prototype posts

This Week @ Portigal May 7th, 2012

It’s sunburn weather this week (well, today at least), perfect for zipping from place to place, which is indeed what we are doing

  • It’s a busy fieldwork week, as we are going into the homes of (mostly young, mostly male) gamers to see what they’re doing and get their reactions to a prototype.
  • No sooner do we finish fieldwork than our clients come to our office at the end of this week to help untangle the data and identify the key takeaways
  • I’m putting the final details together my sold-out workshop (as well as a short talk) for User Experience Lisbon next week.
  • We’ve launched a new series devoted to fieldwork War Stories.
  • What we’re consuming: Frittle, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, scopa (the game), Scopa (the restaurant).
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies March 7th, 2012

‘Brogrammers’ challenge coders’ nerdy image [SF Chronicle] – It’s a bit of a silly story that turns a catchphrase into a cultural trend, but of course there’s something happening to drive the growth of the catchphrase. Sad that flipping the nerd stereotype reveals a sexist one.

Tech’s latest boom has generated a new, more testosterone-fueled breed of coder. Sure, the job still requires enormous brainpower, yet today’s engineers are drawn from diverse backgrounds, and many eschew the laboratory intellectualism that prevailed when semiconductors ruled Silicon Valley. At some startups the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that it’s given rise to a new title: brogrammer. A portmanteau of the frat-house moniker “bro” and “programmer,” the term has become the subject of a Facebook group joined by more than 21,000 people; the name of a series of hacker get-togethers in Austin, Texas; the punch line for online ads; and the topic of a humorous discussion on question-and-answer site Quora titled “How does a programmer become a brogrammer?” (One pointer: Drink Red Bull, beer and “brotein” shakes.) “There’s a rising group of developers who are much more sociable and like to go out and have fun, and I think brogramming speaks to that audience,” said Gagan Biyani, co-founder and president of Udemy, a San Francisco startup that offers coding lessons on the Web.

Mr. Peanut’s Alter Ego Leads Kraft Into Planters Butter [Bloomberg] – Surprising not to see any mention of Kraft Peanut Butter, the Canadian product that pretty much defines peanut butter in that market.

Mr. Peanut has a stunt double. Sporting a goatee, aviator sunglasses and overconfidence, “Doug” performs death-defying feats that always end the same way: with him getting crushed and turned into peanut butter. Doug’s daredevil act is part of Kraft’s move into the crowded U.S. peanut butter market. In what may be the most overdue brand extension in history, Kraft is using the 100- year-old Planters brand to spark growth in its mature grocery business. Kraft is targeting adults, who consume two-thirds of the $1.8 billion of peanut butter sold in the U.S. each year, Kraft was looking for an adult mascot and settled on Doug, voiced in Web ads by Kevin Dillon in an homage to the hapless Johnny Drama character he played on HBO’s “Entourage” series. “Peanut butter was a natural extension,” Schmelter said. The new spread and Peanut Butter Doug, as he is formally known, are signs Kraft is getting more aggressive with the grocery business, said Alexia Howard, an analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. in New York.

Internet Archive’s Repository Collects Thousands of Books [NYT] – Digital technology allows rapid content creation, and creates interesting archiving challenges. First all the digital data was worth preserving. Then digital was a method to archive the physical world. Now we’re going all-in and trying to archive the physical world itself. Seems like a setup for a Steven Wright joke (didn’t he describe his full-scale map of the US and the problems he had folding it?).

“We want to collect one copy of every book,” said Brewster Kahle, who has spent $3 million to buy and operate this repository situated just north of San Francisco. “You can never tell what is going to paint the portrait of a culture.” As society embraces all forms of digital entertainment, this latter-day Noah is looking the other way. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur who made his fortune selling a data-mining company to Amazon.com in 1999, Mr. Kahle founded and runs the Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving Web pages – 150 billion so far – and making texts more widely available. But even though he started his archiving in the digital realm, he now wants to save physical texts, too. “We must keep the past even as we’re inventing a new future,” he said. “If the Library of Alexandria had made a copy of every book and sent it to India or China, we’d have the other works of Aristotle, the other plays of Euripides. One copy in one institution is not good enough.” Mr. Kahle had the idea for the physical archive while working on the Internet Archive, which has digitized two million books. With a deep dedication to traditional printing – one of his sons is named Caslon, after the 18th-century type designer – he abhorred the notion of throwing out a book once it had been scanned. The volume that yielded the digital copy was special. And perhaps essential. What if, for example, digitization improves and we need to copy the books again?

Myq Kaplan Gives Birth to a Stand-Up Joke [NYT] – The prototype/test-with-users/iterate process of designing a joke.

