How learning to code made me a better Product Designer

Last fall, I took a part-time course in Front-End Web Development with General Assembly in New York. It was my first time going back to school since college — a sensation first exciting…

feeling-accomplished-yay-412b8

…then a little frustrating…

…and finally triumphant with the completion of my website project (which, btw, I admittedly have not worked on since :\ ).

SwingQuote

Ultimately, my experience was well worth the investment of time and money. I didn’t become a front-end developer, and I didn’t expect to do so. I also didn’t quite level up to the next level of UX Unicorn: I would not trust myself with production code for serious projects right now! And contrary to what I thought I’d start doing after this course, I don’t typically prototype in code either.

From a Product Designer perspective, though, I’ve now had several months of applying this new knowledge set in a design role, and here’s what I’ve experienced as major benefits from learning to code:

  1. My visual specs and styling instructions are more realistic. With a better understanding of CSS, my visual guidelines for developers can be produced more systematically. I now know how to translate mockups in ways more compatible for actually implementing the code.
  2. My designs are more consistent. Along the theme of the previous point, the conceptual foundation of HTML templates and CSS have shaped my visual design approach to be more consistent and reusable.
  3. UX-dev collaboration is stronger. We can (more-or-less) speak the same language now. My eyeballs no longer glaze over as soon as the techy-talk busts out in a meeting.
  4. I can take advantage of new design software features. Adobe Suite, Sketch, and all the other top tools are loading in new features that help seamlessly marry visual designs with code. So now I can actually use them!
  5. I’m more considerate of technical constraints. Learning JavaScript and other technologies have really opened my eyes to developers’ perspectives. I have a better understanding of technical limitations, and why asking for things like form customization is such a bitch to deal with.
  6. I ask better questions. Along with the previous point, I know to ensure that the developers on our team are brought into conversations and involved in the decisions about our technology early enough. I find myself more capable of researching frameworks, libraries and support matrices (caniuse.com is my best friend), and with that I’m more prepared to ask the right questions.
  7. My QA testing is more useful. Instead of just reporting issues, now I can easily go into the DOM and inspect bugs for myself. I can provide better information, figure out which issues probably relate to one another, and even specify exact styling changes right there in the browser.
  8. Responsive design finally makes sense. There’s so much more to designing responsively than simply working with a grid. It’s been so helpful to really understand how breakpoints and media queries work.
  9. I appreciate engineers even more! …which basically puts them at the top of the castle.

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Shout-out to our awesome instructor, Hart, for making the class such a productive experience and making those 3-hour night classes something to look forward to even after a full day of work!

So, for any other UX/UI Designers, Product Designers or Creative Directors out there who are on the fence about learning code — it’s not just another unicorn skill where you’d need to take on the developer role as well! Taking the time to really learn HTML, CSS, JS and their surrounding technologies will help any product/design role for web experiences. Your products and your teams will benefit!

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The “Concert Matchmaker” Mobile Design Concept

Consider this a little UX Design Jam to switch things up… I took just a few hours to do a rapid design concepting project — in this case, the redesign of a concert-searching feature of an app that I love to use. Not sure if this idea will be continued! Sharing anyway 🙂

Problem Overview

As a concert-goer who’s always looking forward to seeing live music, I find the Bandsintown mobile app to be SO helpful because it suggests concerts in my area based in a direct integration with the music I listen to. However, I find the actual concert-searching feature of the app to be a bit lacking and cumbersome. So, I wanted to reimagine the “Tonight” feature with a new and improved show-seeking experience.

Solution Overview

FEATURE “Concert Matchmaker”
VISION Help show-goers discover and track shows to go to through a personalized, useful experience.

Requirements

  1. Ability to browse concerts/shows
  2. Ability to specify criteria
  3. Ability to take action on results

Assumptions

  • Extension of existing Bandsintown mobile app
    • Inherits base visual & UI style
    • Maintains integration with Facebook, Spotify, Calendar, etc.
    • Uses configured data in Settings section of app
  • Maintain existing desktop experience (separate, within Facebook)

Research

Heuristic Evaluation

I started by examining the usability of the “Tonight” feature to start identifying what’s working & what’s making this experience feel so lacking and cumbersome.

