Inspiration Takes Many Forms

In the IA/UX/IxD communities we’ve focused a lot on design elements, how to structure and organize information, while always staying focused on the user.

We all design for other people, and yet I almost never hear thought leaders discussing the value of drawing from other disciplines and the emotional element that make us human, and resulting designs truly great!

This video is inspirational in many ways. Most talk about PS22 and the amazing sound these young voices create. However, let’s look at this from a more philosophical perspective for a moment.

The children singing are working together to create this remarkable harmony. They are a model for the rest of the world with children of difference races and I’m assuming (though I have no way of actually knowing) different religions, working together. Look closely at the expression on each child as they perform; you can see how they actually feel the music and believe in what they are singing.

The expression is old, but children are the future of this planet and also represent our future leaders in politics, religion, science, and yes, design.

I hope this video will inspire the design community, as it has millions around the world, to look outside your own experiences and realize inspiration can be found in the youngest minds and hearts; including those new to our respective communities of practice.

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Leading In the Age of Information

It continues to amaze me that even in the Information Age, where knowledge is exchanged and gathered at a pace never before seen in human history, that organizations continue to work in a top-down hierarchy. Where so-called “leaders” still believe that their title and subsequent power somehow entitles them to avoid accountability when projects fail and to accept all the praise when the team succeeds. This, unfortunately happens more often then we care to acknowledge.

What’s truly ironic about this situation is that people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the past couple of years, from around the world, rarely talk about their salary or position. People in every industry and every corner of the globe are seeking value in the work they take on. They want to know that when they get up in the morning and go to work, they are making a difference or building something great …not just punching a clock.

In the 2007 August / September edition of Scientific American Mind magazine an article entitled, “The New Psychology of Leadership” written by Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland; S. Alexander Haslam Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Exeter in England; and Michael J. Platow reader in Psychology at the Australian National University note:

…effective leaders must work to understand the values and opinion of their followers – rather than assuming absolute authority – to enable a productive dialogue with followers about what the group embodies and stands for and thus how it should act. By leadership we mean the ability to shape what followers actually want to do, not the act of enforcing compliance using rewards and punishments…this new psychology of leadership negates the notion that leadership is exclusively a top-down process. In fact, it suggests that to gain credibility among followers, leaders must try to position themselves among the group rather than above it.
There are companies who are recognizing the need to give up control and learn from even the most junior members of their organization; however, in my opinion this transition isn’t happening fast enough.

With the largest generation in North American history retiring the wisdom of thirty years’ experience is leaving; and you cannot replace this knowledge with a new widget or other application. I would also argue that the “boomers” represent possibly the last generation for several to come that will work for the same organization, or even within the same discipline for their entire career.

We all learn through the application of ideas and learning from what didn’t work and why. As Cordel Ratzlaff noted at MX last year, if you want to create great products and and services you have to create a great corporate culture; where failure is acknowledged as the foundation of innovation.

The authors of The New Psychology of Leadership reinforce this notion stating that,

…there is a reciprocal relation between social identity and social reality: identity influences the type of society people create and that society in turn affects the identities people adopt.”
In short, leaders need to be cognisant of the identity they create for themselves and their team. This in turn will reflect employees’ ability to feel confident in looking for new avenues for ideas and innovation without the fear of being punished for such efforts.

Last year at Adaptive Path’s UX Week conference I had the pleasure of interviewing several speakers after their presentations for Boxes and Arrows.

One conversation I had was with Google’s Margaret Gould Stewart and Graham Jenkin. We had an engaging and enlightening talk about aspects of their three hour workshop discussing the management of UX teams.

During her presentation Margaret showed attendees the cards below. (Click on image for larger view or simply download the PDF version)

It was suggested that leaders pull out cards they felt described their strengths. These same cards should then be given to employees to pull out what they felt were their leader’s strengths, as well as attributes they felt the leader needed to work towards.

Now I recognize there are few in positions of authority who would engage in such a conversation about their own leadership style. That said, it’s easy to see that the foundation of Google’s success is rooted in fostering a corporate culture where employees are asked what they would like to accomplish in their career at Google, rather than being told to sit in a cubicle, waiting for permission to share and innovate.

As the authors of the Scientific American Mind article, note:

Our new psychological analysis tells us the for leadership to function well, leaders and followers must be bound by a shared identity and by the quest to use that identity as a blueprint for action…If you control the definition of identity, you can change the world.

