Posts tagged “communication”

Don’t put your garbage here! Please!

sleep-study

I encountered this box recently at my local medical office. It’s a squat white bin with a wide black opening near the top. It looks a lot like a trash bin. Obviously I’m not the only person that reacted that way, because they’ve tried desperately and ineffectively (with EXTRA SIGNS as they so love to do in healthcare) to communicate that. There are three signs (see the orange pointer) telling you what the box is for (dropping off sleep study equipment) and two signs (the purple pointer) telling you what it’s not for (it’s not for garbage).

That’s five different signs, only two of which even vaguely cohere with each other (the red tape), all requiring English. The net effect is chaotic. There’s no empathy here; each message acts as if its the only one, without awareness of the others.

And still – the thing looks like a garbage bin! That message is loud and clear and no amount of signage will get around that. But the staff who have to pick the garbage out of there have no control over the bin’s design and so they are left with their default tool: signage.

I wonder if they could do better if they went further, such as painting the white surface and/or the black flap to more strongly shift the meaning. Or by having a sleep study device (which comes in a little carrying case) or at least a large icon near the opening. And a garbage bin nearby. The tactic would be to communicate more visually and directly what stuff (sleep study devices, trash) goes where and not rely on words. Until then, they can expect more trash.

See previously Signs to Override Human Nature? as well as other writing about post-design.

Financial pings

I received the above notification today. A new client has put a penny in our bank account. We haven’t started the project (or even signed the contract) yet; this is clearly some validating that they have the correct bank details in their system.

I appreciate the gesture (better to work it out now then when they actually owe us something), but it’s such a weird artifact. There’s some interesting signal processing thing happening here; the message (“Hello Portigal bank account, are you receiving?”) isn’t meant to contain any actual content (“Here’s some money!”) but the system doesn’t allow any contact without content, so $0.01 is this meaningless amount that gets moved in order to prove out the connection.

I’ve authorized services like PayPal or Quickbooks to read and write my bank account; if I recall, they send a value below $1.00 and then ask you to verify the amount.

But this is just write access and we’re still doing ping/validations.

Will they deduct $0.01 from my first invoice? Will they try to get it back? Are penny errors so common now that there’s no concern about these piling up here and there?

Otherwise, I guess, woo-hoo! Free money!

Tech relationship similes

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed some of the ways folks in the media frame and express our relationship to entities we interact with on the web. There’s something odd about the murkiness of roles and power dynamics. One thing is for sure – it’s gone far beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

To Daniel Soar of the London Review of Books, with Google, users are like teachers. By interacting with Google we are unwittingly instructing the machine, giving it lessons on human behavior. I like to think Google, the distributed Google-monster, finds us fascinating, an enormous virtual Andy Warhol.

We teach [Google] while we think it’s teaching us. Levy tells the story of a new recruit with a long managerial background who asked Google’s senior vice-president of engineering, Alan Eustace, what systems Google had in place to improve its products. ‘He expected to hear about quality assurance teams and focus groups’ – the sort of set-up he was used to. ‘Instead Eustace explained that Google’s brain was like a baby’s, an omnivorous sponge that was always getting smarter from the information it soaked up.’ Like a baby, Google uses what it hears to learn about the workings of human language. The large number of people who search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and also ‘pictures of puppies’ tells Google that ‘puppy’ and ‘dog’ mean similar things, yet it also knows that people searching for ‘hot dogs’ get cross if they’re given instructions for ‘boiling puppies.’

To Matthew Creamer of Ad Age, with Facebook, we are like disgruntled, unpaid employees. A more pointless, powerless role may not exist!

Some things are lost with each one of these Facebook changes, but they are not only matters of usability, navigation, privacy and other factors in our part-time but ever-more-involving jobs working as ad impressions for a rich company in Palo Alto, Calif. The stuff that inconveniences you in the short-term may make you rage with a hotness that, if spotted by an alien scout, would either send the visitor whimpering back to Zebulon or alarm him onto war footing, but it’s only so important. You will adapt. Or you will leave.

So, have they got it right? Are we teachers? Employees? Something else? Have you noticed other examples? How would you describe your relationship to Google or Facebook?

See Steve’s recent related post on Facebook changes, in which the above Matthew Creamer quote is cited as a comment.

How are you enjoying your FLDRV, Steve Portigal?


Today I received an email from online tech goods vendor Newegg with the subject line “Newegg.com – Product Voting Invitation.” The message reads, in part:

Dear steve portigal,
Thank you for shopping at Newegg.com.

