Posts in Category "Design"

Considerations for Design in the Enterprise

I arrived last night in New York, and am looking forward to presenting at the Adobe Partner Community Day.  Tomorrow, our focus is on the “front of the glass”, and User Experience Design in the Enterprise, and we are going to be joined by a tremendous number of our design partners.  On Wednesday, we shift perspectives to the “back of the glass”, where we will be joined by system integrators and enterprise development partners.

I’m very much looking forward to delivering a presentation I’m calling, “Considerations for Design in the Digital Enterprise”, which shares some perspectives on how to bring cutting-edge and courageous user-experience design alongside enterprise software craftsmanship, to create the most simple, effective and compelling experiences in the enterprise.  From “Be on the lookout for thoughtless acts; they are where innovation hides in the open” to “Look for the tension between business goals and user needs; that is where innovation hides in the dark” I’m going to try and open up several different considerations in the context of some of the more recent work undertaken by my own team, on behalf of Adobe and on behalf of Adobe’s most strategic enterprise customers.

I’ll be tweeting live from the event using KeynoteTweet, and a video of the presentation will be made available afterwards.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear what considerations you would share, for how to bring cutting edge user-experience design to the enterprise, and how to blend such design with mission critical software engineering.

Further Forrester Thoughts: Business Analysts versus UX Designers

Earlier, I posted about Mike Gualtieri’s recent Forrester paper (I should credit his co-author also, Mary Gerush), titled “Business Analysts: Seize The Opportunity To Deliver Compelling User Experiences“. From reading the initial abstract, I challenged the thesis that a Business Analyst can truly deliver the value that a user-experience designer can and committed to reviewing the paper in greater detail. I have, and I’ve engaged in some really interesting and thought-provoking dialogue with Mike, that I want to open up here a little.

First and foremost, if you are working in the enterprise, where I believe that user-experience designers have the opportunity to fundamentally unlock the value inherent in the digital enterprise, then I highly recommend subscribing to and following Mike’s research. I have spoken with many enterprise customers, where internal advocates for user-experience struggle to articulate value within a technology-centric organization, and Mike’s work is most definitely going to help you address the impedance mismatches that recur.

As I read Mike’s paper, I really enjoyed the setup; he does a great job articulating the importance and value of the design process, as well as the traits and characterists of the value that a user-centered approach brings to the enterprise.

My initial contention still remains (though I’ll also represent Mike’s position here, which softens my pushback a little) however.

Traditionally, Business Analysts would be responsible in an organization for creating business requirements for software products, these requirements would be captured in a specification/business requirement document, and these would be passed to an engineering team for estimation and implementation. Oftentimes, there is zero design featured in the process – and what design is involved is often “small d design”, that focuses more on adherence to style guides and templates, than the more fundamental value of (big D) Design that really seeks to deliver a product that more ergonomically meets the needs of users, as well as the needs of a business. The Design process hinges on user-centered design methods, most notably observation methods that inform the solution.

Mike proposes that to address this shortcoming, of little or no Design in the process, is to “give UX eyes” to Business Analysts, to encourage the armies of business analysts in the industry to learn to “see the world as UX designers see it”, to employ user-centered design methods (ethnographic research, user interviews, understanding personas, etc).

Here’s my concern; I think the value of the above-mentioned activities isn’t in their execution, but in the environment they create for a Designer to Design. While a business analyst might employ these methods, without Design in their DNA, I don’t believe they are going to get to the same solution and innovation as a designer…they may observe pains through the lens of a user, but it’s what they then do with them that concerns me. Or more specifically, what they don’t.

This process of Discovery is where I believe most of the magic happens in our application developments; it’s where we uncover the insights that reveal the “soul of the application”. These soul searchers are designers however, able to translate insights and observations into ideas.

Furthermore, I believe and advocate that “Requirements inform Design, but Design informs Requirements”. Innovation rests upon prototyping and “failing early”, and where we are most successful I believe, is where we immediately act upon insights with Design prototypes…as we test the success of these design concepts, they in turn drive features in the requirements. Rarely do these innovations emerge as interpretation of a requirement.

