FEATURED STORY

Designers as data scientists

Data science isn't only the purview of analysts and statisticians; it should be part of a designer's skill set as well.

Download a free copy of “The New Design Fundamentals” ebook, a curated collection of chapters from our Design library. Note: this post is an excerpt from “Designing with Data,” by Rochelle King and Elizabeth F. Churchill, which is included in the curated collection.

It might feel like using data is big news now, but the truth is that we’ve been using data for a long time. For the past 20 years, we’ve been moving and replicating more and more experiences that we used to have in the physical world into the digital world. Sharing photos, having conversations, duties that we used to perform in our daily work have all become digital. We could probably have a separate discussion as to how much the migration from the physical “real” world to the digital world has benefitted or been detrimental to our society, but you can’t deny that it’s happening and only continues to accelerate at a breakneck pace.

Let’s take a look at what it means for these experiences to be moving from the physical to the digital. Not too long ago, the primary way that you shared photos with someone was that you would have to have used your camera to take a photo at an event. When your roll of film was done, you’d take that film to the local store where you would drop it off for processing. A few days or a week later, you would need to pick up your developed photos, and that would be the first time you’d be able to evaluate how well the photos that you took many days prior actually turned out. Then, maybe when someone was at your house, you’d pull out those photos and narrate what each photo was about. If you were going to really share those photos with someone else, you’d maybe order duplicates and then put them in an envelope to mail to them — and a few days later, your friend would get your photos as well. If you were working at a company like Kodak that had a vested interest in getting people to use your film, processing paper, or cameras, then there are so many steps and parts of the experience that I just described which are completely out of your control. You also have almost no way to collect insight into your customers’ behaviors and actions along the process. Read more…

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Real-world interfaces are in an awkward and playful stage

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Josh Clark on the world as an interface, avoiding data rash, and the importance of play.

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World_Alarm_Clock_Bob_Bob_FlickrIn this week’s episode of the Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler chats with Josh Clark, founder of design agency Big Medium (formerly known as Global Moxie). Clark talks about the changing nature of his work as the world itself becomes more of an interface, how to avoid “data rash,” and why in this time of rapid technology growth it’s essential for designers to splash in the puddles.

The world is the medium

The influence of the Internet of Things is beginning to touch every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate to how we work to how we play. This fundamental shift away from screens to the real-world around us not only is influencing how designers approach their craft, but is changing the medium itself in which designers work. Clark talked about this shift and how it’s affecting his own work:

Over the last couple of years, I’ve found the nature of my work has been changing as well as my interests. I think the culture of digital design is changing, too, as we start moving off of screens. It felt like an opportunity to redefine my own work, so I also did that with my agency and changed its name to Big Medium. The idea of that being that the Internet itself is a pretty big medium, and in fact starting to expand beyond the bounds that we’ve traditionally associated it with, which is the screen. Increasingly, as we’re seeing connected devices — the smart phones were kind of the leading edge of this, but now we’re starting to see wearables and the Internet of Things — this idea that the Internet is becoming embedded in our environment and in everyday objects means that anything can be an interface.

My work is starting to engage more and more with that truly big medium, which is the world itself. Finally, the world is the interface, which of course it always has been, but now we’re able to create digital experiences that belong to the world that we actually move in instead of us having to dive into the screens.

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How Shazam predicts pop hits

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Cait O'Riordan on Shazam's predictive analytics, and Francine Bennett on using data for evil.

Subscribe to the O’Reilly Radar Podcast to track the technologies and people that will shape our world in the years to come.

record_player_from_1920s_Marcin_Wichary_FlickrIn this week’s Radar Podcast, I chat with Cait O’Riordan, VP of product, music and platforms at Shazam. She talks about the current state of predictive analytics and how Shazam is able to predict the success of a song, often in the first few hours after its release. We also talk about the Internet of Things and how products like the Apple Watch affect Shazam’s product life cycles as well as the behaviors of their users.

Predicting the next pop hit

Shazam has more than 100 million monthly active users, and its users Shazam more than 20 million times per day. This, of course, generates a ton of data that Shazam uses in myriad ways, not the least of which is to predict the success of a song. O’Riordan explained how they approach their user data and how they’re able to accurately predict pop hits (and misses):

What’s interesting from a data perspective is when someone takes their phone out of their pocket, unlocks it, finds the Shazam app, and hits the big blue button, they’re not just saying, “I want to know the name of this song.” They’re saying, “I like this song sufficiently to do that.” There’s an amount of effort there that implies some level of liking. That’s really interesting, because you combine that really interesting intention on the part of the user plus the massive data set, you can cut that in lots and lots of different ways. We use it for lots of different things.

At the most basic level, we’re looking at what songs are going to be popular. We can predict, with a relative amount of accuracy, what will hit the Top 100 Billboard Chart 33 days out, roughly. We can look at that in lots of different territories as well. We can also look and see, in the first few hours of a track, whether a big track is going to go on to be successful. We can look at which particular part of the track is encouraging people to Shazam and what makes a popular hit. We know that, for example, for a big pop hit, you’ve got about 10 seconds to convince somebody to find the Shazam app and press that button. There are lots of different ways that we can look at that data, going right into the details of a particular song, zooming out worldwide, or looking in different territories just due to that big worldwide and very engaged audience.

