Archive for the ‘bigidea’ Category

Show & Prove

March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I did a very fast 5 minute presentation at Adaptive Path’s Managing Experience (MX) event yesterday on the importance of incorporating data-driven design into how design teams handle tactical problems. Video should be coming soon to the MX ’10 site, but here’s the slides:

Categories: bigidea, work

Death and Design Choices

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

There are way too many professionals in design fields who believe their work is a matter of life and death, but there are at least a few for whom this distinction is true: bridge designers. This was reinforced yesterday when a trucker died having plunged his truck over the side of the Bay Bridge here in SF.

While there’s plenty of uproar due to the frankly bizarre temporary S-curve that retrofit designers incorporated into the East-bound span, Cal Trans officials are denying it had anything to do with the design:

“We don’t believe the roadway design is the issue,” he said. “There’s just a small percentage of people who choose to ignore the posted speed limit.”

Thankfully, two of the better designers I know, Mike Monteiro and Dan Saffer, quickly put that perspective into context:



Picture 2

Categories: bigidea

Augmented Reality or Just Arrrggh

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

Warren Ellis weighs in on his frustration with the current batch of augmented reality applications for smart phones:

Now fuck off and make something that’ll do useful work on a phone in a village, instead of something that’ll get you laid in fucking Hoxton. Make something that has meaning outside a major metropolis.

He has a point. I’m thankful that Ben Fullerton and Jenn Bove were able to talk me out going down the augmented reality angle for a proof of concept I’m working on.

One of the (many) good points they made was that I was over-thinking the solution rather than addressing the core problem. It could just as easily be stated that augmented reality is a lovely whiz-bang solution in certain contexts, but not-so-surprisingly inappropriate where the local terrain doesn’t cast a very deep shadow of data. Anyway, go through to the link; I left the two best punchlines out of the blockquote, and they’re worth the quick read.

Categories: bigidea, everyware, influences

spot the bully

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment

Self-awareness is a valuable commodity in life, and in woefully short supply. I’ve found recently that the one area that I wish I and others were more self-aware was within collaborative design teams. How many times recently have you been told by someone that they felt they were carrying the weight of their team? Or that of all the ideas that moved forward to implementation, they felt that theirs represented the lion’s share?

This ownership dilemma is a natural artifact of team composition. Someone always has to provide direction, while others supply support, production savvy, client management, and the like. And its common for anyone working hard within a collaborative team to feel as though their work is what is driving the team forward. There can, however be another circumstance in which one person’s ideas are shaping the produced work, while others are left to whither. The possibility is that person is a bully.

There’s an old saying in poker, “If you look around the table and can’t spot the sucker, then you are the sucker.” Self-awareness counts for a lot; recognizing the role that you’re playing, consciously or not, is a big part of being able to function effectively in team settings. If you feel that your ideas are the ones moving forward, take a moment to ask yourself the question, “are my ideas trumping everyone else’s because I’m preventing theirs from getting through?” If the honest answer to that question is yes, you just might be a bully.


Bullying takes a lot of forms, but generally asserts itself as a belief that only you know best how to solve the problem/please the client/deliver successfully. Defensiveness, argument, and downright obstinacy in the face of contrary ideas (or ideas that aren’t yours) comes next. The team stops collaborating and simply starts executing on a vision, dictated from on high (you’re the creative lead) or from below (you are a very cunning junior designer).

Think about the best case scenario for having done this: the engagement will go well, your team will be lauded, and you might even get recognized for taking the reins… but you’ll have done irreparable harm to yourself and to the people on your team. More damning, you were collaborating in order to generate the best possible solution – that’s not possible when only one person’s ideas are being considered.

There’s a lot of advice around the construction, management and interaction of collaborative teams – what I’m looking to add to all of that is the importance of reflection on circumstance. If you find the momentum of your team pushing certain ideas forward, take the opportunity to ask why, regardless of whose ideas they are. Ensure that consensus is maintained to guarantee the quality of the solution, and make sure that no one team member is stopping others’ good ideas from being considered.

Categories: bigidea

kirby comics and myspace

August 28, 2008 3 comments

So, I got some good news today:

MySpace’s June redesign is proving to be a turning point in the social network’s effort to monetize its 118 million eyeballs. National brands are flocking to new advertising opportunities on the home page, making MySpace the top site in online ad views last month, according to Comscore.

The June redesign streamlined the home page and placed a large ad space at the top of the page. It offers splashier video ad placements with interactive elements that can move throughout the site.

As I announced two months back, I’m no longer doing client design work, focusing instead on my role as Director of Product design at Plinky. But the Myspace redesign (which includes work that hasn’t launched yet) was my last major engagement as an experience designer at Adaptive Path, and I’m very happy to see the success its had with users and now advertisers.

So that wide ad unit at the top, that spans all the way to the gutters? The one that affords a whole bunch of different ways to present ads (for tasty, tasty bacon) and marketing messages?