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ClickTale Launches Mouse Click Heat Maps

ClickTale Web Analytics has just announced the first-ever Click Heatmap that is interactive and seamlessly integrated with ClickTale’s Link Analytics™ showing everywhere visitors’ click, hover and more.

clicktale-mouse

The Mouse Click Heat Maps allows any subscriber the ability to:

See every click anywhere on the page, even those attempted on non-clickable elements. You’ll discover that visitors are clicking on parts of the page that aren’t links, but perhaps should be…Quickly and easily conduct A/B testing to dramatically increase your conversion rates…You can run the Mouse Click Heatmap on any recorded page saved inside your ClickTale account*, even if it was recorded before the launch of our Mouse Click heatmaps. No extra work needed.

Founder, Chairman and CEO at ClickTale, Dr. Tal Schwartz would like to invite anyone interested in trying ClickTale to sign up for a free trial today!

I’ve been using ClickTale for over a year now and the tools provided allow me to make intelligent choices about how to manage both i.a. consultants and my blog; and I’m not the only one singing the praises of this remarkable web analytics solution!

Congratulations to Dr. Schwartz and the entire team at ClickTale on adding yet another tool that ensures anyone can make changes to their site to improve the user experience quickly and intelligently.

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Official Company Mascot for i.a. consultants

Hank “the tank” is owned by my good friend Kate. A few years ago we went on a road trip to get this “little” guy as a new born puppy up in Orillia, Ontario.

Over 15 hours later we arrived back in Ottawa with Hank who, at the time, could barely lift his gargantuan head off the floor.

Kate has graciously offered up Hank as the official mascot for my company, i.a. consultants. Weighing in at a whopping 145 pounds, Hank is a pure-bred Bullmastiff and easily one of the gentlest and kindest dogs I’ve ever met.

I look forward to bringing Hank to future events to share his years of experience in eating, snorting, and snoozing. I welcome him as an invaluable member of the team ensuring we keep all aspects of work and life in proper perspective.

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Idea 2009 Social and Experience Design

Last year I had the pleasure of attending my first Idea conference in Chicago. The experience was nothing short of remarkable!

Learning from the Interaction Designers, Information Architects, and User Experience Designers from around the world I found inspiration and ideas that have helped me assist clients on many projects.

This year I’m pleased to announce that the conference is coming to Toronto and will be held at the MaRS convention center where I’ll be podcasting the event for Boxes and Arrows, IDEA and the Information Architecture Institute

IDEA2009 brings together the world’s foremost thinkers and practitioners: sharing the big ideas that inspire, along with practical solutions for the ways people’s lives and systems are converging to affect society.
To kick off the event, Nathan Curtis from Eight Shapes is running a pre-conference, full-day workshop entitled Modular User Experience Design & Deliverables.

User experience design teams suffer from a decentralized, blank canvas approach to creating and documenting a design solution for each new project. In this workshop participants will learn about modular user experience design techniques, where they can improve consistency, accelerate production, and raise the credibility and influence of your work.

Then on September 15th the conference begins with an incredible range of speakers sharing their experiences in a variety of disciplines, including:

Lisa Galarneau -Digital Lifestyle Scholar
Mari Luangrath – Owner & President Foiled Inc
Jeff Dachis – CEO, Dachis Group
Christina Wodtke – Owner Boxes and Arrows
Mary Newsom – Associate Editor, Charlotte Observer
Michael Fassnacht – Executive Vice President, Worldwide Chief Strategy Officer, Draftfcb
Christian Crumlish Curator, Yahoo! Design Pattern Library
Luke Wroblewski Director, Product Ideation & Design, Yahoo! Inc. (Luke is also the author of Rosenfeld Media’s Web Form Design)
Maya Kalman – Founder & CEO, Swank Productions
Stephen P. Anderson – Product Strategy and Design Consultant
Nathan Curtis – Founder & Principal, EightShapes, LLC and lead for Idea’s pre-conference workshop
Leisa Reichelt – Design Researcher & User Experience Designer (Lisa is also working with the Drupal open source community on the D7UX project)
Thomas Malaby – Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Erin Malone – Principal, Tangible ux

With all of this experience and insight in a single event, what makes the Idea conference even more incredible is the price point for registering.

Kudos to Russ Unger, Mario Bourque and all of the organizers and volunteers for providing people with an opportunity to learn from not only the speakers, but other subject matter experts attending the event, without draining the coffers of training budgets.

I look forward to meeting everyone in Toronto for Idea ‘09.

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Is It Broken?

gelThe Gel Conference was created by Mark Hurst. Mark has been running Gel since 2003 and continues to bring in incredible presenters like Seth Godin to the annual event.

Gel (“Good Experience Live”) is a conference and community exploring good experience in all its forms — in business, art, society, technology, and life.

From products and services to signage, Seth provides several comical and frustrating examples of how the many things we interact with on a daily basis are, in fact, broken!

