Joseph Marriott BSc (Hons)

Yesterday I was able to collect my results from University to find out what degree classification I’d been awarded and was delighted to learn I will be graduating next month with a First Class Honours degree in BSc ICT. My final year module results were as follows, with the extremely high dissertation mark of 89% being a particularly pleasant surprise:

  • Individual Project / Dissertation – 89% (A)
  • Systems Strategy – 87% (A)
  • eCommerce Business and Technology – 83% (A)
  • Advanced Authoring of Interactive Media – 67% (B)
  • Digital Marketing and Communications – 67% (B)

As the module with the lowest mark is actually dropped from the official classification I achieved an average of 83% for the year, well above the 70% A grade boundary and something I’m incredibly proud of. After taking a few, dare I say well deserved, weeks off from the end of May when exams finished my attention is now turning to the task of finding employment, or at least work experience, in the UX Design discipline. Tomorrow I have an informal meeting regarding a potential opportunity with a local company that contributed towards my dissertation research so we shall see what happens there, and in my spare time I intend to look for ways to expand my UX portfolio of work, even if through completing personal projects at home.

I’m also looking forward to having some time again to really get stuck into design books, blogs and other media that I’ve had to neglect this past year due to university commitments, so I hope to get back on track with more regular blogging.

Dissertation…

So I’ve just printed and bound my dissertation all ready for hand-in and can’t quite believe its finally over (not that I haven’t enjoyed working on it)! The 64 page 24,000 word report is an investigative study into User Experience Design methods within an applied industrial context (I promise its more interesting than it sounds), and takes a look at the UXD processes followed by four companies before developing a model that takes into account a range of contextual factors and how these impact the UXD process, before recommending a set (or toolkit) of UXD methods appropriate for use.

Once marked I intend to upload a shorter version of the report that summarises the key points and provide a greater insight into what I’ve done. Until then I’ve got 2 exams to sit before finishing University (at least at Undergraduate level), and possibly academia as a whole, forever!

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Dissertation Conference Poster

So, we’re halfway through the academic year and for the Final Year Project module I had to create an A1 sized conference poster. This was then displayed in a session (along with many others) where lecturers could come and discuss the project and my progress, and make suggestions as to how they think I should proceed.

It was also the first time I got to meet the lecturer who will be examining my dissertation, so it was a good opportunity to introduce him to the project and its aims, and for him to provide me with his opinions and feedback so far.

Below is a picture of the poster (due to printing restrictions it had to be made as four separate A3 sheets and arranged together into an A1 sized document) that outlines the project aims, what I’ve done so far (green arrows), and what I have left to do (orange and red arrows).

Dissertation Conference Poster
Dissertation Conference Poster: UX Methods & their effectiveness in an applied, industrial context.

Hack A Banana, Make A Keyboard

So you may be thinking I’ve gone mad with a title like that, but bear with me!

I recently stumbled across this wonderful video of a TED Talk by Jay Silver (an inventor/creative/teacher/eccentric and so on) that completely blew my mind! I won’t spoil what he’s come up with and demonstrates in the video but I will say that I completely agree with him when he says that we, as adults, really limit our creativity because we think we know what everything in the world does (or should do). As we grow we become constrained to only seeing how things are “supposed” to work, not how they could work. Take a pencil for example, give one to an adult and they’ll probably draw something with it… give it to a child and they’ll come up with tens or hundreds of other brilliant, unique ways in which it can be used. I guess the best way to unlock this thinking in adults is to give them the freedom and time every now and then to just pick an object and mess with it, without constraints or fear of being told what they’ve done is a stupid or pointless idea.

Anyway, enjoy the video, and I hope it makes you think twice about the way things [could] work… I certainly did.

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum

What a great book. Recommended to me by a lecturer, this book by Alan Cooper was one of the first to really talk about designing for your users (although I read the revised 2004 edition). I should point out however that this isn’t a “how-to” design book; in fact it only focuses on bits of the interaction design methodology in the last chapter. Instead this book presents an argument to businesses as to why they should follow the aforementioned methodology when developing tech products instead of more traditional methods based on long standing misconceptions (i.e. designing will add extra costs to development, designing will delay the shipping date etc) … and Cooper’s message is simple:

Design your products before building them to create powerful yet pleasurable tools for people to use.”

Despite the age of this book, it shocks me to think how many companies today still develop tech products without going through a proper design phase, hence the vast number of products that are still horrible and difficult to use. Thankfully this is now gradually changing for the better because of companies like Apple who have shown the benefits of user centred design by producing products that cause almost “fanatic” behaviour from some of the most brand loyal customers in the world.

Car Stereo Controls

Despite passing my test 3 years ago I’ve only just got my first car and because I haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of driving in the past I’ve only recently noticed how badly designed car stereos, and in some cases, the whole dashboard are. Common sense would suggest that anything a driver needs to interact with whilst driving the car should be designed to be as self-explanatory, learnable and intuitive as possible.

There is one control in particular on my Renault Clio that gets me every time, because it is different to the same control on every other stereo I’ve used. The flaw with the control relates to how we as people perceive certain actions. If I asked you to move the playing CD onto the next track, what icon would you expect to see on the “next track” or “fast forward” button? I’m guessing you’d think of one like in the image below; a button with a horizontal arrow (or two) pointing to your right.

Fast forward / back buttons
Fast forward / back buttons

However, whoever designed the stereo in my Clio decided it would make more sense to place the “forward/back” buttons in a vertical position (see image below). Despite being labelled with the usual icons (the double arrow), because the positioning is different to how we expect to see these controls, I still struggle to remember which button moves on a track and which goes back. (If you must know “Up” moves to the previous track whilst “Down” moves to the next track – I find this to be as confusing as the vertical positioning in the first place; for me “Up” should move the track number up one, i.e. going forward and not back!)

