Bend your mind around Messrs Jones and Freitas

Recently, my colleague Ryan conducted a two-hour IM chat session with Matt Jones. You can read the highlights over in the Adaptive Path blog, but if you have the time, I encourage you to delve into the unexpurgated version available on Ryan’s site.

Their dialogue triggered a few associative notions in my own mind that I thought I’d share.

When Matt talks about Jyri talking about social objects and their genesis in Actor-Network Theory, he cites the photo in Flickr as the canonical social object. I believe the door-closer to be the canonical social object, as described in Jim Johnson’s seminal essay Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. (Don’t tell anyone, but the PDF is available for download here.) It’s a bizarre essay, not the least because Jim Johnson is a pseudonym for Bruno Latour, who felt that in order for a American audience to care about what he wrote, he needed to write in an American persona.

Jones goes on to (lament? exhort? simply note?) the “gravity well of the iPhone” dominating the UI landscape and making it hard for other innovations to be noticed. One thing that is patently obvious is that about 12 years ago that happened with the Web, and we’re only now just emerging from the haze of desktop-networked-browser-based-environment design to recognize there’s more to the world than point and clicking on form fields. The Web has been a great thing, but it also obscured very real innovative work being done in user experience design over the last decade that only now is coming to light.

Anyone interested in personal informatics needs to read Ryan and Matt’s interview, as it delves into, out of, and across that subject more than I’ve seen in any one place. I was also pleased to be pointed to Rescue Time, a system for visualizing your computer usage. Matt comments about Rescue Time extending off the desktop, as “scary perhaps…” but I think it’s inevitable, and potentially powerful. We leave so many data trails (they also talk about Nike +), that having a personal dashboard that visualizes my quantified self could prove extremely beneficial. (I’ll write an exceedingly long blog post about that one of these days.)

This interchange stopped me…

RF: All of this data is hidden from us, and we’re the one’s generating it… we aren’t equipped, cognitively, to learn anything more than impressions from our own actions. In attempting to gather more complete pictures of our behaviors – and gain better analysis of ourselves – whats our motivation?

MJ: Well – coming back to the social aspect. The overlays of these patterns with those of others are a new kind of feedback we haven’t had at any scale before. And we do flock well…

…I hadn’t thought of it in this way, and I don’t know how purposeful Matt’s use of “flock” was, but this is all about emergent behaviors that arise from the intersection of all these little local behaviors. “Flock” triggered a memory of Mitch Resnick’s Turtles, Termites, and Traffic Jams wherein he begins the book discussing flocking behavior in birds, and how it is an emergent behavior — there is no “leader” that the others follow… There is a set of rules that individuals follow, and in doing so, what emerges is the group flocks.

And let me say, I’d be the first in line to buy “Who Moved My Siege Engine”.

Alan Cooper Told The Audience What They Wanted To Hear, Not What They Needed To Hear

A couple nights ago I saw Alan Cooper present his Interaction08 Keynote, An Insurgency of Quality, for a local audience.

His presentation is quite rambly, but I think the heart of the thesis was:

  • best-to-market always beats first-to-market
  • quality takes time
  • interaction designers are craftspeople
  • programmers are craftspeople
  • business management is optimized for an industrial economy; they don’t know how to handle a post-industrial economy
  • interaction designers and programmers should join forces and make great things, and success will follow

Alan makes a lot of good points in his talk (many of which we make at Adaptive Path, such as how thoughtful design allowed iPod and Palm to beat predecessors, the value of distinguishing between design engineering and production engineering, and the value of the Quick Win), but he lost me when he advocated ignoring the business folks because they simply won’t get it. Not just “don’t” get it, but “won’t” get it. He seems to think that business folks are wired in such a way that they can’t handle the post-industrial economy. He also believes that attempts to quantify business value of post-industrial work is a fool’s errand.

He basically told the audience what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear.

I tried to respond in a comment/question, arguing that the IxDs and programmers need to join forces with savvy business folks who can champion their cause. And that IxDs and programmers rarely express any interest in being held accountable, and that’s why business people have the power — they’re willing to put their butt in the sling. He misunderstood my comment about accountability and construed it as a comment about return on investment, and he got all rambly about quantification. Accountability is not necessarily about ROI — in fact, many business folks that ROI and NPV are typically just tools to CYA. But, what we saw in our 2003 research on ROI and User Experience is that the act of making a rigorous connection between design interventions and driving real business value (however that value is defined in that organization) leads not just to business success, but often better, and more useful design.

More than anything else, this talk exposed the interaction design profession’s neuroses around dealing with the larger world of business, and I suspect Alan’s frustration in dealing with “business people” has lead him to want to neglect them altogether. He is fortunate to be in a position where he can do that… But I fear if anyone were to try to follow his suggestions they’d find themselves marginalized and angry as all their brilliance goes for naught.

