Mary Treseler

Mary Treseler is Director of Strategic Content at O'Reilly Media, Inc. She acquires, curates, and edits design content, when not writing about it herself. Most recently Mary created and launched The Lean Series with Eric Ries. She has been working in technology publishing for more than 20 years; her introduction to the design discipline began in 1993 with Jakob Nielsen’s Usability Engineering. A Boston native, Mary lives by the sea in South Dartmouth, MA, with her husband and two Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. When she unplugs, you can find her out wandering with her camera or planning her next culinary adventure.

An ecosystem of connected devices

Our biggest opportunities as designers and product creators lie in a context-driven approach to designing user experiences.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from our recent book Designing Multi-Device Experiences, by Michal Levin. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

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Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

We have entered a world of multi-device experiences. Our lives have become a series of interactions with multiple digital devices, enabling each of us to learn, buy, compare, search, navigate, connect, and manage every aspect of modern life.

Consider the hours we spend with devices every day — interacting with our smartphones, working on our laptops, engaging with our tablets, watching shows on television, playing with our video game consoles, and tracking steps on our fitness wristbands. For many of us, the following are true:

  • We spend more time interacting with devices than with people.
  • We often interact with more than one device at a time.

The number of connected devices has officially exceeded the seven-billion mark, outnumbering people (and toothbrushes) on the planet. By 2020, this number is expected to pass 24 billion. This inconceivable quantity not only attests to the growing role of these devices in our digital lives, but also signals an increasing number of devices per person. Many individuals now own multiple connected devices — PCs, smartphones, tablets, TVs, and more — and they are already using them together, switching between them, in order to accomplish their goals. Ninety percent of consumers use multiple devices to complete a task over time (PDF). For example, shopping for an item might entail (1) searching and exploring options at home on the PC, (2) checking product information and comparing prices in-store using your smartphone, and (3) writing product reviews on a tablet. Eighty-six percent of consumers use their smartphones while engaging with other devices and during other media consumption activities. Read more…

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Pace of change as a metaphor for full-stack design

Jeff Veen on design teams, flat design and skinny jeans, and full-stack design.

I recently sat down with Jeff Veen, vice president of products at Adobe, and CEO and founder of Typekit. Veen has been a designer for more than 20 years; he is an entrepreneur, writer, cyclist, and lover of burritos. His resume includes Adaptive Path; Wired; WebMonkey; Google; and TypeKit, which was acquired by Adobe. Our conversation covered leadership, hiring designers, and the significance of trends.

Design’s leading role

Design is finally receiving the attention and respect of non-designers. Veen talks about a different dynamic, one in which design plays a leading role in the development of products and services:

“The analogy I always give is that when we started Adaptive Path in 2001, one of our stated values was to have design get a seat at the table, and we meant the board table — like the C level. I feel it is entirely possible to have your own table as a designer and invite other people to have their seats. That is still the exception to the rule, which is probably fine; it probably maps to the wide variety of businesses and products that are out there. But increasingly so, the kind of thinking beind the analytical process and the types of problem solving that designers are particularly good at tends to fit well with the kind of digital interactive, largely consumer-based product development that we’re doing these days.

“I think to embrace design means that you need to populate your company with leadership that has a design background. That is a true signifier — not like, “You know, we should hire a couple of designers. We should spruce up the website,” but really investing in design. Where is the leadership? Where’s the decision-making for the priorities, for the direction and vision of not just the product but the company itself? Where is that embodied? Is it embodied at the same level that a good engineer is? It obviously needs to be. [It’s a sign that] a company understands the value of design.”

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Designers are engineers

Dirk Knemeyer on the changing role of design in emerging technology.

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The discipline of design is morphing. Designers’ roles and responsibilities are expanding at a tremendous pace. Jonathan Follett, editor of Designing for Emerging Technologies recently sat down with Dirk Knemeyer, founder of Involution Studios, who contributed to the book. Knemeyer discusses the changing role of design and designers in emerging technology.

