Designer Biases

When new technology comes into being, there are often two radical beliefs that spring up:

  1. That new technology will corrupt our youth and irreversibly damage our society
  2. That new technology will create a utopian society of equality and opportunity for all

The two beliefs are reflected as far back in time as Socrate’s day, when he feared that writing would erode memory (it has, in part) and ruin society (it hasn’t, I personally believe). It is mirrored in reactions to the industrial revolution, the telegraph and then the telephone, and most recently, the Internet.

While we hear a lot about the first belief, brought mostly out of fear, today I’m more interested in the second: Utopianism via technology. Continue Reading


Privacy in Public Spaces

I recently began reading danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, and it has me thinking about privacy.

I’ve written before about security and the illusion of security. Many internet users who do not have a background in online security feel more secure when the illusion of security exists than when following actual steps to ensure security. Privacy can be similarly difficult to navigate, for the same reason: the illusion of privacy online is not the same as actually being private. Continue Reading


Creepy PuppyMonkeyBaby and the Importance of User Testing

puppymonkeybabyIf you missed the Super Bowl last night, no need to fear spoilers here. I don’t know who won or lost, and I don’t remember any particularly impressive football moments (I do enjoy the occasional intense almost-lost touchdown or crazy avoid-all-tackles run). But I did watch the commercials, and there’s one commercial every user experience professional should watch.

Yes, puppies are adorable. Monkeys are hilarious. And babies are sweet. But much like yogurt and shampoo, motorcycles and colognelifesavers and soda, or cheetos and lip gloss, they don’t compliment one another well.

The next time your clients say “is user testing really necessary?” Just show them this video. The answer is yes. Yes, test. Test, for the love of all that is holy. Test, and help us prevent future puppymonkeybabies.


Editor’s note: Two weeks later, and people are still talking about it. Is it possible this was the goal after all? Tricky marketers…



I have a friend, a fellow UX professional, who once defined compromise to me. “Compromise is when nobody is happy with the end result,” she said.

It’s important to remember that this idea exists. It’s important to prove that idea wrong. Then the only unhappiness will be when the person who believed that compromise caused people to be happy realizes they were wrong and that they don’t like being wrong. But they’ll be happy about the compromise. And that’s what’s important.



I’d Rather Hire a Snowflake than a Unicorn


Image Credit: http://uxunicorn.com/

What is a UX Unicorn? Though the details vary, most agree that a unicorn is a UX practitioner who does a little of everything – visual and interaction design, front-end development, content and IA. The term has been gaining traction over the past several years, as employers seek out designers with expansive skill sets, and designers seek out ways to become more valuable to employers. Continue Reading


International Usability

Travel always opens my eyes to new concepts and UX alternatives. In Warsaw last week, I found a sign on the bus that wowed me with its usability.

This bus sign has three levels:

  • The top level lists out all the stops, consistent with every other bus map I’ve encountered.
  • The middle level (in red) divides the stops by neighborhoods.
  • The bottom level divided the stops by street. As a tourist this was fantastic; I knew I wanted to get as far south on Ujazdowksie Street as possible. This map showed me when I was at the southernmost stop before the bus turned onto Armii Ludowej.
Bus Sign

The Warsaw Bus Map

Continue Reading


Trust the Chaos

“Trust the people
Trust the process
Trust yourself
Trust chaos”
Terry Mazany, 1994

My first experience with the business world was joining my father in staff development workshops. As an education consultant – and a fierce opponent of lectures – he excelled at bringing together teachers and administrators and guiding them to new ideas. Back in the 60s, teaching in his own classroom, he had often been admonished by other teachers for not “controlling” the students, or having a “rowdy” classroom. But from my father’s perspective, it was that very noisiness that signaled to him that students were discussing, probing, asking questions, and in short, learning. Continue Reading


What Does it Mean to Work “Sustainably?”

Is this the right work/life balance for you?

Photo Credit: Giorgio Montersino via Compfight cc

One of my favorite principles of agile development is #8: Agile processes promote sustainable development. It’s one of those statements that is all at once completely obvious, and yet incredibly difficult to follow. For every business that promises a “work/life balance,” there is a project that begs the exception, and requires employees to work late “just this once.” I have no problem with the exception. What I see as problematic is that often “just this once” turns into “just once a week” and then evolves into “passionate, dedicated people.”

Here’s the big secret. “We’re looking for passionate, dedicated people” is code for “don’t expect to get home for dinner.” Continue Reading


Ageless Personas

On a sunny May afternoon in 2010, I met Dorian. He was a web developer at a small agency, with a wife and two children at home. He spent an hour or two each day online, mostly visiting sites like Reddit and Delicious (remember back when Delicious was popular?) but rarely contributing to either site. He enjoyed snowboarding in the winter, and surfing in the summer, though he rarely found the time to do either these days. Dorian felt comfortable with his personal knowledge of internet security, and prized function over form on the sites he used most frequently.

As you may have guessed, Dorian (short for Dorian Developer) was my first user persona. We detailed his preferences, his wants and needs and fears, his online habits, and his personal life based off the user interviews we’d conducted with a dozen real developers for real small agencies. Every decision we made was subject to the Dorian test: would Dorian like this? Would Dorian use that?

Yet Dorian had no age. Continue Reading