May 26, 2006


Something sunk in a couple of weekends as I attended DCamp. I am without a professional tribe. This realization has grown as I attend various industry events. I'm just not really grooving with the crowds I'm part of.

DCamp was definitely a pleasant experience, and I enjoyed the chats I had, but I had to admit to myself that the subjects being discussed weren't all that compelling to me. It felt... quotidian.

The week before, I attended a dinner meant to help generate buzz and ideas for the forthcoming Web 2.0 conference. I had very little interest in schmoozing there, and really kept to the few people I already knew. I think it was all the men in sportcoats that turned me off.

Not too long ago, I was very much engaged with many communities. I was active with AIGA and SIGCHI and ASIST; I was attended events on design and information architecture and web stuff. Now, I find myself on the periphery of a lot of groups, but none of them feel like a home for me:
- design (say, AIGA style)
- interaction design (IxDA, etc.)
- business and design (IDSC, Gain, the Overlap)
- "design thinking" (similar to above)
- web design (Webvisions and the like)
- Web 2.0/social software/social media
- "anthrodesign" (design + anthropology/ethnography)

About as close to a tribe as I get is information architects. The IA Summit continues to be my favorite event year in and year out. But I noticed that even there, this year, I wasn't as engaged in the material as I had been in prior years. I love the people, but the subject matter remains stuck.

We'll see how this all proceeds. In some ways, it saddens me, because I feel out of place. In other ways, it's exciting, because it suggests opportunities for creating new groups, new connections, new communities with people who share my slice of professional interests.

Posted by peterme at 10:49 PM | TrackBack

May 22, 2006

peterme speaks! and says "um" and "uh" a lot

Thanks to Livia Labate, you can listen to my closing plenary at the 2006 IA Summit [56.7 MB MP3]. It will help you if you follow along with the PDF of my slides.

I'm definitely proud of this talk, though I hate hearing all my "uh"s and "um"s. Definitely something to work on.

If you want to avoid the aspects of IA history that I dwell on and hop to the thesis, start around the 12:00 mark.

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May 17, 2006

Adaptive Path blogs! And, oh yeah, Steven Johnson Speaks!

Adaptive Path recently started a blog (as Lane points out, it only took us 5 years!)

I just posted about how Steven Johnson, whom I've written about at various times on this site, has been an inspiration to me, and is our plenary speaker on the opening day of User Experience Week.

It's been great fun planning User Experience Week this year. We've decided to spend some money to turn it into a must-attend event, with great folks like Steven, and Michael Bierut, as well as Adaptive Path favorites like Jared Spool.

Anyway, consider this a bit of self-promotion.

Posted by peterme at 08:41 PM | TrackBack

May 14, 2006

dcamp chat on "design for appropriation"

Yesterday I attended DCamp, a gathering comprised mostly of user interface researchers and designers. I lead a discussion on "Design for Appropriation," inspired by a talk that took place at UC Berkeley, which I've written about before.

Our discussion was wide-ranging, and I didn't take notes, so I can't capture much of it. One of the most salient points was that there seems to be a cultural shift towards appropriation being acceptable, and Pete Stahl reminded us that most of us got into web design and development through browser-supported appropriation -- the ability to "View Source."

For me, the big question continues to be, "if we are designing things for our users/participants/customers/whathaveyou to appropriate, than what are we designing?" What is the *thing* that we point to and say, "I made that"?

I guess I've come away with two answers to the question. The first, and the easier answer, is that we are designing the frame, the container, the shell, within which users create and appropriate.

The second, and harder answer, is that it's not about designing a thing, an artifact (even digital) at all. That that is a trap of legacy thinking. That we as designers need to think about how we design, or use design tools and methods, to address aspects that aren't about the artifact. This puts me in the mind of Doblin's Innovation Landscapes , which help remind me that the "offering" is only one part of considering the product, and that there are many other aspects (business model, processes, channel, customer experience, etc.) that designers should address.

The other major concept that I kept coming back to was trust, and how trust gets associated with transparency and authenticity. But it does so in a funny way. Users tend to place a lot of trust in systems that are transparent and appropriate-able (such as Flickr) because we see the mechanisms by which things work, and that gives us comfort. We also, though, have a lot of trust (in fact, all we have is trust) in systems that are utterly opaque, such as financial service firms -- I don't want Schwab's systems to be appropriate-able.

As in the UC Berkeley conversation, I definitely come away from these discussions with more questions than answers. Suffice to say we design in interesting times.

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May 11, 2006

Some pointers on no job titles

peterme readers sent in a few pointers following my last post where I asked about alternative corporate structures to encourage team coherence and creative output.

I think you'd enjoy 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins, which doesn't so much focus on organisational models as on what to do to become and stay a great company. I think the model he develops (through pretty rigorous study) maps quite well with what you have been doing so far with Adaptive Path. Collins urges a focus on hiring the right people first, and being quite uncompromising in that regard. Well, I can't really summarize the book that well, but Amazon of course a a short description that might tell you more.


From a Wikipedia entry on "libertarian socialism" and "mutualism" that references the Gore model(I had no idea...):

From this entry: "The model followed by the corporation WL Gore and Associates, inventor of Gore-Tex fabrics, is also similar to mutualism as there is no chain of command and salaries are determined collectively by the workers. It is important to note that Gore and Associates has never identified itself as anarchist."