Changing roles: Designers as engineers

Knemeyer explains the morphing role of designers as technologies advance and disciplines overlap. Designers are expected to have skills or working knowledge of topics well outside design, including programming and industrial design:

“We’re already seeing a convergence of engineering and design. We’ve been talking about it for a decade, that designers need to know how to code. Designers get it, and they’re out there and they’re learning to code. To remain relevant, to remain a meaningful part of the creationary process in these more complicated contexts, that’s only going to accelerate. Designers are going to need to see themselves as engineers, maybe as much, if not more, than as designers in order to be relevant in participating in the design and creation processes within the world of emerging technologies.”

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Three strategies for designing for behavior change

Behavioral design strategies provide high-level direction for how a product should be designed.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from our recent book Designing for Behavior Change, by Steve Wendel. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

How can a product help its users pass all the way through the Action Funnel and actually take action? There are three big strategies that a company can choose from to change behavior and help users take action. Two of them come straight from the research literature and from the difference between deliberative and intuitive actions. The third is less obvious, but immensely powerful — it’s called cheating.

The conscious, deliberative route is the one that most of us are familiar with already — it entails encouraging people to take action, and them consciously deciding to do it. Users have to pass through all five stages of the Action Funnel, and often spend considerable time on the conscious evaluation stage.

The intuitive route is a bit more complex. Recall from Chapter 1 that our lightning-fast, automatic, and intuitive reactions arise from a mix of various elements: associations we’ve learned between things, specific habits we’ve built up, our current mindset, and a myriad of built-in shortcuts (heuristics) that save our minds work but can lead us astray. Of these, habits are the most promising route to developing a sustainable path to behavior change because there are clear, systematic ways to form them. And once they are formed, they allow the user to pass effortlessly through two of the stages of the Action Funnel — the conscious evaluation and the assessment of the right timing for action. Read more…

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MVPs and experiments inform design decisions

The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus resources on the best solutions.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from our recent book Lean UX; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

Lean UX makes heavy use of the notion of minimum viable product (MVP). MVPs help test our assumptions — will this tactic achieve the desired outcome — while minimizing the work we put into unproven ideas. The sooner we can find which features are worth investing in, the sooner we can focus our limited resources on the best solutions to our business problems. This concept is an important part of how Lean UX minimizes waste.

Your prioritized list of hypotheses has given you several paths to explore. To do this exploration, you are going to want to create the smallest thing you can to determine the validity of each of these hypothesis statements. That is your MVP. You will use your MVP to run experiments. The outcome of the experiments will tell you whether your hypothesis was correct, and thus whether the direction you are exploring should be pursued, refined, or abandoned.

The focus of an MVP

The phrase MVP has caused a lot of confusion in its short life. The problem is that it gets used in two different ways. Sometimes teams create an MVP primarily to learn something. They’re not concerned with delivering value to the market; they’re just trying to figure out what the market wants. In other cases, teams create a small version of a product or a feature because they want to start delivering value to the market as quickly as possible. In this second case, if you design and deploy the MVP correctly, you should also be able to learn from it, even if that’s not the primary focus. Read more…

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Designing a brand story is not optional

Brand storytelling is your unique chance to be persuasive and make the case for your product.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our recent book Lean Branding ; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

Throughout this chapter, we will look at the six essential parts of a lean brand story: positioning, promise, personas, personality, product, and pricing.

I’ve never met someone who did not aspire to be something more. Even Homer Simpson, with his absolute lack of will and ultimate disregard for the future, at times aspired to be a better husband, a fitter couch potato, a less miserable son to his old man. I’ve heard 5-year-olds state with absolute certainty that they will be president. Someone is sweating his head off right now at some ridiculously expensive gym because he aspires to be fitter. As you read this, someone is pulling an all-nighter studying to earn class valedictorian status — or maybe even reading this book to up her brand game (in which case, I highly appreciate it!). I’m pretty sure someone is daydreaming to the sound of Bruno Mars’s “Billionaire.” Someone (perhaps you) aspires to build a successful product that customers open their wallets and hearts for. If that is indeed you, please hold on to this thought: aspirations.

Behind every great brand is a promise that fulfills its customers’ aspirations. We are in the business of taking customers from A to B, where A is who they are today and B is who they want to be tomorrow. Consider the products you love — sports attire, note-taking apps, electronic devices, chocolate ice cream, this book — and how they’ve made you feel closer to whom you want to be.

