So, we’re off to BarCamp London this weekend, myself and two colleagues, and we’re wondering what’s the best thing we can do to share what we know with you. We’ve got a bit of a presentation lined up, but we might do one or two more :)
Our repertoire includes such goodies as User Centred Design Practices, Research Methodologies, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Usability Testing, Accessibility Issues, Design Documentation and Methodology, other topics in that vein and a little Interpretive Dance. Between the three of us, we’ve got quite a few war stories from all kinds of projects, platforms, devices, technologies, clients, industries, etc.
So, I went to the Girl Geeks Dinner in London last evening. It was an interesting night. The first thing you need to know if you’re thinking of going, is that it’s not a dinner. It’s drinks and a talk. But it’s still good.
I went there knowing absolutely no one, and ended up meeting a few people (hooray to those girls who were brave enough to introduce themselves to people they’ve never met… this happened about three times throughout the night, I did it a few times but not as bravely as some!)
One thing I’m taking away from the evening is that I need to find a way to talk about what I do that sounds as exciting as I think it is. As you do when you don’t know anyone, you find yourself explaining what you do with your time at work. You’d know by now that I’m pretty enthusiastic about my work – but I know that when I talk about it, it doesn’t have that zing. That’s something to work on.
Someone who does much better at it is Abigail Sellen. She’s been involved in amazing HCI work for ages. At the moment, she’s working with Microsoft. Abigail gave a really interesting talk to the Geeky Girls. I loved her relaxed presentation style. Abigail has been doing this work and talking about it a lot. She has such an understated approach, but her CV is so incredibly sexy, I suppose it’s easy to be understated.
Abigail says – if you’re going to *really* innovate – really do something out of the square – then be prepared for a ten year wait to see it go to market- otherwise be prepared to engage in taking it to market (getting out of the research lab and going out for lunch with product managers, engaging with the economics and the politics of the organisation outside of the research lab). She was talking about projects they were working on ten years ago that we’re looking at today and thinking ‘how sexy’. Seen that two handed desktop interaction? That kind of thing. They were working on it ten years ago and now the market is almost ready to find a place for it.
If you want to take innovation to market quickly, then focus on tweaks. Find ways to make existing technology work better. And this is no small task. Abigail gave the example of the mobile phone and the way that SMS completely revolutionised what that device meant to people and how they used it. That’s a reasonably small innovation that came to market reasonably quickly (depending on what market you’re in) and made huge changes.
At Microsoft they’ve been looking at the home technology market. Their thinking is that up until now, home technology has been divided into two areas: time saving and time wasting. This is a pretty simple breakdown, they say, and there must be some more interesting opportunities for technology in this environment – like for using it to allow people to express themselves, to emote, and for supporting families.
Really interesting stuff – enough to turn some of us green with jealousy, I’m sure. Sometimes I really like the idea of working in a research lab. But then, they too have frustrations – such as the ten year wait, and the products that are designed but never get to market, and getting IP Patents for all your ideas can’t be that much fun either.
It was definitely worth the effort to make it to Geek Girls and I’d recommend it to other London gals. Get along and check it out!
Meanwhile – check out Sarah Blow’s great t-shirt (picture above). It’s a customised XXL Mans Microsoft .NET tshirt. Microsoft has never looked so cool. Mash-up of the year I reckon :)
Customer research too expensive? Unless you’re working for an university with stringent ethical requirements to meet – you’re making your job too hard. Ethnography* is everywhere.
Last night, after Girly Geeks, I was on the tube on the way home and beside me sat a man performing a task that I *wish* I could have designed for user testing… except I would never have thought of it. Oh, and I don’t have budget.
I watched him a while. Then I asked him if I could take a photo of what he was doing, and explained why I was interested.
Unfortunately we got to Oxford Circus and I had to get off the tube, otherwise I would probably still be in conversation with this guy about why he sits on the tube at 10.30pm on Tuesday evening circling TV listings in TimeOut.
Once he started talking, he had a big story to tell and a rationale for why he was doing this. Of course, it was all premised on the idea that he was ‘killing time’, but then he got into detailed explanations about the way that his personal video recorder worked and how many programs he could record or watch at the same time, and how he treated programs that he knew he like, to those he was still testing out, to those that were ‘experimental’ (his words).
Research is brilliant at helping us work out what the design problems are and how we might try to solve them. But not all projects have the budget or resources for a formal user research phase. Don’t let that put you off.
Ask the people you work with. Ask the people you live with. Ask people you know to ask people they know. Try to get some of their time and ask them some questions. You’ll be amazed how many are willing to help out for free.
People care about design – even if they don’t know it. And they love to be involved and to make a difference. And they have lots of stories to tell and they love that you’re interested in hearing them, and that you think those stories are important.
And, of course, they are important. And they’re everywhere.
Ethnography is everywhere. If you’re looking for it.
Image: man marking Time Out TV schedule on the Central Line tube last night. Larger image here.
*note: I use the term ‘ethnography’ in that kind of loose way that lots of us in HCI use it. Apologies to *real* ethnographers :)