Who are your influences?

A couple of years ago, I was interviewing for an interaction design position as Opsware.  At the time, my only interaction design experience was with Hotkoko.  They took interaction design super-seriously.  Their work products were top-notch with every conceivable detail spelled out.  I was thoroughly impressed.  The product also looked really good.  The head of the department said to me, “We want the experience to be so good that anyone who ever uses Opsware will insist upon using it in future projects.”  I have taken that sentiment to heart and adopted it as my own credo.  In Steve Jobs words, “Insanely Great”.

During that interview, one of the interviewers asked, “Who are your influences?”

I didn’t know how to answer.  My answer was basically, “Who should they be?  I haven’t been trained.  I really don’t know.”  Of course, I didn’t get the job and Opsware subsequently was purchased by HP. (Nuts)  Anyway, since that day, I delved into the literature.  I can confidently answer that question today.

My influences:

  1. Don Norman. His book “The Design of Everyday Things” was an eye opener.  I never thought before that about the things we interact with on a daily basis.  His book is a manifesto for designers everywhere.  We have to take responsibility for the pain people feel when they can’t use something.  A watch that is too hard to set the time.  A door that should be pulled instead of pushed.  An e-commerce shopping cart that doesn’t say how much the goods will actually cost.  All of these things cause pain to users.  Norman’s book made me declare my mission.  It is my mission to help people use products by designing them in a way that is enjoyable and intuitive.
  2. Bruce Tognazzini. I went to Usability Day 2006.  Intuit was kind enough to pay for the trip for Florence, Sean and myself.  Tog was really good.  I enjoyed his session enormously.  He influenced my way of thinking and presenting.  Most importantly, I learned from Tog that interaction design is about psychology and physiology.  How people think and how their bodies work is a key element to decision-making in design.  This approach makes design much scientific and less subjective.  This is critical to feeling confident about your designs.
  3. Aviniash Kaushik. The head of analytics at Intuit, while I was there and now an evangelist at Google, Avinash was enormously influential.  In his first meeting with me he said, “You don’t know anything!  Only the the tests can prove something”.  At first, I was taken aback by this.  But over time, I realized testing should be the primary way of proving a designers worth.  Testing could show that my work was good.  What I interpreted from Avinash was, “The executives and marketers and engineers don’t know that you know what you are doing.  Testing can help prove you are right!”  At Intuit, I used tests and was very successful in moving the needle.  Now, I whole heartedly endorse testing at a measure for a designer.  The one key element that I tried to influence Avinash was that “All tests are not created equally.”  It is important to develop tests that the designers feel are “winners”.  If all of the tests are incremental and conservative, then the results will also be incremental and conservative (if positive at all).
  4. Ken Schwaber and Scrum.  Scrum really opened my eyes to how design could work in a fast paced technology world.  I didn’t love the level of detail at the OpsWare interview.  It seemed that too much was put on paper and not enough was in prototype form.  Some details need to work themselves out in the actual code.  Scrum really helped me see alternative ways of process.  More agile methods.  I am still exploring this, but scrum has influenced me greatly.
  5. Alan Cooper. Cooper gave me a much needed detail of specific UI.  His book “About Face”, now in it’s 3rd edition, is a great starter for UI education.  His book The Inmates are Running the Asylum also showed how much of design happens today.  Specifically, how engineers are making design decisions rather than designers.
  6. Bill Mirbach. Another Intuit executive, Bill taught me about writing.  I had always thought of writing in the Steve Krug mode. (See Don’t Make Me Think, Happy Talk Must Die)  Bill taught me how the right text could make a huge difference.  He also taught me about how patience is sometimes more important than being right.  I wish I was influenced more on this score.  Right now, I am impatient to the extreme.

There are some honorable mentions here:  Sean and Florence were really instructive on visual design techniques.  David Foltz introduced me to jQuery, for which I am forever grateful.  John Resig is influential in regards to his vision of jQuery and how a simple idea can expand into a great community and technology.

Think about what you do.  Who are your influences?  I found that the question, once answered, gave me alot of insight into myself and my career.


One response to “Who are your influences?”

  1. Glen Lipka Avatar
    Glen Lipka

    UPDATE: I forgot Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His book on Flow was very influential in my thinking on user enjoyment.

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