I think therefore I know.

When you’re in a role of UX you tend to have contested territory marked out around you. Everyone around you has an opinion on something that fits within your charter so you in turn have to be the guarded diplomat constantly. I don’t mind heated exchange of ideas, when people get passionate about something they always stand their ground on a topic and make sure their voice is heard clearly and loudly (often without politeness attached). In these situations what I typically have echoing at the back of my brain is a question “do they think or do they know”.

I think something instead of I know something takes on a whole new set of discussion points because if you think something then its just an idea or assumption. If you know something, well chances are you have data points filled with confidence attached, this is good, this tells me straight away there are more clues to be found.

“..The only way you win an argument is if you get the other side to agree with you..”

Is what my dad would say when he & i used to get into the thick of it. Its a fairly simple statement as in the end when you have two opposing ideas on the same problem, well it comes down to either compromise or an impasse. If its an impasse then it probably will come down to the title you have on the day, in my case being Head of User Experience. A title like mine carries some weight that means i can ignore your opinion and proceed onwards without it, but doing so means that i need to qualify my arrogance more.

Being the top-dog in UX land isn’t an excuse to just push past people on their “I think” statements and supplant your “I thinks” ontop. Instead what it means is we have to be more focused on establishing the “I know” statement that absorb the two opposing ideas. My way of thinking is this, when I reach a point where there isn’t any data to support the opinions / ideas its now a case of writing multiple tests to get them fact checked and broken down until we do have the ideas transformed into behaviour facts.

I think the users will not like the start menu removed so don’t touch it.

Now lets remove the start menu is my immediate thought, screw the statement what happens when we do it. I’m assuming there will be some negative blowback but can you imagine the data we can now capture once its removed and how the users react. The users will tell us so much, how they use the menu, where they like it, why they like it there, who they are, what they use and so on.

That one little failure in Windows 8 is a gold mine of data and online there are discussion forums filled with topics / messages that centre around “ I think “ but nobody really has “I know” except Microsoft.

My point is this. If you’re not in a role that has User Experience in its title then fine, knock yourselves out with the back and forth of “I think” arguments. If you are in UX your job is to not settle with “I think” and instead hunt for “I know” for you will always get rewarded.

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How UX & Ethnography mix.

Inside most organisations you’ll likely see a marketing team distill their customer base into a cluster of persona(s), which in their view is a core representative of a segment of their audience in a meaningful & believable form. These persona(s) are likely to be accurate or moreover a confirmation on a series of instincts that may or may not have supportive data to underpin their factoids. The issue with these personas is that they are likely to be a representative of the past, that is to say using them isn’t really about transplanting their behaviors into the future, instead its a snapshot in time of what happened at the time they were documented.

The definition of Ethnography basically distills to what i’d class is happening in the persona research space, especially when you commission design agencies to do the research. They are usually quite thorough in their research and often don’t miss a step in cataloging the series of data points needed in order to build a picture as to whom they are looking at and what the behavioral traits the persona(s) in question are likely to have in a range or clustered form.

Downside for UX people like myself is there’s no real jump off point for this type of data, as for me, it’s not really about whether or not “Max” is prone to water-sports or is in the age bracket of 25-35, i have really no need for excessive metadata. The challenge for me is to map these series of personas back into a timeline of graduation both in simplicity vs complexity but also around how their confidence levels are organised in a way that outlines the cold/hot spots within a feature(s) experience needs.

If you were to take a feature, break it down into its intended audience, complexity required to use it and lastly its overall metrics that help define its success/fail  – well you’d likely end up with a lot of moving parts that don’t offer up any tangible qualitative value that helps you at the very least sniff out “what just happened”. What if you instead take the marketing personas, take a guesstimate around who you’re targeting, the features likely markers that trigger the metric and infer based on this data, the outcome – this would in turn be called confirmation bias.

There’s the uppercut with Persona(s) as you can easily set out to build on a solid foundation of healthy data but it’s only when you transfer or map these series of data points to the actual set of features & content within an experience that it starts to unravel and threads of its truisms get caught up in a lot of inferred guesstimates.

The root cause for this failure in qualitative data is simply due to the past being used to dictate the future, again remembering that at the time you interviewed and inspected your persona(s) it was based on either “what if” or questions that point to competitors or existing experiences that are already set in stone. Today and tomorrow you’re not keeping those experiences locked like that, in fact you’re probably looking to move the needle or innovate in a different direction which means you have small to large impact on their behavior, so thus the experiences can often involve dramatic or not so dramatic change(s). The only way to test or baseline the change is to have this continuous sampling that keeps checking & rechecking the data points in the hope of change makes itself prominent.

Problem – change isn’t always obvious, it can be subtle, the slightest introduction of a new variable or experience can often lead to adjustments that go unnoticed. I’ll cite an example in abstract form.

A respondent is asked to walk on a path through a forest from A to B. The respondent is asked to count how many “blue” objects are lined along the path, and the said respondent’s heart rate will be also monitored (also base-lined / zeroed out). Before the respondent takes off the testers place a stick that has similar shape to a coiled snake midway on the path.

 

The respondent is then asked to proceed on the journey, and they begin to count the blue objects and at the end of the path when they arrive, they give an accounting of their blue object findings. Their heart rate was normal in line with normal physical activity.

 

Respondents were less likely to notice the stick.

 

Next round of respondents are asked to the same, only this time the seed of fear is planted in their subconscious with “oh others noticed a snake a few hours ago along the path, be careful and if you see it sing out, it should be gone by now and we couldn’t find it earlier so just take note”.

 

Respondents begin the journey on the path, they notice the stick initially and a lot of messaging between the optics and brain are moving at lightning speed trying to decipher the pattern(s) needed to place a confirmation on “threat or non-threat” levels. Heart rate is spiking and eventually they realize its a stick and proceed, as they walk past the stick still keeping a very close eye and proximity buffer between the stick and them.

The point of that story is this, that with an introduction to the standard test of a new variable (fear) you’re able to affect the experience dramatically to the point where you’ve also touched on a primal instinct. In software that “stick” moment can be anything from moving the “start button” on a menu through to moving the way a tabular amount of data has been traditionally been displayed.

As a User Experience creator, we typically move the cheese a lot and it’s more to do with controlling change in our user(s) behavior (for the greater good). Persona(s) don’t measure that change, all they measure is what happened before you made the change. All you can do is create markers in the experience that help you map your initial persona baseline back to the new in the hopes it provides a bounty of data in which “change” is made obvious.

It doesn’t… sadly… it just doesn’t and so all we can do is keep focusing on the past behavioral patterns in the hope that new patterns emerge.

Persona(s) aren’t bad, they aren’t good, they are just a representative sample of something we knew yesterday that maybe still relevant today. The thing i do like about personas from marketing folks is this, it keeps everyone focused on behaviors they’d like to see tomorrow re-appear and that in the end is all i ever really needed.

Where do you want to head tomorrow?

Last example – NBC Olympics were streamed in 2009 to the entire US with every sport captured and made available. At the time everyone inferred that an average viewer would likely spend 2mins viewing time. In actuality they spent 20mins average viewing time and sent massive ripples in the TV/Movie industry in terms of the value of “online viewing”. If we had of asked candidates back then both as content publishers and consumers, they’d probably have told us data that they asserted to be relevant at the time. In this instance the Silverlight team were able to serve up HD video for the first time too many people online, and that’s what changed peoples experience. Today, its abnormal to even contemplate HD video streaming online as anything but an expected experience for “video” … 5 years ago, it didn’t exist. Personas compared to then and now are all dramatically different now, so while change can in some parts be slow… they can easily expedite to days, months as well as years.

I don’t dislike Persona’s, i just remain skeptical always of the data that fuels them – but thats my job.