The first week is arguably the most creative in the life of a joke. For Mr. Kaplan it’s all about generating ideas. What could explain this jacket convention? Maybe, he speculated, jackets were once very cheap and, as he would later say onstage, “men wore seven coats out, hoping it wasn’t an eight-puddle day.” He also decided that the modern equivalent was leaving the toilet seat down. All these ideas were transformed into jokes as the bit expanded. Setups shrank. Punch lines multiplied. The jacket over the puddle soon became one of several examples of chivalry that began with his pantomiming opening a door after asking the audience: “Does it detract from chivalry if, when opening a car door for a lady, I say, ‘Chivaaalry!'” He dragged out the last word in the self-satisfied voice of a magician introducing his assistant. A coarse joke about chivalry during sex replaced the homeless-man line. By early January Mr. Kaplan’s rhythm became more assured and moseying, lingering on pauses, finding extra laughs between punch lines. His typical stage pose – leaning back, his free hand placed gently on his stomach as if he were pregnant – became looser, adding touches of showmanship. It didn’t matter where he performed (clubs, restaurants, even a hostel), chivalry always worked. The focus now was on getting the right laughs. It was important, he thought, to get a big one right at the start with his car-door opening, and in paring it down, he turned a question (“Does it detract from chivalry…”) into a statement. Later, he brought back the question. Laughter marginally improved.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies February 28th, 2010
  • Segmenting the Hendrix fan [NYTimes.com] – “We believe that there is a Jimi Hendrix fan out there at 99 cents and at $9 and at $20 — all the way across the spectrum,” Mr. Block said. “We want to make each fan an appropriate offering. Is the complete Jimi Hendrix on vinyl something every music fan would want? Absolutely not. Would there be a market for it? Absolutely.”
  • Jerry Seinfeld on ideas [NYTimes.com] – Whatever happens to “The Marriage Ref,” Mr. Seinfeld said that he was out of ideas now. “Ideas are a terrible obligation,” he said. “Who needs something else to take care of? I have kids. I’d rather nurture them than another idea.”
  • The Disposable Film Festival – In recent years a new kind of film has emerged: The Disposable Film. It has been made possible by new media (webcams, point and shoot digital cameras, cell phones, screen capture software, and one time use digital video cameras) and the rise of online distribution (YouTube, Google, MySpace, etc.). These films are often made quickly, casually, and sometimes even unintentionally. Everyone has become a Disposable Filmmaker: directors of Saturday night cell phone videos, actors under the eyes of security cameras, and narrators before their webcams. Let's face it – we live in an age of disposable film. Now it's time to do something creative with it.
  • How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions – Scott Anthony [Harvard Business Review] – Resource-rich companies have the "luxury" of researching and researching problems. That can be a huge benefit in known markets where precision matters. But it can be a huge deficit in unknown markets where precision is impossible and attempts to create it through analysis are quixotic. Entrepreneurs don't have the luxury of asking "What about…" questions, and in disruptive circumstances that works in their favor.

    So what's the alternative? Substitute early action for never-ending analysis. Figure out the quickest, cheapest way to do something market-facing to start the iterative process that so frequently typifies innovation. Be prepared to make quick decisions, but have the driver of the decision be in-market data, not conceptual analysis. In other words, go small and learn. Pitch (or even sell) your idea to colleagues. Open up a kiosk in a shopping mall for a week. Create a quick-and-dirty website describing your idea. Be prepared to make quick decisions.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies December 16th, 2009
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies December 3rd, 2009
  • Will gadget revolutionize our reading habits? – For the concept of a device that allows books to be read electronically, "this is the year we get it," said Steve Portigal, the head of Pacifica consumer research firm Portigal Consulting. "But there's this huge psychological chasm we have to cross before people buy them."
  • 15 Google Users Tried Bing for a Week and 10 of them Switched – Students often ask me about ethics, i.e., our findings being influenced by corporate agendas. Here's a study that Microsoft commissioned to see if Google users would switch to Bing if forced to use it. Results say "yes." The research question may not have been "Will Google users switch to Bing?"…it may have been "Help us understand how Google users react to Bing [once they don't have to think about the choice between Google and Bing at search-time]" It may be that the findings led themselves to this promotion.
  • Sports Illustrated future vision for their Tablet – So the future of reading is, apparently, television. They've managed to throw everything into this demo, including nekkid (almost) ladeez, game playing, and really bad sound effects (note: boop and page-flip don't make a coherent soundscape IMHO).
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Full Nelson July 1st, 2009

A fun read at Metropolis on the ‘good old days’ at Nelson & Company.

