Author Archives: Mary Jean Babic

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

The latest from Rosenfeld Media

  • QuickPanel: Drones, Amazon and Other

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    Say what you will about Jeff Bezos, the man knows how to touch off a media storm.  Which is precisely what ensued after Bezos told 60 Minutes that Amazon is testing the use of drones to deliver goods.  Immediately, everyone was discussing the prospect of ordering a box of tissues from Amazon and having a drone arrive at your doorstep in half an hour.  We’ve asked some Rosenfeld Media experts to join the fray on this audacious idea.

    Are drones the next logical step for a service culture that demands ever more instant gratification?

    victor-lombardiVictor Lombardi:  Amazon knows that any commercial use of drones lies far off in the logistical future. Kevin Roose argues that Amazon is therefore dabbling in some sort of pre-lobbying of the government, but I prefer David Steitfeld’s wider view that Jeff Bezos spun a tale of drones as a masterful use of public relations, mostly to counter negative criticism.

    But even this interpretation fails to grasp the power of Amazon’s imagination, the company that started by selling books, grew into a marketplace for anything, and then offered its own cloud computing platform for sale. Clearly, they aspire to more than mere retail. But they know for us to take them seriously they must put forth an image of themselves as something more, something special.

    Don Norman calls this reflective design, which goes beyond our senses and perception of usability to influence our understanding of who the company is and who we become when we patronize it. In my book I discuss how Apple publicized the iPod. It didn’t emphasize how pretty the device was or how great the features were; Apple showed us how we would feel using the device. I think Amazon is doing something similar: inspiring us, getting us to think differently about who Amazon is and what we think about ourselves when we shop there. Before, I shopped at Amazon to save money and time. Now, I’m affiliating myself with this cool company that thinks about drones and how awesome their customer service can become. Now when I shop there, I’m cooler, too. Thanks Jeff.

    nate-boltNate Bolt: I don’t think there’s any inevitable progression towards autonomous quadcopters playing a role in our service culture. But drones are absolutely fascinating. We’ve been largely introduced to sophisticated drones as killing machines. That’s been our biggest cultural exposure up to this point, aside from all the other small-use cases we see. Most of us understand that drones themselves can offer all sorts of functionality that wasn’t possible even a few years ago. If there’s any logical progression happening, it’s simply military technology always disseminating out to the rest of us. I do think many of us in the tech world will continue to experiment with drones, because flying and autonomy cut so close to the dreams of every nerd. [Editor’s note:  Nate once flew a drone around the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library.]  It sparks the imagination to think of all the issues in the physical world–search and rescue, agriculture, photography–that can be improved by drones.

    Every time I hear people worry that a new way of doing something is going to fundamentally change society or destroy civilization, I remember that these same concerns were raised about the printing press, the train, the personal computer, the Internet, and the waltz.

    At the very least it was a brilliant marketing effort for Amazon. Taco drone, pizza drone, France post office drone–it’s really all been marketing. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon kills this program internally when it stops keeping their name in our conversations. I generally like it when large companies pursue things just because they are cool, but it’s usually driven by marketing. The product designers and engineers at Amazon and other large companies don’t have quite as much leeway to simply investigate technology they think might be cool in five or ten years. But I wish they did.

    laura-kleinLaura Klein: I don’t think they’re the next logical step. They are a possible step, but I think that a much more logical next step would be same-day delivery by humans (which is already being done in some areas) or even self-driving cars. Amazon picked drones as the announcement because drones are a thing that everybody is talking about right now. They get a lot more press from talking about drones then they would from slightly improving their supply chain to roll out same-day delivery to a few major metropolitan areas.

    The phrase “a service culture that demands ever more instant gratification” seems needlessly derogatory. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not wanting to wait two days for a purchase you make. We expect to get our purchases right away when we’re in a store. What’s wrong with getting our purchases right away when we buy them other ways, as long as it’s not hurting anybody? Sure, getting packages immediately may seem like a needless extravagance, but at one point so did stores staying open on Sundays.

     It’s a longshot that this will ever happen.  But let’s imagine for a moment that Amazon pulls this off.  A terrible road to go down, or awesome?

    Laura Klein:  I’ll take a stab at “awesome”.  Drones make it possible to get things where they need to go faster and more flexibly than they currently can. Your mail gets delivered to your house once a day.  Your email gets delivered to you when it gets sent, which immediately makes people more productive. I think that’s a big reason why email is destroying snail mail.

