Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tips for Better Presentations

Presentations are stressful, even having done many of them throughout my career I can still feel the butterflies. So often they are not much fun to produce and often prove difficult to listen to as an audience, especially if they crank up the heating and darken the room. I am sure I am not the only one to nod off. One of the biggest issue with presentations is that the presenter has something important to say, in their minds, and wants to have his audience walk away with that thought in their heads. Sadly though he cannot be certain how effective he is at getting the idea across the chasm. Well certainly there are no guarantees, of how you can better accomplish this, however there are some consideration you can plan against that should increase your likelihood of having success.

The first thing to realize is that you have an idea in your head that makes a lot of sense and probably seems simple to you, but the audience cannot hear that tune playing as well as you can. Consideration should be given to how to simplify your message. Get to the core of the take away sentence you would want the audience to remember if they remembered nothing else. This is really one of the most important parts of any presentation the core.

How might you go about planning this? Well interestingly enough when I worked on a presentation  application for Electric Rain, we came up with the acronym CORE, that stood for Collect, Organize, Refine and Express. The concept was that early on as you plan your presentation you go about collecting together the elements of what you think you might like to cover in your talk. After discovering all the things you think relevant and placing together somewhere you can see them, you can go about organizing those elements into groupings, maybe major topics, or statements with visual impact. Once you have things grouped and clustered together, you can start to refine your message down to the story, and this is really one of the most powerful tools you can use in presenting. This is moving through the refining stage to the express part of the workflow. Storytelling helps makes things stick better in the mind. It acts, as Dan and Chip Heath, writers of Made to Stick would say, like Velcro in your memory. Giving more touch points for your audience to recall later. We already know how powerful storytelling can be in branding and many of the tools of branding can be applied in presentations. They after all have very similar goals of retention and impact.

I suggest some other important things to consider are, keeping your introduction short. No need to bore the audience with your company history or whose basement you started in, if that isn't the goal of your message. Use striking unexpected slides, to wake the audience from repetitive content and boring parts of the talk, add a sense of pacing with high and low moments of emotional impact. Simplicity is key, both to the actual slides themselves as well as the talk. Try and make the visual support the key moments in the talk, they should support each other. Don't over estimate the audiences ability to recall what you say later. Keep what you can down to single statements, think of them as headlines. Using metaphors can be a nice touch in a presentation, whether for the whole talk or just individual slides, but be careful of cultural differences and make sure the metaphor doesn't have a negative consequence that comes along with it.

So my summary for a better presentation is:

1. Keep it Simple
2. Get to the CORE of you message quickly and work to make it sticky
3. Refine and reduce where possible, distill your ideas to headlines
4. Use stories to get more Velcro attachment in the minds of the audience
5. Relax and be engaged with the audience, do not read scripts, talk to the people in the audience.

Geoffery James, outlines some other important reminders before and after a presentation that are also important in some cases.


  • Check your equipment ... in advance. If you must use PowerPoint, or plan on showing videos or something, check to make sure that the setup really works. Then check it again. Then one more time.
  • Speak to the audience. Great public speakers keep their focus on the audience, not their slides or their notes. Focusing on the audience encourages them to focus on your and your message.
  • Never read from slides. Guess what? Your audience can read. If you're reading from your slides, you're not just being boring–you're also insulting the intelligence of everyone in the room.
  • Don't skip around. Nothing makes you look more disorganized than skipping over slides, backtracking to previous slides, or showing slides that don't really belong. If there are slides that don't fit, cut them out of the presentation in advance.
  • Leave humor to the professionals. Unless you're really good at telling jokes, don't try to be a comedian. Remember: When it comes to business presentations, polite laughter is the kiss of death.
  • Avoid obvious wormholes. Every audience has hot buttons that command immediate attention and cause every other discussion to grind to a halt. Learn what they are and avoid them.
  • Skip the jargon. Business buzzwords make you sound like you're either pompous, crazy, or (worst case) speaking in tongues. Cut them out–both from your slides and from your vocabulary.
  • Make it timely. Schedule presentations for a time when the audience can give you proper attention. Avoid end of day, just before lunch, and the day before a holiday.
  • Prepare some questions. If you're going to have a Q&A at the end of your presentation, be prepared to get the ball rolling by having up a question or two up your sleeve.
  • Have a separate handout. If there's data that you want the audience to have, put it into a separate document for distribution after your talk. Don't use your slide deck as a data repository.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Loss Aversion

The pain of loss is felt so deeply at an emotional level that we tend to go out of our way to avoid this feeling at all costs. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman demonstrated this experimentally with testing. This is referred to as loss aversion, the act of trying to remove or reduce the sensation of loss with the aim of making gains. This persuasive force is so powerful that sometimes we base important decisions on it, without a more rational thought to the consequences.