bandsintown_tonight

screenshots of the “Tonight” feature of the Bandsintown app

STRENGTHS

WEAKNESSES

  • Integration with “Concert Cloud” to control selected vs. recommended artists
  • Ability to filter by distance from specified location
  • Thumbnails of artists in list results
  • Venue & Town in list results
  • Level 2 detail view contains helpful information: Date, venue, map, RSVPs, Lineup, etc.
  • Level 2 detail view contains useful actions: RSVP (“I’m attending” or “Maybe”), Share on social media, Get tickets
  • Results only displayed in list; long-scrolling
  • Results only ordered by time; assumption that users are searching day-of or soon
  • Duplicative show results due to artist itemization
  • All results presented equally
  • No additional filters
  • Level 2 detail view could contain more useful information: Friends’ RSVPs, Distance from home, etc.

User Reviews

I looked into what existing users are saying about the app by skimming the iTunes App Store and Google Play Store reviews. I did this in lieu of having the ability to conduct interviews with, distribute surveys to, or study analytics of current users’ app usage behaviors & sentiments. Below, I noted anecdotal patterns in feedback that are relevant to this feature.

POSITIVE

NEGATIVE

  • Keeping track of RSVPs
  • When searching by artist, can directly see shows instead of sifting through many
  • Integration with music library; automatic artist tracking
  • Search by location & distance
  • Choice to either seek specific artists’ shows, or discover recommendations
  • Less helpful for lesser-known artists
  • Delayed postings of shows
  • All list views with immense scrolling and default ordering; no calendar-like view
  • Itemization of separate artist listings for the same single show

Competitive Landscape

I examined similar features of competitive products to conjure best practices and inspiring ideas that could be applied to this redesign.

competitors

screenshots of similar features of comparable apps

Best Practices & Inspiration
  • Tiles / Cards
  • Sense of timeline
  • Large visual imagery & Typography
  • Personalized recommendations
  • Limited color palette, hierarchy and template views
  • Sticky CTA / action buttons

Audience Survey

Based on ideas gathered from my heuristic evaluation, competitive analysis, and investigation of user reviews, I distributed a quick survey to validate some initial ideas and help guide the design direction.

Survey Contents & Distribution

I used Google Forms to quickly create, distribute and collect results of the short survey. The questions were designed to focus on how this audience discovers and decides which shows to go to. In hindsight, I would’ve also asked about how far out people look for shows to go to.

survey

Recruitment

Given that I needed to resort to guerilla recruitment methods for this exercise, I reached out to show-goer friends on Facebook and Reddit users in a music channel.

recruitment

Thank you, awesome comrades who participated!

Key Findings

These are the three most relevant, insightful findings that resulted from the 18 participants. This data would help shape the design focus of this feature, along with specific design decisions of functional components, like the kind of options to involve in filters.

Insight #1  /  Unalignment of important show-finding criteria between “Tonight” feature & user expectations

While the “Tonight” feature of the app focuses on tracked artists and events that are approaching soon, the audience finds the following seven factors to be most important when searching for shows to go to:

  1. Day of the week (77.8%)
  2. Distance away from home (72.2%)
  3. Ticket price (61.1%)  /  Whether favorite artist is headlining (61.1%)
  4. Other plans in the mix (55.6%)  /  Whether friends are going (55.6%)
  5. Number of artists in lineup interested in seeing (50%)

results_factors

Meanwhile, the factor of “How soon it is,” which the “Tonight” feature’s UI tailors towards, was the least important factor (0%).

Insight #2  /  A common theme of “worth” in decision-making

The open-ended response revealed that users very consciously weigh several factors in deciding whether or not they will plan to attend a show, with the following criteria noted as the most critical to weigh:

  1. Availability / Day of the week
  2. Distance
  3. Ticket price
  4. Artist interest / Lineup

Insight #3  /  Validation of app/website browsing as a primary show-finding method, with Facebook feeds and Facebook event invitations as the next most-used show discovery methods, respectively.

results_discover

Design Principles

Establishing a set of overarching design principles based on all the exploration thus far helps direct, strengthen and control the design decisions going forward.

