&L product management team, Loyola University Chicago

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this summer?
Initially, getting into the mindset of actually working is pretty difficult. I’ve babysat before, but this is completely different. Tamara is an amazing mentor, and Tristyn, my co-scholar, is a veteran here—he worked at H&L last summer—so he helps me a lot.

What’s the one tech gadget you couldn’t live without?
My phone, it’s so addictive, and honestly, we’re all so dependent on our phones. Unless you’re part of the generation that can remember what it’s like to do things without a smartphone, you’re pretty much lost without it. The 90’s babies, that’s the generation that’s absolutely useless without a phone.

Tristyn, H&L product management team, Stetson University

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced this summer?
Understanding exactly what semantic web is, and how we’re going to incorporate it into Infor Glide. It’s exciting to figure out how Glide will solve problems that healthcare desperately needs solutions for.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
I’d just make music. I don’t see a point in doing much else. I love working with music now, but having the Internet is a major distraction.

Xiaolu, Infor public sector sales research team, Brandeis University

What are your expectations for this summer?
Since my major is international economics and finance, my future career goal is to do data analytics. I’m hoping to improve my data skills and it’s really cool to get this insight into the public sector and how it uses Infor’s products.

What would you do if the Internet were wiped off the face of the Earth?
It’d be terrible. I can’t even imagine that, life without the Internet.

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July 22, 2015 - No Comments!

Jamie Fallar: From intern to employee

Intern Interview_Jamie_B

Jamie Fallar, project manager for Infor Rhythm™ for Commerce, joined Hook & Loop as an intern last summer and became a full-time team member in January 2015.

What was your first week like at Infor?
Being thrown into the role of project manager was daunting but awesome. From day one, Iris Wong, my mentor, gave me the opportunity to work on a lot of different projects. I clicked with the office culture very quickly, and now when I walk in I feel like I’m walking into my second home.

How did having a mentor help you?
Iris has been instrumental in my career. She has always had my back and really prepared me for my position. She encouraged me to sit in on a lot of meetings and taught me everything that she was doing. Iris is everything that a mentor should be: understanding, caring, supportive, and always ready to celebrate my achievements.

What was the most important thing you learned during your internship?
Hook & Loop crushed the stereotypes of what I thought working in tech would mean. You don’t have to be a techie or a programmer to be in the industry because so much more goes into it than just coding. Tech is like an art form with many different facets.

How is being a full-time Infor employee different than being an intern?
In terms of roles and responsibilities, it isn’t different at all, which really speaks volumes about our internship program. I was able to fully explore my role.

I hear you have a background in theater. How has that experience helped up you at Infor?
Theater is all about playing different roles. Now, as a project manager, I wear many different hats, so to speak. I need to act differently depending on whether I’m working with the internal Hook & Loop team, talking to clients, or just working at my desk. Coming from the theater world, there really isn’t any room for shyness, and as a project manager I need to draw on that confidence to get the work done.

Are you still involved in theater?
I volunteer at a local elementary school in Astoria where my sister teaches special education and recently helped with their end-of-the-year show. I played the part of a red carpet reporter and interviewed the kids, which they absolutely loved.

The arts bring out something truly magnificent in kids. One boy who suffers from social anxiety was cast as the lead in the “The Jungle Book.” He did an amazing job, and on stage, he wasn’t a boy with a disability—he was a star

What advice would you give to this year’s summer scholars?
Honestly, it might sound cliché, but this experience is what you make of it. Go above and beyond the work that it is required of you. Infor puts a lot of emphasis on forward thinking and that’s really why the scholars program exists. Infor scholars have such unique perspectives. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas—because that’s exactly what you’re here to do.

What has been your proudest achievement at Infor?
Working on Infor Rhythm has been my proudest achievement. I am part of the team that is growing it into a fully fleshed-out solution. I believe it will be a game changer in the industry and for our customers.

Author bio
Adam Poplawski is an Infor Summer Scholar on the Hook & Loop writing team. He attends Macaulay Honors College and is a part of the CUNY Baccalaureate Program. This fall he will study abroad in Prague.

