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Zef’s Management Ethos

Now that I have over seven years experience leading and managing Design/UX teams, I’m clear on what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve never been a “command and control” manager – the type who is authoritative and decisive and usually has their team living in fear. My approach in recent years has been to be the quiet one working diligently behind the scenes, doing what I could to keep my team cohesive, happy and productive. Some call it “leading from behind”.

I’ve since learnt that teams need different styles of leadership at different times – sometimes leading the way to set clear goals and a vision, and sometimes getting out of the way so others can have their turn in the limelight.

Now I believe the spot to be is somewhere in the middle or just to the side – I don’t mean passively sitting on the sidelines, but actively jogging (or sprinting) alongside the crew, dipping in and out as needed to help them up or egg them on. This gives them just enough autonomy that they have real control and ownership of their work. It also allows people to stretch their capabilities, learn, grow and keep getting better.

I had struggled to find similar management styles to mine until recently, when I came across August de los Reyes (Principal Director of Design at Microsoft) and Freidoon “Doon” Malekzadeh (Senior Director Of UX & Design/Creative Director at Samsung). They’ve documented their approaches to management and it has inspired me to do the same.

So, I’ve stolen chunks of this from Doon who stole it from August. Both have encouraged folks, as I now encourage you, to steal this document and adapt it as you see fit. I plan to use this to remind me of my promises to you (if I’m ever your manager or director), and as a guide for anyone new who joins my team.

I trust my crew

If I have hired you, or you’ve been invited to join my crew, it’s because you’re smart and talented. I am happy to give you a fair degree of autonomy, trust your judgment and support your decisions (even if I disagree with them).

I’m likely to drop hints and make suggestions about what I think you should do or not do, but for the most part I’d say “I trust your expertise”. I will always give you my opinion if you ask for it (and sometimes when you don’t). However, there will be times where I feel strongly about something… and I’ll let you know and tell you why.

As a leader and manager, I’d much rather walk/jog/run/sprint alongside you to support and enable you. If you need direction from me, I’d ask you to be a “list maker” as opposed to a “list taker.” This gives you the opportunity to think for yourself what the right thing to do is while giving me the opportunity to provide feedback (instead of just telling you what to do).

Also…

• Think of me as the band manager (you’re the talent).
• I want to empower you and my crew to do what you need to succeed – once you’re on your way I will do my best to give you space to do your job the way you see fit.
• I do not raise my voice, yell, or have tantrums – I resolve conflicts with dialogue. After all we are adults.
• I will quietly drive and push you to succeed (if you succeed, then I’m doing my job).
• I will do my best to defend you and take blows for the crew as needed.
• I will never take credit for your work (but will bask in your glory and skite about my team’s achievements).
• Finally, it’s my job to create and nurture the frameworks (design and UX principles, strategy, plan, working environment etc.) for you to be successful. By fending off issues and solving problems behind the scenes, I strive to enable my crew to perform to their highest potential and be rock stars.

I’m not a machine, you’re not a machine

Your health and family come first

If you have personal or family issues that you need to attend, make them your priority. Just make sure to let me know when you will be gone, when you’re likely to return and the possible impacts of your absence – I’ll deal with those for you. When you’re away, focus on yourself or the people who need you. There are no expectations about you being online responding to work issues.

Give your best, then recharge

I don’t believe that a 24/7 work schedule is productive or sustainable, so you will rarely hear me ask anyone to work night or weekends. If this keeps happening then it’s a sign that either you or I are not managing our time very well (or somebody has unrealistic expectations). Of course, there are times where we need to stay in to meet a deadline – these are an exception, not the rule. I don’t want you to burnout – that’s not good for anybody. I expect a productive 40-hour week – not 50-60-or more.

Take holiday breaks

We have holidays for a reason. If at certain times of the year, you have banked more than 160 hours, you may receive a message from me reminding you to use it. There is never a perfect time to take a break. All I ask is that you give myself and the teams who rely on you plenty of notice so they can plan ahead to manage the gaps while you’re away.

Let’s not get too serious

Our industry can be incredibly complex and stressful and we need to counteract that with some light humour. I’ve had crew members in tears and angst over their work, dealing with difficult people or personal issues that are weighing on them. Sometimes work sucks and I’ll do my best to support you to get out of that hole. Usually though, laughter is the best medicine. Without going overboard, feel free to have some fun, share a joke, think up some clever (but not too annoying) pranks or play us a song.

I want your work to have meaning

Why are you being asked to do this?

The product or service we are working on will be better if we understand why it exists (its purpose) and we have empathy with the people who will experience it. We then need to understand the opportunity or problem we’ve been called on to resolve, the best way to approach it and ensuring we have the right people to make it a success.

• Does the work you’re doing make sense to you?
• Do you know who we are doing this for?
• Are we utilising you and your skills to the fullest?
• Are you excited about what you’re working on?

If ever you are unclear on any of these, let me know and we’ll get it sorted.

I try to run things smoothly

Catch-ups and performance feedback

I schedule catch-ups with each of my direct reports every couple of weeks, but I’m happy to meet any time you feel the need. This is your chance to let me know how you and your work is going. Unless you tell me, I might not be aware of what’s going on. Don’t assume I already know – I don’t hang around the water cooler! Our discussion will cover your highlights, performance and challenges, as well as an opportunity for you to let me know how I’m doing as your manager.

Work Hours

There are no hard and fast rules when I expect you to be at the office. We are all adults and I’m not your babysitter. You do not need to ask my permission to go to the doctor, take the occasional long lunch break or take care of errands during the day. Just let me know when you will be gone and for how long. Use your own judgment about how you structure your day and manage your workload. Think about the possible impact on others if they’re relying on you for something. Keep them informed.

Decision Making

Business decision-making is not a single individual’s responsibility. Get involved, speak up. We are driving the business together and to make the best decision we need your input. I recognise that we all communicate differently, so if you’re an introvert and prefer written communication, sketching diagrams or interpretive dance, that’s fine. Just let me know it’s on the way and make sure I get it while the topic is still warm.

Design Reviews

I encourage you to show me work in progress. I’m not a fan of big surprises and I like to contribute my thoughts and critique early in the process. If I have a strong point of view or insight and you choose to ignore it, I would like to understand your reasoning. I’m not precious about my ideas, so long as you have a better one.

Meetings

Where possible, explore and resolve problems on the studio floor by having direct discussions with your team members. Open dialogue is key. If calling a meeting then make its purpose clear and only invite the people who need to be there. If it can be wrapped up in 15-30 minutes, great. Sometimes longer meetings are required, but anything over 90 minutes is too long. That’s not a meeting, that’s a workshop (so you’d better have snacks and good coffee organised!).

Collaboration

Collaboration is essential in any project and this requires you to be inclusive and proactive. The way you communicate, negotiate, and interact with other team members will have a bearing on the success of the project as well as your trust in each other. Have respect for the expertise of your crew members and those from other teams. If you’re having trouble communicating with each other come talk to me, I may have some solutions.

Career Development

Career development is a partnership between you and me/your manager. I am here to help you get where you want to go, but I expect you to be the driver (it’s your life, you’re in charge).

Praise

This is one of my blind-spots both at work and at home. I often forget to praise good work or celebrate achievements. This doesn’t mean I don’t care. I take great satisfaction in seeing my crew members succeed and grow. Feel free to prompt me when you believe yourself or a team member deserves recognition.

Open Communications

Our industry is full of complexities and gotchas, so effective communication is vital. I encourage open and constructive communication. You should feel comfortable pushing back if you disagree with something and feel free to come and talk to me about anything.

Transparency

In the spirit of open communications, I am a believer in transparency. I know what it’s like to be only given ‘half the story.’ However, that does not mean that I will tell you everything; if you ask me a question and I don’t know the answer, I will say, “I don’t know.” If I know the answer and can tell you, I will tell you the answer; if I know the answer but it is not appropriate for me to tell you, I will say, “I know the answer but I cannot tell you.”

I expect my crew to be excited

The Power and the Passion

Show up to work and be excited. You’ve landed on your feet in the growth industry of our era, and it’s full of wonderful possibilities. Hunger for knowledge, find your super-power and become an expert in your field. Read and share what you learn. Challenge the norm. Ask why, form opinions, defend your opinions, and other people’s opinions if you agree with them, and good ideas in general. Gracefully pivot when your idea is not the best.

Learn from Your Mistakes

Mistakes happen. Learn from them. Repeated mistakes are the ones to avoid.

I am here, and there

Social Networking

Feel free to link, friend, follow me etc.

• Facebook: I don’t usually ‘friend’ colleagues I am currently working with as the line between being your boss and your friend can get blurred. If I don’t accept your friend request, don’t take it personally. I still like you.
• LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/zefamedia
• My personal website: https://zefamedia.com

the best ways to reach me are
  1. Via Slack, Teams or wherever our team hang out most
  2. In person
  3. Email: Via my work email first. If no response then try my personal email
  4. Text: +64 21 619 629
  5. Mobile: I nearly always have the ringer turned off so will rarely answer. Leave a message or text me.

I look forward to working with you!

Cheers,
Zef

Learning and growing together.
Learning and growing together.

Having fun with the crew.
Having fun with the crew.

My talented crew at Powershop (2015)
My talented crew from Powershop on one of our regular lunch dates (2015).

You’ve mastered UX. Where to next?

While User Experience is, like, at least six occupations rolled into one, it’s still possible to reach a point in your career when you’re asking yourself – “There must be more to it than this!”

Time for a bit of a shake-up?

1. Carry on as usual but shift into a different industry

While designing a page control for your millionth mobile app might cause your eyes to roll, context (and content) is king right? Try moving into a different industry – say, from finance to real estate. This will present you with fresh learnings and challenges.

2. Go freelancing

While this is similar to shifting industries, it could mean immersing yourself in many different types of industries in short bursts. You’ll need to be more self reliant –  but like Bear Grylls, you’ll probably have a more edgy and exciting life.

3. Move into team-building and management

That’s what I’ve done, and this presents a whole different set of challenges. Helping others learn and succeed is a great reward for the soul, but on the flipside, you’ll be taking on way more responsibility for the business outcome and the people. Unless you’re working for a small agency or start-up, you’ll have far less time to be a UX practitioner (the actual research and designing). On the plus side, it’s lucrative and you’ll have more control.

4. Specialise

You could become a specialist in one particular area of UX, such as Interaction Design. The issue is, look at the job ads. Employers want “T-shaped” UX generalists – from strategy to user research to prototyping to frontend coding. You’re expected to be an expert in “everything UX” and there appears to be little appreciation of specialists.

5. Change occupation (kind of)

I’ve been looking into other roles on the periphery of UX that also have rising demand. Two areas in particular jump out at me – Product Management andService Design.

Product Management

Many UX experts will make great Product Managers!

Not to be confused with Product Owner, the “Product Manager” is the person who owns the product road map, advocates for the product internally, and represents the customer in meetings with development.

Christina Wodtke (Owner, Wodtke Consulting) says there are three flavours of Product Managers: engineering, business analyst and UX:

“The Product Person is T-shaped, caring both about the user and the business, and often fights about that submit button because she worries about click-through. This is part of a host of responsibilities she juggles, along with acquisition, retention, that upcoming software rearchitecture and the metrics review.”

But typically people in Product Management roles are from a technical or programme management background. Why is that? Because a Product Manager is seen as the person driving the delivery of product initiatives that will benefit the business. People who ship stuff tend to get these roles.

