The Fundamental Higher Ed Website Issue: Centralization vs. Decentralization

You can’t talk about centralization unless you first talk about how things currently work under a decentralized system. So I’ll address that first.

Many traditional universities (most? all?) take a decentralized approach toward their websites, both in terms of creation and maintenance. It’s thought that a decentralized structure where each division, school, college, department and administrative unit effectively controls their space and content on the web is the best way to manage the overall site. Core web teams tend to be small given the size of a university’s online presence so the thinking is “why not shift maintenance of each section of the site to their respective owners?” With a content management system in place, this becomes a matter of simplicity and smart workflow. The core web team creates the initial site based on each unit’s needs and wishes, the site is developed within the CMS, each unit gets trained on how to make updates through the CMS, and then the web team is freed up to go through the same process for the next unit on campus. Conventional wisdom would say this is a rational and reasoned approach, right?

Maybe, but I think the opposite approach — centralization — reaps greater rewards. I’m not against decentralization completely, however. There’s a place and time for it, but to revolve your web efforts around the promises of decentralization will only lead to trouble. There is a happy medium. I’ll cover the benefits to centralization in a moment, but first, here’s a list of issues decentralization wittingly and unwittingly creates:

  • Inconsistent experience: With so many different units within the organization, the umbrella website amounts to a consortium of marginally related sub-sites. Each unit independently decides what their needs and wants are and isn’t required to consider other units or the overall experience of the umbrella site.
  • Little focus: When a site communicates to a diverse range of audience needs within the same space, it becomes schizophrenic at best, confusing and frustrating at worst. Should information that satisfies one need sit next to information for a totally different need? Separation along people’s jobs-to-be-done could clarify an organization’s message and offer a better overall visitor experience.
  • Poor navigation, Part I:  Since every unit gets a semi or completely custom made site, consistency of navigation isn’t ensured. Decentralization allows even similar units to offer completely different sets of links even though their audiences’ goals are relatively homogenous. Take a centralized view of audience needs, build a navigation system that speaks to it (and do it only once) and then roll it out to the necessary sites.
  • Poor navigation, Part II: The kind of navigational inconsistency above can be remedied relatively easily. What’s harder for the organization is to break away from the idea that navigation should mimic its org chart. Our research has found that students largely don’t know and don’t care that psychology is to be found via the Psychology Department’s site which is itself found via the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences site. Furthermore, why would we expect them to know the difference between the Psychology Department and the Professional School of Psychology? People think in terms of subject areas, so let’s use a navigational scheme that works with that in mind.
  • Disjointed marketing efforts: In effect, a decentralized world creates barriers between internal groups. Since units are largely independent from one another, it’s difficult to see, let alone create, symbiotic relationships. The web offers an alternative where all internal groups can cross promote events, programs, people, research, etc. to maximize the impact of communications. Some level of centralization is needed, however.
  • Reactionary processes: If the web team is utilized as a simple vendor who delivers websites for each unit of the larger organization, then the team’s expertise is never fully brought to bear on the broader, umbrella site. Centralization allows a web team to proactively make the site better for all since it’s the only group that’s cognizant of the overall experience.
  • No accountability: A decentralized structure spreads accountability of the site’s overall success or failure among a large number of people- so many that the site is effectively unaccountable to anyone or any group. Global decisions or mandates that would introduce economies of scale (as outlined in this very list) are impossible to enact in this climate. Centralization places control and responsibility in the hands of a few. It’s not a power grab, it’s efficiency (see the next point). Accountability creates the motivation to continually create high quality work.
  • Inefficient use of resources: Content might be needed in several places on the site. In a decentralized world, that content is likely duplicated in the system as people in different units post the information to their independent sites. Duplicated content = duplicated efforts to maintain = inefficient use of people’s time.
  • Slow turnaround time: To create and maintain independent sites causes longer timelines than necessary compared to a centralized world where there is only a single visitor experience to manage. Build it once and then reuse. If you make a change, it’s globally deployed.
  • Unsustainable, Part I: As internal groups begin to harness the web’s power beyond static pages, the web team becomes ever more strained to keep up with individual, unit level requests. Centralized efforts allow the web team to prioritize requests and projects based on institutional goals and customer input. The most important projects with the greatest overall impact get the attention they deserve, while less important projects are accomplished as time allows, if at all.
  • Unsustainable, Part II: Another aspect to consider are the ongoing costs of maintenance. As sites grow, so too does the effort to keep them up-to-date. The big advantage to decentralization revolves around just this problem — allowing the masses to create and maintain sites after the web team gets it launched. But it’s not without pitfalls in terms of ensuring consistency of content, keeping links from breaking, ensuring new content is created often enough and so on. Are the resources in place to realistically accomplish this?
  • Decades of expertise go untapped: The web team, in aggregate, probably has decades of web experience under its belt. Decentralization empowers relatively unskilled web workers to affect the site’s overall visitor experience in potentially negative ways. While it makes sense to decentralize some aspects of a site’s maintenance, why not tap the breadth and depth of the team’s skills and knowledge for major decisions?