Of course the advertisers and marketing types all are aware of this force and use it to their advantage when they feel they want to play some persuasion games. They like to get you to take free gifts and have things sent to your home to try, and return if you are unhappy, how often have you returned that item you had delivered? Think also about gambling and the power of the casinos to help people keep putting more money down to just make back all those losses.

It has been suggested by Kahneman and Tversky that this force is twice as powerful as the feeling of gain, and that makes it very effective and important in peoples decision making. It has also lead to belief that people generally over valuing things they already own, more than their material worth. Some have questioned the actual existence of loss aversion, and I am sure that it does not always apply in all instances, such as small pay off situations, situations that have large delays and non competitive scenarios. However, I definitely believe that there is something to the idea and have certainly experienced the sensation first hand in watching my money on the stock market or deciding to give old stuff to a donation center.

The power of ownership and the feeling of lose are definitely not good feelings and although we can over come them with rational thinking, we all know we are not always in control of those decisions consciously. Next time you order a product online or receive a gift from a company and realize that it is not quite what you wanted, ask yourself why you don't want to send it back, is it because of the inconvenience, or just maybe you don't want to loose out having something you now own.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Harmut Esslinger - 6 Steps for Starting a Design Agency

Harmut Esslinger, one of the original founders of Frog design says in his book "A Fine Line" that he created 6 rules in starting his business. I think these are very noble goals and have proven there worth in the success that he and his company Frog, has achieved over the last 43 years.

1. Look for “hungry” clients who want to go to the top;
2. Be business-minded and do great work for my clients, not for myself;
3. Get famous—not as an egotistic artist, but as a visionary;
4. Use that fame as working capital to build the company;
5. Build the best global design company ever; and
6. Always look for the best people—as employees, partners, and clients.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creative Workspaces - Stanford d.School

Continuing to look at creative workspaces. There is no doubting the creative thinking talent coming out of Standford's program. Although, you cannot take an actual degree in design at Standford, this course is a complimentary course you can take to enhance your main degree in say business or law. The purpose is to encourage using creative techniques and design thinking to solve problems and issues that may arise in their chosen professions. These ways of thinking about problems can go along way to producing more rounded graduates that can take on many of today's problems with a more investigative approach to finding solutions.

Time and effort has been put into designing the school program and the space to support creative thinking. The space allows collaboration and design investigations to problem solving. Using the common themes that occur in these creative environments of open spaces, adaptable layouts and collaborative areas for people to mix and share ideas. Not dissimilar to the space we have already seen that Eames maintained in his studio.

Jonathan Ive - Apple Design Methodology

Found this nice interview with Jonathan Ive the current senior VP of industrial design at Apple. I like this interview for what it tell us about Apple and Jonathan's amazing design methodology. It gives us a glimpse into his insights to design and shows us how he thinks and focuses on products. I think also he expresses some of the thinking that is consistent across good businesses that want to innovate and lead creative teams. Some the key take away's are emphasized below, with my own commentary inline.

On deciding to join Apple.

"I remember being astounded at just how much better it(the Mac) was than anything else I had tried to use. I was struck by the care taken with the whole user experience. I had a sense of connection via the object with the designers. I started to learn more about the company, how it had been founded, its values and its structure. The more I learnt about this cheeky almost rebellious company the more it appealed to me, as it unapologetically pointed to an alternative in a complacent and creatively bankrupt industry. Apple stood for something and had a reason for being that wasn’t just about making money."

Jonathan obviously has a love for good simple design, and has an affiliation with being with rebellious and innovative people. He seems to actively seeks out the work and ideas of others that have strong principles and respect for design. I think the influences of great designers like Dieter Rams are evident in his work. What I like, is his original drive was for his passion about what he did, not the money, that came later.

Some frustration with Apple early on.

"One of my reasons for joining Apple had been a frustration associated with consulting. Working externally made it difficult to have a profound impact on product plans and to truly innovate. By the time you had acccepted a commission so many of the critical decisions had already been made. Increasingly I had also come to believe that to do something fundamentally new requires dramatic change from many parts of an organisation."