    On a small level, it could improve traffic. Not only would there be fewer UPS trucks traveling down narrow San Francisco streets, there would also be fewer suburban folks like me having to jump in their cars to go grab that thing they forgot to get at the drug store. If I need it in 30 minutes, I can have it in thirty minutes without driving.

    Now when I shop there, I’m cooler, too. Thanks Jeff.

    It also makes things much cheaper to send to difficult-to-reach places; for example, delivering medicine and food to places where roads have been destroyed by natural or manmade disasters.

    But the real reason I’m predicting that it will be awesome is that every time I hear people worry that a new way of doing something is going to fundamentally change society or destroy civilization, I remember that these same concerns were raised about the printing press, the train, the personal computer, the Internet, and the waltz. Not all of the changes brought about by those inventions has been fabulous or predictable, but they’ve certainly been largely positive in my life.

    We fall in love with ideas, with visionaries, with progress for the sake of progress. And that leads to failure.

    Nate Bolt: Here’s what will happen:

    1. An individual or company will crash a drone in a populated area and it will hurt or kill someone. Hobbyists know this happens with RC [radio control] aircraft all the time, but when it’s an autonomous quadcopter, the media will be much more interested. It’s the autonomous flight capabilities and awareness of its environment that make a drone a drone.  These things offer the promise of flying themselves, and a crash highlights the scariest part of technology–unintended consequences.  So it might be a car accident, the props might cut someone, it might just hit a pedestrian; who knows?

    2. A high-profile privacy lawsuit will come about because of a drone.

      I do think many of us in the tech world will continue to experiment with drones, because flying and autonomy cut so close to the dreams of every nerd.

    3. There will be a media shitstorm from #1 and #2.

    4. The laws that exist will be enforced much more, and new laws will be passed. It will all of a sudden be laughable to think that in 2013 you could buy a DJI Phantom and crash it in the middle of Manhattan without much fear of prosecution.

    1. The cost and complexity of anything drone-related in populated areas will increase. This is inevitable and probably a good thing. If Amazon or anyone wants to fly in populated areas, the amount of failsafe technology required will make self-driving cars look like cake. It will also cut down on the ability of photographers to legally capture images and video for artistic purposes. That last part is a bummer and why I try to cram in so much #DroneLucy photography right now.

    1. Some use cases will eventually emerge where drones make sense for delivery. Basic physics aren’t going to change any time soon, and that means to carry even a five-pound payload, props and batteries will have to be big enough to make these things rather valuable and rather dangerous. But with the right object avoidance and failure algorithms, they will indeed make sense in some cases.

    2. Sweet new gangs will emerge that are dedicated to shooting down drones, and they will get to design awesome stickers to represent how many drones they’ve shot down.

    Germany’s Deutsche Post DHL is testing a delivery drone.

    Victor Lombardi: The danger is in trying to answer this question using reason rather than experimentation. And that’s because drone package delivery is so new we have no idea if it’s awesome or not. To find out, we need to test it. The reason we fail to get these things right is because we fail to treat them as experiments. We fall in love with ideas, with visionaries, with progress for the sake of progress. And that leads to failure.

    The very fact that we’ve written this piece and you are reading it means we’re interested in this as an idea. Meanwhile, there’s another organization testing the idea, quietly.

    Like what our experts had to say? Guess what: you can have them bring their brains to you.  Laura Klein and Victor Lombardi are available for consulting and training through Rosenfeld Media.  And we’d be happy to introduce you to Nate Bolt.

    QuickPanel: Digital Cocooning

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    With our eyes on our screens more and more, what’s happening to our public spaces?  Are they less congenial, less bustling, less safe?  A number of recent books, such as The Circle by Dave Eggers and Ambient Commons by Malcolm McCullough, cast a critical eye at an always-online society.  And in a tragic turn, a San Francisco State University student was killed in September while leaving a crowded train; passengers, engrossed in their devices, hadn’t noticed a man on the train waving a gun around.  We asked a panel of UX experts to weigh in on the ramifications of digital cocooning.  

