Monday, November 15, 2010

This is why the world needs UX designers...

No, not very useful indeed. o_O

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Styleguides & Innovation: Is this town big enough?

When a company first gets started, brand, design and consistency are relatively simple to coordinate. A single designer or a small team can easily know what all the different experiences are and work quickly and effectively together to make sure they are high quality, consistent and on-brand.

When a company becomes a little more successful, grows rapidly and starts branching out a little from it's core value, the cohesiveness of the user experience naturally starts to fragment. This is usually a result of pure logistics, not the quality of the design team (if we assume that the company is smart enough to hire great designers). Reasons for a loss of quality in the user experience of a rapidly-accelerating company can be numerous and varied: Too much work for the original design team to be able to handle, new designers getting hired in while the original designers are too busy with other work to do high quality mentorship around brand & experiences, fragmented office locations, more people, more opinions, etc. etc.

THEN, the company becomes sufficiently large enough where they start to say "Wait a minute!" They recognize the obvious need to reign in all these disparate user experiences, create a strong sense of brand while creating consistent experiences across all of our product areas so that users won't have to re-learn interactions from product to product!

Enter the corporate styleguide.

In the middle phase of a company's growth, the designer will do whatever she can to clone herself or extend her magical powers to cover more of the ever-increasing scope of the business. In this phase, styleguides usually take on the flavor of creating "designer-approved" re-usable widgets & CSS to allow engineers and product managers to self-serve (thus not requiring the full attention of a designer). The great side effect of this approach was more consistency in experiences, even those that launched without full participation of a designer.

Eventually, as the company grows into the latter phase (a very large org), a shift takes place in not only the goals but also the intended audience of these documents. Documentation & enforcement of existing patterns becomes the purpose of the styleguide and small teams of designers are tasked with the creation, upkeep and enforcement of such standards on other designers (no longer a passive source of information waiting, but a gate to getting something shipped). The target audience has shifted from engineers & product people to designers themselves.

The idea is, that if designers know what the standard pattern for a section header, a search result or a list is supposed to look like, they can check the styleguide and conform appropriately. Consistency will emerge and strengthen the brand. In theory, this is a sound assumption. Consistency within a property gives it an air of professionalism, authority and craft that you won't get from a collected set of disparate experiences underneath the same masthead.

The problem arises when it takes more time, effort and energy to document the patterns than it does to create new ones, which generates (a very natural) resistance to changing or evolving them. This is a particularly challenging situation to be in for technology designers because of the pace of innovation usually found within engineering organizations will far outstrip what can be done here.

Now, no one has ever accused me of being a conservative designer, so you must understand my bias. But I am still a classically trained designer and I do appreciate the brand strength that you get "for free" with a heavy emphasis on consistency. For me, however, it starts to become a problem when innovation in design is dampened by a strong desire to conform to the documented standards.

Shouldn't design innovation inform the documented standards? Not the other way around?

How can a company maintain a strong sense of brand, create consistent experiences in order to boost user efficiency from product to product and still manage to iterate, explore and push design boundaries as quickly as engineers push technological boundaries?

I'd like to propose that some riskiness in design innovation, constant change & failing early and often can, in themselves, be core attributes of a very strong brand. And if any company can pull that off, it's the one that I currently work for.

How will we ever know what we could do, if we are simply trying to apply what we've already done?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fast, cheap weeknight meal #2

Like my previous recipe for Cotoletta alla Milanese (modified), here is another of my cheap, fast, mostly healthy weeknight meals.

Rosemary-rubbed pork chop with tomato salad and sauteed mushrooms
Recipe originally uploaded by The Kitchen

This one is particularly simple for me, as I have a large rosemary bush growing in the yard. And I usually have a chop or two in the freezer for just such an occasion. These beautiful trumpet mushrooms were the result of a successful farmer's market trip the previous weekend.

First, Rinse and pat dry pork chops and bring to room temperature. While they are warming to room temperature, chop and mix the following for the rub:
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary 
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1 teaspoon pepper 
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin 
Combine all the spices into a bowl and mix.

Then, rub the mixture over the chops coating all sides. 

If you have a grill pan, coat it in about 1-2 tablespoons of (non-virgin) regular olive or grapeseed oil. Heat up the pan a little first. Toss the chops on for 6-8 minutes per side (depending on how thick). 

While that's cooking, chop some green tomatoes, some mozzarella and some basil for a quick salad. (Greens go bad quickly, so we don't use them that often, but tomatoes keep for almost twice as long).  

I happen to have these beautiful mushrooms from the weekend farmer's market, so I chopped them with some shallots and sauteed them until crispy brown. 

If you are still hungry, drop some dinner rolls onto the oil from the grill pan (for the delicious rosemary flavor) and grill it until crunchy.

Total prep time: 5 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes

This is a meal I usually cook when I've been at the gym, as it's quite a hearty meal (mushrooms & pork) and it fills you up.

Enjoy! Let me know if you have success with this one!

Funny signs we saw at the "Rally to Restore Sanity &/or Fear"

Eat more and larger pretzels (my favorite)

STOP continental drift

For my canadian friends. :)

Our original view, before we got closer. SO MANY PEOPLE! 

Another good one. 

Graphic designers for Bipartisanship

Some guy handed me this sign AND I'M MAD AS HELL!

"If a riot breaks out, I'm totally grabbing an iPad."

"That's just, like, your opinion, man."

Cool desaturated flag.