Thursday, June 12, 2008

Buxton and Design

Bill Buxton, one of the early user experience researchers, came to Portland last night as he was invited by our local CHIfoo.

There is definitely more than a blog post of information to report from this entertaining and enlightening lecture. (the man kept my attention for 2 solid hours, not an easy task)
The Big Idea of the lecture was twofold, in my opinion. He spent time talking about how designers are underrepresented in management and how poorly that effects a company. The larger message was that design doesn't happen in a void. Everything happening socially, economically, physically around that product, service or interface helps to create what the final piece will eventually become.
Some of my favorite quotes and ideas:
  • We need to continue to make the computer go towards the user, not force the user to the computer. In other words, make it intuitive, make it make sense, don't make me have to learn it.
  • "It is not failure, but expansive/expensive? education"
  • Users subjectively overrate what they see
  • Being able to "read" a sketch is as important as being able to make one
  • Figure out what makes you distinct, that's your value. (As a consultant, I think about this one a lot.)
He spent quite a bit of time on sketching and prototyping. The piece that is stuck in my mind refers to a comment about having 999,000 ideas, 998,999 of which don't make it to the product. I would challenge that phrasing. The 998,999 sketches not "used" all are somehow in that final product, and if not, the fact that they are not present was a choice. The choice not to choose, is still a choice. The ideas may not be visibly present, but conceptually, all roads, and all sketches, lead to the product solution.

What struck me most was his ability to seamlessly be an interface designer, design researcher, user experience lead, software architect, design manager -- and probably others. Though we do need to know what makes us distinct, how we add value to a team, that value changes for any given team and the overlap between product/interface and product/service design is becoming muddier and muddier. I believe this is a good thing. If we overcompartmentalize ourselves, we end up with an interface that doesn't fit the product or a service idea from marketing that can't be carried out by the interface designer. The ability to seamlessly flow and wear different hats depending on the group, the project or the topic can help build interesting, well rounded and effective teams.

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