Aug 12

Social Design workshop at UX Week

Next week I’m excited to be running a workshop at UX Week – an excellent annual event run by the good folks at Adaptive Path. I’m finalizing the details around what is in and what is out. Below is the draft agenda. If you are going I’d love to hear what you’d like me to cover. We’ll have lots of time for discussions around the topics below but anything big missing that you’d like me to talk to? Thanks!


1. Why social design is critical to UX professionals

- We are a social species and social interaction drives much human behavior

- The web is being rebuilt with people at the centre

2. Why current UX practices don’t work well for social design

- Why the classic UCD process doesn’t work well

- Why personas and goal driven design don’t work well

- An alternative approach

3. Doing research on social behavior

- Why 1:1 qualitative research has severe limitations

- Why front loaded qualitative research has limited value

- An alternative approach

4. A framework to use

- Identity + Privacy / Relationships / Connections / Communication

5. Design patterns around Identity and Privacy

- Designing for social versus personal identity

- Designing for consistency with past behavior

- Designing public interactions

- Designing for privacy

6. Design patterns around Relationships + Connections

- Designing for groups

- Homophily and designing around common ground

- Designing for strong and weak relationships

7. Design patterns around Communication

- Designing conversations and the power of lightweight interactions

- Designing to build relationships

8. Conclusion and discussion


Aug 12

A shift away from subjectivity in the visual arts

Little experiments like this one by Errol Morris point to a macro shift in the visual arts from subjectively assessing design elements to objectively measuring design elements. It will take years to fully manifest itself, and will not go down well in much of the creative community, but it’s inevitable. When it is simple and fast to test font A versus font B, or concept A versus concept B, clients will demand it, and designers will have to accept the results.

Michael Beirut explains the experiment:

But I also know that the ingredients used by graphic designers — colors, shapes, typefaces — are fundamentally mysterious. What do they mean? How do they work? Why does one work better than another? What criteria should we use to choose?…This ambiguity can be maddening, especially to clients, who in desperation will invoke anecdotes and folk wisdom to help control an otherwise rudderless process…

To Morris’s surprise, the results of the test showed a clear difference between the performance of Baskerville and other fonts — not just Baskerville and Comic Sans (no contest); or Baskerville and Trebuchet or Helvetica (a clear serif versus sans distinction); but even Baskerville and Georgia (a lovely, and arguably even more legible serif by Matthew Carter). Compared to versions in the other typefaces, the passage set in Baskerville had both the highest rate of agreement and the lowest rate of disagreement. This led Morris to the inevitable conclusion: Baskerville is the typeface of truth.

First seen on Kottke.


Oct 11

Two recent appearances

Recently I participated in two events which are now consumable online.

I was a guest on Tummelvision, an excellent podcast by Heather GoldDeborah Schultz, & Kevin Marks! Our conversation starts about 22 minutes in – check it out here:


I was also delighted to participate in UX Week, an excellent conference run by Adaptive Path. Here’s the video of my talk:

UX Week 2011 | Paul Adams | How Our Social Circles Influence What We Do, Where We Go, and How We Decide from Adaptive Path on Vimeo.

Aug 11

Draft Table of Contents for Grouped

Here is a draft outline of the Table of Contents for my new book Grouped. The sections are working titles – I’ll change them once I finish the content. They will read more like the first one i.e. a concluding statement. Any feedback on the content covered? What parts interest you the most and the least? I have a load of material and will be culling ruthlessly to make the book easy and quick to read.

1. The web is being rebuilt around people

2. How our social world influences us
2.1 Who we’re connected to influence us
2.2 How our unique relationships influence us
2.3 How we perceive our connections
2.4 How we communicate with our connections

3. How our mind influences us
3.1 How our brain makes sense of our world
3.2 How our memories influence us
3.3 How our non conscious brain influences us
3.4 How our innate biases influence us

4. How society influences us
4.1 How we are influenced by those around us
4.2 How experts influence us

5. How marketing and advertising influences us

6. Conclusion

Jul 11

Why I left Google. What happened to my book. What I work on at Facebook.