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Being Playful with Industrial Software

I’ve been sitting in the Enterprise space as a UX mercenary for probably around 5+ years. In every team, sales meeting and brainstorming session I’ve always encountered resistance around “maturity” in terms of design. The more money that is being spent on the software, the more “serious” the design should be. This line of thinking I think typically comes from the concern that if the design is not serious therefore the trust around it’s ability to do the various task(s) will be eroded.

The thing is, the more sales meetings I’ve been in or participated in the preparation for the more I’ve come to the conclusion that “design” isn’t even a bullet point in the overall sales pipeline. Sure the design makes an appearance at the brochure / demo level but overall nobody really sits down and discusses how the software should look or feel during the process. Furthermore the client(s) typically have invited the sales team(s) into the selection panel(s) based off their existing brand, known or rumoured capabilities and/or because they are legally required to.

To my way of thinking, being “playful” with your design is a very unnerving discussion to have in such a scenario. The moment you say the word “playful” most people respond with some word association positive or negative (usually negative) as the word may take you back to your childhood (playing with lego or dolls …I didn’t play with dolls..they were called G.I. JOE’S!). It’s that hint of immaturity with the word that makes it more appealing to me, as it forces you to think about maturity but with the constraints of immaturity (cognitive dissonance).

Playful however doesn’t have to be immature, there are very subtle ways to invoke the feeling of making something playful without actually being obvious about it. For example, Google+ and most of Google’s new branding is what I’d consider “playful” but at the same time the product(s) or body of work that goes into their solutions are quite serious.

Playful Mood Board

Playful Mood Board

Why be playful? My working theory is that the reason why users find software “unusable” has to do with confidence and incentive. If these two entities don’t’ fuel their usage furnace the overall behaviour around their usage decay(s), that is they begin to taper off and reduce it to an absolute “use at minimum” behavioural pattern. This theory is what I would class as being at the heart of invoking “emotion” or “feeling” into how software is made and often why a lot of UX Practitioners will preach as to why these two should be taken quite serious in the design process.

The art of being playful in a way regresses adults back to their childhood where they were encouraged to draw, build and decorate inanimate object(s) without consequences attached. As a early teenage child, you were encouraged to fail, you were given a blank piece of paper and asked to express your ideas without being reprimanded. You in short, “designed” without the fear of getting it wrong or for that matter right (although right was usually rewarded with your art piece being put on the fridge at home or something along those lines). A playful design composition can be both serious but inviting, as a good design will make you feel as if you’re “home” again. A great design will make that temporary break away into using other software and then back again an obvious confidence switch – as if you’re saying out loud “gah! that was a horrible experience, but I’m’m back to this app…man…it feels good to be home and why can’t other software be like this”

 

 

 

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UX: Patterns, rhythm and melody.

I stumbled upon this YouTube clip of Avicii giving the camera (folks at home) an insight into his creative process.

I have a theory that humans and software aren’t as incompatible as a lot of people in the role of “user experience” preach. All to often I hear the word “usability” that is commonly used as a beating stick for why people should recreate software to suite the authors bias. They will often throw down a lot of fragmented behaviour science / principles of design that leaves the intended audience bedazzled  as if to say out loud “ok you win, yo clearly can articulate design in ways that go beyond my simpleton vocabulary”.

My theory? we think and act in patterns, we look at software as a series of patterns that we catalogue. Our job as UX practitioners is to give the audience a series of patterns they can lock onto, memorize and work there way around to achieve tasks.

In the case of FL Studio and Avicii, here’s a guy using a piece of software to create music that you will no doubt hear on your local radio station at some point. The way he approaches the software in the video is something to see, given how fast and fluid he is with the information being presented. Observing his approach to the tool is simple, he’s working with patterns and even more so he’s working with audio to underpin these patterns.

It’s also nice to know that successful artists like Avicii approach the creative process in a way that’s normal 😉

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Inserting the UX into an existing Agile Project.

It is a Wednesday afternoon in Sydney North Ryde, humidity is quite hot and I am walking up a fairly steep hill panting and cursing to myself about getting to the gym sooner rather than later. I glance over to my left and I see this person riding a unicycle up a hill whilst listening to music and moving at a pace that is faster than my walking (yes that is how unfit I am).

I simply stopped in my tracks and first chuckled at how amazingly insightful that was to witness as I immediately thought “that basically was the visual for my role as a UX Architect” – which was to say, “Poor me, how hard is my job as only an idiot would ride a unicycle up a hill”.

Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

As I continued to walk, I started to think about how much effort that person is putting into attacking the hill before him. Firstly he has to balance whilst at the same time maintain a steady forward momentum (too fast he falls, too slow he falls). Secondly, he is listening to music while he attacks the hill that I can only assumes helps him focus on the mission ahead by blocking out distraction(s).

That encounter inspired me, it gave me a renewed sense of energy at facing down the biggest problem I have today – “how do you integrate UX into existing Agile projects cleanly”. I mean to say the task before me is not easy, it is filled with many uphill battles such as balancing between function and form, whilst at the same time not spooking stakeholders into cost blow out panic attacks. I also am required to have a concentration level that simply at times feels inhuman given the unchartered territory ahead.

The difference between that role and the actual guy on the unicycle is well at least he gets to see what’s ahead of him whereas a UX in Agile world is typically doing the same thing blind folded.

Discovery vs Delivery.

I spent over three years travelling around Australia in every capital city visiting “developer” teams for all types of companies (enterprise, startups, government etc.). I have seen the same thing happen over and over, whereby each company swears by their agile manifesto and how important it is to maintain “agile” discipline. I also notice they cherry pick agile each time to make sure it fits in with their culture and more importantly to not take it as an absolute but more a relative approach to designing software.

The part that often sticks in my craw is not the sprint cycle(s) or the sprint backlog creation. Nope, the part that I immediately notice as being the fatal flaw to why User Experience is often the sacrificial lamb in the development process is well the discovery of the said feature(s).

For instance, a team will often sit down in a room with a whiteboard and then begin coming up with some stories around what they are hoping to achieve with the software. They then will likely document these stories with the usual “As a User I want the ability to do X so that I can do Y” style sentences. After that process they, would likely then unpack these at a later time into developer task(s) along with success/fail criteria (tests, definition of done blah blah)?

I would guestimate that 90% of the hundreds of developer teams I have visited do pretty much the above. Furthermore, I would often be invited into some of these teams at around the last few sprints to help “make it look UXy” as if there was some way I could just “Integrate” into the team(s) development process, fix the UX problems, low impact to the code and do the aforementioned in a timely manner (Usually I say: “You don’t need a UX Architect, you need a priest as this thing is dead and all you’re after is a lot of prayers to reanimate the corpse”).

Let me simply say this, as a contractor I would love nothing more than to have you do the above, especially if I am charging you per hour. I could simply tread water and extract large amount of free useless work hours knowing either outcome still does not result in a successful delivery.

Ethics 101 aside, today, I am not that contractor, I am a UX Architect and I have a queue of other products waiting in line for my same attention. I do not have time to drag the timelines out so I have to instead get the above optimized.

The flaw in this aforementioned process of white boarding features is the part that you first make your biggest and ultimately largest mistakes when it comes to making a software product (which is a general argument to make, but hear me out). As when you sat down to the feature, you did not document whom you are making the product for. In addition, how much time did you spend on refining the process other than the first bunch of fragmented ideas? Lastly, how do various stories influence one another?

Agile is not an excuse to just deliver a project without planning and planning doesn’t mean you have to spend the bulk of your time in “waterfall” delivery purgatory either.

Great quote from Jeff

It is probably a good point to say that if you are focused on delivery and you spent little time on discovery, well you are basically in for a lot of turbulence and “UX Tetris” in the coming sprint cycles.

Unpacking the Discovery phase.