  • Customized: Flexibility to personalize criteria
  • Algorithmic: Smart automation to present relevant results that aid decision-making through weighing multiple factors
  • Efficient: Eliminate extra steps or burdens, utilize automated processes and data integration, limit number of choices to choose from, and maintain consistent formats
  • Simple: Light-­touch aesthetics; straight­forward actions
  • Current: Up-to-date, real-time information
  • Actionable: Meaningful ways to engage with the content

Style Guide

Color Palette

colorpalette

Typography

  • font-family: ‘Fira Sans’, ‘sans-serif’;
  • font-family: Open Sans;
  • font-family: “Georgia”, “sans-serif”;

User Interface Design

Wireframe Concepts


First, I captured the existing “Tonight” feature list view (default). Drawing from my research, I made some changes that addressed the major priorities:

  1. I clearly titled the page “Concerts” so that it revolved around the idea of a concert list first and foremost, as opposed to using a single data variable (i.e. location) to drive the focus of the page.
  2. I swapped the distance icon in the top right with a more generic filters icon, expanding the functionality to control the list results with more data variables than distance alone.
  3. I reimagined the list to visually convey more personalized information, without completely abandoning the sense of timeline. Bandsintown’s Concert Cloud algorithm is incredibly powerful for matching up how strongly an artist or concert would be recommended to a user, based on their music listening data that’s automatically integrated into this app. So, instead of using two general buckets of “Recommended” vs “All” with all items listed in an equal way, I visually emphasized the best-matched shows with the size of the image. However, this first concept iteration brought up too many visual problems of clutter and spatial content dependencies.

conceptsketch01

Along with these timeline list sketches, I made sure to examine what kind of data could be controlled once the filters button is activated. I based these decisions off of the existing settings, the research findings, and the general design principles of keeping things simple and efficient. So, I landed on only four inputs within the three categories of location, tickets and weekdays. I used sliders and toggle buttons appropriately for a clean, efficient UI.

conceptsketch02

Going back to the list view problems about visual clutter, I did some quick UI research and revisited the competitor analysis findings for inspiration. I started gearing towards a card-based view driven by large images. Additionally, I pushed the interaction design by using the modern trend of swipe gestures to reveal more information. This helps reduce the cognitive load, focusing the user on the right information in the right order, based on user initiation to voluntarily see more details.

conceptsketch03

Building off this core list view, I extended the experience to the full details view. Again, I reworked the existing view of this page to be more image-driven and to include more important information. Going forward, I would reorder this information based on importance and logical flows to comprehend it.

conceptsketch04

sketches compared against screenshots of existing pages

Finally, I took some time quickly iterating on specific UI components within this user experience. For example, based on findings from the competitor analysis and heuristic analysis, I reimagined the RSVP buttons as options that spring out from a sticky button always present on the detail screen. This draws attention to it as a CTA, reduces clutter, and encourages users to act on this at whatever point in the details page they feel ready to make their decision.

conceptsketch05

sketch compared against screenshot of existing UI element

Mockups

Normally I’d take more time sketching variations of the design approach and creating sets of wireframes digitally before jumping into higher-fidelity mockups. But for the purpose of this exercise, I sped ahead to design. You’ll see that I incorporated the idea of using size visualization to emphasize better matches in the concert list, but combined with the visual style of the second sketch iteration. A few other details for content, iconography, hierarchy, and small features were iterated as well. I used the limited amount of time to focus on the core, primary mobile screens for this feature.

Mockups

Next Steps

This was fun! But it was a quick rapid concepting exercise done in a few hours. If I were to seriously keep spending some time on this, here’s what I’d do:

Mockups of Additional Screens

Completing the flow of secondary screens from sketches and beyond, such as the filters screen to adjust settings and the activated sticky button to take action.

Additional Wireframe/Mockup Sets

I’d go through the rapid concepting exercise a couple more times to ultimately have 2-5 sets of mockups that all represent a substantially different UI. For example, some of my initial sketching involved a more calendar-oriented approach that visually indicated the dates with best potential. Another idea revolved around a few stacked sets of ways to approach the results, using horizontal scrolling to skim through them. Another idea took a Tinder-esque approach, really focusing in on the “matchmaker” concept.

