I Changed My Job Title and Won’t Go Back

March 14th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s been a while since I posted last, and I have to admit – I’ve actually been up to a lot. Switched jobs, went to a couple conferences, did some stuff, whatever.

As a few folks may know by now, I’m not really built for client work. As a “product guy” or “UX guy” working as a consultant I seldom had the opportunity to work with clients post launch, and never had the ownership required to really help take their products to the next level. To state the obvious – creating viable products takes time and focus. In many cases, launching a new product can be the easy part, while figuring out what it takes to make a product into a viable growing business is the real challenge. It just so happens that the latter is the part of what I do that I love the most. So about 6 months ago after much deliberation and a few sleepless nights, I decided to step down from active duty with the AMAZING team at Eastmedia.

NOTE: If you don’t know about Eastmedia, there isn’t a team in New York that I’d recommend more highly. They’re the complete package and worth talking to if you want to know what a small highly-skilled team with chemistry can create. I’m proud to still have a place on their website - http://eastmedia.com/404 :)

That said, I’m now working as Director of Product Experience at Kohort.

So, WTF is Product Experience?

It’s a job title that I made up to combine what I value most when trying to create great products – Product and Design. It is meant to combine the awesomeness that is Product Management with User Experience Design, while removing the parts that are noxious to me.

Speaking of nauseating, I hate the word “user”. It’s foul, poisonous, and ugly. If you ever have a couple of hours free, let’s go out for some beers or iced coffee and I’ll tell you all about how the word “user” is a contributing factor to tons and tons of bad Design. I have always found it maddening that a group of amazingly talented progressive Designers in UX and IxD, who consider persona creation a core competency, still refer to the people who interact with their products as “users”. I refuse to have that word in my job title or department as I try to make Design a core competency in my new position.

I hate the word “management” when it comes to Product almost as much as I hate the word “user” when it comes to Design. For me, management has a negative connotation, not in the – “we’re the workers and they’re management” – kind of way. More in the – “I am the quarterback trying to lead my team to the endzone, not the team manager making sure the Gatorade bottles are filled and there’s clean towels in the locker room” – kind of way. Management skills are necessary when creating products, but Products should not be managed, they should be grown, changed, pivoted, measured, designed, built, iterated on, owned, etc.

After all of that, I ended up with a new job role – Product Experience, and I just happen to think it kinda kicks ass. Here’s why:

  • Design is a prioritized core competency w/ buy in at the highest level. No Designer or Design in this department will ever be an after thought.
  • Product is about the experiences we create for our customers that add value for them and for our business, not just about short term P&L or customer demands for features.
  • It’s forward thinking and focused on creation of something that’s very human – Experiences. Good and bad, experiences are how we know the product is having an effect.
  • The Product part ensures we think about our business and customers and can make decisions based on them, while the Experience part ensures that we use Design skills to put the knowledge in play.
  • It sounds kind of awesome.
Change your job title. Designers, if you change your title, you won’t have to sell your work upstream anymore b/c you’ll be in the business conversations. Product folks, change your job title so that you can make sure that Design competency is integrated into your product development culture.
Let me know what you think. I’m @joshviney and I use Boxcar to have tweets pushed to me immediately. Hit me up.

 

My Take on the Difference Between IxD and UX

April 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m on a roll. 2 posts in 2 days!

After my ramble yesterday, I started thinking about User Experience and Interaction Design and why there’s so much confusion around the two terms. I mean, if you’re part of “the community” you know the arguments have been happening for years involving some really smart people. I have basically stayed out of it because internal discussions waste time. That said, last night walking home I had a thought.

IMHO, User Experience is not a design discipline it’s about strategic values. The concept behind User Experience is an attempt by some amazing designers, researchers, usability professionals, and strategists to get companies to pay attention to how people perceive and engage with their products and services. Every product or service that has ever had anyone use it has a least one user experience. User experiences can be fun, good, bad, ugly, evil, and boring. The deliverables of user experiences tend to be measured in adjectives (Note: if you’ve nailed your product design, the quality of your user experience can be measured by successful business goals like revenue or customer lifetime value, etc.). In the digital space, creating successful experiences involves everything from brand strategy, research, business/product strategy, copy writing, feature development, visual design, Interaction Design, to your social media strategy. This is why in my previous post, I said that UX must be part of your company’s culture. Paying attention to how people interact with and perceive your products and services is everyone’s job. Think of creating brand equity through quality experiences not just through visual design, marketing, and advertising – a pretty important shift from old school Madison Ave thinking.