He likes to have guiding influence over the decisions of product development, he comes across as someone that wants to have the power to make change from a fundamental level of design and strategy all the way to final build and production. This I would class as a serious designer that sees all details as important. I agree that good design requires the designer to be involved at all stages of the process from discovery, design through to production and distribution. Design touches everything, so should the designer.

Before Steve returned.

"It seemed to have lost what had once been a very clear sense of identity and purpose. Apple had started trying to compete to an agenda set by an industry that had never shared its goals. While as a designer I was certainly closer to where the desicions were being made, but I was only marginally more effective or influential than I had been as a consultant. This only changed when Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple) returned to the company. By re-establishing the core values he had established at the beginning, Apple again pursued a direction which was clear and different from any other companies. Design and innovation formed an important part of this new direction."

Purpose is one of those important principles that Daniel Pink, outlines in his book "Drive" all about motivations at work. It is important for designers to have not only purpose in what they produce but also to have the ability to influence the design choices. Not everyone understands what good design means, sometimes saving money is not the right choice. Interesting to read that it took Steve Jobs return to realign the original principles, of great design and innovation.

The advantages of working for one company

"It is pretty humbling when so much of your effectiveness is defined by context. Not only is it critical that the leadership of a company clearly understands its products and the role of design, but that the development, marketing and sales teams are also equally committed to the same goals. More than ever I am aware that what we have achieved with design is massively reliant on the commitment of lots of different teams to solve the same problems and on their sharing the same goals. I like being part of something that is bigger than design. There is a loyalty that I have for Apple and a belief that this company has an impact beyond design which feels important. I also have a sense of being accountable as we really live, sometimes pretty painfully with the consequences of what we do."

Pointing out the value of having a dedicated team at one organization is key to some of Apples success. The ability to align teams and people to common goals is easier if they all work together towards a common target with accountability. I think the ability and success of Apple making their brand loyality so strong has gone along way to making this work. People who work at Apple are very dedicated and loyal to the brand and that messaging is very clear, coming directly from the top of the organization. I am sure there are some of the disadvantages as well of expert and group think, and I do wonder if Apple encourages outside influence for new product design? They are of course renowned for their secrecy and lack of consumer input to design development.

The defining qualities of Apple

"In the 1970s, Apple talked about being at the intersection of technology and the arts. I think that the product qualities are really consequent to the bigger goals that were established when the company was founded. The defining qualities are about use: ease and simplicity. Caring beyond the functional imperative, we also acknowledge that products have a significance way beyond traditional views of function."

Apple created a very clear and strong brand, with a well defined goal. This made the choices and aligning of people to these ideals easier when they were stated so clearly from the top down. This is definitely a very important step in any brand development.

Apple Product Design Space

"We have assembled a heavenly design team. By keeping the core team small and investing significantly in tools and process we can work with a level of collaboration that seems particularly rare. Our physical environment reflects and enables that collaborative approach. The large open studio and massive sound system support a number of communal design areas. We have little exclusively personal space. In fact, the memory of how we work will endure beyond the products of our work."

Creative teams work well in open spaces and the ability to collaborate and share ideas easily is valuable to a company that tries to innovate as hard as Apple does. This is a common theme you see at creative agencies and designers like Eames made sure their spaces were open to idea generation.

Obsessive details
Perhaps the decisive factor is fanatical care beyond the obvious stuff: the obsessive attention to details that are often overlooked, like cables and power adaptors. Take the iMac, our attempts to make it less exclusive and more accessible occurred at a number of different levels. A detail example is the handle. While its primary function is obviously associated with making the product easy to move, a compelling part of its function is the immediate connection it makes with the user by unambiguously referencing the hand. That reference represents, at some level, an understanding beyond the iMac’s core function. Seeing an object with a handle, you instantly understand aspects of its physical nature - I can touch it, move it, it’s not too precious.
With the Power Mac G4 Cube, we created a techno-core suspended in a single piece of plastic. You don’t often get to design something out of one piece of plastic. This was about simplifying – removing clutter, not just visual but audio clutter. That’s why the core is suspended in air. The air enters the bottom face and without a fan (therefore very quietly) travels through the internal heat sink. Movement within the cube is all vertical – the air, the circuit boards and even the CD eject vertically. The core is easily removed for access to internal stuff.