Take an existing project you are on today, now look at the User Stories you have (ignore your tasks). Now grab these stories whilst grabbing some pens & notepads. Now take some of these stories (does not matter where you start) and begin drawing a comic book of your product, that is “how would you draw an activity from the moment the user clicks on an icon to the splash screen and then to what they see first”.

Example – If I was building Outlook I’d say scene(1) is user clicks on icon, scene(2) splash screen loads, scene(3) outlook opens in default folder view, scene(4) user creates new email etc.

uxblur

The objective behind this in the first part of the discovery phase is to illustrate that your story whilst at first sounds perfectly fine is not really “done”.  How many UX Personas did you draw in the comic? I would wager maybe one? Moreover, how many times did you redraw this process before you exhausted the steps into what you would consider “simplicity”.

  • How much influence did iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Office, Outlook, Windows 8, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Visual Studio etc. all play in the mental model you had for the software(s) design?
  • How many DataGrids and Tree controls did you “assume” existing in the UI as you drew the comic story?
  • Did you draw the UI as a wireframe or just abstract shapes? (If you did wireframe, stop, rub it out and keep it abstract).

A Definition of a Story is “An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” – the key words from that definition are “An account”. That is to say, it is your own personal bias coming through on how you foresee the event taking place based on existing ideas or experiences from the past.

Now, to bake your noodle, grab three or four of your colleagues and get them to do the same process on the said story but be very careful not to lead them on the same path you just took (e.g.: “draw a comic book for how our customer can create a new email. STOP. No more information”).

I have done this a few times and usually what happens if done correctly (i.e. everyone is in isolation) is the story typically has similar patterns but the ordering and approach taken often has mixed result(s) (especially if its domain specific to your companies problems and not generic like email checking).

First lesson learnt here is that we all approach the design with a bias in mind and yes, we feel that if we all share the same pattern in design it will in turn invoke less agitation on the end user(s). Agitation such as this is still good and most of the time the behavior of the said end-users will likely follow the approach defined.

Problem is you are not in the business of “good enough” anymore. Software today is expected to rise above mediocrity and everyone is under pressure to deliver products as “simpler” and less “dense” in terms of feature(s) and/or layout design(s).

With that, it is your job to put this entire story design on a very strict diet that should take more time than you probably anticipated. Typically you will want to time box this process as it can drag out and I highly recommend you grab a healthy mix of developers, customers (trusted), sales, marketing and if possible receptionists (i.e. people who aren’t your target user) in the creation process. The more diverse the background the more likely you can feed of each other’s ideas of “simplicity” without having blinders on. Lastly make sure it’s in a room where everyone can draw their ideas and do not break these sessions into hourly mini meetings – make them days, in that spend five days in a room fighting, crying, swearing, hugging and so on (as you will take two days to get everyone in a relaxed mode whereby failure won’t be seen as embarrassing – humans are funny like that).

ProTip: Simplicity can be measured.

A Comic style slice of all your user stories can feel like a complete time waste, especially if you have pressure to deliver. In order to do this you have to justify how this can improve cost of delivery whilst at the same time it looks dangerously close to “Waterfall”.

Truth be told, in under a week or maybe two you could potentially visualize your entire current story catalog in a way that would likely reduce countless hours of communication issue(s) around design which in turn would without a doubt reduce communication costs. That being said, that is a very loose “return on investment” pitch to make.

  1. For giggles, take the existing slice you have designed and then unpack that into tasks with forecasts attached. Record that number and cost it out in terms of effort.
  2. Now, for giggles again, take your team and tell them “make it simpler” that is refine the story further, squeeze it to the point where you automatically feel it is not as “Powerful” in terms of feature design.
  3. Once that occurs, run your costs against that.

If done in a way that I am assuming you should see a fluctuation between the two cost(s) and it can be either higher or lower in terms of cost.

You have the first measurement to add to the “simpler” cost center, in that if it’s lesser in terms of cost – awesome, see we just reduced a lot of excess coding time!.

If it is higher then well how badly do you want a better user experience for the product you are making? (Sneaking this past people usually ends badly, so be honest and if executives do not subscribe then you have an answer on how they feel regarding “experience matters”).

Often when I do it, the cost initially increases (i.e. short term loss, long term repeatable win) because as I am refining the stories I am looking to make the behavior of the user less effort for them. That is to say I am thinking how the software’s job is to make their life easier and that it should do 90% of the work for them and that means at times decluttering the task from the usual user interface design and being context specific (i.e. isolate the user to carry out a task that’s reduced of distractions).

An example.

If you mapped out Outlook comic story you would probably have imagined outlook as it is today, whereby you have the tree of folders, you click “new” and prompted the same way it does today. 

I think of it differently, I think that whatever behavior I invoke that triggers “new” is initiated, the entire user interface goes into “new mail mode” that is the existing chrome/HUD is screened back and all the specific requirements I have for “new email” is in front of me. To my left there is a smart way to access my contacts, especially given I’m in a large enterprise and often have issues between first/lastnames and aliases”. To my right I have a different way to create an email in that am I creating just a text email or am I creating something that I want to insert media into for all to visualize my point?.

My point here is I could easily increase the development cost in order to assemble the user interface in a way that for me puts all the necessary pieces the end user will need in order to carry out the said task. Simpler doesn’t mean minimal (as that can often be misleading) it means how does one make the life of the persona simple in carrying out the task – given software is made to make our lives easier right?

UX Personas are not what you may think they are.

Having redesigned the new email some may declare “..hang on, you didn’t specify the feature criteria fairly..” which is true, I did not. The next thing one needs to learn is my idea of a user and your ideas of a user are highly likely two different types.

Example of Useless "UX Persona"

Example of Useless “UX Persona”

A UX Persona discovery will fix the assumption failure(s), whereby if you sit down and you unpack the word “user” to the point you exhaust your collective knowledge of that means. A UX Persona is not a story about “Jim who is 22, likes fishing and blah blah” as bottom line who gives a shit who he is or what he likes. A Persona designed like that is used for marketing purposes to help sales teams position the messaging & roles the said product will likely excite.

A UX Persona typically needs to focus on two simple areas, that is what behaviors they are currently exhibiting (AS-IS) and what behaviors they should be exhibiting (TO-BE). The word “User” needs to absorb the fact that sure, a user is doing xyz today but you are in the business of innovation so you in turn need to move them to a new set of behaviors!

Eg: When Apple sat down to design the iPod touch they were not pandering to existing behaviors user(s) were exhibiting on mp3 players. They moved us all over to the touch interface and it was initially confusing but today I see five year olds queuing music & playing games.

Defining a UX Persona for me is mainly about breaking their behaviors into four categories

uxagile-fld-geo

  • Influence (low to very high). Take training, mentoring, buying power, optimization etc. as categories you can help shape the low to very high score. Basically how much influence does this persona have over the adoption of your new product, the training burden required in order to use your new product and lastly the output of the product (i.e. are they the end customer for your customers customer).
  • Usage  (low to high). Similar to influence but now how much of the actual product are they going to be using? Specifically which modes of the product are they using (e.g. Visual Studio – Build time, Debug & Runtime). If you are writing software for both an executive assistant and their boss, then basically it is likely the assistant is going to have a higher rating then the boss depending on the scenario (vice versa).
  • Form Factor. What are they using to access the product? Given tablets, smartphones, laptops etc. are all evolving technology what is the likely input of choice. Do not just isolate this to device/platforms but also are they using stylus pens, are they using modified keyboards etc.
  • Environment. What is type of environment are they using the product in? Is it inside a coal mine where it is dark (i.e. white vs. black colors are a safety issue), is there many hazardous issues nearby? Is it noisy (distraction and cannot hear sounds), is it inside an office? Is it inside an operator building where your product is one of sixteen screens? 

    Environment is really an important amount of information that gets lost in the “Story” creation. As we really need to pay attention to how much duress, the user is under in order to make their life simpler.