However, this is where I think Mike and I agree more than we disagree! I asked Mike if I could open up some of our dialogue here, I think the key comment he made back to me that opens up my thinking is this:

“Our premise here is that most application development teams don’t know anything about UX design. But, they are the very people who end up “designing” the user experience, usually by accident. So we are just trying to turn the dial a little bit in the right direction by getting app dev pros (in this case BAs) to start thinking about how they can pragmatically contribute to better UX in applications that their team develops. If we tell them it is important and to go hire a UX team, it won’t always happen.”

I think this really sums up my philosophical difference; I’ve been doing some work recently with Geoffrey Moore, and a phrase he often uses is “Crossing the Chasm in the Belly of the Whale”, which I would paraphrase as untethering an approach temporarily from the desired (ideal ?) end-state until you can drive it to scale, and then fold it back into the process.

As I relate these ideas, I think my position of “user-centered methods belong to user-experience designers” is the crossing of the chasm, while “business analysts should embrace user-centered design methods” is a tactic (and perhaps not the only tactic..) that can be employed today, while we are in the belly of the whale…

What’s interesting for me with Mike’s approach, is the scale that it offers…there are many more business analysts inside enterprise IT organizations than there are unfortunately user-experience designers. While I believe it compromises the end-product, is it worse than having no design sensibility at all ? I’m wrestling my own conscience here…

This whole dialogue has caused me to pull up some old presentations and papers that I started writing some time ago, as I was helping system integrators think about how they might bring user-experience design into their technology and business consulting practices. It was the idea of a “User Experience Capability Maturity Model”, that describes the spectrum of “UX maturity” within a team or organization, similar to the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) from Carnegie Mellon, formerly prevalent in software development.

I’m going to think more about that in the weeks ahead, as I think Mike and I may just be plotting a couple of points along the same curve.

Thoughts ?

Can Business Analysts become User Experience Designers ? Forrester thinks so…

I met with Mike Gualtieri of Forrester earlier in the year, at the Adobe Industry Analyst Summit, and very much enjoyed discussion around the role of user-experience designers in creating user-centric solutions in the new enterprise. I note that Mike has just delivered a Forrester Whitepaper, titled “Business Analysts: Seize The Opportunity To Deliver Compelling User Experiences”.

The abstract for the paper follows, and if I were to just read the abstract I think I’d take an opposing position to Mike in the paper:

“Is anything more important than how users experience your Web sites and software applications? If your customers can’t effectively and efficiently meet their goals by using your sites and apps, they will go elsewhere, leading to lost revenue and increased expense. If employees find sites or apps too hard to use, they become frustrated and less productive. To maximize productivity, smart organizations place a strong focus on user experience (UX) as part of the software development process, but not every firm has people with the right skills and focus on this important discipline. This is a great opportunity for business analysts, but it requires a shift in the way they define requirements. UX skills are often absent from business analysts’ (BAs’) tool kits, because BAs have been trained to engage “the business” to learn about requirements but not to do true user research that will deepen their understanding. By gaining key skills, performing user research, and actually “becoming” their application’s end users while defining requirements, BAs can improve the user experience — and organizational outcomes — by helping create apps that are useful, usable, and desirable.”

I look forward to reading the paper in further detail, but here’s my concern….I’m often asked, “how do we train our technical team to do the design work” or “how do we teach our business analysts to do the design work” and my answer is always an initially flippant but somewhat heartfelt, “4 years of Design School”.

You see, Design is a profession…and I think we have to be incredibly careful in removing Designers from the Design process. At surface level, there are techniques employed by designers that unravel and reveal the insights that will inform a subsequent design…user interviews, creating user personas, ethnographic research techniques that allow observation of end-users engaging in existing processes with existing tools, are all means by which an experience designer can try and find the “soul of the solution”, the key insight or insights upon which an improved design might emerge.

