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Talking It Up: Launch Capital and Betaworks Voicecamp 2017

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"Alexa, turn on kitchen."

"Alexa, timer set 16 minutes."

It may seem like I'm talking to air, but I'm not; these are words I utter literally every day to my Amazon Echo in my kitchen. I've had my Echo since it first came out and I hopped onto its waitlist for purchase. When it first arrived, it was fun although I really didn't use its music function all that much. However, things really started to shine when new functionality appeared and when I hooked up my Insteon connected light switches to it.

Now it's my constant companion in the kitchen and helps me optimize my cooking time. As I race through food prep, I tell it to turn on the kitchen lights. As I dump vegetables into my steamer, I tell it to set a timer for when they will be done. I also set other timers fluidly as I prep other parts of my meal and in the course of moving throughout the kitchen, Alexa is helping me keep track of when food has finished cooking. The handsfree nature of voice allows me to not waste time taking a few steps to the light switch or fiddle with a digital timer on setting the time and setting it running.

It's this real life experience of what a voice interface can bring that gets me really pumped about voice.

We've all seen other voice applications come and go or just not really gain traction. However, with the advent of true voice devices that listen for your command like the Amazon Echo or Google Home (versus Apple's Siri which requires a button push to activate), the possibilities begin to multiply. I remember my first exposure to voice on Star Trek with its talking computer. But that was in the 1970s and it took until now to bring some of that vision to reality. Better systems and computers to recognize and process voice make real time voice interpretation possible now. However, now comes the really interesting part - how do you deal with the user interface challenges and then build a business on top of that?

As a UX guy, I find that there is inherent elegance in having less physical controls. Like me moving around in the kitchen, Amazon Alexa is a great helper without the need for my hands to *do* anything. And therein lies the challenge of voice interfaces - how can you interpret what I want it to do without me speaking endless complex sentences or memorizing specialized vocabulary? I've been impressed so far with Amazon Echo's capabilities so far, but also wishing for more. In contrast, text-based interfaces via typing have been out there for a while now; however, the interpretation of written language there is less interesting to me than the interpretation of spoken language simply because you need hands to write words. A handsfree interface is much harder to implement properly - the service that does will have a clear advantage over others.

Once you solve the UX challenge, then comes the challenge of building a real business on top of it. Amazon and Google can sell hardware and charge for being on their platforms, but everyone else needs to charge somebody who wants their service bad enough that they will pay for it. Hence, while voice interfaces are inherently context sensitive (ie. you can't be dictating every email in an open office setting), I believe building a real business is even more context sensitive. Startups will need to find those compelling use cases where voice beats other types of interfaces AND a real business exists, and some of those are known and some are still waiting to be imagined. It's why we are excited to be part of Volara.ai, one of the few voice startups we have seen with some great early traction in the hotel space.

And we are looking for more, which is why we are delighted to be part of Betaworks Voicecamp, joining as co-investors into each startup of the batch. Betaworks has a great reputation for ferreting out the unique and untapped in startups; we very much look forward to seeing what develops with Voicecamp 2017. If you're a startup working on voice based conversational interfaces, be sure to apply - the deadline for applications is coming up fast on February 28, 2017!

How to Ace Your Entrepreneur Class

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Last Thursday I had the pleasure of dropping in on the Designer Entrepreneur class over at CCA. My longtime friend and colleague Christina Wodtke invited me to talk a bit about startup investing and help critique some of their recent pitch work.

As I watched the pitches and listened to the students present, I thought back to other classes I had helped in and realized that it might be useful to put down some thoughts on how to do well in a class that supposedly teaches you how to be an entrepreneur. Here are some tips to ace your next entrepreneurism class and some of them may not be what you might think:

TIP #1: Find out how to get an A in the class.

When you start the class, ask the teacher, "How does one get an A?" Hopefully your instructor is organized and thoughtful enough to be able to give you a clear answer (be very WARY of those who cannot articulate what the grading criteria are - and yes you may meet some of them at your university!).

Write these down, and pin them on a wall where you can see them every day. These are your points of focus. NOTHING ELSE.

If you go off this focus, you risk not satisfying what your instructor told you they wanted and that you don't satisfy the requirements of the class and therefore, won't get a good grade.

That's not to say that you couldn't get a good grade by going off path. It just means you may need to work A LOT harder to do so.

TIP #2: You should pick a project that you can complete in the time period of the class.

Be very aware of the duration of the class, whether it's a 3-4 month class or a year long project class. Figure out what it is you need to accomplish to get an A, and then find something to work on that enables you to complete the assignments by end of the class.

Creating a viable business requires that you find the right idea to work on in the first place. Discovery of the perfect or a viable idea can take a long time. You can spend some time in ideation of this idea but I would recommend doing that BEFORE you start the class rather than spending time in class coming up with something to work on.

Validation of the idea is also possible, but it could be time consuming and you could easily end up finding out that your idea was the wrong idea to work on.

In the CCA class, I gave them my Minimum Viable Product (MVP) vs. Minimum Viable Company (MVC) speech. It may be easy to crank out MVPs thinking that you can get somewhere, but entrepreneurism isn't the search for MVPs, it's the search for an MVP that can turn into MVC and hopefully one that is fundable.

Keep that also in mind as you pick the project you want to work on.

Don't pick an idea that requires a lot of development time. Working on something that requires a ton of new research? Bad idea. Working on something that has a long manufacturing time (ie. building a new car from scratch)? Bad idea. Quick software app? YES- Great idea!

No matter what, you should try to pick something that allows you to satisfy the class requirements by the end of the semester or year.

TIP #3: You don't actually have to build a real startup to get a good grade.

But wait, Dave, how can that be? Isn't this a class in entrepreneurism?

A mistake I see many students make is thinking that they actually have to build a business by the end of class. I think this is actually false. In fact, trying to do that within the time period of a class can be a big mistake.

Why? It's because building a business takes time. Figuring out what business to build takes time. You may not have time to build a traditional fundable startup by the end of the class period.

Remember to keep your eye on the ball - what is the main purpose of this class? It is for you to LEARN/EXPERIENCE THE PRINCIPLES OF ENTREPRENEURISM. I would not sign up for a class that required you to build a real startup at the end of it. Why? Because you never know how much time you need to validate your path. You may need more time than the class can give you. You may actually end up with nothing at the end. Many entrepreneurs spend their life looking for ideas to work on and not get anywhere; others happen on one instantly, if not magically or by luck or chance. You really don't know which category you'll fall into.

Therefore, it may be that if you show that you've learned the principles of entrepreneurism properly, it might be on a fictional business idea that may never survive the real world, but can show your instructors that you’ve mastered the material.

TIP #4: You may consider building a smaller business.

You don't need to build the next Facebook to get a good grade. You just need to show that you learned the components of good entrepreneurism. It may be possible to do more complete-able projects in the areas of small business like building a new cafe or retail storefront. The principles are the same even if some of the dynamics are different than a typical internet/software based startup which are more popular today. But having more available data to work with makes things easier.

The more ambiguity/uncertainty/unknown there is, the more riskier it is to use this project in a class setting. The funny thing is, these traits are often those of a wildly successful startup outside of a class setting. The reality is that these projects often take a lot more preparation and thinking to bring to a fundable, pitch-able state.

TIP #5: Don’t fall into the product trap.

As a student, you're probably been entrenched in learning how to build stuff. Whether it's coding or design, you've probably spent the last few years learning everything you need to learn how to build anything. Despite being awesome as a builder, you may not be anywhere near prepared to be an entrepreneur. Startups are NOT all about product as you might think.

Touching on the MVP vs. MVC comment above - I re-quote Steve Blank again:

A Startup Is a Temporary Organization Designed to Search
for A Repeatable and Scalable Business Model

[source: Nail the Customer Development Manifesto to the Wall - Steve Blank]

I think a lot of people have fallen into what I call the product trap. It is this mistaken belief that if you build something, somebody will buy it. While this may be true for some things, for the most part it is not true.

This is why Steve Blank likes to say that startups are on the search for a business model. They are NOT on the search for a product.

A few years back I helped out in a Stanford d.school entrepreneur class called LaunchPad. I loved their criteria for an instant A - you had to get one person to pay for your product. I always felt that accelerators should force their companies to do that by demo day. It was a forcing function that made sure that teams weren’t just building things but that people actually would give up money for their products - or they actually have the beginnings of a real business model.

So be careful as you go through your entrepreneurism class that you don't get so enamored with building products that you forget that building a startup is about building a business, and not just a product.

TIP #6: If you are required to build an investor pitch, pitch the business and sell it. Toss anything that is extraneous out of the pitch.

In every pitch I heard, there was an emphasis on product process and what they discovered, and how they got to where they were.

It confused me, and I had to ask the context of their presentation - who was their intended audience? Was it an investor? Was it the instructor? Was it a thesis review board for your degree? Without knowing that I could not fairly judge whether they were presenting the right information or not.

But when they said they were pitching an investor, then I could respond with the appropriate comments. I told them that their pitches sounded like an end of year presentation to their instructors where they showcased what they learned. In fact none of the pitches had discussions about business models, and seemed to showcase their products only. Good for a project class maybe, bad for an investor pitch. Don't mix the two!

TIP: #7: Establish your assumptions or points of view and execute on them.

In the context of a class, it is sometimes possible to establish what design schools like to call "your point of view."

When I was at Stanford, they taught us to always establish our points of view whenever we do a design. This provided context and constraints in which our design was created, and allowed us to judge the final product within that context and constraints. If you were open ended or had a poorly defined point of view, then we could never know what you came up with satisfied design requirements or not. It usually ended up being yelled at by the teacher in front of your class, which you get used to pretty quickly in design school.

I believe you can do that with a startup project as well, and especially if you're in a design school where this is familiar. Remember again, the goal is not necessarily to create a fundable startup by the end of class. It's to show you learned the principles. And the more you bound your problem statement, the more able you are to complete a successful entrepreneur class project in the allotted class time.

As an example, one of the class projects at CCA I saw was related to doing a traditional business in a better and different way. That was a pretty strongly stated point of view - GOOD. However, when they finished their pitch, it was not clear they had executed on that point of view - BAD - it looked to me that their business strategy was pretty much the same as it always was.

If you follow the above tips, I am sure you will ace your entrepreneur class. Remember always that a class setting is a subset of the real world, a simulation at best. You play by its rules, and you'll win. You'll have learned some really important parts about being an entrepreneur and had the opportunity to experiment in a setting with guidance and mentorship. HOWEVER...

END NOTE # : Some of the most important parts of entrepreneurism can't be taught in a class.

It is not easy being an entrepreneur, but yet in what we read and what we have people tell us, anyone can be an entrepreneur. But that is simply not true. Most people just don't have the essential traits, or they are too risk averse, or their current lives just don't enable them to let go of their steady lifestyles to pursue the dream of starting a company and its accompanying chaos.

I have often said that Entrepreneurs are to the rest of the workforce as Navy Seals are to the rest of the Navy. Can you see the difference I mean? They don't put potential Navy Seals through their demanding training program for no reason - they are trying to weed out those who do not have the mental/emotional/physical traits that enable them to be real Navy Seals. It is the same with entrepreneurs.

This is something that can’t be taught in school. Somehow you just need to have had the right life experiences to become such a person.

Do some REAL DEEP soul searching when you leave your class. You have some good tools to try out in the real world, but don't be that guy who quits when the going gets tough - you should have never started in the first place... and by the way, that's OK.

Betaday 2013 by Betaworks

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This last week I was in NYC and attended the 2013 Betaday, put on yearly by Betaworks.

It was a smaller, more intimate event this year, which was more similar to the first few Betadays - only 100 attendees which made for better networking overall and not being overwhelmed by all the people there.

IMHO it also heralded a second coming for Betaworks, on the heels of an amazing Hacker In Residence (HIR) program, managed by Paul Murphy, formerly of Aviary and Microsoft.

Back in January of this year, Paul had told me of his plans for the HIR program. Attract super multi-talented hackers; give them the full support and resources of Betaworks; let them build whatever they want to build. Out of it came a pretty wide (and awesome!) assortment of products:

Poncho - Personalized weather reports
Telecast - Handpicked video, delivered daily
Dots - A game about connecting
Blend.io - An open Collaboration Network for music creators
Giphy - search animated GIFs on the web

And not to mention recent product launches outside the HIR program which were equally awesome:

Rushmore.fm - stay up to date with your favourite artists, show off your current jams, and connect directly with the artists and labels you love.
Tapestry - Exclusive short stories presented in a beautiful and unique reading experience on mobile.
Done Not Done - The to-do list for things you want to do, not the things you have to do.

AND...can't forget the acquisition of Digg last year and the recent acquisition of Instapaper, both significant additions to the collection of products in the Betaworks portfolio.

Being an investor in Betaworks, I've been a part of the family since 2007 when I first met John so many years ago. I've watched Betaworks's evolution over the years, and it seemed that in recent months, they had substantially increased the output and influence of its operations. For this, I am supremely elated, and Betaday was the perfect time to celebrate our recent developments.

Betaday was held at The Foundry in Queens. A very cool spot for an event, it was also quite an adventure getting there and wasn't sure I would get back home OK.

As always, it was a gathering of both Betaworks family members and notable people in the industry. The witty Baratunde Thurston was our host, and the speaker set was great this year. We saw presentations and talks from:

Ricky Engelberg, Experience Director of Digital Sports at Nike.
Emily Bell, Professor of Professional Practice & Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia.
Marc Ecko, American fashion designer, entrepreneur, investor, artist, and philanthropist.
The Gillmor Gang, featuring Steve Gillmor, Robert Scoble and his Google Glasses, Doug Rushkoff, media theorist and author, Paul Davison of Highlight.
Gilad Lotan, the in-house data expert at Betaworks.
Paul Murphy presenting the fruits of the HIR program.

My personal favorites were the talks by Ricky Engelberg and Marc Ecko.

Ricky gave a great overview of Nike's thinking and strategy with all their digital products, with the latest being the Fuelband. They see the Fuelband is the beginning of a whole line of digital products that motivate you to greater health and fitness. I've always been fascinated and impressed by Nike's strategic thinking, which is very much aligned with their marketing and advertising. It was great to see them using 3D printing to design their next generation shoes, and someday soon, they will be 3D printing them as well. As a guy who believes that hardware is a huge trend, Ricky's view of the world is one I share where digital devices can enhance our lives greatly.

Marc Ecko's talk mirrored his upcoming book, Unlabel: Selling You Without Selling Out. It was an open look into his life and his pursuit of design, influence, and fame, and then seeing it come nearly crashing down into bankruptcy. It made him realize what was most important in life and it wasn't bowing to the thinking of others, but rather really finding who you are and not compromising that. I look forward to reading his book when it comes out this fall.