Next, I’ll discuss the advantages of centralization. But before I get into it, let me provide context to the discussion.

I have no issue whatsoever with decentralization in terms of content. What I do have an issue with is decentralizing the management of other aspects of the web effort — strategy, IA, design and code. Decentralizing those aspects result in the pitfalls I outlined above. Now there’s always an exception to the rule, but those should be few and far between and that mantra holds true in this case.

In a nutshell, centralizing a site’s management should manifest itself in the opposite ways already outlined. Here’s the quick rundown:

  • Greater consistency in design, navigation, functionality, overall experience
  • Better focus and clarity in communicating the organization’s messages and goals
  • A more symbiotic effort toward marketing the organization to a diverse set of audiences
  • A systematic, proactive approach to improving the visitor experience
  • Single source accountability for many of the site’s performance metrics and marketing goals
  • Greater efficient use of time, effort and resources
  • Faster project turnaround time
  • Generally, a more sustainable approach
  • A happier web team/better morale

However, all that said, centralization does raise issues. Most prominent is the fact that it’s a huge break from the past. The university has long given individual units large latitude in terms of how to run their groups. So much so, that the bigger units don’t even bother with the web team. Instead, they hire outside agencies to knock out whatever it is they need to accomplish. That’s just decentralization by another name though. Our biggest hurdle is the perception that centralizing the site will mean an inability to uniquely market each unit. The argument will go something like: the anthropology department will look like the political science department which will look like the music department and so on down the line.

That’s where the decentralized approach to content comes back into the picture. Content is the best, most efficient way to make your pitch. Yes, design, layout, colors, etc. influence decisions, but (and this is coming from a designer) it matters less that photos are floated left versus right compared to what those photos depict. It matters less that copy is Helvetica rather than Georgia than what the copy says. The ability to determine content is the ability to market.

What centralization ultimately allows is efficient, planned out efforts to roll out improvements and functionality in a consistent, controlled and timely manner based on visitor and university needs. The organization and visitors benefit while the web team stays sane.

Now That’s What I Call Diligent Customer Research

Get out of the building indeed:

I specialize in [designing] downtowns, and when I am hired to make a downtown plan, I like to move there with my family, preferably for at least a month. There are many reasons to move to a city while you plan it. First, it’s more efficient in terms of travel and setting up meetings, something that can become very expensive. Second, it allows you to truly get to know a place, to memorize every building, street, and block. It also gives you the chance to get familiar with the locals over coffee, dinners in people’s homes, drinks in neighborhood pubs, and during chance encounters on the street. These nonmeetings are when most of the real intelligence gets collected.

It can be difficult for clients to approve just a handful of customer interviews on my projects. Seems like a silly quibble when judged against this.

Excerpt from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

The Trouble With Surveys

I received this survey from Diana Degette in one of her regular newsletters. It’s designed so poorly that you have to ask yourself “who would consider the results from this survey seriously?” Well, politicians would, that’s who.

You can ask a simple yes/no question on a survey, but the responses need to be yes and no. With this survey, both yes and no come with qualifiers that distort the true meaning of yes and no relative to the question asked. By including subjective qualifiers, the range of possible answers grows well beyond what’s presented and clearly skews any results received.

