Matt Goddard

Digital product delivery and its impact on businesses, teams and people.

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Remote working – Working Environment

Our working environment

Our working environment is as flexible as you need it to be, I don’t care how we complete our work, only that we do, and we do it well.

From now on you don’t need to tell me if you’ve got to pop out for an hour, or if you want to take holiday. Simply put the dates in the team ‘where abouts’ calendar.

Before you book holiday ask yourself question: Given what i’ve committed to delivering, is now is the right time to have off?

If it is, go ahead and take your holiday. You deserve it!

To enable a flexible working arrangement, we need to do the following things to ensure there is visibility across the whole team.

Basecamp

Is the place where we discuss the journeys and tasks we’re working on, and as a group dump for project and design assets.

If you have a meeting about your tasks, this is where you summarise the outcome.

Invision

Upload your sketches/wireframes/designs here. Share your project with our stakeholders and collected feedback. This is where we validate our solutions and ensure that everyone has a say in the end solution.

Skype

Everyone should be logged into Skype between 11am – 3pm.

There’s the team discussion group (Experience Design) which is where we can chew the fat, keep the fun going or ask general questions about our projects/tasks.

Use your status to let people know if you’re free or don’t want to be disturbed, people may not reply straight away, and we should be considerate about everyone else’s time

Don’t forget to use the video conferencing facility if you need to.

Join.me

Sometime we’ll need to collaborate on the same things, for this we use join.me

Best practice

Be inclusive – there is nothing worse when working remotely then when decision being made and you don’t know how/why. Fire up Skype and/or join.me and video conference the relevant people in. Summarise on Basecamp.

Remote working – Team Principles

Team Principles

  • Trust, clarity and transparency
  • Communicate early, communicate often
  • Ask stupid questions, create smart solutions.
  • If in doubt go voice… even better go video.

Project principles

  • People don’t know what they want until you show them
  • People prefer movement
  • focus on outcomes, not assets
  • Clarify requirements as you give shape to the outcomes
  • Good design is people focused but UI lead.
  • Complexity always exists. It’s either in the User interface or in the underlying system. Decided where it belongs
  • We are not #wireframemonkeys. we solve business problems through user centred design.
  • You are an expert, do not be afraid to give and defend your expertise.

Experience Design Process

  • Define the outcome – Ignoring the UI, what is the client trying to achieve? What are the contexts and constraints that might apply to the person trying to use the product or services (a person’s time is expensive, technology isn’t). Questions to ask: What’s happening now? What do they want to happen? What’s the difference.
  • Understand the problem space – Model the experience as a user journey. Do this before anything else and you won’t regret it!
  • Design solutions not assets. Assets are a communication tool, not the end state of a project.

Thought: The difference between business and user centred design.

As a business you want people to buy, and use your products and services to increase profits by selling more or by reducing costs. The things you build to support this help to achieve those business goals but are not usually designed to accommodate a ‘customers’ busy life.

Business centred design creates a ‘destination’ mentality; the idea that a product/service has a primacy of place above everything else that’s going on in the customer’s life.

User-centred design teaches us that ‘customers’ are people first, ‘customers’ second.

Here’s what I mean.

Businesses often decide to introduce a ‘self-service’ channel to reduce costs.  For a customer, this means they now have to do something that the business used to do for them. Quite often this is sold as ‘Giving the customer control’ but it is not, you have ‘forced’ them to undertake another task, amongst all the other things they have to do.

By understanding the impact on the person who uses your products and services you would provide tools that help to achieve your business goal and that would move the customer back to the state of competence they had before you outsource your work to them.

The future is nearer than you think, and it’s ‘not cool’

Tonight I will be meeting friends in a restaurant (tavernas have existed for at least 25 centuries). I will be walking there wearing shoes hardly different from those worn 5,300 years ago by the mummified man discovered in a glacier in the Austrian Alps. At the restaurant, I will be using silverware, a Mesopotamian technology, which qualifies as a “killer application” given what it allows me to do to the leg of lamb, such as tear it apart while sparing my fingers from burns. I will be drinking wine, a liquid that has been in use for at least six millennia. The wine will be poured into glasses, an innovation claimed by my Lebanese compatriots to come from their Phoenician ancestors, and if you disagree about the source, we can say that glass objects have been sold by them as trinkets for at least twenty-nine hundred years. After the main course, I will have a somewhat younger technology, artisanal cheese, paying higher prices for those that have not changed in their preparation for several centuries.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, discusses futurism – The future will not be cool

Thought: modern myth – teach our children how to code.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/dec/04/ict-teach-kids-regular-expressions

‘…teach kids: how to do regular expressions’

Cory Doctorow pens an elegant extension to a powerful modern myth. Teach children how to programme so they can understand the machines. In this variation he asks why aren’t we teaching children how to use regular expressions to parse textual content.

