jQuery 1.5 Released

jQuery 1.5 was released today.  jQuery was one of the most important breakthroughs for me as a designer.  I was an expert in HTML and CSS, but I was not able to program.  My career aspirations were pointing towards design and jQuery was the perfect lever to get more out of the web.

I spent most of 2006 working on Intuit’s web sites as a designer and web developer.  I also spent that year contributing to the jQuery mailing list.  It was a magical time, the beginning.  I knew, without a doubt, that jQuery was something special.  I didn’t make any money off of it, but I am extremely proud of my small role in helping it out in the beginning.  These are the products I live for.

Lately, my web development skills have been getting pretty rusty.  I spend most of my time in PowerPoint.  I miss the days of figuring out a jQuery script and answering posts on the mailing list.  I miss the kind of problem solving that you only get with web development.  I wish I used jQuery more.  Even though I am somewhat removed these days, I still am proud to see that little script evolving and growing and making a dent in the universe.  I hope I get to work on more products like that in the future.

The Magic Triangle Parable

A story from a friend, but it probably sounds familiar to many of you.  It is related to the magic triangle of Scope, Resources and Time.  You can only focus on one.  Trying to focus on two or three is a fool’s game and inevitably leads to failure.  Here is an illustration of trying to get more than one.

/scene A typical office.  Fade in from black.

A specification for a product has been delivered to an engineering group from a business manager.

Engineer: OK, looks great. This will take 2 months with the resources we have.
Manager: No way! We need this in 1 month!
Engineer: Well, we could cut scope? or add people?
Manager: Well, the budget is fixed, so no additional people. Do whatever you have to do otherwise to ship on time.
Engineer: Ok, will do.

A month passes. The engineer shows the product to the manager.

Manager: This looks terrible! Where is all the stuff in the specification?! We spent alot of time on those details.
Engineer: Well, you wanted it in a month, so we had to cut alot.
Manager: Well, this is no good. How much longer to put in the rest?
Engineer: A month, plus some time since we lost time figuring out this reduced scope.
Manager: A month? You are slipping the deadline by a month??
Engineer: No, I told you it would take 2 months in the beginning. You said to cut scope.
Manager: All I can see is you are delivering half a product a month late, with a lot of excuses.
Engineer: Ugh. What do you want us to do?
Manager: You have 2 weeks. Make it happen!

2 weeks pass. The product is released.

Customer: This product…it seems…not that good. It would be much better if it had these 6 things.
Engineer: Yeah, we had to cut those to make the deadline.
Customer: Are you adding those in soon?
Engineer: I don’t know, I have to ask the manager. He just gave me the spec for a new product line though.

/end scene

Moral of the story: You can only be good on one thing in the magic triangle.

Names and Faces

Ben Nadel’s website uses a particular User Experience technique that I think is absolutely brilliant.  Let’s call it “names and faces”.  The idea was originally in a book “Made to Stick” by Chip & Dan Heath.

Summary of the story:

The Daily Record, founded in 1950 by Hoover Adams, has a simple core idea: local coverage. Adams states, “All of us know that the main reason anybody reads a local newspaper is for local names and pictures.”  When asked why the Daily Record has been so successful, Adams replies, “It’s because of three things: Names, names, and names.”

Ben Nadel’s blog design takes this one step further.  Whenever you refresh the screen you get a photo of Ben with someone in the Cold Fusion or programming community.  They are literally photos of his readers with him giving the traditional “thumbs up”.  This technique engages his audience in a way that the content can’t.  The experience of Ben’s blog is much better on the site versus in Google Reader.  The connection to the people is strong and creates a sense of community.

The use of photography goes further.  The image of Ben shrugging his shoulders when no one has commented is really funny and invites that first critical comment.

Clearly, Ben is going out of his way to engage with his audience.  You don’t get those photos by staying at home.  Being out and about with the community is creating a brand and a small cadre of local fans.  By putting the photos online, he is promoting that brand to a wider audience.  User Experience is how people interact with what they see and feel.  This is a perfect example of how community can be accentuated and used as a strong UX element.

Combining Technology and Artistry

I just watched a DVD of just Pixar short films.  They were wonderful, but the best moment came in the documentary about Pixar’s early history.  John Lasseter was an animator from Disney.  He joined a group of PhDs in computer science in a small room.  They bounced ideas off each other.  The interaction between them was absolutely fantastic.  John would bring art and the others brought technology.  When they mixed, it created magic.  The Pixar shorts were a perfect mixture of Technology and Artistry.

If we want our society to thrive, we need to create more instances of this happening.  We need to mix creative and technical types in small spaces to solve interesting problems.