Interaction Design or IxD, is a design discipline focused on the idea that human motivations and behavior can be understood, manipulated, and measured. Conceptually it’s a change in design philosophy from being materialistic and introverted to being behavior based and extraverted. I like to think of IxD being verb driven, it’s about eliciting actions (sometimes inaction), while most other design disciplines tend to be noun driven. Deliverables of IxD are behaviors. IxD tends to be misunderstood by most folks to the point of being confused with Information Architecture, Usability, and Interactive Design. Plainly it’s tough for many people to wrap their heads around the idea that there are designers whose job it is to manipulate them, and that the skills needed to do it have been abstracted almost to the point of being media agnostic. Much like doctors, Interaction Designers can use their skills for good or for evil. Oscar Wilde said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” I believe the same thing can be said for interaction designs. The “morality” of which is measured in the User Experience not the quality of the interaction.

Obviously there’s overlap between UX and IxD. The way I think of it is that UX is strategic, while IxD is tactical. A company focused on creating a specific UX absolutely needs to employ Interaction Design to achieve their goals. That said, there are a lot of other pieces needed to complete the UX puzzle. This in no way diminishes the role of the Interaction Designer, in fact a company with UX at it’s core should create an environment where Interaction Designers are in leadership positions. They are the best equipped to help your UX focused company elicit desired behaviors from your product’s users.

 

“Most Important Person for a Startup is a Great Product/UX Person” – @cdixon

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I stumbled on the quote in the title of this post on Twitter a couple of months ago. I believe the original tweet was by @davetisch, and he was quoting something Chris Dixon (@cdixon) must have said/written. I don’t really have time to fully trackdown the sources, timing, context, etc. Hopefully the above credits are enough. Also, I will be using the abbreviation “UX” to refer to Product/UX as a competency in general. If you don’t like it, go have a debate on a mailing list somewhere. I’m tired of the bullsh*t arguments.

Being a Product/UX person, this got me thinking.

Quotes like the above are amazing things, especially when they come from people who know what they’re talking about. I read them and I can’t help but be grateful someone out there appreciates the potential a solid Product/UX person brings to the table. That said, I think there are some points I’d like to add.

First off, if you think that hiring a great Product/UX person is going to solve your problems or make people want your product, you’re nuts. While it’s possible that they can make your product better, it always takes a team. The scenario I recommend is making UX a company priority to the point of integrating it into your company’s culture. This means that everyone on your team should be thinking about UX, not just the product team, visual designers, and interaction designers, but the developers, QA team, BD, accounting, customer service team, etc. If you’re not having hot debates about creating the best experiences for your customers and business involving team members with different perspectives, you’re not doing it right. As a product grows, it’s easy to lose focus on UX, but when you create a culture where everyone can ask questions like:

“How will people use this?”

“Is this the optimal experience to meet our business objectives?”

“Does this experience properly communicate and functionally deliver the desired result?”

“Will people like it?”

and etc…

You make it much more difficult for the focus on experience that made your startup successful to disappear as it succeeds.

Second, even though some UX work is better than none, you absolutely to need to incorporate it as early as possible. The reason is simple. It’s like writing a book. Editing is critical, but an editor can’t turn a cheesy romance novel into James Joyce’s Ulysses. Bringing in UX late in the game only allows for editing, while having it early in the process allows it to be the center of the creative process. Oh and getting the UX focus working early on allows for tactical input from developers, designers, etc. before anyone is invested time in code or photoshop – result is saved money and less frustration.

Third, I love the concept behind UX but hate the word “user”. It’s right up there on my sh*tlist with “GUI designer”, “frontend/backend”, “UI”, and “skin” and all of those terms that work to drive wedges between people, companies, and team members. As companies grow, labor specialization is required, but there’s really no need for us to add additional unnecessary labels that further separate our products, team members, and customers from common goals. So, if you want to create a better UX, please stop telling your designers to “just skin” the existing site. It’s obnoxious, cheap, and never results in the best UX. If you are obnoxious, cheap, and don’t care about your team or your product, please keep using those terms so the rest of us know you who you are. Rant over. Thanks.

