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Design Research and Innovation: An Interview with Don Norman

Great words of insight (as usual) from Don Norman in an interview with Jeroen van Geel on Johnny Holland Magazine. He talks about the gaps between academic research, design studies, and design as well as topics on innovation, emotional design and design thinking. In regards to design thinking, he refers to a previous article that he wrote (which I re-read recently and highly recommend): Design Thinking a Useful Myth. Highlight quotes from the interview and link below:

On the difference between researchers and practitioners:

One wants deep understanding, the other wants to know what to do next. One is happy as soon as an idea has been demonstrated, even if it is held together only by tape, string and mirrors–that is, even if it only works on special cases and requires careful attendance and repair by the research group. The practitioner wants something complete, robust, and reliable. Researchers are incapable of delivering this; they are too curious, too driven to learn new knowledge. The practitioner is too practical.

On emotional design and websites:

Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions

On getting inspiration:

Stay curious. Always be learning new topics […] And I talk mostly with my critics.

Read the full Don Norman interview on Design Research and Innovation.

Baidu Focuses on Usability Not Proliferating Features

A recent Financial Times article, “Functionality remains Baidu’s priority” (free registration required), juxtaposes Baidu’s product development philosophy with that of its chief rival, Google. The piece states that Baidu focuses on making functionality that allows the average user to get things done, while Google’s approach is pushing out a ton of “cool” features and hoping that some of them will stick. I don’t know that I quite agree with the author or Ms. Mengqiu’s assessment of Google’s product strategy, but I certainly applaud Baidu’s commitment to making features better rather than making more features. From the article:

Wang Mengqiu, senior director of technology and products, says Baidu’s product development philosophy differs from rival search company Google’s focus on “very cool” technology. “Our logic is different – we think about what users need most,” she says.

…“I don’t care that many people say Baidu can’t innovate,” she says. “You have to ask whether completely new things are needed.”…

She says Baidu would never have developed a product such as Google Earth, for example. For China’s nearly 500m internet users – Baidu’s target market – Google’s interactive world map has very little value, she argues.

“It is a dazzling, very cool product, but really think for a moment. The users we need to consider are not just high-end, well-educated users,” she says.

Content Strategy and UX Design

In “Fusing Content Strategy with Design”, David Gillis gives a very good summary of content strategy and its interplay with the overall user experience strategy and information architecture. The leading advocate for the field, Kristina Halvorson defines the field as such:

Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.

Necessarily, the content strategist must work to define not only which content will be published, but why we’re publishing it in the first place.

I particularly like the way he discusses the importance of setting contexts, using context maps, to better integrate content with the overall experience (see example map below).

Example context map from "Fusing Content Strategy with Design"

Example context map from "Fusing Content Strategy with Design"

Such discussions all point to the importance of a fully integrated product experience process where content certainly plays a very big (and often overlooked) role.

Social Brands and People

Consumer behavior has certainly changed in recent times, and the way we interact with brands in increasingly becoming more intimate and familiar. I’m sure a few years ago we would not have thought that we would be “friends” with (or fans receiving daily updates from) our favorite soda or restaurant.

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Fueling the Organic Growth Cycle for Web Products

Growing a vast customer base for an online product is a complex process that encompasses marketing, product development, and luck. However, it is possible to stack the odds in your favor and to make the best of your marketing dollars by creating a product experience that fosters the organic growth cycle.

The Organic Growth Cycle

For all products, new customers are generated through a combination of paid and word-of-mouth marketing. In some cases, the majority of a product’s new customers come from organic, word-of-mouth marketing. While traditional marketing such as online advertising requires a constant input of resources, word-of-mouth marketing can essentially become a self-sustaining system, requiring little or no support—a sort of marketing Turing machine. Such a well-tuned organic growth cycle can help to grow a large customer base for any web product.

Traditional and organic marketing generating new prospective customers.

Traditional and organic marketing generating new prospective customers.

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Montparnas Helps Design TiVo’s Revolutionary UI

To much fanfare and critical acclaim, TiVo announced last week its new Premiere DVR that features a ground-breaking user interface. I’m very happy to say that we had the privilege to work alongside TiVo’s talented design team to define and design the novel user experience that extends TiVo’s high interaction standards. TiVo, Inc. is featuring the new release on its home page and the device, with its complete redefined HD interface, has already received fantastic reviews from the likes of CNET, TechCrunch, and Gizmodo.

Gizmodo’s Mark Wilson highlights the user experience improvements as:

Despite the redesign, you’ll find the experience is remarkably familiar. The basic fonts and menus are unchanged, with a few key differences. Most importantly, instead of seeing one page at a time (like being in Now Playing, then clicking to a new screen with a particular show), you see two pages at a time—a logical design update to the widescreen format that speeds up navigation enormously.

Check out the screen shots below:

TiVo Central

TiVo Central

My Shows

My Shows

Browse TV & Movies

Browse Collections

Browse Collections

NBC Winter Olympics Information Displays

Watching the winter Olympics this year, I took note of the great use of information overlays by NBC. Overall I have been impressed with their sparing use of graphics to convey the critical information. I hope that this simple elegant design will be the standard rather than the exception in television and web videos that are pushing the limits on pop-ups and unnecessarily heavy overlays. Below is a great example of the biathlon’s simple hit/miss shot penalty information displays:

Single competitor shooting with infograhic

Single competitor shooting with infograhic (from nbc.com)

Two competitors shooting with picture in picture (from nbc.com)

Two competitors shooting with picture in picture (from nbc.com)

On the actual broadcast, these small information units of hit/miss were stacked up beside appropriate flags to show multiple competitors at once. Although hard to follow the progression, it was a great way to show a lot of information in very little space and in real-time.

Preview of Nokia’s New Symbian 4 OS

Nokia has started circulating specifications and previews of its new Symbian^4 OS interface and interaction design (via Symbian.org). Some notable improvements include:

  • New interface layout and interaction structure (see diagrams below)
  • Consistent look and feel across all applications
  • Contextual menus providing quicker access to common actions
  • Customizable home screen

New Interaction Models in Symbian^4

Below are some diagrams from the Symbian^4 User Interface Concept Proposal (PDF).

Symbian^4 UI Model Diagram

Symbian^4 UI Model Diagram (via Symbian.org)

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