Notice I never discussed usability issues such as their age, sight quality, gloves vs no gloves, color blind vs non color blind and so on? Well, if you did not now you have. Usability is a completely new chapter on its own, suffice to say I typically design for extreme in mind that is I assume the worst and hope for the best, make the process accessible and it in theory should put you in a position to refine for specific usability & accessibility scenarios (ie design garden sheers for people with arthritous and in theory you will design for both people with and without in mind).

Keep breaking the UX Personas you design down until you simply cannot come up with new ones. Then go grab some customers you have today or want to have tomorrow and play a game of “Guess Who” with the existing ones you have defined. If you cannot line them up with what you have or you end up with orphan UX Persona(s) then consider how to merge or separate until you reach a “best guess” group of personas to attack with your new product.

The trick here is also to focus more on “TO-BE” not “AS-IS” as the moment you release your product to market you are changing the rules of usage. You are invoking change in an area where existing mental models are either hard wired into the users or have no concept of said feature(s) even existing.

Once you have the list of Persona(s) grouped in a way you feel make sense (make tribes if it helps with the grouping) then I want you to divide into two piles – first being 80% and second being 20%.  Dividing these personas into the 80% and 20% piles gives you two options going forward.

The 20% pile could be the first target users, these are the ones you want to launch version (1) of your new product with. It means you have a much simpler feature set to attack but it also means you can iron out the kinks in this new process whilst illustrating the value of “simplicity”.

The 80% pile could be the same as the 20% or it can be the persona(s) that are distracting you from simplicity, which is they aren’t as important for the first round of delivery? Either way you choose to approach this just settle on one of these piles as your “target” user base.

The truth is you will never hit 100% of your persona(s) needs in your ongoing deliveries, and once you make peace with that, the pressure of being everything to everyone will be reduced. It means that over time, you will have to work harder to regain the lost personas back but that is fine, provided you stick to that mission and remain calm.

Example – When Silverlight was being built, the first version pretty much took the 20% path with a focus on video persona(s). As more and more versions of the product where released it then would take the missing 80% pile and subdivide that into 80/20 and again, take that 20% and chip away at those personas that wanted more than video.

ProTip: Consider putting these personas into a deck of “Cards” and hand them out to all members in your team. As when you are discussing problems in your day to day development get into the habbit of keeping them in view when you say the words “Customer” or “Users”.

You are in the patterns business.

Do not fool yourself into thinking the software you are working on is unique and never been done. There are elements to the software you are making that is fresh in terms of features here and there but ultimately you are highly likely re-using existing UI patterns found in software today.

The question is what UI patterns are you using and why have you changed them? That is to say which Color Modal are you going to use and why don’t you like existing patterns out there should it be different?

uxpattern

It’s at this micro level you isolate your users actual behavior and can be majority of the time field tested with customer(s) to establish what is “usable” and which isn’t. It is also at this point you can attach “who” the UI pattern is designed for.

If  you catalog these UI patterns you can also begin the “visual” treatment process before any code is even written (in parallel) as its really about which assets are missing, which you already own and when they can be queued for delivery.

Lastly and the most important point of all is that you can identify which Patterns are “Fresh” and begin your patent application(s) for retaining your intellectual property rights whilst at the same time ensuring that you’re not infringing on other existing patents out there.

 (i.e. have you read the terms & conditions of Office Ribbon, Adobe vs. Microsoft legal case around panel snapping etc.?)

Discovery integrates with delivery.

To recap, you have taken the simple “user stories” and you have mapped them into visual stories that help illustrate the “before” and “after” in terms of refining them down into “simplicity”. You have also identified whom the actors or “user” actually are finite detail that even talks to what, where and how.

So, discovery phase is done right?

No. This is the easy part as now you have information and you have a sense of possibilities. What comes next is the part where you often will lose the executive owners of your team. It’s the prototyping phase of discovery, that is take your ideas and come up with some wireframes or small time boxed interactive prototypes of how the comic stories can be achieved.

I say you lose them as if you do not handle this carefully you will position this phase as being “wasteful” or “not as important – function vs. form”. The trick is to factor this phase as being part of your “delivery” but knowing it is actually more to do with “discovery”, (it is as if you Jedi mind tricked the project management & executive fears).

Prototypes, Wireframes and Comic Stories are deliverable that works the same as actually writing the code itself in a normal agile scenario (i.e. they too can follow sprint cycles). You can do it parallel (if you are in v2 of this process) or you can do it sequential but the key is to deliver something that shows the investment is not wasted. You also iron out the unknown and can often deliver drops to candidates for the software(s) release to get a sense of what success/fail will look like had you spent months coding it for real.

Remember Windows Longhorn? Yeah most of that was Macromedia Director. Remember Silverlight on the Nokia N9 back in MIX keynotes? Yeah that was kind of a mini PowerPoint style animation! Point is when you demo something, nobody 99% of the time asks to see how many lines of code it took to make.

This approach builds confidence that your development has balanced the feature(s) required with market readiness/attractiveness whilst at the same time maintains a disciplined delivery schedule. It also allows  you to really validate your UX personas against the features that they are attached to, as then you can start to formulate a fairly accurate understanding of what feature(s) are going to make the release and who they are being targeted for. Having just this alone can improve your “feature” cutting when the time for reducing scope occurs; again, you know more about the impact than a general “user” statement.

It also helps to know this when forecasting costs for a new products development, which is how much this will cost to produce and who the first, second, third round of releases will likely excite. It also helps training / documentation teams begin preparing their work streams on how to manage change management issues. This also helps testing teams understand how to attack their tests to ensure the said quality gates are kept intact and aren’t being approached from “generic” scenarios (i.e. play the role of the UX persona not the roles like “let’s see how much of this I can break”).

Finally, it helps Marketing/Sales teams get actually ready for the “launch” in a way that hits your target market squarely in the places it should.  I.e. they know who to avoid making eye contact with during launch time should that UX Persona group not make the cut).

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Before I close out this poorly written tomb, let me say that no matter what choices you decide to make, ensure you keep it all open and transparent. There is nothing worse than having all the discovery and delivery processes being locked up in the hands of a select few or worse making it available but displayed in such an abstract format that it simply holds no clarity around what just happened.

The combination of UX and Code delivery needs to happen clearly, there needs to be KPI’s set and lastly you need to ensure everyone in the room has a visual simple display as to what is being worked on.

uxkpi

An executive does not care about your “Done” board in agile and they do not care about how many stories you have to write code against either. They also do not care you have unpacked a generic User persona into five sub personas and lastly they do not care about how you have improved the “AS-IS” comic style user stories into the “TO-BE”. The assume you do this normally, so don’t expect an “Adda boy/girl” pat on the back as well it’s like being asked for a high five for knowing how to check email?

The mostly care about progress reports – where is their money being spent and why. They will care at times when visiting peers or their power brokers come by for a visit, in which case bring all the above out for a full show & tell (factory visits is what I call them).

If you can justify the costs in a meaningful way that does not involve reading text then you are miles ahead of other teams who assume that just because a Story is written down that everyone “gets” where they are heading. Visualization of your products early often gives everyone in the room clear communication around what the vision will end up looking like. There is less pressure for demos to be at a fairly high standard given comic stories, prototypes & wireframes will paint that end point in a much more cleanly digestible way (which ultimately will mean memory recall – which is what you all want).

Lastly, before I close out, can I just say aloud – everybody relax. The agile movement is simply about taking a lot of big lumpy problems and breaking them down into really small bite sized pieces that are easier to manage. This is a strategy that is not unique and exclusive to software development; other industries do this daily and without as many issues as we often create.

An Example of this process is grab 3-4 unique small “beads” and drop them into a bucket of sand. Mix the sand up, then using just a small scoop, plastic bags and a scale come up with a strategy on how you can sample the said mix evenly.

