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.

Designing with best practices, principles, and interaction patterns

It's important for designers to see emerging standards and understand how one experience affects expectations for the next.

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 Social Interfaces,” by Christian Crumlish and Erin Malone, which is included in the curated collection.

With the growing expectation of seamless experiences, it is important for designers to see the emerging standards and to understand how one experience of a site and its interactions affects expectations for the next site. By working with standard and emerging best practices, principles, and interaction patterns, the designer takes some of the burden of understanding how the application works off the user, who then can focus on the unique properties of the social experience she is building.

To start, we do define these three things differently. They live along a continuum, from prescriptive (rules you should follow) to assumptions (a basic generalization that is accepted as true) to process (ways to approach thinking about these concepts).

Principle: A basic truth, law, or assumption

Principles are basic assumptions that have been accepted as true. In interaction design, they can lend guidance for how to approach a design problem, and have been shown to be generally true with respect to a known user experience problem or a set of accepted truths.

For example: be learnable — create systems that are easily learned and provide cues for users to predict how things work from one area to another.

Principles don’t prescribe the solution, though, like an interaction pattern does; instead, they support the rationale behind an interaction design pattern or set of best practices. Read more…

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The O’Reilly Design Conference: Design the Future — CFP is now open

The conference will take place January 20-22, 2016, in San Francisco, and we want to hear from you.

Submit a proposal to speak at The O’Reilly Design Conference: Design the Future, our new design conference looking at the convergence of design, programming, and business.

in_article_designconf_logo_smLast year, I had a conversation with Tim O’Reilly about the emergence of design in unexpected places — in the data community, in the programming community, and in the business community. Design has become increasingly important as technology and bandwidth become commoditized. Our conversation initiated what would become a new program for us here at O’Reilly, and our relatively recent focus on design has reached a milestone: I’m thrilled to announce the first O’Reilly Design Conference: Design the Future, coming to San Francisco in January 2016. Read more…

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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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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 O’Reilly’s Solid Conference, June 23–25, in San Francisco. Mike Kuniavsky will be speaking at Solid, O’Reilly’s conference on the collision of software and hardware, and 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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Information architecture’s role in UX design

Jorge Arango discusses the state of IA and the importance of designers' understanding of context and perspective.

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Jorge Arango is an information architect who has been practicing in the user experience field for more than 20 years. Before moving to San Francisco about a year ago, his work was conducted in Panama. Last year, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and now works as a partner at Futuredraft, a digital product design consultancy. Arango brings a unique perspective, given his background in architecture prior to becoming an information architect. He is currently finishing up the 4th Edition of Information Architecture — lovingly referred to as “The Polar Bear book” — with Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville.

IA’s broadening appeal

Information architecture (IA) has always been an important part of user experience design, though not always acknowledged as such. With the emergence of social, IoT, and mobile, we have watched IA taking on a more dominant role in product development. Arango talked a bit about the evolution:

I’m surprised by how many people actually know about it because I think, frankly, a lot of what we do is fairly esoteric. I’m not just talking about information architects. I’m talking about those of us in technology in general, and in the design professions. On having moved to California, I have this open question in my mind: how much do people know about this stuff here? Is it something that is talked about? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by interactions with clients and prospects … There seems to be a realization. In many cases, they probably don’t know to call it ‘information architecture’ per se, but there seems to be a realization that stuff needs to be easy to find and easy to understand.

Read more…

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Smell and taste: New frontiers for experience design

Designers need not start from scratch as they wrestle with orchestrating experiences that span digital and physical.

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Download a free copy of Designing for the Internet of Things, a curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. This post is an excerpt from Understanding Industrial Design, by Simon King and Kuen Chang, one of the books included in the curated collection.

Two of our richest senses, smell and taste, are not often associated with design. However, the creation of objects that support these senses is an ancient practice, embodied best by the tea set, where rituals of assembly and service lead to hints of the aroma. Holding the tea cup warms your hand without burning it, and the slow sipping of the tea forms a communal bond with other participants. Outside of classic and common serving items, designers today are increasingly finding new ways to collaborate with chefs and food companies to design with smell and taste in mind, forging a new frontier for sensorial design.

Martin Kastner is the founder and principal of Crucial Detail, a studio in Chicago that specializes in custom pieces to support unique culinary experiences. Martin is best known for his work designing serviceware concepts for Alinea, the 3-star Michelin restaurant founded by chef Grant Achatz. That collaboration has extended to other restaurants owned by Achatz, including The Aviary, a cocktail bar that prides itself on serving drinks with the same level of attention as a fine dinner.

At The Aviary, one of the most popular creations by Crucial Detail is the Porthole Infuser, a round vessel that presents the ingredients of a patron’s cocktail between two flat panes of glass, emphasizing the transformative action of the steeping process and building anticipation for the cocktail’s taste. The Porthole Infuser takes a part of the preparation process that is normally hidden and brings it directly to the person’s table, providing time for the drinker to contemplate the ingredients on display, creating a mental checklist for their tongue to seek out when they take their first sip.

