Hasta luego

This little experiment is over for a while; The blog that is. I seem to have got caught in some kind of middle ground in which I feel I have to write ‘articles’ when I actually want to just spout a few ideas.

Still, the moleskine continues to fill up and I need someway of purging the ideas. So I’m going to dabble with an anonymous blog for a while and see how it goes.

In the meantime, here are my other pieces:

Hasta luego.

Enduring tabs

  • Lion or Bear? Self-Tracking and Social Identity
    Users can change roles over time – the device vibrates when your state changes, but you can only see what role you’ve taken on by “mating” your device with another person’s device, giving the opportunity for conversation and interaction. For “complementary” roles, the animal icons will glow gold.
  • The Quantitative Peace: The Dark Knight and Game Theory
    Game-theory influenced post focusing on the final scene of The Dark Knight. Awe-inspiring stuff on both counts (film and post)

After a blip, Sport Monthly has regained it’s place as the cream of sports-journalism. Here’s some of my personal favourites:

SXSWi ’09 submission

Any UX practitioner worth their grain of salt will tell you that Snap’s Rhythm is a Dancer is one of the most influential pieces of music within the experience design field. And now it’s my turn to pay homage to this seminal classic. My talk submission for this year’s South by Southwest interactive festival aims to do just that by focusing on the central theme of the work:

Seeking Rhythm in Design

Rhythm is pervasive. Binding music, shaping our daily routine, fusing us as a collective. Whether it knits or disrupts an experience, look hard and you’ll find rhythm lurking at its core. This talk will examine rhythm, its role in design and seek to demonstrate that, despite it’s omnipresence, rhythm is a concept which is too often ignored.

If like me, you’re a Snap fan, please head on over to the panel picker and vote me up. Thanks.

Oh oh, it’s a passion, oh oh, you can feel it, yeah
Woh oh, it’s a passion, oh oh oh-oh oh-oh oh-oh

Great lyrics.

Silverback & RITE (sitting in a tree)

We finally released Steve the Gorilla in to the wild. This was Clearleft’s first foray in to the desktop application world and brought its own unique challenges. It actually feels good to escape the confines of a browser. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced that we’re trying to bend the browser too far these days. But that’s another blog post entirely.

Silverback was built to scratch an itch: Guerilla usability testing should be quick and easy-to-run, so it always felt frustrating having to set-up a video camera when macs have a far more subtle equivalent built in to them.

That’s half the battle. But for me, the real strength of Silverback is putting usability testing in to the hands of lots more people. Formal usability testing certainly has its place — sometimes you need a level of fidelity that you’re only going to get from quantative analysis. But, more often than not, usability testing is sacrificed because it’s considered too expensive or arduous. Silverback tries to solve that problem by being available where and when you need it.

You really don’t need permission anymore. Grab the Silverback demo, borrow a friend and run a quick lo-fi test over lunch. Trust me, the results are far more effective than the theory.

Enough guff, this is already reading like a Silverback pitch when I actually wanted to talk about a particular form of low-cost usability testing called RITE. RITE stands for Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation method. From the title you can probably guess RITE fits with the Silverback philosophy. It’s certainly something we’re experimenting with at Clearleft.

Apart from a funky sounding acronym, RITE is also a form of discount usability testing which sets out to avoid one of the more typical frustrations with the standard approach: Seeing that blindingly obvious problem come up repeatedly during several sessions. Some issues really don’t need twelve more participants to hammer home the fact that there is a problem. “Moderator: Ahem, so let’s just pretend there is a Buy button…”

That’s where the iterative part comes in. Only rather than doing this after twelve participants have mentioned there is no Buy button, you iterate between sessions. You add the Buy button and get back to testing your product (as well as testing your fix).

Obviously there are some problems that can’t be remedied in this way. RITE deals with this by classifying problems into four discrete categories. Excuse the tawdry labels — they’re my own addition:

  • Fix-now.
    Problems with an obvious cause and solution that can be remedied immediately. Labelling issues being the canonical example here. Obviously, there’s a skill in picking these, but these things are normally indisputable (and so they should be).
  • Fix-later.
    Similar to Fix-now only the solution cannot be implemented within the timeframe of the current test.
  • Flummoxers.
    Problems without obvious causes or solutions that need to be argued discussed post-test.
  • Furballs (Sorry…’Curve balls’ doesn’t start with an F).
    Issues resulting from exterior forces…maybe the test script is screwy…or the participant is an ex-girlfriend and she decides to put a chair through your monitor.

Silverback’s great for capturing the flummoxers. Hit the plus button on your Apple remote during the test, and Silverback adds a marker in to the movie. This allows you to jump to these when you examine the videos later.

On a very rudimentary level, that’s the Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation method. Obviously, I’m just scratching the surface here. If you want to read more, I suggest you read this far more thorough account of this stuff in action.

It’s not for everyone. One of the drawbacks being that you need someone on-board who can make the changes to your prototype. Anyone attending mine and Richard’s workshop at dConstruct this year, will know this is something that is within reach of IAs these days. We plan to spend a large part of the day talking about the mechanics and benefits of high-fidelity prototypes. These kind of prototypes are perfect for RITE.