Details can separate the good from the great designs. Apple is as much about great design as it is about getting to those details that make a difference. That is what contributes to their difference between same technology and outstanding design as their competitors.

Interest in the latest technology advances
"Materials, processes, product architecture and construction are huge drivers in design. Polymer advances mean that we can now create composites to meet very specific functional goals and requirements. From a processing point of view we can now do things with plastic that we were previously told were impossible. Twin shooting materials - moulding different plastics together or co-moulding plastic to metal gives us a range of functional and formal opportunites that really didn’t exist before. The iPod is made from twin-shot plastic with no fasteners and no battery doors enabling us to create a design which was dense completely sealed. Metal forming and, in particular, new methods of joining metals with advanced adhesives and laser welding is another exciting area at right now."

It is clear that they consider all the latest developments in technology and materials science. This is an obvious approach to looking for those differentiating factors. The task of marketing and standing out from the competition is always made easier when you define something new and push the current status quo. This has been a theme that has run with Apple design since it's first product. They never wanted to be the same at any level.

Catalyst for design
New products that replace multiple products with substantial histories is obviously exciting for us. I think another catalyst is the tenacity and high expectations of consumers. With the iPod, the MP3 phenomenon gave us an opportunity to develop an entirely new product and one which could carry 4,000 songs. The big wrestle was to trying to develop something that was new, that felt new and that had a meaning relevant to what it was.

Being different and making unique propositions has helped Apple endlessly stand out from the other products that do the same thing. Making the art of design a primary focus, made not only the products easier to use but also made them easier to adore and fall in love with. People after all are more forgiving to beautiful products and will be more forgiving to the issues they may have. Certainly Apple hasn't always got the design right, but the brand appeal has always worked. Creating new markets to dominate has been a mantra at Apple since it began.

Be Different. Think Different
So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many of the products we see. A preoccupation with differentiation is the concern of many corporations rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design

Dieter Rams, was the influential German industrial designer that worked at Braun for 30 years producing some of the most aesthetically amazing and simple products that even today inspire industrial designers like Jonathan Ive at Apple. During his career he grew concerned about the state of the design community and the work being produced, he came up with 10 principles he felt were critical to good design. Below is the summary.

Good Design Is Innovative
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
Good Design Makes a Product Useful 
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good Design Is Aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Good Design Makes A Product Understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good Design Is Unobtrusive
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
Good Design Is Honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
Good Design Is Long-lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beware the curse of knowledge

I am sure you have played that game with friends, where you think of tune and tap it out for someone to guess. What seems obvious to you, seems to be very difficult for the other person to guess. Even though the tune plays  out in your head, they just can't hear it and guess more wrong than right answers. Well this is concept that shows up in business and with experts and companies expressing ideas often, and no matter how hard they try you just can't hear the tune. Why might this be?

Well Dan and Chip Heath, came up with a phrase to describe this gap between what you know and what others know as the "curse of knowledge". The idea is that the more you know and are deep inside a domain of knowledge, the harder it can be to express it to others. Nuances that make things obvious to you are lost in translation as you explain them to others. It is like a song that plays in your head that you can hear, but you are trying to get over to others, that cannot hear that tune.

So how might you tackle the curse of knowledge, well speaking clearly and simply about a topic helps, don't use insider words and phrases. Avoid speaking about something in a way that requires you to have lived through the experience. Taking on a beginners mindset, and thinking about what people don't know. Telling real world stories and fixing concepts in the physical world helps for some abstract topics. If you know your audience then you should have a good idea of their level of domain knowledge already and if you do not know them, then always aim at the lowest denominator and work from there. Assume that the tune you are tapping out is only in your head and how can you better help the audience pick up on the song.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

PinInterest - Discovery versus Searching

Nothing is more frustrating than having too so much information and not enough time or motivation to filter through it all to get to the one result we want. No where is this more apparent than on the internet today, even with powerful search engines like Google, the results we get back are often hundreds of pages and somewhat biased to the guy who pays the most. As a user and more importantly as a consumer we often don't get to the real information we want very efficiently if at all. It all ends up being a bad experience searching doesn't really lead to a satisfactory result in most cases. Searching is easy and simple, but finding the right results to your interest is a real problem. So what other alternatives might there be?