Many kudos to Lauren Piazza, Betaworks operations manager, and her team for putting on a stupendous event. I thoroughly enjoyed Betaday 2013 and look forward to many more. As always, it is an honor to be part of the Betaworks family.

My Favorite Method for Naming Startups

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On the 500startups forums, someone asked about how to name their startup. I thought it would be worthwhile to repost my response there, which was to detail my favorite process for brainstorming a new name for a company, product, or service. Here it is, with some embellishments:

Before you begin, some good tools to have: thesaurus and dictionary. Creative people, advertising copywriters are the best. An open mind to the nutty and weird.

1. Brainstorm related words, or perhaps unrelated words if you want something interesting and fun that may not be directly descriptive of your business.

2. Check synonyms of those words, and reference dictionaries for words that you might use, or might not have thought of.

I also just found this great list on Wikipedia for product naming language techniques. Use these to generate more words besides just the above.

3. Employ these words as prefixes and suffixes, and use both standard and non-standard. For example for suffixes, a standard suffix would be something like "-ly". A non-standard would be to just use a word in place as the second half of the name.

4. Mix and match the above multiple times. Create lists of possible names and even those that are a bit crazy. Don't reject anything at this stage - you are bstorming! Put them up on a wall so you can see them all at once. Continue putting words together and creating new combinations.

5. Pick favorites, then throw into a domain name search to see if available. <-- this is usually very depressing - not many domain names are left out there. NOTE: be careful - I'm sure that some people are tracking what domain names people are searching on although i can't prove it. but I'm a paranoid guy ;-). So only check names that you are absolutely sure of because if someone believes you are interested in a name, they may buy it before you and try to sell it back to you.

6. Do informal or formal testing of name against customers, friends, family, etc. Check for unintended or alternate meanings.

Check foreign language dictionaries to make sure your name doesn't mean something you don't want it to mean in another language, ie. Chevy Nova, where nova means "doesn't go" in Spanish.

7. Repeat above until you find a name that you like.

8. After you pick a name, then search your state's database of company names. BUT I would highly recommend that you pick a company name that is completely different than your product/website name. To me, staying stealth in today's world for most startups is critical since things get copied all the time and easily.

9. As for trademarking, you can do your own trademark search at the USPTO website.

You can also file your own trademark application there so i think you can probably get away with not paying a lawyer to do it.

More on general information on trademarks can be found at the USPTO website.

Some online guides to naming:

How to Name Your Business - Entrepreneur.com

How to Name a Business - SBA.gov

The 8 Principles Of Product Naming - FastCompany.com

First Impressions with the Lytro

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Last week I got my Lytro from pre-order in the mail and was excited to try it out in the field. I went to the California Academy of Sciences in SF to see what it could do.

About the Industrial Design

It fit well in the hand, although I was very scared of it slipping out and me dropping it. Since it is in a horizontal configuration, I wish it had a palm strap like camcorders do. The wrist strap was OK, but there was no way to tighten it on my wrist and I felt like it was swinging precariously as I walked around. Most of the time I just stuck it in my bag.

The magnetic cap in front was slick, but it kept falling off when I removed my camera from my bag. Couldn't they have figured out some way of doing a built-in iris protector or attached cap? I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose it at some time in the future. At least a screw on cap won't fall off, even if it is a pain to get off. Snap-ons might work but they aren't perfect either.

The on/off switch is a small depression the bottom of the unit. It was hard to find, but eventually I got the hang of just pressing generally where it was.

There was a zoom but I totally didn't know about it until I got home and read the instructions - who reads instructions right? This is a small row of dashes on the top of the unit. I suppose that could be better and more clearly labeled.

The button to take a picture was a small depression on top. I think I got the hang of where that was to take pictures.

The screen was too small in my opinion. You can press on it to refocus into some area, but the image was so small that you couldn't tell if the focus changed or not.

The UI in the camera was pretty simple. At least there are no fancy menus to confuse you. The point is to just shoot a lot and not worry about things, right?

Images

Reviewing images on the tiny screen sucked. So I downloaded them to take a look at home. Most of them were pretty good. Image quality is up there although it doesn't match up to my favorite camera, the Canon G12.

It even seemed to deal with low light fairly well. The lens seemed set at f/2, supposedly to minimize field of view and get you the nice blurred surroundings effect. Noise seemed very limited.

However, I did not really enjoy what I perceive to be the main cool feature of this camera, which was to be able to focus in on different parts of the image while other elements blurred out. After just shooting around, I only had one image out of the whole set which I could do this with, an image of some funky blue jellyfish:

Try clicking on some of the jellyfish, especially the ones in back. Very cool indeed!

So here is where my issues begin.

In order to see the coolness of the camera, I now have to think about the what is in the scene to make this feature come alive. I have to take pictures with things very close to me in the foreground, and then have things in multiple distances all the way into infinity. In that way, the blurriness is accentuated and I can pick around the image to see this happen. Most of the images I shot did not have this quality, and were good images but you can't really see any blurriness come out when you pick around the image.

This is what happened when I bought a 3D camera, the Fujifilm Finepix Real 3D camera. I had to also think about what I could shoot that would really highlight the 3D-ness of the resulting image. If I just shot some random shot, the 3D effect may not really be noticeable because the elements are too far away and everything still seems flat, which is arguably what you would see in reality.

This makes me think too much. I want the camera to do magic, not make me think about how to make magic. If I wanted to think (and I do with my Canon 60D) then I would just use my old cameras.

But I think we're in an era where we want cameras to take magical pictures, almost pictures of what we perceive, not what we actually see, or what physics says is out there in the scene.

Take high contrast scenes where there is brightly lit areas inserted in darkness for example. Most cameras fight to figure out how to expose such scenes. Bright light areas often are too bright if you try to expose more of dark areas. Or if you try to expose the bright light areas to get more detail there, then all of the darker areas go black.

However, we do not remember such scenes like that - our eyes are darting around and readjusting what we focus on, and our memories are of what is in the bright areas as well in the dark areas. Certainly there is artistry that results from high contrast images, taking the dark areas and making the mysterious silhouettes in the brighter areas. But sometimes, we want magic to happen. We want to see what is in the bright areas and more detail in the darker areas without having the bright areas wash out.

So I want magic and I want reality when I want them and don't want to think. I just want to shoot and see awesome results.

This is where I think smartphone cameras like on the iPhone are really the next wave of photography. I would meld Lytro with a image computer that can take both reality and imagined reality and then produce the result I want later with ease and not making me think about the technology. I just want to shoot and have magic come out the other end.

Lytro has some really cool things going for it. As a first iteration, it's pretty cool but I think I'm demanding more from cameras these days.

For the last two weeks or so, I was having a ton of Mac problems. It seemed that my OS had gotten corrupted, so I thought that upgrading to OSX Lion would clean up the OS and upgrade me since I was going to do it eventually.

The nightmare that threw me into is probably best told over a beer - somehow I was one of the unlucky few where OSX Lion upgrade over an existing OSX Snow Leopard was just not possible and became unstable over a few days, leading to not being able to boot the Mac at all! I managed to roll back to OSX Snow Leopard (no little trick there!) and think I'm back in action.

But this post is not about my upgrade problems. It's about email. During that small window of time when OSX Lion was working, I opened up the new Mac Mail and saw....a visual makeover and the additions of grouping by conversation. In fact, it defaulted to conversation grouping. What a disappointment. Here was an opportunity to revolutionize email and the most innovative force in technology decided to just do a visual makeover and add what Gmail has had for a few years now?

Like I said, disappointing.

Email has not been innovated in decades. It's still the same old thing. Oh, people have tried, but then most fail miserably as startups. Some of the things people have tried or are doing:

1. Grouping and viewing messages by sender.

2. Turn email into a social network and view messages that way.

3. Adding windows to email to make it into a professional or personal CRM.

4. Graphical views of email that are beyond the rows of messages we see today.

5. Group email by conversation.

Perhaps item 5 is the most dominant innovation in email, and most notably through Google's Gmail. In fact, it is dominant because Google refuses to give you another interface. If you sign up for Gmail (or Google powered business email) and you use their web interfaceYou also see this in Facebook messaging, but I believe Facebook's implementation is subtly better because they always show the conversation that has the latest message in on top. If you use offline Mac mail and pop into Gmail occasionally, Gmail always shows the conversation that came in first on top that you have not read. It takes a few days of working in the Gmail interface before their sorting becomes somewhat effective. This is why I find the web interface to Gmail so annoying; since I go back and forth between Mac Mail and Gmail, Gmail never gets the chance to stay current to what I'm doing and when I do use Gmail in the browser, it's always sorted in the wrong way. And I always lose key messages because the little flags and bolding are the only signals that something new has come in. And it makes me read those messages in the conversation first before I get to the very last, most recent message. Contrast that to Facebook's conversational grouping and they are OK because they sort the recency of messages differently.

Which gets me to what I did next after I rolled back to OSX Snow Leopard. Fearing that my rollback was also corrupted, I ran it for about a week now but storing all changed files on Dropbox and only using the browser for email to minimize changes on the hard drive in case I had to start over again. It was also a rare opportunity for me to really see if I could adapt to the Gmail interface because I was now not switching back and forth between Mac Mail and Gmail.

After 7 days, Gmail (and Yahoo! Mail!) still annoyed the heck out of me. But after 7 days, my Snow Leopard Mac seemed stable, and I got my old Mac Mail back minus their conversation grouping which was the annoying part of Gmail to me anyways and I didn't miss it.

Here, Apple had an opportunity to leap email several levels and didn't take it. They just made the app look a little different and added what Gmail was doing, which I annoys me when I use it. Really disappointing.

Now follows my wish list for what I want or need in email, but hasn't been done yet or needs to be redone:

1. A better search.

Searching on Yahoo Mail is miserable. Searching on Gmail is pretty good which is to be expected from Google BUT is a poor solution for the original reason why I lost the email in the first place due to other UI problems. Searching on Mac Mail is pretty darn good but could use some tweaks.

What's missing in search is the time element. Often I know that an email came yesterday but somehow I can't find it. Can't I filter by only showing results from yesterday? No - I gotta wade through all the other crap that gets returned from the search just to get the one I want.

I believe people naturally use time as a memory aid. Where did I put my keys? I go back in time, retracing my steps through the house, and find that left it on the table by the door and not in my usual place. Or I know he sent me an email right after our meeting....last Tuesday. So I go back to last Tuesday and find the email.

Some searches have advanced filtering but they are all inconsistent. If I search on my boss Elon in Mac Mail, I can only pick 2 choices of where to search (All Mailboxes and my current mailbox) and From, To, Subject, and Entire Message. What if I only want to see messages from Elon that are about one of my companies and not any others? Can't do that. I start typing in the search box all that text and then select Entire Message and then I've got all sorts of random stuff showing up.

2. Taking huge blocks of email headers and using visual techniques to highlight or even remove them completely from view.

If we say that we like the email header view that's been around since the dawn of internet time, then I think this could be optimized further. One of the big problems here is that there is huge information overload. Trying to find something in the clutter is super hard. Spam filters have tried to help somewhat, creative filters which dump certain emails to relevant folders is another.

But one thing I have not seen tried is using some visual technique to highlight or remove completely from view. Well, not completely true. When I search, I remove all the non-relevant results from view. OK one case. Read/unread is now a blue dot in Mac Mail although some mail readers using greying out. So maybe two. I think, though, we need more cases where filtering causes email to either drop back in visual hierarchy or completely disappear from view.

Take my time example. Why can't I select only show me email from Tuesday? Then all other email would disappear and only Tuesday email would be shown? Or show me only email from my boss Elon. I can sort the column, but then I see everyone elses email also cluttering up my view. I can search, but I get every mention of Elon in every field of the email.

Even if this was to visually set back every email that was an advertising email, and bring to the foreground emails from real people - that would be valuable. Now why wouldn't I want to remove them? Because I'm a shopper and I still want to see some deal emails and not just see them completely. This is why I always go through my junk folder. Who knows what my computer decided to mark as spam? It makes a ton of mistakes.

3. Despite my lack of love for conversations, their OSX Lion Mac Mail visual implementation of conversations is pretty good.

I like how you can just scroll and then you can see conversations, each in its own block. This part I love. On Gmail, they are hidden behind each other once you've read them - now I can't scan them! I have to manually open them all up to refresh my memory on the thread.

I also hate sorting by header to see if the subject can generate conversations. That doesn't work. I'd love to see this combined with visual techniques to drop back other emails or remove them entirely from view, so you ONLY see emails from this thread and conversation.

4. Search by attachment media type.

Why can't I view all emails with pictures attached? Or PDFs? Or Excel docs, Word docs, etc.? If it's all pictures, then why not show them in a UX conducive to that media type, like in a slideshow or grid metaphor, or for docs I have a swipe-able (or equivalent) way of going through them quickly, and then also being able to easily return back to the email that it was attached to.

5. View by calendar.

OK back to my comments on time. Time can also be expressed as a calendar, as a grid with days of the week for any month or similar. If it's a monthly grid, then I can just pick on it and see only emails that came for that day. It could even have a cool graphical representation that abstracts the number of emails that came in on that day, or some other summary information like 3000 emails, 30 attachments, 12 pictures, etc. If it's zoomed in to a weekly via with 7 days, maybe the graphical view abstracts in more detail, like showing me a bar graph of emails that came in at each block of time. I could click on one of those blocks, and then it would show me all the emails that came in within, say, that hour. There would also be easy nav to jump to the next hour.

6. Better personal information tool integration.

My Mac Mail is always open. I have often written notes, keep key information like lists of designers I've worked with, and even written whole blog posts in draft emails. On the Mac, I don't really have a good place to take notes. I'd have to start using Evernote to really get some power but that is a separate thing. And Word just blows for that. Every time MSFT releases a new Word version, it takes that much longer to launch. Sucks!

Maybe notes can be treated like Mail that you never send - you just can file them away, you can search on them, attach them to calendar events, or associate them with emails.

Scheduling often comes with an attached invite.ics which, upon clicking, opens up my calendar and presents the opportunity to reply to the invite. At least on the iPhone, Mail has some nice features where you can auto-create calendar events and the iPhone is smart enough to link some text that seem like dates. But I want more than that. When I create a calendar event, I want it linked back to the email that created it, and I want that email accessible so that when the day of the meeting comes, I can quickly go back and review the purpose of the meeting before the meeting starts.

And I want to only see that as a self contained context; don't show me all the other crap around it. Just show me the emails associated with that calendar event and that's it.

7. Better view by person, and info about that person.

Again, email UIs fail here. You sort in the sender column and then try to find the send there. Man that sucks. Try doing that in Yahoo Mail when your inbox is huge. Their paging eventually stopped working for me.

I should have a way of searching by person, and then having all the time and visual filtering that I have, only I'm acting only on one person's emails with me.

