Stop-and-Think Design


Post inspired on Challenging Canonical Design, and originally published in Pulse.

Back in the 1800’s a huge creative burst happened as a result of the Industrial Revolution, men creating machinery, machinery creating labels, labels displaying brands, brands being consumed (as opposed to goods). Then we saw the same happening again, and again with the Personal Computers, then the Internet (especially with Web 2.0) and then with Smart Mobile Devices, etc. and the flexible nature of software solutio
ns that they were capable of running.

Graphical User Interfaces, Continuous Integration and The Cloud, allowed us to have the latest information displays in our pockets every day; they depict fancy dashboards that clutter our minds with data we don’t need or dashboards that, oblivious to actual user needs, that try too hard to look pretty. However, the convention of more (of the same) is better or prettier (but the same) is better is pervasive in the digital age, in which we tend to multiply offering suppliers rather than value. Continue reading

Challenging Canonical Design

Or how data and emotions lead into beautiful design.

A while ago, I started tracking my weight daily and having healthier habits, with the hope of losing some of it.

I. The Problem

After a few days of tracking my weight with my Fitbit Aria, all the excitement got eroded with the limitations of their data visualizations. Fitbit, and as far as I’m concerned, many weight trackers display time-series linearly. There’s nothing wrong with line charts, but sometimes, they hide information.

For example, Fitbit’s dashboard displays in a line-chart a week worth of weight/BMI data.


The problem with the image above, is that for someone that has been trying to lose weight, or even worse, someone that has problems trying to lose some weight, it might be a bit discouraging to see it, as data for a week might be missing the big picture; see the image below.

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User Experience Design of Everyday Things

Or the story of: How UX Can be Easily Misinterpreted.

I recently stumbled upon the image above. I initially agreed, since it’s a common conception that User Experience is about removing barriers (like shortening the path) between users (in this case pedestrians) and outcomes (get to their destination). But after a few seconds something made me feel uncomfortable with that conception, which is the notion that User Experience is about making the easiest way the right way of doing things. Clearly the “design” from the image above failed to do.

In the image below, we can identify the path that individuals have forged in order to avoid the boom gate, these trails are called desire lines, which follows user’s perceived path of least resistance between their given situation and their desired goal or outcome.

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How to Write New Year’s Resolutions (from the UX Perspective)

or how working in the Software Development Industry as a UX Designer changed the way I undertake New Year’s Resolutions

A wall with sticky notes with New Year's resolutions written in them.

If one or more of your New Year’s Resolutions look like this, and you really want to stick to them, read this post!

We are arriving fast to that time of the year where we reflect about what we’ve done for the last 365 days of our lives. While reflecting on what we have accomplished is a good practice, taking into consideration what we didn’t accomplish and why, is better and may appeal to your problem-solving personality.

We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us. – W. Churchill.

I started my career as an User Experience (UX) Designer back in the mid-2000s, taking several design decisions every single working day of my life, and that’s why, as much as I try to embed my profession with my own style and personality, I think that UX Design has influenced me as much during the past decade, influencing my daily activities inside and outside work.

We have a nice tradition on Mexico in New Year’s Eve that involves eating 12 grapes while the New Year’s bells are ringing, and with each grape you state a Resolution (my math tells me that this allows for roughly 12 resolutions).

The years went by, and I noticed that my resolutions remained similar year after year: Go to the gym, lose weight, save more, be kinder to people, travel more, etc. But essentially I didn’t accomplish any in a meaningful way, or at least I couldn’t measure their impact in my life.

Working in the Software Development (SD) Industry, specifically in the UX Design has taught me a number of work resources to organize and prioritize software updates and the measure the impact that User Centered Design processes has in software. These same resources are quite handy outside the SD world, like learning how to define User Pain Points, Goals and Problem Statements and how to prioritize work into Potential Shippable Increments (PSI) to get a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). And hopefully after reading this, you’ll get a feeling on how you can use these tools to craft batter New Year’s Resolutions.

The Problem

If your resolutions look like the ones I mentioned above, the intent of the resolutions could be assumed, but relies however, on the context that the resolution is written, if the context changes the original purpose of the resolution gets easily obfuscated; not to mention that it doesn’t allow us to evaluate success.

Traditional Resolutions Set
1. Lose Weight
2. Save Money
The UX Designer’s Resolutions Set
I. Lose Weight Lose 0.25kg weekly so that I avoid the risk of developing diabetes or cardiovascular diseases.
II. Save Money Save $50 weekly so that I can buy the camera I need to become an acclaimed photographer.