Usability Testing

  • A/B Tests of different layout & UI treatments to evaluate efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out specific tasks by testing first-click impressions and path analyses
  • Cognitive Walkthroughs of the experiences to see how users are reacting to the various approaches, and what’s most helpful in directing users towards a successful experience
  • Interviews with wider representation of audience to discover needs of unaccommodated segments

The Method to Our Madness

One of the things other product / user experience designers and myself try to push for is sharing progress more early, more frequently, more collaboratively, and more iteratively. (I’ve blogged about The Lean Product Playbook before, which dives deep into this approach to product management). Last week I participated in a Design Thinking Crash Course hosted by The Design Gym, and it really helped summarize some of these core philosophies from a product design perspective. So, I want to share some of the central ideas that may shed some light into why it is that Product/UX Designers might seem OBSESSED with post-it notes and strategy decks and whirling in messes of research…

Before we jump into it, here’s my teaser for you: This Semisonic song is going to become completely relevant by the end of this post:

PhasesAs you could see in this illustration, every phase of product design opens with a starting point – usually a hypothesis that needs validation or an idea/direction that needs feedback. At that starting point, the possibilities are wide open. We use whatever methods and activities are most appropriate and feasible to explore different avenues. We draw patterns and discoveries from that exploration to arrive at some better understandings, narrowing down to an at least semi-conclusive end point of that phase. That end point should evolve from the start point from which it originated, and essentially becomes the start point for the next phase.

PhasesFlow

This is where our checkpoints and design artifacts play their essential role, though. The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. If we don’t take the time and serious thought to formulate our findings in some tangible way – whether it’s a series of personas, a strategy deck, a rough sketch, list of features, user journey map, wireframe, etc. – then we’re not concluding all the effort of that phase in a collaboratively useful way. Just as important, if we don’t take the time and serious thought to regroup on those end points before starting the next phase, then we risk moving forward without alignment. Clear end points help establish a unified vision going forward.

 The quality of the close of each phase dictates the success of the next phase. – Jason Wisdom, Co-Founder of The Design Gym

Now, just because we need tangible artifacts at the end points of each phase does not mean that we need to wait until we have a massive, polished presentation assembled. (And yes, I admit this despite a history of 80-page UX documents…but the era of lean is now here). Sometimes a sloppy sketch might do. We want to receive buy-in and feedback before investing a large effort into a single idea, which is why we’re often hesitant about mocking up early-phase design concepts. What if we spend weeks perfecting the UI of an idea thats premise doesn’t work for the client? While it may feel too abstract to seem productive, strategically aligning early on will save time in the long-run.

Design Thinking Crash Course worksheets

Likewise, just because we’ve reached a new hypothesis or idea to validate and explore does not mean that we need to invest massive amounts of time and money into elaborate design research exercises. In The Design Gym‘s Design Thinking Crash Course, we conducted these little activities within two hours and it still helped provide more clarity, direction and ideas to help move forward less obliviously. Of course, if the time allotted for these is extremely limited, we move forward with much less confidence and security (and sanity) than what feels adequate, but nonetheless there is merit to any effort that involves real research and real feedback.

Again, all these efforts come down to the principle of closing those loops strongly. Just listen to Semisonic…

EVERY NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING’S END – Semisonic

A personal project on politics: Swing Quote v.0

Last Monday I presented my final project for a 10-week part-time Front-End Web Development (FEWD) course I just completed through General Assembly in NYC. (Whoohoo!) Along with picking up a much stronger, practiced understanding of HTML, CSS, JavaScript and responsive web development, I wanted to dedicate this time towards creating something personally meaningful and different from the kind of web work I do professionally.

Fueled up by the current presidential election campaigning, I felt inspired to create something educational that challenges this space based on a problem consistently experienced during political conversations: automatically closing our minds to certain candidates or policies due to preconceived perceptions of that candidate or their party. From this problem, I’ve designed and developed a preliminary version of what I am calling Swing Quote.

Product Summary

  • PRODUCT: Political website titled “Swing Quote”
  • VISION: Help young Americans use self-discovery to better identify which 2016 presidential candidates’ views resonate with their own stances on various political issues, even if previously unimagined.
  • USER OUTCOMES: Desire to become more aware, informed, decisive and confident about who they should consider being open to voting for in the 2016 presidential election.
  • ACTION: Users should engage with candidates’ true stances on issues without the misguidance of political jargon or party-based preconceptions in order to help form their own realizations.