In the last couple of weeks there has been plenty of speculation around:
- Why I left Google
- What happened to my book ‘Social Circles’
- What I’m working on at Facebook
I never intended to write publicly about why I left Google, but it seems necessary to give people some facts that they can refer to, and not have people speculating and making stuff up.

Before I get into specifics, I want to say that I still hold tremendous respect for Google. I worked there for four years, loved the company, and busted a gut to help them ship great products. I learned an immense amount from a lot of very smart people.

I also want to remind people that this post is my own personal opinion – take it or leave it at face value.

I left Google for a variety of reasons

The main reason I left was that there was an opportunity at Facebook that I felt I couldn’t turn down (see section on my role at Facebook below). Having said that, there were other factors that made my decision to leave for a competitor easier. Google is an engineering company, and as a researcher or designer, it’s very difficult to have your voice heard at a strategic level. Ultimately I felt that although my research formed a cornerstone of the Google social strategy, and I had correctly predicted how other products in the market would play out, I wasn’t being listened to when it came to executing that strategy. My peers listened intently, but persuading the leadership was a losing battle. Google values technology, not social science. I also moved because the culture had changed dramatically in the few years I was at Google. It became much more bureaucratic and political. I don’t think it’s appropriate to get into it here, and other ex-Googlers have written about this more eloquently than I could.

Google blocked me from publishing my book

Many of you have asked me why my book ‘Social Circles‘ was delayed, and why it has been removed from Amazon. I wrote the book in collaboration with Google, and in June 2010 they officially gave me written permission to publish it. The book content, the title, and the cover all existed prior to Emerald Sea (Google+). However, after the PR frenzy around the leaking of the project in July 2010, Google verbally rescinded permission to publish, and blocked me from publishing until after Google+ launched. I understood and respected their decision at the time. However, they continue to block it. Now that Google+ has launched, I honestly can’t see why they don’t respond to my emails requesting permission to publish. The book contains no proprietary information, it is based almost entirely on research from 3rd parties (mostly universities) and any Google research referenced is already in the public domain.

The goal of the book was simple: to take the complex body of academic research about social behavior, and make it accessible to the many designers, developers and marketers who need to know this stuff. The industry needed this book. You might say I’m trying to organize some of the worlds information and make it universally accessible :) The irony that Google is blocking this endeavor is not lost on me.

The good news is that I’m channeling this frustrating experience towards a better place, and am writing a new book. It’s called Grouped, and it’ll be out in a few months.

Some people have wondered whether my Real Life Social Network deck was leaked. It wasn’t. I first presented it months before Emerald Sea had started. I had permission from Google to present, and nobody internal really cared at the time.

At Facebook I work on our advertising products

For many years I have been interested in how people decide what to buy, own and use. I’ve been fascinated by the world of branding, and how people pass on information about brands and products to people they know. I’ve always had a desire to work in this world.

I believe that the web is being fundamentally rebuilt around people and the world of advertising will fundamentally change because of the emergence of the social web. I want to be part of creating that change, and the best place to do that is at Facebook. I joined Facebook as a Researcher, but have since transitioned to be a Product Manager, and I look after our user facing advertising products. Or as I prefer to say, I’m helping figure out better ways for people and businesses to communicate, and better ways for people to communicate to their friends about businesses. I love my new job, love Facebook, and have absolutely no regrets about moving. It has been the best career decision I’ve made.

I don’t work on Groups or Friend Lists but I don’t need to – I have a lot of respect for the people who do. They know their stuff, and believe me, they are working to make the best product possible.

Thanks for reading, now people have some facts. Take them or leave them at face value.

Update 13th July
When I said “the industry needed this book”, it’s not because I have some kind of ego and think the book is a masterpiece as some have suggested. I’m sure it’s not. It’s just a simple book about social behavior. I said it was needed because there is vast amounts of rich data about social behavior locked up in academic papers that the masses don’t have time to read.