It pains me that government (Federal, State and Local) all cut funding for the arts and education as a whole.  It’s not “spending” as the Tea Party might describe it.  It’s investment.  You put a dollar in and get 3 dollars out.  When people are trained, they become skilled labor and pay taxes.  When we have the arts around us, we reap the benefits in emotional and spiritual ways.

I believe that mankind can achieve anything. We are really clever beings.  All we need is the chance.  So much is left undone because we don’t put the right ingredients together.  What great things might you create if you were put in the right position with the right tools?


What is Design?

Conceptual Design
Conceptual Design is the ability to communicate a holistic architecture of a large product, service or solution.

A conceptual designer is able to mockup the end-to-end, top-to-bottom structure of this solution.  This includes a strong understanding of the technologies involved, without which the conceptual designer is doing “Ivory Tower Design”.

This kind of design is done on a piece of paper, a white-board or just talking.  It is often abstract and missing many details, but the core of the design is feasible and the details can be worked out without re-conceptualizing the original architecture.

User Experience Design
User Experience Design is focused on the interaction of the human beings involved with the solution and how they feel about it.

Conceptual Design and UX Design go hand-in-hand.  A well architected system doesn’t inspire loyalty by itself.  A UX Designer turns that solution into something people are inspired by and love.  In addition to the target market, the internal team members building, selling and supporting the solution need to be inspired as well.

User Experience is the complete interaction a person has with a company.  This includes everything, including when a friend gives a referral.  Net Promoter is the fundamental way of knowing whether the UX Design is working.

Information Architecture
Information Architecture is the craft of organizing content on a single screen or organizing many screens throughout an entire solution.

Where do things live for the users eyes? Where do they live in the users minds?  These are the key questions to answer to have a well-organized and scalable solution.

Many  applications look like the functionality was blasted onto the screen by a shotgun.  Elegance of information architecture can solve many problems down the road.

Interaction Design
Interaction Design is focused on specific elements of the user interface.  These are the things the user touches and interacts with in the product.

This is the workhorse of the design team.  For every conceptual design, there are a gaggle of details that need to be described.  The requirements of  the product managers turns into the storyboards of the designers.  Those storyboards are engineering deliverables.

A lot of interaction design can be solved with a strong framework like Sencha.  However, the framework only gets you half-way.  How you wield that weapon is the key to people thinking your app is “easy to use”.

Graphic Design
Probably the best understood of the design world, Graphic Design is concerned with how things look.

The color, balance, composition and overall look of the service all contribute to how people perceive the product.  Many studies have shown that beautifully crafted objects have higher task completion rates and higher Net Promoter scores.

For graphic design, taking a picture of the application and hanging it on the wall should result in a beautiful piece of art.

Design Leadership
Design = decisions.

Design is something that everyone contributes towards because each and every decision is something the user can only take a whole.  The end-resulting product is the collection of all the decisions made in the building of the product.

Design Leadership is about coordinating and synthesizing the input from various stakeholders and pulling it together into a coherent plan.  Whether this is done 1:1 with someone or in a group meeting, the design leader must be able to defend a design as well as take input to improve it.

Different people will have talents more in one area and less in another.  However, every designer must do all of these tasks at one point or another, regardless of talent. It’s important to understand these different crafts because they all need to get done to deliver a product or service.  Don’t sell one of them short.  Each contributes towards the overall awesome of the offering.

Sencha 2010 UX Presentation

The video from my Sencha presentation is live on Vimeo.  Whenever I see myself on video, I have a strong negative reaction to the way I look, the way my voice sounds, the way I move my arms like I am popping and locking my way through the presentation.  I asked around a bit and it seems most people have this reaction.  In my mind, I look and sound like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.  When I see my video, I think Danny DeVito or Jason Alexander instead.  My eyes look like I am a deer in the headlights.

Well, I hope the content at least is engaging.

What do you think?

Leaders and Followers

One idea about a leader is that someone does things that are worth following.  This does not mean they actually have followers.  For example, Van Gogh lived his life in mostly poverty and isolation, but people have followed his lead in art a million times over since then.  Leaders in this sense do something different and innovative.  They think out of the box and create new realities.  It is the acts themselves that define the leader, not the followers.  I’ve previously broken down some of the things a leader does.  This is action-defined leadership.

Another notion is to say that if a person has followers they are a leader.  No followers, not a leader.  It is the number of followers that define the quality of the leader.  So regardless of the actions you take, if people don’t follow you then all you are doing is making noise.  Some people have followers yet are pretty scarce on actual leadership actions.  They do this through charisma or intimidation.  For example, bullies often have grouper-fish followers.  With this point of view, we have follower-defined leadership.