I struggle initially with the idea that by taking these techniques away from designers, giving them to business analysts so that the analysts write better requirements (through the lens of the user), that a better user-experience will emerge by giving these requirements (now informed by a user) to a designer to create a new user-experience.

For the methods exist to create the opportunity for observations and insights; there is questionable value in the persona as a deliverable, as much as there is value in observing and generalizing user behavior according to tasks and goals, for instance.

I look forward to reading Mike’s paper in full, to better understand the research…however, my own thinking would be that rather than “make designers of analysts” we recognize that before we specify how to “build things right”, we must employ designers and their design-thinking to ensure we are even “building the right thing”. And once we have reframed the problem we are solving through the lens of the end-user, I would hope that we can find ways by which requirements are informed by designers, and designers are informed by requirements, through process and approach that brings the requirements gathering process and the design process together.

That’s the 3D methodology we employ within our Adobe Technical Services Organization, a means by which we partition the process of Discovery from the process of Design, and setup the appropriate handshakes rather than handovers between the different skills in these cross-functional teams.

Are there other industries that you know of where we take the Design process from designers, and give it to those who specify the features and functions of a product or service ?

Why I dislike Devigners (and never buy fried chicken in Marin)

Take a look at this photo, of a sign that I drive past every single day…clearly someone at KFC decided that they could lift some stock imagery, adhere to brand guidelines, use the corporate approved font, and create for themselves a sign that would ensure that people honored the 1-way drive through system appropriately. I can’t say for sure, but it’s consistent with so many conversations I’m privvy to — we don’t need one of those designers, just give us the templates/some examples/some guidelines/some best practices and we can do the design ourselves. But seriously …. I wonder if there’s a correlation between the Colonel himself warning you not to enter his establishment, and the fact that I rarely see any customers as I drive past. I’m often asked “what’s the return on investment of design” – in fact I was challenged to address this question last year at Adobe’s Analyst Briefing in San Jose. My position was that you should really restate the problem as “what is the ROI that you believe exists in the solution you are developing; design isn’t a line item that delivers ROI of its own, rather than the process that unlocks the available ROI in the solution”.


Because that’s the crux of it … if your problem is customer retention or customer acquistion, if your problem is shopping cart abandonment or number of customers who give up midway through a loan application, or if your problem is customer satisfaction for an online self-service experience, then you likely know your performance, and you have some sense according to industry convention or expectation, as to where benchmark performance is.

I wonder what would happen to the footfall in Mill Valley’s KFC, if “DO NOT ENTER” instead said “WAY OUT”, “EXIT ONLY” or “DRIVE THRU AT THE NEXT ENTRANCE !”

Once you understand that ROI that’s available in any given initiative, the Design process offers a much more user-centric approach to solving the problem and unlocking the ROI. While technology – whether that be Adobe technology such as Flex, AIR, LiveCycle ES, LiveCycle Collaboration Server, or another technology – may enable a solution that realizes the ROI, the design process is the difference between a solution built upon that technology that unlocks the ROI, and a solution built upon the technology that doesn’t.

Customers and partners will often ask me if our User Experience team can share some documents or papers that outline “UX practices”, or if we can create some “example screens” that can be used as baselines for someone without design in their DNA to cookie cut every other screen. When I’m asked this, I always think about KFC in Marin…about the logic that suggested that with some sample assets, some photoshop comps, some brand guidelines and the right fonts installed on the computer, customers could be steered in the entrance and out the exit in their droves.

For sure I’ve met some developers who happen to be incredible designers (they’re usually designers who manage to become developers, I think I’m yet to meet anyone who crossed over in the other direction) but they are the exception rather than the norm.

Design is a process, and designers are professionals that drive and participate in that process. I think the real opportunity isn’t to turn designers into developers, or developers into designers…it’s to find approaches, processes and methodologies that create the handshakes between the two, and to create tools (like Flash Catalyst) that facilitate these handshakes and workflows.