Photo by Dominique Goncalves. Dominique is an Infor Summer Scholar on the Hook & Loop video team. She attends the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

July 16, 2015 - No Comments!

I design processes

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Whenever I visit my family, I dread the question: “How’s work?” Because it’s inevitably followed by: “Wait… what do you do again?”

Then we go through the usual back-and-forth:
“I’m an information architect at a software company.”
“So you do all that coding?”
“No, it’s more like designing.”
“Like Photoshop? Didn’t you go to library school?”
“Well, yeah, but…”
(confused silence)
“I design processes.”
(more confused silence)

“So, how’s New York?”

I’ve always opted for hard-to-explain jobs, but information architecture has been the most confusing to the uninitiated. It’s not easy to sum up the totality of information architecture in an elevator pitch. As is often the case with “big picture” jobs, there’s no tidy way to convey: “I’m the person who thinks about all the parts that make up a thing, look at how all the parts interact and affect each other, and then make sure they all play nice.”

However, there is an all-encompassing term for that process and it’s called Systems Thinking.

Very simply put, Systems Thinking is this:
Circle of Arrows
Everything affects everything else. And that’s it! Whew—I should just go around with this logo in my pocket and when asked what I do… whip it out… right? Problem solved… Well, kind of.

So, what exactly is a system? The snarky answer from those who have recently read James Gleick’s “Chaos” or watched Carl Sagan explain how to make an apple pie is that everything is a system. Everything is connected, from butterflies in Sumatra to earthquakes in California. And while that may be true, the scope of that idea is just too daunting. This is the problem with systems: they quickly become very complex—because they expand exponentially. Therefore the skill one needs in Systems Thinking is to determine how far to zoom out (or in) when defining a system and its processes.

With that in mind, how does one know “whether you are looking at a system or just a bunch of stuff?” as Donella Meadows, the late environmental scientist, asked in her pioneering book, “Thinking in Systems: A Primer.” Meadows outlines a few questions you should ask when evaluating a potential system (paraphrased below using Sagan’s pie metaphor):

  1. Can you identify all the parts?
    Yep—ingredients: apples, eggs, flour, sugar, etc.
  2. Do the parts affect each other?
    Mix them together in the baking process and they are altered.
  3. When you bring the parts together, do they produce an outcome that is different than when you experience the parts individually?
    Ever try eating a raw egg? I don’t recommend it.

This simple evaluation method has been invaluable in my current project for Infor HCM (Human Capital Management), in which Hook & Loop was challenged to make this system work, well, more like a true system. When the HCM team came to us, the solution was chock full of parts (or sub-systems) including—human resources, succession planning, performance reviews, benefits enrollment, time tracking, and so on. Each of these sub-systems, of course, affect one another within the workplace, but within the Infor HCM solution they were each operating on their own.

Let’s take the sub-system of performance reviews, for example. User interviews told us that managers and employees alike dread annual reviews. Many employees felt that their milestones and key successes were often overlooked. And managers were overwhelmed trying to remember and track down everything their employees had accomplished in a year. To mitigate the pain of annual reviews, we started by adding new features like more frequent check-ins, but the real magic happened when we incorporated features from an already existing sub-system: time tracking. By bringing these previously disparate sub-systems together (performance reviews and time tracking), we gave employees a clearer picture of their performances by day, week, project, etc., and empowered managers to make better-informed decisions about promotions and raises.

While working on Infor HCM, we constantly had two thoughts. Is this something that can be solved by software or by people? And where do these ideas intersect? Ultimately, the Infor HCM project is about people and whether or not they’re happy and satisfied by their work. A half-hearted performance review—done briskly, to get it out of the way—does nothing to better the employee or managerial experience in the workplace. But by fixing the software side of the review, managers could complete the once dreaded task with ease. The software gave renewed value to the experience.

It was the place where the human and the software merged (not in a cyborg way) that made this improvement possible. When working with software systems, it is important to keep in mind that one of the parts of the system is the human using it. When the user is frustrated, the system breaks down. By fixing the software, and seeing how all the parts—including the people who have to use the software—fit together, we can actually Increase the user’s happiness and make the systems make sense. And that’s the answer to what I do at work.