If you want to create products for people, call them people or call them by name. It helps create empathy between your team members and your customers. Having a little empathy can go a long way when it comes to getting people to like your product.

Last, if you want your product to succeed, listen to but don’t bow to your customer’s whims. The number one feature request EVER is that a product be free. Product is about finding that awesome place where demand for a feature/product intersects with some business goal. User Experience is about understanding people, understanding business goals, and creating experiences that drive people to that awesome place where they intersect. Basically it’s about getting people to do things they might not normally do in order to (hopefully) receive a benefit. Don’t bow to their whims because your customers only see half the picture, while your job is to make sure your team sees both sides.

OK got off topic a bit, but I don’t really care. I blog so infrequently, you should just be happy there’s a post at all. Enjoy.

 

A Short Story

July 27th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Imagine that you’re a film maker. You have spent years at your craft, and you’re pretty damn good. Early days shooting home movies with your friends in high school, a couple popular shorts done in college, and a few well-paying gigs have morphed into a 10 year career and a solid rep for making magic.

It’s fair to say that you’ve paid your dues in the “biz” and now you’re looking to get involved in your first studio feature. Not that you haven’t had tempting offers in the past, you have. They’ve just never seemed quite right, like the beds were either too soft or too hard.

So you’re looking for a screenwriter. Someone with a great story that is just begging to be told. You have tons of meetings over coffee, and read hundreds of treatments. Sometimes the stories are amazing, but you know they won’t sell. Other times the stories are remakes of the same ol shit, but you know it’s exactly the type of thing a studio will pick up. You look for a long time. The process sucks and is wearing you out. You’re just about to give in when you hear a humor that there’s a great story on the market written by someone whose work you’ve appreciated for years. You know this is your shot. You feel in your bones. Call it fate.

So you meet.

The initial meetings go well. They’re mostly meet and greets and general “get to know you’s” but overall there’s real potential. It’s the fourth meeting when you finally ask the writer to let you check out the story. You’re nervous as hell and expecting pure magic.

He cracks open his laptop, starts up some software, digs for a file, and hands it over to you with a “now check this out!”

You take a look, and all you see are 8 sloppy hand drawn sketches and some illegible annotations. WTF!?!

He’s looking at you with great expectation in his eyes, and he asks the inevitable – Can you make my story come to life?

Remember this is supposed to be your shot at the big show. What do you say?

Product Management in NYC

April 18th, 2010 § 5 comments § permalink

There’s a lot of discussion in New York right now about the lack of experienced Product Managers. Basically, the last few years in NYC have seen a boom in startup culture from developers to investors and almost everything in between. One problem though is that there are very few people in NYC with any experience operating sites past the startup phase. Makes sense considering how few actual startups from the early to mid 2000′s actually survived the fall of Silicon Alley. So, where does that leave this next crop of entrepreneurs?

There are some amazing startups coming out of NY right now with more up and coming every day. Startups like Meetup, Foursquare, Tumblr, Solvate, Hot Potato, MeetMoi, Bit.ly, Chartbeat, PinchMedia (now Flurry), Medialets, Gilt Group, Ideeli, Outside.in, Nabewise, Kidmondo, Market.io, Simple.pr, Drop.io, and the list goes on – for more check out Mike K’s post about the NY tech scene here.

Needless to say New York is energized. The problem is that almost all of these companies are brand new, and with only a handful of experienced tech startups in the city, the pool of resources from which to draw talent has been very small. This is especially the case when it comes to Product Management. Note: some would argue that there’s a shortage of developers and designers in NY as well, but my experience says that this is not the case. New York is a design hub and has been for a long time. There is no place in the U.S. with a stronger UX, IxD, or visual design presence, and there ARE developers here. As an example, my friend Paul Dix has scheduled the inaugural Machine Learning meetup w/ over 300 members and 90 people RSVP’d for next Wednesday’s event. IMHO nothing says “developer” like Machine Learning. I digress.

So, there are a ton of new startups but a shortage of Product Managers in NY. Some folks are trying to do their best to remedy the situation – Charlie O’Donnell recently kicked off the NY Product Managers School, there’s also the Software Product Manager’s Meetup, Zach Klein’s blog series on Product Leadership, and probably a few other interesting resources that I can’t remember off the top of my head right now. These attempts are awesome, and I support them wholeheartedly.