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Organizational change through the eyes of Art, UX and Technology

Have you ever considered yourself an Artist or a Designer? If you come from the field of Computer Science or Systems Engineering odds are you haven’t, but you might have more in common with those fields than you think.

A few days ago, a friend (a very experienced but quiet software architect with impressive skills) from the office was sharing his frustrations about how to persuade people in his team to do things his way. And he made me reminisce about my early days in the company where I work for, trying to convince people that we should take care of the User Experience, and tried an analogy based on the things that I went through, and which I describe below.

Vincent Van Gogh is one of my heroes, and I always found Pablo Picasso a little bit cryptic and difficult to understand, but in my head, they both share something more valuable than art: they were change agents. I told my friend that in order to make an impact in the company with all his good ideas, he had to convince people that that was (1) the right thing to do, and that happened to be (2) easier to do. I told him that it wasn’t about him knowing the best software development design patterns, that, his art, such as Van Gogh’s or Picasso’s (or any other’s) relied on people’s appreciation of it in order to be successful, and that no matter how good he was at what he does, his impact was going to be small, if he didn’t manage to communicate it to others. He nodded.

One would assume that making software better (easier to use, improving performance, better looking) would carry more weight while pursuing organizational change, but it might be the other way around. Changing people’s conception of what is right is more difficult. Chris Nodder, in his book “Evil by Design” writes: “Changing [people’s] opinion on something involves [them] admitting that [they] were wrong.” it also says that “People don’t like to change opinions and will [often] ignore counterfactual information”.

So, how do you make people appreciate your “art” in the software-industry form, you may ask. These six points have worked for me to achieve some degree of successful organizational change:

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Designing Photography

How I got selected to be part of a commemorative publication by Yahoo! Mexico in 2008 by using design as a tool.

On a previous post I talked about my understanding of what design was:

Design is not a thing or a deliverable. Design is what happens before the thing, it is hours of assigning purpose and intention to an idea yet to be conceived, to then plan and finally execute.

Would you have ever thought about a photograph being designed rather than made/taken? My guess is that you’ve never heard of a title called “Photo Designer” or something of the like.

In 2008, Flickr launched a photography contest called Muestra tu México con Flickr (in english: Show your Mexico with Flickr). The purpose of the contest was to make some buzz about Flickr starting local operations in Mexico, and to celebrate it’s first year they were going to have an exhibition with the most relevant photos of international photographers that would better represent Mexico. The prize was going to be the photograph printed in a book and an exhibition of the winning photos followed by nibbles in a fancy venue in Mexico City.

At that point I was an active flickr user, and I happened to stumble upon the contest while browsing the site. I decided to submit some photos from my existing collection, but that left me feeling unsatisfied but still determined to be part of the printed commemorative Flickr book.

One day, thinking about what to do to make the cut into the book (or designing the photo), I had an epiphany (which in my terms would be: a realization of design): -Nothing shows Mexico better than a taco stall. I thought. It sounded like a joke, since Mexican epitome  of street food tend to be found everywhere but in photo worthy places, but I gave it a shot (several actually).

The so-called Taco Stall photo.

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The Abstract World Word of Design


I’ve always been amazed by how relatively simple things manage to remain hidden before our very eyes. Once, I was doing some research for a training course I delivered at work; one of the topics, intended that the audience became aware of the difference between abstract and tangible, and I used several different concepts to express that difference (the actual goal was to reduce the level of assumptions we make while trying gathering software requirements).

Is the word truth: abstract or not?

Is the word truth: abstract or not?

In my presentation (for the purpose of telling my story) I mentioned that a concept leans towards the abstract side when everybody knows what something is, but at the time of describing or defining that something, many of the answers differ among the people being asked.

Let me give you an example: Think about the word truth.

Get in a room with 10 people, and ask them to write in a piece of paper the definition of truth. Two things are likely to happen.

  1. People would smile or even roll their eyes at you whilst making the assumption that the task at hand is relatively simple.
  2. When facing the problem, people would not only make, most likely a mediocre effort at describing the concept in a few words (as me and my group did), but also, the answers would largely deviate from the dictionary definition (this point may not apply if you include philosophers in your group).

Now, keep thinking about it for a second, and before you read the definition below, write your definition down, take your time, and compare it with the one below.

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