However, Product Management also entails product strategy, customer engagement and sign-off on deliverables – all areas familiar to seasoned UX professionals. So, while shipping stuff is important, shipping the right stuff is even more important. The best Product Managers I know work very closely with UX experts to ensure this is the case, but I know a number of UX professionals who feel frustrated that they aren’t the ones driving the product strategy. Time to muscle in and take control?

Service Design

UX is a subset of Service Design, and therefore the assumption is that UX designers have a very narrow focus – that is, limited to digital experiences and specific to the customers who use that service.

While that might be true of a person in the early stages of their UX career, in my experience most senior UX professionals are practising Service Design by default. They just don’t call it that!

Laura Keller (Senior Director at NTT DATA Americas), describes it like this:

“Service Design, views all interactions across the people involved (not just the customer), the processes, the systems, the spaces, the devices, etc. and the service transaction is happening successfully only as a result of the participation and orchestration of the above, in real-time.”

The more experienced UX experts I know certainly strive to understand and influence the end-to-end service, even when they are working on just one aspect of it. The difference is that they often don’t have the authority to widen the scope of what they’re responsible for, but they will go and hunt down the people responsible for a certain area of the service if they identify a problem or opportunity.

I’m sure this is too simplistic a viewpoint in the eyes of a hotshot Service Designer, but the point I’m wanting to make is that UX professionals have the right mindset and transferable skills that I think would make them fantastic Service Designers, given the chance.

Where to next?

User Experience is a diverse field of disciplines and methods. Just because someone has “UX” in the their job title shouldn’t preclude them from roles on the periphery of UX. In fact, you’ll likely discover that a seasoned UX professional is actually better qualified than someone less experienced with the perfectly matched job title.

And if you’re a UX pro – have you sidestepped into a new role or career? Share how you did it!

Still trying? Identify your transferable skills and share your achievements, told from the perspective of a person who already has that job title. It may convince the recruiter that you have the right underlying skills and experience to do the job.

Go for it.

I’m going on a power trip

After a wonderful five-plus years as the “UX Guy” at Click Suite I’m making a move to the pink palace in Newtown – Powershop HQ.

I’ve continuously looked ahead to the next big thing and one reason I joined Click Suite is because I saw the touch-gesture revolution coming.

Turns out, good move!

I got plenty of that sort of experience working here – in a big way – from our award-winning Fast, Fresh & Tasty recipe-app for the iPhone to the three-metre touch-table for the National Library (where you can explore your personal connections to life in New Zealand).

And, recently, I’ve helped design a massive multiplayer game for Museum Victoria – where a team of players can move physical objects – to trigger an augmented-reality landscape to build a futuristic city (this is being installed in Melbourne as I write).

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River Rocks

My very first project at Click Suite was a simple little game called “River Rocks”.

A take on shot-put, the game was aimed at primary-school children. And what do Kiwi kids love to do? Throw stones into rivers!

The game allowed the player to select a rock, pine cone or toy boat and thrust it into the river. The goal was to try and beat Valerie’s score, which meant throwing it clean across the river. But watch out for the whirlpools and electric eels!

riverocks

Some of my other favorite projects completed during my time at Click Suite…

Hiko

Hiko: Legends Carved in Light combines world class projection technology and the sacred spirit of the carved house Mataatua to bring to life the ancestral stories of Ngāti Awa.

As part of this unique project I got to walk in the footsteps of the ancestors of Ngāti Awa on a glorious autumn day in Whakatane.

The Pollinator

We took three common New Zealand insects – the honey bee, monarch and native hoverfly – and set them loose in an amazing virtual rose garden.

The goal for the visitor was to pollinate six roses in a row. Achieving this took a bit of knowledge, timing and strategy to ensure their roses would be successfully pollinated every time.

Cheers – Is my drinking normal?

This interactive quiz allows you to reconstruct your last session of drinking, then experiment to see what a few small changes would have made to your blood alcohol levels, your budget and your health.

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Taranaki Stories

A wide touch-screen with a timeline of photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts – exploring true stories from Taranaki’s history.

Smart Pack

We built a prototype webapp called “Smart Pack”. Here, customers can simply print out the New Zealand Post logo, stick it on their item to be posted, and hold it up to their webcam.

What they see is a 3-D hologram of the package wrapped around their item, helping inform them of the right bag or box size to purchase.

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The Suite Spot

As part of Click Suite’s sponsorship of Webstock ’09 we made an experimental interactive experience for conference participants. It was a huge hit and a glimpse into what was possible with remote gestures.

The SUITE SPOT also took live data feeds from blogs, Twitter, Flickr and SMS messages then ‘repurposed’ all of this into an exploratory scene which grew and reacted to the constant stream of incoming content.

People could then view this content on the web; a large screen in the main auditorium; or, via a gestural interface in the main foyer. Futuristic, fun and a very cool project to be part of.

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Some pretty interesting stuff eh?

What also made this job fantastic were the people I got to work with day-to-day – my work colleagues, our clients – and the many members of the public I observed during usability testing as they attempted to drive our our prototype designs!

So, why am I leaving such an awesome job?

I’ve decided that it’s simply time for a new challenge working with yet another awesome company…

Powershop is an online power company who have shaken-up the electricity industry with their attitude, upstart marketing and, above all, a fantastic customer experience.

Now their competitors are playing catch-up. But they don’t have Ari. And they don’t have the loud pink. And they are only just beginning to get to know their customers. And that’s where the Powershop design team, with my guidance, will keep making the magic happen.

 

zepower

NZ Govt Set to Mothball Economic Powertrain

In a myopic move the New Zealand Transport Agency has nixed a proposed rescue package that could have saved the long-running Capital Connection rail service. In the process they will be killing-off a productive little economy that has been thriving for over 20 years.

Their excuse is that removing the service won’t lead to traffic congestion between Palmerston North and Waikanae, but blindly ignore the fact that the 150 people on that leg of the journey are not heading to Waikanae, but Wellington (a further hour away). This part of the Wellington motorway already has congestion at peak hours.

They also mislead the public by repeatedly quoting a figure of 150 passengers, which actually excludes the extra passengers who hop on the service at Waikanae and Paraparaumu. So the actual number of people affected at any one time is more like 200-300.

But what they’re actually doing here is axing, not a train service, but a living and thriving community of mainly business people. I liken it to wiping out an economic powerhouse of hundreds of people, which, in an economic downturn (let alone any time) is madness.

In fact, the owners own website purport the business-friendly nature of this very service:

“Turning commuter time into office time… The Capital Connection makes the trip to and from the office easy and comfortable, traveling non-stop between Paraparaumu and Wellington Station. You’ll have time to sit back and relax, sleep, read, take in the view from large, panoramic windows, or use the time productively to catch up on your work.”

Here’s my reasoning as to why I believe ditching this service is economic madness…

RELIABILITY
From a personal perspective I catch the Capital Connection from Kapiti as it’s very reliable (almost always on time) and I’m prepared to pay a premium to have this.

In previous years (and even recently) when I’ve taken TranzMetro trains I’ve frequently been delayed, hours late or even stranded in Wellington.

WORK-LIFE BALANCE
I’m fortunate in that I have an agreement with my employer that I can arrive at work a bit later and leave a bit earlier and then make up the time by working on the train on my laptop.

This isn’t possible on a TranzMetro train as there are no desks. An iPad won’t cut it for the sort of work I do (User Experience Design). Vitally, it means I get home at a reasonable hour (6:30pm) to see my young children before bed-time.

PRODUCTIVITY
Since having this arrangement it has been much better for my family, but also my employer. I’m actually doing more productive hours even though I’m spending less time in the office.

And I’m not the only one…

I’ve noticed that a lot of other people do productive work on the Capital Connection – it enables this as the train has large desks and power outlets for laptops etc.

This work cannot not be done as effectively or at all on a bus, TranzMetro train or while driving.

NETWORKING
Unlike other public transport, many people on this train communicate with colleagues, friends and strangers. They discuss, debate and even conduct business. How many great ideas or business deals might have come from these networking opportunities over the past 20 years this train has been running? Impossible to measure but the point is, the Capital Connection is a hub of intellectual and business activity – that has to be good for the economy right?

ECONOMIC COST
I’m wondering, what would be the economic cost of all these people not being able to do an extra hour or more of work each day on the train?

I worked it out for myself – the Capital Connection commute for me creates an additional 4-8hrs a week where I’m usually working on a project, idea or pitching for new work – much of this is work I would not get around to doing otherwise. It would be delayed or not happen at all, so taking away this train will have a real impact.

The productive capital from this over a year is in the tens of thousands of $ for the economy. And that’s just for my output alone.

Now extrapolate that out across the other working commuters – many who are senior business people.

Even assuming just 10% of the train is doing productive work, that’s worth much more than the $2,770k per person the Government has estimated as the annual cost of subsiding the service (note, NZTA’s figure ignores commuters from Kapiti, so the amount per head is actually far less).

And besides, other similar train services such as those from the Wairapapa are subsidised, why not the Capital Connection?

SOCIAL COST
If the Capital Connection is removed I’ll have to make up some of the lost hours a day I spent working on the train elsewhere, which makes my day longer and not at all good for my young family. I’m sure most other people on the Capital Connection will be in a similar situation.

WAKE UP GOVERNMENT!
Refusing to subsidise this train service will cost the country in more ways than one. It will be bad for the environment, bad for the economy and has a social cost as well.

References:
Stuff
Scoop
Greater Wellington
Save the Capital Connection
 
Photo:
KiwiRail publicity shot for the Capital Connection

Keeping sucking and carry on

DJ FiESTA! 1995. Photo Otago Daily Times.

To others I apparently appear self-confident, but in reality I suffer from a fairly regular sprinkling of self-doubt.

Too often I feel like my work might not be good enough, that I don’t spend quality time on things and that there’s someone better than me who could be doing my job, my parenting, my home maintenance, my hobbies…

I wonder if this stems from something in my childhood?

At school I would overcook everything into wonderful visual presentations – possibly to compensate for my stutter – some days I could barely get a word out. Being the child of a single mum in the ’70s I was also a lot poorer than many of my colleagues. They seemed to find life a lot cruiser and comfortable, and seemed smarter than me. It’s a hard feeling to shake-off even today (despite the reality that I’m probably better off than a lot of people).

But I now think that the problem stems from the fact that I should have ‘sucked’ at things more in my youth.

Instead I only did things I was good at, or reached a level where I was pretty good, then gave up when it came to moving to the next level.

I gave up on learning an instrument, writing a book, pursing a career in film.

Kathy Sierra has researched what makes people experts, and one major ingredient is other experts.

All my life I have rejected role models. I don’t have a favorite actor, inventor, musician, entrepreneur, hero… I’ve never really had a mentor or guide and I’m used to just working it out for myself. I rarely even read books or manuals. Most of the books on my desk I’ve only ever skim-read.

I’ve been fiercely independent most of my life and as a result have learnt the hard way.

Now I’m in my not so youthful 40s I’m coming to realise that I perhaps what Kathy Sierra taught me is true – I should have been more of a hero worshipper, sought out mentors and surrounded myself with experts in my fields of interest.

Hanging out with experts is how you learn and get better at something – through simple observation of an expert at work – or proactive engagement where they teach you their techniques or share their thought-processes.