    With smartphones, we walk around with the capacity to be talking to, texting, or tweeting each other all the time.  Yet we’re missing out on what’s happening right in front of us.  Why does social media make us, in some sense, antisocial?

    christina-wodtkeChristina Wodtke: Everyone is talking about our need to be connected all the time, but no one (as far as I’ve seen) is talking about our increasing cocooning of ourselves from each other. The police procedural constantly provides us examples of bad things that can happen to us, with shows like “CSI” illustrating that apparently safe people can become our kidnappers and killers. But to be continually hyper-alert is exhausting. So instead we put up digital “do not disturb” signs so we don’t have to deal with strangers, which makes us more vulnerable to significant harm.

    They also shield us from the petty guilt of not helping our fellow humans who are less fortunate, such as the homeless, the beggars, and old folks in need of a seat. In San Francisco, where a recent shooting occurred, one is continually asked for money. Even the kindest of us can’t give to everyone who asks, so it becomes easier to hide.

    ‘Down time’ used to mean a chance to relax and look around. Now it’s considered ‘dead time’ that needs to be filled.

    randy-farmerRandy Farmer:  Attention is a scarce resource, and it can be dangerous to focus inwardly all the time.  I first noticed this before smartphones.  Airports used to be social/public spaces (and I liked to spend time interacting with people there) before cell phone and Bluetooth headsets.  Now, time spent at airports is seen as “down time” that could be more efficiently used for business/personal relationships (texting), so these public, “third” places are quickly losing their efficacy as a way to interact with the greater community.  And it’s only getting worse.  The FAA is allowing more use of electronics on flights, and all the parks in NYC have Wi-Fi.

    “Down time” used to mean a chance to relax and look around. Now it’s considered “dead time” that needs to be filled.  Heads up has become heads down. Sad.

    brenda-laurelBrenda Laurel:  At the memorial of the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, we saw King’s great speech at the Lincoln Memorial over and over again. I was haunted by a picture of what that moment would have looked like today. Everybody would be taking pictures or texting with their phones. Dr. King might himself have felt isolated. To paraphrase Cassius in Julius Caesar, the fault is not with our cellphones but with ourselves. This is a failure of civility—of plain old manners—as well as a failure of mindfulness. As interaction designers (paradoxically), I think we can make some interventions in this space.

    What are some design approaches that could mitigate the effects of digital cocooning?

    The iPhone already has a ‘do not disturb’ setting; maybe it’s time for a ‘please disturb’ setting.

    Christina Wodtke: Design could help this problem in a myriad of ways, from having a “public place” setting that allowed only audio or only visual. When I run or bike, I only listen to porous audio like podcasts so I am alert enough to react to danger. Once we shut off our ears and eyes, we are utterly defenseless. The iPhone already has a “do not disturb” setting; maybe it’s time for a “please disturb” setting.

    Maybe more technology needs a “please disturb” setting.

    Design could also help in a much more significant way by reminding us of the humanity of our fellow passengers and making sure places like trains and subway read as safe so people would not feel such a strong urge to psychically hide. Ride a Skytrain in Bangkok. Bangkok has the same degree of homelessness and crime, same varied socioeconomic status of riders, yet the Skytrain feels safe and a only handful of folks hide in electronics. The trains are well designed, well maintained and comfortable, with many signs reminding you to give seats to children, pregnant ladies, older folks, and monks. As well, there is always a TV on, and while in Bangkok only shows commercials, I can imagine a world in which news or sports are shown as well, encouraging people to be eyes up. When places feel safe, we can relax and people-watch, and this makes those places even safer.  Jane Jacobs, in her amazing treatise The Death and Life of Great American Cities, points out that what makes a place safe is “eyes on the street.”  Our public transit needs eyes on each other to keep each other safe.

    Randy Farmer:  Though technology has been developed to prod us into changing new potentially harmful behaviors (such as smartphones auto-disabling texting while moving in a vehicle), it’s no replacement for changing our culture.

    We need to consider designing our environments to remind and teach us how to interact and consciously seek “down time.” Some businesses have taken on the role of etiquette guardians:

    Brenda Laurel:  Both Christina and Randy make good points. I imagine “public interactives” that might allow us to see together our own public environments and gatherings in different ways. Mindfulness meditation apps already exist (for example, Smiling Mind and Take a Deep Breath). Beyond this, design applications or environment remind us to breathe and be present.