We thought you’d like to know that your recent purchase contains one or more items currently nominated for Newegg’s Customer Choice Award:

Sales Order Number:
Sales Order Date: 12/31/2010 11:30:09 AM

FLDRV 16G|OCZ FLDRV OCZUSBDSL16G R

We’d like you to rate your satisfaction level for the nominated product(s) that you have purchased.

I’m not sure I remember ordering a FLDRV, especially a 16G|OCZ FLDRV OCZUSBDSL16G R.

Who talks to their customers like this?

Also see a similar experience with Lenovo

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Music and speech share a code for communicating sadness in the minor third [Scientific American] – [We unconsciously employ culturally-imbued musical cues and tonal differentials with each other to convey emotion, sadness being one. This seems so obvious once it's stated, and so important to our methodologies, as we search for emotional response and connection.] The tangible relationship between music and emotion is no surprise to anyone, but a study in the June issue of Emotion suggests the minor third isn't a facet of musical communication alone—it's how we convey sadness in speech, too. When it comes to sorrow, music and human speech might speak the same language. Since the minor third is defined as a specific measurable distance between pitches (a ratio of frequencies), Curtis was able to identify when the actors' speech relied on the minor third. What she found is that the actors consistently used the minor third to express sadness.

Colloquial is not Authentic

We frequently encourage clients to make their language accessible, get out of their own heads, talk to people in/on/around products and services using words their customers can actually understand, and to keep in mind that just because a room full of product managers, brand gurus, software engineers and consultants know what certain words mean, doesn’t mean that their intended market will. At best the wrong language can confuse, at worst it can make people feel intimidated or condescended to.


BMW does a pretty good job here of both using the geeky jargon and then telling folks what it does for them.

There is an irony to this, of course, as we work within a tribe of business consultants known for using obtuse and sometimes even made-up vocabulary to impress our clients. Rob Walker of the New York Times Magazine treated us to a glimpse of what this language feels like outside the tribe in his recent Consumed piece on Chiquita

Ciafardini says Chiquita is particularly interested in communicating to the under-25 crowd that the company offers the ‘convenient healthy snacking platforms that people are looking for these days.’ (I believe that means bananas.)

Our friends at Mule Design have even developed a business-consultant-jargon translation engine to treat the problem: unsuckit.com.

This irony humbly set aside, check out the graffiti beset upon this advertisement from Blackberry, which refers to people’s “Homies, Mates, Buds and Bros.” This was snapped in San Francisco’s Mission District, where people certainly do refer to each other in some of these terms unironically.

It demonstrates that the message, colloquial as it is, is not quite connecting. Instead, it resulted in an angry action using terms both colloquial and authentic: these people don’t give a fuck about you. A dose of process consultation (which unsuckifies as “free advice”) to the ad agency that surely tested this ad with focus groups of homies, mates, buds and bros. Next time, consider asking, “Does the wording of this advertisement make you feel like we give a fuck about you? If not, why not?”

See also:

Steve’s thoughts on this whole authenticity thing in a column for interactions magazine.