Design Principles

  • SIMPLICITY: Light-­touch, minimalist aesthetic; Straight-­forward actions
  • CHOICE: User-driven discovery
  • SHOCK: Immediate feedback exposing the unknown; Meaningful content planning focused on common misconceptions
  • EDUCATION: Inclusiveness of diverse views and issues; Provide access to additional information and context
  • CURRENCY: Include up-to-date information; Content planning primarily focused on current campaigns
  • EFFICIENCY: Eliminate extra steps or burdens; Utilize automated processes and data integration; Limit number of choices to choose from, and maintain consistent formats
  • FRIENDLINESS: Warm, welcoming language and tone; Communicate with colloquial language; Creative use of visuals

Inspiration & Competitive Landscape

I spent a little time checking out sites about presidential candidates, existing political quiz websites and apps, along with other interactive learning experiences outside of politics. I drew from strengths and weaknesses for features, visual style, content strategy, and interaction design that could set this experience apart in an advantageous way.

inspiration

(Oh, please don’t snoop around my other Pinterest boards…that’s embarrassing).

Let’s not talk about how awesome Presinder is for essentially already doing this idea but in a way smarter way by pulling their content from candidates’ Twitter accounts -_- (…This competitor was SO upsetting to come across since it was so close to my idea. However, it helped me focus my concept more on the deliberate use of content planning, added value of comparing results, emphasis of web exploration, and ability for users to contribute quotes they’d like to see included).

Feature Set

The initial feature set captured the core functionality I envisioned, noting usability needs that I felt were requirements along with additional enhancements that I was hoping to reach. Overall, given the timeframe and learning curve, I ended up skipping two features that were not essential to the core user experience, but integrating a fair amount of the reach enhancements to add a little delight to the primary features.

features

Wireframes

These are the initial wireframe designs that capture the page template layouts, content types, functionality, states, and UI components. These evolved during development…

wireframe-intro

INTRO: I ended up adding a global footer to help frame the page and serve as navigation to additional features that were added later. Also added two buttons to those features, but kept the quotes exploration as the primary CTA.

wireframe-prompt

PROMPT: A quote presented to the user prior to exposing the affiliated party/candidate. Users are prompted to agree or disagree.

wireframe-feedback

FEEDBACK: The second state of a quote is revealed after the user agrees or disagrees, exposing who said it, what party they’re from, access to the citation, ability to share, results of all respondents, and a button to continue to the next quote.

Content Planning

Here’s an excerpt of what the content planning looked like. Since I had this idea early on, I was able to spend a few months gathering quotes from different candidates. (It actually was a great way to force myself to stay informed of all candidates). The biggest challenge was finding short-but-substantial quotes. Most of the short soundbytes are not very unique to one candidate’s particular point-of-view or policies, and those are exactly the kinds of quotes that I believe mislead Americans; this site is about focusing on more substantial, informative quotes, which is why this tedious content planning exercise plays such a critical role.

contentplanning
Swing Quote v.0

Not only did I learn tons of coding and mobile-first responsive design approaches in this process, but I also learned how much time and delicacy good development takes. I will admit, this project was re-coded from scratch one week before the deadline, mainly thanks to figuring out smarter ways to control my layout with FlexBox and manage my data with objects and arrays.

SO, with the time I had, I can present the incomplete and buggy alpha of Swing Quote!

swingquote-home

Swing Quote v.0: Evaluation

While I did not accomplish nearly what I set out to design and development for this project, I am very happy to report that the concept has been validated thus far! Walking through the quiz demo with my classmates, the final presentation was full of shocking “gotchya!” moments that left my classmates stunned by the candidate reveals and following up with lots of the hypothesized behavior, like wanting to see the source of information (which can be toggled with the info icon button).

Similarly, I’ve had friends and co-workers use the site then say things like, “You know, I think I might be a Republican and didn’t know it,” or, “I don’t know if I want to vote for Ben Carson anymore,” etc. This is exactly the kind of impact I was hoping to accomplish: making a self-determined, surprising discovery strong enough to consider reexamining and further researching one’s choice of presidential candidates — and hopefully in a more open way. Perhaps it can also expose us to more common ground than we realize we have with one another, regardless of the party tag.

Swing Quote v.0: Next Steps & Priority Fixes

Receiving this kind of feedback and witnessing its impact is really psyching me up! I was starting to give up on this effort before, but now I think it might be worth taking it more seriously. I’ll just need to fix the bugs, finish out the experience design, implement more content, build the features that didn’t make this version, improve the visual design, and actually host this with a domain instead of from my github.

bug-mobile

YIKES.