Well, a new site gaining popularity is PinInterest and maybe suggests another alternative for people who are searching for items online. The concept of PinInterest is simple, people get to clip things they like, the emphasis is on visual elements to keep it interesting. Users are in control of gathering things they like and sharing them with others. This along with making the site fun and enjoyable, easy to use and about interests rather than friends make for an interesting difference to normal searching. This article lists 10 reasons why pininterest is proving successful.

The new paradigm is discovery rather than searching for content. Finding people with similar interests that may have found more relevant content on the web. The experience, is much more like shopping used to be, with the catalog feel of browsing glossy images, but now with the added dimension of real time updating and user reviews. The new value proposition is that in some instances the things people are pinning are recommendations and this will be more efficient at bubbling the more valuable content to the top of those groups. For selling items to consumers this changes how we think about searching and finding items. For example if we want to find the best running shoes, instead of Google'ing the browser, we can see what actual runners prefer and are talking about most in these groups. It becomes a type of crowd-sourced recommendation engine and gives you access to those that are in the know. Users are now more responsible for filtering out the good content they find from the bad. As of right now there is also less push on those companies that pay the most to appear at the top of the list. Instead of always seeing Nike as No.1 maybe you might discover something new and better, that you hadn't expected

It has been seen time and again the power of social recommendation. Amazon and their ratings, as well as, reviews has become the norm for any company online that wants to help consumers make their selections. Psychology has recognized the power of in-group bias, where we tend to give preferential treatment to those we picture as in our own group. Also the effect of the authority bias leads us to trust the opinions of those considered experts in the group we are consulting with. These two conditions play well in the discovery form of searching, making us more likely to follow the leads that certain people may suggest rather than a series of return results from a search engine that maybe have no attributed author or social group attached to them. Other conditions that fall out of this kind of searching includes, feelings of having access to exclusive insight to maybe less mainstream content, increasing our perceptions of its value. There is also the surprise element of finding something unexpected or new that you maybe hadn't considered before and of course we mustn't forget the power of reducing choices as helping people get to a decision.

With all these powerful psychological forces acting on someone in the new PinInterest site, it is no wonder that it is already proving a very popular destination on the web and new way to discover and find content and consumables, as well as, interesting topics and subjects you can follow.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sticky Ideas

If you are like me you have sat in a darkened room many times listening to someone drone on about some topic that at first you thought might be interesting to you, but quite frankly you start drifting off and once the talk is over you don't remember a thing about what the presentation was about or the point that was being made. Or maybe you have been in one of those company motivational speeches given by the CEO that leaves you feeling more flat than inspired. Well it is most likely that these people could have benefited from reading "Made to Stick" by Dan and Chip Heath, two brothers that decided to look into what makes ideas stick and memorable in peoples minds. Their research uncovered some interesting ways to make ideas sticky.
Sticky ideas are those ideas that have certain traits that allow us to recall the concept or meaning very easily. Dan and Chip describe them as ideas that are more like velcro in our minds, they attach themselves at many points in our neural network and as such it makes them more memorable and easier to recall later. They go on to outline what they call the SUCCESs steps to making an idea more sticky. SUCCESs steps refer to:

Keep the idea simple, people don't remember many items at once, so get down to the core of your message

Adding something unexpected helps you remember it, it makes it more notable in your mind if you suddenly have a twist in your idea.

Make something tangible. Put the idea into the real world, remove abstraction.

Adding a authority or anti-authority to an idea gives it authenticity and makes it valuable

Bringing an emotional element to the idea makes it impact people at a deeper level

This is last in the list but really it is probably one of the most important elements of a sticky idea. Adding a story element makes the idea spreadable, easier to remember and start to take on a life of it's own.

This list is a really nice summary of making ideas last and have value to those that come across them. Of course one of the immediate things that stands out to me is how these steps, are very applicable to not only presentations but also to marketing and branding efforts for companies looking to create a deeper connection to consumers. These steps are really about anything that needs to have a lasting impression on others. Whether that is employee orientation, a charity fund raiser, or a teacher giving a lesson on biology.

One final interesting part of the book didn't get much attention but was worth mentioning was how to UN-stick an idea. Of course most people want to get ideas inside peoples heads. What to do when you want to change someones ideas, the example might be some bad publicity around a product that people now associate with the brand. Their suggestion is to make an even stickier idea to replace the current one. That might include making a better comparison with a positive spin, or redirecting the public's mind towards a different enemy or goal. 