This all dawned on me last Saturday night when I observed a master at work.

He was so good at his job that he made it look like play. His audience was not only mesmerized but he was also feeding off the reaction of his audience – working the room and his equipment to orchestrate a wonderful and powerful experience.

Now some of you may think that a DJ simply plays pre-recorded music and mixes between tracks with fairly accurate beat-matching. If that has been your experience of dance parties then you have seen a DJ who is either inexperienced, playing it safe or is obsessed with technology and not the music.

A great DJ goes far beyond that – it’s all about the audience – the dancers and becoming one with crowd.

Derrick May gets this.

He is a performer who DJs by sculpting the music and reading the audience – his equipment is what he uses to mould the music and react to the people – and he’s incredible to watch… using a plethora of music formats and devices to shape the soundscape.

He made it look so easy. I guess that’s the result of over 25 years on-the-job training and experience!

I started Djing myself around 20 years ago, not long after Derrick May’s own career started to take off.

I was known as DJ Fiesta! and DJ Java – performing professionally with a residency at Bath Street in Dunedin and in front of hundreds at warehouse parties and festivals such as the Winter Solstice and The Gathering.

People tell me I was darn good at it – back then had a unique style of layering ethnic music over hip-hop, techno and jungle.

Despite having a bit of a following, and even fan letters, I still didn’t feel good enough. A new wave of hip-hop DJs who could scratch up a storm made me feel admiration, but also inadequate. I couldn’t match their skills.

What I should have done is asked them for advice, hung out with them more and pushed past the suck-threshold. Instead I did my own thing and eventually gave DJing away completely in 1999, after 5 short years.

If I’d stuck with it, and hung out with experts, I’d be 13 years more awesome today.

So at the Derrick May gig I was watching and learning and thinking. “Damn… I used to do that!”

I guess I saw in him the potential I had in myself but never followed-through.

So, my message to you…

Don’t give up if you think you suck at what you do – so long as you are passionate about what you’re doing – you will almost certainly get better with time, and if you need an expert, a mentor or a hero… hunt them down!

My new hero – Derrick May – the ego on this man!
 

So it’s about time I updated my blog isn’t it?

Well…

…I don’t have a plan but it looks like I’m back. I think I’m going to be less glossy and a bit more gritty from now on.

You’ll not only be hearing about my adventures in Experience Design but whatever’s rocking my world right now.

I’ll reveal more about my personal life, thoughts and dreams.

Let me know how it’s going because I’m sometimes not sure.

On, why I stopped blogging…

2010 was awesome. I’d been blogging here for 7 years, had regular followers in the tens of hundreds, built up the confidence to enter my blog into a competition and won.

Then my website was hacked.

I don’t know if this was just coincidence but the timing sucked. I tried to roll the site to a backup but somehow the blog posts came back looking like scrambled tofu.

In the meantime (due to the hackers) my website was/still is blacklisted by Google and anyone who comes across search results for my site may see adverts for pharmaceutical drugs instead. Don’t take them.

Despite fixing it and my numerous requests – Google still aren’t listening.

But I soon bounced back, and had a few months of blogging infographics experiments.

Then life got a bit dire. Not just for me but a lot of people.

The economy was bombing, friends were losing their jobs, and I was freaking out about my own situation with the reality of being the primary income earner for a family of four (I’ve been very fortunate to have an employer who rode out the storm and now we’re doing great).

At the same time a family member came down with a serious illness which redirected a lot of energy, time, money and emotion (amazingly, despite the odds, she’s still with us).

On my own realisations…

My own health hasn’t been great either.

I’ve been on swings and roundabouts from hyperthyroidism (over-active) to hypothyroidism (under-active). Fortunately I’m now getting good treatment and on a more even keel.

Since I was around 16 years old I’d been smack-on 57kg (9 stone) – no matter how much I ate – probably because my body was in constant overdrive.

I was a vegan junk food addict

Then, suddenly, I shot up to 85kg (13 stone)! Nothing fitted me anymore, and the clothing bill sky-rocked too.

It’s actually a good thing I’ve put on weight (I was far too skinny anyway). I got away with looking fit and trim when, actually, I was a Homer Simpson hidden in a skinny vegan’s body.

So for the past year I’ve been concentrating on my health – going to the gym a few times week, skateboarding (never too late to start) and walking at least 30min a day. I’m also eating better – less junk food – and I have the secret ambition of becoming a vegan athlete – like these rather overly gorgeous people.

Just give me another couple of years 🙂

I feel really great when I exercise and my constantly recurring back problems have also greatly diminished. Anyone who works at a desk-job should try it – you’ll become sharper and perhaps happier – the best career move you can make!

On green-tech…

Even though I apparently consume 2.5 planets*, I’ve always been a pragmatic greenie and now it’s even cool to be green.

In the 1970s as a toddler I rode on the shoulders of giants in protest marches – in the 80s I wrote letters to politicians to support the establishment of protected forests and wrote letters to the Editor about the dangers of lead in petrol.

In the 90s I came up with ideas on how internet technlogy could change the world and a few people thought I was daft.

“No money in that” they said.

No planet, no money either.

In the 2000s I tried again and even sought investors to back my ideas. I got a bit more interest this time but I obviously didn’t try hard enough.

Turns out who I needed all along was the Terminator.

Arnie - you're 15 years late mate.

Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger is backing Sustainia. It’s a new social innovation push to help people envisage a sustainable future using low-carbon resources.

It’s really really really similar to the concept I had around 15 years ago, even right down to a virtual world where you can explore the impacts of eco initiatives.

So, while admittedly I’m a bit grumpy that Arnie didn’t think to look me up, I’m glad it’s happening anyway.

The gooder news is that, now, in the 2010s, I’m finally getting a chance to really get my hands stained with green-tech and perhaps even help people to make more informed decisions about what they consume.

The project is called Copono and it will allow you to scan any product with a barcode and see if it matches your personal values. For example, you might want to know if the product is fairtrade, vegan, cruetly-free, carbon-neutral or kosher. There are some similar products around the world including Good Guide, but ours has a different approach. Hat-tip to David Moskovic for the referral.

I’ll keep you posted on progress here.

On the state of UX, CX, IxD, SD in New Zealand…

Like many parts of the world ‘user experience’ or ‘customer experience’ or ‘experience design’ is now in hot demand. That’s great.

Many websites, apps and services have gotten much better in recent years. I think, on the whole, we’ve finally cracked web-forms.

Not many people sat up and listened when I made a noise about it back in 2006, but they certainly did when Luke Wroblewski wrote a book on the subject.

There you go, it’s that California crowd again (he must know Arnie).

At the same time nothing seems to change and other things have gone backwards.

The emerging trend in the evolution of UX, here, as in the UK and US, is Service Design. For many industries their services are a fragmented mess and the problems are obvious to most people who work in my industry (the first step is to help businesses realise they need to fix it).

Some industries, such as trading banks, are trying to do good but still stuffing up every time I ‘touchpoint’ with them. Maybe I should do yet another blog about my appalling experience (again) with Kiwibank. But I’m over it. I tried again, they failed, again. Maybe we just have bad karma or something.

In this electronic age all too often I’m still forced to fill out paper forms, told go somewhere to stand in a queue or asked to ‘fax’ a copy.

What the fax?

What I will be posting here soon is my experience with the Wellington public transport system – apparently one of the best in the country – so why do I have to have four different types of tickets for two modes of transport and services that don’t even connect?

Oh, they have excuses. Lots of them!

So, my ramble is over…

I may have lost dozens of you by not blogging for so long, but hopefully I’m still on your RSS feed and we can start afresh!

* So I apparently consume 2.5 planets even though I use public transport, eat only plants and recycle. I’m also told that that I have about a dozen slaves working for me. I plan to taker a closer look at all this in a future blog.

Answers to those Questions

Occasionally I get emails from aspiring User Experience professionals asking a bunch of questions about the industry and how I got into it.

Over the years I’ve had people contacting me from around the world including the USA, Europe, The Philippines, India and New Zealand.

I thought it might be useful to share some of these questions and my answers with you as well…

 

 

 

♦ How did you end up working in the field of IA and UX ?

I left school at 16 after landed a job at Tearaway Magazine where I did writing (journalism) and graphic design. I guess this gave me a foundation in words and structure.

I then applied to the New Zealand Broadcasting School in Christchurch and got in. From there I got a job at Vidmark in Dunedin where I did television camera work and 3-D graphics. Later on they set-up one of the first web servers in New Zealand and I ended up working with HTML and web graphics.

My later jobs have all been in the web industry and I pretty much just taught myself as I went. It was awkward to fit into any distinct role as I wasn’t a Graphic Designer or Business Analyst – somewhere in between. Actually, I quit a job once when they tried to force me into a role that didn’t fit (or pay what I knew I was worth) because they didn’t really understand what I did even though I knew I was bringing huge value to their clients! (and had billed for the company in the realm of $250k that year too!).

I only realised what I was doing had a name around 2000 when I came across a newsletter (then on paper) by Jarred Spool from UIE.

I got my hands on two books – Information Architecture for the Web by Louis Rosenfeld and About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper. These were my ‘bibles’ for really getting into UX properly and I still highly recommend these books.

And all the books from this site are great too.

♦ What tools of the trade do you consider essential for your work ?

MS Office, Visio and the Web. If you’re using a Mac then MS Office for Mac and OmniGraffle. And a visual diary with a good black pen.

♦ Do you have preferred methods for usability testing ?

I’m “old school” and prefer simple observation. I usually test with 5 users per persona type.

Many people now use computers, eye-tracking etc – but I think that’s overkill. Most usability issues become pretty obvious after just a few tests.

♦ Are there any particular IA / UX practitioners whose work you follow ?

Yes: Cooper, Adaptive Path, Lou Rosenfeld, Don Norman, Luke W

♦ What do you consider are the key competencies an effective Info Architect must have ?

The ability to analyse the complex interplay of people, content and data – and turn this into a simple/effective user experience. I’m a strong advocate of user research (personas) and using these as the basis for all your design decisions. The personas should also include profiles of the business owners – not just end-users.

Increasingly IA’s are coming from a Librarian background and far more qualified than I am at understanding classification methods etc – but I have observed that people with this background do tend to over-complicate things. For example, a librarian I worked with wanted 300 categories for an intranet and I had in mind 12. I had to work hard to convince them to get it down to 30 (a compromise). You see, people just get overwhelmed by information – it’s our job to make it succinct and feel intuitive and create many pathways to the same content.

We also need to understand that there’s different types of people with differing abilities. Many think/learn visually, others prefer words, some look for technical terms, some need ‘layman’s’ terms etc. Anyway, get this book if you don’t have it already!

♦ Do you belong to any specific professional associations / networks ?

Not at present. I have been a member of the UPA and IAI in the past – but they’re very US-centric. There’s a usability meet-up group in Wellington I sometimes attend. Auckland has a very active group who meet monthly.

♦ Can you please explain exactly how method acting it used in your technique? Are participants led through an acting intro/warm-up first?  Can you please explain how your scorecard relates to the “acting” component?

It’s not a technique I use much these days but it was effective when I managed a team of UX Designers who already had the will and mindset to give it a go.

So, I didn’t do warm-ups or anything like that and would leave the approach up to each designer. But I would suggest that, to understand their audience, they needed to observe and experience aspects of their audience’s lives.