Renault Clio Stereo Controls
Renault Clio Stereo Controls

Annoyingly, the buttons that occupy the horizontal spaces on that round middle section seem rather redundant after first use. As far as I can tell their only purpose seems to be for setting your 6 favourite radio stations and allocating each one of the buttons labelled 1-6 so they can be quickly found again. Although I appreciate not having to search through the many frequencies to find one of my regular radio stations there is surely a better way to allocate them to a number button that would allow the fast forward/back buttons to go in the correct position!

Another thought I had whilst writing this post was where car dashboards and controls will go in the future. Touchscreens? Maybe, but I’m not certain this would be the best form of interface for a driver to control… unlike a passenger who can commit their full concentration to using the interface, a driver must quickly flick between it and road. I have a feeling touchscreen interfaces would invite more bad design; unnecessary screens and buttons that require user input (even if this amounts to tapping an icon) just to achieve a simple goal or overcomplicated symbols to make full use of a “HD colour” display. For me though the major problem is the lack of physical, or haptic, feedback. At least with todays tactile controls a driver can partially look and partially “feel” for the right button, especially if familiar with the general layout of the buttons. Removing this “3D front” and replacing with a flat touchscreen means the driver is totally reliant on looking.

Objectified

A while back I wrote about the documentary Helvetica, a film about the design of typefaces produced and directed by Gary Hustwit. I recently came across another of his films, Objectified, which looks at our relationship with manufactured products and their designers. Like Helvetica, Objectified features in depth interviews with some of the worlds most renowned designers who discuss their creative process and thoughts on the evolution of design. I’ve picked out some of the designers key points (and my favourite bits) below.

Dan Formosa & Davin Stowell (Smart Design)

Clients often come and say this is our user and give the average; for example “woman, 30 years old, 2.4 kids etc” and we say, thats really interesting, but we don’t care. If we are to design a great product, then we need to know the extremes – the strongest/weakest, oldest/youngest users and so on. If we get it right for these guys then the “middle” or “average” user will take care of itself.

Dieter Rams

Dieter outlined his “10 principles of Good Design”:

  • Good design should be innovative
  • Good design will make a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic design
  • Good design will make a product understandable
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is long lived
  • Good design is consistency in every detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible.

Jonny Ive (Apple)

When designing with his team at Apple they look at different attributes of the design… for example, the materials they can use, the form connected to these materials, and how a user will be able to physically connect to the product (e.g. for an iPhone everything comes through the display). He also discussed the difficulties, and rewards, of designing something using as few parts as possible – the Macbook aluminium unibody enclosure for example. For the Macbook it was more like designing a process that enabled the product to be made from 1 or 2 parts than simply designing the end product.

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec

Design is about creating an environment where people feel good – and recognising that when people make their choices in selecting designs/products, they’re asserting themselves.

Marc Newson

Anger and dissatisfaction play such a motivating role in what we (designers) do. I want to have things that don’t exist yet, that you can’t go out and buy… My job as a designer is to look into the future, its not to use any frame(s) of reference that exist. A key aim is also making things that are non-disposable… that don’t get dated. Marc mentions how watching the moon landing was a huge event for him – it was almost like looking at the future, and this is what he tries to accomplish in his work.

However, this does not mean abandoning everything from the past and present… People have a lot of memories which help give layers to an object – so I use a familiar craft, or something from a familiar culture, or something where you see a human scale; something sewn or iconic.

Karim Rashid

Why do we feel we need to keep revisiting old archetypes? Take the digital camera, their format & proportion – a horizontal rectangle, with the circular lens, “capture” button etc all in the same place/style as old analogue cameras. These analogue cameras had a form that was defined by the films used. We don’t use films anymore, so why do we still use the form designed to house films? There’s something almost perverse about how we live, its like we’re afraid to admit we’re in the 3rd technological revolution. I have an iPod, mobile phone and laptop and yet I’ll go home and sit on my little wood spindle, whittingale-like chairs. It’s strange – its like me working on my computer and then having to go out – what am I going to do, go get a horse and carriage… no!

David Kelley (IDEO)

If you can’t get your GPS thing working in your car, there should be a riot because they’re so poorly designed, but instead they’ll sit there and think “oh, I’m not very smart, I can’t make this satnav work”. I like setting people the test of designing something that gets better with use (his dads leather briefcase…. it will get passed on and gets better with use), there’s very few things that don’t degrade with usage.

Bill Moggridge (IDEO)

Like David Kelley, Bill really believes in the concept of wearing in, instead of wearing out a product. “Create something where the emotional relationship gets better over time, where a user becomes more fond over time.”

Rob Walker (New York Times Magazine)

The film ends with part of the interview with Rob Walker, a journalist who writes about design, who explains his really interesting view on how we relate to products and designs today.

“If I had a billion dollars to spend on a marketing campaign, it would be urging people to make the most of the products they already own. We’re so focused on the new developments that we don’t have space in our brains for the stuff in our attics, or scattered around the home. If you had 20 minutes before the hurricane arrived to pack up the items most valuable to you you’d choose those that have associated memories, or some meaning. You wouldn’t be thinking, “that ‘x’ got a great review on that design blog”, because it doesn’t mean anything to you as a person – it doesn’t reflect your story and who you are.”

Finally, a few other interesting points raised by the other designers in the documentary:

  • Designers now seem to be working less on end products, and more on scenarios that will help people use (existing) products. I hope that in the future designers are the “intellectuals” used when someone is making a “policy” for people.
  • Form vs Function: analogue products were usually able to allow function to follow form. For example, an alien would be able to land on Earth and work out roughly how to use a spoon or chair just through the products form. The microchip/digital age has completely changed this.

For more information about the Objectified documentary visit the official website: http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/about/