Irving Harper tells a story about developing his iconic Marshmallow sofa:

How did the Marshmallow sofa come about? One weekend, I thought about doing an upholstery unit, and wondered, Is there any way to do a sofa out of reproducible parts that could be done as if fitted out to a frame? I cooked up this model out of a checkers set, and I stuck the checkers disks on a metal frame, and it looked good to me. So I drew it up, brought it in, and that was the birth of it.

Harper’s story is testimony to the power of mocking up an idea. So when you or your team are in an idea-generating mode, go for it. Make ideas visible. Try things out. You never know where the exploration might lead…

body-interface-device4
Prototyping a body-mounted interface device using coat hanger, rubber bands, and Logitech mouse

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Building on what isn’t there May 7th, 2009

curved-shelf1
Sketch for curved shelf ©2007 Dan Soltzberg

There’s a testament to the power of openness as a spur to creative participation nestled in Scott Brown’s piece on early fan fiction in this month’s Wired.

Brown writes about the works Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s more avid readers created around his Sherlock Holmes novels, and how what were really continuity errors provided these folks with points of entry:

Sir Arthur, God bless him, didn’t write with an eye to what today’s nerd would call “continuity.” Crafting Holmes stories bored him, and he frequently lost track of details like the exact location of Watson’s Afghan war wound (was it the shoulder or the leg?) and the precise status of Mrs. Watson. But Sir Arthur’s table scraps, his inconsistencies and random allusions, made for a fan feast. From a throwaway line-a hilariously oblique reference such as “the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared”-scores of amateur yarns have been spun.

Conan Doyle’s omissions and errors left space for others to contribute. Less-than-fully-speced inputs–raw sketches, concept directions, overarching themes–can often leave more space for creative participation than a finely honed departure point.

Of course it depends on where in a development process one is and what the objectives are. (Sing, “a time to diverge, a time to converge” to the tune of The Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”).

In semi-related news, San Francisco IxDA will be exploring the use of prototypes at their May 26th event.

Related Posts:
Giving Away Time, and Moving with a Magic Thing (Quickies)
Human Behavior
Trying to find out things we didn’t even know to ask about

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Human Behavior September 29th, 2008

I was in Chicago last weekend for IIT Institute of Design’s excellent Design Research Conference, and spent a day walking around the city. (I’m happy to say I can now use the term ‘Miesian’ with authority.)

I ended the day in Millennium Park eating a hot dog and looking at Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture.

the-bean.jpg

Actually, to say I was looking at the sculpture sells the experience short. I’d seen the giant silver bean from a distance earlier that day, but once I was next to it, the combination of scale, surface treatment, and form made it such an unusual and compelling object that I couldn’t help but start interacting with it. Chicago writer Lynn Becker’s article on Millennium Park sculpture-as-architecture delves further into the interactivity of Cloud Gate.

After a few trips around and under the sculpture, I decided to sit back and watch how other people were responding to it.

I saw people

  • photograph it
  • photograph themselves with it
  • photograph others with it
  • have strangers photograph them with it
  • use it as a mirror and check their makeup, hair
  • clean it and (while being photographed) lick it
  • fit their bodies into the smallest possible space created by the sculpture’s curves
  • smear their fingerprints along the mirrored surface (this seemed like a form of graffiti, a recording of presence)
  • pretend to be holding the sculpture up
  • use it to hold them up
  • pose suggestively on all fours next to it
  • talk about having come there other times
  • lie on the ground in poses to create specific tableaux in the funhouse mirror-like underside

licking-the-bean.jpg

It was fascinating to see how people reacted to having this functionless object placed in their midst. It struck me as a form of spatial/environmental prototyping, and I’m sure that noticing and examining what people do and what their patterns of motion around this object are and synthesizing that data could produce insights to inform many types of design.

In our research work, we periodically use objects to elicit responses from people to new concepts. Sometimes these artifacts take the form of storyboards, sometimes models, and sometimes we’ll just put something in a person’s hands to give them a starting point, something to react to. One time, I handed a person we were interviewing a CD box set that was on his coffee table, and he proceeded to talk us through a whole design for the product idea we were discussing. “It’d be smaller than this, I think the corners should be rounded, maybe this part could come off . . .”

We’ve been collaborating lately with a couple of our clients on the creation of storyboards and models for this purpose. It’s been interesting figuring out in each case the right balance of detail and abstraction; how to give people enough cues to get the basic concepts, while leaving them enough space to think about how they would like to see those concepts refined.