In the meantime, if you are working on a project, or with a customer, who is seeking “devigners”, or where “the business analyst” or “the project manager” is “designing the screens”, then maybe you should play a little chicken with them.

Innovative Mashups: Meatware + Hardware + Software

There’s a tremendous article on the BBC showcasing an upcoming television program, that encapsulates so much of what fascinates me right now as mashups don’t just focus on bringing together different online data sources, but take real-world information, whether that be people or things, and bring that information into software applications.  What’s even more interesting, is how this in itself creates an "architecture of participation", a suite of data that can be visualised over time, and from which insights can be gleaned that themselves may lead to innovations.

"Britain from Above" will be first broadcast in the UK on Sunday 10th August, at 2100 on BBC One, and features some stunning visualisations of data captured and overlaid on Britain itself.  In this short video clip on BBC iPlayer (I’m not sure if this will be geo-locked to the UK or not) you can see some tremendous examples:

  • Watch the shipping channels through the straits of Dover; satellite imagery overlaid with all of the day’s shipping as a computer visualisation
  • Watch every flight in and out of the UK, flying through stricly controlled air corridors, and observe where and when the most "stacking" of flights occurs waiting to come into land

I think the examples that I find most intriguing however, are the GPS tracking of London taxi-drivers; the drivers leverage the main thoroughfares, but as congestion begins to peak, you can observe the myriad of rat-runs and short-cuts that emerge through the backstreets of London.  Many SatNav companies are now starting to track this data to offer different recommended routes from A to B according to time of day and historic data.  What’s fascinated me for some time however, is how cars themselves become packets of data on real highways, communicating their recent journey segments, weighted by the collective opinion of other cars who have also passed the same routes, so that the network of cars themselves communicate route congestion much like ants communicate as they pass each other in lines, or other redundant networks are able to intelligently record, replay and re-route to avoid congestion.

I first encountered this idea of smart networks a loooong time ago when writing my University dissertation on "The Enabling Technologies of the Trunkl Network" (a dissertation that discussed some technology called ADSL that might become popular  in the last-mile of the copper telephone network amongst other things) amongst a myriad of British Telecom research papers around "Intelligent Networks" and intelligent switching and routing of traffic for video and audio.

The final example in the above clip is of the way "London wakes up" by visualising the patterns of telephone calls that take place in the UK.

Increasingly as I meet with customers around strategies and visions for the future, there’s ever more desire to create architectures that can bring real-world information into online applications, whether that be for improved visualisation to support real-time decision making, or physical information that can be combined seamlessly with rich and interactive applications. 

When we talk about Rich Internet Applications, we consider not only visually-rich or interaction-rich, but the richness of data.  When we think about creating architectures of participation where the wisdom is not just gathered from the crowd, but from the accelerometers, the GPS transceivers, and the myriad of other sensors that attach hardware to meatware to software.  An example I often use that really embodies the idea of hardware, connected to humans, that leverages a software architecture through which a data and visualisation and interaction rich experience can be delivered, is the NikePlus collaboration with Apple and iPods.

In your experiences, are there other applications where "meatware + hardware + software" is a recipe for innovative visualisations, data platforms, or overall digital experiences ?


AC@MAX2008 on "Television on AIR – Creating Custom Media Player Experiences"

Adobe Media Player

Increasingly, our user-experience and technology teams at Adobe Consulting have been engaging in projects that not only leverage Flex, AIR and LiveCycle ES to create enterprise/business Rich Internet Applications, but in projects that leverage technologies like Flex and AIR "on the glass" with "behind the glass" technologies such as Flash Media Server and Flash Media Rights Management Server, in order that we can create innovative broadcast experiences that will be experienced by millions of eyeballs at a time.

Xavi Beumala (Adobe Consulting, London) and John Bennett (Adobe Consulting, Boston) have both been engaged in a number of these exciting projects over the last several months, and between them will be responsible along with their colleagues for the technical delivery of products that I’m confident many of us will be consumers of in the months ahead.