    Do you engage with strangers when you’re in a “third space”standing in line at the post office, waiting out an airplane delay?  Or, in those cases, are you grateful to have an electronic device at hand?  

    Christina Wodtke:  Most of the time, my biggest fear is being put into that situation. I’m intensely introverted. On a recent flight back from Prague, the entertainment system was not working. When the food heating system also broke, my neighbors and I started talking.  We ended up connecting, but it took a shared misery. As well, it helped that I was playing a game on my iPad. The iPad is a big surface, easy to peek at, and games are inherently social. If I had been watching a movie, especially if I’d had headphones on, my seatmate wouldn’t have used the game as a social object to start a conversation. He was really interested in watching me play Frontier Rush, asked about how to play, and started to suggest moves I should make. (He was a man in his 70s whose wife was trying to talk him into an iPad. I made the sale that night.) I wonder if the post office or the airlines could create similar play spaces where it would feel safe to connect.

    Our tools are teaching us a new kind of social helplessness.

    Randy Farmer:  Recently I was in a fast-food restaurant and an older woman came in, looking lost and asking for driving directions. The twenty-year-old at the register was at a loss for helping her, even though I am certain he was carrying a smartphone. I was waiting for my order, so he asked me to help her.  I quickly loaded my maps app and told her the step-by-step directions (which she wrote with pencil on her physical map).  The cashier was grateful and a bit embarrassed that he didn’t know the directions (how would he, growing up without paper maps?) and that he didn’t even know how to handle the social encounter well enough to figure out that he had the solution in his pocket.

    Our tools are teaching us a new kind of social helplessness, and also providing us an easy means for escape when we can’t cope with the fact we’re directly interacting less and less. This is a vicious spiral.

    Social rules design has helped in the past and can help us today.  Our technologies can, and must, take a role in this, but we must start with the goal in mind.  We’ve started using tech for physical exercise, something that was also declining, and we can do the same for social health. One might imagine a Fitbit for socialization.  Or you could just get a t-shirt:

    Sometimes excellent interaction design isn’t technological.

    Brenda Laurel:  Randy, I want one of those. I do see many folks staring at their phones when waiting in line and the like. I love observing and talking to people in those situations, so I rarely bury my head. On the other hand, if the wait is two hours or something, I’ll certainly end up grabbing my iPhone. I agree with Randy that this is really about socialization. I don’t think we can design social “rules” (although we might model more civil and sociable societies in things like multiplayer games).

    One of the best social times I’ve had lately was at the LGBT luncheon at the Grace Hopper Conference. It seemed like the usual conference lunch scene—sitting next to people you didn’t know, some of whom knew one another. But the “emcee” suggested topics for discussion and eventually we got into making comments to one another publicly on a variety of subjects. I felt the community draw closer, and I had special buddies throughout the conference because of that experience. At Grace Hopper I also learned about “lean in” circles as a way to enhance our engagement in discourse as well as community.

    Sometimes excellent interaction design isn’t technological.

    Like what our experts had to say? Guess what: you can have them bring their brains to you.  Randy Farmer, Brenda Laurel, and Christina Wodtke  are available for consulting and training through Rosenfeld Media.


    Get 50% off Mental Models by Indi Young today only!

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    Get Indi Young‘s ebook, Mental Models, for 50% off! Use discount code WACKY to get your digital copy in our store today. The sale ends at midnight ET tonight so act fast!

    We interviewed Indi recently to find out what she learned from writing Mental Models. Here’s what she had to say:


    RM: What’s one thing you wish you knew about mental models before you started writing about it?

    Indi Young: I wish I knew not to refer to the bits I get from the interviews as “tasks”. “Tasks” is a word with way too much history. People trying the method, having read only that word and not all my explanation, go off down the path of capturing the process, rather than the inner thoughts and reactions. I am so sorry I used “tasks”. I often have to back teams out of this path. They have captured how, not why. Yes, it’s true that the models contain things that people do, but those are not laid out as discrete steps in a process so much as lumped together with the reasons why they are doing them, the inner frustration they might be feeling, the underlying motivations for saying something a certain way, the pride they have over an accomplishment or team, the fears that guide how they decide what to do, the workarounds they have concocted to make the best of the situation, etc.

    RM: Thanks, Indi!

    There’s still time to get your 50% off digital copy of Indi’s book, Mental Models. Enter discount code “WACKY” at checkout before midnight ET tonight!