Solve that problem and you can have a future in geology but at the same time, you will also be in a better position to understand how Agile + Forecasting actually work.

 

 

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Dont be a clone, be different.

It’s been roughly a week or so now since I got my Windows Phone 8 iPhone clone – I mean, Nokia Lumia 920 (it was a joke, relax).

The phone itself is quite large, and that for me isn’t an issue except I find my thumbs don’t get as much surface coverage on either side of the phone. The battery life on the phone is nice but the overall user experience within the phone drives me mad.

The camera for instance was annoying because when it came to take a photo I had forgotten I had the setting on close up, so when I took my shot of choice it came out blurry.  It took a while for me to remember that the setting was changed as there was no visual indication that the said phone was in a particular setting – as if having an icon on display all the time was a failure Nokia wouldn’t tolerate (you failed me Nokia)

There are a lot of other settings that also drive me crazy and I could list the postives & negatives all day (Still trying to sort through my emotions on whether this phone will last or go).  However, the one and most crucial thing of all that I dislike about the experience is the App Store clones.

What I mean to say is, despite the various ups & downs that come with having the actual phone – which I can live with – the one piece to this equation is just how immature and terrible the applications that you have on offer are within the Microsoft store. It’s like all the other kids (iPhone/Android) are riding dirtbikes but your parents give you  a new bmx bike (Windows Phone 8) with a fake muffler attached.

I’m struggling even as I type this to come up with some examples of great apps, the ones you cannot live without. The only application that I find actually useful and fairly well designed was Skype. I found Twitter apps to be half-done, broken, prone to “an error has occurred” status messages or the worse offender of all – the official Facebook app (which feels like it was written by a first year programming intern). These are really two applications that a smartphone today must own in terms of unique experience, as these i’d argue are probably the most frequently used outside email (would it kill the design team to use “bold” font to indicate unread emails btw?? and text messaging + threads… really.. threads? what is this a texting forum?).

There is much I’d tolerate about owning this phone but looking at my iPhone apps that are sitting idle and then staring at my Windows Phone I can’t but help develop buyer’s remorse at the moment. I miss my instagram, twitter, flipboard, facebook (yes even iPhone Facebook app), games,  XBMC remote, ANZ Bank and the list goes on and on.

There are really only two applications within the Windows Phone 8 market place that stand out for me – Qantas and ZARA.  The Qantas app is still a bit flat but it looks different enough to give it a pass whilst the ZARA app (Fashion) looks quality elegant / tastefully done – even though I have zero use for it but can appreciate its design.

My underlying point is this. I want to keep using this phone, I want to get off the iPhone crack and try new things but if you keep rinse & repeating the same stupid template driven applications whilst touting “I’m being authentically digital” then you in turn are killing yourselves more than my experience.

If this phone has a chance of success it’s going to come down to development teams engaging a designer and throwing out the Windows Phone 8 “Design Guidelines” by Microsoft.

Microsoft have not a consistent coherent clue as to what good design is and have consistently shown they themselves can’t even lock onto the concept of what good design is. They rely heavily on design agencies, contractors and partners to do the majority of the actual design for solutions they “make”.

There are currently 90+ designers on the Windows Phone 8 “team” and I ask a simple question – What the f**K are you all doing? You’re not helping the community & marketplace that’s for sure.

So please hire a designer today.

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Jakob Nielsen is not your Windows 8 Guru heres why.

I can’t believe i’m about to defend Microsoft Design outloud like this. It’s not something I would normally do, however when it comes to the Jakob Nielsen Windows 8 review I just can’t stand to let it slide. Personally I think that entire company is still stuck in the past and has consistently failed to navigate change with a degree of accurate prediction since they declared Flash a fail (Oct 2000) (which translates to in principle to JavaScript based websites a fail).

Furthermore I think they rely on the idea that the end users are all collective virgin users who have never had to navigate or use bad UI in todays software environments. The fact that we as a human race can navigate even dumb solutions such as Sharepoint, Lotus Notes, SAP and a whole host of other really badly design UI indicates that we aren’t as dumb as useit.com would have us believe. Furthermore there is a huge generational change underway whereby the concept of “experienced windows users” would be fair to say my 8yr old son fits that category.

The clue is in the audience sampled as if you get that wrong the rest of the responses are just opinions based around a skewed bias (bad baseline to draw from on their part).  Here is my notes from an internal email I sent around when I was asked “what do you think of the article” from my co-workers.

NOTE: This is a raw / unedited email-centric dump. There is no grammar/ spelling so if you piss and moan about in the comments you really should step away from the computer more.

In case you suffer from TLDR – here’s the short extranous cognitive load friendly version

What the hell was that

 

My remarks:

  •  Novice and Power Users.  “Invited 12 experienced Windows users” is a weak / broad sweeping remark to make that XYZ demographic doesn’t like N-Product. Keep in mind I’m a tough critic of Windows 8’s design, but even I can concede it’s still usable whether the incentive is to use though is entirely different matter (Cognitive Dissonance measures Behavior vs. Incentive).  I would have taken him more serious if he had of used a variety of audience(s) for this (OSX users, Seniors, GenY, IT Professionals, Sales force etc) .. everyone’s experienced In Windows is my point.


Cognitive Overhead.

  • Prospective Memory – I think he’s building up to “learn where to go” and associating it as a bad thing. The concept of a desktop works in favor of prospective memory, meaning “I’ll put x here so I can come back to it later” works in the same fashion as the start overlay. Its not ideal, but to declare this a cognitive overload is an over-reach given over time (behavior) users will settle on a rhythm that suites them. If I press START and start typing my context will adjust to the text I’m typing and so on.
  •  Dual Environments –  The two environments in which he speaks of are WinRT and WinRT Pro, now the clue is in the word “Pro” firstly and it has to do with legacy support than actual user experience (context is annoying when you leave it out huh?). Tablet users won’t interact with the said duality he’s nominated so it kind of is a weak point to rest on and those that opt for the Surface Pro edition are doing so more as a finger in both pies approach to the problem at hand. If I pitched the problem that needed to be solved in that I need the user(s) to have both Windows Now and Windows vNext it shifts the results differently as if I said I need the users to solely focus on vNext only … Again, It feels more about airbrushing the facts without context (Ironic given the guy’s a usability “guru” and how context is important in ux as content).
  • Added Memory.  I see this a lot and I wonder if UX Practitioners suffer from this concept that we all suffer from sudden memory loss at any given point. I understand interruption etc plays into this but in reality we don’t multi task and phones today for example don’t have this issue – if anything given the complexity between switching from apps via navigation routines (ie iPhone double hitting the rectangle and using a slider style switch). I am baffled as to what moment of brilliance the author assumes he/she is uncovering here – I’m kind of lost between whether I dislike his point or the actual website itself’s design.

Multi Window

  •  Responsive & Adaptive Design– I think the author again (they really should sit down and study some basic design principles to articulate the points) probably wanted to say that the design of the solution isn’t responsive and/or adaptive depending on screen real estate. The said applications again don’t make full use of the screen(s) they are being deployed or used upon. I concede that this could be an issue for usage of LOB solutions but at the same time I also reject it. Having window support in today’s UI world is an absolute engineering challenge at the best of times and furthermore buy having to adhere and cater to this we in turn limit our future potential by sticking to the ye olde side by side window usage. As it now begs the question, why are two applications side by side if they are related?  If we have a forcing function which puts emphasis on a single screen visualization would this not cut down on fragmented software delivery? What if the snap screen concept could be more broader in its execution where you allow users to have more than one window at a time but the designs themselves can be responsive to the state in which they are housed? This works better imho than just given floating cascade windows with dynamic border resize + maximize + minimize. It fixes and creates an interesting solution to much bigger problem.Again, the author is kind of saying “it’s changed, I don’t like it”. I didn’t like the day I gave up a tactical keyboard for a touch screen, but I got over it and can type just as fast now. Humans evolve.