It would be nice to be able to pull up additional info about someone, especially those I don't know. I think this is potentially a more advanced business CRM function than for personal use.

8. Better integration with address book.

Mac Mail's integration with Address Book is pretty good. But it could be better. When I find a contact, I want to be able to easily get to all meetings and emails with this person, perhaps even getting back to the first email or email introduction I had with this person. Right now, when I meet someone new, I always type it in the notes. This is because later, I often forget the person, but I remember I met that person through another person. I search on my friend's name and pull him up because I put that in the notes field.

9. Search the SPAM folder.

This is so simple but ignored. Why can't I search my Spam folder too? At least once a week I always open up my Spam folder because I don't trust the filter to grab and hide stuff I wanted to see. I have to remind myself to do it regularly because there are always emails that get stuffed in there that I want. And it seems that even if I say this is not spam, eventually they get caught again. What's up with that? Woe be to the guy who has a new domain; he'll get tossed in there for sure. Or woe to me for starting a new business with a new name; I have to prove to the spam filters out there that I'm not spam.

10. Better Spam filtering.

No matter what we do, Spam manages to always get through. And non-Spam seems to get caught also. Somebody needs to do this better.

11. Local and location integration.

Everyone else is doing location based services, so why not email? If I knew where an email was sent, that would enhance searching a great deal. Sometimes I remember where I sent an email, as a way to find an old email. Perhaps I was on a business trip in NYC, or at a conference. Speaking of conferences, if I was emailed from someone I didn't recognize and I looked up from where and saw it was at a conference that I was at, it could help jog my memory of who this person was and why he was contacting me.

What other innovations on email are out there? Here are two I recently encountered:

LookAcross - magically, they are able to determine when someone is most likely to respond to various communication modes, like email!

Tout App - templated emails, email management and analytics, plus connection with CRMs.

There is a plethora of email clients on Wikipedia but seems like the dominant ones are the ones we all know and love according to this report from Campaign Monitor.

Anything else interesting out there?

In any case, history has shown that email is hard to create to a successful separate business out of. This is why my disappointment with Apple was so acute; they had the chance to release something really innovative with Mail and didn't do it, AND didn't need to worry about survival as a startup.

In the meantime, I will have my decades old, time sorted, header interface that I've come to know, love, and hate....

Today, Brad Feld tweeted this great post about science fiction and its role in prediction and driving the future.




In a roundabout way, it took me back to grad school at Stanford in 1989 when I was working on my Masters in Product Design, before the department officially became the d.school.

It was when I first heard someone (my graphic arts professor Matt Kahn) say that designers need to travel more in order to broaden their horizons and in increasing their worldliness and knowledge, they could create better designs and become better designers.

Back then, I wasn't very worldly. I didn't care much for traveling or seeing other places. I was from Poughkeepsie, NY and led a pretty sheltered, enclosed life. I hadn't traveled much as a kid and didn't really understand why I might want to travel other than to hang out on a beach. Besides, it cost money which I didn't have at the time.

Time went on, and I got the opportunity to travel more, and slowly but surely seeing other cultures and meeting the people in their broadened my perspective greatly as it related to design. Somehow the expansion of consciousness made me more effective as a designer.

After that, I sought to learn about as much about the world as possible in all aspects. I read everything. I devoured books and magazines on not only design but technology as well. Later, I expanded this to all sorts of topics, ranging from news to economics to everything. I knew enough about a lot of things to be dangerous but it was extremely effective for making me a better designer (and also helped me to be a better conversationalist!).

Which brings me back to science fiction.

Before my consciousness expanding realization, I have always read a lot. But that was limited to almost exclusively science fiction. But now my science fiction reading had another benefit.

As Cory Doctorow wrote in his post, A Vocabulary for Speaking about the Future, science fiction authors are great at painting pictures of the future. Perhaps they are terrible at predicting what the future really might bring; still, they are great at showing us what the future could potentially hold and thus can be extremely useful in expanding our consciousness for creativity in design...or in venture capital.

VCs need to have some intuition about how the world will be in the future as they are betting on things now that will hopefully be big later. In order to do that, you have to be creative and imaginative; you can't analyze what the future brings - look at how Wall Street experts did back in 2010 predicting what would happen in 2011. You can only imagine what the world will be like and then make your bet.

To beef up your intuition, you need to expand your consciousness through travel and experiencing other peoples and cultures and expand your knowledge base to cut across as many disciplines as you can handle. In doing so, you will release all the negativity that only comes with analysis of the future which is unknown and can't really be analyzed. And what better way to increase your creativity of vision of the future than to have people lay it out for you in the form of novels and short stories?

Building the "Apple of [fill in the blank]"

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Yesterday afternoon, I reconnected with an entrepreneur on his project. He reminded me of something we discussed a while back and it re-rang a chord. That something was the fact that when we discussed vision for his company, that he really was driving towards building "The Apple for XYZ".

Today, we see the transcendance of Apple and the amazing things that Steve Jobs has done for the worlds of computing and mobile. He took two very slow innovating, mediocre to bad UX, nearly commoditized industries and transformed them into new engines of growth for creativity, innovation, and monetization. His rabid focus on what's crappy for users before and creating the ultimate solution has served him and Apple well. Thus, I think for those of us in this generation, we like to ask, "what would Steve Jobs do?"

What would Steve Jobs do?

Jobs is not with us any more, but his methods are well discussed and documented. To oversimplify dramatically, he simply takes something that exists today, looks at what is frustrating and crappy about it, and makes it into the ultimate whatever from a user experience standpoint AND makes it delightful and desirable on top of that.

This is now my new favorite thing to ask startups that pitch me.

Are you creating the Apple of [fill in the blank]?

I think this is worthwhile to apply to anything that a startup works on. Startups are the perfect place to envision, create, and execute the ultimate product or solution to anything. Big organizations have so many barriers to doing that; being small and nimble gives you a lot of advantages.

In today's startup ecosystem, I am beginning to think that now you have no choice but to create the Apple of [fill in the blank]. Why? It's because there is SO much competition that being great isn't good enough. You have to do better than even that to get noticed by consumers who are getting way too many things that are great and to rise above the noise of all the crap that is preventing us from discovering the right thing. If you want to win, the bar has risen so frickin' high that you have no choice but to pull off the hardest feat possible, which is to build something that eliminates all frustration and crap in the user experience and is the ultimate solution for that product or service and, oh by the way, it needs to be something so desirable that people want it for what it is, what it can do, how it makes them feel, and elevates their personal status by having it.

So you, the entrepreneur, should be asking yourself:

Why am I not creating the Apple of [fill in the blank]?

He’s (Jony Ive) not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me. There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.

Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson


Like the rest of the world, I've been reading the new Steve Jobs book by Walter Issacson. I came upon the passage above and it hit a nerve.

One of the long standing debates is how to integrate design into large organizations, and how to use design more effectively. When I read that passage above, it resonated in a big way with respect to why design is so dysfunctional in companies both big and small.

I read all the time that companies are trying to be more design-centric. They bring in consultants, read all sorts of books about people like Steve Jobs, hire design firms - they get all sorts of roadmaps and then try to implement them....and fail.

While I could go into the multitude of reasons on why design fails in companies, I'd like to focus on those brought out by Steve's quote.

Explicit Authority vs. Implied Authority

It is well known that Steve Jobs uses design like an expert swordsman yields a fine blade. However, he's not a designer himself; he just has incredible design sensibilities. So he needs help in the form of Jony Ive in whom he has found a kindred spirit in executing his design initiatives.

BUT - Steve was smart enough to understand that in order to make sure Jony Ive could function, he made it organizationally explicit what power he had. This is a big problem faced by many orgs. They say design is important. They say they want it integrated into everything they do. But organizationally, designers are not given explicit authority in the org to be able to make it happen. Their managers may be given the authority, but they do not know how to advance design themselves and so they just say "make it happen." But they do not know how to argue for support or resources; designers have the best knowledge about their own discipilne to argue for it. Thus Jony Ive reported directly to Steve and was his right hand man and everyone knew it, and knew not to mess with him.

Therefore, the first message of this post is, if you really believe design is important to your company, then make it explicit, through the organization (ex. design has C-level representation, reports to CEO, etc.), and through explicit, constant vocal support by tthe CEO (ex. "why are you asking me? I said, the designer has complete responsibility and I trust him to make the right decisions on this matter.").

The worst thing you can do is give weak, implicit responsibility. You push designers far down the reporting chain, make them work with those who have more responsibility and power in the org, and then expect them to advance design? You give lip service to its importance but you have setup the organization to fail. So what's the problem? Trust? Naive knowledge? Unsure of exactly how to proceed? If you're the leader, you need to figure out what the problem is in you and solve it.

Ability Needs to be Demonstrated and Authority Earned

BUT (another but!) - great power wields great responsibility. You cannot give such power to just any designer. In this passage, Steve describes Jony:


He is a wickedly intelligent person in all ways. He understands business concepts, marketing concepts. He picks stuff up just like that, click. He understands what we do at our core better than anyone. If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company.


This is the second message: designers, if you expect to get authority in your company, you have to demonstrate that you are worthy of it. It was clear that Steve trusted Jony in all aspects of his abilities to be able to entrust him with the authority. That means you need to build up your abilities too. You need to understand not only design and user experience, but also a multitude of aspects, like engineering, marketing, business development, strategy - everything - and its relationship to design. You need to demonstrate that you understand it fully and gain the trust of company management in order to earn at least the capacity to wield such authority with some level of confidence of not messing up.

With the ascendance of Apple through design, everyone is talking about how to integrate design into their strategies better. Both management and designers need to change and grow in order to make this really happen.

I bugged a friend of mine at Google and instantly got up and running on the new kid on the block, Google+. Of course, now I'm much cooler than you since I got in and you're not haha - alas, I'm sure that coolness is short-lived.

I launched into Google+ with little expectations. As soon as I got in, I was presented with a rather overwhelming page - circles? streams? friends? a bunch of tweet-like shares sitting there in my stream already - pictures also. Talk about information overload.

So I poked around. Trying to invite some other friends was really tough. Why bury that in the circles function? And why do I need to add their name? Can't I just send them an invite? After all, I want all my friends on the system.

But oh wait, these circles allow me to categorize my connections. The drag-drop UI is pretty slick, but geez I just ended up dragging them all into my Friends circle. It's too hard to categorize these people. And I'm pretty particular with who I add to my Facebook friends in any case - but even that has reached unmanageable numbers (or so I think: I just went to Facebook to look up how many friends I have and I can't seem to figure it out! I've got SO many that Facebook can't even count them up for me LOL).

Man, it seems that Google threw the kitchen sink in here. No MVP for them! Or actually, the M stands for Maximal instead of Minimum. So maybe MVP still applies! It will take me a few days to navigate around and figure this out. Somebody tagged me in a picture so many of the usual Facebookian functions are found here.

The stream is fun - seeing pictures auto displayed there is pretty cool, although it wrecks the stream UI a bit so scanning is tougher than just lines of text on twitter. Still, Twitter is the default real time stream of choice due to momentum.

Which brings me back to this point. Big, established internet companies have a huge advantage when launching new products in the area of distribution. In the old days at Yahoo!, we used to call this the "firehose" of users which we can direct to any property we launched. We merely had to create and launch a new site, and then if we could get permission to get it listed on the Yahoo! homepage, it would instantly get traffic. In fact, it didn't matter if the site sucked or not; merely putting it on the Yahoo! homepage guaranteed a steady stream of users who clicked on the link and visited the site. In fact, many business units in the past dangerously created revenue projections on traffic patterns generated by the presence of that link on the Yahoo! homepage, which suddenly were destroyed when somebody decided that the link to that site shouldn't be on there any more, or moved to a less advantageous position on the page like below the fold.

Today, getting users is tough - tougher than you can imagine. Which is really why only someone like Google could even think about launching something that competes not only with Facebook but also with Twitter at the same time, especially given the dominance that these two sites have among the userbase. A company which does not have an existing userbase with which to firehose a new service will stand little chance of gaining any sort of traction, like startups for example.

But is it enough? Firehoses are super important, but you have to firehose the right thing or else once the firehose stops, then traffic dies off too, like in my Yahoo! example. Or in some cases, even firehosing isn't enough to generate traction.

After a few minutes of playing around, it seems that the real time aspect dominates the initial views. Then, I can group my connections into circles and I can share posts to certain or all circles. And on top of that, there are some nice UI/UX enhancements and arguably there are some differences in UX between the two even as a lot of the UX is similar. I'm not sure Google+ has a better UX than Facebook or Twitter though; at the moment, they seem very similar and there are things I like more about Facebook and Twitter as I like some of the new elements in Google+. So I can say for now that I think that there really isn't some dominant aspect of Google+ that would attract me to switch and use Google+ more than my old services of Facebook and Twitter.

Therefore, if Google+ competes head to head with Twitter and Facebook, is the firehose enough to win, along with some incremental enhancements in the UX?

First, as I've often talked about, incremental improvement is simply not enough to cause switching (see condition 3 in What I Really Mean By "Souring on Internet-Only Startups"). The state of Google+ doesn't seem to be all that much better.

Granted, there may be better integration with Google services - many of us have often noted that email is simply a representation of a social network already but nobody has really exploited this fact to great effect. Certainly, a ton of people have Google mail services so there is an enormous base to draw from. Perhaps the inertia of early adopters may draw enough people in to start using Google+ to make it survive. Still, I think it is going to be hard given that Facebook and Twitter dominate social networking. To make it more likely, I think Google+ needs some exponential improvement over Facebook and Twitter but I don't see that yet; perhaps there will be something in the future.

Another potential competitive advantage that could be exploited is branding. Facebook used to be a cool brand but I'm not so sure right now - I think it's more utility now. Twitter is more recently cool and still there is more cool brand value than Facebook; it's also moving to utility now that people are exploring its news and communication delivery capabilities. But would you consider being part of a Google social network a must-have, enhancing your own coolness by being on it?

The firehose of a highly trafficked web service like Google is an incredible asset and brought to bear on a truly transformative, useful, and/or cool web service, it can accelerate discovery and adoption and vault it into the mainstream. But point that firehose at something less than that and the service will die once you take that firehose away. The jury is still out on whether Google+ can be more than just on parity with its competitors, Facebook and Twitter. If it doesn't, what waste of a perfectly good firehose...

News Innovation: Still Haven't Quite Gotten There Yet

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Over the last few months, I have been actively giving feedback to my buddies at the news.me team (see NYTimes: Betaworks and The Times Plan a Social News Service and Techcrunch: Exclusive: An Early Look At News.me, The New York Times’ Answer To The Daily.

News is one of those things I worked on since the beginning of the internet when Yahoo released its first linked page of news back in 1995. I watched it grow, basically taking offline news and putting it online, into a huge powerhouse of traffic. Likewise, traditional outlets put all their news online launching both opportunity and destruction as users flocked to reading news online and heralding the slow death of physical newspaper business models.