This presentation illustrates the key challenge for all of us within the User Experience profession – to convey clarity to those who know nothing about your organization while providing appropriate context to ensure understanding.

You can find more images of products, signage, and services that are broken, over on flickr. As well, you can check out other videos from Gel.

Seth Godin at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

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Information and Architecture in Context

I’ve been using Twilert to find others tweeting about Information Architecture and Interaction Design.

This morning one of the tweets was from Katrina Costedio (@katrinacostedio) who shared these two videos on the related topics of “Information” and “Architecture”.

Information is what allows us to confidentally make a selection from a set of given or implied alternatives…Information has no form. In fact we as humans spend our lives giving form to information.

Information from MAYAnMAYA on Vimeo.

When people use the word architecture most times they are really referring to a building’s architecture. But the word architecture in its purest sense has a much broader connotation…

Architecture from MAYAnMAYA on Vimeo.

Communicating clearly on the web is incredibly complex. The ability to understand how to architect data into useful information starts by understanding the people using your products and services.

Help those visiting your site find everything they need by removing the corporate vocabulary, acronyms, and other nonsensical terms. If you still feel the need to talk “in corporate code” be sure to keep that “stuff” on your Intranet where it has a better chance of being understood.

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Mobile Literacy

Reading Josh Porter’s book last year Designing for the Social Web I learned only 20% of the world’s population has access to the World Wide Web.

Put another way, take ten random friends from around the world and line them up with numbers 1-10 written on signs in front of them.

Then ask a friend to pick two numbers at random from 1-10. Let’s say they pick numbers 4 and 9. Have those friends step forward.

The remaining eight friends won’t be reading this blog post. Several of those people left in line are also illiterate with little to no access to educational resources for learning.

Adaptive Path has been doing some remarkable research in some of the poorest areas of India where illiteracy is the norm; resulting in the need to completely re-think the design of mobile devices.

An estimated 40% of India’s rural population is unable to read text or numeric information.
I was talking with Chris Palle today @chrispalle about next steps for me and how I would like to evolve the UX Workshop.

In the short term, I’d like to interview people new to our respective industries of IA, UX, IxD, and capture their ideas. After all, communities of practice can’t evolve if they don’t continue to look to those entering the industry.

Over the longer term, I would love to travel the world to do similar research that Adaptive Path has completed and then share those experiences as a presenter at conferences like UX Week and Idea.

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Information Architecture Summit

I’m flying to Memphis, TN this Thursday for the tenth annual Information Architecture Summit. Like last year, I’ll be editing and publishing all presentations from the conference for the Boxes and Arrows Podcast. You can subscribe to the Boxes and Arrows podcast in iTunes for free.

My heart-felt thanks to Chris Baum and Kit Seeborg as well as those who have graciously volunteered their time while at the conference in helping with the recording of over 50 presentations, happening in three rooms simultaneously, over the course of three days.

With lessons learned from last year’s event, I believe we’ll be able to publish all three days of the conference within a week after the conference. I’ve been spending the past three weeks organizing show notes pages for all three days, voice over introductions, sponsors, and coordinating efforts with organizers at the event to ensure we capture all presentations.

If you are presenting @ias2009 and would like the audio from your presentation to post / sync with SlideShare, please drop me an email jeff.parks@iaconsultants.ca or message me @jeffparks via Twitter.

Kent State University’s Michael Wesch will be the Keynote at the Summit. Michael is best known for the videos he’s produced, below. As well Jesse James Garrett from Adaptive Path will be the closing keynote for the Summit.

I’ll also be hoping to sit down with presenters and attendees at the Summit to record conversations for future episodes of the i.a. podcast.

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The Lost Art of Wisdom

At the most recent TED conference, Dr. Barry Schwartz focuses on one of the most important, yet largely overlooked human elements in the information age, that of wisdom.

* A wise person knows how and when to make “the exception to every rule”.
* A wise person knows how to improvise. Real world problems are often ambiguous and ill defined and the context is always changing.
* A wise person is like a jazz musician using the notes on the page but dancing around them inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situations and the people at hand.
* A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not manipulate other people.
* A Wise person is made not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people you are serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise; to try new things; occasionally to fail, and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.
People, not technologies, are at the heart of every problem we struggle with; and they are at the heart of every solution we long to find.

The notion of “common sense”, for example, only becomes “common” when we learn how to share experiences, the foundation of making wise choices, with other people.

As I’ve argued in the past, the Information Age is creating a world where titles, job descriptions, and roles are becoming far less important than the ability to ensure all people feel like what they are doing is of value and that they themselves feel valued in both their personal and professional lives.

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