The popularity of the Porthole Infuser at the Aviary led Kastner to create a Kickstarter campaign to fund the additional design and manufacturing required to release it as a commercial product. Support for the project was dramatic, achieving 25 times more funding than originally asked. This backing set the course for a redesign that allowed the infuser to be manufactured at scale and sold for $100, down from the several hundred dollars that each custom constructed version for The Aviary cost.

The Porthole Infuser is marketed as more than a cocktail tool, working equally well to support the smell and taste of oils, teas, or any other infusion recipe. It’s an example of how designers can enhance the dining experience, not by crafting the smell or taste of the food itself, but working in collaboration with a chef to heighten our awareness of those senses. Read more…

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Empathy: The designer’s superpower

Scott Jenson on empathy, interaction on demand, and Google’s Physical Web Project.

Toolbox_florianric_FlickrI recently connected with veteran designer Scott Jenson, who is currently developing the Physical Web Project with the Chrome team at Google. We’ve been talking quite a bit about empathy in the past few months here at O’Reilly, and Scott’s recent blog post, The Paradox of Empathy, caught my attention. I sat down with him to learn more about his thinking around empathy and to talk about his work on the Physical Web Project.

Empathy is part of every great designer’s toolkit

Jenson is often asked for recommendations for learning the next tool, or program. but as he explains, learning how to empathize is fundamental to product design:

When I reflected on what I wanted people to understand, what the core thing was, it wasn’t a technique. It wasn’t a visual style. It wasn’t learning a certain program. The core thing was making sure that you never thought about the product from your point of view, but from somebody else’s point of view. That’s what prompted the [The Paradox of Empathy] post.

He breaks empathy down into four components:

I basically take the whole design process from soup to nuts and break it up into four types of things, what I called understanding, bridging, flowing, and refining, which is a little bit of wordplay, but it was just really trying to say that most people talk about the icons and the buttons. That’s the last category, the refining. What I tried to do was to go back in time to get earlier and earlier interactions with people. So, the flowing is basically just how the whole program feels and what metaphors do you use, and how many steps do they take. It’s the level above the bits. Bridging was about matching the technology to the actual user needs. The most important one, the one that we actually tried to do the most when I was at Frog Design, was understanding, which was just to understand what people were doing, what were they up to, where they were at. In fact, to the point where you’re not even designing a product for them. One of the reasons why I think [The Paradox of Empathy] post got some positive response, was the fact that the first two were so clearly focused on user research.

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IBM is banking on design’s ROI

Phil Gilbert on IBM’s deep design roots, change management, and hiring for culture fit.

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Companies of all sizes are recognizing that by taking a design-first approach to product development, they can improve profit. I recently sat down with Phil Gilbert, GM of design at IBM, to discuss how he is helping to lead the transformation to a design-first company within IBM. Adopting design as a key corporate asset may seem like a no-brainer, but for a company of more than 350,000 employees, it’s a massive undertaking. IBM hasn’t been quiet about its plans to hire 1,000 designers over the course of five years and embed design in product teams throughout the organization.

IBM’s long history of design

What I was surprised to find when reading about IBM’s latest design plans, is that the giant tech company has design roots dating back to the 1950s. Gilbert shares in more detail:

We started our first design program — and we were one of the first to really apply design holistically at scale — in 1956. In the 1950s and the 1960s and into the early 1970s, we had a constellation of designers around IBM that, quite frankly, has never been equaled.

Elliott Noyes was our first head of design. Thomas Watson Jr. hired him in 1956. He assembled people like Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Paul Rand. He assembled this team of people, and, essentially, I think the reason it happened then is because humanity was addressing a fundamentally different relationship between ourselves and technology. There was a lot of turmoil and angst as a result. We used design at that time to communicate and engage in a conversation with humanity about that relationship and about our role with technology. We viewed it as a very holistic statement — we communicated it through our products, our communications, our buildings, and we did it through our exhibits at places like the World’s Fair.

Since then, I don’t think there has been as fundamental a change in the relationship between human beings and technology. The move from mainframe to mini-computer, the move from mini-computer to personal computer, the move to client-server computing — all of these things were actually fairly incremental. But I think in 2007, with the release of the iPhone and with the ubiquitous access via mobile devices, I actually think that we’re, again, in a time of real turmoil and change around this relationship of where does technology sit with human beings.

This is a real change, and I think that human-centered design and design thinking as a method to achieve human-centered design is why it’s become so important. Because our relationship with technology is, it may not be as frightening as it was in the 50s and 60s, but it certainly is fundamental. I don’t think we quite yet understand it. I think design is the primary lever that we have to understand that relationship and then to communicate that relationship.

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