But in the last few years, I've been thinking a lot about news, how I read it, consume it, and want to do things with news that I still can't do. If you look out there on the web, news is still basically just pages of content. Only just in the last year have people started looking beyond just RSS readers and using the social/real time web to help with recommendations. But I still want more; Twitter is a big source of news for me, but it still doesn't do everything.

I wrote this and sent this to the news.me team, but I want the world to come up with something exponentially better, not just incrementally better. Here are my current issues with news and what I would love to see:

1. News front pages haven't innovated in ages. They mostly look like their offline analogues. Seems like it's time for an improvement.

2. Trust is a problem. Too many sources and no way to verify, or verification takes way too much time. You can always find someone who supports your viewpoint on the internet so it can be very difficult to tell who is lying and who is not. At one time we trusted journalists because they had ethical standards to uphold. That's been destroyed. Everyone has biases and it's starting to show more and more.

3. Every news source reports on the same news, with few exceptions (ie. local or vertical). If everyone is just re-reporting what comes off the wires, then what is the differentiator for news outlets? Brand? Voice? Opinion? Bias?

4. How to balance what I am interested in and what I want to read serendipitiously?

5. I want to pick sources I want to follow all the time but want to be introduced to new sources on occasion. There are too many sources to deal with.

6. I often drop into a topic later in time. I want to be able to easily navigate back in time to a topic's start. I also want to see how the topic developed so i want to read all stories up to the present. I also want to navigate across sources for any given topic to see other opinions.

7. When I am interested in a topic, I want to somehow designate it to be tracked. I want to be able to undesignate it also, when I do not want to follow it any more.

8. News rolls with time. but there are often stories I don't have time to read now. This is the problem with using Twitter as a newsfeed. It does great from a social recommendation standpoint, but the news rolls past so fast that I have to favorite or else it is gone forever.

This also applies to news front pages. The saving grace is the NYTimes email which snapshots the news for me and it is saved in my email.

9. Breaking news often comes from many places, and maybe from Twitter before anywhere else. How do we insert that into our news reading? Do I have to stare at my Twitter stream all day long just to catch the rare, elusive news event before anyone else does?

10. I want something to remember everything I read because I often want to find something that i read in the past. I want to be able to search everything I read and only that.

11. Ideally I want to pull up old stories I've read, or tagged, or saved. Hopefully I can easily tag/save into categories and pull them up by those groupings.

12. News must be both curated and algorithmically recommended. Either can't do it all.

I really hope someone innovates news more than just putting a "news" layer on top of Twitter, or a prettier face on top of RSS feeds. Everyone seems to be working on a singular part of news but not the whole experience. I would love to see a startup take on the whole project of news rather than just little pieces of it. Might even be worth investing in...

Warm Gun: Alternative Impressions

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I just got back from a whole day of hanging out at the Warm Gun: Designing Happiness Conference put on by Dave McClure and his crew at 500startups. Once again, it was a stellar event, gathering designers and developers and the occasional investor (like me, although I guess I'm also a designer and developer with my CS degree). I thought I would post about the event, but post differently than posting just the notes or what was good and not so good. Instead, I thought I'd post some alternative impressions that I got while at the event which I thought were interesting.

I was shopping for a lot of books!

Two presenters gave some suggestions for reading, Geoffrey Miller and Jennifer Aaker. Through them I instantly bought on Amazon:

We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion by Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris
resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature by Geoffrey Miller
Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller

I am glad that some of the presenters did give favorite texts because it is hard to take notes in a conference setting; they talk fairly rapidly and move through slides so quick that it is hard to take the important points down. Some of them thankfully will either post their presentations on Slideshare or email them to me personally which is pretty cool.

Ex-Yahoo! designers, the next generation

I met a few designers who had been doing design at Yahoo! and left relatively recently. Most of them got there after I had left, with one I saw who was there when I was there and was still had not left!

But seeing them present and hearing about the work they did for some reason gave me a lump in my throat. I spent 9 years at Yahoo! as VP of User Experience and Design and we did so much while I was there. Now there was the new generation who designed for Yahoo in not only a new regime but new internet environment of high bandwidth, HTML4 going on 5, advanced browser technologies, faster computers, iPhone and iPads - it was a much different environment than the one I had designed Yahoo! sites for way back when. For some reason I felt nostalgic for the old days, but was impressed by their skills and knowledge and also felt disconnected with the new generation.

It was good to say hi and talk about the Yahoo!s that we respectively knew and where we were going from there.

"Twitter intros" were everywhere

What an amazing thing Twitter does - I walk into Warm Gun and immediately I am meeting and talking to people as if they know me because they tell me they have been following me on Twitter for a while now - I do the same to them if I recognize their names by their Twitter handles.

It certainly breaks the ice and for many, we seem to already know each other before meeting in person!

On the other hand, it is vaguely stalker like - should I be afraid...?

"Those who do not remember history are destined to repeat it."

Sitting through the last presentation of the developer track, I was listening to Tom Chi, former Yahoo! search designer and now at Google. He was giving a quick talk on the intricacies of designing a search user experience.

A lot of the things he talked about were things we did when I was still at Yahoo (although afterwards, we got into a great discussion on all the cool things they were doing that weren't mentioned in the presentation due to time constraints). Still, I could not recall where anyone had recorded information about search UX much. One of my designers, Christina Wodtke (now at MySpace) wrote about search UX design in her book, Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web (2nd Edition). On Boxes and Arrows, there are a few stories about search UX:

Advancing Advanced Search
Search Behavior Patterns
Long Tails and Short Queries (which references an excellent research article by Amanda Spink, From E-Sex to E-Commerce)

But if you didn't know where to look, it would be potentially really hard to find this information. And the new generation of designers might not even try to find it before trying to design a search experience on their sites. What a shame that would be: they would most likely make the same mistakes that others have made before them. IF ONLY they had the knowledge of others before them!

Yet I find that much of the deep knowledge tends to be proprietary or trapped in the minds of individuals who worked on the problems and then went elsewhere, or left to rot on departing employees' hard drives.

At Yahoo! we had a website where we made all the user researchers upload their usability reports into one place so that we could always go back and see what others had done before them. Now that I've been gone for 6 years, who knows if that repository still exists. Certainly the individuals have been scattered to the four winds.

Perhaps this is something that someone on the internet would do, which is to create a repository of design knowledge. Perhaps we could somehow get donations of historical proprietary data. Perhaps we could save presentations from all the talks both formal and informal (like on Slideshare). Maybe it could be a Design Wikipedia, or something like Television Tropes & Idioms where every formula for a TV show has been recorded and basically reused and recombined for new shows.

Otherwise, we're going to be relegated to finding these individuals and making give the same presentation over and over again for each new generation of designers...maybe that's yet another great reason to hold Warm Gun next year!

Putting a ZAGG Screen Protector on my iPad

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Last week, I got tired of seeing all these fingerprints form on my iPad screen and was also getting paranoid of scratching it, since I pull it in and out of my bag all the time. So I ordered a screen protector from one of the early providers of thin film screen protectors, ZAGG.

However, putting it on was a serious pain in the butt and the included instructions were totally bad because they were geared towards the iPhone version of the screen protector. So I thought I'd do a quick post on how to install the thin film screen protector without screwing it up.

On my first attempt, I did try to follow the directions. However here were the problems:

1. The film for an iPad is considerably larger than for a smartphone like an iPhone. Thus the tendency for it to flop around and stick to itself is much much greater.

2. Thus, in the instructions, it says to pull the whole thing off and lay it on your hand doesn't work at all. I tried that and it immediately attempted to stick to itself, and then it basically turned into a mangled mess of stuck plastic. Believe me, you will never pull it off itself if it starts to stick.

Thankfully, I called up ZAGG and they sent me a new one as replacement, and I sent back the mangled, stuck to itself piece of plastic as proof of replacement.

3. ZAGG also ships it rolled up. This is also bad because it encourages the film to roll back on itself and thus stick to itself.

Here is a way to install it that works:

1. Turn off the iPad! Hit the top button and hold it until the slider appears on the screen to turn it off. Then turn it off before installing. This is because there is this spray they give you to help make it less sticky while you install the film. It is a fluid so you don't want any of that getting inside your iPad while it's still powered on. That could really be bad and it could short something out and destroy it.

2. Next roll the protective film the other way so as to flatten it out. Trying to unpeel it while it is still curled is a really bad idea and how mine turned into a mangled mess.

3. Now wash your hands and spray your fingers with that fluid. Hope it's not toxic! But it's supposed to reduce the possibility of imprinting fingerprints on the underside of the film.

4. I started peeling off the film from the bottom where the hole for the circular button is. I wanted to get that off first because I didn't want to risk messing with not ripping the hole by accident later, and also risking having this floppy film stick to itself.

5. Once I got about an inch off, I started spraying it judiciously with the fluid to make it less sticky. Then slowly, I peel off a bit more, and then spray that also.

6. After getting about two inches off, I align the hole in the film with the button on the iPad, as well as the bottom edge of the film to the bottom edge of the screen. I make the edges as parallel as possible so that when I lay it down the sides will hopefully be aligned too.

7. As I lay the film down on the iPad, I peel back some of the protective paper, spray some fluid, and lay the film down. I use the plastic piece to smooth out air bubbles. Sometimes I need to raise the film and re-lay it down, and resmooth it with the plastic piece.

8. I work my way up the iPad screen, peeling back more protective paper, spraying fluid, and smoothing out air bubbles with the plastic piece until done.

I would not recommend taking the film completely off the protective paper first! Anything to prevent the chance of watching it fold on itself and stick!

9. Then any last bits of air bubbles I attempt to smooth out. I'm not perfect here and have some small remaining bubbles. Oh well.

At least now I don't have a mangled piece of sticky plastic, but a nice film protector on my iPad.

Design as a Central Resource in Incubators and Funds

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In my last post, Giving UX and Design Advice, I started talking about a buddy of mine asking me about design support in incubators and described what goes on in the mind of one person (me!) who gives design and UX advice. I believe this gives clues as to how to find a person to fill the role of a design/UX advisor, or if someone wanted to become one, what they might expect.

Let's get on with the real topic, which is, if you're running an incubator, should you provide design as a central resource? And if you do, how might that work?

Also, when I say incubators, I think that we can include any investment operation, such as a venture fund, who wants to provide centralized design help to its portfolio companies.

The Problem Statement

There is recognition that for early stage startups, getting the product right has unprecedented importance over other aspects of the business. If this is true, then getting the user experience of the product right is paramount. Assuming we know the difference between design and UX, design has definitely the user facing component of the user experience of a product. Thus it's natural that helping startups find great design support is very important.

The problem with finding design support is that...there just aren't enough great designers around! The world simply doesn't have enough designers who are talented AND are great at crafting a great front-end user experience. Note that you can't just have someone who is talented because some guys are just not good UX people. So if we're lucky to find a great designer who is also a great UX person, then we'd want to utilize this person on a wide variety of projects.

However, in what form should the design/UX help take? Advice only, or actual work? Here are some examples of this in the real world now.

The Designer in Residence

About 5-6 months ago, the world saw its first Designer in Residence (DIR) at Bessemer Venture Partners. The term was first coined by Bessemer's David Cowan and shortly after the Mint acquisition, their designer Jason Putorti became the first DIR. I have talked with Jason about his experiences as a DIR and will wrap in some thoughts from conversations with him and Bessemer folks. For a more in-depth look at his experiences in his time as DIR, please look for his upcoming post at his blog.

The main purpose of the DIR was to help out the Bessemer portfolio from a design point of view. Any portfolio company that was receptive to help would get time with Jason, although it was mostly from an advice point of view. The startups that were receptive to outside advice really appreciated his visits and comments. Many startups did not feel the need to receive outside help and some of those probably didn't need any design advice, and some, by some viewpoint, probably could have used some even if they didn't think they needed it.

That's not to say that Jason didn't deep dive; this did occur but it didn't happen very often since his time was limited with each company.

Betaworks

As part of our operations at betaworks, we incubate some businesses. Thus, providing design help to our internal projects was deemed critical to getting those internal products out the door quickly and allow us to iterate on them, without having to waste time to find design help for every project. We hired a designer to be on staff to help us work quickly on our ideas.

In the case of betaworks, my proposed problem statement is not their main purpose for having the designer on staff; this designer actually does the work, and so therefore his time is limited because he needs to focus on projects to get design work done. Currently he works on 2-3 projects maximum, and at any one time is focused on one.

He hasn't done much at giving design/UX advice though, simply because his time would get overwhelmed helping too many people at once, and then only at the advice level.

He also has noted to me that he has extremely enjoyed the interactions and the projects, and the wide variety of problems to solve from simple sites to complex services. Such is the nature of working for an operation whose day to day interactions are always with the latest and greatest!

Parallels with Central Design Teams in Bigger Companies

The issues experienced, when attempting to provide actual work, mirror those of companies with central design teams attempting to service many teams at once. Because the teams do not have dedicated design support, they have to come to the central resource to get things done.

The typical issues encountered in these situations are:

1. Competition for design time, and the resulting tensions. Sometimes there is the threat of going outside the company for design help, which works for some companies and is absolutely prohibited by others.

2. Accounting dollar-wise for design time can be challenging, and things such as chargebacks to matrix headcount attribution have been tried to account for resourcing, and to see how much design time and cost a project has used.

3. Headcount is always an issue, and fighting to add to headcount in a central organization when it's not tied directly to any revenue generating project (instead, it's tied to all projects both revenue generating and losing) is a difficult fight to win.

4. Designers in these central teams are often stressed to finish way too much work and quality can suffer if the demands on their time exceed their ability to finish quality work.

5. Causing 4, scheduling projects is always a problem when so many people are vying for your design time. Prioritization is always an issue, and frustrations can occur when someone doesn't get support when they need it.

Provide Only Advice, or Resources to do the Actual Work?

Here you go, the pros and cons of both!

Advice Only:

PROS:

1. Can handle a lot of projects at once.

2. Can talk about issues larger than just design alone, that are related to user experience.

3. Breadth of exposure to many projects gives a breadth of experiences to bring to bear on any one given project.

4. Effectiveness is potentially at its greatest at the certain stages of the project, like at the beginning during product definition before decisions have been made, and evaluating what has been done already, especially if there is evidence that there are problems with what has been launched and receptiveness to help from the team is greatest (since it's obvious there is something that needs to be fixed, rather than not having concrete evidence before a product is launched.

CONS:

1. Only helps those who are receptive.

2. Even receptive people may ignore your advice, or simply forget about it later.

3. Advice can only be implemented if the team can internalize what is being said. If they do not have enough depth of understanding, they may not be able to implement fully, or only partially which may not be enough.

