"experience design" entries

What you need to know for the hardware-software convergence

Core competencies and essential reading from hardware, software, manufacturing, and the IoT.

As I noted in “Physical and virtual are blurring together,” we now have hardware that acts like software, and software that’s capable of dealing with the complex subtleties of the physical world. So, what must the innovator, the creator, the executive, the researcher, and the artist do to embrace this convergence of hardware and software?

At its core, this is about a shift from discipline toward intent. Individuals and institutions — whether they’re huge enterprises, small start-ups, or nonprofits — must be competent in several disciplines that increasingly overlap, and should be prepared to solve problems by working fluidly across disciplines.

To use Joi Ito’s example, someone who wants to develop a synthetic eye might begin to approach the problem with biology, or electronics, or software, or (most likely) all three together. Many problems can be solved somewhere in a large multidimensional envelope that trades off design, mechanics, electronics, software, biology, and business models. Experts might still do the best work in each discipline, but everyone needs to know enough about all of them to know where to position a project between them.

Below you’ll find the core competencies in the intersection between software and the physical world, and our favorite books and resources for each one.

Electronics for physical-digital applications

  • Practical Electronics, by John M. Hughes: To know what’s possible and where to start, it’s essential to understand both the analog and digital sides of electronics. This is O’Reilly’s authoritative introduction to both analog and digital electronics, with information on circuit design, common parts and techniques, and microcontrollers.
  • Raspberry Pi Cookbook, by Simon Monk: The Raspberry Pi is rapidly becoming the standard embedded computing platform for prototyping and experimentation, with enough computing power to run familiar interpreted programming languages and widely supported operating systems.
  • Arduino Cookbook, by Michael Margolis: The Arduino microcontroller offers a fluid interface between digital and physical; it’s highly extensible and accessible to people with no prior experience in either electronics or code.

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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.

Experience_Design_Cover_Radar

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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The web is a critical part of the IoT story

In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Simon St. Laurent discusses the web's potential, and Tom Greever chats about experience design.

Simon St. Laurent, O’Reilly’s strategic content director for our web space and co-chair of our Fluent Conference, recently launched an investigation looking into the web’s potential to change not only computing, but the world in general. For this podcast episode, I caught up with St. Laurent to talk about the timing, what he’s exploring, and why the web isn’t dead. He said that in some ways, it has always been the right time to launch this investigation — after all, the web has continued to grow amidst market crashes and the dot-com bust — but noted the driving factors behind the health of the web are becoming more clear:

“Something different is happening, though, in the last few years. I think it’s rooted in the legitimization of JavaScript as a programming language. It used to be seen as this annoying, accidental scripting language. Doug Crockford and a lot of others demonstrated that if you looked at JavaScript in the right context, context that’s more functional, that is less obsessed with classical orthodox object-oriented development, that JavaScript is both amazingly flexible and incredibly powerful. That brought in a whole new generation of people to work on things.

“The concept of the web platform arose, which I like as a phrase to keep me from saying HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript over and over, but which gives people the idea that the web is a platform like Windows or the Mac, where you can really control thing pixel by pixel. Jeremy Keith has done a great job of explaining why that isn’t true, but there are a lot of people who come in expecting to be able to program on the web like they do for any other platform. They’re great JavaScript programmers frequently, but we need to be telling the story of the broader context and how all these pieces fit together for the long-term health of their projects as well as the web as a whole.”

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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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Designing for the unknown

Simon King on design intuition and designing solutions that work for the user both now and in an unforeseen future.

Design principles are being applied in all aspects of business today — they are no longer limited to graphic design, product design, web design or even experience design. I recently had the chance to speak with Simon King, design director and interaction design community lead at IDEO in Chicago. In our conversation, King talks about balancing design intuition with prototyping and testing, designing beyond the screen, and designing for the unknown.

At IDEO, they take a human-centered approach, observing the user in their environments. That research informs their design process, says King, but they also rely heavily on collaborative design teams with diverse experience, which helps to bring a fresh perspective to every project:

“Our project teams are generally dedicated in working together on one topic. They draw from all this inspiration. They utilize their intuition. They generate a bunch of ideas and build on the ideas of others. That’s really key to having these project teams of diverse designers together so we can build on each other’s ideas. Another big part of it is that in every project, people are working on totally different domains. They’re working in different industries. They’re working for different types of users. We can really cross-pollinate the things that we’ve seen in one area and apply them to another area during that ideation process.”

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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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Designers can do anything

Jon Kolko on how empathy, theory, and tactical skills can put the next generation of designers on a path to success.

Design principles are being applied in all aspects of business today — they are no longer limited to graphic design, product design, web design, or even experience design. I recently spoke with Jon Kolko, vice president of consumer design at Blackboard, founder and director of Austin Center for Design, and author, about the skills designers need today and the curriculum formula to help them succeed.

In our conversation, Kolko talked about how a balance of process, empathy, theory, and tactical design skills can prepare designers for success in more traditional design roles and beyond. Kolko is a firm believer in an empathy-based, user-first approach to design. User-first is not unique, but Kolko advocates getting to know the user before even conceiving of the product:

“The switch to an empathy focus is actually really easy. You need to watch behavior, so that means actually watching people do things. We talk about watching people work, play, and live because sometimes the things they do are actually not that utility driven… So, depending on what your product is, you need to start to get to where people are actually doing things. It’s like a hair away from doing an interview, but that behavioral hair makes all the difference because when you conduct an interview, you get retrospective behavior anecdotes that tend to gloss over specifics; they make false estimates and generalizations, and they don’t have that rich nuance and outlier that you can start to build insights around. Those specific insights then go to drive your new product ideas.”

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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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