Discoverability

  •  Flat styles. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been driving along the highway and seen the turn arrow being flat and thought to myself “I wish that had a sense of depth, as that would give me contrast to make an informative decision”. The whole idea that we need depth in order to associate action is a kind of “drawing from a long bow”. If you’re a virgin user and never seen something for the first time, yes, you have that moment of initial “wtf” but you explore, because now it’s a puzzle and you have an incentive to figure it out.  Take into account marketing and real-world surroundings it’s fair to assume that the learnability of a solid icon is considered both touchable and untouchable.  You will discover this fairly easily but the learnability is probably shallow but discoverability isn’t – Key differentiation there.  I don’t agree with Metro’s content over chrome metaphor and in the visual he provided it’s an easy fight to pick (grouping is all wrong) but the failures here are easily misleading given he left out the constancy of the design (in that it’s not isolated to one area, it’s throughout and again, surprisingly we all seem to navigate over time without issue – behavior vs incentive again).
  •  Symbology. Probably the only thing I would agree here is that there is way too much of a strong reliance on symbology to convey the context of what the said solution does. There’s no personality attached to apps and functions, meaning I think there still needs to be a balance between core operating and in-app functions and said Applications (one thing iPhone does well as the apps entry icons are able to retain a differentiation whereas Win8 it doesn’t). I don’t think the author articulated this very well but I sense that’s the direction they were heading

Information Density

I won’t bother remarking too much on these areas, suffice to say it’s like I grabbed Angry Birds app, declared iPhone a fail due to lack of 3D support. Probably helps to separate third party applications from the actual said operating system. You can grade an OS based on its actual abilities or inbuilt functions, not by what the ecosystem does with them as that’s a slippery slope.

Desktop computers and horizontal control hasn’t been a failure. I don’t subscribe to the “well on websites it failed” it actually hasn’t, its more to do with screen size, frequency of use and does the UI tease the user to carry out the action. It’s not a complete failure it’s more to do with context and case by case. Now the current win8 mode relies on the horizontal scroll bar or mouse wheel to navigate between the screen and yes I think the missing element here is for the mouse to do the flicking between left/right (kinetic scrolling etc).

Live Tiles.

Agreed. Probably the one area of this article he nailed well. Yeah, the live Tiles for me is like a room full of screaming kids all asking for ice cream and one asking to go to the toilet. Pray you get the later right early.

Charms.

  • Progressive Disclosure has always been a double edged sword. On one hand you free up user from distraction by giving them a chunk of information to process act upon whilst on the other hand you’re easily forgotten and totally rely on muscle memory / learnability to be your UX crutch. I don’t think the author framed this correctly in this case by asserting that the users will “forget” the charm icons etc. I think it’s got poor amount of UX friction associated to it but the idea that Novice/Power users will be absent minded users here is really again an over reach. I find the whole persona attachment in this authors writing to be disconnected and fluctuates between a virgin user and a veteran of 15 years+ user? (settle on them and grouping here clearly needs to indicate the level of friction associated to each point).Had the user stated “I sampled a user with only 6month usage of a computer” then yes, Charms would be hazardous to one’s health. The reality is that’s a generational issue firstly (ie they are deprecating) and secondly there is such a wash of bad UI in software today that the users in general are what I’d call “defensive” in that they have been trained over and over that UI today isn’t always a case of “everything is in front of you where you need it”.  Furthermore if you take a step back in time and look at the green-screen terminals and how data entry operators would fly through the various fields etc one can see that a human and pattern recognition have remarkable abilities.

Gestures.

I’ve not used Win8 Gestures to comment. I want to take the author at his/her word but so far I’m inclined to favor Microsoft here. That being said, Microsoft and Touch have never really been that good together (even Surface Table had issues here). Suffice to say they really need to tidy up NUI in general here and its still the wild west, so in reality anything that all brands put on the table is open to this set of arguments.

Windows 8 Weak on Tablets, Terrible on PC’s.

Yeah this is where the true bias shows through and why my UX spidey senses tingled. It’s in this part you see the opinion shine through which can distill down to that they wanted Win8 to be tablet only UI and desktop to continue the Win7 as-is approach.  It shows lack of foresight for how the mobility and desktop market’s are starting to eat away into the tablet focused approach. How well we handle the ergonomics of going between a laptop to a tablet is still undecided but that’s the direction ones heading. Microsoft are trying to get out ahead of this early and if that means along the way they will fumble some of the UX by giving a duality in both old and new then so be it. In my view if you are given the problem of retaining the old while moving the user base over to the new in an aggressive manner then Microsoft may actually have a winning idea (yes I just praised Microsoft). I would however say that there Metro design style is going to come back and bite them the most and from what I can tell the Author has been cherry picking the negatives in order to build up to a point of how unusable it is. No balanced proposition here other than I don’t like Windows 8 and here’s why (hence the whole paragraph of “I don’t hate Microsoft but..” which translates to “I’m not racist, but..” …there is no “but” ..as everything you just said before it gets lost in cognitive overload (grin).

How the author then goes onto praise Ribbon Menu after spending a paragraph or two downsizing the charm bar “out of sight out of mind” makes me confused

Lastly by asserting that Win7 needs to be replaced with Windows 8 is probably the final conclusion that Microsoft marketing still sucks at its job (ie it’s not an upgrade, its an additive product) and lastly the user should stick more to the UI principles and less to OS Market analysis.

 

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Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have.

I’ve been reading quite a lot of narrative around Windows Phone 8 and mostly around how existing devices are going miss out on functionality.

Looking at the two phones) in theory there is little stopping existing Windows Phone 7 users from having such features) but in truth I don’t think this was ever a technical discussion.

Windows Phone 8 is the entry point.

I’ve pretty much said a number of times over the past 2 years around how I think Windows Phone 7 will fail with consumers) and to be clear and to the point, it has. Nokia sales are poor, the units adopted vs. shipped are a mathematical failure and lastly the uptake and adoption excitement hasn’t been as attractive as it could have been – despite Nokia’s positive influence in their brilliant marketing blitz.

Bottom line is the Phone itself has and always been a “save my position in line until I’m ready to enter the market” strategy. It had to rely on Silverlight teams work to firm up the UX platform strategy and entice an existing development mindset onto the phone.

The early marketing campaigns were just embarrassing to watch, there was no structure to the developer engagement model(s) and it was very reactive and haphazardly handled.

I stated in 2010 the phone would fail simply because I got a sense this was about to happen, as the more I looked at the future strategies of Microsoft from an insider perspective the more I could see it wasn’t about consumers or developers, it was more about internal staff shuffling and jockeying for power to appear to be solving these problems.

Today, Windows Phone 8 plans have been trickled out, and even as I type this I can’t but help criticize the approach taken during the release keynote – excluding Kevin Gallo, given out of the entire keynote it was one guy’s clarity and approach that provided a sense of confidence behind what was brewing.

That all being said, I’m positive about Windows Phone 8 going forward. I think Microsoft are finally starting to suffocate the internal politics and are starting to firm up a coherent strategy around what they think the UX Platform of the future is likely to be.

The strategy is still a work in progress and despite how polished that the company appear to be around what’s coming up next they are still fumbling their way through the evangelism and marketing rhythms that still have large amounts of work to be done.

Windows Phone 8 is the release we should have had, it’s in many ways like the old historical “service pack that fixed the release” which is commonly associated with Microsoft Windows (ie I won’t
install until they release a service pack mentality).

The phone itself has a lot of potential successful entry points to help kickstart an economy and adoption curve that could definitely, if architected (and I mean a big if!) correctly.

Firstly, the phone finally has a what looks like to be a clear vision around how Enterprise adoption can take hold of the said phone that I’m hoping (yet to clarify this) that Windows 8 tablet(s) can also make use of.