So I would encourage the designers to:

  1. Observe the target audience doing their job, shopping, doing stuff – either in a structured way (task observation and an interview), or, if in a public space, just watch people. For example, I observe how people use mobile phones on the bus, or how they use shopping lists at the supermarket.
  2. Actually try what the audience was experiencing (e.g. registering for a website, ordering a coffee – whatever is relevant to the project).

The key thing is to mimic the audience and their real lives – the example I used in my article was a mother holding a baby, on the phone and using a computer. When designing a user interface I wanted the designers to actually try that and see how it felt. It influences their design decisions.

The scorecard was an adaptation of the tradition ‘heuristic usability review’ – I observed that while a review might tick all the right boxes, the user could still end up feeling frustrated. So I added scenarios/scripts for the testers as part of a review to draw attention to task satisfaction. A better method is ‘observational usability testing’, but there’s not always the budget to do this.

I used the method acting approach for several years myself (in my own head) before sharing it with my team and others. Some other team members did struggle with this approach – I think it takes the right sort of person – someone who can emphasize or can act in role while actually believing they are that person.

I think I find it easy as I’ve had a wide and varied life experience and automatically tuned into the emotions and body language of others (the survival instinct?).

So, suggest you just try and it and invent your own techniques – the trick is to base it on actually observations of your target audience and take it from there.

♦ As a UX practitioner, have you ever been asked to test a concept of a site or application? The expectations from our end is to provide recommendations to make the user experience compelling. However, in my opinion, the concept of the projects are “half-baked” to put it kindly.

Testing at the early stage can be tricky, but yes, it’s all part of the User Experience process and the earlier you get involved the better.

I think all you need to do is take a look at the half-baked designs (assuming they have some visuals?) and use your instincts to see if the design is heading in the right direction. As always, think of the users. Ask who the site/application is targeted at, what they expect users to achieve there and then imagine you are the user.

Unless the site is intended to be wildly creative the site structure should probably follow basic good design rules – e.g. navigation at top, consistency from screen to screen, buttons labelled appropriately etc.

As part of your feedback you might want be proactive and create wireframes to show how the design might be improved – so point out the problems, but also possible solutions.

If they project is still just a loose concept and has no visuals then once again tie to back to the target users, their goals, motivations etc – will the concept meet their needs or desires?

If they’ve fundamentally got the whole user experience wrong from the start then you need to think strategically how you are going to approach the people who had the concept in the first place. Chances are it’s too late to go back and start the process again, so you need to once again, be proactive – point out what’s broken and what the impact is likely to be on the user and the business. Where possibly search the web to try and find evidence or reports to back your conclusions.

Try and suggest solutions, not problems.

♦ I’d like to know the types of user research (interviews, ‘persona hypothesis’, etc) as well as the methods involved in conducting these kinds of research.

I recommend you take a look at this slideshow which outlines my user research process:
http://www.slideshare.net/zef/power-to-the-people-1467865

Basically I like to keep it simple and use three methods:

1. PERSONA HYPOTHESIS

This is a meeting with your client to explore what the collective group (think they) know about their customers. I start by getting the people in the room to write down on post-it notes every customer-type they can think of. I then cluster the notes into similar groups (e.g. by job title, age-group, behaviour patterns – how you group them depends on the product or service you are working on). I then label each cluster (e.g. one cluster might bee ‘Potential Customers’) and create one persona for each cluster. If you have too many clusters then prioritise – you might only need to document the primary persona.

A really useful toolkit I’ve used and highly recommend is
http://www.interactionbydesign.com/presentations/olsen_persona_toolkit.pdf

The type of people to invite to these meetings are those who’ve had ACTUAL contact with customers. Project sponsors usually haven’t met the customers or will assume their own life experience. So for Benetton, for example, I’d request the people who come to the meeting are frontline shop staff, call-centre staff etc.

For this meeting I’d take in a template I want to be filled out (on a laptop or paper), and try and complete as much of this as possible within the meeting. And I try and make sure the meeting has no more than six people – too many people makes it hard to coordinate.

2. USER INTERVIEWS

Using the persona hypothesis to identify the user groups I then know who I need to interview. For each persona I like to interview around 5 people. They need to match the persona as closely as possible (e.g. potential customer, female, age 20-30).

Locating people to interview can be a hassle and time consuming. First you need to find them, arrange the appointment and then confirm the day before to make sure they turn up (of possible you should go to them though). I usually give this task to my client, but failing that you can try a market research company to find them on your behalf. You will need to provide them with a “screening questionnaire” – to make
sure they match the type of person you are looking for.

At the interview I usually spend 30min to 1hr speaking with each person. I ask them about their job, experience, interests etc. See the slideshow for tips on what to look for.

In the early days I had a long questionnaire prepared and went through question by question. But this method is too formal and stilted. Once you get more confident then try and treat it like a conversation – this makes the person being interviewed feel more relaxed and they tend to tell you more interesting things. A great question to begin with is “so, tell me about what you do during a typical day”.

3. FIELD RESEARCH

This means spending a whole day with a user to observe their daily pattern, interactions with other people and gives you a more in-depth view of their life. I rarely get the opportunity to do this due to budget constraints.

What I use to record information: Usually I simply take notes on paper, but sometimes I’ll record interviews using a digital recorder, plus a digital camera for photos. I’ve never shot video of a user, but this is a possibility. The less intrusive you are the better since people tend to feel awkward if they are being recorded or filmed.

♦ How much time do you typically spend on user research?

There’s no hard and fast rule, but to create a fairly in-depth persona hypothesis could take up to a day, but sometimes as little as an hour.

PERSONA HYPOTHESIS
To create ‘quick personas’ (example here: https://zefamedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/fcp-personas-result.pdf).

I’d usually create these on the spot during a workshop with the client and then refine them after the meeting. To create a set of say, 5 personas, would take me about 8hrs. The breakdown as follows:

  • Planning: 1hr
  • Workshop with client: 1 to 2hrs
  • Create draft persona set: 2 to 4hrs
  • Feedback and changes: 1 to 2hrs

RESEARCH-BASED PERSONA
A more-detailed persona based on actual user research would take about 3 days – roughly the time spent as follows:

  • Day 1: Persona hypothesis – I usually start with this anyway as it helps you decide who to interview.
  • Day 2: Field research – you get to meet and interview sample users who match the hypothesis. The purpose of this is to check if your hypothesis was correct and add more detail.
  • Day 3: Write-up the persona profile, including scenarios, photos, diagrams if needed.

Example https://zefamedia.com/human-nature/blobbing-up-users/

So, if you have decided to profile 5 personas in-depth, you’d need 3 days x 5 personas = 15 days.

♦ Do you have any stories and experiences you can share about discount usability methods?

Almost everything I’ve ever done uses this method!

This is mainly due to the nature of the New Zealand market I think. There’s not much money around for user testing and the deadlines are always ridiculous. Do you have the same where you are?

So I make my prototypes/wireframes in Visio with the page size set to A3. This means when I print the paper prototype out it’s about the same size as a 20-inch screen, so it’s readable.

Sometimes it’s also good to test prototypes on-screen – especially for Web Applications which are more transactional/interactive. So how I’ve done this is to convert my Visio prototype to a PDF. In Acrobat I then
assign hyperlinks to the navigation so the user can click from screen to screen. It’s a bit fiddly, but it works great.

I recommend you get this book http://www.paperprototyping.com/ – this covers everything you need to know – there’s some free tips on their website too.

♦ With regards to conducting the test, how many subjects do you use on average?

I used to do it with 8 people, but in my experience 5 is about right.

So I always ask for 5 test subjects per persona or audience segment. A few times though I’ve tested with as few as 3 people.

♦ Do you have any tips in conducting the test, post-test data gathering and analysis?

I keep it simple and print out the screens and simply write notes on the screens (with a blank panel for notes on the right) as the user conducts the test.

I’ve also looked into recording tests. Morae is super expensive and overly complex. If you are using a Mac I recommend you take a look at http://www.silverbackapp.com/ – I haven’t used it, but my friend Lulu has and she says it’s great.

For analysis I create a table with the following headings:

  1. Task Number
  2. Task Question
  3. Observations (my notes)
  4. Example Comments (from the users)
  5. Number of Users Affected (e.g. 4/5)
  6. Issue Severity
  7. Priority
  8. Recommended Fix

In the report summary I then group the issues into categories – High, Med and Low Priority – with bullet point summaries of each issue.

If the Recommended Fix is particularly complex then you might want to show the design solution by creating a wireframe diagram to explain it.

A tip on getting buy-in for “usability” – “usability” in my view is a misused term as “usability” is the successful outcome of a good design process. So instead you need to learn to justify the need of “good design”, ROI, “good for business”, “customer loyalty”, “customer satisfaction”, “word of mouth” – in-fact any language your client will understand as adding value to their product.

With any new client (or even a manager within your own company) a good practise to actually profile them – what’s their motivations and goals? Are they design-focussed or technology focussed? Then work on a strategy to get buy-in for what you offer. It’s not easy though – every UX consultant experiences what you do!

♦ Can you share with me your insights on card sorting?

I’m actually not a huge fan of card sorting as I’ve found it assumes that content needs to live within a fixed hierarchy.

You may have seen my blog on the subject.

I prefer providing multiple pathways to content in a way which makes sense to a variety of users (e.g. technical and non-technical terminology).

So how I do it is to just get users to tell me where they’d look for stuff, and then I try and accommodate everyone’s needs.

So for example, an iPod might be found under any one of these pathways:

(by device type) Music Players > iPod
(by brand) Apple > iPod
(by format) MP3 > Music Players > iPod

However, card-sorting does have it’s uses if you are using a website with fixed or static navigation (or space for navigation is limited).

An Open Card Sort is often preferable – this helps you to gather ideas and alternatives – you could then pick the best labels and follow this up with a Closed Card Sort.

♦ In the middle of a study,we were asked to modify the cards. Is it wise to ask the participants of the study who have completed their card sorting to do a new one based on the improved content?

I don’t see any issue with “asking the participants of the study who have completed their card sorting to do a new one based on the improved content”.

For me I rely less on facts and figures and rely more on intuition and observation – you’ll just know as you progress through the card-sorting exercise if the labels are better than before.

As for analysing data – this might be frowned upon by other UX experts – but I don’t put much effort into this. By the time the card sort exercise is over I already have a good idea of what’s working and what isn’t. Any data I use to help inform my overall I.A. – it’s not the sole basis for my decisions.

You might like to try an online card-sorting tool? A popular one here in New Zealand is Optimal Sort.

Got a question of your own?

Send me a comment below!

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World’s First Bearcam

In 1995 I took part in what was arguably one of the first webcams in New Zealand and certainly the one and only bearcam on the planet!

The innovation took place at Vidmark Productions – a little TV and video production house based in Dunedin – it was run by Steve Young from the legendary 70s rock band Mother Goose.

Vidmark were early adopters of the internet, having their own server connected in 1994. We also had access to the TV3 News fibre-optic cable in our building which was used to transmit news footage to the 3 News editing rooms in Christchurch and Auckland.

We built a number of first generation websites including the very first website for Tv3.

A screengrab from bearcam (1995)

Paul Newell, the Shortland Street video editor (now Tv3 cameraman), joined us at this time. He’s a bit of a creative technical wizard. He and I took a peek at the famous coffee pot webcam in the US so we started experimenting.