I answered “I do not know” just to see what the results looked like, but clicking through only took me to a thank you message. Where are the real time results? Oh, right, this is politics. You wouldn’t want to show the results since they may not project the bias you wish to impart. Of course, with the responses given, any results are biased toward DeGette’s viewpoint.

On top of all this, hitting the submit button automatically signed me up to get future mailings. That’s just wrong. Please don’t conflate a survey response with an affirmative decision on my part to sign up for your mailing list.

I’m now wondering, since the survey is flawed, whether the rest of the content in her mailings is also flawed. Can I trust Diana DeGette? Hmmm…

Denver Startup Week Panel Session

I had the privilege to sit alongside visual designer Geoff Thomas, developer Sean Dougherty and fellow UXer Jim Orsi as the panelists for the Caffeine, Bits & Pixels: Design & Tech Breakfast Panel, one of the many great sessions during this year’s Denver Startup Week.

The discussion covered a lot of ground, but was grounded in a common theme, that of the benefits of agile/lean work practices. It was readily evident that the industry is quickly moving past a waterfall process and all of its inherent side effects toward a much more inclusive, collaborative and responsive mentality. It’s powering the ability of web professionals to keep pace with the accelerating speed of web development while simultaneously increasing the value they bring to both clients and their customers.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • Workable partnerships are key: The boundary between skill sets can and does exist, but the boundary itself is becoming unimportant so long as a tight partnership is created between the people involved. In other words, one person’s strengths bridge another’s weaknesses and vice versa even though the people involved work for different organizations.
  • Early strategy work results in fewer problems later: Laying down a solid foundation for a project grants it the powerful ability to adapt to changing business needs, customer needs, and competitive pressures.
  • Iteration is good: Reducing a project into smaller pieces accomplished in shorter time periods permits stakeholders to evolve and shift a project based on real performance data.
  • Start small: Simplifying a concept to its core results in clarity of purpose, shipping sooner rather than later and reduced waste. It’s easier to add features than take them away.
  • Modularity leads to scalability: By keeping things small and accomplishing goals in pieces during iterative cycles, the project naturally lends itself to modularity which allows for smart scalability. Cloud computing has been a boon to this concept.
  • Fixed bids are out, flexible bids are in: Fixed bid pricing has fallen out of favor in preference for pricing with built in flexibility and, to some extent, an ability to end or grow the relationship in line with the needs of the project.
  • Selling agile still relies on what it always has, trust: Agile encourages greater communication and participation from all stakeholders such that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As the bond between players strengthens, so too does the trust between them.

Photoshop’s blend modes explained

I’ve used Photoshop for so long, I used to keep a backup copy of it on a floppy disk. Nonetheless, I’ve never really known how the blend modes worked. I simply experimented until wither my file looked the way I wanted it or I abandoned the exploration altogether (which was usually the case). Decades later, I come across this explanation. Too bad I don’t design much anymore.

Tips on Search Marketing

Organic search is becoming less important than paid search.

Consider the typical sales funnel:

awareness > research > consideration > decision

  • Search works best in the research phase, it’s not good at awareness

SEO advantages

  • No incremental cost to traffic
  • People click on them more
  • Once you reach ranking you don’t have to do much to maintain it

SEO disadvantages

  • Less control over timing & landing page experience
  • Can be difficult to rank for a broad range of categories

Content is what ultimately matters in SEO, but if you are perceived not to have authority, great content won’t matter much

  • Content is crawl able so search engines like it
  • Internal linking reinforces what’s important on a site
  • To rank for a certain search term, it is best to have a single page focused on this topic
  • Title tag, heading, URL, etc. helps Google determine if the page is relevant to a search query. This is basic and should be done well. Keyword metatag doesn’t matter- Google doesn’t look at it so don’t bother. The description tag is often times used as the accompanying description text to each search result

About authority

  • Search engines use external links and mentions as the primary measure of a site’s authority
  • Links from other authoritative sites matter most
  • Social buzz counts for a lot too

Search advertising advantages

  • More control
  • Immediate results
  • Ability to test

Search advertising disadvantages

  • Incremental cost of traffic- in the long run, traffic costs more than SEO
  • Ongoing effort

Improvement cycle

Add keywords & ads > test & optimize > measure results > repeat

Book Notes: Playful Design

Here are some highlights I took from John Ferrara’s book Playful Design: Creating Game Experiences in Everyday Interfaces.