This one small but significant feature is what I think can make the adoption cycles stand out from the rest as given there is so much ratcheted excitement around the idea of having smartphones and devices handling complex business focused solutions, this is the first of a united platform strategy that has not only less friction for developer(s) to adopt but also feels more natural within most organisations (given .NET adoption to date is deeper within enterprise than ever before).

Secondly, the wallet feature is still a bit of a left of center idea around how to commercialize and monetize future solution(s) with regards to the Smartphone/Device market(s). What I mean to say is this is kind of the “Deep Zoom” functionality within Silverlight whereby at first glance you could see usage for it but it really isn’t something that was widely adopted or specifically asked for.

I’m hopeful that this feature will get traction across all device(s) more to the point I am dreaming of the day I can buy my coffee from a cafe via my phone vs having to take out my wallet (given they constantly break my notes into coins or I don’t have actual cash on me when I need a coffee).

The technology for a phone-wallet like approach is in place but it will still take a large amount of maturity from both the developer community and Microsoft to get this into the market in a meaningful way (which I’m sadly skeptical will happen – much like Cardspace days, good idea just bad execution).

Thirdly the NFC/Bluetooth and App to App functionality is quite a powerful little gem when you stop and contemplate its future potential. This one requires some visionary, go on a leap of trust with me ask.

The idea that I can have an application and then “bump uglies” with a fellow phone user to not only get the app i’ve just recommended but also potentially share information on the spot, is something that actually makes sense.

I’ve personally sat in meetings where i’ve watched people fumble around with sharing information or better yet in desperate search for the idea of continuous client whereby sharing amongst many as the user navigates the said data would be quite a powerful communication tool.

This feature I believe will wash over the consumer base with hardly an impact but I do see in the Enterprise space it will definitely have a lot more potential than it has to offer today – provided the phone gets traction, attracts the right designer/developer mindset and lastly can remove all friction roadblocks that may impact its clear line of communication (it’s hard to isolate these given the specifics aren’t clear at the time of writing this).

So it’s a going to be successful right?

I said it has potential and I didn’t say it was going to be successful. There is still some blood in the water around those who own the Windows Phone 7 device today being basically given the “thanks for bleeding on our bleeding edge of discovery”. I don’t think this will be an easy hurdle to jump over and should they succeed it’s only due to the fact that the Phone’s consumer failings are going to ensure this level of distrust / toxic venom isn’t as loud as it could have been.

I think it will also require a lot of strategic and careful evangelism on Microsoft’s part to seed this within all those organisations hanging onto their sharepoint / .net way of life with a death grip.

In order to solve that problem, Microsoft really need to sit down and have a detailed heart to heart with the developer base on what their plans are specifically around WPF/Silverlight/WinForms development today. Kevin Gallo in the Windows Phone 8 presentation actually gave clear guidance on this but I think his message needs to be broadcasted as clearly and cleanly has he gave it.

Kevin in my view should be the one who faces the hordes of Developer(s) out there given Scott Guthrie has been shunted to the geek-celeb fame left. Despite this annoyance that the one guy you’d love to hear the most from (Scott Guthrie) isn’t speaking loudly as you’ve grown acustom to is somewhat of a large mistake on Microsoft developer relations part. None the less they definitely need to give Kevin the stage and make him the consistent face amongst many “who cares who this VP is” Microsoft executive crowd.

In order to win this over they really need to pick a team that can be the consistent personalities, it’s why Robert Scoble got success in the early Microsoft days. He was your trusted camera guy who roamed the halls of redmond giving you insight into what’s being published from the Software factory known as Microsoft.

Microsoft have lost this element of success, they are producing technical solutions that may or may not win hearts & minds but ultimately they aren’t clear on what they want to say about the said solutions. They are preoccupied with letting some random executive get on stage and have his & her say to which you never either see them again or you’re still confused as to who they are and why you should listen to them?

In order to have Windows Phone 8 win the day, they need to really just drive home the message calmly, clearly and in a unified voice that builds trust.

Lastly the entire UX platform strategy is starting to bend inwards, in that they are starting to unite the teams under the one vision which is why I’ll simply leave off with one last ranty thought.

I suffer from bipolar but so does Microsoft marketing, in that their entire website strategy is a confusing mess of stupidity and creates more of a problem than it solves. I truly hope Microsoft abandon the “File-New-Website” approach to messaging Windows 8 and Windows Phone by reversing the engines, that is to say unite the entire vision under just one site.

Don’t let internal politics screw this next 1-2 years up, unite and build or you’re just going to be yet another ongoing punchline to a bad technology joke.

Windows Phone 8 is the reset we have to have simply because it starts to be an additive to a united vision (whether you like it or not).

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The problem with metro is it’s hard to differentiate

I want you all to pause a moment or two.

I want you all to sit in front of Windows 8, and explore it some more and get to be intimate with “metro” as a user interface style. Really, immerse yourself in it and just stare at it, explore every pixel it offers up.

I now want you to imagine that this is going to be your user interface for the next 5years.

Still onboard?

image

I have been doing “metro” rinse/repeat designs for quite some time and it has long past bored me to the point where I wonder if I have metro-blindness now. That is I’ve stared at it for far to long that I really need a release valve, I crave something more interesting and has more depth.

This is the part where you respond with the usual metro rhetoric about content-first design, authentically digital blah blah the usual Microsoft Metro Zombie response that often the person at the other end of the conversation has no clue at what even it means, it just sounds smart to say and gives one a sense of authority over the conversation.

I am not saying the path that Microsoft has put the hordes of developers on is wrong but I’m not inclined to say it’s right either.

Who is the target audience?

Today, a 50 something non-techy came into my work pod to talk about the new iPad 3, we talked about what it has and doesn’t have but then I tried to get an unbiased non-technical opinion on Windows 8.

Me: “Have you seen the new Windows 8 yet?”

NonTechGuy: “Nope.. is it out?”

Me: “Not yet, it’s still in beta, but here have a look”

I then watched his facial expression; it looked like he wanted to go to the toilet but was holding back on saying so out of politeness.

Me: “Cool huh!”

NonTechGuy: “is that the whole thing?”

Bottom line was that he was not excited by it and we soon retreated to the iPad conversation. My thinking here is not that well this user speaks for billions of humans worldwide; it was just interesting to see a virgin reaction to basically metro.

This person uses Windows daily and has no issue with it, but when shown Windows 8 front-start screen it had this jarring effect on his senses, as if to say – “this is not what I expected”.

This is the part where someone now responds with “give them time”, “users over time will get used to it”, “I have xyz friends who see the opposite to this view” etc. etc.

I get it, I just disagree with it.

Windows 8 is targeted at us, the tech crowd, the more I think about its practicality the more I contemplate that maybe the reason why Apple is much more successful than Microsoft at this space as they target the baby-boomer style crowd. Microsoft and Google target us and in turn they fail more than they succeed simply because we are much harder to please than the Apple audience.

When Steve Jobs said that they only make products that they would want to use, I think we all in the tech-scene assumed he meant us. He didn’t, I think he meant to say “no, I mean guys my age and people who aren’t preoccupied with engadget/gizmodo style blogs.. I mean me, you people aren’t invited”

The thing that struck a chord today was the fact that iPad3 has failed in the eyes of most tech bloggers etc., yet 50-something non-tech guy walks into the IT cubicle and asks “Hey, you seen the new iPad!”..

Think about that a bit more. Firstly, he has already heard about it from mainstream radio stations and secondly he did not say iPad3 he said “new iPad” (interesting choice of words to parrot).

Metro will outdate itself.

Here is the problem I am starting to see with metro and I am arguably pushing it earlier than Microsoft is with a number of audiences. Metro fast out dates, that is to say initially people’s reaction to the design is positive and emotive. However over time the more and more it gets used, the more and more it will start to taper out, that is to say, you probably are already seeing this with Windows Phone 7.