I just want to add some of my thoughts on the matter.

1. Product Management, especially with startups, is NOT babysitting. It’s not all about managing a giant feature list and queuing up the next iteration. Product Management IS about driving a product (Zach hits the nail on the head when he talks about Product Leadership). It means taking ownership, having P&L responsibility, and making decisions about what should be done. Product Management is a leadership role.

2. Good Product Managers are passionate, creative, execution oriented, and metrics driven. I tend to disagree w/ few others who think Product Managers aren’t “building or selling” because, IMHO, nothing gets built or sold w/out a Product Manager making sure it is what SHOULD get built and sold. It’s the Product Manager’s job to predict the future and make it happen.

3. Good PMs won’t balk at the responsibility. Don’t hire a Product Manager who isn’t willing to step up. Balance this by asking them to justify all decisions. Make them earn the trust you’re giving, and make it clear that with great power comes their job if they mess up.

4. If you can’t find someone local, as Charlie O’Donnell advised me in a brief conversation he probably doesn’t remember having – try looking outside of New York. Try to find people who left NY for places like the Bay and convince them to come back. The scene here is viable again and New York has a lot to offer.

5. User Experience is core to Product Management – if you hear a PM talking using words like “GUI” or “UI” w/out the proper respect given to Design – they need to do their homework. Same goes for technology. If your PM can’t tell the difference between Java and javascript – they aren’t right for a startup.

6. A Product Manager’s job doesn’t stop when the feature is launched. This is why it’s important to try to find people who have actually operated products – launching a feature is easy, knowing what to do afterward can be tough.

7. Prioritization is the toughest thing for a PM to do. It can be reminiscent of the story about the hunter who got trapped in a bear trap and had to saw his own arm off to avoid starving to death. Try to find someone with the guts to saw their own arm off to launch a product and respect them for it. “The perfect is the enemy of the good” and “Better to build half a product than a half-assed product” are two quotes that come to mind.

That’s all I have for now. Will try to follow up soon w/ more.

Online Dating

April 18th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

OK. So I worked for an “online personals” company for a while. We had to call it “online personals” instead of “online dating” because of the lawyers. It just so happens that there are legal requirements for dating services in many states that require things like guarantees and reimbursement if no matches are made.

Anyway. Here are some of my takeaways from working in the online personals space.

1. It’s a direct marketing business. At it’s core, the online dating game is about lead generation and conversion. It’s typically broken up into this simple process – find people, get them to sign up, convince them to pay, then keep them as long as possible. Simple. I say it’s a direct marketing business because, traditionally, the best way to get members is to used targeted performance based advertising. This is one reason it’s very difficult for startups to compete against the big boys w/ budgets. That and #4 below.

2. There’s a reason why all of the major online personals companies use a subscription-based model. It works. Before coming into the game w/ a “new” business model, realize that almost all of them have been tried before. Free dating, credit systems, free for women pay for men, ad supported, white-labeling, etc. Not saying that the game can’t be changed, just do your research before jumping in.

3. There are typically two types of dating site: Classifieds and Services. Match, JDate, etc. fall into the Classifieds model. No matter what they say, they’re not really about matching you based on any kind of magic sauce. Classifieds rely on people actively searching/browsing for other people. They tend to focus their efforts on two things – 1. gathering lots of information about you, especially photos. 2. getting you to view/interact with as many other profiles as possible. They make money by being in control of the communication between users. They’re paranoid that you’ll somehow go out of band and find a way to contact someone without paying – Social Networks are their enemy. Services like eHarmony or Chemistry.com focus a lot more on matching. The idea is that people who are serious will pay, and the more “serious” you make the site, the more “serious” people will join and pay “serious” money. Services focus on the illusion of matchmaking. They tend to actually have some magic behind how they match people, but ultimately rely on the fact that their long, difficult, and sometimes expensive registration processes tend to be the best possible pre-qualifier. Funny thing is that they’re right and it works.

4. Location is important. Lots of people socialize online, but most people using dating sites actually want to meet other people IRL. This poses a massive problem for startups because they have no critical mass in any one location. There’s nothing worse than a dating site w/ no members near where you live.