Sticky ideas are valuable and creating idea virus's or ways to communicate those ideas is a valuable skill to have. These suggested steps help get those messages out there and improve the chances of making your ideas stick. So turn up the lights go back and rethink your presentation or idea, with these concepts in mind, and this time you will more likely create an idea that will stick and have an audience not falling asleep in the dark.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Choice Paradox

Choices choices. Stroll down any aisles of any store, and you are bombarded by an array of different products by different manufacturers and even within each brand there are seemingly endless variations of their own products. What started out as a simple mission to go shopping for food, ends up being a huge mental task of filtering and chosing between all these products to get to the ones we actually need or want. The problem is of course, we like to have choices because it gives us a great sense of power and freedom, but the reality is these choices burden us with decision making tasks repeatedly throughout out days.

Barry Schwartz in his book "Paradox of Choice" talks in depth about this issue of having so many choices that we literally freeze in our tracks and end up instead of making choices, we walk away and make with no decision being made at all. He lays out a great example of a study that used two tables of jams available for taste testing, that one had many choices, much like you find in the super market, 24 or more varieties, then on another table there were far fewer to chose from say 6 samples. In this test the table with the least number of choices ended up making more sales of jam. It seemed as though the reduction in choice helped people in making decisions.

He suggests that there are a few factors that concern us about making choices and it is these that play in our minds and lead us to the indecision we have:

  1. Regret and anticipated regret
  2. Opportunity costs
  3. Escalation of expectations
  4. Self-blame

In psychology this is called the decision paralysis, the mere existence of choice, even between equally good items, paralyzes our minds in making the choice. We fall into the trap of making comparisons and weigh up the differences between the items. This requires such a mental effort that we often when faced with too many items that have many very similar characteristics, that we prefer to not reach a conclusion and walk away, to stop the mental effort required to make that choice.

So how might we over come this problem of being surrounded by choices?

The term "satisficing" is a term that comes up many times in talking about making choices. Going with anything that is close enough to the goal and making do, without the mental burden. Barry Schwartz gives many other great examples of situations of making choices and finding satisfaction in our choices. This is definitely one way to overcome the problem, reducing the need to make so many comparisons.

Another approach to helping people make choices is to setup a "default" state of something that makes some sensible decisions for them. A great example might be allocating money to a pension that defaults to a general fund that takes the S&P 500 for example. Not necessarily the best choice, but a good starting point and reduces the decisions that might stop someone contributing in the first place. This is discussed in more detail in the book "Nudge" by Richard Thaler. That proposes that people can be helped in make good choices by nudging them in the right direction.

Here is a small list of things you can try that can help you make decisions in the future.

1. Have a clear direction or goal of what you are trying to acheive.
If you are picking something as simple as jam, ask what is really important in the decision, organic, type of fruit maybe? Then be willing to accept that nothing is perfect, and maybe try something, with the knowledge that most things can be returned or changed out next time you shop. Sometimes having a very clear statement of intention can help people understand the correct response to any question that might arise. Knowing the ultimate goal of any choice can help make that choice, a little like having a default answer, "the customer is always right". Dan & Chip Heath talk about this more in this article.

2. Take a break from the decision making, relax and write them down.
Sometimes the indecision comes from getting stressed about the possibilities and the unknown outcomes. Some decisions are very important and some are not make sure you are allocating the right level of concern about you choice at the right time. Writing stuff down can help you get your mind "in order". Writing pro's and cons out can make things clearer for those bigger decisions. It also allows you to share your thoughts with others and hear opinion which can help here other arguments. Of course this is overkill for something as trivial as jam.

3. Gather more information Or Use Intuition
Sometimes indecision comes from not knowing enough, or being stuck in a particular mind frame. Try doing more research, find out others ideas and opinions. Maybe look at other similar areas of expertise, see how others may have solved a problem or approached a decision and their outcomes may have been. Sometimes you need to take a step back and see the bigger picture of what the decision means to larger system or project. Sometimes you need to trust you instincts, as Malcolm Gladwell would suggest in his book "Blink" sometimes decisions have already been made at a deeper subconscious level, we just need to listen a little to our intuition. Ask the questions that encourage you intuition, avoid the question why for example, use questions that start with what or how, that have a more positive start to their framing of the question for decision making.