There is no differentiation; there is no unique upgrade or themed approach to the way you react to data. There is just this metro-zombie existence where if you can slap together a few tiles, fluctuating typography case & size, few background pictures and then some minor rectangle decals here and there. Boom metro installed, payday occurs.

The design and experience over time becomes like chewing gum, the flavor disappears, and soon we are keen to discard and invite new flavor as soon as possible.

I see this as a problem going forward as Microsoft itself can’t control metro in a way that elevates and retains consistency in their emotive experience(s) and to be fair, metro wasn’t born from a scientific analysis, it was born from a group of guys inside Microsoft UX leadership who decided that they wanted to simplify the brand some more.

So what if Microsoft is wrong? What if Metro isn’t the correct way forward and what if it hurts our ecosystem much more than we realize?

Enter Metro-chaos.

Yesterday, out of pure design frustration I decided to do the opposite of what I know about Metro, that is, break the rules, and see what happens.

I came up with this design and then posted it online to see what people’s reactions would be.

MetroChaos4

I got wave after wave of “this isn’t metro” responses, I never got any reactions around how one could evolve this further. I was craving that and was really just curious to see what would happen if you assault this audience with the anti-metro design. I knew upfront what the audience would parrot back and sure enough I got lecture after lecture on what is or isn’t metro (some weren’t even accurate to the actual principles of metro itself).

I could care less whether people enjoyed the design I put forward as it was always just a throw-away composition and was more about me taking some time-out to just evolve a design.

It struck me simply that I worry now that metro-style as we see it from Microsoft will become tomorrow’s WinForm(s) that is to say we’ve replaced WinForm static UI with now a more monochrome blocky style UI. Developers rarely deviate from Microsoft’s theming (see Ribbon and Office theming as examples) and so from here it’s likely we’ll see the tired old look over and over and over.

I worry about this as I think this really could be the step backwards and not forwards in evolving our design energy.

With that, I leave you with just one question – What if Microsoft is wrong, how do we all collectively recover?

I don’t dislike metro, but I’m not excited about it as much as I should be. I want have more fun with it though, I want to see what others do with it out of the confines of the “rules”, as I think this could evolve further!

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Windows 8 Metroholm Syndrome kicked in late last night.

Like 1million of you out there, yesterday I downloaded and installed Windows 8 onto get this – my 27” iMac – yes, I’m that guy.

image

Here are my love/hate notes and a YouTube video to match.

What I like

  • Color Choice. I like the vibrant colors, I was skeptical from the initial //BUILD preview we saw that this would work as that iteration of Win8 came off very flat and really shallow baked. This iteration I am noticing some subtle differences and I am growing to accept its existence.
  • Start Menu replacement. I am surprised at how much I do actually like the Start Menu vs. the traditional one; I am always a fan of enabling users to break out of their chrome and into a more contextually driven experience for at times when specific tasks need to occur. I like this approach, it’s still a bit hard to break a lot of habitual usage and muscle memory, but it’s something I can see the Operating System will chisel away at over time.
  • AppStore. I like the AppStore, I think this is long overdue and am looking forward to seeing more about how this can increase the size of my own wallet (or decrement it). I still am skeptical of a try vs. buy approach to selling your apps, to me try kind of pushes prices further down then they need to be (AppStore anti-pattern).

    I like the almost seamless integration between apps, and how you can pin/unpin them to suite your hearts’ content.

What I dislike.

  • Tile Balance. The balance between typography and glyphs irritated me immediately. I found myself ignoring the glyphs and instead searching the text, but found that the text size itself is excessively small. The reason I think this is occurring is the shapes (glyphs) aren’t familiar outlines of entities I’m used to seeing, so my brain flips the concept around, ignores them given they are foreign and instead retreats back to typography for the answer. I think these needs more balancing between proportion and closer to home shape design(s).
  • Grouping. The grouping seemed did not seem to follow a consistent pattern (prolong usage may alter this opinion). That is to say, how it allocates proportional sizes when you start moving tiles around does not immediately offer up a sense of consistency as I found myself at times wanting a particular tile to be bigger than the rest.
  • Whitespace is amazingly wasted. I’m assuming the main driver for this UI is tablet / slate PC’s so I’m willing to cave a little on this opinion. That being said, if it is to go desktop then the reality around monitor sizes (I know Microsoft has this usage data, I’ve seen it myself) is quite alarmingly large. I mean sure I’m using 27” iMac monitor to view Windows 8 so my whitespace is going to be significantly high, but the thing is Microsoft needs to factor this into their designs (whether it by a pyramid of layout states etc.).

    For instance, when you install an application you pretty much have the upper left locked as being the only elements of UI? To me the far right is a huge wasted opportunity as you can still utilise the AppStore upsell here by feeding in one or two apps that are similar to the one you are installing, give the user the opportunity to read reviews of the application and so on. Point is you can still uphold minimalism but do so in a much smarter contextually driven manner.

  • Internet Explorer is terrible experience. I found the address bar being down the bottom to be frustrating at times, furthermore it often would get in the way of websites like Facebook who use the “Confirm/Cancel” buttons in the bottom right. I found when that occurred the address bar got in the way and left I playing a game of hide/seek until I could get to the said button(s). I am not sure what the science is behind moving it from a traditional top placement now to a bottom placement. I think they went a little too far on the “re-imagined” in this case.
  • Movement without touchscreen. Its clear this OS release is primarily optimized for iPad compete, but again if it’s a desktop release then having smarter keyboard control over how you interact with the OS needs optimizing.

    For instance, I found myself wanting to use START + LEFT/RIGHT Arrow to pan the screen left and right vs having to use the mouse and a scrollbar down the bottom (hit zone that alone was frustrating – fits law anyone?)

Summary.

Look, this OS is a consumer release that much is clear and it is also clear that this isn’t a desktop driven focused experience but instead the anti-iPad release. I can see a having legs on tablet devices, and can see the direction they appear to be heading down that path and can get on board with that.

If this however is to reside as being the replacement for our desktop computers accessing Windows etc., then they really need to think beyond the tablet devices here specifically around how not just consumers but workplaces etc. are going to handle this release?

The design was done an ok at reducing clutter and their marketing “content-first” thinking rather comes of still as being somewhat lazy. I think they can still increase more feature density here whilst retaining a minimalist design (web apps etc. do it daily so it is not really a pioneering effort).

I can’t see pre-existing Windows users who aren’t part of the 6million .NET Horde racing out to their local PC dealer to buy Windows 8 and use it, I think the whole operating system has moved a lot of things around, specifically the removal of the Start Bar Icon itself is going to irritate initially.

This Operating system will require a lot of users having to re-learn there way around the operating system and things they have built up over 15+ years of habitual usage has now been removed – that alone is going to send a polarizing shockwave.

I’m keen to see what the next release will look like and how they plan to market this operating system to the world without tablet device as its primary delivery platform. I think that will be the challenge for them in terms of separating the tablet focused way in which computers are to be used from traditional dell driven workplace(s) / at home laptops and pc’s.

Windows 8 is the primary flagship for Microsoft, its got billions of dollars riding on its success and fail so I personally don’t think this company can afford another Windows Vista moment.

I still think Steve Sinofsky has probably cut to much out in order to make the shipping dates when he probably should have pushed the dates back (screw the shareholders) a little more to give this OS more time in the creative oven.

I am however growing to like it more and more, I can see potential in how I could make a buck or two with it (despite the developer SDK story being a hodge podge of PR “how not to succeed” strategies).

Going forward I bleed metro; its really thin blood and made up of two primary colors and the blood cells are grid aligned…

I also came into work today inspired, that rarely happens after using something new from Microsoft! 🙂

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