Another failed communication attempt – a bunch of people no doubt spent a lot of time coming up with a low tire warning symbol that no one can figure out.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flow [Nieman Storyboard] – [Via @kottke. While many decry the loss of personal connection that our devices lead to; here's a theory that says the opposite, that it creates feelings of greater connectness] I was traveling with friends, and one of them took a call. Suddenly, instead of feeling less connected to the people I was with, I felt more connected, both to them and to their friends on the other end of the line (whom I did not know). My perspective had shifted from seeing the call as an interruption to seeing it as an expansion. And I realized that the story I had been telling myself about who I was had widened to include additional narratives, some not “mine,” but which could be felt, at least potentially and in part, personally. A small piece of the global had become, for the moment, local. And once that has happened, it can happen again. The end of the world as we know it? No — it’s the end of the world as I know it, the end of the world as YOU know it — but the beginning of the world as WE know it.
  • [from steve_portigal] The Acceleration of Addictiveness [Paul Graham] – [Via @waxpancake. He describes how slowing down by taking hikes gives him a mental and creative freedom that his addictions have rendered otherwise inaccessible] Most if not all the things we describe as addictive are. And the scary thing is, the process that created them is accelerating. We wouldn't want to stop it. It's the same process that cures diseases: technological progress. Technological progress means making things do more of what we want. When the thing we want is something we want to want, we consider technological progress good. If some new technique makes solar cells x% more efficient, that seems strictly better. When progress concentrates something we don't want to want—when it transforms opium into heroin—it seems bad. But it's the same process at work. No one doubts this process is accelerating, which means increasing numbers of things we like will be transformed into things we like too much.
  • [from steve_portigal] Exactitudes® – [Thanks @MicheleMarut! Pattern-matching is a fabulous way to develop observational skills] Rotterdam-based photographer Ari Versluis and profiler Ellie Uyttenbroek have worked together since October 1994. Inspired by a shared interest in the striking dress codes of various social groups, they have systematically documented numerous identities over the last 14 years. They call their series Exactitudes: a contraction of exact and attitude. By registering their subjects in an identical framework, with similar poses and a strictly observed dress code, Versluis and Uyttenbroek provide an almost scientific, anthropological record of people’s attempts to distinguish themselves from others by assuming a group identity. The apparent contradiction between individuality and uniformity is, however, taken to such extremes in their arresting objective-looking photographic viewpoint and stylistic analysis that the artistic aspect clearly dominates the purely documentary element.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from julienorvaisas] Google Voice Now Available to Everyone in the U.S. [Fast Company] – [Spend a few minutes with this fun, fascinating, rich infographic describing A Modern History of Human Communication] Google Voice, which began as an app called GrandCentral before Google bought it back in 2007, is a difficult beast to explain. It's sort of like a phone management system–it gives users one number which, when called, rings however many devices that user wants (cellphones, landlines, work phones, whatever). It provides an alternate web-based voice mail system which transcribes voice (sometimes well, sometimes with odd and hilarious mistakes) and pops the messages into your email for listening or reading. It's also a mobile app for Android and web (that web app can be used by the iPhone and Palm's WebOS phones) that can place outgoing calls.
  • [from steve_portigal] A Moleskine Cover for your Kindle? [Design Sojourn] – [Associating your analog experience with a digital product: sometimes it evokes relevance, sometimes it screams desperation. Moleskine?] The interesting question with this Kindle cover is whether people associate the Moleskine brand with the design of its product/cover and or associate the brand with the product’s function i.e. sketchbooks? Whether this Kindle cover makes sense or not, it is always interesting to see how brands with strong design languages leverage it on product extensions. They even have a cool design justification that does make sense: "The very idea of this new cover came from the Moleskine “notebook hackers”, who create their own custom-made accessories weaving together paper pages and digital tools. Throughout the web, hundreds of communities and discussions can be found where such Moleskine “hackers” publish their inventions. Dedicated blogs, Flickr pages, and even YouTube videos highlight the power and vitality of the Moleskine digital-analog connection."

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] ALT/1977: WE ARE NOT TIME TRAVELERS [Behance] – [Alex Varanese's thought-provoking concepts go beyond blogosphere-hipster-silliness to really provoke reflection on design and functionality often taken for granted] What would you do if you could travel back in time? Here's what I'd do after that: grab all the modern technology I could find, take it to the late 70's, superficially redesign it all to blend in, start a consumer electronics company to unleash it upon the world, then sit back as I rake in billions, trillions, or even millions of dollars. I've explored that idea in this series by re-imagining four common products from 2010 as if they were designed in 1977: an mp3 player, a laptop, a mobile phone and a handheld video game system. I then created a series of fictitious but stylistically accurate print ads. I've learned that there is no greater design element than the anachronism. I've learned that the strongest contrast isn't spatial or tonal but historical. I've learned that there's retro, and then there's time travel.
  • [from julienorvaisas] 10:10 Tags Symbolize Committment to Climate Change [10:10global.org/uk] – [The fact that this tag is tangible but also symbolic rather than overt, and versatile enough to be carried on the body as a daily reminder of a commitment to the cause of climate change can help change behavior and improve compliance, as well as subtly telegraph solidarity.] The 10:10 Tag is made from a recycled jumbo jet, and can be worn on the neck, wrist, lapel or leotard to symbolise your 10:10 commitment. Whether you pin it to the lapel of your business suit or thread it through the laces of your skateboard trainers, your 10:10 Tag shows others that not only do you know how to accessorise; you’re also part of the solution to climate change.
  • [from Dan_Soltzberg] Grateful Dead scholar in heaven at UC Santa Cruz [SFGate] – [More big things happening at my Alma Mater] The ultimate job in Dead-dom is in Room 1370 at McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz. The door is marked by the steal-your-face logo, and superimposed over it reads the name Nicholas G. Meriwether, Grateful Dead Archivist.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Ariely’s Upside of Irrationality: using irrational cognitive blindspots to your advantage [Boing Boing] – [We've seen the principles of behavioral economics applied to help us understand and explain consumers irrational choices in a business context, now here's a self-help book helping us apply them to our own everyday lives.] Upside of Irrationality is a mostly successful attempt to transform the scientific critique of the 'rational consumer' principal into practical advice for living a better life. 'Mostly successful' only because some of our habitual irrationality is fundamentally insurmountable — there's almost nothing we can do to mitigate it.
  • [from steve_portigal] Text 2.0 – What if your book really knew where you are gazing at? – [This is essentially one of the concepts we proposed from our Reading Ahead research – where an eyetracker in a digital book manipulates the text dynamically based on your gaze. In our use case, we addressed the interrupt-driven commute reading revealed by our research. If the book saw you looking away, it could mark your spot to enable more efficient resuming]
  • [from steve_portigal] Twitter a hit in Japan as millions ‘mumble’ online [Yahoo! News] – Japanese-language Twitter taps into a greater sense of individuality in Japan, especially among younger people less accepting of the Japanese understatement and conformity. 16.3% of Japanese Internet tweet 16.3% (vs. 9.8% in US). "Japan is enjoying the richest and most varied form of Twitter usage as a communication tool…It's playing out as a rediscovery of the Internet.” It's possible to say so much more in Japanese within Twitter's 140 letters. "Information" requires just 2 letters in Japanese. Another is that people own up to their identities on Twitter. One well-known case is a woman who posted the photo of a park her father sent in e-mail before he died. Twitter was immediately abuzz with people comparing parks…"It's telling that Twitter was translated as 'mumbling' in Japanese," he said. "They love the idea of talking to themselves," he said…"In finding fulfillment in expressing what's on your mind for the moment, Twitter is like haiku," he said. "It is so Japanese."