The sign of a great myth is the apparent obviousness of the argument. Our world is getting more technical, therefore everyone should understand the mechanics of technology to be ensured of a future in the modern world.

There is some truth to this, but it’s a truth that’s based upon our broken relationship with technology. Particularly our relationship to the PC (and its latest incarnation the smartphone). Despite almost 50 years of PC use and the creation and apparent maturation of the ‘user experience’ disciplines (an entire industry designed to put people at the centre of the design and development process) we still haven’t move very far from technology being at the centre of the universe.

Why should we teach our children to use obscure, unintuitive syntax to parse the output of a computer system?

If, In order to solve problems our children must learn advanced parsing syntax, such as Regular Expressions, the problem is with the output of computer systems; Not with our children’s apparent lack of knowledge.

The question we need to ask is why aren’t our machines giving us the information we need?

After all we don’t demand that our children learn how to strip down an internal combustion engine to understand how thier cars will work.

Writing an essay or creating a presentation is not at all like writing regular expressions. Essays and presentations are about communicating ideas from one person to another. Writing a regular expression is about extracting information from a machine to make it meaningful to a person. Why the extra step? Why not demand more from the machine we created to provide us with that information in the first place?

Yes, the knowledge is interesting. Yes, in some cases exposure to programming, can be rewarding and will spark an interest that will launch a career but why demand so much of our children as a whole, and so little of our machines.

How about teaching our children to understand people, so that they can finally step out of our shadow and get the machines to work for us?

Sure, some of these children will have to learn Regular Expressions but they will be an exception rather than the rule.

These children will become programmers and engineers but they will be designing systems that support others to do better work, not to perpetuating a world that values the machine over a person.

Thought: The intuitive interface is a myth

The intuitive interface is a myth, intuition is the result of subconscious processing which can only happen when a system is learnt (through experience and practice).

A novel interface cannot be intuitive as the ‘user’ hasn’t learnt how to use it. This learning time can be reduced, to nearly nothing, by employing a good conceptual model and consistency with existing design approaches.

Thought: The enterprise is ill equipped to support working in modern world

Our lives have become more complex, this problem is both simultaneously accepted and ignored by the modern enterprise.

On one hand, the enterprise has acknowledged the complexity of the modern world by enabling greater flexibility for the worker. Their human-centred processes allow home working, flex-time, Flexi-start, self-selected holiday days, job sharing etc. They acknowledge their part in helping their workers to achieve a more harmonious work-life balance.

At the same time, the enterprise ignores the impact technology has on the worker’s ability to perform. Our own adaptability and the relentless advancement of technology is, like most things, a blessing a curse. Consider the following:

Our work lives have become more complex because the technology we have access to allows us to perform beyond our natural abilities.

The enterprise has undoubtedly benefited from this coupling between human and technology, people are able to perform complex tasks with relative ease, tasks are automated and more revenue is generated with less effort (compared to a manual bookkeeping process for example).

However, people are people, we are not machines that exist solely for the utility of the companies we work for. We think about our work at home, and home at work. What we learn in one context can be used elsewhere. In short, we are beings of the world and our experience and our skills that make us valuable. To cope with the demands on our time and attention we use the same types of technology as the enterprise to support a diverse set of strategies and tools for learning, remembering, interpreting and managing the information available in the world.

One such strategy is to off-load some of our biological processes to computer-based systems. We off-load remembering to computers to alleviate the limitation of our own memories. Computers with their almost infinite capacity to store information free us those restrictions.

In addition, we enhance our ability to access information by using technological aids (such as searching algorithms) which allows us to access and make sense of the vast amount of data available quickly and easily.

The natural by-product of this technological coupling is that we personally distribute our remembering across multiple systems: books, the internet, notepads, our brains and in a work context the internal system; the list goes on.

This off-loading of memory carries two main problems for the enterprise 1) Information stored in computer systems are accessible to anyone who can use the retrieval mechanisms, thus creating intellectual property and privacy issues. 2) The controls implemented to protect the intellectual property and privacy hinder the information retrieval process.

The enterprise, rightly, take steps to protect access to their internal system but as part of the same measures, they routinely restrict access to external, internet-based, resources to prevent the leaking of information to the outside world.

This is counterproductive for two reasons:

Firstly, If resources on the internet is an integrated part of someone’s remembering system our ability to retrieve that information is compromised. We are effectively being lobotomised, negatively affecting our ability to perform. Why not tie one of our hands behind our back when we arrive at work just to compound the problem. Of course, It’s possible to argue that unfettered internet access can lead to other performance issue and interruptions but, I would imagine that more time is lost due to the impact of the loss of cognitive ability.

