How to Explore UX at a High Level

UX is commonly understood as the web or app piece of your product or service. Also thought of as interface design. Most often it’s handled by the token designer on a team and understood in terms of cool visuals and animations. But this understanding of UX is too small.

Then there is UX, the entire user experience that your customers have with your product. That experience may start with an ad, a sales call, a word of mouth recommendation. Then, if you are lucky, that’s followed by customer buy-in and a registration or setup process. After that is the experience your customer has with your product over time. Does your product get to know your customer and adapt its behavior to better meet their needs? Does it give your customer the kind of feedback that they need? Does it inspire your customer to level up if leveling up is part of your business model?

These questions help us understand UX at a high level. It’s rare that the lone junior designer on your team will even know to ask these questions. But if you examine these questions with a small team on a regular basis, then your designer is well positioned to give you a range of potential solutions.

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Inventor Spotlight: Melanie Shapiro

Melanie Shapiro is the CEO and co-founder of a wearable identity system, Token. Shapiro holds a PhD in Consumer Behavior from the University of Reading, sold her first tech company, Digsby, in 2010, and has spent time as a researcher for Microsoft.

In this video, Shapiro spends a glorious eight minutes talking about her product at a high-level, “We are trying to give people control of their identity and we start by eliminating all of the things that you have to carry around to prove who you are.”

She’s talking about the social and human behavior that her design team is responding to  (the problem space) and not the technological features that her team is building (the solution space). Shapiro offers us some history,

“When we were living in villages, our society was only as big as the 150 people around us. People knew us by our personhood…and that was enough. Complexity was added when that society grew to be a global society and suddenly I need to prove who I am to someone that is all the way on the other side of the world and that person has no history with me. How do we create that sense of trust?”

And then goes on to critique the centralized and siloed structure of our current solutions for creating trust. It’s an insightful and articulate critique.

It’s such a pleasure to watch a tech video that isn’t focused on features but rather on human behavior, culture, and society. And I appreciate a smart device team that thinks beyond the screen and beyond siloed solutions as the Token team is doing. The tech world needs more of this.

 

TAKE IT FURTHER

You can read more about Shapiro’s human-centered approach on the Token blog

Human-Centered Product Categories

enchanted_objects_poster_0
credit: from the book Enchanted Objects by David Rose

The designer’s role on a product team is to be an advocate for the user of the product or system that’s being developed. This advocacy starts with empathy–understanding the user’s values, behaviors, environment, problems and so on. This empathy and understanding then manifests itself in the product as usability and delight–designs that are not only easy to use but that inspire joy.

Designers might find the periodic table of enchantment above by David Rose particularly useful and joyous. It organizes product categories not by industry sector or manufacturing process, but by the human desires that they address. The six categories that Rose calls out are: the desire to be omniscient, to be telepathic, the desire to be safe, to live forever, to transport from one place to another, and the desire to be expressive.

When you think about your product in this way, you think less about your team’s technical capabilities and more about helping your users and customers become the superheroes that they so long to be. It’s an excellent perspective from which to design.

https://enchantedobjects.com/

Inventor Spotlight: Jie Qi

Circuit Sticker Sketchbook from Jie Qi on Vimeo

Jie Qi is the co-founder of a digital-paper-circuits company called Chibitronics. She’s also a Berkman Fellow and an alum of the Hi-Lo Tech Lab at MIT.

In the video above, Qi demonstrates the analog precursor to Chibitronics with her Circuit Sticker Sketchbook. It’s a delightful workbook and equally delightful demo video. And if you’re into product evolution, you can find some earlier iterations of Qi’s sketchbook on youtube like this video here

What’s so impressive about these books is their simplicity and high usability. Simplicity is a funny thing. Artists & Inventors know that it’s harder to make something simple than to make something that’s not. Simplicity is actually complex and it takes a lot of work and emotional intelligence to achieve.

I admire inventors like Jie Qi that create easy-to-use modular systems that help people be creative. Systems like legos or tinker-toys or little bits or bare conductive!

Priorities + Constraints = Clarity

poster

I don’t know who designed this poster template, but I love it. By looking at it you can see that the designer has prioritized the information in order of importance, then employed a set of constraints to convey the message in the simplest way possible. The set of constraints are made up of three elements: color, size, arrangement.

PRIORITIES. You know a that a designer has their priorities in order if  their work passes “the squint test.” That is, if their reader squints at it, they know what it’s about. Readers don’t need to know all of the information at once. They need to know the most important thing. Then, if the most important thing is interesting to them, they will move closer to the poster to get the details.

CONSTRAINTS. Designing something that is clear takes discipline. Effective designers use constraints to get their point across. Sure, they could use every color in the rainbow, but in most cases, that just confuses things. Sure, they could make all of the type close in size, but then how would your reader know what information is most important? Sure you could arrange elements all over the page equally, but then how would your reader know what to read first?

