May 09

What does ‘where you go’ say about ‘who you are’?

Our mobile phones are tracking where we go, all day, every day, whether we like it or not. Right now, they’re tracking varying degrees of accuracy, from a radius measured in miles, to within a block. With services like Latitude, Loopt and Brightkite, our location is slowly becoming more public. It’s plausible that in the not too distant future, not exposing our location to others will be a social stigma equivalent to not carrying a mobile phone in today’s society. An increasingly important question will be as our aggregated locations become known and presented together, how does that impact the identities that we carefully craft online?

City level location
Reveals insights about travel: commuting patterns, holidays.

Today: 7.30                                Today 10.00

Block/Street level location
Reveals insights about favoured neighbourhoods, likely activities.

Last Saturday 5pm. Surfing?        Last Sunday 2pm. Shopping?

What about Saturday night, 10pm, the Mission district in SF, or Shoreditch in London? What does that say about your lifestyle? You’re in your thirties but still like to party? Do you want your younger brother to see this aspect of your identity? What about your boss?

Business level location
Reveals insights about deep personal preferences and attitudes.

The point here is not about the potential of location based advertising. That issue is covered elsewhere. The point is how displaying this type of information on people’s online profiles will profoundly impact their behaviour. Will I stop going to certain locations to ensure it doesn’t show up on my profile? Or more likely, will I start going to certain places to craft aspects of my online identity?

“Look how cool I am I went to Bar [name] on Sat night and I don’t even have to brag about it in my status update for you to know about it. In fact I don’t even have to say anything.”

What does it say about me that I went to Urban Outfitters and the Puma store? Who do I want to see this information? Will I filter different locations for different audiences?

May 09

The impact of micro-interactions on brand perception

The perception of one’s brand is an aggregation of every single interaction with that brand. Yet in my experience, brand owners don’t focus enough attention on the little things. The many micro-interactions that reinforce or change perceptions. Here is a nice example of what I mean by the little things. Before Google, Sun Microsystems occupied the building I work in. Some remnants of Sun’s stay remain. Here is the same message communicated from Sun, and from Google.

What does this say about each brand? What perceptions does it reinforce or change?

Often a cumulation of micro-interactions can have a much greater impact than any expensive TV commercial.

May 09

Is design simply a process for managing risk?

Last night I attended Designology, a well run panel by brand consultancy Landor. For most of the conversation, I was nodding my head in agreement: “design is a process”, “the design process needs to be collaborative and involve stakeholders”, “your solutions are only as good as the questions you ask”, “good ideas come from everywhere”, “we don’t all have the vision of Steve Jobs so we need a process” and so on. There wasn’t much disagreement from panelists, so I posed a positioning for design that I believe to be mostly true, but expected to be a little provocative.

Good ideas can come from everywhere – from research, from software engineers, from people on the street. In the software industry we can build these ideas and learn by watching most of them fail. The cost of failure is often low. Other industries don’t have that luxury. They need to get it right the first or second time. Out of all the ideas floating around, how do we know which one will be successful? How can we lower our risk of failure? I believe much of the design process is about managing that risk. Facilitating the decision making process to ensure that data is driving decision making, that “pet” ideas aren’t over valued, that everyone remains objective throughout the development process, that what makes it to market is not only successful for the business, but is also valuable, desirable and enjoyable to customers.

One counter point from the panel was that ‘designer as risk manager’ was a sad place to be, that we should be contributing to culture. Looking at the broader picture in society. I disagree. I think it’s a good place to be. If the things we put out in the world are desirable to consumers, and enjoyable for the people that use them, we are making a positive contribution to culture. One design team can’t manage shifts in culture or society, it’s organic.

I’m a risk manager, and at the moment, I’m comfortable with that.

May 09

Hello everyone, this is your captain speaking

Last year I was on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to San Francisco. Over the Rockies, I was subjected to the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. On numerous occasions it felt like the plane was falling out of the sky. I was gripping my seat, my body was in a sweat, but I wasn’t worried. My peace of mind came from communication with the captain. Before the turbulence, she came on and informed us that there was reported turbulence ahead. She told us that we were going to try and drop altitude to avoid it, but that we may have to pass through some of it. She told us that it was going to be very uncomfortable, but that we were all perfectly safe. She was right, it was very uncomfortable, but she came on again multiple times to reassure us that we were not in danger, everything was under control. Everyone around me was uncomfortable, but managing. A month later I took another flight (with United), and passed through almost equally bad turbulence. This time there was no communication from the captain. And everyone around me was saying their prayers.

This story is not about Air Canada or United, it’s much more human than that. My uncle is a pilot, and I asked him what he would do. Surprisingly, there are no guidelines. Communication is at every pilots’ discretion. He was surprised that I valued the warning, he felt that it was better not to worry people and just get through it as quickly as possible.

On commercial flights, why is the communication from the pilot to the passengers so inconsistent? In what contexts is it best to communicate to passengers? When is it best not to communicate? When communicating, what are the best words to use? These seem like research questions we could gather strong data on.

On flights with no ‘moving maps’, I often wonder what I’m looking at out the window. When the pilot gets on to inform us of our estimated arrival time, our altitude, our speed, why not tell me what I’m looking at out the window? Do I really care about altitude? Do I really know how high 35,000 feet is? Or do I care about what desert/mountain/city I’m flying over?

The onboard airline customer experience is ripe for improvement.

May 09

Hello software. Meet poka-yoke.

Here is a nice out-of-box experience from Netgear.

Some nice feedforward on what to do makes it hard to go wrong. This is common in product design, where designers apply the poka-yoke principle to ensure that things cannot be operated incorrectly.

…the term can refer to any behavior-shaping constraint designed into a product to prevent incorrect operation by the user…Examples of poka-yoke in consumer products include:

  • 3.5″ floppy disks: the top-right corner is shaped in a certain way so that the disk cannot be inserted upside-down.
  • Microwave ovens: a door switch automatically disconnects the activation button when the door of the oven is opened. As a result, it is impossible to cook anything in a microwave oven unless the door (which contains a Faraday cage to block microwaves) is fully closed.

What does poka-yoke look like in software? Certainly error messages and disabled buttons are two examples. But what could we do to provide more feedforward? When we open a web app for the first time and are faced with a potentially complex user interface, what should we be doing first? Next?