Archive for the ‘ Interaction Design ’ Category

Inaugural UX|XU Experience Recap (Global Lives Project)

UX for Good is the brainchild of Jeff Leitner and Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital. It is a conference that brings interaction and visual designers from all over the country to solve social problems for the non-profit sector from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. I was privileged with the opportunity to be the volunteer team coordinator for the Global Lives challenge.

Our team consisted of 8 interaction designers and 1 visual designer. In addition, experts came in and out of our room to listen and offer their perspective throughout the session. These included a poet, journalist, designer, defense contractor, the client, and others. We were joined by various media representatives that photographed and filmed our process. A live blogger stayed with us for most of day and tweeted some of the more memorable quotes that came out of our discussion.

Jeff and Jason led the kickoff. UX designers are uniquely qualified to solve social problems because they have one eye on technology and one eye on user needs. That empathy for the client and end user is portable. “I’m tired of optimizing a shopping cart. Maybe there’s a bigger picture. And I want to give back, right?”

Our Process

After a round of introductions, the team dove into the case: Help Global Lives create empathy in a shrinking world. The Global Lives web site says that their mission is “to collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.” We watched some of the raw video footage and project founder David Evan Harris’ Ted Talk.

The discussion that ensued created more questions than answers. How do you define empathy? What are the access points to empathy? Who has the patience to watch 24 hours of footage? Is this an art project that seeks empathy as a byproduct or an objective that uses film as a tool? Who is the target audience?

At the end of Friday, our key insights were: 1. The empathy that a producer might develop by following a day in the life of another isn’t transmitted to the audience in the current format. 2. The process of making is more likely to create empathy than the process of watching. 3. There are too many messages, objectives and stakeholders in the case and on the website. 4. Those that are already empathetic are the most likely to consume this type of media; the current format probably isn’t reaching the audience that needs it the most.

Saturday morning, we made a schedule and to-do list. Our client, David, arrived early and after introductions, we took him to another room so that two could interview him while the rest of us took notes on the skype feed. We put up post-its of what we learned from the interview, grouped these by category, then created insight post-its that summarized what we heard.

Exhibitions are the organization’s core competency. They reach few and at a high cost but David feels it is the most effective use of the media. A documentary film is in the works that would have broader reach if shown on PBS. Global Lives has secured a small amount of funding to develop their web presence which could have broad reach but potentially limited impact. While some school teachers use Global Lives media, there hasn’t been a significant push in that direction. Constituents have different views of how to extend project reach.

We tried to define a problem statement and got close, but needed to move on. We tried to think of frameworks to define a strategy. Several ideas were on the table, but none were fully thought out. Time was quickly running out and we needed to go into production mode. We divided up deck pages and fed content to our visual designer for compilation. With five minutes to spare, our presentation introduced the challenge, walked through our insights, and made suggestions in the areas of improving digital presence, increasing interaction, broadening the audience, and forming corporate partnerships.

Personal Reflection

I enjoyed working with this group of talented designers. It took a lot longer to understand the scope of the problem than I expected. I wanted to keep the team on track without imposing too much structure on creativity, a strategy which resulted in a last minute scramble and an unfair burden on our visual designer.

I felt that quite often, 7 or 8 of the 9 agreed on a direction and wanted to move on, but that we were held back by one or two holdouts. To get the best ideas out, there must be room for dissent. To work against a deadline, sometimes, we have to move on. How do we move in the direction of the majority without making anyone feel alienated? I tried to summarize what seemed to be group consensus items and asked for collective confirmation. As time dwindled, consensus became easier to achieve.

In such a large group of talented people, pockets of deep expertise can limit individual perspectives. Framing the problem took longer than making actionable suggestions because of the diversity of perspectives. On the other hand, we could not have comprehensively understood the real problem without that diversity. Harnessing and directing talent is difficult but rewarding.

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Thoughts on User Experience Design for Project Division

At 6AM, it always smells the same outside Charles de Gaulle. A layer of fog shelters the airport from city smog as I wait for a bus transfer to the M├ętro. It is crisp and damp. Before sun breaks the fog, it feels more like home than San Francisco. I am amazed at how smell can create the sense of a place but it is more than that; it is the brisk walk by baggage claim and customs, the wide corridor past currency exchange counters to that one distributeur automatique downstairs to withdraw Euros at the lowest exchange rate available, the push through the sliding glass doors to the bus stop where airport employees take cigarette breaks with locals returning home. This is the first stop in a ritual that I associate most intimately with Paris. The breath is confirmation that I have arrived.

When I remember a place, it is that intangible emotive quality that I first remember. Did I feel safe? Did I feel comfortable? Would I want to return? Tonight our group walked around the Division station documenting the sights, sounds and smells of the neighborhood. We found an area in flux. Amidst the noisy thoroughfare, unkept buildings, and garbage flocked streets were pockets of neighborhood improvements: new construction with modern interiors and brick facades that blended into the environment. We felt comfortable in areas that were well-inhabited, where blinds were open and windows were tall and wide. The transparency of a family’s lifestyle suggested that an area was safe. We felt unsafe in areas that seemed abandoned, where front lawns were overgrown and fenced off. If someone lived in these places, they didn’t create a welcoming environment.

Then I remember the amenities. At Charles De Gaulle, there are shops with good selections of fine wine and extensive humidors of Cuban cigars. There is a food court with at least two or three merchants boasting a selection of Iranian caviar and truffles. It’s a foodie’s dream mall and airport terminal in one. Division has a few upscale dining/bar venues, but they are clustered between run-down schools, Section 8 housing, and dilapidated churches. The only fitness center we could find was a small farm of treadmills in one of the trendier sections. Where does someone go to buy upscale groceries around here?