The elements of great game UX

  • Motivation: There needs to be a reason to play, a goal.
  • Meaningful choices: You need to be able to influence the outcome of the game through your choices. Partial ambiguity can work well here (eg. I don’t know what will happen if I do X, but I’ll take the chance because I have a reasonable expectation of what will happen).
  • Balance: How well do aspects of the game work together to create an experience where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?
  • Usability: Interactions must work well. There should be clarity around why you win or lose.
  • Aesthetics: It has to look good to be enticing and engaging enough to bother with.
  • Fun: Of course games are fun, but you can’t create fun. It’s a result of the other factors being successful.

What motivates people to play games?

  • Immersion: Getting lost in another world where you lose track of time (“flow”)
  • Autonomy: The freedom to do whatever you want versus the constraints that come with real life.
  • Competence: People like the feeling of being good at something and games give them that chance.
  • Catharsis: Blowing off steam that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do in real life.
  • Accomplishment: Risk vs. reward. Games allow you a safe place to strive for greatness.
  • Social image: A belief that if you’re good at something, people will have a more favorable impression of you.
  • Social interaction: Games are an outlet to socialize with others.
  • Creativity: Games can give people an outlet for self expression.
  • Others: People can have highly individualized reasons why they play games.

10 tips for building better games

  1. Games need to be games first: First and foremost, the game aspect needs to be enjoyable.
  2. Test: Test early and often.
  3. Games aren’t only for kids: Keep the game accessible for a broad range of ages.
  4. Action can be boring: Repetition of short problem/response situations (like the arcade games of past) can be dull compared to the richness of modern games, which are too cost prohibitive for most applications. It’s more productive to offer players choices to make with their resulting outcomes which have some amount of randomness to them (think card games like hearts).
  5. Fit the game into the player’s lifestyle: Know your users and how the game can fit within their reality.
  6. Create meaningful experiences: In exchange for player’s attention, you need to give them a reason to play- a payoff for their investment.
  7. Don’t cheat: Don’t give the game advantages not available to players. They’ll know it and be turned off.
  8. Skip the manual: Make it easy enough to jump in and start playing. Nuances can be learned over time, but getting started should be simple.
  9. Make the game make sense: Players need to know why things inside the game are happening to feel a sense of control. Players should understand why they won or lost, have clarity around cause and effect, understand the objective and know what actions are possible.
  10. Make it easy to try again

