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December 5, 2014 - No Comments!

Why I Want to Work With People Who Are Not Like Me

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“This code isn’t working. I’ve been looking at it and looking at it, but can’t see what’s wrong,” I’ve said.

“Maybe it needs a new set of eyes. Want me to take a look?” said colleagues who are not like me.

"That’d be great. Thanks!”

Shortly thereafter, from their different perspectives, they found my error, and the world was better.

That’s why I want to work with people who are not like me.

...

A lot has been written about diversity in the workplace. For me, diversity has always been the obvious choice because I know that if I’m in a room of clones (or people who are just like me: age, gender, background, went to the same school, like the same everything, etc.), we’ll all see things the same way.

Think of it like this: In an office full of “Star Wars” fans, the solution will be to use “the force”. In an office full of “Star Trek” fans, the solution will be based on logic, which clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one). However neither of these skills will help tell a touchback from a touchdown while working on a football website.

So I want to work with people with different backgrounds: “Star Wars” fans, “Star Trek” fans, and football fans. People who went to school someplace else or maybe didn’t go to school at all. People who grew up in a different part of town, or the world. People of different races, ages, sexuality, political affiliation…a diverse team with people who will have different perspectives rather than a team of clones with a singular, shared point of view.

It’s like the anecdote about the truck that got stuck under a bridge. The driver tries to force it out. A small army of engineers plans to take the bridge apart. A gang of construction workers announces they will dig under the truck. Then a little girl hops off her bike and suggests deflating the tires to lower the truck. Everyone gasps, realizing that she’s right. They deflate the tires, back out easily, re-inflate the tires, and the truck goes on its way.

Why did the little girl have a different perspective? Maybe because she was little she had different ways of relating to height than tall adults. Maybe she recently inflated her bike’s tires and saw her bike rise, and applied that to the truck.

In reality, I once worked with an engineer who got his position based on experience, not a degree. When faced with a problem, I pulled out my calculator to start finding a by-the-book solution. My colleague, however, quickly and boldly presented a very detailed, yet unorthodox, solution. My book smarts were trumped by his hands-on experience.

Along these lines we have worked hard to round up a diverse team of developers here at Hook & Loop. We have “Star Wars” fans and “Star Trek” fans, and even <gasp!> people who don’t care for either. And the result has been inspiring, with lots of new ideas birthed from instinct, wrapped in logic, yet still rooted in the reality of expectations and functionality.
We’re accomplishing some great things, and want to keep our mix mixed up and successful.

Diversity isn’t just hollow idealism. It makes sense, and every day I see proof that it’s the right way to do business.

October 23, 2014 - No Comments!

Thinking Inside The Box

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Creative technology often demands that user experience designers “think outside the box”—to come up with new exciting ways of engaging the user. Incredible innovation happens this way—new standards are set and new experiences are defined. However, I’m a big believer that the concept of “thinking outside the box” is often overrated, especially from an information architecture standpoint.

Consider the shower faucet. Once upon a time, shower faucets were simple contraptions. There was a cold-water knob and there was a hot-water knob. You would turn each knob to adjust the temperature; you didn’t have to figure out how to use it. It was obvious. Then, in the Sixties or Seventies, some engineer came along and decided that maybe you could combine the cold and hot water faucets into one faucet.

Suddenly figuring out how to work the temperature and water pressure became infinitely more complicated. There arrived on the market a plethora of new faucets, each operating differently. How many of you have been to a hotel or a friend’s house and spent twenty minutes trying to figure out which way to turn the shower knob to get the right temperature? Or ended up getting scorched?

Similarly with interface design, there tends to be an overemphasis on innovation when user experience should mostly be a practical consideration. With enterprise software, users care less about having a slick, groovy experience than they do about getting the information they need to get their jobs done quickly and easily. This doesn’t mean that design has to be dull or ugly. But it’s important not to overthink the interaction design. Otherwise too much distracting information or too many obscure interactions may get in the way of a person trying to do their work. Designing an optimal user experience is sort of like feng shui: it’s about de-cluttering or de-confusing, so that the user doesn’t have to think so hard about what they need to do.

Often standards in software design, which have been developed over time, work best because users have certain expectations. Top navigation is a good example of a standard that probably doesn’t need to keep being re-invented. One prominent museum site decided it might be more interesting to place the navigation at the bottom of the page rather than the top. This seems awkward and unexpected, an innovation just for the sake of innovating. Designers should cater to a user’s expectation unless there’s a good reason not to. Information and actions shouldn’t be made obscure just for the sake of doing something different.

Before starting your next project or task, ask yourself:

  • Is there a reason for designing it this way?
  • Will it speed up a process for the user?
  • Is the innovation something that is easily learnable?

There have been many innovations that speed up user processes. Consider the Twitter invention of refreshing a feed by swiping down. This is a great example of a new innovation that required the user to learn a new way of doing something. The initial learning curve was rewarded because a) once learned, it’s never forgotten and b) it makes life easier for the user.

Indeed, this method of refreshing the page has now become a standard action for mobile devices, from email to news sites, indeed anything that exists in a list view.

Information architecture and interaction design don't always need to be innovative or flashy. They just need to make sense.