    A short interview with Whitney Quesenbery and 50% off her book today only!

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    Wacky Wednesdays are here for the Summer! This week we’re featuring Storytelling for User Experience by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks.

    We had a quick chat with Whitney about personas and easy mistakes to avoid in storytelling. Read on for more and use the discount code WACKY to get 50% off ebook versions of Storytelling! This sale only lasts until 11:59pm ET tonight!


    Rosenfeld Media: How do personas improve the user experience of a product?

    Whitney Quesenbery: For all the time in a project when you are not working directly with real users, personas stand in for them. They express what you know about the audience and keep those real users in mind as you make the thousands of decisions (large and small) that go into a new product.

    Personas include a lot of data about demographics, behavior, and opinion. But what personas do better than a lot of charts and graphs is communicate imagery, emotions, context, and motivation. They help you remember the stories you heard, and let you tell new stories that explore how the personas will react to your new ideas.

    RM: What’s a common mistake people make when it comes to personas and storytelling?

    WQ: Not using them effectively. Too often, UX teams go to a lot of work to create personas, and then do little or nothing to put them to work. They make a few posters, run a presentation, and then put them aside.

    Personas should be part of your product team. They are the way you continue to think about the audience and bring the UX research into the design process. Everyone on the team should know them by name, and be able to think about what each persona needs, wants, dislikes. This means that they need to get to know the personas properly—have a chance to ask them questions, learn what makes them crazy about the way things are now, and hear what new ideas will make them excited. Can you look at a sketch or prototype and have a good idea what they will do first and how they will react?

    Two dangers to watch out for:

    1. Do all the personas start to sound the same? If they don’t represent different perspectives, attitudes, or contexts, then they don’t let you explore all the ways real people will experience your product.
    2. Do stories about the persona end too easily? Do they jump right from a problem to fully embracing your new app? Maybe you are telling stories for the users you hope to have, instead of the ones that are really out there.

    RM: Thanks, Whitney!

    A Short Interview With Dirk Knemeyer

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    Dirk Knemeyer is the founder and CEO of Facio, Inc., a software start-up dedicated to dramatically improving understanding of the self and one another. He offers courses on Applied Empathy Frameworks, Starting Up Software and the Catalyst Method.

    We got to sit down and talk with Dirk about Applied Empathy and product development. Here’s what he had to say:


    Rosenfeld Media: How does the Applied Empathy Framework help in product development?

    Dirk Knemeyer: The reason why Apple, in digital products, and precious few companies overall, bring such wonderfully designed products to market is that they have a largely instinctive understanding of the sweet spot between what the market needs from a features perspective, what people want from an aesthetic perspective, and what the proper style is to stand up and above the rest of the market.

    For those few companies, that’s fantastic. But for the rest of us, we can either trail in their wake or try and do something about it.

    The reason that Apple’s products are so popular and their customers so loyal is because they connect with users on a deeper level. Rather than being devices to complete a task, or objects of style, the truly exceptional products intertwine with key aspects of an individual’s identity. They make a meaningful difference in one or more of our physical, emotional and intellectual selves.

    The Applied Empathy Framework provides a road map so the rest of us mere mortals can intentionally plan and execute to create breakthrough products that succeed on the most powerful levels of connecting with passionate customers.

    RM: As you’ve investigated the Catalyst method, which increases employee engagement, what’s one thing that’s really surprised you?

    DK: Gosh, it’s so many little things. I’ll tell you the one thing that I think is most important: being considerate of each person and treating them uniquely based on who they authentically are. That might sound simple or common sense on the surface, but it most certainly isn’t. As just one example—some people like to meet formally in a private space; other people like to meet casually in a more open space. Most managers engage their employees in the way that is most comfortable for them, the manager. This creates real cultural issues where people who are more “alike” to the manager in this way are most successful, while those who are the most different are statistically far more likely to struggle. And again, this is only one example.

    We’ve identified more than a dozen key markers between co-workers and/or managers and employees that have a huge impact on job satisfaction and productivity, just based on the intersection of different personality traits.

    With Catalyst we help people understand their own and others’ personality specifics and begin to more intentionally engage with one another. It’s a fantastic thing to see in action. Only 31 percent of employees in the U.S. today are engaged with their jobs, and—based on a $60,000 annual salary—engaged workers create about $28,000 bottom line impact for their employers each year. It is not rocket science to realize the remarkable importance of addressing this in a long-term and organization-wide way. That’s what we’re doing.

