Thursday, November 26, 2009

Why designers are Innovators also?

Researchers say they have identified five skills that drive innovation.Here is my take on this.

Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.

A true designer studies people habits by observing them in their context. He studies people's behaviors, needs, motivations, and latent desires. Any design activity begins with Users Research and completes with it.

Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

A designer possess inherent ability of creating and recognizing meaningful associations from different fields. If he had not had this ability, he would not have become designers in the first place. To solve a problem he needs to know latest trends in: cultures, technologies, material sciences, fashion, markets, and what not. The designer then connects different variables from different fields to create his best concept.

Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask "why?", "why not?" and "what if?"

No designer can create a new product without questioning. Questioning is an integral part of design process. The more he questions, the more layers he peels off towards success. Challenging common wisdom is another trait of a successful designer. He constantly challenges the society and breaks the norms. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the Juicy Salif, designed by Philippe Starck in 1990. It is considered an icon of industrial design that has been displayed in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.

Prototyping is a common practice in design industry. Nothing is produced without prototyping and exploring concepts in all possible ways. A good designer needs to know prototyping and it is a necessary part of his job.

innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.

Designers network with people from different fields and domains. For example: To design a world class automatic hair cutting machine, the designer needs to understand the latest robotic technology with best robotic scientist and at the same time to understand hair cutting he needs to talk to the best hair dressers. Both the scientist and hair dresser will bring their perspectives and ideas to the problem, which will help in the best solution.

Therefore, we can safely infer that when you hire a designer, you get an innovator for free.

(Photo Courtesy:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

World Movie Map

I received this image in email. There is no information about its source but it is pretty good information visualization. It does not provide any information about the designer, nevertheless, he deserves due credit. I am hosting his amazing creation.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Office Wall After Brainstorming Session

Last week, I conducted a brainstorming session, "Paint the Wall", at office. It was designed to get ideas about the Dashboard for client's new web-application.

After the meeting the management got stunned to find that the users were demanding very different features than what the managers of users have contemplated in BRD (Business Requirement Document).

Lesson of the day: Always talk to the real users of the application. Once again, always talk to the real users of the application. Such a simple sentence but nobody follows that.

Products in Use - Handheld or What?

It is pretty common to see many Americans driving with GPS in their hands. Obviously, it was never meant to be used that way.

Not that the designers of the product did not think about its mount, of course, they did. But probably, they missed user testing.

It comes with a suction pad that could be attached to the windshield. However, the GPS device is too heavy for the suction pad to keep the GPS stable on windshield. Whenever the suction decreases it falls down, which is annoying to the driver.

The suction decreases for couple of reasons:

* As suction pads go old, its vaccuum generating capacity deteriorates.
* Large potholes shake the GPS so hard that the suction cannot bear it
* Variation in temperature and pressure also affects suction capacity

Therefore, most of the drivers end up using their hands to hold it.

Annoying, but that is the truth.

Lessons for us: Usable Design and Rigorous Testing

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Death of Outlook Calendar

How do you schedule a meeting? Pretty straightforward question it is, right? Send the person a meeting invite on MS Outlook or any other calendar program. The whole purpose of sending the invite is to block her calendar and not give her a last minute surprise.

However, the question becomes pretty difficult to answer if we ask it in India. The possible answers would be: Inform the person about the meeting time in a mail; show up at her desk; give her a call; call her on your desk, etc. Notice that there is no mention of sending an Outlook meeting invite. People in India do have access to Outlook but it is about the culture and traditions.

In India, the office culture is pretty informal. People do not manage their day to day activities on calendar. In fact, they tend to keep things in their head. My parents never had any notepad on refrigerator to create grocery list. In fact, on Sundays, my father would sit with all of us and brainstorm about all the things we need for home and create a list impromptu. He never used calendar and marked times on it: Take dog out for walk or Dinner at In Law's place. This is not just my parents story; it is everybody's story in India.

In India, we do not call people before we go to their homes, we just show up and surprise them. Since, it is part of the culture for thousands of years nobody gets offended or angry with this practice.

IT revolution took place and globalization happened in a split of second. People were exposed to lucrative jobs and started working with global teams - US in particular. In US calendar is non-separable part of the culture which is not true for India. The teams in US always schedule meetings in advance with Indian teams using Calendar. However, teams in India would either not accept the invite or accept it without ever checking their calendars back. In short, even if there is an invite sitting in the calendar people are least bothered about it because they never see it.

