Monday, October 26, 2009

Columbia's Gotta Brand New Bag

Today, guest speaker Chris Araujo came to speak at my Advanced Studio focused on soft-goods design at the Portland Art Institute. Chris is a Senior Designer of Bags and Accessories at Columbia here in Portland.

Chris shared the very cool bag you see above. The target market is adventure cyclists. Apparently they go on marathon treks (up to 36 hours). The bag has been seen at trade shows and set for market in 2010.

This pack is unique since it is incredibly lightweight, uses triple rip stop nylon and relies on the tension of an infinity-like loop to help the pack keep its shape. It is strong enough to hold fast, but soft enough to absorb the shocks it will likely meet on the trail.

The entire bag is thoughtfully designed with the athlete in mind, allowing easy access during the race to key equipment including their bike repair kit. A "cargo hold" type of net sits inside the flap to keep the items from falling out when the pack is unzipped, but it allow you to reach in and grab items or simply get a quick visual inventory.

The pack has room for a hydration bag and tons of nooks and crannies for assorted items. Personally, I can't wait for the laptop version of this bag. My laptop bag seems to weigh as much as my laptop itself!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Curry-ing Favor of Local Artists

Michael Curry - noted for his work on costumes for the Lion King, several Olympic ceremonies, theaters and operas - was invited to speak tonight by the staff at the Portland Art Institute in a talk open to the public. Curry is an engaging and inspiring speaker for both students and professionals.

Curry started out with a 5 minute video of his work which definitely sucks you in. He shared larger than life "puppets", sculptures, and art that moves physically as well as art that moves you emotionally. He then proceeded to talk for about an hour without the aid of slides or other hocus pocus. He just talked - about art, creativity, craft, and a bit about business.

"Theater," Curry stated, "won't die, due to our desire to be with other people." Despite the popularity of computer graphics, his 3D business continues to thrive and his belief is that it is a backlash against CG. People still want to touch and feel and look at "real" things.

Curry talked about expertise, inspiration, business and innovation. Below are a few salient points from this talk.

On becoming an expert:
Curry quoted world renowned cellist YoYo Ma on expertise. Ma stated that 10,000 hours of practice outside of an academic setting pushes you from practitioner to expert. That breaks down to about 5 years at 40 hours a week. Sounds about right. Where I disagreed was when he talked about not needing talent or special skills, but that practice will always get you there. Being one who spent years drawing and making things and being artsy, I have still fallen back to the verbal world where I just have a keener knack and am more comfortable. Maybe I never got the 10,000 hours of drawing time in, but I became convinced at around 2,000 that though I can get a point across as needed, and sketch out concepts for clients, my sketch art alone would not keep me in kibble no matter how long I practiced. [Since writing this, I've started reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. He has a whole chapter on the 10,000 hour theory if you are interested in reading more on the phenomenon.]

On inspiration:
The new economy continues to inspire Curry's work in new ways. The need to continually reduce shipping costs has created a new challenge and the studio is doing a lot of work around inflatables and origami to meet these needs.

Curry reported a story about a choreographer for Momix who does his best thinking while riding his bike, listening to the music for the next show.

Curry himself uses 10.30 at night in his barn with a cup of tea to sit down with a new script and grab the "golden minute" that time you enter into something new and trust your intuition to see where it will take you.

On business and success:
Be the coach. Be sure your team feels like they get to the end together.

Say yes to the right projects.

Have a post-mortem, discuss why things worked and why they didn't.

On innovators:
Curry favors scientists. Tesla, Galileo, Nostradamus. These men inspire his work.

I encourage you to explore his site from the link above. His work is beautiful, fanciful, mystical and most of all it sure looks like they are all having fun. The audiences enjoy it too.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

User Testing Software - no good news

In preparing for a new round of user research testing, I decided to take another look at what the offerings are to capture the testing, since the technologies change so quickly. Unfortunately, the changes are not quick enough and the solutions are still woefully unsatisfying.

For round 1, we used Camtasia which was fairly easy and captured the information as expected. The downfalls are that it captures data on only one computer (no remote view) and exporting the video for use in Final Cut Pro was a bit of a nightmare - though we are smarter about how to do that now (several hair pulling days later.)

My testing goal is to do synchronous, moderated, in person testing. There will be a test computer and a remote computer where one or more people may view from another room. It would be great if the set up allows notes to coordinate with the video. We need to see the screen and the user and capture audio. This all needs to be done real time, not remotely.

Morae - The Hercules of the bunch. Allows viewing from a second computer, note taking real time in conjunction with tasks, video recording of the users face as well as recording the screen. The downsides are cost (particularly for small businesses) and the fact that their proprietary movie software makes it incredibly difficult to export and manipulate in Final Cut Pro.

Wondering about using User Vue and Morae Manager to accomplish what Morae Recorder and Observer accomplish. I may look into that further, but am guessing there is a good reason not to.

Silverback - Fun, easy software, but it lacks robustness. You can capture images from one computer screen and video of your user during testing. There is no way to view your testing from another room or take notes in line with your testing. It also only works on a Mac. However, for less than the cost of a Morae bundle, you can buy a Mac and a copy of Silverback.

My favorite, though convoluted solution of the moment is courtesy of Todd Zaki Warfel on the IxDA site. For all of the information, visit this thread. The basic solution consists of:
  • Two (2) Intel based Macs allowing testing on both Windows and Mac
  • OS X's built in screen sharing to view the test participant's machine and opening an iChat session to get the picture-in-picture and have audio
  • Recording with SnapZPro
Do you have a favorite User Testing set up? If so, please share! The jury is still out.

As this seems to be a constant topic of conversation in the interaction design community, I plan to continue sharing my findings for research round 2!