5. Women use online personals sites a lot differently than men do. Women tend to use sites to manage their dating lives, men use sites to actively search out and find potential partners. I know I’m making sweeping generalities based on gender here, but the research holds true for the majority. One anecdote I can throw out there is something I saw when testing a new instant message feature on a site I worked on. I had a member of our team sign in – she happened to be an absolutely stunning female team member. The moment she signed into the site w/ the new instant messenger, she received so many IMs that the design of our notification system failed. This experience is not uncommon. I also have heard from a good number of women on dating sites who never go out to contact men. I’m still waiting for the dating site that actually designs their site around the fact that genders use dating sites differently.

6. No one has perfected the “social network as dating site” concept. Friendster started it, Facebook followed, and there are lots of others who have tried. Black Planet may be the closest and JDate basically went from dating site to social network, but no one else has effectively combined the two. Why? One reason is that you can’t make people who already know each other pay to contact each other. The second reason is that people don’t really want to date the friends of their friends, at least not online w/ everyone knowing about it. I do think there is room for a “friend as matchmaker” play in the space, but it’s hard because there’s a lot at stake for the matchmaker. I don’t envy the site that tries.

7. Users often use more than one dating site at a time. Do what you will with that info. A friend of mine who ran a competing dating site actually allowed the competition to place their ads in his search results – for a very high price – and I don’t think it hurt his business at all.

8. It’s not about the features, it’s about the photos.

I guess I could go on and add a lot more detail. Honestly, I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for years but never sat down to it. Hopefully it shines a little bit of light onto the online dating space for those who are curious and doesn’t get me in trouble with the online dating experts for not giving enough detail or being flat out wrong. Enjoy.

Random Update

June 9th, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Topics for this post include;

  • My rad birthday present
  • Bing.com
  • Apple’s announcements at WWDC

So, my awesome friends hooked me up with an even more awesome birthday present – a Kindle 2, and it’s not even a used one! I obviously, think it’s great so far. It’s small, the text is totally readable, and buying books is probably just a bit too easy. The only two negative comments I have are that the little joystick thing is a a bit small and I keep wanting to touch the screen as if it were an iPhone. I’m sure I’ll get over it soon. So as of right now, I’ve got a Kindle and the Kindle App on my iPhone all synced and working great. Now if I just had some more time to read.

OK so my take on Bing.com. Basically, it looks like it was built by Microsoft with some help of some low res screenshots from Google and very little insight into why Google has made the decisions it has. Here’s a screenshot that shows a couple issues that I found frustrating:

Bing.com Home Page

First off, the Home Page is ugly. Totally functional, but ugly. The picture in the background is distracting, none of the links look clickable, and I’ve always hated the magnifying glass search metaphor. Oh yea, and who the hell cares about planning a trip to Florence? I was looking for shoes. So damn frustrating.

Bing.com Shoes Search

Now here’s a picture of my shoes search. Talk about cluttertastic. We’ve still got a picture of Florence behind the logo – Why? I’m sure no one knows. The left nav is pretty cool with some categorization that seems accurate, though I’m not about to start digging through categorized lists of results when I really just want to go somewhere else. The last thing anyone looking for something ever wants to do is look for something. They want to find it as quickly as possible and go away. Microsoft still struggles with sending people away from their sites, and it’s evidenced in Bing. They categorize, so that I have to dig. If you scroll down a search results page, you see your results broken into categories with links to “See more results” presumably within the category. Very interesting, except that they also have numeric pagination at the bottom of the page. I don’t quite understand how they can provide me a ranked list of results broken down by category on page 1, then list more results on page 2 w/out breaking them into categories. It’s just plain ol unintuitive. That brings me to the modal window that’s triggered when mousing over a little orange dot that appears to the right of every result. The modal shows more details about the results, which is neat. 2 problems though, and one of them is going to cost MS money. First, it appears when I mouse over the dot. Freaking surprising and frustrating at the same time. There’s very little visual queue that anything is going to happen, then BAM! A modal that covers a chunk of screen – oh yea and it says “Go to the page” which is interesting if we’re still thinking about websites as pages. Granted that’s a personal beef I have not something many people will probably notice. – Second, and this is the one that will cost MS money, their modals cover their sponsored sites. It’s seriously as if they made a conscious decision to hurt their own revenue opportunities. Because advertisers are going to see fantastic click-through rates when their ads are covered with links to other sites.