4. Lack of depth on a project can result in incomplete advice.

5. Advice can be wrong, or simply wrong for a given team. The right solution for a given problem may come in a multitude of forms; the advice a single person gives really only offers one solution but it may not be the solution that a team requires to get to success. Remember that success can come in many forms. For example, even if a product has a terrible UX, if the startup is sold and investors make money, then by many measures, the startup has reached a success despite ignoring UX advice.

6. Giving design/UX advice requires an individual who enjoys giving advice as a career and not doing the actual work. It may be hard to find skilled individuals who want to give advice and not do the actual work.

7. Giving design advice is only part of the solution; we still have to find someone to do the actual work. Designers are still hard to come by. Without anyone to implement the advice, the advice may be pointless.

Doing Actual Work:

PROS:

1. Inserting a great designer is the best way to ensure that the right design work gets implemented. Having someone on the team who is there, fighting for the right thing to do 24/7, is the best way to ensure that a great UX gets launched. It also enables depth on a project, so that the probability of the right design being implemented is greater.

2. Evidence has shown that most designers love doing the actual work, and that it is much more satisfying than just giving advice. So it's most likely easier to find designers to staff a central group that does work.

CONS:

1. Coverage of projects is extremely limited, often only one project at a time.

2. Since coverage of projects is limited, you need a lot of personnel to cover a lot of projects. Paying salaries for all these folks and supporting them can be a challenge for an operation that does not have recurring revenue (ie. a fund or incubator is not a business with revenue). Or do we charge our startups, which has its own issues given that they are most likely early stage and very sensitive to expenses?

However, if the entity that provides design support has deep pockets, then either design support can be provided for free, or at a steeply discounted cost to the marketplace.

3. Running a central group which does work is like running a design consultancy. It will have the same issues as any consultancy in managing the work and client. Having worked at frogdesign, I can tell you that running a consultancy is not an easy thing; keeping deliveries on schedule, maintaining happy customers and quality of work all takes experience.

4. How do we know that the designers on staff can maintain quality? What if the best design support can be found outside the central group? What if the design talents that the startup needs are not found within the group?

5. Finding designers to hire is still tough. How much time is required to even build the team itself?

6. Central group design support is still very discontinuous; the group comes in, does work, and then stops for a while. In the space between projects, a lot of learning is accomplished which may not get back to the designers. At some point the startups will require their own dedicated design help which is continuous and 24/7.

One might notice that in either case, the list of cons exceeds the pros. I would say that the brevity of the pros doesn't minimize their importance. Each of those pros has tremendous value for each path. It is the cons that we must watch out for and be OK with, when setting up design support for an incubator or fund.

Footnotes:

a. As I was finishing up this post, I got word that the venture group at Google provides design support on contract, and on a limited basis to its portfolio companies. I hope to meet with the designer to get his take on how this works and how it's going for him.

b. One of my reviewers pointed out that this post ended kind of open ended and left him feeling the need for some firm conclusion. Yes I bailed on giving a specific conclusion because I believe that the direction an entity takes is highly specific to the situation and its own needs. I do not think there is one size fits all in providing either type of design support. I wanted to point out what the pros and cons of each direction were, and let the reader create his own solution based on his own requirements.

Many thanks to James Cham @jamescham, Jason Putorti @novaurora, and Neil Wehrle @neilw for reviewing this post!

Giving UX and Design Advice

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A buddy of mine was helping some friends setup an incubator and he asked me whether or not they should have some UX/design support that is resident in the incubator.

It's an interesting proposition. According to Dave McClure:

Addictive User Experience (aka Design) & Scalable Distribution Methods (aka Marketing) are the most critical for success in consumer internet startups, not pure Engineering talent.
(from Startups & VCs: Learn How to Design, Market, & Eat Your Own Consumer Internet Dogfood)

I tend to agree. Most startups are started by business people or engineers. It is very rare to find startups started by designers; relative to the other disciplines, it's like finding a needle in a haystack. So most entrepreneur teams really have no formal training in the area of user experience and any that do well are either lucky or naturally talented. But yet at early stage, the quality of the product experience matters so much more than at any other time and is so critical to the early traction a startup can get. Also, designers are among the hardest of disciplines to hire for; there simply aren't enough to go around, especially compared to the number of engineers universities crank out each year. Thus it's natural that an incubator, which provides a lot of critical resources to its incubated businesses, would want to provide design as one of those resources.

I should also say that we've been really bastardizing the use of the term "designer". There are many sub-disciplines within the category of design: visual design, graphic design, interaction design, user researchers, usability testing professionals. Saying that someone should get a talented designer is not a cure-all for UX success. You must have some basic level of understanding and skill in a few of these areas in order to create a great user experience.

For the last 4 years, I've been advising startups partially in the area of UX and design. I think there are parallels in what I do and what an incubator might provide. Both an incubator and I have a portfolio of companies to provide design support for; but yet how to provide a level of support for so many customers at one time? Is it actual design detail work or is it just guidance? Certainly I have thought a lot about providing UX and design help to all the startups in my portfolio, and in what form that help looks like. However, the nature of providing help in this form comes with interesting dynamics.

All About Influencing

Everything is influenced based, which means that in no way can I force someone to come to my viewpoint. I have to convince them that my way is better through belief in my past experiences and/or through some sort of research, or through the persuasiveness of my reasoning. These individuals do not report to me; nor in reality do they even have to listen to me. I do not hold their destinies in my hands so I cannot have that level of control over whether they listen to me or act on my advice.

In the beginning, this was a source of mild frustration because I would tell my startups that something was wrong or could be better in that way, but yet they would seem to not do what I just told them to do. I realized that early on that my advice was just that; it was advice that someone would just add to their knowledge base and they would act on it or not.

Not Letting Grinfucks Get to You

I also have to let go of the fact that they may not listen to me at all, or totally disagree with me and discount whatever I advise. Sometimes they would even agree with what I said and then go back to doing whatever it was they were doing later (I believe this is what Mark Suster calls the "grinfuck".). However, I can't let this get to me or else immense frustration will set in.

However, as much as we see someone else is failing (by our own standards), I have to admit that there is always the probability that I am not right. If there is anything I've learned about product design is that there is huge variability of success amongst users. I think if we thought hard enough, even the most crappiest designed products have had huge success in the world (ie. Windows). Or we underestimate users' tolerance for imperfect design; sometimes users put up with so much because the product satisfies some basic need very well. Then, when you consider what makes a startup successful, it throws even more variability into whether or not a perfect design is really required. For example, one metric for success is when a big company buys your startup for a lot of money; you may have a really imperfect product but yet we're successful because we sold our startup for a lot of money and made a decent return.

To me, this is all a probability game. Too often we get caught up in black and white: "if you don't implement my design ideas, you're gonna fail." To me, it's about maximizing all chances of success, with UX and design being one of those all important details a startup works on. When you execute well across a number of fronts, that raises the probability of success. The more details you execute poorly or imperfectly, the less your probability of success. So I ask you, the intreprid entrepreneur, wouldn't you want to listen to some UX design advice to maximize your probability of success overall?

Gotta Keep an Endless Flow of Ideas Comin'

When teams don't like my initial ideas, I find I have to keep throwing ideas at them until something sticks. In some situations, I seem to have an endless supplies of things to try. In others, I hit a wall and run out of ideas very quickly. It's definitely frustrating to me when I run out of ideas, as I consider myself a pretty creative guy. But there is ultimately an end to ideas when they come from a single person, and from someone who doesn't live and breathe the startup day in and day out.

Advising Generally Means You're Not Doing the Work

However, advising is generally not actually doing the work. You're evaluating, giving your opinion, suggesting changes, giving ideas and direction on what can work better. Rarely am I actually launching Photoshop or doing actual HTML.

I like advising. I like teaching and guiding others and it's a source of great satisfaction to me to help others succeed. I also like to see if my theories actually work or not, so now it's a challenge to see if my ideas are right or not. Second, advising allows me to cover a far wider set of customers than by doing the actual work. In order to do great work, you really have to focus on a project; multitasking can get you only so far and I'm sure anyone who is in the contracting business will tell you the pitfalls of working on more than one project at a time. Quality of the work, thought leadership, and time management all become huge challenges when you're working on just one more extra thing.

The downside to advising is that I'm not doing the actual work. Advice can only communicate your ideas so far; words just cannot replace the actual design work being just done by you. To some, doing the work is far more satisfying than giving advice. Hey I know - I've been there. I've lost count of how many sites I've launched at Yahoo, or the immense enjoyment I feel when I'm part of team designing, building, and launching a product at Apple or through our contracts at frogdesign. You also don't learn as much unless you're doing the actual work; living and breathing the design allows you to be immersed in the users and their problems with your product. Hearing it secondhand just isn't the same.

I think for many designers, it's tough to just give advice. It is hard to let go of the immense personal satisfaction and learning of doing the actual work. I think this is partially why there aren't that many designers out there giving advice in some form or another. It's actually pretty cool to be doing the work and taking a product all the way through to launch.

One other important point about doing the work: it also maximizes the chance that your ideas will get implemented. Any ideas you may plant in someone are just thoughts; taking those thoughts to action requires firm belief by the listener in what you said, being able to internalize it, and then act on it. But if you are on the team doing the implementing, then you have the best chance of implementing the ideas into the product because you already believe in it and have internalized it, and recognize and can walk a path to realization of the idea.

Not Doing the Work Means Wider Coverage of Projects

One advantage to stepping back from the actual work is that you can cover a wider variety of projects simultaneously. I do not know of any designer who can handle more than two projects at the same time; most only work on one at a time before moving on. Spreading your brain across multiple projects really puts quality at risk. It is very difficult to do your best work when you're not focused on one thing.

However, if I'm giving just advice, I can do that across many more projects. Still, it is consistent with multitasking issues that if I don't get depth on a given project, that it's hard to give really detailed advice. So often I may spend more time on a single project and get to know it better and then I can give more depth in my advice. I do think my past Yahoo experience as been a great advantage here. At Yahoo we worked on a wide variety of projects and I am usually able to bring some depth to my advice without needing much time to get to know a project.

The Difference Between Design Advice and UX Advice

Just so I'm clear - I think there is a difference between "design" advice and "UX" advice. Definitely the two are related. Building a great user experience pretty much means you're employing great visual and interaction design, coupled with user research to reinforce and inform. However, I think there are differences as well. Mostly, I think that design is a subset of creating the entire user experience, which encompasses branding and its effects on a user's constant use of a product, tackling a certain market segment, and customer service, among other things.

When I give specific design advice, I tend to think of looking at the specific elements on an interface and commenting on the interaction or its aesthetics. I talk about placement of controls, and what is confusing and what is not. I talk about the flow across screens and whether or not that makes sense, or could be easier or not. Often this comes in the form of a design walkthrough with discussion after.

However, when I give UX advice, my comments go wider and I talk about the entire product experience. A conversation may start with "can I get help on my GUI?" but sometimes I see the problem is not with the GUI but it's with a broader issue of why the heck we're doing this in the first place. I start talking about who the customer is, and why they're targeting the customer. I also talk about getting a better product definition and problem statement.

Personally, I think it's not a good use of time if the problem statement is incorrect in the first place to dive into detail UI issues. Once you have refined the problem statement (aka iterate until you find the right product fit for a customer base and get a scalable business model - thanks, Steve Blank!), then we can start talking about whether the UI you have created is appropriate for that or not. Then we can take an orderly approach to crafting a superior UI for a problem that users desire a solution to and hopefully make money off of.

Finding the Right People

OK I just expounded on my experiences in giving design and UX advice. Why? It's important to understand the motivations and experiences of a person who loves giving design and UX advice so that if your goal is to find similar support, you're going to have to find a person with similar motivations and experiences.

I have not met many people who are happy giving design advice only. Most designers I have met want to do the work and derive great enjoyment from the work. At one time, I too loved doing the work; however, the complexities of life forced me to create a situation where I could still contribute and grow in my experiences but not mean that I am on critical path for any particular project. (Someday, I would be happy to talk about exactly what complexities I mean here, but just not in my blog but live over a beer ;-) ) Giving advice rather doing the work meant that I could still be part of the process as well as be a part of a greater number of projects, but not do the actual work because my life isn't structured to deliver actual work well.

So if you want design and UX advice, you're going to have to find someone who is OK with not doing the work and hopefully loves doing this.

I started this post by talking about helping a friend out regarding design support in incubators and then focused on the individual giving advice, in order to understand what kind of person might be good in such a role and what experience they might need. Watch for my next post on my thoughts on design as a central resource in incubators.

OK I'm annoyed.

All around the startup circles I hear about how startups need designers and how having a talented designer is going to solve their product UX problems.

This is a problem.

That's because getting a talented "designer" isn't necessarily going to fix your UX problems. There are many problems with this idea:

First, a product user experience is much broader than design alone. There are many elements that create a great experience for users with your product. The front line is held by the GUI where a designer usually plies his skills. But there is also product stability and quality, pricing, customer support, branding and marketing - you get the idea. Sometimes your product experience's problem is not design by something else.

Second, there are many talented designers who are really bad at crafting a great user experience. In my experiences at hiring designers at Yahoo, I have found that some designers, while extremely talented in the areas they are skilled in, were really bad at creating a great user experience! This is because they do not have the open sensitivity to what others need in the product, cannot escape designing for themselves, or simply lacked training in creating a great UX. We have successfully trained some people to follow traditional UX design processes and thus made them into great UX people. However, not everyone is good at UX; they just lack some innate sensitivity to what makes a product useful, usable, and desirable all at the same time.

Having said the previous, there are many great user experience people who have no traditional design training whatsoever. Having one of these lead a product team may be all you need to take a mediocre or bad UX and create a great one. Typically we call these folks great product people and they can come from many different disciplines.

Third, people still use the word "designer" to mean a wide variety of skill sets and occupations. These are:

Visual Designer - someone who is great at aesthetics and "styling", and creating art. They are masters at creating a visual style for your product.

Interaction Designer - someone who is great at creating great interactions with the product, making it easily usable. They are great at making interfaces understandable and quickly learnable.

User Researcher/Usability Engineer - someone who excels at researching users and their needs, watching and recording their reactions to products both the good and the bad. They gather data to inform the design and improve the product.

Each one of these skill areas is a full discipline in its own right. People go to school for 4 years, do graduate research in them, and then work solely in this area as a full career.

Thus saying you want a designer doesn't help me find the right person for you. We have to figure out what kind of designer you really need based on the problems you are trying to solve, or the holes in the skills you have.

By the way, every startup has headcount issues. So they want that guy who can do it all. Realistically, there are people who have skills in all those areas. But they are the most sought after folks on the market, and there are so few of them to go around. To wait for that perfect person to show up will mean that you are going to wait a long, long time.

