Kathy Sierra: A favorite blogger begins again

I just caught word that Kathy Sierra, one of my favorite bloggers of all time, has started blogging again after a 6 year hiatus.  The new blog is at http://seriouspony.com/blog. Kathy has a gift for conveying complex topics in a way that nearly anyone could understand.  I’ve seen coworkers give Head First Design Patterns to non-developer friends and have them actually get something out if it

Kathy’s previous blog “Creating Passionate Users” was great, and I’m sure we’ll see plenty more insightful, funny content in the future.  And plenty of references to horses as well 🙂  Welcome back, Kathy!

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FILive: Crafting Virtuoso UX Teams

Cameron Moll from Authentic Jobs presented on putting together an effective UX team.  He started out with a discussion on effective hiring, and then continued with effective team practices.

Book recommendation: Hire With Your Head by Lou Adler

A few hiring tips:

  1. Treat hiring like any other process your team has mastered
  2. Understand that accurate interviewing is fact finding
  3. Measure job competency, not interviewing aptitude
  4. Define the job to be done and ask the interviewee: “How has your background prepared you for this job?”
  5. Require justification for “no” votes from fellow interviewers

Culture and fit are VERY important.  You are who you hire.  Here’s the rub when working for a Fortune 50 company:  Uniformity and consistency compete with creating unique or special.  Consider the following quote: “Great teams do what works best for them, and selectively embrace new thinking.”  While that probably resonates with most people, it runs contrary to the consistency big corporations often strive for.

Next Cameron talked a bit about how an effective UX team acts.  He brought up the subject of using photoshop in the course of design vs. doing things directly in the browser.  After listening to a number of speakers, this seems to be a matter of personal preference.  Prototyping should happen early, frequently, and habitually.  He mentioned Styletil.es as an approach to showing customers potential options without investing too much up front.  In terms of products, he mentioned Protoshare, InVision.

There was a little discussion on hiring people who are immediately productive.  Maybe something for me to think about is how we bring a culture where we’re attracting the quality of people that could “ship” something the first day?

Finally, a few random thoughts:

  • Ouch. Cameron blames agile for poor quality.
  • Collaboration & Isolation are important to an effective team
  • Every six weeks, two hours should be spent watching users interact
  • I found it interesting he has a particular liking for the words persecute and tolerance.

All in all, a good session.

FILive: The Future of UX: Killing the Wireframe Machine

I’m still trying to catch up on my notes.  This session was presented by Lis Hubert, a UX consultant whose perspective I’ve appreciated over the years.  The subject of how to effectively weave UX into a project is very relevant to my current job, so I was keen to hear her perspective.  Realize this was a 55 minute session.

Lis HubertLis is a good speaker.  This was as polished as most keynotes.  It followed the whole tell me what you’re going to tell me, tell me, tell me what you told me model of presenting.

In Lis’s opinion, a UX person needs to know these:

  • User needs
  • Business needs
  • Technology abilities
  • Mix in a good portion of empathy

To me, that seems like a pretty tall order to find in one individual.  At least in my company…

Lis made the point that UX and User Interface isn’t the same thing.  The UI is definitely a piece, but not the whole.  See Erik Flowers’ article : UI is not UX for more insight on this.

We are in the “age of experience”. Jared M. Spool’s  Dawning of the Age of Experience on slideshare looks like a good resource.

Much of the premise of the talk revolved around the problems with doing UX in a closed system with no external inputs.  That seems like a no-brainer to me, but I gather this is a common practice.  So how do you fix this closed loop mentality?  Just include user studies? Usability? A/B testing?  I’d guess all would help.

As a final takeaway, I was left with a nagging question: What’s the diff between what she’s mentioning and a Business Analyst role?  Part of the reason for my question is that internally at my company we seem to use the two interchangeably except for the User Interface design portion, which is sometimes delegated to a UI developer if the UX/BA person doesn’t have that skill.  I’m still a little confused on this part.