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Toward a damned good information architecture

An IA model informed by an "information ecology" composed of users, content, and context.

Download a free copy of “The New Design Fundamentals” ebook, a curated collection of chapters from our Design library. Note: this post is an excerpt from “Information Architecture,” 4th Edition, by Louis Rosenfeld, Peter Morville, and Jorge Arango, which is included in the curated collection.

Users. Content. Context. You’ll hear these three words again and again throughout this book. They form the basis of our model for practicing effective information architecture design. Underlying this model is a recognition that you can’t design useful information architectures in a vacuum. An architect can’t huddle in a dark room with a bunch of content, organize it, and emerge with a grand solution. It simply won’t hold up against the light of day.

Websites, intranets, apps, and other information environments are not lifeless, static constructs. Rather, there is a dynamic, organic nature to both the information systems and the broader contexts in which they exist. This is not the old world of yellowing cards in a library card catalog. We’re talking complex, adaptive systems with emergent qualities. We’re talking rich streams of information flowing within and beyond the borders of departments, business units, institutions, and countries. We’re talking messiness and mistakes, trial and error, survival of the fittest.

We use the concept of an “information ecology” composed of users, content, and context to address the complex dependencies that exist. And we draw upon our trusty Venn diagram (see Figure 2–6) to help people visualize and understand these relationships. The three circles illustrate the interdependent nature of users, content, and context within a complex, adaptive information ecology. Read more…

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Designing for ecosystems: Making meaningful IoT products and services

Mike Kuniavsky on PARC’s work on IoT and the mindset shift the IoT will require.

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Attend Experience Design for the Internet of Things, our online conference where six of the smartest people working in design and the Internet of Things will share actionable advice and the essential knowledge you need to create extraordinary IoT experiences and advance your craft. Mike Kuniavsky will present “User experience and predictive device behavior in the internet of things.”

The emergence of the Internet of Things has prompted the production of thousands of new connected devices. More challenging and interesting in many ways, though, is how to embed intelligence into existing products and services. Corporations are trying to wrap their collective minds around the possibilities the IoT presents, but many don’t have the internal expertise to make sense of the space. Companies like Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated (PARC) are helping these organizations with the transition to the IoT. I recently chatted with Mike Kuniavsky of PARC. Kuniavsky is a user experience designer, researcher, and author. He is a member of the Innovation Services Group at PARC, a strategy consulting team within the research organization, formerly known as Xerox PARC.

Bringing the IoT to Fortune 50 companies

PARC has been around since 1970 and has contributed to the evolution of computing, including laser printing, graphic user interface, and the Ethernet. It should be no surprise that they are working on the next generation of computing with the IoT. Kuniavsky explains a bit more about what he and the team are working on:

The Innovation Services Group is essentially PARC’s consulting arm. Of course Xerox is still PARC’s biggest client because it’s our parent company, but it is no longer our group’s biggest client, for sure. We mostly work with Fortune 50 companies. A lot of what we do is essentially reduce the risk of adopting novel technologies through the use of user experience design and ethnography, and an innovation strategy. These days, a lot of that is in the form of looking at things that are broadly in the Internet of Things. Part of that is because that’s where my expertise is; I’ve been playing with connected hardware for 25 years. Part of it is because that’s where there’s a lot of interest. It’s gotten me to really think about the entire ecosystem that the Internet of Things is. It’s not just hooking up a sensor to the Internet and sticking it somewhere in your house. It’s a much larger ecosystem, from my perspective. That’s what we’ve been exploring a lot because that’s what’s interesting to our customers, is understanding not just how this piece of cheap commodity hardware, which can be replicated very easily by any one of their competitors, is going to create an advantage for them, but how this one specific piece of hardware is going to create an ecosystem that is going to be very competitive and is going to create significant value. Read more…

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How to conduct a Design Sprint

Design Sprints bring clarity to your roadmap to kickstart and obtain initial validation for product design work.

Download a free copy of “The New Design Fundamentals” ebook, a curated collection of chapters from our Design library. Note: this post is an excerpt from “Design Sprint,” by Richard Banfield, C. Todd Lombardo, and Trace Wax, which is included in the curated collection.

A Design Sprint is a flexible product design framework that serves to maximize the chances of making something people want. It is an intense effort conducted by a small team, where the results will set the direction for a product or service.

The Design Sprint consists of five discrete phases:

  1. Understand (review background and user insights)
  2. Diverge (brainstorm what’s possible)
  3. Converge (rank solutions, pick one)
  4. Prototype (create a minimum viable concept)
  5. Test (validate with users)

A Design Sprint reduces the risk of downstream mistakes and generates vision-led goals the team can use to measure their success. For the purpose of this book, we’ll focus on digital products since our direct experience lies in that arena, though the Design Sprint has roots in gaming and architecture, and many industries have employed them successfully. Read more…

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