Reward systems

  • Praise: Tell players that they’re doing well when they are. Don’t overdo it. It has limited power to compel players to continue for extended periods. Praise appeals to the need for accomplishment, competence and social image.
  • Point systems: These simultaneously measure performance (how well player has done in this sitting), proficiency (level of skill overall) and progress (how far player has advanced). Points appeal strongly to the need for competence.
    • Points are a good way to roll up lots of low level successes and achievements into one common concept.
    • Points have to matter to the advancement of the game.
    • They shouldn’t be redundant relative to other rewards or else they just create needless complexity.
    • Points should be awarded in varying amounts to lend greater depth to the game.
    • You need to offer a way to compare points (like a leaderboard) or else they’re meaningless.
  • Currencies: Much like points except they can be redeemed for things. Currency appeals to the need for autonomy because the currency can be spent in whatever manner suits the player.
    • Scarcity of currency lends depth to the game because players need to decide how best to spend it (force player to make meaningful choices).
  • Leveling: As players move up, they gain personal power, benefits, status, etc. and are then able to accomplish greater things or more difficult challenges. Leveling appeals to the need for catharsis, accomplishment and competence.
    • Levels can pose limitations on a player’s ability to do certain things.
    • Players can be motivated to work harder when they know how much effort is needed to advance to the next level and are close to reaching that level.
    • Levels can extend the amount of time players are willing to stay engaged than if they didn’t exist.
  • Customization: The ability to acquire and customize virtual possessions. Customization appeals to the need for creativity (i.e. to self express).
  • Avatars: A simple customization that users can control at will.
  • Currency: Currency allows players to customize the game in ways they choose.
  • Social rewards: customizations that can be shared socially can be a big payoff for the player.
  • Item drops: The ability of a player to pick up various attributes (like health packs or weapons in video games).
    • They can be used as lures to get players to take bigger risks.
    • They can provide hints and encourage players to explore.
    • They foster competition as players via for scarce resources.
    • They can enable strategic play as players compete to gain different advantages offered by the dropped items.
    • Fixed locations/fixed schedules for drops reward experienced players over novices.
    • Fixed locations/variable schedules reward persistence.
    • Variable locations/fixed schedules reward exploration.
    • Variable locations/variable schedules don’t reward any particular behavior.
    • Dropped items can be a positive or negative reinforcement.
  • Collections: Take advantage of human nature to find, capture and hold things. They are not usually spent or lost. The desire for symmetry and completion can be a powerful motivator for some.
    • Earned items can be awarded as a player accomplishes things.
    • Found items can be awarded through a scavenger hunt/Easter egg/exploration scenario.
    • Purchased items combine collection and currency systems together to create a more compelling reward system.
    • Holding a player’s interest is a function of the size of the collection and of the difficulty in acquiring the items. The overall size of the collection can be fairly big and provide a continual reason to keep playing, but shouldn’t be so vast that players question why they ought to bother.
    • The ability to acquire each item can range for added depth of game play and can be combined with leveling so that as the player’s level increases, the difficulty in acquisition also increases.
  • Achievements: Invite players to perform things just for the sake of doing them. Achievements appeal to the need for accomplishment.
    • They are incredibly flexible- award them for anything you can think of.
    • They are cheap and easy -hey can ask a player to do something they would anyway, but that might not be otherwise necessary.
    • Since they are so cheap and easy to create and dole out, they can be matched to a player’s skill level thereby making them a universal reward regardless of how experienced you are in the game or not.
    • Known achievements give players something to work toward while hidden ones reward self motivation as players guess and intuit their way to them.
  • Unlockables: Rewards that are more substantive and therefore need to be unlocked. Otherwise, they’re off limits. Anything that isn’t essential to the game can be locked down. The requirements to unlock them can be as flexible as needed. Unlockables appeal to the need for competence because players typically need to master something within the game before they are ready to unlock the reward. It also appeals to the need for immersion because unlockables extend playtime as rewards are doled out over time.
    • Make sure players are aware of the unlockables.
    • Control the difficulty of the task necessary to unlock. Don’t make it too easy or too difficult.
    • Test the unlockables to see if players are actually motivated enough to unlock them.
  • Metarewards: Rewards that are outside the game itself. Examples include Easter eggs and cheats.
  • External rewards: These rewards are a step beyond metarewards and include things like real world money, prizes and special privileges.

Key Questions to ask when designing a game

  • How much motivation will players have to participate?: Every player needn’t contribute to a significant degree. A smaller, but highly dedicated group of players can make up for lack of motivation by the majority.
  • How long will each player contribute?: Consider not only how long people will spend with the game in one sitting, but how often they return in the long run. Greater benefit will result if people come back to the game over time.
  • How many people will contribute?: You want to design a game that will transcend an active minority. It should grow to be as popular as possible among a broad set of contributors.
  • How much do you need to spend to get desired results?: Set objectives for costs related to design, development, launching, marketing and maintaining over time. Then set objectives for the benefits to be derived for the dollars spent.

Best practices for human computational game design (i.e. a game where people’s action result in useful by-products that can be used to solve thorny real world problems- think Google image labeler)

  • The game experience must stand on its own: Whatever you build needs to be enjoyable to play in its own right. You don’t have to hide the fact that its a game, but do need to take the key questions (above) seriously.
  • Bolster quality: Because people vary in their commitment, ability and seriousness, you have to keep an eye on the quality of the game’s output. One way to do this is to have other players verify results by making it part of the game (think Quora).
  • Watch for cheats: People will always look to accomplish something in the easier, most efficient way possible so keep an eye out for how the game might be subverted. Testing helps ferret this out.