4. Be willing and open to failure and starting over
Even with the best intentions things can fail. Sometimes the unknowns are overwhelming and if you spend too many hours thinking about what might happen with a certain choice you will not even try to move forward. If you accept that things may fail then you can start to experiment, using the methodology of design thinking you can begin to make small bite sized incremental steps to start answering all your questions you may have and begin to see the results of your assumptions with prototyping. I am not saying to start out with failure in mind, but be willing to bounce back if it happens. What are you willing to risk to move forward versus what will you gain, keep the risks reasonable.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

7 things you need to find your flow moments

How many times have you sat down to do something and suddenly you look up at the clock and time seems to have slipped away from you and suddenly you realize that you have spent hours working on something but it felt like 10 minutes of time passed. Time flies when you are having fun, is how my mum would summarize this effect. Well it seems that these moments can be attributed to being in a certain mindset and when certain conditions are met these moments are repeatable.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi a Hungarian psychology professor has studied these moments of "flow" as he calls them and has outlined the criteria for them to occur. Here are 7 things that will help you find your flow moments.

1. The task has to have a chance of being complete-able
2. You should have time set aside for concentrating on the task without distraction
3. The task needs to have clear goals, so you know what you are aiming to work on
4. It helps to have immediate feedback, so you know how things are progressing
5. Having deep but effortless involvement, will help reduce worries that may inhibit progress
6. You need to have a sense of control over the outcome of what you are working on
7. It helps to not have a conscious reminder of time, then time will cease to have meaning.

Flow moments facilitate concentration, by making everyday activities distinct and meaningful from normal everyday activities. They also make control possible giving a sense of self fulfillment. These moments are very similar in characteristics to what Daniel Pink, would refer to as "Drive" the motivational factors for intrinsic desires in performing any cognitive tasks. Daniel suggests in his book, that people are inspired to work harder at cognitive tasks when they are aiming to fulfill 3 fundamental needs, mastery, purpose and autonomy. This to me falls inline with what finding flow is all about. That sense of being inspired to increase ones level of mastery, with a sense of control and with some guiding purpose.

Flow moments require:

1. Rules (not too open ended)
2. Require learning new skills (mastery)
3. Set up goals ( have purpose)
4. provide feedback (sense of achievement)

This concept is nicely summarized visually in a couple of graphs. The first show the channel of flow, between anxiety of a task being to hard, but challenging enough to make us work at it, and boredom from a skills stand point that the task it too trivial that it doesn't challenge us enough and is uninspiring.

The other graph shows a more granular break down of the states of mind that occur around the flow channel.

So next time you start into a project and the time disappeared all too quickly, thin to yourself what made that happen and how you may go about making it happen again. Try to make every working moment a flow moment and your sense of purpose and self fulfillment will surely grow.

Measuring Usability - SUS Questionaire

Producing interfaces and software experiences always produces questions of usability. Is something ultimately usable by the end user, are they able to better perform their task, be more efficient and are they more satisfied with the interactions. These questions are the goal of usability studies, throughout the design process. The problem however is firstly the amount of money, effort and time needed to perform a through usability study with a diverse user base, but the other problem is interpreting the results accurately to know what fixes are worth making and what works and what doesn't.

One system that attempts to addresses these questions in an optimized way is the System Usability Scale (SUS), published by John Brooke about 20 years ago, that asks 10 simple questions that require a rating from 1-5. It is based on the Likert scale questionaire. The questions are outlined here that gives results for overall usability and user satisfaction index. This site goes into greater depth, on the subject.

The System Usability Scale

The SUS is a 10 item questionnaire with 5 response options. 
  1. I think that I would like to use this system frequently.
  2. I found the system unnecessarily complex.
  3. I thought the system was easy to use.
  4. I think that I would need the support of a technical person to be able to use this system.
  5. I found the various functions in this system were well integrated.
  6. I thought there was too much inconsistency in this system.
  7. I would imagine that most people would learn to use this system very quickly.
  8. I found the system very cumbersome to use.
  9. I felt very confident using the system.
  10. I needed to learn a lot of things before I could get going with this system.

The SUS uses the following response format:


Scoring SUS

  • For odd items: subtract one from the user response.
  • For even-numbered items: subtract the user responses from 5
  • This scales all values from 0 to 4 (with four being the most positive response).
  • Add up the converted responses for each user and multiply that total by 2.5. This converts the range of possible values from 0 to 100 instead of from 0 to 40.
Interpreting these results it is important to understand that these are not a percentage, even though they are in the range 0-100. 

While it is technically correct that a SUS score of 70 out of 100 represents 70% of the possible maximum score, it suggests the score is at the 70th percentile. A score at this level would mean the application tested is above average. In fact, a score of 70 is closer to the average SUS score of 68. It is actually more appropriate to call it 50%.  

