Published: September 25, 2006
The design community keeps making a lot of noise about designing for people/users/customers. However, while this notion is well intentioned and even conceptually correct, I find much of it boils down to empty rhetoric. What exactly are we doing? More user research? More usability testing? Certainly these are valid approaches to finding out about people’s needs, but they’re only a small part of an optimal solution. Are we using hollow tasks and tools like personas and scenarios? Those approaches typically take design farther away from the people for whom we are designing products rather than closer. How about focusing on usability and the user experience? That gets at only part of the issue and tends to come from the perspective of the product—as opposed to the more universal needs and desires of actual people.
No. The methods most UX professionals typically use today are, at best, incomplete and, at worst, without any meaningful focus. There is not a successful, established approach and framework for closely linking the real-world needs and desires of our potential customers into the DNA of product strategy and development. Sure, there are various examples of the integration of users’ needs and product strategy being successfully accomplished in some cases, but they are more the outcome of clear vision and talented design than an intentional, strategic product architecture that really accommodates people’s needs.
So, let’s step back for a minute and think about the problem of user-centered design from a different perspective. Typically, we boil users’ needs and desires down to only those that are most obvious and complementary to the company, product, brand, or communication we are designing. This is especially true for product design, where we often translate needs and desires into issues of usability: “They want it to be quick and simple!” “They want it to look good!” But these product goals have little to do with the real needs and desires of actual users. In advertising design, the messages and positioning in communications at least attempt to appeal to higher-order needs and desires—for example, Just Do It, Impossible Is Nothing, Dream Big—albeit often as a mechanism of simply selling product as opposed to really connecting in more holistic ways. Read more
Published: September 25, 2006
Strategy06, the second annual IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) Institute of Design Strategy Conference, took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA), Illinois, on May 17 and 18, 2006. The organizers characterized this conference as “an international executive forum addressing how businesses can use design to explore emerging opportunities, solve complex problems, and achieve lasting strategic advantage.”
As a strong advocate of the viewpoint that UX strategy and design can provide competitive advantage to companies, I was eager to attend Strategy06, because I had hoped to hear about others’ views on the strategic value of user experience for digital products. Because the IIT Institute of Design organized the conference, I had assumed the conference content would emphasize strategy for technology products; however, that was not entirely the case. And, as things transpired, most of my favorite sessions were not those given by speakers from technology companies. So, Strategy06 both exceeded and failed to meet my expectations. Read more
Published: September 11, 2006
In 1988, Apple Computer produced some video scenarios showing how future computers would be able to understand hand gestures, read text, and respond to voice commands. Almost 20 years later, the world is still waiting for a natural way of using computers—though we are beginning to see some of our wildest dreams slowly emerge from the chaos of high technology and become real. In 2006, it is easy to believe that the masses will soon be able to use a computer without any keyboard or mouse. Beyond the constrained space of our personal computer’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse, I’m looking for the sort of revolution that would overtake the wild dream of Blade Runner. I can envision huge 3D virtual worlds and systems that are smart enough to feel a user’s mood and respond intelligently. Now, where do you want to go today?
The Evolution of an Idea
For three years, from 2003 to 2006, my work focused on eyetracking studies. During that time, my team and I discovered a really important innovation in interaction design. We created user interfaces based on eyetracking that could radically transform people’s everyday use of personal computers. The computer seems magical, because it can understand what you really want to do. Personal computers that have eye-driven user interfaces can predict what you want to do next, because your attention and the focus of your vision shift so quickly—almost before you are aware of it. These computers don’t use AI or smart algorithms. They just provide a way for people to communicate with them directly.
Throughout 2005, I encountered some amazing new technologies that could potentially change our usual way of interacting with computers. One such technology is Jeff Han’s multi-touch sensing system, which lets one or more people interact with a computer by touching a large screen that supports many new modes of interaction. Users can touch, drag, or select any object on the screen. While there’s nothing particularly innovative about such interactions in themselves, this system works really well. Han’s multi-touch sensing system represents the state of the art in tangible user interfaces. Read more
Published: September 11, 2006
Dan Saffer’s Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices was an ambitious undertaking. In fewer than 300 pages, he has attempted to cover the history, current practice, and notions about the future of the rapidly evolving discipline of interaction design (IxD). Whether you are simply curious about interaction design, are entering the profession yourself, or are collaborating with an interaction designer, Designing for Interaction is a good place to start your journey down the road of interaction design.
Saffer is well qualified to author this book. His academic and professional backgrounds have given him a solid foundation in the art and practice of interaction design. Saffer’s participation on the Board of Directors of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA), an emerging professional organization promoting IxD, places him at the center of the IxD community.
Although Saffer’s book is not without flaws—such as its lack of both formal citations for many references and relevant examples for his primary definition of interaction design—I can recommend it to a broad spectrum of prospective readers. If you have either a direct professional interest in the nuts and bolts of interaction design or a casual desire to better understand what the interaction designer in the next cubicle actually does for a living, you should find this book of interest. Read more