ted boren archives

case study

Speaking Up Effectively

In a recent team meeting, we talked about how our circle of influence is different—wider—than our circle of responsibility. This reminded me of something I posted three years ago almost to the day, so I decided to re-post it here, to remind myself to “speak up” outside my role—but to do so appropriately.

posted by ted on Thursday, Sep 17, 2009 · 2 comments

Great interview from Mark Hurst with Brian King on the re-design of Courtyard by Marriott. A great case study on segmentation, observation, user-centered design, branding, and prototyping. Fun to see these familiar concepts applied in a domain that’s less familiar (to me anyway). I loved the description of business travelers being invited to a life-size prototype of the new lobby, built out of foam core to see how they would react to Marriott’s innovations.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Sep 09, 2009 · 1 comment

“More energy. Less friction.”
Nick Usborne’s summary of how to improve conversion of browsers into buyers. From Flywheels, Kinetic Energy, and Friction, a great article that still wears well, 3 years later. The trouble is getting the marketing wing of your organization to buy into it…

posted by ted on Tuesday, Sep 08, 2009 · 0 comments

“High multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy.”
From research reported in The Mediocre Multitasker, in the NY Times, via Facebook friend, Susan Dray.

Researchers said, “We kept looking for multitaskers’ advantages in this study. But we kept finding only disadvantages. We thought multitaskers were very much in control of information. It turns out, they were just getting it all confused.”

I find this 100% true in my own life. I do my best work when I can shut out everything else but the task at hand. Now… what was I doing?

posted by ted on Monday, Aug 31, 2009 · 4 comments

“There’s a common misconception that visual design’s role is only to provide a pleasing veneer on the page. In fact, visual design’s big role is to boost overall communication.”
From Jared Spool’s recent article on the interplay between good visual design, IA, and content design. He also argues that to really succeed, it is better to have people who are strong in all three areas, not just specialists who are good at just one of them. I think I agree.

posted by ted on Friday, Aug 28, 2009 · 0 comments

“Twitter time passes 10 times faster than email time.”
Another notable quote from Nielsen’s message on Twitter postings, noting that compared to email advertising, which continues to generate clicks for several days, Twitter “shows a drastically steeper decay function: lots of clicks the first few minutes, and then almost none.” This means, among other things, that Tweets are impacted far more negatively than email by differences in timezone…

posted by ted on Wednesday, Aug 26, 2009 · 2 comments

“Twitterative Design”

Jakob Nielsen recently ran a Twitter post through 5 rounds of iterative design to get the impact he wanted. At first blush I was thinking, “That sounds like a lot of effort to optimize a Tweet!” But if you are using twitter as a marketing medium, I guess it makes sense. (Far as I can tell, these were just design rounds; he wasn’t running a user study or anything.)

See his article for lessons learned in each round, from concision to focus, impact, and re-tweetability. (There, I’m making up new words right and left.)

He finishes the article with a notable quote: “Text is a UI. It’s a common mistake to think that only full-fledged graphical user interfaces count as interaction design and deserve usability attention. ... In fact, the shorter it is, the more important it is to design text for usability.”

posted by ted on Monday, Aug 24, 2009 · 2 comments

IKEA to purchase GM.
Some assembly required.

Via an email whose ultimate source and reliability I was unable to verify. But regardless of veracity, nice job laying out all those parts!

posted by ted on Friday, Aug 14, 2009 · 4 comments

“Oh right, the flaming chainsaw animation. I’d love to take that off the site, really I would, but I just think it’s so neat, and besides it aligns with our brand message of innovation here at Acme.”
VP of Marketing (presumably caricatured), quoted by Mark Hurst at Good Experience. Very funny supposed transcript of a customer meeting gone awry (or… is that really just the way things usually are?)

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009 · 0 comments

“Tweet happens.”
Overheard in scrum this morning, in discussing whether Twitter would be a good way to keep an extended team in the loop.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jul 22, 2009 · 0 comments

“Unless websites are redesigned for the special circumstances of mobile use, the mobile Web will remain a mirage.”
Jakob Nielsen in his latest Alertbox on mobile usability. No news here… which is actually part of the news.

Many findings in the most recent study—which I thought looked pretty darn thorough and well-balanced, from diary studies with users’ own phones to more controlled lab tests—suggest that in some ways we are no better off on the mobile web than we were a decade ago. (Unless you have a pretty large-screened mobile device, such as an iPhone.)

This made me think of Cameron’s advice in Mobile Web Design, that two of the best strategies are “do nothing” (if you are targetting smart phone and especially larger devices such as the iPhone that have a decent chance at rendering the site as-is) and mobile-optimized sites (if you care about anybody else).

posted by ted on Monday, Jul 20, 2009 · 1 comment

“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Steve Jobs, as quoted in the Good Experience article, A small, gentle question that could change your life, a great article on choosing to do stuff that actually matters.

posted by ted on Monday, Jul 13, 2009 · 1 comment

Gadi Amit introduces Three Client Types and How to Work With Them in an article for Fast Company. Not an exhaustive treatise, but covers some common cases and how to work with the hand you’ve been dealt. Recognize any of these from your own work?