When you have someone with both types, they can be extremely powerful forces.  Whether tyrannical or benevolent, the ball will get moved in a direction.  Leaders can not stand the status quo.  If they aren’t moving, they aren’t leading.

User Experience is about thinking how things work.  Whether that is how a technology is perceived or how leadership works, you should always be examining the world and gaining insight.  Think about something like courage, fear, boredom, love, lust, productivity, etc and think about how they work.  What varieties are there?  Thinking and communicating those ideas are what makes humans special in our world.

The UX of Electric Car Slogans

User Experience starts very early.  It includes the prejudices they come to the table with and the slogan you put on the first TV commercial they saw.  Nissan and Chevy have two very different approaches.

Chevy Volt: It’s more car than electric.
There are several messages hidden inside this slogan.   This is a $30k-$40k  car that goes 40 miles on a charge before kicking into a normal engine.  By saying its more car than electric the message is “electric isn’t good or desirable to us, cars are good and desirable.  We don’t really want to be doing this, but stupid eco-hipsters are making us.”

Even the name, Volt emphasizes the obvious electric aspect rather than name it something more abstract like all of their other cars.  They don’t have a “Chevy Gasoline”; they have a Chevy Malibu.  Naming it the Volt shows a profound lack of imagination and a passive aggressive stance that truly does not love electric vehicles.

The people who want to buy a leaf are fairly well off and can afford a car in that price range.  They truly want an electric vehicle that does not use a drop of gasoline.  I want one of these, except I can’t afford it.  The Volt slogan and name completely turn me off because they are obvious and ham-handed.

Nissan Leaf: The New Car: 100% Electric, No Gas
Notice the completely different approach here. “Leaf” emphasizes the abstraction.  Why do we want electric cars?  Because it saves the air and helps the trees.  An abstraction will beat literal every single time.  “Books.com” can’t sell a refrigerator, but Amazon.com could. Abstraction is a hugely powerful UX tool.

Additionally, the slogan emphasizes the electric nature not the traditional gas/car nature taken by the volt.  It’s almost as if they said, “It’s more electric than car”, just to be the opposite of the Volt.  I believe that the Nissan Leaf’s slogans sets up the better experience for the user and resonates better with their intended audience’s  point of view.

The UX game is played at all levels and at all times.  These cars aren’t on the road yet, but the battle for hearts and minds is already well under way.

The Evolution of Q&A Sites

A very early web WIN for me was Thanksgiving 1995.  My father had asked during during dinner conversation, “How old is Kiri Te Kanawa?”  Today, finding the answer is simple.  You go to Google and misspell her name go to Kiri’s Wikipedia page and do the math.  If you are bad at Math, you can even just Google “Hold old is Kiri Te Kanawa?” and get an Answers.com page giving the exact answer, 66.

In 1995, the choices were different.  I searched on Yahoo and a site that had a listing of opera singers. Kiri was on there with her email address!  My father and Kiri had a lovely email exchange during Thanksgiving and I took credit for the World Wide Web answering the question.

The key WIN was answering a question.  If you broke down the Internet into key values you get:

  1. E-Commerce
  2. Email
  3. Reduced cost of application development and deployment
  4. Social Networking
  5. Answering questions

The web is great a this.  The ecosystem is very designed to achieve this goal.  At first there was Yahoo which listed individual sites.  Then Google came along with a much better search algorithm.  Then came the Q&A sites.  There are so many of them, they need a directory just for Answers sites.  Some include:

Ugh, I can’t keep going.  That’s MORE than I need.  I had previous blogged about Q&A sites 2 years ago and only had a small sampling of this list.  Especially when you add in mailing lists, like the jQuery list I posted alot on 5 years ago.  BusinessWeek has an article how Q&A sites can make big money.

Don’t think of this list as an expansion of question/answer choices, but rather a consolidation.  It used to be that you had to go to individual websites targeted at very specific topics, like Opera Singers to get your answer.  Now, you go to a central site and ask your question there.  Google is supposed to do a good job of keeping track of the canonical source, but apparently they are failing big in this area.

This consolidation is big news to me.  It’s a fundamental shift from dispersed to centralized content.  What may happen next is a Q&A “standard” that allows each site to syndicate its information.  This might happen through an intermediary.

STARTUP IDEA: Develop a Mega Q&A site that reads content from every other Q&A site and centralizes all of the results and also consolidates people’s reputation points. 

As someone addicted to answering questions, I am fascinated by these movements.  I hate losing all of my reputation each and every time.  Looking backwards, it seems this consolidation path is the most likely future.  Knowing this, what would you do to capitalize on it?  If only “knowing the future” could turn into money.  It’s not quite as easy as Back to Future Part II and III made it seem.