In the first instance, creating a custom media player is about creating an online experience that is more compelling than experiencing the content on a television. John and Xavi will talk about how some of these innovative features can be implemented on the Flex and AIR platforms – whether that be building social communities over the content itself, or more innovative ways of engaging with more innovative online content.

However, fundamental to a great broadcast experience is everything focussed around delivering the highest-quality of viewing experience.  With the H.264 capabilities of the Flash Player, there is ever increasing desire to deliver the highest-definition of quality, which in itself creates recurring technical challenges that must be considered and addressed.  Whether it’s considering encoding and codec tradeoffs, picture size optimisations, bitrate and bandwidth requirements or architectures for content delivery networks,or whether it’s understanding the workflows that allow the secure delivery of rights-managed video, there are a myriad of technology and application decisions that need to be made that can have impact on the overall viewing experience.

Drawing upon real-world experiences of implementing several television experiences online, I’m looking forward to the best-practices and deep technical-tips that I know Xavi and John will have to share.

Session Details:

Television on AIR: Creating Custom Media Player Experiences

Join Adobe Consulting for a discussion on projects in which broadcasters and media organizations needed applications to stream protected video to consumers desktops. Learn how to create these experiences using dynamic media technologies. Hear Adobe Consulting best practices for Flash, Flex, Adobe AIR, Adobe Media Player, Flash Media Server, and Flash Media Rights Management Server.

Speakers: Xavi Beumala Segura, John Bennett
Audience: Creative Designer, Architect, Application Developer
Skill: Intermediate
Products: Flex, Flash Player, Flash Media Server, AIR
Monday, November 17, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

AC@MAX2008 on "Lazy Innovation"

Success is a Journey, not a Destination.  So stop running.


In the days ahead, I’d like to summarise each of the presentations that the Adobe Consulting team are giving.  I’ll start today with one that I’m most looking forward to from our User Experience practice, titled "Lazy Innovation". George Neill and Jerome Doran are experience architects within our User Experience practice, in Edinburgh and San Francisco respectively.  The title of the presentation arose from George’s observations during what we call "User Experience Discovery".  In "User Experience Discovery", we engage in many UX practices including ethnographic research and user-interviews, where we seek to better understand the end-users of our application as a means of informing the design of the user-experience itself.  Before our technical practice concern themselves with "building things right", our user-experience practice concern themselves with the more fundamental question – "are we building the right thing ?".

George provocatively contests that a human-train often considered a bad behavior – laziness – is actually an inherent human behavior that should be recognised as a virtue that can identify opportunities for innovation in user-experience design.  It is his belief that the "search for laziness" and the ability to learn how to better observe laziness can create short-cuts to finding the opportunities for innovation that exist every time we are given the opportunity to create more innovative user-experiences.

In their respective roles, George and Jerome have touched most if not all of the rich internet applications developed within the Adobe Consulting stable over the last several years, and so in this presentation they’ll be using their own work and the work of our team to show where identifying and incorporating the inventiveness of the lazy users results in simpler, easier and more effective applications.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to interview our MAX speakers around their chosen topics of presentation, so if you have any thoughts on this idea of "innovation through lazy design" then please leave them in the comments, and I’ll ask the guys on your behalf.

I can’t wait to attend this presentation, which I know is going to be as fun and entertaining as it will be informative and inspirational; it’s a really exciting theme through which to weave a showcase of user-experience from our team.

Session Details

Lazy Innovation: Strategy for the Design of Innovative User Experiences

When engaging with applications, users essentially want to complete their tasks with a minimum of difficulty and friction. In this entertaining presentation, the Adobe Consulting User Experience team will explore this "doctrine of laziness" as a means of identifying opportunities for innovative user experiences.

Speakers: George Neill, Jerome Doran
Audience: Web Designer, Creative Designer, Application Developer
Skill: General Audience
Products: Flex, AIR
Monday, November 17, 11:30 am – 12:30 pm