Secondly, People are bringing their own laptops, tablets and smartphones to work. This demonstrates both a lack of appropriate tools (another issue) and the need to have access to information resources that exist externally to the ones provided by the enterprise. This flies in the face of the reasons behind the imposed restrictions on services. Using an internal email client (which is usually unrestricted) I can send myself any information I want. I can also use the data connection on my phone to have full access to the internet.

Information is almost guaranteed to leak because in order for me to function properly I have to access the systems I rely on for remembering and retrieval.

People are part of a system, a system that enables the enterprise to flourish. The adaptable nature of our minds, and the technology at our disposal enable us to perform complex and advanced functions beyond our natural abilities. We readily accept the positive benefits of this union but this infers acceptance of the negative, making it incumbent on us to understand the impact and limitations of the tools, infrastructure and systems we make available.

Thoughts: The location of knowledge

Knowledge in the head is subject to the limits posed by memory and attention (both limited).

Knowledge in the world plays an important role in reminding people of things: current state, tasks left to be done etc.

Good design provides knowledge in the world.

(Tbh. I’m not sure if i wrote this or if it’s a quote – possibly by Don Norman)

Thoughts: the design paradox

What makes good design?

‘Good design’ is disseminated through popular culture because it looks great, informing the wider population about how things should work.

Good usability practice is informed by convention and by using consistent input/manipulation and control mechanisms which leads to the entrenchment of ‘good design’.

Forget Affordances? Not so fast….

In Don Norman’s influential book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ he introduced the term ‘Perceived Affordance’ (referred to as affordance) to the design community. At the time it was necessary to give a name to a fundamental aspect of their work, namely how do you communicate to a person the intended use of an object?

What is a perceived affordance?

An affordance, in design speak, is a property of an object that implies how it can be used. For example, the design of a chair affords: sitting on, being used for support when standing and standing on. These are some (not all) of the things you can do (actions) with a chair because of the way it was designed.

However, affordances still exist even if it’s not intended by the designer at all. Take an instance of a chair with wheels, the chair still affords standing on, it has height, is sturdy and has a large, flat seating area. The inclusion of the wheels make standing unsafe, the affordance is still present but that particular use is not intended.

From the moment Don introduced the term it took on a life of its own, as Don himself describes:

“When I introduced the term into design in 1988 I was referring to perceivable affordances. Since then, the term has been widely used and misused. The result has been confusion…”

The misuse lays in the problem that affordances are all the possible actions a person can take with an object, not just the designed/intended action. For example a tablet computer screen affords tapping. The inclusion of an icon (as a clue to where you tap to launch an application) does not create the affordance; it’s the properties of a tablet screen that does.

Now, 25 years later, Don has called to retire the term affordance, instead we should use signifier. Signifier more accurately describes how a designer lets a person know what to do (rather than what’s possible) by providing a clue to the desired action.

Continuing the example above the application icon is a signifier, as it indicates where on the screen you should tap to launch the app. You can’t launch that app by tapping on any other area of the screen.

You may be thinking that affordance is now a redundant principle of interaction design. I disagree, affordances are still important because of the metaphors we use.

When we choose a metaphor to represent our systems conceptual model we inherit the schema of that object. We automatically create in the user’s mind a set of possible actions.

What’s a Schema?

Schemas allow us to acquire new information quickly and efficiently by liking it to some other information already stored in memory. For example, I can describe a Zebra to someone who has never seen one as a Horse with black and white stripes. The Horse schema, if known, will allow that person to use any information they have about Horses and apply that to the Zebra. You would then know that a Zebra is black and white has: hooves, mane, tail, eats grass, and is about 5ft tall.

The downside to schemas is that they can allow for the memorisation of incorrect or incomplete information, if a person’s only experience of a horse is of the miniature variety, they will incorrectly remember that all Zebras are only 3ft tall

When computer engineers used the concept of a filing system as the way to represent stored files on a computer hard disc, they had to ensure (amongst other things) that files and folders could be easily added, renamed, moved and deleted, this is because these are some of actions available when using actual folders and files I.e. Someone who uses paper files, and folders can: label and relabel them, add additional files to existing folders and rearrange them. They can add addition files to cabinet drawers and they can throw away old files and folders. A person who uses a filing system will have expectations based upon the use and available actions of the real world counterpart.

If we don’t take time to understand the available actions of real world objects, it’s possible that we could miss a vital action which would ultimately cause frustration for the person using the system.

It seems unlikely to me that the originators of the modern file system considered the affordances of physical file and folders when designing the system. It is most likely that they were more concerned with the available restricted space on the hard disc. Had they taken time to understand the possible actions inherent in the metaphor they chose, then we might not have had an operating system that only allows filenames with 8 characters, as we did with DOS based systems.

It is still essential then for designers to understand affordances, so that they hone their ability to look at the world in terms of the available actions. Then, when choosing metaphors to represent our systems we can ensure that we have full understanding of what actions should be made available or not.

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