    So You Want to Write a UX Book

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    We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think UX was a dynamic field, with enough subject matter to fill many books. Maybe you want to write one of those books yourself, but you’re daunted by the prospect. Understandable; a book is a formidable undertaking, especially on top of a full-time job, family, and other obligations. It also might just be the best thing you’ve ever done. Ready to take the leap? Some veteran RM authors offer tips that may help see you through the process and bring your book to its your ship date.

    Write something every day (or nearly)

    And keep track of your progress. While writing UX Team of One, Leah Buley jotted down each day’s work onto a big flip-chart calendar she kept in the kitchen. “I could look back and see when there were big chunks of time when I’d been writing diligently or when I’d simply been writing nothing. Each was motivating in its own way.” Sometimes she wrote on her CalTrain commute, happy to arrive at the office with the day’s writing already done.

    Daily writing ignites momentum, and that, says Kevin Cheng, is “the only thing that matters.” Dabbling once a week, “it takes hours to get back into the swing,” says Cheng, author of See What I Mean. “When I started working daily, I could find myself with ten minutes before a bus came and still make noticeable progress, because the entire book’s status was in my head.” Once he got into a regular groove, the “runner’s high” kicked in and made it easier to keep going.

    Cloister yourself

    To throw down on Why We Fail, Victor Lombardi spent a week in a beach house off-season. “That allowed me to escape all other home and work distractions, and to research and write three chapters in that time,” he says.

    Cloistering also was huge for Cheng. He finished his first draft in a cabin in the redwood forests of northern California, where he stowed away his phone and disabled all time-telling devices so he wouldn’t watch the clock. “I found that I was able to enter flow almost immediately,” he wrote in a blog post about the experience. “I got a lot more done in a shorter period of time than I normally would have.”

    Don’t cloister yourself

    What’s that? You don’t have the time or wherewithal to hunker down in a remote cabin? Not to worry; plenty of RM authors penned their books in crowded, noisy environs. Andy Polaine, who lives in Germany, worked on Service Design on long train journeys to and from Switzerland. “Personally, I work better in crowded spaces—trains, cafés—than I do in silence,” he says. “In solitary silence, every tiny thing is a distraction. In crowded places, my writing is the distraction.”

    While cloistering may work for the heavy lifting of a first draft or cranking out copy for a deadline, Peter Jones finds it too confining for reviewing and revising. “A secluded office can lead to over-focus, making me hypercritical, and I end up wordsmithing meaning to death.” But he cautions, “Be careful following my advice; Design for Care took forever to write.”

    Make It So co-author Nathan Shedroff finds cloistering helpful for certain tasks of book production, such as sorting research material, creating outlines, and indexing. But at other phases, solitude is counterproductive. “I find that writing is, at times, so confounding that being cloistered actually makes me less focused and more of a procrastinator,” he says.

    If you’re collaborating with others, of course, some human contact will be necessary. The authors of Service Design—Polaine, Ben Reason, and Lavrans Løvlie—live in three different countries. Skype, Basecamp, Dropbox, and other tools helped immensely, but about halfway through, says Polaine, “we really needed a couple of days in a room together to nail the re-structuring. There’s nothing like having stuff pinned up on the wall.”

    You won’t get everything in

    You have a ton of material, yet UX changes all the time. How do you cover everything in such a way that it won’t be old news by the time the book’s published?

    You probably can’t. Accepting that fact helped Sara Wachter-Boettcher move forward with Content Everywhere. “If I stick to a limited scope and do it well, my book will inspire further books and articles that tackle the topics I didn’t get to, or that dive deep into something I barely skimmed,” she says. “Getting stuck on the idea that you have to be exhaustive about your topic is a failing proposition: You will never finish that way.” If it just kills you to leave out certain stuff, well, blogs are lovely for that sort of thing, aren’t they?

    Go analog

    Ditching the laptop and writing on paper helped Buley drop “a work-y/email-y voice” and tap into “a different voice that was more intimate and conversational, which is the voice that I really want to share with readers.” She wrote her entire book on paper, then used dictation software to get it into digital form. “Probably not the most efficient method in the world, but it worked for me.”