Typically, in the past, we have put together a team of 2-3 of the various functional areas to work together on creating the UX. Finding people who are really good at any one of the skill areas is the easiest; finding someone with 2 or more of those skill areas grows quickly exponentially impossible in any reasonable timeframe.

As mentioned before, potentially it is more important to find people who are great product people: those who are talented at creating great user experiences need not be designers per se, although it is necessary to have design skills in order to do the actual work in creating it. Without those skills, a product person would have to work with others to do the detail work. Therefore, a great product person leading a team of people who may not be so good at UX (ie. designers, engineers, etc) can generate an awesome result.

However, there are a lot of people in the design field who are trained in designing great user experiences. Thus, great UX people tend to be those with a design background. But still, not all of them have to be designers.

All startups would agree that at early stage, getting the product experience right as soon as possible is probably more critical at this stage than any stage in the life cycle of a company. But let's get a little more educated and specific on what it means to create a great user experience, what design's role is in that process, and which design roles we need to create it.


Why Did I Buy an iPad?

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People keep asking me why I bought an iPad, and then what I think of it. Since there seem to be many who care, here's why I just had to have one and my thoughts on it:

1. I'm an early adopter and love gadgets. I am always curious on where technology is going and love to be the first to try it.

2. I need to maintain my geek cred by always getting the latest device before everyone else.

3. As a UX person, it is important for my profession to keep up to date on the latest in design so that I can know what others are working on, and add it to my own my work. Thus, while these early devices can be expensive, I see them as part of my ongoing education as a designer and in my work with startups.

4. I learn by experiencing these devices first hand, which makes more effective as a designer, and an advisor to startups who are working on the latest and greatest. If I did not experience these products firsthand, meaning living with them and using them day after day, my knowledge of what is possible is going to be limited by my imagination and not by actual experience. Also, when I live with devices, new applications, interactions, and methods come to mind through these devices being with me constantly. If something wasn't such an integral part of my life, I would not know it well enough to extend and be creative with it.

5. Besides being experiments, some of these devices actually do improve my life. At the same time, I've been burned by many early devices whose businesses died underneath them. It's almost like picking startups to invest in; I try to pick the devices to try by hypothesizing whether or not they're going to be around in a year. So Apple is probably a good bet for longevity as a corporation, but in the past they have launched and then killed products just as us early guys fell in love with them.

OK now specifically about the iPad

1. Some of you heard me talk about this already, but one of the biggest reasons why I bought one was to replace my Taiwanese crappy netbook Hakintosh. When I used to go out to meetings, I would bring my MacBook Pro which was heavy and also has my life on it. To lose or crash that MacBook Pro would mean the death of me! So I bought a netbook, installed Mac OSX on it thanks to the hacker community, and life was much better as the netbook was perfect for email and blogging during breaks between meetings.

Then literally 2 weeks ago, it stopped charging the battery. Weeks before, the WIFI stopped working and so did the ethernet port. Slowly but surely, as all PCs do, it just started disintegrating before my very eyes. I needed a replacement solution but didn't want to spring for a MacBook Air; too expensive!

I was ecstatic to see the iPad come out AND let you dock a full size keyboard to it. If I could have docked a full size keyboard to my iPhone, that would have also worked for me. A long time ago, I had a folding IR keyboard which I would use with my Palm Treo 680 and it was great sitting at a cafe blogging or emailing away because I could type fast. Switching to the iPhone removed this functionality and I waited patiently for an Apple solution. Thankfully in a few weeks when my keyboard dock arrives, I'll have it!

By the way, I trust Apple's quality a lot more than any PC manufacturer out there, as evidenced by the slow self destruction of my netbook and every other PC I've ever owned. When I bought my iPad, I shelled out another $100 for AppleCare which is by far the best extended warranty/service plan ever.

2. Noting the larger form factor for touch computing, and having had the experience of small format touch computing with the iPhone, I suspected something revolutionary that would happen with such a platform for touch computing but wasn't completely sure.

I have seen touch screen PCs before but they were awful. Well, running Windows under anything is pretty bad! But forcing a touch screen onto Windows makes it doubly bad! And it doesn't have all the rich touch gestures that Apple built into the iPhone and iPad. This drove part of my uncertainty on whether or not the iPad would truly revolutionize computing or would it just be a larger screen touch device that wouldn't go anywhere.

Knowing Apple's great work on the iPhone, I had to see for myself whether or not it would go somewhere. And the only way was to get one and play with it.

3. I'm not sure I would use it as a media viewing device. It's still primarily a blogging and email tool for me, and I think I would also use many of the same useful apps from the iPhone here on the iPad too.

4. I think gaming will be good. I've heard about some of the cool multiplayer games already, and also have fond memories of those video game tables where the screen was under the table surface and you could play Pac-Man against someone.

5. Don't need 3G. No way am I paying for another wireless contract from AT&T! I have a Verizon MIFI card and am going to use that as an untethering device. Besides my netbook-like use case means I'll mostly be in a cafe or somewhere with free WIFI.

6. My hope is that it will be a replacement for my Kindle 2, which I stupidly left on the seat of a plane flight last year.

First Experiences with the iPad

1. Definitely excels as an email and blogging tool simply because the screen format is much bigger. Typing is much better but I really want the keyboard dock.

2. Touch typing really tough. I brace my left thumb on the bottom edge to stop it from sliding down, and I use a modified hunt and peck to type. Still, faster on this keyboard than the iPhone keyboard.

3. Regarding the early games, all I gotta say is WOW. The large touch screen allows some dramatic imagery to display during game play, ie. Tap Tap Radiation. It also provides a larger gaming surface via touching, ie. Smule Magic Piano. The iPad's connected nature also easily allows gaming with other people, like with Smule Magic Piano's duet feature. Very well done.

4. Larger screen really makes drawing programs shine, like Adobe's Ideas app. Much closer to real life canvases now, which makes for better drawing opportunities.

5. I like it that Apple allowed iPhone apps to run. But some of them crash or behave funny. Most do work thankfully. The 2X screen magnifier is very nice.

6. Touching on large displays of data really causes me to think of new interaction paradigms. I love the Weatherbug Elite app and the ability to look at large weather maps and lets me interact with them via touch versus a mouse.

7. Reading is AWESOME. My Kindle app is that much better, especially after I lost my Kindle 2. But who cares now!!! With my Kindle 2, I always wanted to swipe to turn the page and now I can (although, yes, I could always do this on the iPhone).

8. I loaded my favorite movie on it, Star Trek. Playing it was cool, but it didn't blow me away, the fact that I could play movies on it. Nor did playing music on it. I think that my iPhone will still be where I will consume most of my music, and my Apple TV or my MacBook Pro is where I will watch TV shows and movies.

I think that if there were some other features alongside it, that might make it more interesting. Social features? Chatting? Commenting? Additional info on the movie/show? Otherwise, it's not that exciting to me. Nice to have, but not necessary.

By the way, streaming still sucks in general. It even doesn't always work on my fiber optic line back home. When it does work, it's amazing, like when Hulu actually plays a full show without stopping in the middle. So much for the internet in the US, the crappiest broadband in the world.

9. I am officially "swipe-happy". The real world interaction style of using your gestures to make logical interactions on stuff on the screen is amazingly natural and I want to swipe every screen now.

10. This is now where I think the iPad is a revolutionary platform. The use of real world interaction styles makes it a ton easier for not-so-computer-literate computer users to quickly be able to interact with such a complex device. Giving my iPad to my kid was definitely a mistake; now she won't give it back!

I think this is where the App Store will truly make the iPad something beyond anything we have now, leveraging the creativity of 1000s of developers to make the most amazing applications utilizing the swipes and gestures of this platform.

11. By the way, now I can sit up at night in the dark and email, blog, and tweet effectively. My iPhone wasn't bad, but it's just too small for a lot of things. A bigger screen that does not have another flapping part of it (ie. the keyboard) is sometimes really nice to not deal with especially when you're curled up in bed.

12. I would also like to note that it was also Apple's attention to detail on the screen technology (unfortunately the Nexus One's touch screen really is lacking compared to the iPhone's), the richness of the gestures available, their amazing hardware/software interaction that makes iPad's response to gestures quick and natural (you can notice the difference already with a Mac mouse and a PC mouse; just see the subtle differences in which they behave when you move either. The Mac's mouse is so much better) - all of these details that Apple makes sure are taken care of and maximized means that apps which use the functionality feel natural in response and execution. There is no annoying hesitation on when you swipe...and then something happens. It just does as you and your senses expect.

When the platform is so well done, the apps on top shine even more. Too bad the PC guys will never ever figure this out. They are perpetually in a mode of cost savings and processor performance enhancement. These other more "human" details are lost and certainly misunderstood, and it means that Apple will always be the leader.

Long live my iPad! (...and I most certainly will buy the next generation, which will undoubtedly have a camera in it yeah!)

Nexus One First Impressions

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About two weeks ago I managed to score a Nexus One. Having been an iPhone user now through 3 iterations, I was curious to see what Android was like and whether or not it would kill my iPhone love.

I started playing with my Nexus One without a SIM card. I just turned on WIFI because I was most curious about the app and operating system experience; I assumed that calling would be about the same as another mobile phone, which would probably mean that was better than my crappy AT&T iPhone experience.

Although I did not perform an exhaustive use of the phone, I did form some pretty quick impressions that I'd thought I'd share:

1. Their app store didn't connect when I tried to buy something while connected through WIFI. My expectations through 3G would have been much less as connectivity could have hampered a purchase, but through WIFI it shouldn't have had a problem. On my iPhone, I've purchased many things and it has never failed to connect.

2. Surfing through their app store, it is clearly early and the amount of apps available here is growing but nowhere near the breadth of Apple's app store. Until their app store catches up, this is going to be a huge hinderance in my adopting the Nexus One.

3. I couldn't figure out how to sync with anything on my Mac. IPhone shines here of course being an Apple product.

4. All Google related services were very nicely integrated. But annoyingly like the mail app on the iPhone, they don't cache messages. This is something I hate from the iPhone and they haven't fixed it here. This is also something I loved about my old Treo 680 where I could download and hold cached email and read/access it offline.

5. The Nexus One touch screen doesn't seem as responsive as the iPhone. Many times I have to multi-hit an icon to get it to respond. This is annoying.

6. As far as the UI is concerned, I don't see anything that stands out so much that would make it more or less usable. It is elegant in its own way, and I think that while the differences are a bit disconcerting now due to my unfamiliarity with it, I think that I would get used to the small differences between the iPhone and Android and be OK with it.

This is not like Windows and OS X where the differences and issues are so glaring despite the similarities that I find myself constantly wondering why Windows sucks and OS X is just better.

The back button is pretty cool though. Sometimes I wish the iPhone had one.

However, I think my biggest issues are the lack of integration with a desktop platform and the brand value of owning Apple.

The iPhone's easy integration with my Mac and OS X is of tremendous value to me. I remember spending an incredible amount of time figuring out how to sync my Treo 680 to whatever I was using. It sort of worked eventually, but it also just seemed very Borg-like and not an elegant integration. I suppose if I lived completely in the cloud, maybe Android might be OK. But, being a stodgy old timer in the computing space, I don't trust the cloud and like backing up to my desktop, which is further backed up elsewhere.

The other big thing is brand value. It's about owning a device that is beautiful and calls attention to not only it, but me also. Apple has done an amazing job creating products that are not only usable and useful, but beautiful and objects of desire. Somehow the Nexus One just falls short in this area in a big way. I don't feel brand connected to anything with this device. Should I be connected to Google in that way? But Google doesn't have that kind of brand that Apple has, which is fashionable, sexy, techie but easy and elegant to use. Google is pure tech and geek to me, which is fine but I think getting geek and high fashion is better.

I expect the Nexus One and their app store to catch up to the iPhone in many ways, but the brand value is something that Apple owns and that Steve Jobs and his team have done an amazing job of cultivating, and is one that unfortunately I can't see Google matching in the same way, assuming they even want to.

In the world of feature parity for any kind of product, what else is left to compete on? Style and brand.

My good friend Christina Wodtke (with Austin Govella) just finished the second edition of Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web and I just finished reading it.

Most of the book is filled with very valuable, basic information about information design for websites, like basic principles, balancing users/technology/business, information organization, navigation and other really important details in designing today's websites. However, the real gems of this edition are the two chapters on search and on social/community design.

Christina is a recognized expert in search. She ran the search UX team for a long time, during a period when Yahoo! feverishly tried to catch up to Google in search. I remember talking to her about all the things they tried and discovered about search, and uncovered about how Google deals with search. Really crazy stuff that is down to the pixel level on how it affects response and the amount of dollars generated. So she exposes some of what she discovered here in her new book; mostly it's about the UX and UI of search which is very relevant and important. I guess you'll have to hire her (and pay her tons of money) to really do a deep dive into how search is tweaked by the big boys.

The chapter on social/community design breaks down the various important aspects of this area of design nicely into parts so that a designer can understand everything easily. It dives into important topics like identity and relationships, and how to manage them. Then it discusses what kinds of activity take place in social applications and how to create a design that encourages activity and doesn't stymie it. Usually we here bits and pieces about how to deal with social sites, but this book just gathers a lot of concepts into one place, which is really valuable.

I'd definitely say this is a "must read" for all information architects both new and old. If you're new to IA for the web, read the whole thing; if you're an old hat, take a look at the chapters on search and social spaces and you'll find that your money is still well spent.

I'm Using iBlogger on the iPhone

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How cool is this- no more pulling up my blog's MT software on Safari and worrying about losing 3G- iBlogger allows me to blog safely with an iPhone interface. Now if only Apple would allow connection with Bluetooth keyboards; then my iPhone would be the perfect anytime/anywhere blogging platform without having to lug my MacBook around!

My Kid and I are Addicted to SPORE

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SPORE on the iPhone is AWESOME. My kid and I can't stop playing. It's a game I really love for many reasons. First, it's simple. You just tilt the iPhone and the amoeba-looking thing just moves in that direction. The object is to eat yummy things and avoid everything else, since they're looking to eat YOU. Second, it's amusing. Weird looking creatures abound in the SPORE world and your creature is as weird as you can make it. Check out our current evolving, little guy:

It may be hard to tell, but we surrounded him with mouths full of sharp teeth, these protective little stingers, eyeballs to watch for predators, armor plate, and just recently, these green electric prods. We're not sure what the electric prods do, but we hope that they electrocute other creatures that may want to eat us.

At every level, you get to evolve by adding more offensive, defensive, and mobility type equipment. Sort of like souping up your hot rod, but only with bio-enhancements. We're on the edge of crawling out of the primordial oceans and approaching shore through beds of prehistoric kelp.

Gaming on the iPhone is truly wonderful!

Netvibes Activity Feed

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I am a huge Netvibes user. I find it's one of the best start page/RSS reader aggregator services out there. Before Netvibes, I used My Yahoo! but somehow Netvibes's GUI seems a bit easier to use.