Paul borrowed a security camera we were using for a project at the Tiwai Point Aluminum Smelter. He hooked this up to a Video Spigot card, some software called ICU, and wrote a Visual Basic script to capture frames from the camera.

We could change the refresh rate, but settled on about every 20 seconds.

The experiment ran for about two weeks, with the camera pointed at my desk and my bear in the foreground. Most of the time it featured the bear in various funny poses.

And whad’ya know, the bear is still going strong in 2010!

Within a few days the traffic to the camera overloaded the limited international bandwidth into Dunedin and got graciously cut off by our ISP (Earthlight). From then on it was only available within New Zealand’s limited web audience of a few thousand.

Read more about The Story of New Zealand’s Internet at Down to the Wire.

Government to review ‘wild west’

Inquisition, Theosophy and Tools Minister John Wayne has ordered a review into the ”wild west”, he announced today.

The Minister will examine the adequacy of regulations around how cowboys and cowgirls interact with the townsfolk.

One-armed bandits and outlaws are not subject to any form of regulation or professional or ethical standards, Mr Wayne told Parliament.

“I’ve ordered this review because it’s imperative the long arm of the law keeps pace with this horse race and that we have one set of rules for all,” Mr Wayne said.

“At the moment we’ve got two camps smokin’ my pipe – the Old West and the so-called ‘New West’ – intersection’ with the townsfolk, and If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.”

He is concerned about how trials can be prejudiced by information posted on billboards and seen by jurors, real-time attendance of court cases, breaches of sheriff suppression orders, and myths and legends.

The review will focus on whether either of the two existing industry watchdogs – Johnny “Deadwood” Keye Authority and the Jerry “Brown Lee” Gang – could provide a suitable wagon for regulating unregulated forms of expression.

“Because of the enormous scope of this whole issue, the terms of reference for the review have packed tight like a bag of oats,” Mr Wayne said.

The review will deal with:

  • How to define the ‘New West’ for the purposes of the law and its derivatives.
  • Whether and to what extent the jurisdiction of the Deadwood Authority and/or the Lee Gang should be extended to cover currently unregulated New West outlaws, and if so are shirts that cost more than a weeks worth of groceries like horseshoes that cost more than a horse?
  • Whether existing criminal and civil remedies for wrongs such as squatting with your spurs on, landing on a cactus, and kicking your wagon wheels are effective in the New West environment, and if not whether alternative remedies are available.

The Governor moved to tighten laws around this last week, saying “It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.”

More >

My Day Job


During the day I work at Click Suite – a little new media company based in Wellington which picks up some strange and wonderful projects.

I frequently write articles for their blog – 360°.

Here’s some of my latest posts…

Your Place or My Place?

Facebook will soon not only track your conversations and interests, it will also be able to track where you are.

If Google Was a Junk Shop

When can we have a search engine which enables a more natural selection?

Room with a View

Now you can get a room with a view, any view.

It’s an Infographics Tsunami

Slideshow from my presentation on InfoGraphics to the Wellington Web Meet-up.

Stumbled Upon

Zef’s latest findings on the interwebs.

More I’ve Stumbled Upon

The latest and greatest little ideas I’ve stumbled upon.

All posts by Zef at Click Suite

Milking the Climate

The above infographic was created for the Science Media Centre to coincide with the launch of the revised New Zealand emissions trading scheme (ETS) which came in to effect last July.

New Zealand emissions have grown by over 20% above 1990 levels. The ETS is a first attempt to price carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, in a bid to reduce emissions growth.

As the diagram clearly shows, there’s not an elephant, but a giant cow in the room.

Alternative Design

Here’s an earlier concept which didn’t make the cut…

What’s Hot for UX?

There appears to have been a slight upsurge in recent months of companies looking for User Experience (UX) people in New Zealand.

But taking a peek at the advertised jobs you could be left scratching your head when faced with the diversity of job descriptions and increasingly bizarre skill-sets expected of the ever-malleable and super-human UX consultant (who, it seems, needs to be an expert at nearly everything!)

So I took ten recently advertised jobs within the UX field and condensed the job descriptions into a manageable list of expertise.

The larger the segment the larger the number of mentions across the ten jobs.

The largest segment, User Research, incorporates “conducting stakeholder and user research”, “behavioural research”, “contextual enquiries” and “personas” as well as “workshops and focus groups”.

Customer Journey Mapping includes “story-boarding”,   “workflow and scenarios”.

I included “wireframes” under Prototyping.

The rest of the labels hopefully speak for themselves.

If you’re looking to move in to the UX field, or looking for a job in UX, this should give you some clues as to what the New Zealand employment marketing is currently seeking from User Experience professionals…

user research
workshops and focus groups
Conduct stakeholder and user research
behavioural research
Personas
contextual enquiries

The Money In Mining

In March 2010, New Zealand’s Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson released a discussion paper containing a suite of measures to facilitate development of New Zealand’s mineral estate – this included minerals within national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, marine reserves and protected islands.

The Standard argued that the figures for mining don’t stack up. Here’s my visual interpretation of these figures (view full size).

money-in-mining

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50 vs. 80

Dropping blood alcohol limits from 80mg/l to 50 mg/l

[+] Enlarge

The above infographic is the first I’ve created for the Science Media Centre. Their aim is to promote accurate bias-free reporting on science and technology by helping the media to work more closely with the scientific community.

The Story Behind the Infographic

The New Zealand Government is considering a proposal to drop the maximum legal blood alcohol limit for driving from 80 mg/l to 50 mg/l.

New Zealand’s maximum limit is considered to be high, with many other countries having already adopted a 50 mg/l limit, or lower.   Yesterday, the SMC held a briefing on the subject, looking into the basics of blood alcohol, what the current limit allows, and what effect any changes would have on drinking behaviour.

Media coverage:

Dominion Post: Staggering drunks’ legal under NZ’s alcohol limit

New Zealand Herald: Kiwis push for lower drink limits (with their own accompanying graphic)

Otago Daily Times: Poll supports cutting alcohol level

Stuff/NZPA: Experts back proposal to cut blood alcohol limit

The Press: Medics join push to cut driver limit

Update: It has remained a hot topic in the media – still front page news in August 2010.

Earlier Design

Below is an earlier version of the graphic which was rejected. I prefer this vertical composition but at the time my client wanted the horizontal approach. The feedback from usability testing was that the colours didn’t represent the danger levels so I converted it to the traffic light colours (green, yellow-orange, red). I should have given consideration to colour-blind readers by using patterns within the colours, but simply ran out of time.

Good Onya!

On Friday night I was the proud recipient of an ONYA – awarded to this website for ‘Best content (personal)’.

The other finalists in the category were Alison Green of  WebWeaver for  The Gathering Archives, and Jared Gulian for  Moon over Martinborough. Sorry guys!

What makes the ONYAs  so special is that the  judging panel was a  team of top web professionals – Alex Wright (NY Times),  Brian Fling (pinch/zoom), Bek Hodgson (Etsy), Thomas Fuchs and Amy Hoy (slash7), Russ Weakley (Max Design), Rachel McAlpine (Contented), Donna Spencer (Maadmob) and Jason Ryan (State Services Commission) – woah!

A little bit of history…

 This website first went public in June 1995 as the result of a major project for my degree in Broadcasting and Communications.

I chose ‘the web’ – over a project grounded in radio, television or film – as I saw the amazing potential it had in store as a broadcasting (or what I then called ‘narrowcasting’) medium.

The paper was entitled “Zef’s Exploration into the World Wide Web’ and is an interesting insight to the dawn of the modern internet we all know well today.

I then wrote:

“…I’ve come to believe that it (the internet) could be regarded as a life-force all of its own. Not of the ‘artificial intelligence’ sort that clogs science fiction novels, but an organic intelligence, sourced purely from ‘in the flesh’ internet creators, users and players themselves – human-kind”.

Looking back, I guess I was hinting at ‘Social Media’?

So, the birth of this website was a music e-zine (entitled ‘Global Groove’) and it has essentially remained as an online magazine ever since. In its heyday this site was drawing so much overseas traffic it would frequently overload the bandwidth entering Dunedin and would be unceremoniously cut-off!

Had I been more entrepreneurial I would have realised this was actually an opportunity, not a hindrance.

Oh well.

Related blog: When the Web Was Young

And now…

My website, in its current form, is about sharing my ideas, thoughts and experiences as a web industry professional.

This partially came about through my frustration of the ‘wall of silence’ which, sadly, used to surround many of my peers and the web industry as a whole in the early 2000s.

In my experience, knowledge-sharing back then was uncommon. In fact, withholding knowledge was actually used by some as some sort of power-trip.

So when I branched into User Experience I was, in most cases, forced to look overseas for inspiration…

I owe a lot to Jared Spool’s UIE newsletter (back then it was sent to me, on paper!), Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox,  Alan Cooper’s book ‘About Face’, and Lou Rosenfeld & Peter Morville for their book ‘Information Architecture for the World Wide Web‘.

As you know, I’m not the type to sit on that exciting pool of knowledge.  I believe that by sharing what I know and what I’m working on, it helps to make my local web industry better and stronger.

Today, it’s really great to see that the User Experience community in this country is one of relative openness and healthy discussion.  I’ve learnt a lot from my colleagues in recent years – including those I’ve trained and mentored, who, in turn, have inspired and taught me as well.

Without openness much of the content on my blog would not be possible, so I would like to acknowledge the following people who have helped make this website an ONYAs success…

Colin Phillips and Emma Martin: Some of the people in the early days who did share their knowledge and ideas!

Mason Pratt, Provoke Solutions: My employer from 2004- 2008. He allowed me to write about client work and share insights to the Provoke User Experience team.

Emily Loughnan, Clicksuite: My current employer, who shares my belief that sharing ideas is a good thing!

The User Experience community: You should know who you are!

My 1001 regular subscribers: I wish you would comment more but I know you’re out there! The statistics don’t lie!

What’s in store…

Life is a bit crazy for me right now, but when I have time again I’ve been thinking of a project I’d love your help with.

It’ll involve understanding our own industry better – ever tried creating personas for the (types of) people you work with every day?

That’s a big clue.

Stay posted…

The Pollinator

Click Suite // Auckland Museum: The Pollinator from Click Suite on Vimeo.

Using touch-screen technology visitors could tap into a world of pollination.

Auckland Museum and Click Suite took three common New Zealand insects – the honey bee, monarch and native hoverfly – and set them loose in an amazing virtual rose garden. The Pollinator, designed and developed by Click Suite, was an interactive game within the exhibition.

It allowed visitors to tap on a virtual rose which would then attract the nearest flying insect.

Their goal was to pollinate six roses in a row. Achieving this took a bit of knowledge, timing and strategy to ensure their roses would be successfully pollinated every time. To discover which insect was the most effective pollinator, visitors could listen a narrator’s description of each insect while viewing it in crystal-clear 3D.

The never-ending rose garden could also be navigated in spectacular 3-D and allowed visitors to take a peek inside each rose to see the pollinator at work. The large touch-screen allowed visitors to pan and zoom around the gorgeous rose garden with the curious insects following them around as they explored.

See Also: Tap Dancing on Paper (how it was made).

A Suite Makeover

Ever heard the saying “you’re your own worst client?”

In our industry it’s common knowledge that a DYO (or “Design Your Own“) website is one of the trickiest things a web/interactive/design company can undertake.

First of all, paid work always comes first. So despite your best efforts the DYO falls by the wayside, only to just get going again before another paid job sweeps everyone off their feet.