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Interaction and industrial design team up to serve the IoT

Martin Charlier on design teams, responsibility, and service.

Industrial designers and interaction designers are joining forces to create the best services for Internet of Things (IoT). I sat down with Martin Charlier, a design strategist with a unique distinction of having both interaction and industrial design experience to talk about how the IoT is changing the design landscape, including team dynamics, responsible design, and value-driven design. Charlier is the co-author of the forthcoming Designing Connected Products and a contributor to Designing for Emerging Technologies. For a free download of sample chapters from Designing Connected Products click here.

Team dynamics

Charlier discusses the key ingredients for teams working on a product together and how to achieve a unified vision:

“I think every field needs to know a little bit about others, just a basic understanding of the other side. In some of the most interesting projects I’ve seen, the team was made up of somebody with an industrial design background, somebody doing more technology and somebody doing more interaction and user experience.

“The key, though, to some of the projects I’ve seen was that they started to work together as one team before splitting up into their respective domain areas so that there was a joined vision. I think that’s the most important thing: to come up with a joined vision. I think that’s where interaction design and industrial design, for example, need to think of either sides of the coin.”

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The intersection of data and design is equal parts art and science

Data-informed design is a framework to hone understanding of customer behavior and align teams with larger business goals.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our forthcoming book Designing with Data; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library — download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

The phrase “data driven” has long been part of buzzword-bingo card sets. It’s been heard in the halls of the web analytics conference eMetrics for more than a decade, with countless sessions aimed at teaching audience members how to turn their organizations into data-driven businesses.

When spoken of in a positive light, the phrase data driven conjures visions of organizations with endless streams of silver-bullet reports — you know the ones: they’re generally entitled something to the effect of “This Chart Will Help Us Fix Everything” and show how a surprise change can lead to a quadrillion increase in revenue along with world peace.

When spoken of in a negative light, the term is thrown around as a descriptor of Orwellian organizations with panopticon-level data collection methods, with management imprisoned by relentless reporting, leaving no room for real innovation.

Evan Williams, founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, made an apt comment about being data driven:

I see this mentality that I think is common, especially in Silicon Valley with engineer-driven start-ups who think they can test their way to success. They don’t acknowledge the dip. And with really hard problems, you don’t see market success right away. You have to be willing to go through the dark forest and believe that there’s something down there worth fighting the dragons for, because if you don’t, you’ll never do anything good. I think it’s kind of problematic how data-driven some companies are today, as crazy as that sounds.”

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Designing the enchanted future

David Rose on the IoT’s impact on our relationship with technology.

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I recently sat down with David Rose, entrepreneur, instructor, and researcher at MIT Media Lab, and author of Enchanted Objects. Rose refers to everyday objects with embedded sensors and cloud connectivity as “enchanted objects.” These objects tap into one of our basic desires, which Rose identifies as omniscience, telepathy, safekeeping, immortality, teleportation, expression. (He created a poster identifying some of the Internet of Things (IoT) devices organized by the human desire each addresses.) While there is plenty of experimentation taking place in this space, the products that will thrive will add value to our lives by tapping into one or more of these desires.

When looking at technology and its implications, Rose starts by focusing on user needs. Read more…

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Great user experience + clear value proposition = value innovation

"Blue ocean" products change the way people think; value innovation requires changing the rules of the game.

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from our forthcoming book UX Strategy; it is part of a free curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library — download a free copy of the Experience Design ebook here.

Value! Value! Value!

The word seems to be used everywhere. It’s found in almost all traditional and contemporary business books since the 1970s. In Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, Peter Drucker talks about how customer values shift over time. He gives an example of how a teenage girl will buy a shoe for its fashion, but when she becomes a working mother, she will probably buy a shoe for its comfort and price. In 1984, Michael Lanning first coined the term “value proposition” to explain how a firm proposes to deliver a valuable customer experience. That same year, Michael Porter defined the term “value chain” as the chain of activities that a firm in a specific industry performs in order to deliver a valuable product.

All these perspectives on value are important, but let’s fast-forward to 2004 when Robert S. Kaplan discussed how intangible assets like computer software were the ultimate source of “value creation.” He said, “Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Read more…

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