FILive: The Culture War Myth: Startups in the Enterprise

Jeffrey Burlin @pwcinnovate  PWC consultant and leader of their internal innovation lab.

I try to mix it up in terms of the types of sessions I attended, but this one definitely fits well with my work situation in a big enterprise.  Plenty of other people attended this session also, so it must have resonated well with many.

30 years ago the difference in culture between enterprise and innovator was cut and dried.  Nowadays it’s not so clear cut.  Jeffrey shared a couple of company profiles without sharing their name and asked the audience to vote via twitter on whether it was a startup or an enterprise company.  Needless to say, the crowd was wrong.  For instance, what would you judge this example?

Twitter  – has 900+ employees, 350m in revenue, based in California.  Startup or Enterprise?

So what’s the motivation to act like a startup?  Personally, the reasons that resonate with me are the benefits to employee culture (working on stuff that matters, clear goal, small motivated team, flexibility in technology) and better products as a result.

So how are enterprises dealing with innovation?  Jeffrey sees two models for bringing a startup mentality to the enterprise:

  1. Outsourcing like Blue Cross Blue Shield’s arrangement with Sandbox in Chicago
  2. Internal Innovation Labs.  If I recall, Walmart kickstarted theirs by acquiring a small company or two they viewed as innovative.

Requirements for starting an internal innovation lab:

  • Executive Support – Introductions, funding, etc.
  • Freedom to Fail.  Not every project will succeed.  In fact many may not.
  • Single decision maker for whether the project proceeds
  • Avoid the HiPPO (Highest paid person’s opinion) and allow the single decision maker above to decide how things proceed.
  • Agility and ability to adapt to changing circumstances
  • Postpone ROI-driven decision making.  That’s not to say ignore, but postpone.

Random statistic: Walmart has ~1500 in eCommerce.  Holy crud!

Good session.  This’ll give me plenty to think about going back to work.

FILive: Jeff Atwood – I fought Atwood’s Law

Jeff Atwood, author of the CodingHorror blog, Stackoverflow creator and generally opinionated guy did the Thursday morning keynote.  A few random thoughts to start out:

  • Stackoverflow was an answer to Experts-exchange.  Experts-Exchange had lots of cool stuff, but it was stuck behind a paywall.  Slightly frustrating when google returns enticing results, only to not be able to see the answers.  I can vouch for that.  I actually used to use free points and stuff I’d scrounged to find answers off of it.  Never paid for it though 🙂  And yet Stackoverflow and derivatives seem to be very commercially successful. 
  • Web 2.0 meant “javascript now works” 🙂

A little on Javascript:

Javascript has won not by technical merit particularly, but by default. It was there.  With every computing platform having one or more browsers, Javascript was there.  Browser makers had an incentive to make it FAST, and even open source like Google’s V8 javascript engine which is the runtime for Node.js.  Plus, it’s cool since you can always view the source for stuff coming down to the browser.  That’s true “open source” in at least one meaning of the phrase.  And Javascript forgives you too.  Pretty low barrier to entry.  All that adds up to a nice recipe of becoming incredibly popular.

Everybody wants a law named after themselves.  It’s human nature.  So here we go – Atwoods law:

Instead of the traditional “All software grows until it can read email”, Jeff believes  “Any application that can be written in Javascript, will eventually be written in javascript”.

So is javascript ok for mobile devices?  Based on the charts he showed, browser and device performance is doubling still, unlike desktop performance and is in his opinion good enough even now. He also argues native is problematic because of the pain in finding, updating. Do you agree?

Of course, this XKCD cartoon on native apps is very appropriate, although I like it better from a usability antipattern example:

Jeff was looking to scratch an itch not scratched by StackExchange.

  • Stack exchange is optimized for learning, not hanging out.
  • Discourse is designed to allow conversation.  Open source forum sw.  He calls it a “discussion platform”.
  • Jeff was looking seriously about using javascript for the whole thing. Here’s an interesting quote: “It’s fun to be a polyglot, but shifting gears!”  
  • Node.js was definitely a front-runner, but for him the show-stopper was that Node lacks packaging.  Jeff really likes Ember.js for the client side.