@media 2008 slides

Great to see all the audio from this year’s @media is now live. To accompany my talk, I’ve made my slides available for download.

Be warned: Keynote’s still lacking when it comes to compressing PDFs so the filesize is a little on the chunky side (11MB).

I’ve also included my presenter notes with the intention that the PDF can standlone without the sound of my voice. The irony of me not having sight of these notes while giving the talk is not lost on me!

Download Designing Edenbee (11MB, PDF)

@media 2008

London was my home for seven years. I can’t say I miss living there yet it never fails to entice me back.

And I’ve been beguiled by London again. This time after spending a few days at @media. I felt very privileged to be asked to speak at the event, especially as it was one of the first web conferences I ever attended back in 2004. The year Andy revealed his perineum.

My slot (ahem) fell under the ‘For Example‘ category, designed to give insight in to how other people work. I chose to talk about the design of edenbee — a social network built to help individuals make positive steps towards improving their impact on the environment. I’m still pretty excited about this site and think it has enormous potential so it just seemed like a great opportunity to tell people why (and how).

Of course, I had technical issues. After taking the stage (after Tom & Claire’s fascinating and candid insight in to the BBC home page redesign), I didn’t stop to check whether the presenter display was dishing-up my accompanying notes. It wasn’t; And it was too late to stop. The adrenaline had dragged me too far.

Somehow I managed to fumble my way through the talk without any notes which, with a memory like mine, I consider at least a partial success. But I can’t help feeling frustrated that I missed some of the goodness I’d spent days preparing.

The intention was to cover some of the principles I feel are important when designing social ‘software’ (as well as give people a little insight in to the way Clearleft work with our clients). Loosely speaking, these were the merits of object-centered sociality, the limitations of reductionism within IA and also the challenges of designing for emergence. Easy really.

Well, kinda. It definitely ebbed towards the speculative as opposed to the practical but network theory just happens to be a little bit of a personal passion of mine at the moment. Hence, any opportunity to investigate it further is always going to be welcomed. I think I’ll write a separate post on the principles themselves. In fact, that’s why I started writing this. I seemed to have been side-tracked again.

Re-reading this, it all sounds a bit negative. That wasn’t the intention and actually, under the circumstances, I felt the talk was OK (I’d love to hear what other people think). Aside from the talk, I had a blast. Drunk far too much on the Thursday night and finally got to see Jeff Veen speak. Splendid stuff.

That’s it for now, save to say a big thank you to Patrick and the whole @media team for putting on another great event.

Diversions 81

  • Bean
    “Bean is a small, easy-to-use word processor (or more precisely, a rich text editor), designed to make writing convenient, efficient and comfortable. Bean is Open Source, fully Cocoa, and is available free of charge! MS Word, OpenOffice, etc. try to be all things to all people. But sometimes you just want the right tool for the job. That is Bean’s niche.”
  • VaryWell
    Inserting (whoops!) Interesting Flash interface.
  • Letters & Numbers
    Nice design work. Some nice interaction as well.
  • Alan Cook
    Really like the simplicity of Alan Cook’s photography portfolio. Eschews conventions in favour of getting the focus on the work itself.
  • SeeShell
    SeeShell is an augmented Oyster Card (the RFID-enabled Underground ticket) holder which displays, over time, the journeys a rider has taken. Great stuff. Love the way this blends seamlessly with existing behaviour.
  • Viget Inspire
    Not often I get excited about CSS/standards driven design these days. Viget’s Inspire blog is an exception though. The typography and overall look-and-feel is wonderful.
  • Moodboard
    Some nice interaction design on this stock photography site (especially the ‘add to moodboard’ feature). Also good attention to detail on the visual design (my fave being the overlapping arrow on the add to moodboard prompt).
  • GotoChina
    Just nice.

Here we go again…

Well it’s that time of the year again: SXSWi. Spoken like a veteran but in truth, this will only be my second visit. Just like last year, I’ll be joining all the cool kids at the Hampton Inn Downtown for geek breakfasts and then daily meanders to the convention centre.

As the event gets nearer, I’m filled with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Excitement at the sheer numbers of friends and colleagues that are heading over; A combination of both over the fact that I’m making my speaking debut; And genuine anguish about leaving Sarah and Jemima for a whole week. It’s all very sentimental I know, but I’m getting old so I’m allowed. I’m sure the Shiner Bock will help.

There’s lots going on isn’t there? Wow. Andy’s proposed trip to the Rodeo looks like a laugh. Cindy‘s taken the bowling in to a new stratosphere of cool. And then there’s the Great British Booze Up. And if you need to know more, Jeremy’s Adactio Austin can help. Apparently there’s a conference as well.

I’ll see where the tide takes me and look forward to meeting lots of new faces. Twitter seems to be the mode-of-communication-of-choice. I’m on there, so get in touch if you want to chew the fat.