Then you have internal wrangles – we are all “the client” – as well as “the experts” – as well as, well, “everything else!”

So that’s why the Click Suite website redesign, in dribs and drabs, took around 12 months.

I led the Strategy and Information Design.

Here’s a reminder of what the old site looked like:

CLICK SUITE HOMEPAGE (2008)
CLICK SUITE HOMEPAGE (2008)

Where it got to now isn’t a happy accident…

BASED ON A STRATEGY

Click Suite decided to ‘walk the talk’ and kicked-off the DYO process by working with me to create their own Interactive Strategy’.

CSStrategy

The Strategy included:

  • A vision statement for the company.
  • An analysis of where we believe Click Suite sit in the marketplace (and where they want to get to).
  • Profiles of their diverse target audience, their goals (and how Click Suite will meet them).
  • How Click Suite will measure the success of the new website.

You can design a website or interactive without a strategy, but having one makes the intention of the website more focused and with purpose.

Here’s what it looked like…

VISION

So why have a website? Is it just an online brochure? A portfolio? A place for people to find our email address? Well, all of those, but what makes it special?

Click Suite’s vision statement was about making it clear that they do (great) interactive media and want to “wow!” people with their work and ideas.

MARKET DIFFERENTIATORS

Click Suite picked six similar companies in NZ and I conducted a competitive analysis (based on each company’s website presence).

It was clear that the Click Suite website (built over six years ago) was showing its age. Most of its competitors had freshly designed websites. But despite this, in terms of content and services, all the websites felt fairly similar.

WHERE THEY CAN BE DIFFERENT

It’s tempting to be different just for the sake of it, but in some cases it’s OK to be like everyone else. For example, it is important to establish to the user they are in the right place and what they can expect to find, so the new website has an upfront explanation of what Click Suite does.

I also identified areas where Click Suite can be a little bit different and where they could be very different from the competition.

 

GAP ANALYSIS

TARGET AUDIENCE

Who will visit the website? Click Suite works closely with their customers every day so already had a good understanding of their audience.

Industries they frequently work with include Museums, Government, Business, Ad Agencies and Software/Web companies. The roles of the people inside these companies include Curators, Communications Managers, Marketing Managers and Ad Agency executives.

Their ideal client is someone prepared to try something new. They want their business/offering to stand out from the crowd. Typically the Managing Director of a company, this person organises and takes responsibility for the effective operation of their organisation as well as its overall strategic direction.

GOALS

I listed the questions customers were likely to ask (in their heads) when they visit the Click Suite website.

For example:

  • Who is Click Suite?
  • So, what do they do?
  • Who have they worked with?
  • What does their work look like?
  • How does it stack up against the best?
  • OK, so lots of awards, but how has their work been successful? (for their clients).
  • Can I trust this company to deliver?

The website attempts to answer all these questions.

SUCCESS MEASURES

How will Click Suite know their redesign has succeeded?

Here’s a few of the factors I recommended they measure:

  • You get inquiries via the website.
  • Engagements for work via website referrals.
  • People say ‘I saw that on your website’.
  • Subscriptions to their newsletter.
  • They get comments on their blog.

I also measured success by conducting usability testing on our site and monitoring usage statistics. One such measurement is Google PageRank.

The old Click Suite website had average visibility on Google with a PageRank of five. To ensure good exposure in New Zealand a ranking of six is desirable, and for international a rank of seven or higher.

I’m happy to report that the new site now ranks a six. Their latest goal is to get to a seven (the same as Trade Me).

PROMOTION

The old Click Suite website had a small foot print’ on the web with average visibility. I changed their thinking to view the website as part of a much wider network- the world wide web.

You’ll now also find Click Suite on twitter, Vimeo and LinkedIn.

CONCEPTUAL DESIGNS

Click Suite set its designer loose on some early concepts. The themes were ‘play’, ‘learn’ and ‘explore’.

 

EXPLORING THEMES

ROADMAP

The roadmap is like a high-level plan split into three stages of work. Each stage has a focus- with an explanation of how it will add value to both the business and customers.

The focus of the first stage was to show that ‘Click Suite has got great ideas’. Future phases intend to add more detail about Click Suite’s team and services and provide the ability for visitors to add their own contributions to the website.

INFORMATION DESIGN

The Information Design started with the concept of allowing the user to switch between different modes of navigation (Relationship, Pictures, Text).

Here’s an early concept for the ‘relationship’ mode…

 

EXPLORING NAVIGATION APPROACHES

But Click Suite decided this was too ambitious with the limited time and people available, so ‘Plan B’ kicked in.

Plan B focused more on the portfolio viewer- which allows you explore projects in sequential order or filter the portfolio to view projects within a certain industry (e.g. Museums) or technology (e.g. Touchscreens).

HOMEPAGE PAPER PROTOTYPE
HOMEPAGE PAPER PROTOTYPE

VISUAL DESIGN

The visual design had to showing off Click Suite’s work as well as complement a variety of visual styles ranging from 1995 to the present.

The swirly animations help guide your way through the new website – these were hand-drawn and are now extending their way into our document templates, presentations and, eventually, our business cards.

VISUAL DESIGN MOCKUP
VISUAL DESIGN MOCKUP

DEVELOPMENT

If you’re technically inclined you might notice that the website is created in Adobe Flash, but it acts a lot like an HTML website!

The back button remembers where you’ve been, you can bookmark specific pages and lots of other clever stuff invisible to the naked eye.

USABILITY TESTING

Here are the results of the first round of usability testing on a working prototype of the website.

We tested the site with both staff and customers – setting them tasks followed by a questionnaire to gauge their impressions. We then worked to fix the issues and move the green line to a rating of four and above.

USABILITY TEST ANALYSIS
USABILITY TEST ANALYSIS (SURVEY)

 

THE RESULT

So how did Click Suite go with the DYO?

Only time will tell and Click Suite would love your feedback!

While it was tempting to design a wildly creative website with whacky navigation and hidden content, the new website mixes a bit of the traditional with a bit of the new.

The site is visually rich, but still looks and acts like a website. The large portfolio images can be presented in a variety of formats- still images, animation or video.

The case study text underneath each project has the flexibility to change and extend over time. For example, in future we plan to add cross-links to related projects and technologies.

Check it out…

Still coming… (sometime in 2010)

  • HTML version of the website (for the few organisations which block Flash).
  • SmartPhone version.
  • Ability to filter projects by client.

I Like Visuals

Here’s some of the information graphics I created in 2009 while working at Click Suite.  These featured in various reports such as online strategies and concepts.

I started to experiment a bit more, beyond the usual bar-graph, but I have a long way to go before I’m in the same league as the visualisation gurus featured on sites such as Flowing Data, Information Aesthetics and Xplane.

Taking inspiration from Tufte, this is a black and white radar graph which compared web design and interactive agencies in New Zealand. This made it easy to spot similiarities and gaps between companies. Using a transparent layer I could also overlay one graph over another.
Taking inspiration from Tufte, this is a black and white radar graph which compares the services offered by web design and interactive agencies in New Zealand. This made it easy to spot similarities and gaps between companies. Using a transparent layer I could also overlay one graph over another. Created using Excel 2003.
Not sure what to call this - a fan-pie diagram? Taking a Service Design approach this visualisation explains all the parties involved in the establishment of a new exhibition - including architects, interior designers, marketers, management, user experience and interactives.
Not sure what to call this – a pie-fan diagram? Taking a Service Design approach this visualisation explains all the parties involved in the establishment of a new exhibition space – including the architect, exhibition design, content partner and digital design partner. Created using Visio 2003.
An adaptation of a technique I learnt from Lulu, a competitive analysis.
An adaptation of a technique I learnt from my friend Lulu Pachuau, a competitive analysis to show strengths and weaknesses. We used this to help inform the design of Click Suite’s new website. Created using Visio 2003.
A gap analysis. This plots information from the above graph to show our current position and desired position. We could then work on filling the gaps!
A gap analysis. This plots information from the above graph to show our current position and desired position. We could then work on filling the gaps! Created using Visio 2003.
A 'tube map' used to describe features added to a website over time. In this case the features coincided with events.
A tube map used to describe features added to a website over time. In this case the features coincided with events. Created using Visio 2003.
A 'swimming lanes' process diagram. This has one lane for each team (horizontal), project phases (vertical) and milestones (deliverables).
A swimming lanes process diagram. This has one lane for each team (horizontal), project phases (vertical) and milestones (deliverables). Created using Visio 2003.
Following the Samoan tsunami and a lack of informative graphics in New Zealand, I had a go at creating this.
Following the Samoan tsunami and a lack of informative graphics in New Zealand, I had a go at creating this. Created using Visio 2003.

Tap Dancing on Paper

tapdancing

When it comes to creating a user experience specification for a website, it\’s usually a straight forward exercise. You create wireframe diagrams and show the web pages in different states.

But how do you specify user interactions for a touch-screen that\’s ever-changing, highly interactive and has unpredictable curious creatures influencing the user navigation?

This was the challenge I recently faced when working on a touch-screen game for Auckland Museum\’s latest exhibition, Wonderland – The Magic of the Rose\’.

Using touch-screen technology The Pollinator\’ allows visitors to tap into\’ the amazing world of insects and pollination.

Designed and developed by Click Suite, this is an interactive within the exhibition (which runs until 16th April 2010). It allows visitors to tap on a virtual rose which would attract the nearest flying insect (a honey bee, monarch or the native hoverfly).

The goal we\’ve set visitors is to pollinate six roses in a row.

Achieving this takes a little bit of knowledge, timing and strategy to ensure that their roses will be successfully pollinated every time.

To discover which insect is the most effective pollinator, visitors can listen to Miranda Harcourt telling the story of each insect while exploring it in crystal-clear 3-D.

The never-ending rose garden can also be navigated in spectacular 3-D and allows visitors to take a peek inside each rose to see the pollinator at work. The large touch-screen also allows visitors to pan and zoom around the gorgeous rose garden (in any direction) with the curious insects following them around as they explore.

Prototyping, designing and developing this game needed to take into account a number of variables including:

  • Screen composition
  • Object interactions
  • Object behaviour (when the visitor taps on an interactive object)
  • Feedback to the user

We also considered what would occur over time and if the user left part-way through a game.

My approach was to append a timeline to my paper prototypes to describe transitions over time. And rather than trying to create wireframes for every possible scenario I just described key-frame screens.

In addition I created an object behaviour\’ guide, which explained the default behaviour (e.g. of a honey bee), what occurred if it was tapped, what would subsequently be displayed and any extra options then made available to the user.

Important for a computer application like this is feedback to the user, so I created a specification sheet for this as well.

I think the main lesson I learnt from this project is to pay even more attention to the feedback mechanisms. We imagined the game would have subtle feedback and not interrupt the user- but during user testing it soon became obvious that the visitors needed more obvious responses to their finger taps- so we adjusted the user interface accordingly.

The final user experience specification was just 11 pages in length and served to help communicate the concept to our client, the designer and developer (in case you\’re a tech-head you might like to know that it was created as a WPF application using Microsoft\’s Expression Suite- and most scenes are rendering as realtime 3-D!).

Of course, it\’s not until you get the real thing up and running that you can really feel and experience\’ the user interactions and the game play – we made plenty of changes and refinements as we progressed – which is to be expected for such a unique piece of software.

