Mar 11

Upcoming conferences – see you there?

I’ll be speaking at a few conferences this year, details below. If you’re at any of them, please find me and say hello!

How Your Customers’ Social Circles Influence What They Buy, What They Do and Where They Go
Web 2.0 Expo, San Francisco
30th March

Designing for Social Change (Keynote)
UPA, Atlanta
22nd June

UPA China Keynote
User Friendly 2011, Suzhou, China

Jan 11

The value of a dollar on Skype

Skype recently suffered a well documented outage. As a sign of the value they place in their customers, they offered a credit voucher – a gesture I appreciated. What is interesting is that the execution used two different ways to talk about the same thing, with very different emotional results.

When I saw the first message, I felt really positive about something that would benefit me greatly in my day to day relationships.

Wow, 30 minutes speaking to family at home in Ireland is fantastic!

When I saw the second message, after redeeming my voucher, my initial good feeling was followed by disappointment and apathy:

Oh, it’s only a dollar…

Nothing about what Skype were offering had changed. All that changed was the way they phrased it. In the first, they placed the connection to people you care about at the centre, whereas in the other they placed the monetary value.

Think carefully about the words you choose to use.

Nov 10

Some UX related books I love and return to

Recently, I’ve had a bunch of people ask me for book recommendations – usually what UX books I rate highly and re-read or return to for information. So here’s a list of a few that not everyone might have come across, and why I find them particularly useful. They are not all UX books, but all are relevant to people working in UX.

It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be Paul Arden
This is possibly my favourite book. Anytime I need inspiration or to re-energise, I read this.

A technique for producing ideas James Young
I hate the myth that ideas suddenly appear in a moment of inspiration. Great ideas take time and hard work. This book outlines a process that is close to my own experience of where great ideas come from.

Made to stick Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Most of us have heard of or read this, but their framework is as useful as any I’ve come across for structuring good storytelling.

The myths of innovations Scott Berkun
Related to James Young’s book, I’ve found this a great book to recommend to people who lack a strong understanding of the creative process.

Groundswell Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
There are many books on the social web, many of which I don’t find particularly useful. Any time anyone asks me for a primer on the social web or social media, and how it is changing business, I point them to Groundswell.

On intelligence Jeff Hawkins
I often read books and articles that help me understand how the human brain works. Working on the assumption that the theories in the book are well founded (some argue that they’re not), this book provides a cognitive model that is simple to understand, and practical to apply to they way you design things.

The top four books are related to coming up with great ideas that have substance, and selling those ideas to others in a way that gives them sustainable momentum. Many of the best ideas die because we didn’t have the persistence to see them through, which makes getting deep stakeholder buy-in from the outset a critical part of our jobs.

What other books would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

Oct 09

The absence of mental models on social networks

I’m a big believer in mental models and often structure research questions around them. From understanding news to finance to communication, I try to understand what people’s mental models are, and how we might better support them through design. Recently however, I’ve observed something that I hadn’t experienced before: the absence of a mental model.

As part of my job, I often study how and why people use different communication tools, like their phone, email, IM and social networks. I often probe people about their social network usage and what they think is going on. How does it work? Who can see what? What things are connected? Remarkably, when talking about their social network usage, people often can’t describe or map out how it works. They think hard about it, look at me and simply state that they don’t know, that they haven’t thought about it before, that when they do think about it, they can’t figure it out. When describing their activity on social networks, their different explanations for what is going on are often contradictory. They simply haven’t formed a concrete mental model of the social network, conscious or otherwise, despite having used it for months and even years. They don’t understand the sharing model, or who can see what.

This absence of a mental model leads to lots of inefficient and problematic interactions, lots of misunderstanding about content visibility, and lots of opportunities for improvement.