I wore goggles, too

Aagz061 8X10~Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar-Hook-Shot-PostersI grew up in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s, and basketball was my favorite sport to watch and play. Needless to say, the L.A. Lakers were my team, and its centerpiece Kareem Abdul-Jabbar my favorite player. To the degree that when I would play b-ball with my friends, and we’d pretend we were professionals, I always said I was Kareem. Though I was an exceedingly average-sized white kid. The only thing we had in common was that I wore goggles when I played (I wore glasses until I was around 12). And I shot a skyhook, though it rarely went in.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that Kareem is a rarity in the sports world… A gentleman athlete, well-read, well-spoken, and, to his credit, *outspoken*. He changed his name from Lew Alcindor because of what he fiercely believed in.

Now, I see that Kareem is blogging for the L.A. Times. And if you look at his recent posts, he’s clearly a gifted, engaged, yet humble man.

UX Week 2008 – New site, impressive schedule

One thing that’s taking much of my time at Adaptive Path is programming our upcoming UX Week 2008 event. I’ve been trying very hard to balance inspiration and information; visions of where we’re headed mixed with practical how-tos.

As such, we’ve got people you’d expect, like Don Norman, Jeffrey Veen, and a coterie of fellow Adaptive Pathers, and then people you might not expect, like Scott Griffith, the CEO of carsharing service Zipcar, alternate reality game designer Jane McGonigal, Wiimote hacker Johnny Lee, human-robot interaction engineer Aaron Powers.

We’re also trying something new, with 2.5-3 hour afternoon workshops on Day 1 and Day 2. Workshops range from skills-building user experience practice around prototyping, design research, and team processes, to slightly out-of-left-field sessions on information visualization, storytelling taught by avant garde thespians, and designing for gestural interfaces like the Wii or iPhone. Priority selection is based on order of registration, so the sooner you register, the greater the likelihood you’ll get to exactly the workshop you want!

Also, it wouldn’t be an Adaptive Path event without a field trip to a museum, and this year we’ve got a doozy — The Exploratorium! We’ll learn about the design of exhibits (and how they consider the visitor experience), and then blow off some steam in their amazing space.

UX Week pricing goes up March 31st, so register now for the best deal. And if you use promotional code FOPM, you’ll get 15% off!

33 out of 36

After scoring 24 out of 80, I explored the other tests on the site. One that caught my attention is the Mind in the eyes test, which asks you to describe what someone is thinking or feeling based just on looking at their eyes. I believe it’s related to Paul Ekman‘s work on reading faces.

Anyway, on that Mind in the eyes test, I scored a 33 out of 36.

So, I have little innate empathy, but I can read other people’s expressions remarkably well. I don’t know if this is contradictory, or if it’s exactly right. Perhaps empathy and facial reading are just to very different parts of the brain.

24 out of 80

A little bit ago I answered a set of questions meant to measure my empathy quotient.

I scored 24 out of 80.

That placed me in the “low” category, according to the test:

0 – 32 = low (most people with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism score about 20)

I’m thinking of getting “24 out of 80” tattooed on my arm, or emblazoned on a t-shirt.

The latest issue of Wired – articles worth reading!

I’ve been disappointed with Wired for, oh, 10-12 years now, but the latest issue had three articles that deserve your time.

A psychologist who is competing with math and stats nerds on the Netflix challenge. Social science reprazent!

Chris’ article on Free! I love that he’s able to use Wired as a venue for launching future bestsellers. Though, honestly, I might have preferred the podcast of his presentation on the topic.

My favorite, though was an article on new thinking about autism, representing the views of autistics who say they’re not damaged, just different. I wrote about the two featured autists in a post last year.

Ubicomp happens

The latest issue of Interactions magazine features an article titled “When Users ‘Do’ The Ubicomp,” (subscription required to read the whole thing) which is the first academic-ish article I’ve read that addresses ubicomp the way I think about it.

Ubicomp futures tend to be portrayed as planned, coordinated, intentional, purposeful connections between the devices in our lives, chips embedded in our environment, utilizing protocols to interact with one another.

What the article points out is that ubicomp is here (you carry a mobile phone? smart phone? laptop? use a desktop computer?), and it’s messy, and uncoordinated. When I think of our Glorious Ubiquitous Future, I see the evolution of the messy uncoordinated technologies… I suspect the best plan of action is on the standards front, so that there’s some kind of unplanned but enabled interoperability, so that these components can work together in ways that haven’t been foreseen. This is the magic of open APIs on the Web, and that spirit will help as we move forward to situated contexts.

MX 2008 – Giveaways!

We’re trying something new this year with the MX 2008 Conference… We’re GIVING THINGS AWAY!

To remind you — MX is our two-day confab on the emerging discipline of creative leadership, and has perhaps the most stellar collection of presenters we’ve ever had. It’s designed for people who’ve been around the user experience block quite a few times, and looking for new sources of information and inspiration.

The first thing we’re giving away is books. All attendees of MX become members of the MX Book Club. The first two books you’ll receive are Chip Conley’s PEAK and Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick.

The second thing we’re giving away is an iPod Shuffle. Everyone who registers between now and March 31st will receive an iPod shuffle. Shiny!

And we’ve just announced that one person who registers between now and 11:59pm (Pacific time) on March 14 will be selected at random, and given their choice of one round trip ticket anywhere Virgin America flies OR a spa/massage package at the Mark Hopkins, the conference hotel.

So what are you waiting for? Register now!