So the question would be, did he use javascript for the whole project in question?  No, Ruby on Rails.

FILIve: Experience Driven Development and Contract First Development

SuAnne Hall and Ryan McGinty from Effective UI.

Contract-First Development

Overall, these two did a good job presenting a case study of a site redesign engagement their company recently completed.  If I’m remembering correctly (without the slides in hand), they were doing primarily the front end work.

SuAnne started out by explaining their approach.  They drove the requirements from the user experience perspective, back to the other layers of the application.  I’ve seen projects done in this manner, and oftentimes it can be very effective.  Here’s their reasoning on why it was appropriate in their case:

Why Experience Driven?

  • Ensures it makes sense to the user since it’s focusing on how the user will interact. (And it’s not good enough to guess at what the user wants: Gotta ask the users.)
  • Should result in a user-friendly good user experience moreso than an approach that comes at it from a different angle like the company’s internal business processes. Should be personal, engaging, contextual, communicative, simplifying.

Haha. They brought up photojojo and the “do not pull” handle.  Try it out. Gotta love mixing a little humor into a product.  Makes me love it!

Contract- first development

I found it interesting that Contract-first got a mention at this show, being that most of the time I’ve heard it discussed more in development circles.  However, it makes sense in their situation.  By pulling apart the components on the wireframes and defining contracts between the ui side and back end side, they were able to leverage the different groups working on the separate parts.  I’m trying to see how this would directly help in quite the same way in a group where the whole team were generalists and working interchangably on both front and back end, but I love having clear separation between layers.  Services can be a beautiful thing.

Next, Ryan showed an interface definition.  JSON in this case.  I believe they used JSON Schema to help define and possibly JSON hyper schema.  I haven’t played around with either, so add that to the list.

Ryan pointed out lots of MVC javascript libs that might be useful.  Angular, JQuery, Backbone, etc.  I’ll need to ponder those a little especially in the context of applications that aren’t a clean slate.  Websphere Commerce for instance.

One final takeaway I got from this was a reminder to focus on the error handling and edge cases ASAP in the process!  Good point, and one that I’ve violated more times that I’d want to admit.

Good presentation.

Future Insights Live 2013

New York New York
I’m here at Future Insights Live for a few days this week. This year it’s at the MGM Grand, (right across from New York, New York, which I find much more interesting to photograph) taking a floor in their conference center. A few folks from my company are at IBM’s Impact event down the street at the Venetian. Since I’ve been to both, I have a bit of an opinion on what makes Future Insights a better fit for me this year.  Not to say I don’t see value for both.

I’ll speak in generalizations.  Impact first off is a large conference, attracting what seems like mostly employees from larger companies.  Sessions are mostly face forward, with lots of slides on the IBM product at hand.  Think Rational Application Developer, BPM, App Server, etc. Smarter Commerce might be a little more practical, but suffers in other ways.  I think IBM suffers from the same issues any large company deals with in that it becomes very easy to focus on the products being sold and not the solutions the customer is trying to solve.

_DSC3142Future Insights Live seems to strike a nice balance in that they attract great speakers for keynotes, have 5 tracks all the way from Design to Development to Business.  There’s a difference in the audience.  Lots of designers, entrepreneurs, app developers. The ratio of tattoos per person is high. People talk in the keynotes.  Lots of international presence.  I ate lunch with 3 folks from Brazil, one from Quebec, and a guy from Palo Alto.  It’s a very nice vibe.

One feature the conference has picked up on that I’ve seen a few times is a graffiti wall and artist to depict some of the tidbits attendees tell her they learned.  Fun touch.

Mural tools

Posts from the conference are going to be a little slower in coming since the 50 minute sessions have forced speakers to shove a lot of info into a short timeframe.  More to come.