Best practices for reframing game design (i.e. a game where people’s real world actions are reframed to be part of the game- think Foursquare)

  • Make it easy to play: People have to bounce between real life and the game so each interaction needs to be easy. Minimize the amount of time it takes to open the game, achieve whatever the interaction is and get back to real life.
  • Create an alternate existence: The game world and real world need to coexist and both be interesting in their own right. Pick a theme or motif for the game in order to temporarily transport the player into its world and then back out.
  • Focus on varied and fresh rewards: Well crafter rewards provide players a compelling reason to play. Any single reward system does not speak to every person so offer different kinds of rewards to attract different kinds of people. Its also important to reinforce the feeling of progress to keep players coming back to the game.

Best practices for real-time reinforcement design (i.e. essentially a reframing type game but with real time feedback- think Nike+)

  • Same ones as for reframing (see above)
  • Specialize: Real time reinforcement works best when it runs alongside a narrow task that the player is engaging in rather than a broad set of tasks.
  • Take advantage of reinforcement schedules: Because you’re tracking the player’s actions, you have the opportunity to shape them by scheduling feedback. Continuous reinforcement is best when new behaviors are being learned. Variable ratio schedules produce the fastest rate of response. Fixed interval schedules produce a burst of activity just around the time that a reward is expected.

Best practices for optional advantage design (i.e. presenting real world actions as optional advantages in the game- think CityVille)

  • Build investment in the experience: remove all barriers to entry, give players a sense of ownership in the game world and give players a sense of incomplete progress toward long term objectives.
  • Keep options optional: Some players won’t participate in optional advantages so let the game be of interest to them nonetheless. Over time, they may change their mind and opt in.
  • Create disproportional rewards: Let the rewards be of greater value than the cost for them is to the player.
  • Don’t allow cheating: It can be a blurry line between disproportionate rewards and outright cheating so keep tabs on the difference. If a reward is too extreme, it cheapens the game for everyone.

Best practices for scheduled play design (i.e. setting game play to occur on a regular schedule- think Amazon’s Gold Box)

  • Validate the schedule: Test how often most players will return to play. Any more or less results in less participation over time.
  • Offer suitable rewards: The perceived value to playing over time is dependent on the reward given. The schedule can be graduated where smaller rewards are granted early on and better ones later after more return visits. A probabilistic schedule makes the reward something that might be won rather than won just for showing up. A competitive schedule lets players compete for rewards at any given time.

State of Social Media at DU

As I make my exit from the University of Denver, I’ve decided to write one last series of posts outlining what I consider the state of social media at the university. To do so, I’d like to use The Community Roundtable’s Community Maturity Model as a starting point. The model is part of the Roundtable’s 2012 State of Community Management report. Below is the model with my determination of where DU sits. One caveat: I’ve ranked DU as a whole in this illustration rather than my department- MarComm- specifically. There’s a lot of variance in terms of social media sophistication across campus, so you may disagree with my overall ranking of DU and that’s OK. It’s probably worth ranking your own unit as a contrasting exercise to what I’ve provided.

My rankings for DU in terms of the community maturity model.

The eight competencies on the Y-axis are the building blocks of a successful social media program. The X-axis contain the maturity stages that organizations go through as their competency increases. Again, some units will rank higher or lower than what I’ve indicated, but as a whole, I’ve placed DU squarely in the “stage 2: emergent community” space.

While DU ought to advance into stage 3 and beyond, it can’t. Our culture of decentralization (endearingly referred to as “the silo effect”) is the root problem (depending on how many onion layers you care to peel). It creates a gulf between stage 2 and 3 which proves difficult for us to cross (and, indeed, most any other siloed organization). While tools and resources like Yammer and the WebEd series of in-person and online workshops were intended to create a mechanism to cross that gulf, they have only achieved limited success, if any. Other initiatives, like the Center for Teaching and Leraning’s video manager tool currently under development and the recently created marketing confab group that pools marketings from across campus together, continually get us closer, but they haven’t yet gotten DU to cross the gulf. So the question is: what will?