I just discovered that you can publish a feed of everything you do on Netvibes. I've been looking for this function in other services but am ecstatic that it's here. So now, I plan on sending every article I read to my Netvibes activity feed. If you're curious what I read across my RSS feeds, subscribe to it! I'm also putting this link in my right hand column of this site.

Guitar Hero III, Physical Therapy for Video Game Ailments

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I just bought Guitar Hero III for my XBox 360. Wow, I was supremely impressed especially as a user interface person, having worked on physical products back in my Apple and frogdesign days.

The controller really gives the feeling of being a true head banger rocker with distortion guitar (since it's shaped like a guitar). You hit keys which simulate the fingering on strings, and then you strum on this switch. I am barely through the tutorial now but can't wait to get into Rock and Roll All Nite and Barracuda.

It's an interesting device from the perspective of an user interface person. How novel is it to create controllers which mimic real life devices - we already have driving games where you can buy a whole steering wheel console plus accelerator pedals. The experience is that more enhanced when we change out the generic controller for something whose physical makeup enhances the whole playing experience. I love the fact that there are games like Rock Band out, and the impossible to get Wii with its wireless controller that you can use to simulate all sorts of real life objects.

One thing stood out. As I went through the tutorial, I felt some pain in my left thumb. Gripping the guitar and trying to hit the buttons was cramping it up! I had to constantly take breaks and stretch it out. Wow, I need training to play Guitar Hero III!

I went to my physical therapist last night for my usual triathlon fixup and remarked to him that Guitar Hero III was bugging my thumb. He then told me that he has seen an increase in patients with injuries caused by the Nintendo Wii, especially bowling and tennis!

How funny that people are now trying sports in the virtual sense, and getting injured because of that. Couch potatoes now have similar ailments as real athletes!

The Early Adopter's Dilemma

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I've been cleaning house and I just found this in one of my closets:

Sometime around year 2000, this service came into being by Motient, who used one of the first RIM Blackberrys to allow users to connect to Yahoo! Messenger IM via this device. It also allowed me to read/write Yahoo! Mail.

I bought one as soon as it came out. It was fantastic. We Yahoos depended on IM so much in our work day and I was now connected wherever I was. It was at a time when SMS wasn't so prevalent in the US and there was no connection between a computer based IM product and a device. So now I could be pinged on Yahoo! IM anytime and anywhere! This percursor to SMS was a fantastic breakthrough in showing how being connected in real time could be an incredibly useful thing.

But alas, about a year or so later, Motient closed down and the money I paid for the device and steep monthly charges were all down the tube. It would be many years before SMS really gained traction in the US enough to where enough people would be contact-able via SMS, and this would have supplanted the Motient product and service.

It's the dilemma of the early adopter. You see a real cool product and/or service from a brand new company, and you see enough value in it to actually buy one and use it. It's so useful, so typically expensive, and so freakin' cool; all of these factors drive the early adopter to get one simply to have one before everyone else does. But the risk of having the company, product, or service close down is super-high.

I bought an iPhone on the first day it came out. But it could have been a dud. Luckily it was not. I also bought an Apple TV and sweated through about 8+ months of whether Apple would close down that product line or not, despite its incredibly utility. Thankfully, that product has been rejuvenated as well.

Last winter, I bought myself an Amazon Kindle. It's definitely on that high risk list of products that could just disappear by the end of the year if its business model doesn't prove out. I've grown to love it thoroughly but keep wondering if Amazon will just close it down at some point.

Sony is probably the worst early adopter product creator. They keep products going for years and years before they really should be shut down. Their strategy is to brute force a new technology into the marketplace and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. At least you might enjoy it for a few years though, as it dies a slow, unpopular death.

It's the dilemma of an early adopter. You can't resist taking the leap of getting one but you also take the risk of wasting tons of money if it shuts down. All that to be the first one on the block and maintain that early adopter mystique...

Got My Amazon Kindle!

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Prior to Christmas, Amazon announced their new Kindle e-book and I just had to have one! It was very frustrating to wait and extra 3 weeks from the initial announced arrival date, but was ecstatic when it did.

The box and packaging was very cool. It resembles a book and opened like one!

I was afraid it would be a bulky monster, but was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a nice size and razor thin.

It has this interesting LCD menu selector up the right hand side, controlled by a roller/click wheel. Somehow they made it a silver color instead of black. Popup menus are the standard, with selection controlled by the silver cursor and roller/click wheel.

Here's me holding it in its faux leather cover. I've lived with it now for many weeks, traveling to the east coast and back and think it's a wonderful device, especially for a book lover/voracious reader such as myself!

Some comments:

1. Reading is tough in low light. The background begins to grey out, reducing contrast with words which are black. Is there no contrast control? I can't find one.

2. Pictures are inconsistent in books and magazines. Time magazine I cancelled due to no pictures. But I got pictures in a book, Paradox of Choice.

3. Paradox of Choice's pictures were hard to see detail. How about a zoom?

4. I find myself reading faster than normal, or perhaps the screenfuls are not representative of physical pages and how much they contain. So I feel that flipping pages, or screenfuls, seems to happen more often than physical page flips.

5. Web browsing is really bad. Why not port Firefox to this device?

6. Why not email client at some point? It's got a full keyboard already. But maybe cost is prohibitive if people were using this device not to buy books but to download email, as the network must have some bundled, expected kbyte estimate per user.

7. Love the instant download through their WhisperNet. Very cool and much better than connecting to a PC every time. Shopping is great through it and love the instant download to the device!

8. Library is early but needs more books! I finished The Lost Fleet: Dauntless and it has two more books in its series and I can't order Kindle versions! Likewise, I need to get in the habit of checking my Kindle for releases of new books. I just bought Star Wars: Darth Bane: The Rule of Two and Star Trek Excelsior: Forged in Fire in physical form, realized I should have checked my Kindle first and found the Star Trek book but not the Star Wars book. Frustrating!

9. Originally I thought to get rid of my physical magazine subscriptions but I can't. Don't know if the Kindle versions have pictures or is faithful to the original. As I mentioned before, I cancelled my Time magazine subscription already due to it just being text only.

10. I'm spoiled by the iPhone! I want to flip pages by swiping on the screen itself and have to keep remembering to hit the button on the side.

11. The leather cover is cool, but why doesn't it have a secure way to fastening to the Kindle? If you're not careful, it will fall out of the cover.

12. No PDF support? It would seem to me that would be a natural extension to convert PDFs to their Kindle format.

13. I bought a Theasaurus but can't seem to figure out how to search it. Weird. Time to call support.

14. I wonder if there is a way for that screen technology to display color images. It has 4 levels of grey right now but would be nice if I could see full color pictures.

15. No note taker?

16. The clippings and annotation technology are really cool. I really like being able to clip pages for my own use later. The other day I emailed some clipped text passages to someone. Very useful and helps to not type the whole passage.

All in all, I'm really enjoying it. I am cruising through books and really like the fact I'm not carrying around physical books, and ordering books is a joy and it satisfies my desire for instant gratification because the book just shows up on my Kindle.

Increasing Site and Social Engagement in Detail

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Over the last few years, social media has really become a popular buzzword. People talk about social networks and the importance of implementing them, as well as the drawbacks and potential dangers. Rather than talk about social media as a strategy, I wanted to point out some actual detail level things to try rather than stay at the 10,000 foot level of discussion. Based on working on social media projects over the last year, I have found the following techniques to be effective at creating and maintaining a vibrant social environment that produces results:

Voyeurism
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Expression (receiving end of)

People love to follow other people for a variety of reasons. From telescopes in apartments buildings to eavesdropping on a nearby conversation to hearing and passing on gossip, the lives of others around us seem infinitely more interesting than our own. We follow other people for many reasons: to keep up with what our friends are doing, to check out hot women, to see what trouble celebrities get into - we are always curious, sometimes to the point of obsession, about what other people do day to day. Successful social networks allow people to post and describe their daily lives so that others can take a look.

Communication
Related to: Dating/Hooking Up, Connecting with Context, Entertainment, Validation

It is human to want to contact someone else. We are social creatures and we want to talk to others. Providing a way for people to contact and maintain communication with others is crucial to the lifeblood of a good social network. Just as important is the ability to shut people out, and give people ways of *not* talking to everyone or only certain people (ie. annoying people, spam, ex-boyfriend).

Dating/Hooking Up
Related to: Voyeurism, Communication, Masquerade, Entertainment

Let's face it. Lots of guys surf pictures just to check out hot women. But then sometimes you'll want to make contact and see if you can get a date. Simply providing a means for surfing photos in profiles and a system for communication can enable this activity, but providing additional functionality to facilitate this activity can make the experience more enticing and fun. Think HotOrNot.com and the ability to rate people, and then pick out only the HOT rated people to contact, or show interest by sending someone a virtual flower. Or I'm In Like With You where auctions meets dating and you bid on the ability to meet someone.

Entertainment
Related to: Communication, Dating/Hooking Up, Competition, Fame

Having a good time on a site increases engagement. Providing ways of having fun keeps people coming back to have more fun. Games are the obvious one, and playing by yourself is good but playing against others is often better. Sometimes it's the content posted by users, like funny videos of themselves posted on YouTube or pictures on Flickr to be watched on their Flickr streams. Or if a fun spin can be put on mundane activities, then the unique fun that activity brings will draw people in and keep them interested.

Fame
Related to: Competition, Expression, Entertainment, Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

It's fun to do an activity and play a game, but enabling a way for people to get acknowledged and recognized for their skill rewards people by the notoriety they get for being good at something. Leaderboards on gaming sites allow users to show the world that they are #1 in a game, and they'll screen shot that and put it on their blog. It also means that they'll keep coming back to keep achieving or maintain their #1 position on the leaderboard for bragging rights.

Competition
Related to: Fame, Entertainment

There is something in the act of striving against other humans that people love. They want to test their ablities and measure themselves against others and be measured and will keep coming back to try. They like to see continual improvement and enjoy a rise in skill. There is also competition against themselves so it's not always about other people. And, there is the ultimate prize of being number ONE. Perhaps we'll never get there, but maybe we will. No matter what, we love the struggle and the journey to number ONE. In games and sports is where we most often see competition, but it can also be other things like getting the most views on posted content like a video. Great games and activities constantly provide the ability to raise the bar just a little more each time to keep people competing, but don't raise the bar too high or else people will give up. Not raising the bar at all will cause people to achieve that level and then move on because it's too easy. This bar can be set by other users, like when you're competing against other players in a sports game, it can be set by a computer which auto-adjusts for your skill level.

Expression
Related to: Fame, Voyeurism (contributing to), Showing Off/Vanity, Validation

Constantly we are on stage. The world is a theater and we are its actors. From the clothes we wear to what we say or do, we are always showing the world who we are. Providing a means for people to express who they are means they will continually do it, especially if there is a mechanism for validation like commenting on photos in Facebook.

Showing Off/Vanity
Related to: Expression, Fame

The extreme form of expression is showing off and trying to show that we are special and unique. Showing our crazy stunt videos, or photos of us drinking a 3 foot tall beer, or next to a movie star all show the world that we are not boring people but that we have the biggest peacock feathers. Allowing people to show off and giving validation mechanisms like commenting on photos, or leaderboards, or graphical badges of honors on our profile pages reward us for posting and showing off, and encourages us to do more.

Validation
Related to: Communication, Fame, Expression

We always want to know that who we are is noticed and special by others. We like it when we get comments on our photos and videos from our friends. It makes us feel that others care and that we are not alone in the world. Implementing means of giving validation gives users that special feeling that others do notice them, and they'll keep on posting to get more validation. The simplest form is commenting on photos and videos, but it can be focused by providing context like on Dailystrength.org where you can post an issue and get support from strangers and friends via the internet.

Masquerade
Related to: Communication, Community

Sometimes we're boring. Our lives are so mundane that we get sick of it. Or maybe we're not in the social mainstream. We feel shunned by the general masses and can't seem to get in the flow of society. Or maybe we're just tired of being ourselves and want to try being someone else. On the internet, the ability to be someone else is very easy. Simply creating a new screen name and building a personality underneath it has been done since the early days of the internet. People can pretend they are the opposite sex, older or younger, more fun, more engaging - whatever. It is something that is not easily achieved in the real world. Acting out the fantasy that they have either personality traits not in the real world or entirely someone else can be an activity that keeps people returning. The unfortunate thing is that people often masquerade for negative reasons like stalking children, and this needs to be guarded against.

Community
Related to: Masquerade, Connecting with Context, Communication

Humans want to belong. It's often to easy to feel outcast in the real world. On the internet, communities can be more accepting of people than in the real world. If a site can create a means for people to be a part of something, they will want to come back and continue to participate to be part of that community. Think of the instant groups that Facebook has, based on tags created from your interests, or your hometown. These are ways for people to find commonalities on which to connect on, which foster communication and validation.

Connecting with Context
Related to: Community, Communication

In watching social networks over the years, I am a firm believer that social networking for social networking's sake is a path to declining activity. It is much more engaging for users when you create a context for which socializing happens. MySpace's usage came from the fact that they were always about promoting indie music. Yes, other things happened there, but you knew that you could always find indie music on MySpace. Facebook started out by being exclusive to colleges and there was no way to taint the population with random people who were not attending your university. Everyone you found there went to your college and you could relate easily. LinkedIn's network is built on professional networking, another popular activity in business and its functionality is focused on making that activity easier. Contrast that with Friendster, who had a meteoric rise when it first came out and then usage tapered and dropped because people got bored there when applying this list of social techniques was not done well or not at all.

For all my projects, I try to think about applying some or all of these techniques in creative ways. I also think about the context since not all techniques are effective in every context. For example, dating could be a hard sell in a social stock picking application, but competition and fame would definitely work well. Some of it is experimental, as there could be unexpected results of applying something you thought wouldn't work in a context. So let's turn my example around. Suppose you did create a social stock picking site which had an underlying dating application underneath? Perhaps it could link up all the superficial, money hungry people by allowing you to find, meet, and date the richest, best stock pickers in the world...? Socially unacceptable? Perhaps. Successful? Who knows...

Day 12: iPhone Dies...and Lives Again!

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ACK! In an attempt to get my iPhone syncing with both my Mac and PC, I tried a restore of the software which hosed my iPhone. Ugh! I set it updating over night and then in the morning, it's just sitting there in the dock, locked up. I try a few things and then the screen shuts off...seemingly permanently.

I hold back the tears welling up in my eyes and pack it up, determined to exchange it for one that worked.

I walk into the Apple Store on University Ave in Palo Alto and tell the guy that my iPhone is way dead. He looks skeptical and we walk to the Genius Bar desk where he tells me about an IMPORTANT UNDOCUMENTED function called REBOOT. You press both the round "return to Main menu" button and the top small Wake/Sleep button together for a few seconds, and the thing reboots itself. Thankfully, this brings it out of its locked-up/dead state!