June 25, 2015 - No Comments!

Woman In Tech: Karen VanHouten

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Karen VanHouten is the principal information architect and product manager for SoHo Xi, a new UX system that Hook & Loop launched yesterday to Infor’s product development teams.

Your original plan was to be an English professor. What brought you to tech?
It was completely accidental. After grad school, I took a break and started writing for a tech company—first in marketing and then technical writing. My love for learning and research really pulled me down this path into IA. It was a natural but completely unplanned progression. I think a lot of it was being open to opportunities that I was uncertain about and taking little chances and seeing where they led.

How did your experience in academia influence the way you work today?
Education is such an essential part of SoHo Xi. We’re not plopping some 300-page style guide into product teams’ laps and saying, “okay, now go.” We’ll be guiding them throughout the adoption process. And we’re also educating them about why they should adopt. Over the last few months, we’ve written dozens of articles for our internal UX blog about why things like accessibility and responsive design are so crucial to our users and to the success of Infor’s apps.

What do you think it takes to be a great IA?
I believe that IA is a personality type. You need to be a keen observer and a great listener, but you also need to be good at interpreting the results. It’s not just flat observation—it’s about understanding context.

You’ve been with Ladies That UX Grand Rapids since they launched last September. Can you give us some background on who they are and why they matter to you?
I really want to help get more women into tech, but I want to do it in a positive way. I feel like so many organizations and events focus too much on the difficulties we face when they should really focus on nurturing talent. Ladies That UX has given me the perfect opportunity to teach hands-on skills and inspire women who are new to the tech scene.

Last month I spoke on a panel about collaborating with teams in different locations, which is a topic that really hits home for me since I work remotely out of Hook & Loop’s New York office. I think it’s important to show women that the tech industry offers flexibility for whatever your situation might be. You can work from home. You can work part time. You can have a life. And you don’t need to live in San Francisco or even on a coast—you can do it right here in the Midwest.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a career in tech?
It’s okay if you don’t have a plan. Sometimes it’s nice to just hang out and enjoy what you’re good at before moving on or moving up. But with that said—don’t ever limit yourself. Have an open mind. And keep everything in your peripheral vision because you never know what opportunities will arise.

June 18, 2015 - No Comments!

The best-ever UX + Information Architecture events, programs, and influencers

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Events

The IA Summit
A five-day summer camp for IAs, The IA Summit draws a brilliant (and fun!) crowd.

Midwest UX
Beloved by H&L Midwest, this three-day extravaganza is all about hands-on training.

An Event Apart
Designers, developers, and UXers learn the latest and greatest during these three days packed with design, code, and content.

NN/g Usability Week
Because Don Norman.

Programs

Pratt School of Information and Library Science
The UX concentration within Pratt SILS has come a long way since Dr. David Walczyk created the Cultural Informatics Lab in the mid-2000s and began teaching IA and Usability classes. More than half of Hook & Loop’s IAs are a product of Dr. Walczyk’s unique curriculum of systems thinking, critical theory, and hands-on experience design. Craig MacDonald now leads the expanded program and continues to train aspiring IAs and IA-curious librarians alike.

General Assembly User Experience Design Immersive
We’re big fans of this immersive 10-week program from which many H&Lers have graduated. UXDI meets every day from 9 to 5 and teaches the core skills that make up the entire UX design process, from research and ideation to prototyping and testing.

Influencers

Abby Covert
Abby is an information architect and teacher at Products of Design. We’re obsessed with her book “How to Make Sense of Any Mess.”
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Steve Portigal
When Steve sets a goal, he meets it. He tweeted #100DoodlesIn100Days, plus he authored one of our favorite UX books: “Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights.”

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Dana Chisnell
Dana is a usability expert who has trained thousands of election officials to test the design of their ballots.
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Whitney Hess
Whitney is a coach to hundreds of companies, with a mission “to put humanity back into business.”
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Jonathan Shariat
We’ve been hooked ever since reading Jonathan’s breathtaking blog post “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.” Now we’re waiting with bated breath for his forthcoming book: “Tragic Design: The real cost of bad design and how we can fix it.”
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