    Avail yourself of others.

    Make It So co-author Chris Noessel says presenting material at conferences while he and Shedroff were writing the book “put pressure on us to find out what works, what doesn’t work, and get suggestions on improvements.” Other authors echoed this sentiment. Don’t be afraid to ask for input, they say; most people will be glad to offer some.

    But before anything, you gotta produce some words. Other people can help with this too. Joining a “Shut Up and Write” meetup in San Francisco helped Aga Bojko plow ahead on Eye Tracking the User Experience. Her favorite sessions are weekend marathons held in a coffee shop, during which members write for ninety-minute sprints—no talking, no phones—broken up by thirty-minute breaks for eating, drinking, and socializing. People in her group work on everything from screenplays to poetry to dissertations. “The main idea is to get together and, thanks to peer pressure and encouragement, get a lot done,” says Bojko. “And we do get a lot done!”

    A support system of trusted friends or colleagues, says Wachter-Boettcher, can help battle “the soul-sucking beast” of impostor syndrome: I’m not smart enough to do this. Everyone will laugh at this. “These are normal feelings but remember that they don’t reflect reality,” she says. And don’t be shy about drawing the line on outside input. Says Noessel: “Instruct your friends to not ask how the book is going. It’s the polite thing to do.”

    And some other stuff.

    Shedroff: “Take long flights and don’t watch the movie.”

    Cheng: “Sometimes, momentum can be lost on the other end (after the book is finished) because the editors or other support people are busy with their schedules or other books. It’s as much up to you to keep the momentum going and not let that be an excuse for you to go, ‘Well, I haven’t heard from them. …”

    Noessel: “It will take longer than you think.” “You have to build authority in the text, not presume it.” “The book will (should?) change the way you think. This is awesome.”

    Buley: “Some people have what they want to say in their head at the beginning, and some people figure out what they want to say through the process of writing. I’m in the second camp. Once I realized that … I didn’t feel so bogged down by imposter syndrome or the slow guilties.” Also: “Get pregnant! A due date makes for a very formidable deadline.”

    Wachter-Boettcher: “Write your heart out, do your damnedest, and be rigorous. But don’t drag your feet. After all, anyone can write. Authors ship.”

    Expert Interview: Lisa Welchman

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    Lisa is one of the planet’s go-to people for web governance, so we’re quite relieved that we snagged her to write our forthcoming book on the very same topic. She’s also available through our experts program for both consulting and teaching a course on web governance; check out her profile and let us know if you’d like us to connect you with Lisa.

    RM: Why is website development such a common source of conflict within organizations?

    LW: Because usually no one has outlined roles and responsibilities, or emplaced authority and budget, for website development. So managing the enterprise web is a battle of power and budget. Since no one knows who is “supposed” to make decisions about the web, organizations find that they can’t get the simplest of things done online because everyone’s arguing about font colors, technologies, information architecture, you name it.

    After a certain amount of time working without an operational blueprint, an enterprise reaches a sort of critical mass of confusion. Managing the enterprise web without a plan or governance is like getting a couple of hundred people together on a sports field and saying, “Let’s play a game.” “What game?” “Just a game. OK. Go!” You’ll have chaos for a while, but eventually there have to be rules or else it’s senseless and non-productive (and maybe not fun). That might be OK if you’re making art or doing an experiment (like the early days of web development), but organizational web sites aren’t art. They are craft. And for most businesses, web sites are no longer an experiment. They serve a business purpose. Web site development has to be supported by an operational model that supports that purpose.

    So much of business has shifted towards digital, yet the enterprise (people and processes, budgeting) is still engineered for 1990. By now, most organizations have had a website for fifteen or twenty years. That’s fifteen or twenty years of just making stuff up as you go along—playing a game with no rules. Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much. There have been efforts made to gain control through adding a headcount here or there to the “web team” (usually an understaffed, underfunded team with no real authority). But the management response to the web has been largely inadequate.

    There are billion dollar, publicly traded, “brand name” businesses that don’t know how many websites or social media accounts they have, or who is managing them. They don’t know how much they spend on the web. Or they can’t do something simple like change the copyright date on all their websites, or find and change the name of the CEO. That’s crazy, and an exposure for the business and the brand. Senior management and executives need to understand that websites aren’t all design and technology “stuff”. They are business tools and they need to be taken seriously.