There is SO much work that would need to be done. Here are the starters…

1) I’ve got to fix whatever the heck I broke that makes mobile load like this. Literally unusable. Thank goodness this was not a real project!

2) I also need an end to the experience. Once the array runs out of content to inject into the template, you just cycle through semi-populated templates. It probably should direct users to the submission form so that they feel invited to become part of growing this experience by being presented with the option to submit more quotes. This is something I’ll have to feel out more from people who test out this site, though. One person mentioned wanting a results algorithm that tells them who to vote for based on all their responses, but I’d be worried about accuracy and fairness, and concerned about violating the core design principles and self-exploratory purpose of this site :\

3) In the feedback state, there needs to be emphasis on whether the user agreed or disagreed with the quote. The shock of this reveal truly is the most impactful aspect of this experience, so this is where much more attention and play into emotions is needed. Hoping to do a little A/B testing on some ideas to see what makes the most impact without crossing the line of being too in-your-face…

swingquote-reveal

4) I need to build the Compare Results feature, probably using HighCharts, which I’ve been exposed to and researched before when working with developers in past work projects.

5) Prooooobably related to #2, but gotta fix this bug that makes long text overlap with other elements and overflow out of the container. I’ve diagnosed that it’s related to some FlexBox and vertically-centered-text changes I made way too last-minute, but I have not yet been able to debug it without changing the design. Box, I will make you fit the text.

bug-desktop

OOPS.

6) I need to get the share button working! I’ve tried two jQuery plugins so far — sharrre and share (very creative names here) — but didn’t have the time to customize either of them to my needs within the course span. Circulating this site and its content via social media is going to be imperative.

7) Must create real image assets and improve the visual design. This was fine for a prototype, but as you see, it needs more time dedicated to styling the site and creating proper, optimized images.

swingquote-candidates

This Candidates page was a late-added feature, so it just reuses the existing background images meant to be utilized for the quiz series :\

 

8) While the form has validation, it needs a) success feedback, b) visual bug fix to the dropdown menu, and c) somewhere that the data hooks up to!

swingquote-submit

I’d need help on all fronts if I’m really going to make this happen. Visual designers, developers, and political junkies: let me know if you’d be interested in collaborating!

The Apple Watch and the human behavioral role of discreetness

Monday’s Apple Live event incited a slew of mixed impressions about the Apple Watch, which will be bringing us even closer to The Era of Robot come this April. While the tech world debates the device’s cost, capabilities and digital interactions, I find myself more curious about the human interactions in the context of using this technology in real life. I’m particularly wondering about the role of discreetness.

The metaphor of people with “phones glued to their hands” is distinctly different from the wearable nature of a smart watch. Have you ever noticed how people tend to demonstrate secretive body language when using their smart phones — especially for personal matters? Interactions generally take place with heads down, phones held close to the body, and screens tilted towards the user. “Hidden” placements of phones is so common it’s a cliche, like “texting under the dinner table.” Unlike a smart watch, a smart phone is frequently placed on a lap, grasped in a fist, turned screen-down, tucked in a pocket, stored away in a purse, or left out of sight completely.

Whether it’s calling an Uber car, checking into your hotel or answering a text, the watch will allow you to interact with the digital world at a glance, in a less outwardly antisocial way than you now do with your phone.

The New York Times

How might the attached, exposed nature of a smart watch — which for the Apple Watch is centralized around personal content and functionality — make users feel about the constant, open presence inherent in what’s essentially our personal cell phones adapted as extensions of our physical selves? Will this elevate self-awareness of what’s broadcasted on one’s wrist? Will this hurt real-life social interactions? Will this open innovative opportunities?

Push notifications at your wrist…

From a healthcare and pharma perspective, I immediately see value in having push notifications delivered to a device attached to the body. Information delivery systems generally don’t fail due to failed transmission of the message, but rather to the recipient’s idle placement of their phone or active choice to ignore it. With a smart watch, I see increased potential in habit-changing and adherence based apps more effectively reaching its users.

At the same time, I wonder how the exposed nature of a smart watch might affect the content design. Habit-changing and adherence goals are often private matters, particularly within medicine. An MS patient might not want an injection reminder overtly popping up on their wrist in front of others — especially when the medication and its app are aimed to help minimize the prevalence of the disease in one’s daily life. Will self-consciousness be worth taking into content strategy consideration? Are there contexts in which being discreet will be a necessary design principle?