As a result the interactive is more game-like than we\’d envisage. Now less things are (easily) tappable so they player isn\’t interrupted.   It\’s combination of gorgeous visuals and rich interactions – as well as an education about those little critters flying around almost every garden!

Paper Prototypes

Basic Task Flow
Basic Task Flow
Attractor Loop
Attractor Loop
Screen Interactions
Screen Interactions
Close Up of the Pollination Activity
Close Up of the Pollination Activity
Object Behaviours
Object Behaviours
Feedback
Feedback

Final Screens

Tsunami Early Warning Information Graphic

 

Yep - they get it in Japan.

When the recent 6 metre tsunami hit the Samoan region, killing 189 people, there unfortunately wasn’t time to warn their people.

But there was time to warn their neighbours in the South Pacific.

We failed.

New Zealand had several hours to crank-up the tsunami warning machine. The police did their best to round up people on the shoreline, but apart from that all we got was out-of-date news reports, government websites which were light on detail and the internet rife with speculation and rumours.

In New Zealand SMS (text) messages warning people in high-risk areas arrived 3 hours too late. How many people on the East Coast of New Zealand could have been killed if this was the big one? Potentially thousands.

My previous article covered how bad the information out there was at representing where the tsunami could strike, the risk and what to do. The graphics which were available were highly technical, easy to misinterpret and in most cases was retrospective data of what had actually occurred – not predictions of what was coming.

And we have to take into account human nature. In New Zealand when we hear a tsunami is coming a fair number of us just assume it’s yet another false alarm. Hundreds even go down to the shoreline to watch it coming in.

Why? Saying “go to higher ground” isn’t specific enough. Some will think that means the big sand-dune a few metres from the shoreline.

I believe we need to give people a clear message at a glance, and just enough detailed information that they’ll take it seriously.

So, while I don’t claim to be a tsunami expert, I decided to have a go at creating a ‘general public’ information graphic which could be populated with data in real-time (or by hand and published online within minutes).

Tsunami of Confusion

The information graphics created to inform people on the Samoan tsunami about to hit New Zealand didn’t send a clear message.

When disaster hits it spreads on the internet like wildfire. But the information graphics the public are served up are next to useless for making an informed decision on whether or not you’re in imminent danger.

Yesterday morning I arrived at work, opened Twitter and found out about the shocking Samoan earthquake – my contacts on the social networking site said the tsunami was heading toward New Zealand and would be here within hours.

So we’ve heard this before – a tsunami is on the way – don’t panic (yet). Do some quick research – so how big is it? 10cm or 10metres? Where will it hit? Should I phone home and warn the family?

The main New Zealand news websites gave conflicting information and seemed at least an hour behind the news on Twitter. Who could I trust? I found a lot of misleading information and hype from both the public and officials.

So I turned to the New Zealand, Australian and US government websites for the facts – they’d be accurate and up to date right?

Get Real!

For years sci-fi movie-set designers and computer nerds have prophesised the advent of augmented reality, data overlaid onto transparent displays and pictures beamed directly onto our retinas.

Well, it’s starting to look like we’re now well on the path, for better or for worse.

A new generation of contact lenses built with very small circuits and LEDs promises bionic eyesight. Photo: University of Washington

I’m worried.

This technology in the hands of an unthinking user interface designer has the potential to hurt, maim or kill people.

Card Sorting Doesn’t Cut the Custard

Where's the custard in your supermarket?
Where's the custard in your supermarket?

Why I don’t use Card Sorting

Card sorting is a simple technique in User Experience Design where a group of   users are guided to arrange subject-headings under pre-determined categories or into groups which make sense to them.

For example, a card labelled “apples” might logically sit under a category labelled “fruit”.

It can be a useful approach for designing menu structures or website navigation paths.

But I haven’t used card-sorting since 1999.

Why? Because since the advent of the Content Management System (CMS) I haven’t needed to. The CMS changed the way I approached information architecture forever. I’ve never again needed to resort to card sorting in order to locate content in a place which is intuitive for ‘most users’.

In my view card sorting is a bit of a hack to resolve the issue of static websites where the content is forced to live in one place.

It’s like going to the supermarket and looking for custard powder. To me it makes sense to look for it within the cooking section next to sugar, baking powder, cornflour etc. But good luck finding it there because you’ll usually find it in the desserts section next to jelly and ice-cream cones.

11 Must-Follow Kiwi User Experience Evangelists on Twitter

Being down-under often means we are off the radar. But did you know that New Zealand is also brimming with UX (User Experience) evangelists?

This is my list of Twitter must-follows for any New Zealander interested in locals talking about usability, user experience, information architecture and interaction design. This is by no means a comprehensive list of UX experts in NZ, just those I know of on Twitter who are talking about UX-related topics.

For now I’ve only included folks who frequently share their knowledge, ideas and findings on the above topics –   the sort of things strategy, design and technical people might find useful.

Please feel free to add your own suggestions via the comments.


@LukePittar

UXtwittersLuke

Luke Pittar, Wellington
http://yokeparty.com
I have become change, and am committed to stay that way.

Luke is what I’d call a “new-wave UX”. He sketches rapid prototypes on paper with a holistic approach to the user experience.


@vickytnz

UXtwittersVicky

Vicky Teinaki, Auckland, New Zealand
http://www.linkedin.com/in/vickyteinaki

Going digital native: MDes grad, Locus Research IxDer, Johnny Holland blogger, UX evangelist.

I’ve only just starting subscribing to Vicky’s tweets. Check out her presentation UX 101.


@UsabilityNinja

UXtwittersNinja

Peter Grierson, New Zealand
http://www.usability-aotearoa.com/
Usability consultant in NZ

One of the most prolific sharer of news and links – a 24/7 Twitter?


@lancewiggs

UXtwittersLance

Lance Wiggs, Wellington, New Zealand
http://lancewiggs.com/
Insufficiently suppressed motorbike traveller

Lance might not regard himself as a User Experience expert – but his tweets and blog posts are often square-bang in the centre of what UX is all about.


@boulderservices

UXtwittersBoulder

Elyssa Timmer, New Zealand
web strategy girl, speaker, cofounder, webstock.org.nz, mom, mountain lover, dressage rider

Frequently shares links. Well networked.


@lushai

UXtwittersLulu

Lulu Pachuau, Wellington, New Zealand
http://www.lushai.com/
I help people think out loud. I am loud.

Lulu is loud and talented and likes to share her thoughts and ideas.


@caroline_maree

UXtwittersCaro

Caroline Jones, New Zealand
Interaction Designer, usability and UX. Talks fast but rides a fast horse.

Caroline covers the full gamet of UX.


@trentmankelow

UXtwittersTrent

Trent Mankelow, Wellington
http://optimalusability.com/

I suspect Trent is the most conferenced and networked UX guru in NZ – he posts some interesting conference insights and odd stuff.


@suitey

UXtwittersSuitey

Emily Loughnan, Wellington
http://360.clicksuite.co.nz/
Using new technology to tell engaging stories

Your source for emerging trends in UX, social media and technology. She’s been playing and working in this space for over 15 years.


@martinsidoruk

UXtwittersMartin

Martin Sidoruk, Wellington, New Zealand
http://www.sidoruk.com/blog
I work at Ogilvy as a GAD/Planner, I’m a Design Strategist with interests in UXD, all things digital, Service Innovation and marketing.

Martin doesn’t Twitter often, but when he does Martin posts interesting links related to strategy and innovation related topics.


@crashhelmet

UXtwittersCrash

Steve Arnold, Christchurch, New zealand
http://www.e2digital.co.nz/

Digital art director. Love UCD, UX, and crash helmets. Learning the Piano Accordion.

Another newbie on my list. Sounds like Steve is a wireframe afficondo?


Oh, and one lucky-last, must-follow Twitterer…

@zefamedia !

UXtwittersZef

Gimme Good Service

Photo by jenlen
Photo by jenlen

Since turning my focus to ‘Service Design’ I’ve been seeing everything in a new light.

Service Design uses creative techniques to map-out your existing services, study the customer experience, improve existing services and visualise new ways to reach customers.

What many people would understand is simply a ‘product’ (e.g. a cup of coffee), I’ve instead been analysing as a ‘service’. What’s interesting is that those companies who wrap a service around their product are the ones doing a roaring trade at present.

Some of you may recall my blog about a year ago about Zipcar – a highly successful car rental service in the US and Europe which is taking on the traditional car rental companies. Their whole business is modeled, not around cars, but ease-of-use. They’re continually improving the experience for customers.

So what have I noticed about Service Design in New Zealand?

I considered three ‘products’ I interact with frequently – takeaway coffee, my bank mortgage and my iPhone.

MOJO COFFEE

Mojo Coffee is a Wellington-based coffee cartel which has recently spread to Dunedin, Christchurch and Auckland. They are the latest success story in a history of caffeine’s greatest hits in Wellington including Havana, L’affare, Fuel and People’s Coffee. It appears that the secret of their success is choosing strategic and unusual locations, coupled with unmatched service. The coffee is great too, but without the fantastic customer service, in my opinion their business would not have grown.

I asked my Twitter friends – is Mojo Coffee a product or a service?

A product, but I expect good service 😉

Isn’t it both a service (the act of making coffee) and a product (mojo brewed coffee)? The difference is consumer motivation?

Product/service isn’t a true/false thing, there are many shades- coffee = product, but tables/newspaper/atmosphere etc = services

So no right or wrong answers, but my view is, that without good service the product is almost useless.

Here’s why, on the whole, it’s the whole Mojo service package which makes them a roaring success…

Great locations

Photo by by Br3nda
Mojo – more than a just a product. Photo © Br3nda

Customers like where Mojo outlets are located. In the Wellington CBD they are not just casual coffee hang-outs, but a regular meeting place for business people and industry networking. There’s even a Mojo located in the Parliamentary Precinct – a wise move for capturing customers in what used to be a lack-lustre part of town for the coffee meeting culture.

So the Mojo locations actually provide a service – a place to meet and network.

Customers are special

From the outset Mojo staff greeted me, remembered my name and then continue to engage with me on a first name basis. And the experience for me is consistent across several different Mojo outlets.

I’m not sure if this level of engagement is something that is taught to staff, or simply inherent in their culture, but it makes Mojo feel friendly and like you are getting special service every time. Now, I know my treatment is not that unique since I see other customers getting similar treatment. But this doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that the greetings don’t feel fake – the staff come across as genuine people as opposed to staff just going through a sales script.

So the customer engagement provides a service – a feel-good coffee with a wink and a smile.

Easy to do business with

Early on Mojo did away with the traditional loyalty ‘clip as you go’ card and introduced an electronic pre-pay card. So if you have a card you get a discount every time you pay, not after purchasing 10 cups of coffee. This makes ordering and paying for a Mojo coffee convenient – no need to use EFTPOS or dig around for cash every time I order. It also allows me to set myself a monthly coffee-budget and stick to it.

So the Mojo payment system provides a service – less messing around, saving me time and money.

In all I don’t shop at Mojo just for the coffee. It’s all about the whole service package. They’ve nailed it!

MORTGAGE

So what about a mortgage? Is this a product or a service?

Some thoughts from my Twitter network…

It is a product, which is backed by service in my opinion. Although I use some other adjectives to describe mine.

I’d go for a ‘product’, coz it’s something you choose from a list of options and then use to make your finances work. In comparison, you receive a ‘service’ from the person who helps you select the right mortgage, and helps set it up for you.

