Why We Fail Blog

Learning from Experience Design Failures

Posts written by Victor Lombardi

  • Leading Groups to Learn From Accidents

    Posted on

    Etsy has created a guide for facilitators investigating why accidents happened there: Debriefing Facilitation Guide: Leading Groups at Etsy to Learn From Accidents (PDF)

    Notably, they jettison the old model that places blame on people who forgot to do something, and instead focus on learning how they can improve and making changes:

    Most traditional accident investigations tend to focus on discovering things around an event that never actually happened. In an attempt to prevent future accidents, there is an underlying assumption (Shorrock, 2014) for this somewhat peculiar emphasis, which is:

    Someone did not do something they should have, according to someone else.

    Through this lens, what generally surfaces in investigations are “findings” about what people did not do (pay attention, make the right decision, etc.) rather than what they actually did. Without anyone really noticing, these items get labeled as “human error” and through a seductive and convenient contortion of logic, an event that never actually happened is deemed after the fact as the “cause” of the accident. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this results in an obvious recommendation for the future:

    “Next time, do what you should.”

    Unfortunately, this approach does not result in the safer and improved future we want.

    The perspective now known as the “New View” on accidents and mistakes flips this thinking around, providing a different path to improvement and learning (Dekker, 2002). We wholeheartedly believe in this approach at Etsy. We’ve invested in operationalizing it on an organizational level (Allspaw, 2010) and have shared our perspective publicly.

    Engineering vs Evolution

    Posted on

    Tim Hartford talks about following the “God Complex” of designing with a great engineer vs taking a genetics-inspired approach of generating many random variations, testing them, and repeating the process over dozens of generations until you have something that works very well.

    It’s a difference of trying to avoid anything that looks like failure and embracing trail and error as part of the design process.

    Thanks to the UX Book Club Berlin

    Posted on

    I skyped in to the UX Book Club Berlin meet up and they had probably the best questions from any audience I’ve talked to. And the best compliment: “For an American, you did a surprisingly good job of answering all our questions.” 🙂

    How Twitter Won in the First Place

    Posted on

    Twitter suffers an irrepressable flow of negative criticism from the media and Wall Street. Today we hear that Twitter’s CEO is stepping down. As a media force of our time we all have a stake in what happens to Twitter.

    Eight days ago the investor Chris Sacca published a popular and very long recommendation called What Twitter Can Be. He gets into ideas about live events and hand curation I’m skeptical about, but I think he nails the high-level solution:

    1. Make Tweets effortless to enjoy.
    2. Make it easier for all to participate, and
    3. Make each of us on Twitter feel heard and valuable.

    In my book I wrote a case study on Twitter vs. Pownce. Pownce had more features. Pownce had better visual design. Pownce didn’t crash everyday. And yet Twitter won and Pownce closed down. Why? Twitter focused on making it easier to join, read, and tweet.

    1. Pownce restricted new accounts to keep its backend from overloading whereas Twitter let everyone in.
    2. Pownce focused on rolling out great features whereas Twitter focused on integrating with everyone else’s platform.

    In other words, Twitter was focused on growth at the expense of what we traditionally think of as good product design, resulting ultimately in a better customer experience because they provided a microblogging service with a critical mass of readers and tweeters.

    I’d love to see them double down on that original approach that made them great. Ignore all the bells and whistles that make the products cool for people in San Francisco and get radically easier to participate.

    Here’s a video where I talk about the Pownce v. Twitter case study.

    What I Got Wrong About the Zune

    Posted on

    6005

    I just finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Great book. And the chapter on the making of the iPod revealed something I didn’t know before and got wrong in my book. I thought Apple engineered the iPod from scratch, but actually they contracted with a company called PortalPlayer whose prototype became the basis of the iPod.

    I criticized Microsoft for fumbling the Zune launch by basing the first version on an existing Toshiba player, but actually both Microsoft and Apple got to market faster by using existing hardware designs. Of course, a key difference is that Apple heavily modified what PortalPlayer brought to the table. Whereas Microsoft customized the device, Apple reworked the entire user interface.

    But there’s another, more important, factor I did get right. I criticized Microsoft for not investing nearly enough in the Zune to complete with the iPod. I wrote:

    What does it take to go head-to-head with an industry leader in con- sumer electronics on visceral, behavioral, and reflective design?

    Four billion dollars.

    That’s how much Microsoft invested to build the Xbox game console business to compete with Sony’s PlayStation.19 There’s an interesting contrast between the Zune and the Xbox business outcomes. In 2001 the Xbox went to war with the Sony PlayStation, which, like the iPod, held the lead for several years before Microsoft entered the market. Unlike the Zune, the Xbox hardware and software were developed in-house and included new graphics technology that gave the Xbox a strategic advantage. In 2005 Microsoft released the second Xbox version, the 360, and went to great lengths to achieve world-class industrial design, first by hiring several different firms to submit designs and then hiring two more firms to submit even better ideas (Figure 5.9). The following year Microsoft released the first Zune. Whereas the Xbox found success from all-new designs, the Zune was created by revamping an existing Toshiba media player. The cost to create the Zune business was somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars, as compared to the Xbox’s $4 billion investment to develop the console and the service, create the marketing campaign, and attract third-party developers to develop games.

    By contrast, Apple–I learned from the book–spent even more than I imagined on the iPod. Jobs is quoted as saying,

    I had the crazy idea that we could sell just as many Macs by advertising the iPod. In addition, the iPod would position Apple as evoking innovation and youth. So I moved $75 million of advertising money to the iPod, even though the category didn’t justify one hundredth of that. That meant that we completely dominated the market for music players. We outspent everybody by a factor of about a hundred.

    So did Apple simply outspend Microsoft? Of course not. I argue that Apple won on reflective design, and I think I still have that right. You can judge for yourself if you read the book.

    Welcome to the Failure Age!

    Posted on

    Perkin Purple

    Our relationship with innovation finally began to change, however, during the Industrial Revolution. While individual inventors like James Watt and Eli Whitney tend to receive most of the credit, perhaps the most significant changes were not technological but rather legal and financial. The rise of stocks and bonds, patents and agricultural futures allowed a large number of people to broadly share the risks of possible failure and the rewards of potential success. If it weren’t for these tools, a tinkerer like Perkin would never have been messing around with an attempt at artificial quinine in the first place. And he wouldn’t have had any way to capitalize on his idea. Anyway, he probably would have been too consumed by tilling land and raising children.

    Welcome to the Failure Age!

    How Bad UX Killed Jenny

    Posted on

    Jonathan Shariat in How Bad UX Killed Jenny tells a heartbreaking tale of a medical record software interface that led to the death of a little girl…

    …the three nurses, with over 10 years experience, were too distracted trying to figure out the software they were using…

    His call-to-arms needs to make it’s way back to universities that teach software design so that idealistic young students know there’s a fruitful career to be had saving people’s lives through better design!