The most common pushback I hear from junior designers on constraints is that they limit creativity. I don’t know where this idea comes from but it’s false. The best artists and inventors use constraints. And you should too.

Transforming the Mundane

Artists and Inventors observe the world around them and make things that aim to improve it. Sometimes that means adding something, sometimes it means taking something away, and other times it means picking out one or two details within a situation and transforming them.

I love this 2009 Kid Cudi video by French designer, So Me. In the video So Me draws flat, colorful animations on top of footage of mundane scenes. Two pizza makers turn into DJs spinning records. An aisle in a bodega turns into the yellow brick road from The Wizard of Oz.

With some imagination and the right box of crayons, what might you transform?

 

Realtime and Historical Data

When sensors and microcontrollers and cloud connectivity become cheap, they will be in every product and system that you can imagine. They will be generating data. Sometimes it will be customer facing, sometimes it won’t be.

Either way, it’s important to think about user experiences with data in time and space. Important questions should be researched:

  • What is the purpose of real-time data?
  • Does it need to be glanceable or detailed and text-based?
  • Does it need to be seen on location or remotely?
  • Does it need to be acted on? If so, by a person or a machine?

Similar questions apply to historical data though the answers will be different in many cases. And those differences should inform design decisions:

  • What is the purpose of historical data?
  • Does it need to be glanceable or detailed and text-based?
  • Does it need to be seen on location or remotely?
  • Does it need to be acted on? If so, by a person or a machine?

As inventors, we need to think about this data piece as an integral part of the experience with the life of a product or system. It’s not something that gets tagged on at the end like the packaging which is a short-lived aspect of the UX. Data, you could say, is the language the product speaks. It needs to be clear and smart and engaging.

Mixing Your Own

When you get good at looking at paintings, you can tell if an artist uses colors straight out of the tube or mixes their own. Straight out of the tube isn’t good or bad, it’s just something that you notice. Some painters mix their own colors. Some sculptors forge their own tools. Some fashion designers design their own fabric.

I ran into a colleague over the weekend who designs 3D digital games and she talked to me about her technique. After sculpting her characters’ forms, she flattens them out, like a dress pattern, and uses her own color and shading to bring them to life.

I love this. It’s a ton of work. And it’s the kind of detail that most people won’t see, at least consciously. But it’s the kind of thing that a craftsperson has to do. It’s a sign of integrity mixed with a little bit of obsessiveness. The sign of an artist.

Shaker Furniture

shaker 2

My version of running away to join the circus would be to run away to and make Shaker furniture. I deeply appreciate the balance of simplicity with functionality in Shaker pieces.

The work shown in the picture above is from a project called “Furnishing Uptopia” hosted by Hancock Shaker Village and Mt. Lebanon Shaker Museum. The project invited a set of international designers to study an archive of Shaker furniture, then design their own contemporary spin on Shaker objects–tables and rakes and baskets and stools. The results are beautiful. You can see more here.

 

 

A Maker of Things: Eva Zeisel

eva_zPhoto Credit: ©TalismanPHOTO

Every time I see Eva Zeisel’s work in a museum, I let out an audible, “Oh! Eva Zeisel!” Her work is delightful in how she combines lines from nature with simplicity and playfulness and functionality. Zeisel’s work calls for an audible “Oh!” It’s the appropriate response.

Eva Zeisel lived to be 105 and worked her entire life. She was born in Budapest and schooled in the guild system there. She then worked in Ukraine and in 1936 she was arrested in Moscow, imprisoned for 16 months, then moved to Vienna upon her release. In 1938 she fled the Nazis and immigrated to the US. In 1946, she was the first woman to have a one-woman show at MoMA.

In 2001, Zeisel gave a TED Talk. She was 94:

I call myself a maker of things. I don’t call myself an industrial designer because I’m other things. Industrial designers want to make novel things. Novelty is a concept of commerce, not an aesthetic concept. The industrial design magazine, I believe, is called “Innovation.” Innovation is not part of the aim of my work. We are makers of things…we are actually concerned with the playful search for beauty…. Sarah Smith, who was a mathematics professor at MIT, wrote, “The playful search for beauty was Man’s first activity”…The word, “playful” is a necessary aspect of our work…this for me is now 75 years.

A 75-year career really gives you time to think deeply about your work and it’s relationship to the world. Some argue that work from her time–the Bauhaus style–isn’t relevant to the 21st century. I used to argue this too but my thinking has evolved. Because when you zoom out and look at what the Bauhaus was doing in that particular time and space, they were searching for a new vocabulary at the emergence of a technological and political revolution. The same thing is happening now. It is relevant. And we might do well to look back at masters like Zeisel to find the beauty and the usefulness of it all. A sense of play. Our humanity.

eva granit sugar cream

Image Source: Design Within Reach

NYTs obit: Eva Zeisel

Google Image Search of “Eva Zeisel Work