Apple came out with their next gen iPod Shuffle today. I'm a huge shuffle fan and I use it as my main portable music device where ever I go. It's a perfect compliment to my addiction for CDs. The size of the previous generation shuffle is perfect, not even noticeable an Apple made the new shuffle even smaller. It appears to be no bigger than a memory stick and it's lacking the volume, play, back, forward buttons, which are now handled by a single button on the headphones. Click once to play; click twice to go forward, click three time to go back. Too cool and too simple. There's a plus and minus button for the volume on the headphones as well.
The thing I like about Apple is that they keep reducing and reducing till they get at the heart of the interaction for the context of use. I use the shuffle when I'm on the go, and I typically don't fiddle with it it much, so for my context of use this sounds great. I will have to goto the Apple store to play with the new shuffle.
Recently I was asked, "Who was doing it well?" I interpreted this as which companies/design firms produce/design products that enable great experiences. So I mentioned the old standby to a question like this, iPhone. Of course the iPhone enables a great experience, but as I started thinking about this after my conversation had ended, I realized that my assumption and pure focus on just the end product was completely off-base. I had been thinking about the part rather than the whole. I didn't immediately think about marco-experiences and micro-experiences.
Macro-experiences encompasses numerous touch points or to put it another way multiple products or services that make up one experience. Whereas a micro-experience is purely focussed on the experience of a single touchpoint or product of the macro-experience. For example the combination of the iPod and iTunes makes up a macro-experience. Using an iPod to play back music is a micro-experience.
So who is doing it well? Not to dig deep, the obvious macro examples are iTunes/iPod, Nike+ and the iPhone as a platform (app store). At a micro level its hard to beat the iPhone. I was going to digress further, but ultimately I think those who are doing it well find a way to perpetuate a conversation with their customers at a macro level and at the same time offer exceptional micro-experiences.
I'm still wrapping my thoughts around all of the content I consumed at Interaction 09. to be honest, I wasn't in a truly contemplative state, but I did have one realization. Maybe it's because, I picked up Buxton's book again to finish it off or maybe it was all of the talk about sketching.
In one of many side conversations you have at a conference like Interaction 09, I was talking with someone who was very concerned about her sketching skill level and the current sketching push. I assured her that sketching is not about skill, but is about generation. I think it would be very presumptuous for me to say that most designers don't understand this, but I would say that they don't articulate it.
Sketching is about generating ideas. Sketching can happen in many different mediums, using different materials. I heard one designer say over the weekend that he uses words to sketch. And in some aspects sketching is used for telling a story. Primarily I use sketching to explore and generate ideas. Whether it's in my sketchbook or on the white board, my crude drawings convey meaning, especially when combined with words. The best thing is that I can easily erase ideas and start over again without much effort and attachment.
As Buxton mentions in his book, design is about elaboration and reduction of ideas. A designer should explore the possibilities before zeroing in on the solution. I would add that there's a piece missing to this thought, definition, but that is for an other blog post.
The bottom line is a designer needs to be generative, exploring ideas and possible solutions. Sketching is one of many tools to do this. Sketching will always be part of my practice, but if there's need for detail or it's time to communicate my ideas to others I always switch to the digital for clarity. I don't think this is a hindrance, I just have a different objective.
- Lesson 1: Designers should be like ecologists, conscious of the integrated system of invisible consequences.
- Lesson 2: Asking the right questions driven by a set of conceptual frameworks can be more important than domain expertise itself.
- Lesson 3: Process documentation is vital, not just for "nice portfolios" but for recording decisions and rationale, capturing knowledge, and providing visual evidence during project reviews.
- Lesson 4: Design can be a challenge, but influencing non-design stakeholders to implement the desired solution is more difficult.
- Lesson 5: Design leadership has hidden dependencies upon peer designers, support engineers, even sales reps.