Via my friend August de los Reyes’s Facebook page. (Yes, I’ve finally taken the FB plunge, with a little trepidation at adding another timewaster to my life. Which is why I’m checking only infrequently and haven’t added everyone I ever met to my Friends list, so don’t be offended if I haven’t accepted every offer!)

posted by ted on Monday, Jul 06, 2009 · 0 comments

Review: Balsamiq Mockups

In an unrelated post, Jamis Charles asked, “I know this is totally unrelated, but you mentioned some time ago you started using Balsamiq Mockups. I’d like to pitch it to my UI Team. How has it been working for you? How do you incorporate it into your workflow? Has it increased productivity? A post about this would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

I’ll let others speak to their own experience, but here’s a quick post on how it worked for me. I was looking for something easy that would help my team focus less on pixels and colors during the planning stage, and just focus on concepts and framework. Balsamiq worked admirably for that purpose. In fact, within weeks of using Balsamiq for our weekly high-level design meetings, team members were themselves articulating the reason to use Balsamiq: “We don’t get bogged down in the details anymore!”

The workflow was something like this:

  1. I would review high level requirements, talk with the customer and mock something up quickly in Balsamiq, with sketchy notes in the margins. As promised, the tool is drop-dead simple for most things it supports. Don’t expect a freeform drawing tool, but for dragging and dropping basic UI elements, it’s very easy.
  2. Team would meet to discuss.
  3. I would take notes directly in Balsamiq, sometimes updating the mockup, but often just leaving a note in the margins for later. Because of the low fidelity of the prototype, the team was able to get past nitpicking the details and focus on the functional requirements and workflow.
  4. Once we moved out of planning into iterative development, I would refer to the mockups and the notes recorded there to create higher fidelity prototypes, using Fireworks images or HTML prototypes, depending on the need. I tried to get a cycle or two ahead of the dev team, and was generally successful.
  5. As the high fidelity design progressed, we referenced the low fidelity mockups less and less. By the last cycle or two, we were hardly using them at all anymore. I probably haven’t opened the tool in 3 months.

So in terms of productivity, our planning discussions were more productive because we were not bogged down at the pixel level. But in terms of turning the Balsamiq Mockups into production code—that was not really our intent, nor does the tool really support that.

Anybody else have a perspective to share on this or other rapid prototyping tools?

posted by ted on Thursday, Jul 02, 2009 · 1 comment

“happytohelp @ dropsend . com”
I like DropSend’s support email address…
They’re not just Help, they’re Happy to Help!

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009 · 0 comments

I agree with Jason that the mere existence of your Foo is not enough for people to be interested and that we’ve got to champion our good work.

As a counterpoint, lest we get carried away, Good Experience proposes a few tips on being authentic. (It goes without saying that Cameron’s Boredom is always Authentic.)

posted by ted on Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 · 2 comments

The End of the Asterisk?

Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox today proclaims that we we should Stop Masking Passwords. He claims the usability costs are too high, especially on mobile devices where typos are more common.

I was skeptical, but he has some great points, the most important being that the greatest security risks when you are entering a password are really electronic—someone snooping your password through an unsecure connection. Someone watching your screen can just as easily watch your keyboard to see what keys you tap. But most of the time this is irrelevant, since you are at home and not really being stalked by an over-the-shoulder snooper.

And to cover the occasional Internet kiosk scenario, he suggests providing a checkbox that will let users decide whether they want to mask their password. I like it! Virtual equivalent of cupping your hand around the keypad at an ATM.

Now that I think about it, I have recently noticed that when I type a password on my mobile phone, it briefly shows the last character I typed before replacing it with an asterisk. (Is that an Opera Mobile feature?) That seems to be a concession to some of Nielsen’s points regarding mobile password entry. But I wonder whether it really makes sense either. If it’s visible to you briefly, then it’s visible to a snooper briefly too. But what are the chances that someone can see that teeny tiny text you are taptapping on your phone anyway???

So I guess he’s convinced me! Death to the Asterisk!

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 · 7 comments

I’ve only listened to the first podcast so far, but the Mormon Channel’s series on creativity seems really promising. Looking forward to the next episode on my commute!

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 23, 2009 · 0 comments

“Three lessons on what’s really important,” from Good Experience:

  1. “How important are you? Just ask a customer.” Great anecdote about Google asking people what a “browser” is…
  2. “Accept your unimportance. It may help.” If you believe you are the center of the universe, then you’ve just created a very small universe for yourself.
  3. “When people start believing their own hype, run.” Cites those “in the know” before the financial meltdown… who appeared to be in the “not-know” after all.

posted by ted on Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009 · 6 comments

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill.
They want a quarter-inch hole.”
Theodore Levitt, quoted in The Innovator’s Solution, sequel to The Innovator’s Dilemma, both recommended to me by John as I’m in the early stages of defining what a proposed product should do.

Timely reminder that customers “hire a product to do a job,” not to fill a slot on their shelf reserved for an artificial product category. (Of course they don’t really just want a hole; they want to build something, drain something, see through something, etc. We need to get down to real intents and desired outcomes, or we’ll never understand what we should build to meet real needs.)

posted by ted on Tuesday, Jun 09, 2009 · 1 comment