Ostensibly, the Charles de Gaulle and Division cater to different demographics. Someone who flies to Paris isn’t supposed to be of the same social class as someone who lives in the Division area. Yet if the housing facelift is any indication, that line is quickly blurring. What do the growing population of young professional families want in a transit station?

I’d like to create the experience of a passage home for riders in the evening and a launching point for a successful day in the morning. That begins by making the user’s experience as seamless as possible. Bicyclists will find safe and convenient parking on the way to the platform. Connections to and from the circle line, busses and taxis will be sheltered, informed and convenient. That experience continues with extra services. The smell of coffee and prepared foods will overwhelm unpleasant street odors. While the station is still primarily a passage, it can also serve as a destination that offers amenities such as a grocery store and fitness center.

Aesthetically, I want the station to reflect the community’s evolving architecture. Above ground, that means brick facades and tall glass windows that reveal the inner workings of the station. Outside, bright lampposts would help keep the building and area secure while discouraging the homeless from sleeping outside the station. Mediating the underground and above ground environments are transitions that clearly demarcate where one is and where one is headed. If the inner passages can be organized in a geometrically simple way, people will learn the station layout faster.

Ultimately the station design comes down to creating a positive user experience for the community. If we aim to please the marginal, more finicky users, we will improve station design for all users. In turn, we will increase ridership and improve the image of the CTA. This begins by framing an ideal experience and continues with the design of seamless transitions and passenger amenities. Charles de Gaulle is memorable because the experience of passing through it feels like home. So too should Division extend that apropos sentiment of “just right.”

UX For Good

At this month’s IxDA meeting, Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital and Jeff Leitner of Chicago Insight Lab introduced the concept of charitable interaction design work by dividing the group into five ten-member teams and assigning a group case study in 20 minutes. Streetwise is a non-profit organization that tries to help the homeless by selling them newspapers that they can turn around and sell for a profit. The problems that Streetwise faces include the following:

– people don’t want to read Streetwise because there is nothing special about its content
– print advertising sales are down because print journalism is losing relevancy

Our group looked at three constituent groups: consumers (buyers of the newspaper), vendors (the homeless), and merchants (those driving ad revenue). We wanted to create a model where everyone could gain from the transaction so that it could work as a viable business model and not just a charity. First we got rid of the newspaper. The content wasn’t relevant and its primary purpose was only to legitimatize donations. We replaced the newspaper with a coupon model. The homeless would buy coupons for a specific local or regional business and sell them for a profit throughout the day. They would wear a vest, t-shirt, or shirt tag with a number to text and QR code so that anyone who wanted to donate could do so in exchange for a coupon. The coupons could be passed on to friends which would extend the contributions that that homeless person received based on actual redemption rates. On a social level, by scanning that person’s QR code, the donor could track the recipient’s story and progress online.

Consumers benefit through the coupons they receive and form a relationship with the person they are helping through social media. The vendor benefits from the contributions, both direct and through forwarded coupons. Local and regional businesses benefit from the advertising and become “Streetwise certified,” demonstrating their commitment to the local community which contributes to brand equity. As certain members of the homeless population improved their situation, they could become mentors to others and/or be placed into sales functions for the businesses that they have supported.

Other groups came up with similar ideas. One extension was the notion of “street teams,” using the homeless as a labor force for promoting local events. Another group focused on improving the relevancy of content through customization.

Interaction designers understand how things work and see a future that doesn’t exist.

The meeting concluded with an invitation to participate in UX|XU, a two-day work session in January to solve social problems in teams.

Good User Interface: Capresso Conical Burr Grinder

A good coffee conical-burr coffee grinder is a must for any coffee aficionado. I’m pleasantly surprised that this entry-level model also came with an intuitive user interface.

A blue dot on the hopper lines up with a black truncated triangle on the machine to indicate where you insert the hopper. The use of a truncated triangle on body subtly signals that something must be added to make it complete and suggests a pinching action that is analogous to the insert/twist action that occurs in securing the hopper in place.

Next, you twist the hopper to the desired grind setting. In this case, we are making grounds for the French press, so we’ll choose medium.

The lid lifts cleanly off the top where you add your coffee beans. It was manufactured with a tight tolerance to fit snugly and there is no need for it to screw on securely since the machine does not vibrate enough to knock the lid off, even if the hopper were full and beans were flying.

Set the dial to the amount of cups you want grounds for and wait. If you decide you have enough grounds earlier, twist the grinder back to zero without damaging the device.

Remove the grounds from the tray at the bottom. Notice how the edges of the tray stick out just enough to signal that a lever exists there. In addition, for clean storage, the power cord folds up neatly into a back compartment. I love my Capresso conical burr grinder!

Bad User Interface: Tanita “The Ultimate Scale”

I bought this scale that also calculates your body fat percentage several years ago for $20. I find the user interface counter-intuitive and difficult to discover the correct sequence of buttons to make the thing work.

First, I tried pressing the large button that most older digital scales have to turn the thing on. This actually triggers “weight without body fat percentage” mode.

Now when I go to try to set the device to know my age/sex/height, it only tries to weigh my finger pressure, even though there is no realistic way I would try to stand on one of the buttons while weighing myself.

To make it work properly, I have to completely turn off the device by waiting for it to turn off itself (or removing/reinserting the battery). Then, I need to initiate a series of settings with the orange “Set” button.

First comes adult/child, which is selected with the blue button, then confirmed with the orange button.

Then I have to choose male/female assuming that the female wears a skirt.

Finally, I enter my height by holding down the blue button from 3’4″ in half inch increments until I reach my height. If I go over, I must completely restart the process. I think the designers knew that this was a bad user interface, as at the same time in the same store, they also sold a $50 model and an $80 model that each looked identical but for the addition of new buttons and a “save” feature for 2 people on the $50 model and 4 people on the $80 model.