Personal communication and cognition….

“Ungluing” our phones from our hands can be a conscious or subconscious decision. It happens all the time because we’re constantly switching our focus to prioritize something more important at hand. (Literally). In social situations, we’re prioritizing people in front of us. How will the constant “glued” state and exposed nature of receiving personal communication affect our social behavior? While any given text message, call or chat bubble does not require an immediate response, it will require an instant reaction. I wonder what cognitively will happen in these moments when the attention is divided between in-person and through-the-wrist social interactions.

AppleWatch-LiveaBetterDay

After reading through the Apple Watch site’s section highlighting personal connections & communication, I found the next “Live a better day” point ironic: is the ongoing connection and constant interruption of data at one’s wrist really something that will help us live better?

More specifically, I wonder how the role of discreetness will impact these moments in social contexts. What will John do when Tinder notifications and texts from Molly and Sue keep outwardly lighting up on his wrist as he holds the menu atop the candlelit table of his dinner date? Will professors ban smart watches from classrooms? What will Jane tell dad when he catches a glance of the sexts that just popped up? How many of the 34 emails Susie received during a work meeting yielded glances down at her wrist? Did people notice? Did they capture her facial expressions briefly revealed at each glance?

Sure, there are gestures to ignore incoming content. But the interruption still intrudes upon the social situation because a reaction is still evoked. A split-second glance will be followed by cognitive information processing. Will the human microinteractions generated by these moments hurt real-world social interactions?

The wearable extension of ourselves…

As a UX designer in healthcare innovation, the ResearchKit is what I see as the most exciting and promising aspect of the Apple Watch. I personally believe that smart watches have very specific and limited functionality that legitimately adds value beyond the health & fitness apps we use on phones and larger devices. It’s why I’m less enthralled with HealthKit for the Apple Watch (as much as I’m probably not supposed to admit that). ResearchKit truly harnesses the wearable power of collecting data that can be significantly informative and progressive in the medical field.

I also envision possibly groundbreaking solutions to emergency situations. A means to immediate help is that much more accessible when attached to ourselves, and that much more informative when powered by great web software. Furthermore, the unique role of discreetness can be capitalized on in a very beneficial way. Imagine defense-based mechanism apps that secretly could be triggered to activate and assist in emergency situations like amber alerts, kidnappings, and sexual assault — situations in which overtly trying to communicate for help could be harmful, insufficient in data, or might not be accessible at all.

Final thoughts…

Releasing software is like releasing experiments on human beings. As the technology sphere critiques the Apple Watch’s cost, features, UI and physical design, I hope the conversation of human behavior is further engaged with as well. When it comes to wearables, we need to expand the schemas we use for evaluating general software and interfaces: we need to put greater emphasis on investigating how human behavioral qualities, like discreetness, might play more substantial roles.

2014 Mankind Moments to Remember

2014 was an ugly year around the world. Genocides ripped across populations. Airplanes peculiarly went missing or went down. Mother Nature unleashed wild fire, volcano, tsunami and Ebola. Beheadings joined school shootings as a norm. Violent protests erupted. Vengeful murders and hopeless suicides ended life where there used to be peace.

To me, the saddest part of these grievances is the amount of harm that was perpetrated by one anotherI’ve put together this video because I’m not sure how else to express it. Recognize that each of us cannot entirely imagine the raw struggles experienced in someone else’s shoes. But what we can all relate to is the common thread that every life is attached to people who love them, the capability to suffer, and potential to be filled. The photojournalism included in this video captures too many terrible stories that did not have to happen: Too many parents burying their children, too many young people being sent to kill or be killed, too many grown consciences inflicting pain and death around them…

…Can we please stop harming each other? While these images of 2014 don’t make the world feel like a very hopeful place, I do hope that we as individuals can use this reflection to take our own steps towards a 2015 where we strive to equip children with happy families, include the otherwise rejected, extend love to the lonely, care for the mentally ill, and treat one another with respect. Chaos that used to feel distant is getting closer and becoming more real: the way we perceive, speak to, and act towards others is going to affect how that tilts.