My rationale for the design decisions on the home page included making efficient use of screen geography, reducing the amount/increasing the impact of advertising, and providing opportunities for feature marketing and discovery… but really, the whole time I was thinking about this:

Jack Kirby’s use of double page spreads in his comics blew me away as a kid. Huge panoramics of New Genesis, amazing action shots of Capt. America taking out what appeared to be hundreds of Nazis singlehandedly, or the above assault on Camelot from the Demon origin [image borrowed from the Kirby Comics blog] – the sheer impact of those scenes have stayed with me as an adult.

Effective design work is full of unexpected influences. When I proposed what I termed the “widescreen” element at the top of the MySpace home page, I was thinking of double page spreads, and how effectively they’ve been used by artists like Jack Kirby (and more recently Mark Millar in Marvel Comics’ Ultimates) – they capture the attention, communicate volumes, and ultimately (heh) stand out far more than your average 9 panel page.

I need to thank the MySpace team for taking a chance, and my friends at AP and Sequence for turning my simple descriptions of how it worked into something awesome.

I’m just chuffed that it actually worked.

a (very long) conversation with mitch kapor (part 1)

July 3, 2008 1 comment

A little more than a year ago, I sat down with Mitch Kapor to talk about the legacy of his Software Design Manifesto. The conversation was part of some research I was doing on a larger topic, one which I don’t think I’ll have time to return to now that I’ve left Adaptive Path. Before my first day at Plinky, I wanted to clear the decks, and get the transcript of the conversation out into the world.

As always, Mitch has plenty of wonderful things to say. There’s a significant history lesson, some pointers on entrepreneurialism, and some very frank perspectives on the principles of design. I’ve edited it a bit for focus (mostly mine, I’m a conversational interviewer, and tend to let topics wander) and broken it out over a couple posts, which I’ll publish in the next few days. I hope you find what Mitch has got to say as valuable as I do.

Interview with Mitch Kapor (part 1)

Mitch Kapor:    By way of context, you know, there’s an upcoming conference or workshop being convened by Terry Winograd and people from on sort of software design – they’re calling it technology design now – 15 years later.  Do you know about this?
Ryan Freitas:    I know that it’s happening.  I don’t know all the details about it.

MK:    It’s happening in I think the first weekend in June, bringing together many of the people who were there at the original conference.  My sort of manifesto was one of the drivers for that conference.

RF:    Esther Dyson’s – was it PC forum or –

MK:    Well that’s why I gave the talk about the paper.  Terry had independently been working on an approach to design that is shared a lot in its perspective and had some differences, but he was writing things, also.  He organized this conference with NSF money.  He was on his own track.  That track became the eventually –

RF:    Right.

MK:    – but my manifesto was an important stimulus.  So I’ve been thinking some about this whole subject in preparation for this conference, and then I gave a talk just a week and a half ago for – what the hell were the name of those people – DSR, Design Science Research, which is another thing coming out of academia with some NSF funding for the Science of Design, that has some similarities and some profound differences, the main one being my approach in the manifesto – and since then – has been to look at things from a practitioner’s perspective.  They’re looking at things from an academic perspective.
So… I’ve been thinking about these things.  The timing of this interview is good because until I started thinking about things, I would have even less to say than what I have now.  So I re-read the manifesto in preparation for all this, and I was struck by several things.  The first is it really is of the form of a manifesto and a call to arms, and it’s intentionally provocative in that kind of way.  If I were writing something today, I might not write it that way.  That came out of my personality and my situation in the world and my history, and sort of my personal narrative as it came out of the situation itself.  So that manifesto-ness of it – you could say, “Well was it necessary to write a manifesto?”  No.  There was a situation, and then there was my response to the situation.
The manifesto came out of a chemical reaction between the two.  But in re-reading it, I think the situation that I was describing, the problem, is still very, very much present, which is that software is too hard to use.  That is a symptom of a deep problem that has to do with the marginalization of design, then and now.

RF:    So you think that trend persists?

MK:    Yes.  I think there’s been some interesting change and interesting progress, but in the main I don’t see a fundamental change.

Read more…

Categories: bigidea Tags: ,

front and back stage, in service design

April 22, 2008 1 comment

Really quickly, I want to put up a link to the whitepaper I referenced during my MX talk today. Sometime between now and getting back from New Orleans next week, I’ll try to get the slides up on SlideShare, and sort out when the video will be live.

Bridging the “Front Stage” and “Back Stage” in Service System Design
Robert J. Glushko, UC Berkeley
Lindsay Tabas, UC Berkeley

Service management and design has thus far primarily focused on the interactions between employees and customers. This perspective holds that the quality of the “service experience” is determined by the customer during this final “service encounter” that takes place in the “front stage.” This emphasis discounts the contribution of the activities in the “back stage” of the service value chain where materials or information needed by the front stage are processed. However, the vast increase in web-driven consumer self-service applications and other automated services requires new thinking about service design and service quality. It is essential to consider the entire network of services that comprise the back and front stages as complementary parts of a “service system.” We need new concepts and methods in service design that recognize how back stage information and processes can improve the front stage experience. This paper envisions a methodology for designing service systems that synthesizes (front-stage-oriented) user-centered design techniques with (back-stage) methods for designing information-intensive applications.

Categories: bigidea, conferences