If I were MS, here’s what I would do. – Less. I would have fewer links, fewer modals, and fewer stupid pictures of Florence. Basically fewer things for my customer to think about, and fewer variables to track and report on. I would trim, trim trim and provide focus. Figure out exactly what it is I want my customers to do when they use my site and give them just that. No more. This would allow my product team to launch the site, see what works easily, understand customer behavior and motivations, and then make changes according to the data. Basically, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Bing looks like it’s a startup that was launched with a mature site’s features. Oh yea and it’s damn ugly. I mean seriously did they lay off their web design team in the last set of layoffs? I’m so over it.

Apple announced some new stuff at WWDC. Everyone knows about it. I want a new 15″ MacBook Pro and Snow Leopard. Not sure if I want the new iPhone 3G S. I mean… of coure I want it, but I’m going to satisfy my gadget craving with a new DSLR instead of a new phone.

That’s it.

Feature Ideas for Twitter

April 8th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

It’s late and before I go to sleep I wanted to write a post about a few features I’d consider implementing if I were working at Twitter. Often Product Managers are unwilling to share ideas  because we don’t want anyone to know our ideas actually suck and we’re selfish bastards. In order to prove to the world that I’m not a chicken or selfish here’s two freebies and some philosophy.

Feature #1 – Open the API to allow user account creation. My basic understanding of Twitter is that a majority of it’s traffic comes through it’s API as opposed to via browsing of the site. Making account creation available through the API would leverage the existing app developer ecosystem and benefit both Twitter and the app developers. App developers would benefit because they would no longer have to rely on users already having a Twitter account to use their apps, and it would obviously benefit Twitter with increased evangelism and measurable member conversion from development partners. It’s a win win. The risk is that scumbag developers would abuse the API by creating crap accounts. To avoid this, I suggest either implementing a pain in the ass real person authentication system like a custom captcha or simply only making the calls available to whitelisted developers.

Feature #2 – Suggest people and or tags to follow. Basically use user location as entered during registration and an additonal interests question to recommend people to follow. One of the hardest things about using Twitter is getting started. It’s analagous to attending a party in real life and not knowing anyone. You don’t know who to talk to or what to say, you’re uncomfortable, and you need a couple drinks to loosen up. The truth of the matter is that almost everyone, especially the major Twitter players would love another follower, especially one that has stated interest in something they talk about. I would seriously consider leveraging Twitter Search and trending along with a couple minor changes to profile questions to make immediate and ongoing recommendations about people to follow. It’s worked with Facebook and Linkedin, and they have a much much bigger problem linking people together that Twitter. The combination of asychronous follow and the fact that Twitter isn’t about people’s existing relationships (it’s a medium to create new ones) puts Twitter in a perfect position to make recommendations. How can I say this simply? Users have zero expectation for a good recommendation, so the feature can only win.

That reminds me of another idea I had about where Twitter can actually attain the Silicon Valley Holy Grail and be the “next Google” (assuming a legit revenue model which Google had from early on). It’s in connecting people who don’t know each other via their conversations. Google doesn’t connect people and I dare to say they will never connect people well no matter how many new experimental apps they launch. They won’t do it because, despite being unbelievably talented and amazing in so many different ways, Google is not very good at dealing with people – privacy issues come to mind. Now you say – “What about Facebook 200M members can’t be wrong?” To that I say – the major problem with existing social networks is that the network effect that makes them so powerful leans heavily on the hopes that people know each other and are willing to link up. Again Twitter doesn’t really have that problem. Once, a long time ago, I wrote something like “I want to build the social network for people who don’t have any friends, and a search engine for people who don’t know what they’re looking for.” I think Twitter can be the network for people w/ no friends… yet.

Thanks for reading.

Tools I Like

March 21st, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

I’ve decided to write a quick post with a list of the tools I like to use when working on a typical project. Should be a quick post, and hopefully it’ll be helpful. Though after making my lists, I admit that that there’s probably not much here that’ll standout to many Mac users.