Beyond visual communication

A couple of great examples of alternative ways of communicating information…

Australian financial-advisory firm BT using art installations to explain stock investing (full story at Fast Company )

And going back in time a bit, Ben Cohen (of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream) representing the apportioning of the Federal Discretionary Budget with stacks of Oreo cookies.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Texting in Meetings – It Means ‘I Don’t Care’ [NYTimes.com] – For more than a decade, my colleagues and I have gathered data on incivility from more than 9,000 managers and workers across the United States, and we’re continuing this work internationally. We have learned a great deal about the problem’s causes and consequences. I define incivility as behavior, seemingly inconsequential to the doer, that others perceive as inconsiderate. Electronic devices lead to more incivility because of their powerful ability to claim our attention — no matter where we are or what we’re doing. No one likes to be snubbed, of course, but the offense can take on a new edge when the winner is a machine.
  • Putting Customers in Charge of Designing Shirts [NYTimes.com] – “The value proposition of customization at retail prices was a cornerstone of our company from the very start,” Mr. Bi tells me by phone from Shanghai, where Blank Label shirts are sewn to customers’ specifications and delivered anywhere in the world in about four weeks. But Blank Label, his Web start-up based in Boston, offers something else that off-the-rack doesn’t: “the emotional value proposition: how expressive something is.” “People really like a Blank Label shirt because they can say, ‘I had a part in creating this.’ ”
  • Google Restricts Ads for ‘Cougar’ Sites [NYTimes.com] – Last week, CougarLife.com, which was paying Google $100,000 a month to manage its advertising, was notified by the company that its ads would no longer be accepted. When notified by Google of the decision, CougarLife proposed substituting a different ad for the ones that were running, picturing older women and younger men together. Cougarlife said it would use an image of the company’s president, Claudia Opdenkelder, 39, without a man in the picture (she lives with her 25-year-old boyfriend). But the advertising department was told in an e-mail message from its Google representative that “the policy is focused particularly around the concept of ‘cougar dating’ as a whole,” and asked if the company would be open to changing “the ‘cougar’ theme/language specifically (including the domain if necessary).” CougarLife forwarded the e-mail messages to The New York Times. Google would not comment on the messages but did confirm that they were consistent with the new policy on cougar sites.

Twitter as the Tree of Souls


The Omaticaya clan link the group mind via the Tree of Souls in the movie Avatar

Steve published a Quickie post recently on the Twitter remix of his Deep Dive Interviewing Secrets webinar.

I was struck by how the Twitter remix goes beyond reportage, not just echoing the points raised in the presentation but adding a layer of synthesis and translating the content across different media.

It’s a crowd-sourced boiling-down, and yet another of many examples of how this type of platform can be harnessed to interpret and respond to events in real time.