When communicating SUS scores to stakeholders, and especially those who are unfamiliar with SUS, it's best to convert the original SUS score into a percentile so a 70% really means above average.

An example of calculation and table.

How to score the SUS
After collecting the data go into the next step to grade usability.
a. Replace each answer with a number from 0 to 4.
Specifically, for questions 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 the score contribution is:
  • Strongly Disagree = 0
  • Disagree = 1
  • Not sure = 2
  • Agree = 3
  • Strongly Agree = 4
For questions 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 the score contribution is the opposite:
  • Strongly Disagree = 4
  • Disagree = 3
  • Not sure = 2
  • Agree = 1
  • Strongly Agree = 0
b.  Add scores and multiply total by 2.5.  Calculate the mean to find the score.  The total score should end up with a range between 0 and 100.  The highest the score the more usable the website is.
Any value around 60 and above is considered as good usability.

The SUS should never be a substitute for good user testing and techniques. It is a low cost technique that can be used in parallel with user testing and enhance/validate the results.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Design Research for Innovators

When you have an existing product or service then research techniques and methodologies already exist to gather and analyze information about it, to start planning the next version and future improvements. Building up a data collection and then analyzing existing users and systems through market research tools and surveys, as well as focus groups will yield a lot of great data to wade through to help incrementally improve existing designs.

However, if you are starting a new product or service that no one has ever seen before or had the opportunity to use, what methods can you use in this situation? There is not always something to test against and people cannot have accurate opinions about something they have never seen or used. Jane Fulton Suri chief creative officer at IDEO, suggests in her article about design research, that innovation requires a new approach to tackle the unknowns. Design research techniques can help in future thinking of new products and service insights. She explains that innovation is mostly open ended in its requirements and can be very subjective in nature. She suggest that what is required is what she calls "design research" opposed to more traditional research techniques, that still uses the analysis of objective evidence as before, but the research is enhanced with extra exploration due to the lack of applicable data. These include:

Synthesizing of evidence,
Exploration of analogies and extreme cases,
Recognition of emergent patterns,
Empathetic connection to people's motivations and behavior,
Intuitive interpretation of information with impressions from multiple sources.

These considerations are used to expose patterns with peoples behaviors and experiences, as well as, explore reactions and responses. The purpose of this research is to extend our knowledge and understanding. These allow the researcher direct efforts to probe and prototype against, which will more likely give key insight on unknowns through hypothesis and experimentation.

Design research's value is in inspiring our imaginations and inform our intuitions. Successful design research as Jane suggests requires both a cultural transformation in organizations and perpetuation of those transformations to allow innovation to survive and grow. Design research requires the individual to get out of the office and be where the customer is and see what they see. It is important to get first hand experience out in the field. Design research can be rich and delivers not only facts, but insights into those facts and reasons behind them. She goes onto emphaize that people have needs, motivations, habits and perceptions that all need to be taken into account in new product and service design thinking. Good research should uncover these nuances and allow the experimenter to gauge their ideas against this knowledge.

She summarizes with three different approaches to design research that can address open questions with regards to innovation and how they can be performed and implemented.

Generative Design Research
This is an empathetic exercise, it is descriptive and factual but also speculative and interpretive. We are looking for emergent patterns, challenges and opportunities that can be address with innovation and design thinking. It can be performed by shadowing specific people and observing their behaviors. Having people keep diaries of moods and significant events. It is interactive and contextual and not based on self report or opinions. There is also room for more traditional market research, and trend information searching. The aim is to create a framework for thinking about the domain for innovation.

Learning feedback loops are useful here, with user input and consumer insight gained from using sketches, telling stories. Producing videos and prototypes can be very valuable here to help demonstrate the issues and try potential solutions. The aim is to tangibly represent an idea, probing and asking questions. It gives a chance to address questions and uncertainty as it occurs. It allows you to check peoples reactions and refine assumptions. Collaborative discovery and creation works well in this research method. Using prototyping techniques such as theater(bodystorming) and paper prototyping.

How confidently can we predict success? Looking ahead to estimate the potential of an idea and the future opportunities that maybe be available. This requires more of a business mindset, and is a good skill to acquire, especially for designers. Looking for potential markets and determining viability of ideas. Running live experiments and having labs that run experiments online is good practice.