    RM: So what’s the one thing you wish everyone knew about web governance?

    LW: That, properly formed, web governance is an enabler, not straitjacket.

    RM: Thanks Lisa!

    Expert Interview: Susan Weinschenk

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    You probably already know Susan—”the brain lady”—from her wonderful books, including 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People, and Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? We’re fortunate to have Susan teaching one of our UX workshops—in Minneapolis on November 13—and that she’s available for consulting and teaching via our UX experts program.

    RM: What’s one thing that’s surprising about how people do, or don’t, pay attention?

    SW: It’s possible to look right at something but not “see” it. Eye tracking is really popular these days, but you have to be very careful how you interpret eye tracking studies. Just because someone looked at something on the screen doesn’t mean they paid attention to it! Vision and attention are not the same thing.

    RM: When people are choosing from a list of products or services on a web site, does the order of the items matter?

    SW: Yes, order is important. If people are unsure what to do, they tend to pick the first item on the list. But you can change this tendency in various ways. If you have three choices that are similar but priced differently—for example, a silver, gold, and platinum level—people will tend to choose the option that is in the middle of the price range.

    RM: Thanks Susan; we’re looking forward to seeing you in Minneapolis next month!

    Expert Interview: Caroline Jarrett

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    We’re thrilled to have Caroline, author of Forms that Work and our forthcoming book Surveys that Work participate in our network of UX experts. Like what she has to say below? Then consider having her work with your organization; check her profile page for information on her consulting and and full-day courses.

    RM: What’s a common misconception people have about the design of forms?

    CJ: That it’s all about visual design, things like where to put the labels compared to the boxes. Whereas the questions are far more important. It’s amazing how users can survive really terrible visual designs of forms—including horrible mistakes like putting the labels inside the boxes—provided they can understand the questions, find the answers easily, and consider that the questions are appropriate in the context of their goals.

    In Luke Wroblewski’s book Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks, I contributed a piece, “People before pixels,” that dives into this in greater detail—and there’s even more in our book Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms For Usability.

    RM: What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about survey design?

    CJ: You’ve got to test—and preferably, test and test again. The professional survey methodologists are obsessed with testing; they test the topics of the survey on stakeholders, subject matter experts, and data users, as well as on respondents. They test the questions with everybody, and extensively with respondents. They test the heck out of the questionnaire itself (“the instrument”) in usability tests and pilot tests. And they iterate: make changes, test again. And again.

    I realise I’m not going to persuade everyone to do that much testing for most surveys, but I’d dearly love to persuade everyone to do a bit of testing. “Write, send, and hope” is a recipe for poor quality data at best, and alienating your users at worst.

    RM: Thanks Caroline!

    Expert Interview: Aarron Walter

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    We’re excited to have Aarron, noted author and leader of MailChimp’s UX design team, on board as one of our UX experts. We love his writing, and we’re a more-than-happy MailChimp customer. Below Aarron discusses some of the challenges to managing a UX team, and interaction design in general.

    RM: What’s a common misconception people have when it comes to building and managing a user experience team?

    AW: The most successful companies and products have a very integrated UX team behind them. As companies grow they splinter into silos of expertise. Developers split into server-side specialties, front-end, mobile, system administration, and various technology specialties within each group. Design splits into specializing on specific areas of a product, marketing, mobile, etc. With each splintering of teams, communication breaks down and the continuity of the user experience can suffer. User experience is, by definition, dedicated to understanding and improving the continuity of a product, which requires peering into each silo, speaking the language of each team, and building bridges to connect them.

    A good UX team combines expertise in design research, interaction design, business strategy, visual design, and development. It can be challenging to pull together such breadth and depth of skill, but when you combine that diversity of perspectives you end up fostering respect between the disciplines, which will make designing amazing products much easier.

    RM: Speaking of IxD: what’s one thing you wish everyone knew about interaction design?

    AW: Many interaction designers feel compelled to create new, novel interaction patterns. But with every new pattern you introduce, you place a burden on users to learn a new way to get something done. Great interaction design uses existing design patterns already familiar to users, and innovates only when necessary. Though it’s a little depressing to interaction designers, our ideas go unnoticed when we are doing our best work. If we remove all stumbling blocks in workflows and anticipate a user’s needs, the things we design become effortless to use.

    RM: Thanks Aarron!