Of course, what gets created depends on where our client is in the development process and what we want to learn from the people we’re talking to, but I think that what I saw at Cloud Gate is a good model for what one hopes an artifact will spark in a research participant: the urge to experiment, to hypothesize, to test, to interact, to play, to see what’s possible.

holding-up-the-bean.jpg

Related posts:
On using objects for generative research

On noticing
On prototyping and fidelity

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Benchmark, Mockup, and Prototype March 20th, 2008

next-hustleandflow2lg.jpg
Fast Company describes how Alaska Airlines has been redesigning their check-in environment. Some nice bits of process to note

White assembled a team of employees from across the company to design a better system. It visited theme parks, hospitals, and retailers to see what it could learn. It found less confusion and shorter waits at places where employees were available to direct customers. “Disneyland is great at this,” says Jeff Anderson, a member of White’s skunk works. “They have their people in all the right places.”

The team began brainstorming lobby ideas. At a Seattle warehouse, it built mock-ups, using cardboard boxes for podiums, kiosks, and belts. It tested a curved design, one resembling a fishbone, and one with counters placed at 90-degree angles to each other. It built a small prototype in Anchorage to test systems with real passengers and Alaska employees.

It appears that Alaska had some obvious (and shared) design goals: increase throughput and reduce confusion. There’s a whole class of environmental redesign projects where the goals aren’t as clear. In those cases, there’s some generative research needed to understand what aspects of the overall experience could and should be different.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
User-Centered Government March 19th, 2008


Student Protest, Bonny Doon, CA 1987

Today is the 5th anniversary of the current US military involvement in Iraq. I heard Army Major General Mark Hertling speaking on NPR this week about helping members of Iraq’s central government figure out what people in the different provinces really want and need.

“We call it reverse helicopter governance – bringing the ministers to the provinces.”

This starts to sound a lot like the kinds of contextual research we use to inform product design. Going out and talking with users in their own environments. Seeing what people’s needs really are, rather than making assumptions.

There’s been a thorny debate in the Anthropology community about doing anthropological work in military contexts, but this is a different type of situation. Hertling is talking about facilitating Iraqi ministers to do contextual research on the people they are charged with serving as government officials.

What would it look like to take a further step, and take a design approach to creating a “user-centered government?”

One important aspect of design is a spirit of playfulness-in the sense of “serious play.” A spirit of willingness to reassess the meaning of a problem and the range of possible solutions. To prototype rapidly and try multiple approaches.

Michael Schrage, the author of Serious Play states that

“…the real value of a model or simulation may stem less from its ability to test a hypothesis than from its power to generate useful surprise.”

Ideation and design processes have been used to solve some pretty complex problems. Steve wrote last year about introducing empathy and user-centered design into government. Participatory processes and contextual inquiry have become much more prevalent in development work.

What could be done to bring more of the spirit of serious play to bear on the ways that problems like civil and international conflicts are framed and addressed?

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
3D prototyping May 19th, 2007

p1000784.jpg
This is an interesting prototype; used to suggest the overall size/space of the house in 3D. This is done for a local design review by the county/community/whatever-other-agencies-get-involved.

Update: two years later, I learned that these are called “story poles”

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Wipe out May 9th, 2007

Many years ago we worked with a client who wanted to help people with “out-of-home personal cleansing.” It was surprising in our interviews to learn that some people worried about the germs left behind on a shopping cart handle. Then last year at a high-end grocery store in Tucson I saw this:
dsc02912.jpg
A dispenser for cart wipes. Finally a product that addresses the anxiety, if not removing it.

[Recently some students in our Design Research class at CCA came up with some stats around this same issue that I can't remember, but they were disturbing/gross - the handle was the dirtiest item we'd touch in a typical week??]

Last week I was in my local Safeway and saw this pathetic effort:
p1000616.jpg
Safeway has shifted the problem definition, allowing you to clean your hands instead of the cart? If the cart is dirty, what do you get out of cleaning your hands before you shop? Maybe a hand wipe on the way out, after you return your cart? But still, if the cart is (seen as) dirty, then clean the cart.

They’ve put it right in the entranceway in a location that is filled with other things that people need to access (drinking fountains, DVD vending machine, bubble gum, hallway to restroom). And really, the whole thing is poorly executed: it’s all about the poster; with little focus on the thing you need to grab – the wrong-sized wipe dispenser and then it’s finished off with the inappropriate, ugly, exposed garbage bin.

Maybe it was a prototype to see how people used it, but I think they’ve created something so pathetic and so much about failure (theirs, and your own) that the results wouldn’t be worth too much to me.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Digital camera from 1975 September 10th, 2005


Read the story for an obviously simplified version of how Kodak had the technology but didn’t enter the market. Innovation, as always, presents significant cultural challenges.

More digital camera history here.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post