Confessions of a UX Designer: Habits that can’t be helped

It’s happened. My profession has infiltrated my daily life with creepy and odd habits that I’m hoping assuming most user experience designers can relate to…

1. I’m a nosy commuter.

While everyone on public transit is absorbed in their own worlds, I’m absolutely exploiting their oblivion. Every day and every mode is a fresh opportunity to observe others — some same and some new, some with heads tucked in books and some with fingers glued to phones — all with typical and not-so-typical behaviors that unleash fascinating realizations and ideas. It is a goldmine of ethnographic research!

I’ve mastered the art of lurking over shoulders to see how someone is using an interface. I’ve abused the use of reflections to see how someone is passing the time. I’ve adapted way too much aptitude in forming stories by tracking someone’s eye movements and expressions. And most importantly, I’ve practiced the imperative capability to conceal myself from looking like a totally creepy commuter while doing all this. Good thing that while I’m watching, there is always something shadier for the surveillance to be watching…

2. I check myself out in the mirror at work.

Hey, after countless experiences of unknowingly attending meetings with dry-erase marker ink smeared across your face, you learn to keep a mirror at your desk and use it damn well!

3. I’m irrationally infuriated by poorly-designed doors, elevators and buildings.

(Yep, that includes you, designer of former Microsoft headquarters building on Avenue of the Americas in NYC — unless your intent was to trap or lose your visitors). Seriously, I turn into the Hulk over this kind of stuff. I just can’t fathom the amount of money that goes into such terrible design decisions. Although, the fury actually is quite rational for anyone who appreciates what we learn from understanding The Design of Everyday Things.

4. I prep for projects the way actors prep for plays.

In the performing arts, dedicated actors are known to take on the personas of their characters all day err’day well before it’s actually time to play the part. It’s supposed to help them, well, get into character. And the same goes for the start of a user-centered design process.

When new projects kick off, I “get into character” by absorbing myself in anything and everything about the project’s industry, background, competitors and users. Obsession is necessary and unstoppable. It might involve plowing through a pile of related books, attending related events, joining blogs and online communities with the users, trying out competitor services, reconnecting with old acquaintances who represent the userbase — anything to surround myself in the project. Sure, I won’t need to act out a scene as our users (thank GOODNESS), but I will need to embody their perspectives and behaviors in relation to the product.

5. I invent creative stalking opportunities.

As mentioned in the nosy commuter point, researching people in their natural environments and behaving in their natural ways can unlock some amazing discoveries. Especially at the start of a new project, I seize any opportunity I can get to secretly observe the project’s target audience. And if there are no opportunities, I make them. That might mean scheduling a doctor’s appointment (that I don’t need) and “mistakenly” arriving way early so that I can loiter in the waiting room to see how patients and staff are all behaving. It might mean “reading a book” outside a playground at lunch time so I can see how kids play in groups on their own. It might mean “shopping” in Home Depot to see how customers seek information about products and navigating the store.

In the case study of Meetup.com, it literally meant creating a stalking opportunity….I once read an article about how in the early phases of Meetup, they’d research their user experience by creating Meetup events (with different key variables) and essentially hiding in a coffee shop across the street instead of actually attending so that they could observe how real users would approach the physical space, analyzing what kinds of online features could minimize any inhibitions. The craziness is for your own good!

6. I ask too many questions.

Sometimes I feel like a kindergartner persistently asking “why?” the way that little kids pester their parents about everything. Other times I feel like Dr. Phil, asking people odd questions in order to figure out  the root of their feelings in relation to their experiences. And sometimes I just feel like an aggressive lawyer demanding a rational, evidence-based explanation why decisions were made as they were. My mind turns everything into the Spanish Inquisition.

7. I save useless stuff.

Call me a hoarder or call be resourceful, but you never know when all those paper clips and beer caps will make the perfect playing pieces for the game you need to paper protoype approximately right this second right now you have 5 minutes go.

8. I have a fear of finality.

“Norman’s Law: The day the product team is announced, it is behind schedule and over its budget.” -Donald A. Norman

Paradoxically, a perfectly seamless experience is attempted to be created by someone who will never stop finding things to improve. “Is it finished?” is one of my least favorite questions in the world. Sure, a product might be built and a checklist of requirements might be all checked off and the feedback coming in might be amazing so far, but “finished” really rests more like “version 1.0” in my mind. The learning process never ends. In fact, the more we put out their, the more opportunities to recreate are created.