To answer that question we ought to ask why we should at all. Clearly, students live and breathe social media, an idea that has (and is) fueling novel ways for people, organizations and information to connect with one another. It provides an opportunity to better connect our community and it’s wealth of knowledge. Yet, DU was late to the game, officially speaking. Without systems, processes and resources for departments to leverage, siloed approaches once again took root with all of it’s associated issues.

As I look back on my 2 year tenure as a social media strategist at DU, I do see a desire across campus, at least on a grass roots level, to create a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. Of course, differing agendas, incentive structures and many other factors keep grass root efforts at the grass roots level. I believe DU needs to undergo fundamental change in terms of centralization versus decentralization before social media (and the web in general) become a springboard to a better student experience, lower costs, greater efficiencies and a model of DU’s desire to be a great university dedicated to the public good.

I’m very interested in reading and seeing the rankings you create for your own unit or for your own institution. Feel free to add rankings, issues, opportunities and anything else that’s relevant in the comments.

Book Notes: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

  • Cognitive friction: the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem changes.
  • “#1 goal of all computer users is to not feel stupid.”
  • Larry Keeley’s three qualities for high tech products:
    1. Capability: what can be done? Supplied by technologists.
    2. Viability: what can we sell? Supplied by business people.
    3. Desirability: what do people want? Supplied by designers.
  • Need and desire are not the same. Desire leads to loyalty.
  • Designing for a minority of users leads to success rather than attempting to accommodate all users. Specificity is key. Find a common denominator and work off of it.
  • Personas are a key to successfully designing a product/service. They must be specific more so than accurate in order for development not to get carried away with edge cases. Don’t average them because that saps the power of specificity. Specificity directs what should and shouldn’t be done in the system. Personas need to reflect users, not buyers or other characters that are close to the product, but not actual users of it.
  • Goals and tasks are not he same. Goals are stable while tasks can change with circumstances yet still achieve the goal.
  • After personas are created and goals outlined, create scenarios. Scenarios should outline user tasks (as uncovered by research and user testing) that achieve goals. You want to eliminate steps to complete tasks and make goal achievement as easy as possible.
  • Two kinds of scenarios: daily use and necessary use. Daily use are most useful and important. They’re the main actions a user performs and also the most frequent. One or two is typical- more than 3 is rare. Users will go from newbie to shortcuts to customization quickly. Necessary use must be performed, but not frequently. Typically more necessary scenarios than daily. Necessary uses don’t require shortcuts or customization since they’re too infrequent for the user. As such, they can safely be less thought through from an interaction perspective.
  • Edge cases can safely be ignored from an interaction standpoint. Include the necessary things needed to do the jobs, but don’t spend much time on them. Edge cases are the place where time and budget can be saved.
  • Less interface and design is better for the end user. An interaction designer’s fingerprints should be nonexistent in the best cases.
  • Inflecting the interface: controls for daily use scenarios should be easily found and used. All other controls for necessary and edge cases can be move to secondary locations.
  • Perpetual intermediaries: the idea that most people will be intermediate level users of a product/service. Beginners are important but people grow out of it quickly. Experts are rare.
  • Ensure vocabulary doesn’t get in the way. Semantics matter. Define things up front so everyone is talking about the same things.
  • Conceptual integrity: from Frederick Brooks, meaning that a single minded vision of a program is the most important ingredient to success.
  • Don’t become a customer driven company doing whatever your customers say to do. Instead, become a vision driven company that allows itself to be informed by customers, but not dictated to by them. Take a longer view of the business, take responsibility, take time and take control.
  • “The central recommendation of this book is that the interaction designer should be the ultimate owner of product quality.

Mastering Difficult Situations

Aside from the ever present issue that decks aren’t nearly as good without the accompanying audio, this is still great advice. And since the audio is missing, I like to add audio in my head as I read the slides. For this one, I chose Marlon Brando’s slow and deliberate pacing that feels nonchalant yet wise and worth your attention. Your mileage may vary on that choice.