Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.


The tools matter and the tools don’t matter

It is easy to sneer at a question about what brand of pen to use, or whether you should use a pencil or a typewriter.

But in this piece, Austin Kleon argues that different tools can help you “get you to a certain way of working in which you can get your conscious, mechanical mind out of the way” to enable creativity.

…handwriting is great for coming up with ideas, for note-taking and big picture thinking…

Typing, on the other hand, is great for producing writing for other people… There’s a thing called “transcription fluency,” which boils down to: “when your fingers can’t move as fast as your thoughts, your ideas suffer.”


1/1 — Brian Eno

Ambient 1 / Music for Airports is 40 years old this month.

1/1 artwork

It is spurious to claim that Brian Eno invented ambient music. Erik Satie’s furniture music deserves mention. Eno himself recognised the role of Muzak.

Music for Airports is not even Eno’s first ambient album, despite its Ambient 1 moniker. But it certainly is the most important.

Music for Airports is both experimental and timeless. Bold yet gentle. You can consciously listen to it. But it may also affect your mood without you consciously being aware of it. Or in the words of Eno, “it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

It was a genuinely new idea. It introduced the notion of designing music for a specific purpose, yet was still packaged as a pop album. A stunning concept.

But how would we feel if music like this was played in an airport? Would it be a calming influence? Or would it grate like Muzak?


Liminal thinking

A powerful explanation of how beliefs are formed, and what little resemblance they have to reality.

Your beliefs form the fundamental model that you use to navigate the world, to think about things, to decide what to do and what to avoid, like a map. We form a lot of these beliefs by middle childhood.

And since you’re the one who built the map, it’s natural to believe that it corresponds to the territory that you are navigating. After all, most of the time, your map gets you where you want to go. So much so that when the map doesn’t get you where you want to go, the first thing you question is not the map but reality.


Of software designers and broken combs

An interesting way of thinking about skills development that I hadn’t heard of before. Conventional wisdom suggests aiming for a T shaped distribution of skills — (the horizontal bar representing shallow skills across many disciplines; the vertical bar representing deep understanding of one discipline).

The broken comb model suggests developing a moderately deep understanding across many disciplines.

With certain exceptions, organizations with many T-shaped people may have difficulty keeping all of those T-shaped people busy. If the base of my T is icon design, but there are no icons available to design, I am either stuck twiddling my thumbs, or doing something I’m much less good at.


Design’s lost generation

As usual with Mike Monteiro, I don’t agree with everything he says (or the way he says it). But this is a seriously thought-provoking article on the failure of a generation of designers.

I am part of design’s last generation. I’ve fucked up. We all have. None of us did enough. Maybe the tide was too strong, or maybe we were too weak. But as I look behind me I see the hope of a new generation. They’re asking better questions, at a younger age, than we ever did. And I truly hope they do better than us because the stakes have never been higher.


The 9 rules of design research

One of the hardest things about design or user research is convincing people that it actually needs to take place. That is especially maddening when working for an research organisation.

(Researchers themselves are sometimes the most reluctant to undertake user research before spending serious amounts of money on ineffective websites.)

So this snippet, among a series of useful rules of thumb, made me cheer. 🙌

If you’ve ever worked with a leader who was resistant to doing qualitative research as part of a million dollar project, ask yourself whether they would skip doing their own research before buying a $50,000 car.

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Design, system

Ethan Marcotte on the “delicate act” of working with a design system. It’s the same challenge facing anyone working with a hub and spoke structure.

How do you balance a drive to standardise designs (or business processes, or policies, or whatever), against the often legitimate requirement to meet unique local needs?

It’s easy for an organization to look at that one-off pattern as a problem of compliance, of not following the established rules. And in many cases, that might be true! But it’s also worth recognizing when a variation’s teaching you a lesson: namely, that your design system isn’t meeting the needs of the people who’re using it.


If Google wanted to get found in Google

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.


Subverted design

As designers have gradually become more senior (or perhaps more experienced), their role in organisations has evolved. But it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Products will always be made through compromise. But in a world where Designers are focused on balancing business needs against user needs, while other stakeholders are focused exclusively on business needs, these compromises will almost always favor the business.


What is design ethnography?

A useful overview of how you can apply principles from ethnography when designing. You are unlikely to be able to use a fully ethnographic approach. But that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate elements of it.

Our view is that, if we liken traditional ethnography to a prize heavyweight boxer, then design ethnography is more akin to a street fighter. It doesn’t follow all of the rules but it gets the job done.


People and tooling

On the increasingly complex nature of design and development.

The way we build for the web right now feels problematic in so many ways. Instead of welcoming everyone from our teams with their various skills, we create layers of complexity that shut many out.

I sense this is deliberate, albeit in a subtly unconscious way. There is a culture among some in technology that seeks to belittle and exclude those who find complicated things intimidating. So development has grown in complexity over time, probably needlessly so.


Then and now: The Bauhaus and 21st century design

Don Norman assesses the Bauhaus movement, and its relevance to design today. He notes that despite its widespread cultural influence, it failed to produce a single object that significantly improved people’s lives.

Consider the “Curriculum Wheel”… developed by Walter Gropius in 1922… It contains three years of study, starting with form and materials, moving to advanced topics in materials, composition, and construction. Never a mention of people. Never a mention of usage. It was all about form.

Elements of this remind me of contemporary debates around flat design and other superficial user interface decisions. This form or that form isn’t right or wrong, unless you know you are meeting people’s needs.


Accessibility according to actual people with disabilities

We often hear about the theory of accessibility in design. But we know that the reality can often be different.

So it’s great to see such a comprehensive run-down of actual digital accessibility complaints from people with disabilities.

The article ends with a sage point:

Basically everything that people with disabilities comment on are things that annoy everyone, so fixing these issues makes your interface better for all users!


Your design ikigai

I love this idea of the ikigai.

It has no direct translation into English, but roughly means your level of happiness in life, or your ‘reason for being’.

This is what I was thinking about when I wrote that you should follow your passion — you should instead find your purpose.

This ikigai venn diagram potentially provides a way of discovering the elements that make up that purpose. I will spend some time thinking about this, and considering what my answer is for each of the sections of this diagram.

It is interesting that passion is represented, as the intersection of what you love and what you are good at. Your mission, profession and vocation may be harder to figure out.

What would your answers be?


Net promoter score considered harmful (and what UX professionals can do about it)

You have probably been asked in a customer satisfaction survey how likely you would be to recommend a company to a friend or colleague. This is used to measure the net promoter score, and it has become very popular.

Here, Jared Spool has comprehensively outlined why net promoter score is not as valuable as businesses hope.

As usual, the problem is that net promoter score is a tool that has been sold as a silver bullet — “This number is the one number you need to grow. It’s that simple and that profound.” And businesses looking for a silver bullet have lapped it up.

But of course, reality is much more complex than that. Net promoter score, when applied consistently by a business, probably does have some value. But it should be used as just one tool of many that you should be using to ensure you are meeting your customers’ needs.


Tech has a diversity problem — so this designer went to Kentucky

I am interested in how, despite the (theoretical) potential of technology improvements to make remote working easier, technology jobs still seem to cluster in particular areas.

Design firms and technology firms are heavily concentrated in cities on the west and east coasts, particularly in San Francisco, LA, and New York, limiting job opportunities to those who have the resources to move to, and live in, such expensive metropolises. And with so many designers living in urban centers, few have the perspective that comes from living in rural areas.

This can be viewed as yet another of the tech industry’s diversity problems.

Automattic, the company that runs, has all of its employees working remotely. Automattic’s John Maeda is trying to engage young people “that fall outside the normal Silicon Valley culture”.


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