It’s also another illustration of how, as complex as technology has become, it so often still exists in service to the most elemental human activities. In this particular usage of Twitter, the support of tribal communication and the distillation of the group mind.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • What’s this? A kinder, gentler IRS? [Consumer Reports] – On Monday the IRS introduced a redesign of nine of its form letters, or "notices," to be more consumer friendly, or, as they put it, "as part of their ongoing effort to improve the way it corresponds with taxpayers." In the true spirit of our bloated bureaucracy, this initiative was the result of the "Taxpayer Communication Taskgroup" which started its work way back in July of 2008, and, other than the nine (9!!) newly designed letters, the Taskgroup's efforts also resulted in the establishment of a new office, the "Office of Taxpayer Correspondence." You can find a link to a pdf comparing the original and redesigned letters on the Consumer Reports link… what do you think?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The Americanization of Mental Illness [NYTimes.com] – Mental illnesses have never been the same the world over but are inevitably sparked and shaped by the ethos of particular times and places…“We might think of the culture as possessing a ‘symptom repertoire’ ­ a range of physical symptoms available to the unconscious mind for the physical expression of psychological conflict."..Those who minister to the mentally ill inadvertently help to select which symptoms will be recognized as legitimate…For more than a generation now, we in the West have aggressively spread our modern knowledge of mental illness around the world…we’ve been exporting our Western “symptom repertoire” as well. That is, we’ve been changing not only the treatments but also the expression of mental illness in other cultures. Indeed, a handful of mental-health disorders ­ depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and anorexia among them ­ now appear to be spreading across cultures with the speed of contagious diseases.
  • The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s [NYTimes.com] – They theorize that the ever-accelerating pace of technological change may be minting a series of mini-generation gaps, with each group of children uniquely influenced by the tech tools available in their formative stages of development.

    “People two, three or four years apart are having completely different experiences with technology,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project. “College students scratch their heads at what their high school siblings are doing, and they scratch their heads at their younger siblings. It has sped up generational differences.”

    Those in the Net Generation spend two hours a day talking on the phone and still use e-mail frequently. The iGeneration spends considerably more time texting than talking on the phone, pays less attention to television and tends to communicate more over instant-messenger. The newest generations will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Storylistening for consumer insight – There are many ways of collecting stories but here are three that may be new to you:
    * Anecdote circles
    * Naive interviewers
    * Mass narrative capture
    Collecting stories is not about finding the one perfect story that describes a brand or a consumer experience. Rather it is about gathering a broad spread of qualitative data. Individually a story may be seen to be banal but their power lies in the cumulative effect of many stories.

    Interpreting stories
    * Experts
    * Machines
    * Participants

    Story interpretation is best done by a range of groups (e.g. consumers themselves, a marketing department) that may have differing perspectives on the same situation. The most appropriate techniques often avoid direct analysis initially and allow different groups to immerse themselves in the stories to produce nuanced interpretations of the consumers' world.
    (via DinaMehta.com)

  • Sony, B&N promise to rekindle rights for book owners – Boing Boing recently talked to Sony's Steve Haber, President of Digital Reading, about its flagship ebook reader, named the "Daily Edition." "Our commitment is that you bought it, you own it," Haber said. "Our hope is to see this as ubiquitous. Buy on any device, read on any device. … We're obligated to have DRM but we don't pull content back."
  • OnFiction is a magazine with the aim of developing the psychology of fiction. – Using theoretical and empirical perspectives, we endeavour to understand how fiction is created, and how readers and audience members engage in it.
  • What design researchers can learn from hostage negotiators – Interesting to look at various collaboration and communication scenarios and unpack what's going on to define some principles that can be reused. Not sure how much new about design research is brought to light here, but the framing may make it more memorable or understandable. Always glad to see the emphasis on rapport, but I don't agree with their hostage-rapport approach as a one-size-fits-all method for design research rapport building. I also think they underplay the emotional levels that good design research can uncover. Beyond frustration with products, we hear stories about cancer, divorce, infertility, hopes, dreams, and beyond. All very charged stuff.
  • If you outlaw meep, only outlaws will say meep – Tthe nonsense word started with the 1980s Muppet character Beaker. Bob Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University, said he first heard students meep about a year ago during a class screening of a television show.
    "Something happened and one of them said 'Meep,'" he said. "And then they all started doing it."

    The meeps, he said, came from all of the students in the class in rapid-fire succession. When he asked them what that meant, they said it didn't really mean anything.

    But meeping doesn't seem to be funny to Danvers High School Principal Thomas Murray, who threatened to suspend students caught meeping in school.

    In an interview with the Salem News, Murray said automated calls were made to parents, warning them of the possible punishment after administrators learned that students were conspiring online to mass-meep in one part of the school building.

    (via MeFi)

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