How The Popularization Of User Experience Is Diluting The Details

“The details are not the details, they make the design.” – Charles Eames

Most people think that design is just about deliverables. But, every great designer knows that it’s really about the process of discovery, problem, and solve that we go through to ultimately reach the design. What design is really about, is the million little details and the thoughtful decisions that we make along the way. Unfortunately, with the democratization of design, comes a focus on deliverables, and a sacrifice of the details.

Today, everyone thinks they’re a designer. This can be attributed to the ever growing popularity of the fields of user experience and design (in fact, the field is in such demand, that Inc Magazine listed it as one of the 5 hardest jobs to fill in 2012.) Needless to say, in a very short amount of time, the field has gone from being relatively unknown to now a buzzword – something that everyone feels they’re qualified to govern. As a result, the very details that “make the design” are at risk.

The popularization of the field of user experience is causing a growing focus on the deliverable and not enough attention on the details. Why? Continue reading

The Democratization Of Design & The Lost Art Of Justification

A sad thing happened to my recently. I was shown a website that was recently redesigned and it was horrible. Not just a few pixels off, but entirely incoherent. There was no consistency or re-use of elements, the fonts were all over the place, navigation jumped around, breadcrumbs came and went, and it was simply something that looked like an elementary student could have made. But that wasn’t the most painful part. The most painful part was a scary realization that the democratization of design is breeding a whole group of people who can make stuff, but can’t tell you the why behind what they are doing. Is the pre-fab model of design is forfeiting the important art of justification and meaning?

When I started out, we did not have websites that sold Photoshop templates. We did not have websites that held contests for people to design a logo for $39. We did not have massive libraries of site templates and stencils to work from. More importantly we didn’t just focus on making, we also focused on meaning. Continue reading

Why We Need Product Storytellers At The Heart Of Product & Technology

Update: This post received a lot of great feedback and was re-written in more detail as an article for UX Magazine.

I am not a designer.

The word ‘design’ is far too limiting. What I really do is tell stories. I ask questions, find answers, and figure out how to distill a vision and idea into a product story.

There’s a lot of talk right now in the start up world about creating a founding team and whether a founder should hire technical or product first. The answer is more than obvious.

Technology is a means by which the product is brought to life.

But, without a story for the product, the rest of the team doesn’t don’t know what to build, sell, and evangelize. I’ve seen this happen over and over.

A founder has an idea and hires a team, but often doesn’t have strong product perspective on that team. Then, someone like me comes in, talks to the founder, and synthesizes the vision into a story and prototype, leading to the realization that what the founder envisioned is not what’s being created.

A founder has the vision. A founder provides the starting point. A founder has the initial idea … but a product is more than an idea. A product is more than a website. A product is more than a transaction. A product creates a relationship that produces an experience that brings added value to someone’s life.

In the article The Science of Relationships, I asked the question:

“How can we transform advertising from a series of static touchpoints with a brand to a dynamic network of thoughtfully designed interactions that are tailored to and seamlessly blend with people’s lifestyles – creating a strong brand connection – a lifelong marriage with the brand.”

We need to start thinking about products as relationships. Every company needs a product story that clearly outlines how a relationship will be created and sustained with every person that engages in the product. Part matchmaker, part marketer, part technologist, part artist, part strategist … the product storyteller liaises between all areas of an organization to ensure to that everything being created is helping to strengthen the relationship that the product has with the consumer.

Today we are feeling the effects of not having enough product storytellers. This hinges on the fact that too many people who call themselves designers lack the fundamental skill of storytelling. Before you can communicate anything visually, you have to establish the story that your visualization or experience is going to tell.

To every designer, you need to become a better product storyteller. You need to stop focusing on the pixels and think about the plot, the people, and the product. Write more. Ask questions. Become an expert in relationships.

To every technologist, I respect you. I also know enough of you to know that you feel the frustration and often have to do things over and over due to an unfocused product vision. So please understand that in saying that product should come first, I do this so that when you embark on creating a product, the vision is established and you can focus on creating great technology, not deciphering a disconnected vision.

To every founder, never stop having ideas. It’s because of people like you that new amazing products are brought to market. But, in a society where attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter, please realize that it is the product that establishes the strongest relationships that will win. So before you do anything else, establish your product’s story.

Update # 1:
This post received a lot of great feedback and was re-written in more detail as an article for UX Magazine.

Update # 2:
I’ve been asked to speak on the idea of product storytelling a few times. Here are the slides from one of my talks:

The Urge For Excess

Recently I’ve been wresting with this idea “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

In product development and design, I like to think that we’re always trying to make it simpler, without taking away from the experience … or are we?

When I look at technology today, it seems like we rampantly subscribe to the idea “if you build it, they will come.” Today I read that Facebook has over 350 million users. So I guess in this case, Mark built it, and the people came. But the real question is “do they need it”?

One thing that I find fascinating about technology is the speed of its evolution and the rapid rate at which it allows us to innovate and iterate. We can sketch an idea on a napkin over drinks after work, and then in 48 hours have a live prototype and get feedback from people. But, with this new found freedom of development, comes a certain accountability for the creators.Continue reading

How Personal Metrics Can Change Our Lives

America is trapped in a consumption driven lifestyle, and the consequences of our actions are being revealed more now than ever before. Our economy has reached a state of turmoil not seen since the Great Depression. In March 2009, the collective credit card debt of Americans was just over $940 billion. Our nation’s obesity levels have reached ultimate highs with two thirds of adults and one third of children in America are obese. And, we are in the middle of a massive climate crisis. The United States per capital carbon dioxide emissions in 2005 were more than four times greater than China’s and almost fourteen times India’s.

Have we become blind to the consequences of our actions?

There is an eminent need to quantify our behavior and bring more transparency and understanding to the effects that our actions have.Continue reading

The Culture Of Identity

Throughout history, we have witnessed great change – the fall of capitalism, the Industrial Revolution, and now the technology revolution. Central to all these periods of change we find commonalities that remain true. In all periods of change – the individual never changes. Though the individual may change the way he does things or goes about his daily life, he as a person never changes, his emotions, spirit, and need for discovery of self and identification with others remains strong.

In his book The Rise of the Network Society, Manuel Castells focuses on the interface between technology and society, which he refers to as the relationship between the net and self. This relationship stems from the increased desire for identity and self discovery which is often the only source of meaning in a society that is going through rapid and radical change – such as the change brought forth in the technological revolution.

Marshall McLuhan presented similar ideas Continue reading

The Era Of Experience

It seems that society is creating an environment that is disengaging our spritis because its messages lack enough meaningful substance. However, at the core of each person, there is a spirit that is waiting to be engaged – waiting to be spoken to – waiting to be loved.

Engaging with the spirit requires that we dare to communicate in ways that to some would seem controversial because the authenticity, vulnerability, trust, and love that is required to engage human spirits is not common today.

If we want to create a relationship with customers, it must start with engaging people in emotional experiences.

Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian born communications theorist explored the value of experience and said that “Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.”

Every interaction with our brand – our product – our business, provides us with a touchpoint – an opportunity for us to create an imprint on the spirit of our customer.

The feelings that an image can arouse, the memories that a sound resurrects, the comfort and security of a familiar touch, the desire that a smell creates – these experiences span all languages, cultures, and races – are are the strongest form of communication we can use to engage customers in their relationship with our brands.

By basing our designs on experience, we are able to resonate with the human spirit.

I believe the world will be changed one person at a time as we create lasting emotional connections that will shift paradigms and bring forth incredible and unprecedented awareness, growth, and action.