Hardware

  • 15.4″ MacBook Pro with 250Gb Hard drive
  • External 20inch LCD Monitor
  • External Backup drive 250Gb
  • iPhone 3G
  • Sketchbook, notepads, and pens
  • Assorted whiteboards and dry erase markers strategically placed throughout the office

Software Daily Usage

Software Occassional Usage

Web-based Applications

  • Gmail (http://gmail.com)
  • Basecamp (http://basecamphq.com) Project communication suite. Writeboards, messages and files are priceless.
  • Lighthouse (http://lighthouseapp.com) Because bug reporting/tracking needs to be separate from feature discussions. Lighthouse is so easy even a client can use it. Especially effective when used with Jing and automated commit messages.
  • GitHub (http://github.com) Source management with some fantastic community tools.
  • Campfire (http://www.campfirenow.com/) Web-based group IM w/ archives, file upload and hooks for deployment and commit messages.
  • Google Calendar (http://google.com/calendar) I hate to admit it, but I still think Outlook is the best calendar app, but Google’s Calendar is a close second.
  • Google Analytics (http://google.com/analytics) Powerful free web analytics? Nuff said.
  • TinyURL or Bit.ly (http://tinyurl.com or http://bit.ly) Very useful when trying to tweet long URL’s to collegues, though it’s a bit of a mystery why most content sites just do their own URL shortening. It’s not too difficult.

iPhone Apps

That’s pretty much it. If you’ve got your own apps you use or alternatives to the ones I listed above please comment. I’m always looking for new stuff to help me do my job better.

#IxD09 Thoughts on Interaction ’09 in Vancouver

February 10th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

Got home late last night from a long weekend (Feb. 5th – 8th) spent with some amazing people at Interaction ’09 in Vancouver, BC, Canada which was held in conjunction with the folks from Simon Fraser University (SFU).

Interaction ’09 was the second annual conference put together by the Interaction Design Association, better known as IxDA, and my first IxD conference experience. Sadly, I was unable to attend the inaugural event last year in Savannah, GA because of a client’s site launch and other work obligations.

For some perspective here’s a quick background on my relationship to IxDA. I’ve been on the email list for a few years now, and try to participate as much as I can w/out hurting my productivity. I have attended a few events in NYC, not nearly as many as I should, and most recently missed an event that was less than a block away from my office. Despite my limited activity, I’ve been lucky to meet some great folks in the New York IxDA community and take part in some very thought provoking online conversations via the mailing list and Twitter. That said, I was really excited to get to the conference to meet some of my online acquaintances and the personalities who have influenced my work, and really explore what the IxD community is all about. In all honesty, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider looking into the community, and was a bit nervous about whether or not I’d be accepted into their tribe in person.

For the curious, here’s my take on the event. Please note, that I don’t feel up to doing a lot of research, so any “facts” mentioned are “to the best of my knowledge”. Also, I won’t go into the specifics of the talks because that would be too much work.

The conference was run pretty damn well for being only the second conference put together by a team of people with full time jobs. Much props to the organizers. Downtown Vancouver was a great location, the hotels chosen were the best I’ve been in for any conference (Four Seasons Vancouver and the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver), and the food was halfway decent. I’m pretty sure most everyone who attended felt well looked after and comfortable in the environment. My only 2 beefs with the location were the international data roaming charges for using my iPhone, and that the residentially challenged in Vancouver were surprisingly assertive.

First off, the conference was a pretty sharp contrast to many conferences I’ve been to in the past. It seemed like almost everyone knew or knew of each other. This was likely because of the visibility of the community, high level of interaction on the mailing list and Twitter, and the activity of the local IxDA groups. Being at least a little active in the community was a benefit, though both welcoming and a little intimidating. Luckily enough, I was able to meet up with some online acquaintances and active members of the community @semanticwill, @mariobourque, @pnts, @emenel, @mjbroadbentand @Yoni almost immediately (Note that when I put “@” in front of a name it’s in reference to their Twitter handles and because they’re people you should follow). They introduced me to some other “good to know” folks right away, and the fun began.

(Note: To anyone already on the mailing list but not on Twitter, sign up now and start following folks. You’re missing out on a lot of great interaction if you haven’t yet.)