Following on to Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, mutualists, discussed in the same paragraph, I found this reference

"Values to Work: Employee Participation Meets Market Pressures at Mondragon" by George Cheney

From the book jacket - "Values at Work is an analysis of organizational dynamics with wide-ranging implications in an age of market globalization. It looks at the challenges businesses face to maintain people-oriented work systems while remaining successful in the larger economy. George Cheney revisits the famous Mondragn worker-owned-and-governed cooperatives in the Basque Country of Spain to examine how that collection of innovative and democratic businesses is responding to the broad trend of "marketization."


In the book "In Search of Excellence", authors Tom Peters and Robert Waterman address this issue, though they don't mention Gore and Associates (Peters mentions it in "A Passion for Excellence"). In their analysis of "excellent companies" (3M, P&G, IBM, they argue against a focus on "organizational structure" as a panacea:

"Peters and Waterman make the case that shared values are the differentiating factor that
sets extraordinary companies apart from the rest. Of course they address the other attributes
of organizations such as resources, structure and people; indeed, their work began as an
attempt to uncover the next great trend in organizational structure. Early in the process
however, the authors realized that as important as the structural issues undoubtedly are...
they are only a small part of the total issue of management effectiveness. The very word
"organizing," for instance, begs the question, "Organize for what?"


I've found "Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace" to be a refreshing read on managing teams and workplaces for success. Great story.
Posted by peterme at 09:48 PM | TrackBack

May 08, 2006

No Job Titles

Adaptive Path is feeling a few growing pains, which has lead me to look around for alternative models for organizational structure that lead to successful, creative, empowered teams. I found myself returning to W.L. Gore and Associates set up, most famously reported in Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point.

The best article I've found comes from Workforce Management. Called "Small Groups, Big Ideas," it discusses the strange structure at play, which includes no job titles, and no hierarchy, and the challenges such a set-up poses. Here is my favorite passage:

"It isn’t a company for everyone," Brinton says. "It takes a special kind of person to be effective here--someone who is really passionate about sharing information, as opposed to controlling it. Someone who can handle a degree of ambiguity, as opposed to ‘Here’s my job and I only do these tasks.’ Someone who’s willing to lift his or her head up from the desk and see what the business’ real needs are."

They were also the subject of a Fast Company piece a number of years back. Some choice nuggets:

"A project doesn't move forward unless people buy into it. You cultivate followership by selling yourself, articulating your ideas, and developing a reputation for seeing things through."

"It's a process of giving away ownership of the idea to people who want to contribute and be a part of it. The project won't go anywhere if you don't let people run with it."

"The idea is that employees are not accountable to the president of the company; they're accountable to their colleagues."

And they don't shy away from discussing it publicly, as Gore's corporate culture web page demonstrates.

If you know of either any deeper discussions of Gore's organizational structure, or other interesting discussions of alternative models, I'd love it if you emailed them to me. (As I still have comments turned off on this blog). Email peterme AT peterme DOT com.

Posted by peterme at 10:33 PM | TrackBack

May 04, 2006

Teaching in Chicago, May 17-18

I've been remiss in letting folks know that I'm teaching a new Adaptive Path workshop in Chicago on May 17-18. I've been spending a lot of time developing "Beyond Usability 2.0: The Four Cornerstones of Successful Digital Product Design" (that's a mouthful), with the goal to create an event that teaches the essential methods that every member of a product team should know (not just the designers).

Attendees will learn methods and principles for getting Company Insight, conducting User Research, designing Information Architecture, and developing Interaction Design. While the last two might seem like the purview of the design team, I believe that everyone should understand the basics of these methods, and the reality is that many non-designers have to practice information architecture and interaction design because no one else in their organization is stepping up to do so.

If you use the promotional code FOPM, you'll receive 15% off the price.

I mean, look at all the bullet points we promise you on that workshop page!

You will learn how to:

  • Get the most out of your stakeholder discussions
  • Tie user experience design to concrete business value
  • Prioritize project goals to achieve design focus
  • Craft a great site intercept survey
  • Recruit appropriate users for your interviews
  • Conduct great interviews
  • Analyze interview responses for maximum insight
  • Analyze your existing information architecture
  • Identify metadata that powers your experience
  • Design new architectures according to user needs
  • Classify and categorize your material for ease of findability
  • Apply terms and labels that resonate with your audience
  • Craft personas and scenarios that work
  • Design user workflows that accommodate high degrees of interactivity
  • Draw wireframes that communicate to all parts of the organization
  • Critique interfaces to ensure usability
  • Use prototypes to test ideas at various stages of readiness

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Posted by peterme at 02:59 PM | TrackBack

May 02, 2006

(Re-)Introducing Ryan Freitas

Long ago, at a Fray Day event, I met Ryan Freitas. I don't remember what we talked about; I do remember his URL at the time -- A name like that sticks.

Anyway, we drifted in and out of touch until late in 2004, when Adaptive Path brought him in to help out on some projects. We worked so well together, he decided to join the company, and for the last year or so has been a remarkable contributor to Adaptive Path's development.

The one thing everyone at Adaptive Path has been hounding him about is to get himself out there more. He regales us with trenchant insights on our internal mailing lists and company discussions, but he hasn't been sharing that wisdom with members of our wider community.

Thankfully, Ryan is now contributing to that as well. He's just published his first essay for Adaptive Path, on his experiences designing the new blog search engine Sphere.

More importantly, though, he has a blog. He's actually been posting to it for a little while. I call your attention to two posts: "Civility Doesn't Scale," where he calls into questions some of the design principles behind Wikipedia, and "making the future tangible," which is related to my post on artifacts from the future.

Ryan, it's great to see your voice out there, engaged in The Discourse. Now, keep at it!

(And, yes, I recognize the phrase "see your voice" is odd.)

Posted by peterme at 01:26 PM | TrackBack


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