Intra-team collaboration in India using Calendar is even more pathetic. Nobody ever uses Calendar or creates meeting invite. Most of the people have never created meeting invites in their entire lives.

Take my example, I was afraid of creating meeting invites initially because nobody around me ever used it or taught me how to create one. As a matter of fact, I created my first invite after spending 2 years in full time job. Today, I cannot do anything without Calendar and depends solely on it. Part of the reason for this change is my US exposure. I have spent significant time working with people in US. When you work in a new culture you learn new things and "adjust" yourself.

Slowly things are changing in India as the exposure to outside culture is increasing more and more. Hopefully, one day people in India would start using Outlook Calendars. That day Microsoft would be happy to see rebirth of Outlook in another culture.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Free Time Tracking System - User Feedback Required

Download Free Time Tracking System: Time Tracking System v0.1

"Filling up the timesheet never interested me and the thought of remembering what I did through out the day and putting time against each one of them was a pain. I always wished if there is an easier way to do it or in a way automate this redundant task. There are many tools available to track time but for some reason I always found them a bit complicated and time consuming" in Jai's words.

So, Jai Chandra (a highly skilled developer in Flex technologies) decided to develop an application to keep track of time. Jai works on bleeding edge of technology and currently involved in creating Flex platform for applications. More About Jai>>

Time Tracking System is a step towards that. This application can be your personal time tracker. Any task can be tracked by simply selecting it from the task list.

The application is developed using Adobe Air and uses SQLite database for storing timesheet information locally. This is a very early version and Jai will continue to work on it.

I helped Jai with Interface and Usability within the constraints. Imagine, this is a one developer team :) I could not be more demanding.

The current version has the following features:

1. Create tasks.
2. Create projects.
3. Daily and weekly timesheet in a read-only mode.
4. Minimize application to task bar.
5. Detect idle/away time

Future Plans: (I will try to do more experience related stuff)

1. Search functionality for task and projects.
2. Allow exporting of timesheet information to excel format.
3. Export data into an user defined format. This could facilitate importing of data into other systems.

and more…

But, it all depends on user feedback. so feel free to use it and post your comments.

Download Free Time Tracking System: Time Tracking System v0.1

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interaction Guidelines

What is an interaction guideline?

Interaction guideline is a document that captures the behavior of an interface. This includes all tiny and minute details for all sort of controls (buttons, dropdowns, links, etc.) that a developer will require to design with perfection.

Why do we need an interaction guideline document?

Use cases primarily captures business flow. However, in this project BAs are capturing screen flows and are writing screen field properties too. Since, the screens were designed by UX folks and not BAs, obviously we know better about the screens than anybody else. After all, prototype is our baby.

Things like dynamic panels - when to display and where to display; when to display a value as a drop down and when as text; what is the meaning of secondary sort, whether the sort is forward and reverse both; when an element becomes a link and when it is text?

For e.g. Number of Share is a numeric link but when the value becomes zero and there is no number to be displayed, display as text.

For e.g. What if the address of the user is not on file, how the information will be displayed there?

There are many such instances that will go unnoticed and undocumented, if we did not create interaction guidelines.

Who are the intended audience?

All team members reading the usecases and designing the system are intended audience.

Myth: We can do everything with the usecase

We went with the same myth in one of our projects and stumbled upon. UX team were asked to create interaction guidelines at the very last minute. Hope you guys do no repeat history and learn from mistakes. By the way, I do not churn pages and pages of interaction guidelines for fun :)

Of course, I have better ways to pass my time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Design Myths!

Many people talk about design without knowing what exactly it is. These so called designers think that knowing photoshop, Axure or iRise is doing design. How wrong they are...

Design is a creative and collaborative process. It starts with the generation of ideas through brainstorming. Then, you sift these ideas to find the best among them. Then, you work on these ideas to generate concepts. Later, these concepts are tried and tested many times with real users until the concepts shape up in meaningful and usable designs. This process is repeated many times, therefore, the process of design is iterative. Jumping to prototyping without going through the design process is both fatal and futile.

You will be surprised to hear this but a successful design is done by the user, with the user, for the user. The role of the designer is just to facilitate the design process. Also, as a designer one should not forget that the product "must" meet client's strategic goals too, otherwise, it will be a business failure. Balancing both client and user's needs is very critical for a good designer. One wrong move and the design is doomed.

Design is fun. It is an intrinsic part of life. Enjoy every second of it.
Here are some of the examples that are the outcome of the design process through meetings, discussions, JAD sessions, focus groups or whatever you want to call it. I call it brainstorming.