I boot up my PC (which I have with me) and then sync my iPhone with it, restoring the software and IT LIVES AGAIN!

It's beyond me why REBOOT isn't in the user manual. But for now, I am glad to have my iPhone up and working again. Just give me my MMS please and everything will be PERFECTO.

Day 11: iPhone Adventure Continues...

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Living with my iPhone has been a real joy. I think I like about 80-90% of it, but it is not quite there to make me toss my SLVR and Treo 680 just yet.

Some more discoveries:

1. According to the message boards, it seems that others have gotten music/video syncing on one machine and syncing calendar/contacts on a PC. I still haven't gotten this to work. More experimentation required...

2. Where is copy/cut and paste? Geez.

3. I need arrow keys on the keyboard! Trying to make edits by moving the cursor around with your finger is maddening.

4. Personally I hate the auto-complete. It's wrong a lot of the time and I have to teach myself to look at it constantly to tell it not to insert a word when I hit space.

5. I LOVE THE AUTO SWITCH FROM WIFI TO THE AT&T NETWORK. When I go in my house, the WIFI automatically connects. When I walk into a Starbucks, I auto-connect to T-Mobile. COOL!

6. Browsing on Safari is so cool. It really makes things easier.

7. Need Notes syncing to Outlook. I don't understand why this wasn't built in. So strange.

8. Getting faster on the keyboard.

9. I tried out a few widgets. It's ok for now, but definitely a problem when offline. Also, loading widgets over the EDGE network is totally slow. Forget any heavy AJAX site like Meebo.

10. Definitely need dedicated iPhone apps. Safari based widgets works for some things, but nothing beats dedicated apps on the device.

11. Need MMS!!!! Emailing photos just doesn't cut it.

I can't wait for software updates to make this baby work better!

My original thought regarding the iPhone was to somehow move completely over to the Mac. But I would definitely have to wait until Apple comes out with their much-rumored super-thin MacBook as I need to save my back from lugging laptop weight. I have a Sony T-series which seems to be the best option for lightweight computing so far. However, I will switch if Apple launches a super-thin option.

In any case, I wanted to see if I could remove one device somehow no matter what. Today, I carry a Motorola SLVR with iTunes, and a Treo 680. I do carry my iPod sometimes, but I'm not one of those people who walk around all day with earbuds in my ears, so I'm ok without music.

Comparing the Treo 680 to the iPhone has been interesting. Physically, the iPhone is much more thinner and sleek, and a joy to hold. The Treo 680 is bulky in comparison and seems so yesterday's technology (it became "yesterday" on Friday when the iPhone launched!). However, I do like it for:

1. I am still faster on the Treo 680 keyboard. I seem to be getting better on the touchscreen keyboard of the iPhone, but the physical keys still are better.

2. I use the Treo 680 for typing out notes and the occasional blog entry. I sometimes use a folding IR keyboard which works really well if I am typing something long. Definitely Apple needs to enable Bluetooth keyboards at some point. That would really make the iPhone useful.

3. I use a program called InfoSafe which keeps all my passwords around securely. I would need to replace this if I were to get rid of my Treo 680.

4. All my silly games are still on the Treo 680. None available yet on the iPhone, but I am sure this will change soon.

So far, what I think about the iPhone:

1. I really like the touchscreen interface! I also love the interactions they put in there for scrolling and resizing.

2. It took me a while to figure out how to set things, which are located in Settings. However, some of it seems kind of dumbed down.

3. It seems to be able to open Word attachments and I haven't tried PDFs yet. I would definitely love an industrial strength word processing program, spreadsheet, and presentation program as well, although maybe it can open them for viewing at least.

4. No MMS! I use my Motorola SLVR all the time to send occasional shots to family and friends, but can't do that here! I hope this comes soon.

5. Email is a joy. IMAP for Yahoo! Mail really works well. I wish there was a way to mass delete emails. This could become a problem at some point for my POP accounts and overfilling my iPhone memory. I need to look at the docs to see if there is an auto-delete off the iPhone after some period of time.

6. The browser really ROCKS. It's probably the main reason I bought it. I can now see web pages in their full glory. The browser on the Treo really blows. I've bought books on amazon.com, checked out netvibes, did google searches. It works really well!

7. The keyboard is a bit funky at first due to my right thumb's touchpoint. For some reason, the pad of my thumb touches down on the screen at a point that is not where my brain expects. I am off by a key! So now I am training my brain to recognize that typing with my right thumb means I have to mentally adjust it slightly to the left in order to hit the right key.

8. No cut/copy and paste! How funny that is. I think this will prevent it from being an office replacement.

9. Syncing was amazingly easy. I love the fact that you didn't have to screw around with installing conduits and seeing if you got it all right. You just launch iTunes and hit the sync button, and it just does the sync with Outlook. One strange thing. It doesn't sync my notes into its notebook. How strange. But calendar and contacts come over just fine. I hope they add an update to make this happen. As you have guessed, I am syncing my iPhone with my PC for now for contacts and calendar, and I will load music from my Mac Mini.

10. By the way, I did figure out how to get music and other media synced. Just a few settings in the tabs of the iPhone area of iTunes. But it seems to only let you control syncing via playlists. I will look at this more.

11. WIFI!!!! I locked onto my house network and also to T-Mobile at Starbucks. Very nice! Power drain seems to be ok, and much better than my Treo 680 which probably would have cranked down pretty quick if I had tried to go WIFI continuously with an add-on card.

12. One ridiculous thing: I have all my contacts categorized in Outlook. Those categories have disappeared on the iPhone!

So far, the one limiting factor is MMS for it to replace my Motorola SLVR and being able to type long entries means I will want my Treo 680 around. I think I will carry iPhone around separately for a while and see what updates Apple has for it. It doesn't work too well as a replacement for a laptop but is more of a hyper-powered mobile phone. Still, I think this device is hugely cool and Palm really missed the boat by not coming out with a Palm version super-thin phone. The Motorola Q and Samsung Blackjack are also nice, but Windows Mobile just kills both those devices.

Caught Up in the iPhone iPhrenzy

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Friday 6/29 finally arrives. The iPhone goes on sale! One of the most hyped up devices ever, I wondered if I was even going to be able to get one on the first day, but I sure as hell was going to try.

Tracking press releases up the big day helped strategize how I was going to get one of these babies. I originally thought I was going to head to a AT&T/Cingular store, but then I realized that you could get one at an Apple store. And how funny: you could only get one per customer at an AT&T/Cingular store, but you could get 2 per customer at an Apple Store. I theorized that they would probably have a lot more available at the Apple store so I made plans to get to the one at Valley Fair well before 6pm.

It was also a good thing; ever try to get anything at a AT&T/Cingular store? They have the worst checkout and queueing system ever. You go there and sometimes you just wait forever, because reps are sometimes trying to sign people up for an hour as people try to figure out what options they need. I can't believe they haven't figured this out.

Thanks to Apple for solving their problem. I found out on their website that you upgrade your iTunes and then when you sync your iPhone, it goes through the signup process in iTunes via the web. Wow. Thank god we could circumvent talking to some AT&T/Cingular rep about it!

So Friday turned out to be full of meetings. My last meeting I even cut short a bit, but the entrepreneurs I met with were thankfully sympathetic to my need to get an iPhone. I left around 5pm for Valley Fair and got there around 520p.

I went to the Apple store and found it to be closed! But, there was this huge line that wrapped around the side of the building, and then crossed through a doorway outside the mall. By the time I had gotten there, there were already about 300+ people in line! So I found the end of line and waited like everyone else.

As we're waiting, a guy comes up and asks us if we want coffee. Leave it to Apple to serve the people in line some Starbucks coffee, iced or hot! I gratefully grab an iced coffee and sip it while playing with my Treo and taking occasional pictures (which I'll post later).

I wonder about my Treo. In fact, I just bought a new one because my old Treo 680 was having problems. It's pretty good, but if the iPhone lived up to its hype, I could potentially get rid of my Treo and my Motorola SLVR (with iTunes on it) as well!

6pm finally arrives and the line moves about a foot.

615pm: Somebody walks by the line and gives a loud rebel yell and says, "I GOT ONE WHOO HOO!" All of us look at each other in line and collectively we wish that somebody would mug him on the way to his car.

6:20pm: Two more people come out and give doomsday talk about the fact that there is no way we're gonna get one. I don't want to hear this.

6:30pm: I move 20 ft. Seems like we're getting in the store now.

6:34pm: The line really starts moving now. Anticipation builds in me. I just hope people aren't sitting around in the store wondering if they should get one or not.

6:45pm: I look behind me and see about 80+ people lined up. The after work crowd must be showing up now.

7:10pm: An Apple guy gives me a brochure about data plans. Unbelievably, data costs less for the iPhone than for my Treo. I love getting ripped off by the phone companies.

7:20pm: I make up to the doorway into the mall. There is a big, tough looking guy who only lets 20 people at a time into the doorway. In a few minutes, I am in the doorway and now walking down the hall to the mall! Yeah!

7:24pm: I drop into the line outside the Apple store. They let one person in for every person that leaves. It's pretty funny. Every time somebody walks out with the distinctive iPhone bag, they clap and cheer! Ha. That's what I would feel too if/when I got one.

7:34pm: I'm IN! Standing in this line that goes to the back of the store, an Apple guy asks me if I want to take a look at one. Shit yeah! I play with it and call on it to check out its voice quality. Wow. The hype is REAL. I love it love it love it.

7:40pm: I grab 2 8GB iPhones and pay for them, and I'm walking out of the store now, grinning like a cheshire cat. I swear, getting one of these is like waiting for concert tickets the day they go on sale!

The next morning, I boot up my Mac and download iTunes 7.3. I go through the signup process and notice that I can't replace the SIM card, or at least I couldn't find an easy way to do it. I was going to toss in my old SIM card but looks like they won't let me. OK. So I signup for a new plan and will cancel my old plan later, as well as switch the phone number to it.

As I read the instruction manual, I find they did an incredible job with the syncing capabilities. I can, through iTunes, set it to sync with all the Mac apps, as well as Outlook on the PC! Pretty cool.

After I activate it, I play with the browsing and typing features. I setup email which is a bit weird, but I figure it out. Supposedly you can download the user manual off the website, but I haven't been able to find it yet.

Web browsing is great. Now I can see web pages pretty much like they're supposed to be, not all crappy like on my Treo browser. Email is also great. Using IMAP on Yahoo! Mail, it is really great for synchronizing email between client and iPhone. I also attach my DSV email too and will probably get my other email accounts attached too.

The one thing I could not figure out yet is how to get music on it. I try to drag/drop music onto the iPhone icon in iTunes but it doesn't accept items that way. I'll have to see how I can selectively add/delete music and videos to the iPhone a bit later.

All in all, this is the coolest device I've seen in a long time. A lot more compact than an iPod and certainly thinner than my fat Treo 680. I was afraid that it might be bulky in my pocket, but it definitely is not. Apple certainly has a winner here and it will be fun to see the rest of the industry just *try* to catch up.

Social Networking is the Web 2.0 "In" Thing to Do

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Yesterday I went through an exercise with one of my companies on the social networking feature set. We went through the basic list first:

1. Add, edit, manage, invite friends.
2. Sending and receiving messages privately.
3. Announcing to friends when some activity is accomplished on the site, with announcements going out via email. Management of such communication to your friends list (instead of knowing and typing in tons of email addresses).
4. Commenting on your friends. Approval of comments to appear.

Then we added some more on top of the basic list:

1. Tracking activity of your friends via RSS feeds or announcements.
2. Affecting your public and private activity setting, by being able to expose your activity only to your friends instead of totally public and totally private.
3. Rating your friends. Enabling reputation building through rating.
4. Enabling reputation building through activity on the site.
5. SPAM management.

After that we talked about something I wrote about a while back, which is about Fame and Competition on the Net. I think fame refers to:

1. Fame amongst your circle of friends so that you feel important and have notoriety and show expertise.
2. The creation of your personal fame, which is a great way to encourage activity on the site. Create a system by which people build up their rating and reputation to create fame.
3. Application of that fame in opening up new functionality to those with higher reputation, versus those with little or no, or negative reputation/fame.
4. The ability to see their fame expressed, in leaderboards, star ratings, in comments on users, in lists sorted by fame.

Competition refers to:

1. With respect to fame, competition encourages activity by making people compete to be more famous than other people.
2. When you make things visible like reputation and ratings to the world, you foster competition when users want to have higher reputation and ratings over their friends. Leaderboards, graphical elements like rating stars, reputation building comments like those found on Yelp, are all great ways to show how great you are, which in turn encourages more activity on the site to make you chase greatness over and above your friends.
3. Getting to the top of certain lists, or placement on a certain page like a home page fosters competition. For example, if there is a module on the home page which shows recent activity, a user might increase activity just to be able to say that he got his activity shown on the home page.
4. Competition amongst people you know is great as well as to the rest of the world. A user will want more notoriety within their circle of friends as well as to the world at large.
5. If orchestrated right, competition can bring an element of gaming into the equation which can make the activity fun and engaging. That's not to say that gaming needs to be in the arcade sense of the word; it just means that a sense of play, of being able to strive and to win are elements that need to be present.

Social networking for meeting and activity management are the basic functions. But I would argue that they are not enough. There are enough social networks out there where you can perform these functions. A site who wants to employ social networking needs to rise above common functions, such as with elements which generate fame and competition. You want to make your site more than just a place for meeting and hooking up. Design activities which foster meeting AND fame and competition AND encourage activity on your site and you'll win across multiple goals.

Interesting Pictures Navigation: Asia Grace

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Something about this pictures navigation really appeals to me:

Asia Grace

It allows a hierarchical drill down into images. I like the rollover feedback of selection by outlining. I can see many applications of this technique on other sites.

To Set the Record Straight...Yahoo! Logo

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EVERYBODY tells people I designed the Yahoo! logo. Unfortunately, that is only partially true. Here are the truths:

1. I actually drew/designed the Jumping Y Guy logo which is the original corporate logo.
2. The Jumping Y Guy had other type when we launched prior to today's logo type.
3. Yahoo! hired Organic to do a redesign of Yahoo! sites as well as the logo.
4. Kevin Farnham (founder of Method Design) was the designer at Organic who executed the type explorations and design of the Yahoo! logo type. Geoff Katz creative directed it from Organic's side.
5. I art directed it from Yahoo!'s side.
6. After the logo type was done, I replaced the logotype under the Jumping Y Guy with the new logo type for unity. The logo type launched across all Yahoo! sites on Jan 1, 1996.
7. Trivia: the original logo came from the T-26 font, Able. (Please don't buy this font and create Yahoo-like text - you'll fail miserably and also be disrespectful of thee brand).

There you have it!

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the Design category.

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