Second, the conference, unlike many others, was intentionally not themed. The organizers opted instead to invite some of the most active, accomplished, and interesting members of the community to speak to the topics that were on their mind. The speaker list was a real “who’s who” of authors, teachers, practitioners and innovators in interaction design. This created an interesting dynamic because you could tell that the speakers were passionate about their topics, even if their presentations weren’t necessarily as polished as they would have been if they had been recycled. The end result was a professional conference with the liveliness of a Barcamp. A definite plus in my book.

The conference format was divided between optional workshops, lightning talks, sessions, and keynotes. I only attended one workshop and found the hands on experience great exercise, and next year I hope to attend a couple more. The lightning talks were shorter talks with specific topics. I attended as many as I could and my only regrets were that they overlapped and weren’t longer. The time constraint especially limited the discussion lead by Josh Seiden (@jseiden) on the effect of the current economy on IxD because good discussions always need more time. Overall the sessions and keynotes were thought provoking, current, and diverse. The only negative was that, for folks not on the mailing list or active in the community, some of them might have felt a bit insider. Key themes that pleasantly surprised me included sustainable design, effect of IxD on human behavior, and interaction design in art and innovation.

Talks I really enjoyed include but were not limited to:

  • Design by Community: The Drupal.org Redesign by Leisa Reichelt
  • Design for Life by Identifying the Lifecycle of an Experience by German Leon Osorio
  • Carpe Diem: Attention, Awareness, and Interaction Design 2009 a Keynote by Dan Saffer (@kickerstudio)
  • Designing the Viral App by Christina Wodtke
  • Play in Social and Tangible Interactions by Kars Alfrink
  • Understanding Contexts of Use by Miles Rochford
  • Each One, Teach One a Keynote by Kim Goodwin

As I mentioned earlier, despite the great talks, it was the conversations outside of the talks that really caught my attention. The conference set up was so that there was a good amount of time and space allocated for just meeting people and talking with a couple typical social events and a centrally located bar for the really good conversations. One really cool thing I noticed was that the speaker to attendee ratio was amazing. It was fairly easy to shake hands and make attempts to engage the speakers without waiting in lines or feeling too awkward. If you didn’t know this already, I’m actually a bit shy and feel quite awkward in social situations of more than a couple people. Luckily enough, my passion for expressing my opinions on just about everything and the level of engagement by everyone at the conference really helped me get over it. I had the chance to interrupt quite a few conversations without feeling too guilty and talk to some folks doing amazing work. The overall feeling was extremely welcoming.

Now time for some blatant name dropping!

This section is dedicated to all of the great conversations I took part in and the ones I missed. I do regret not having met, by no fault of theirs, Dan Saffer, Dan Brown, Aza Raskin, Luke Wroblewski and a handful of others whose work I’m a big fan of. Though, I did get to talk to a bunch of other folks whose work and efforts in the community you should probable pay attention to including: Josh Seiden (@jseiden), Nasir Barday (@nbarday), Greg Petroff, Jared Spool (@jmspool), David Malouf (@daveIxD), Louis Rosenfeld, Whitney Hess (@whitneyhess), Todd Zaki Warfel, Ian Swinson, Nathan Moody, Jim Leftwich, Elizabeth Bacon, Lennart Andersson, and a host of others. Sorry to say that I am 100% certain I’ve left some deserving people off the list, but I think that fact alone is enough evidence to show how active and accepting the community was. The level of conversation was higher than any I’ve been around in a while, even with the disagreements and rivalries that happen in every close-knit community. Of course, if yo want to be included, or even excluded from mention in this blog post, feel free to ping me @joshviney and I’ll see what I can do. No guarantees.

Time for a conclusion cause I’m tired of typing. If you knew about the conference and didn’t attend because you’re lazy – You missed out. If you couldn’t attend because of work or other obligations – I’m sorry but I understand. If you are reading this and didn’t know about the conference – It’s not your fault and you should seriously consider going next year. I think one key call to action from the event was to increase evangelism, so you can be assured that at least some folks will get noisy about interaction design in the coming months.

For more 411 you can search #IxD09 on Twitter for some great back-channel chatter and brief recaps of some of the talks and keynotes.

Now time for a blatant plug for my business!

Anyone reading this interested in web or mobile application design/development or some product crafting on an existing app, hit me up. My company, Eastmedia, would love the opportunity to work with you.