Kelly Miyashiro
Saturday
Jun022012

Buyer vs User, Enterprise User Experience

In an episode of The Critical Path, Horace Dediu and Bob Moesta discuss cognitive ethnography and user research (they call it "Job To Be Done research") in the context of Apple. He hypothesizes that Apple will be less successful if they enter the enterprise market because they will be forced to take the concerns of the buyer into consideration, as opposed to the user. This is a common refrain when people talk about user experience and enterprise products, "the design must be compromised in order to impress the buyer." I've heard this from both other designers and people telling me directly as an excuse for why we need to build something a certain way.

It's true that an incredible amount of knobs and a long feature list are usually all a manager wants to look at when paring down a list of vendors/products. But it's also true that users traditionally had little to no voice at the table. Today, we see users becoming more vocal and even passionate about the tools they use. This is a result of great design in tools that have traditionally sucked. See Mailchimp, Wufoo, Github, analytics tools of all kinds, Square. All of these, while not exclusively enterprise, have many enterprise and small business users (and therefore buyers). You can be sure that if a user of one of these products moves to another company, they will complain pretty loudly if they are forced to use some piece of shit that makes their life impossible. Once users get used to to an iPhone, it's hard to go back to a Blackberry.

Bad analogy? Actually, that's exactly what's happening in many enterprise companies today. Horace calls it the "consumerization of IT." Users bought iPhones. They like them. They like them so much, they really don't want to deal with a Blackberry at work, they just bring their iPhones instead. They connect to corporate networks, open work documents, email, text, and use apps that access business data. IT departments are now scrambling to find solutions for this non-compliant behavior and find a way to officially support personal devices in the workplace.

If the pattern continues, Horace predicts that, while Apple may not be as successful in enterprise at first, they will eventually be smuggled and forced onto enterprises by users as a result of their superior design.

Ultimately, this is the result of making people love your product. Users determine who wins, not buyers. Make people love your product and company. This is not something you can do on your own; your entire team must have a common value system and genuinely care about about the people they serve (and I don't mean the boss). If your team doesn't share a common value system, it's really really hard to instill one. Man, it's hard.

Saturday
Jun022012

Free Will Theorem

Intelligence is the ability to avoid doing work, yet getting the work done.
- Linus Torvalds

I just listened to John Gruber and Dan Benjamin try to outdo each other in how non-diligent they were in high school. I think I can safely say, I own that domain.

Arguing how much less work you do compared to your friends is not just to prove you are too cool for school. For example, it's impressive if you can get away with doing so little, yet keep up your grades. For me, it wasn't a competition, I really was the most non-diligent student out of my friends and for some reason they just wouldn't admit it.

My non-diligence hit a high (low) point in college when I received a letter from the university explaining that I really was very non-diligent, and as impressive as it was, they might have to kick me out if I didn't get better at it. Despite the letter, I never felt like I had to work; the freedom to work on whatever I wanted (or at least the illusion thereof) allowed me to fully enjoy the work I did. For the last two years of college, I was in an almost constant state of flow while I studied the brain and how we interact with computers. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed the work as much if I had felt the pressure from that letter.

The common saying, "if you start doing what you love for your job, you will no longer love it," is somewhat true. It would be more accurate to say, "if you are forced to do what you love, you will no longer love it." There's another saying about loving people, "If you love him, let him go," that's the one. I could have done some research and looked up all the studies on the psychological effects of forcing activity, but I'm... well, you know.

Search your feelings, you know it to be true

Sebastian Deterding has done research on gamification and what makes things fun or not fun. One of the key factors of play is independence. One example he uses is the cashier position. There's progression of job complexity, feedback from managers, and goals. The missing piece that separates the cashier from a sense of fulfillment and progression is independence.

This applies to other jobs as well. It always surprises me when I talk to really smart people who "get it," and find out that they are kept on a very tight leash by their employer or boss. Why would you hire a talented, smart, creative, and self-motivated team member and then proceed to use them as a dumb tool, telling them what to do. Now that really smart guy is feeling kind of dumb, his creativity is worthless, and that motivation is dropping fast. In high school debate, they call this technique "tooling", where a teammate is used like a blunt instrument by being told what to say during his round of speaking. It's useful if your teammate doesn't know his shit, but otherwise insulting.

Every company has structure; I'm not saying to just let smart people roam free, that would be... kind of awesome, actually. You should give your smart people some direction and have shared vision, values, and goals... then set them free. Do this at the company level. Do this at the team level. Do this at the project level.

You might be thinking, "I'm a highly paid/successful [creative/technical/high-skill occupation], I have way more independence than a cashier. I choose when to take my lunch and I can even work from home! I work in a team and I have a voice at the table." But, does your boss micromanage you? Can you steer projects? Can you choose what to work on (at least some of the time)? Do people listen to your ideas? If you lack independence or free will at your job, your soul will be crushed. It may already be crushed.

Saturday
Jun022012

Caring and doing

I started listening to Back to Work, a podcast with Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann, earlier this year. I then stumbled upon an article Merlin wrote, First, care. While caring is definitely a pre-requisite, I think many creative people suffer from caring too much.

When I was fresh out of school, I probably cared too much about doing things right, or at least a version of right. I read voraciously, studied other's work constantly, and sought out the best resources; I stood in front of that firehose for years, it paralyzed me. If I had to do it over again, I would not have spent so much time observing and spent more time doing. Less input, more output.

The lack of output meant my sense of appreciation and sense of taste developed way faster than my ability. This is how it works for everyone, but I feel like it was a bit extreme in my case. Even though I cared deeply about crafting quality products and experiences of a certain standard, they always fell pitifully short. This quickly started depleting my care, what good was all this knowledge if I couldn't put it to use? This led to even less output. Begin death spiral.

If you find yourself depleting your care, take heart, there's an easy remedy. Become a Doer. Do things in your own style, the way you know they were meant to be. Most often, this means doing things outside of work. Side projects, hobbies, anything to get going and doing things right. For me, that meant learning how to code so I could build instead of just design. The two are really just two sides of the same coin, together they make a whole. Doing not only makes it easy to care, it gives you the confidence and energy to make changes in the areas of your life where things are not where they wish they were. Always be closing (the gap).