I think you’re referring to ‘brands’ here Zef. Product + service = brand… A mortgage is a product that you purchase from a brand.

In my experience every bank in New Zealand treats a mortgage as a product. They provide a ‘service’ to get you to buy a mortgage product (or package), but once you’ve bought into the mortgage they only provide a very limited set of services – such as a 3-month break from the mortgage if you really need it (which, by the way, comes at a high cost further down the line).

In my view all the banks could do better by using Service Design. Here’s why…

"I have no life, I have a house with a mortgage." Photo by Luxerta.
“I have no life, I have a house with a mortgage.” Photo by Luxerta.

Chances are that the mortgage you bought didn\’t quite meet your needs. You perhaps chose a product with the lowest interest rate, took a punt on a fixed rate, or based it on a montly repayment your budget at the time could handle.

Fact is you were sold a financial product. An ill-conditioned loan with 25 years of pain.

I don’t know about you, but when I got my first mortgage all the banks seemed to be offering pretty much the same over-complicated products wrapped in different colours and terminology.

Instead, the bank should have picked up that while I have a good income and have never been unemployed, I’m not the brightest financial guru on the block. In fact, I’m a bit dim in that department.

What if the bank took the view that, “Zef has potential – let’s help him proactively manage his loan and pay it off as fast as possible… and let’s make him more financially literate along the way”.

Had they been proactive chances are that by now I might be in a better position to be building my own house, setting-up a business or saving money instead of spending it. That way I would benefit and, in the long-term, so would the bank.

So what I’m talking about here is financial advice and services. No bank has ever (personally) offered me that. They’re crazy not to. I’m a potential cash-cow waiting to fed, fattened and milked! (but not eaten).

A service design approach by my bank would help me acquire, live in and pay for my own home over my entire lifetime. Imagine how we could have all avoided the credit crunch mess if the banks had treated mortgages as a service, and treated customers as partners in an investment.

A services model would demand that the banks have a much closer relationship with their customers, because they want to keep them. Services adapt and change to meet the changing needs of customers.

My ideal mortgage would be so flexible that it would fit with the ups and downs of life – having a baby, helping a family member with an illness, moving house,changing jobs, losing your job. The bank should do everything to take the stress away so you, as a customer, can keep up with the payments and improve your life – not get stuck with stress and even more debt.

Instead, the current product model means we are threatened with fees for every time we need to take a short break or pay less – heck, there’s even limits and fees for paying more!

A service design approach to mortgages and loans would include:

  • Getting to know (and even visiting) customers. Not just once, but regularly.
  • Learning how each customer lives and getting to know and their financial goals. Help them achieve those goals. It’s good for business!
  • Helping customers proactively manage risk and teaching them how be responsible with their money.
  • Investing in us as customers – not seeing us as units of profit, but partners in wealth-creation.

What do you think? In the new age of responsible and sustainable living, is a service design approach the right way for banks to go?

iPHONE

I asked, “is the iPhone a product or a service?” One reply this time:

The iPhone is a product. You use services on it / via it. It’s no different to a Nokia phone.

An iPhone without Apple services - a banana republic? Photo by Ninja M.
An iPhone without Apple services – a Banana Republic? Photo by Ninja M.

But a bit like Mojo Coffee the iPhone would be almost useless without the service design model which Apple has craftily wrapped around this device. Via the phone you have access to the Apple service network including iTunes, iPhone Applications, MobileMe and software upgrades.

Some would argue that Apple have locked-down their service model so tightly that it’s almost impossible to avoid buying into more and more of Apple’s products and services. It’s cunning business on their part, and they’ve obviously analysed the customer from a service design perspective.

It’s not friendly service with a smile like Mojo, nor is it an inflexible product like the classic bank mortgage – it’s somewhere in between.

YOUR WEBSITE OR INTERACTIVE

The same sort of analysis as the above industries should be applied to online services or products.

A fantastic site or interactive won’t reach it’s full potential unless it’s wrapped in a service design model. My first question when approaching a new project, is, “Where does this fit into the overall customer experience?”

Your website is just part of the puzzle.

More on Service Design

Photo Credits

Tabatha the Service Design Goddess

Business owners, service delivery managers, business analysts and user experience consultants could learn a lot from tacky reality TV shows like ‘Tabatha’s Salon Takeover’.

Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo
Photo Credit: Mitch Haaseth, Bravo

The straight-talking Ozzie, Tabatha Coffey lends her sound advice and styling expertise to help make over America one salon at a time in this new series (Friday’s, 9.30pm on TV3).

In the vein of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, Tabatha cleans up failing businesses with a keen eye for the customer experience and broken business processes.

Her formula is simple…

  • For a day she observes the business.
  • She then sends in some mystery customers to gauge their experience.
  • She feeds her observations back to the business owners and staff.
  • She then fixes the broken parts of the business process (in last Fridays show, a phone-book sized staff instruction manual was painfully shredded).
  • Next she hones in on the staff through up-skilling, and gives those who are failing a chance to learn and improve.

What I also like is that she allows staff to have more freedom over how they work, so long as the business benefits and the customer experience is improved.

Later she returns to check if her action plan has worked. She checks the financial performance of the business, staff morale and customer satisfaction.

As a viewer we are enraptured by the sharp-shooting and frank honesty of Tabatha’s whirlwind analysis. It’s all so obvious! We baulk at the abject stupidity of the business owners (usually in tears after Tabatha’s biting analysis), and at the amazing ignorance of the staff who treat their customers as if they are an annoyance and/or a chance to experiment with scissors and hair dye.

But some of us shouldn’t feel so smug at watching these poor people be frazzled and fried in public.

User Centred Design with Microsoft Expression

A presentation from my archives – many of the points made in these slides are still relevant today.

A brief presentation I did at ‘Microsoft Expression for Art’s Sake‘ – a 3 Day Silverlight Camp held in Wellington, New Zealand in April 2009.

It makes the simple point that, while Expression is a great tool-set, you still need to follow a design process to get good results for users.

Kids Clothing Online: Shopping Experience

A presentation from my archives – many of the points made in these slides are still relevant today.

Extracts from a 2006 presentation to one of the world’s largest manufacturers and retailers of kids clothing.

We investigated their in store experience and how this might be translated online.

Be Very Afraid…

With around 75% of New Zealand homes online that leaves about a million people who do still do not have access to the internet in this country.

Worldwide an estimated one billion people have access. That’s leaves around 5.7 billion who don’t.

The main reasons are they can’t afford it, are too young to pick up a mouse or the quality of the connection is so slow it’s not worth it (for remote areas). Or perhaps some of these people are simply disinterested?

I have another conclusion to throw into the mix.

Ze Frank: Hot or Not?

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A big hit of Webstock was internet phenomenon and chief chef of Earth Sandwiches, Ze Frank.

Ze Frank is an online performance artist, composer, humorist and public speaker based in New York. He rose to internet fame ever since his “How to Dance Properly” viral video (born as a party invite for 17 friends) – hit the Web in 2001.

Feeding the Suite Spot

The SUITE SPOT (as seen at Webstock) takes live data feeds from blogs, Twitter, Flickr and SMS messages then ‘repurposes’ all of this into an exploratory scene.

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The feeds might look  simple enough on screen but deciding what appears on the timeline, where and when were all challenges faced during the design and development.

The result is a single timeline for the Webstock community to explore feeds, but content can actually appear on several different spots within the timeline.

This is because  we considered the Webstock community and where they might look for content.

Here’s a few scenarios for our hypothetical user, Charlie Bird, who was, hypothetically, out dancing last night with Webstock celebrity Jane McGonigal:

Where’s Your Suite Spot?

Who knew swimming with data could be such fun.

In 2009 my employer, Click Suite, is a major sponsor of Webstock. Webstock is a series of workshops and floorplan3seminars held in Wellington from 16- 20 February focusing on web technologies and attracting major international speakers.

As part of our sponsorship we are providing an experimental interactive experience for conference participants. Entitled, the SUITE SPOT, it takes live data feeds from blogs, Twitter, Flickr and SMS messages then ‘repurposes’ all of this into an exploratory scene which grows and reacts to the incoming content. The SUITE SPOT will also be available on the web and projected on the big screen at the Webstock conference.

It’s Semantic

Throughout 2009 you’ll probably hear a lot of talk about the semantic web, aka “Web 3.0”.

The semantic wave embraces previous stages of internet growth. The first stage, Web 1.0, was about connecting information and getting on the net. Web 2.0 is about connecting people – the web of social networks and participation. This was all the rage over the past few years and is now part of mainstream internet culture.

The emerging stage, Web 3.0, is starting now. It is about connecting knowledge, and putting these to work in ways that make our experience of the internet more relevant, useful, and enjoyable. Google have recently starting making the power of this technology available.

Don’t Mash the Method

Is ‘process’ the same as ‘method’? Many people seem confused.

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When you try and mess with the method it gets messy.Photo by H is for Home

Does it matter? Sort of.

It matters when your job is to take a look at how a company runs its design and production line.

Over the years I’ve re-engineered the in-house processes for a handful of IT and New Media companies. I’ve learnt that, while you can redesign the process, when you try and mess with the method it gets messy.

Free UX Templates

Just over a year ago I took part in an amazing team competition called FullCodePress to build a website from the ground-up in 24hrs.

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Read all about it

Since then I’ve had numerous requests from User Experience professionals around the world for copies of my information architecture templates and artifacts.

Smokin Little Industries

Recently a few people have asked me why I haven’t formed my own User Experience company.

I do think about it and it’s possible that one day I will. But for now I aim to be my own ‘little industry’ within another company.

It is something I hold close as one of my work ethics. If I’m not adding value to the company I work for then the company isn’t living up to its potential. When things get quiet I seek out or create new opportunities.

As the User Experience Manager at Provoke it was something I used to groom my staff for. I would ask myself… “If this person lost their job tomorrow could they stand on their own two feet as their own little industry?”

If not then I would find ways to fill the gaps, under stealth, to coax self-motivation, team-work and getting people to manage their workload better. A well-rounded self-motivated employee was my goal.

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Matt – one of my ‘little industry’ experiments – now working in London. Photo by Richard Stewart.

And at the team level I thought – could this team stand alone as their own little industry? I strove to exceed targets, streamline processes and encourage knowledge sharing.

I’m sure I got it mostly right – the hard evidence was that most people on my team pushed for constant improvement and, most of the time, exceeded their targets. Those few who moved on went to form their own companies, go freelance or were nabbed by glossy new startups.

With the much heralded downturn, coupled with New Zealand’s apparently poor productivity rating, I believe a change in who we perceive we work for is needed. We all need to work for ourselves as well as our employers.

Industry cohort Hayden Vink has also blogged on this subject. He calls it “The road to R.O.Me” – Return On Me. Take a visit then get on the road to recovery.

MEGA LED

At Click Suite we’re researching the feasibility of an outdoor  LED installation at a top secret location somewhere in Wellington.

It’s in the early stages but what’s evident is that just like tall building envy, there’s LED envy. But is big HUGE MASSIVE always better?

China has the biggest LED display right now, but as usual Dubai has plans to top that. Plans are afoot to embedded the world\’s largest LED screen on a commercial tower in the Majan district of Dubailand.

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[above] The Podium\’, will be a neck-breaking 33-stories high that will be visible from a distance of 1.5 kilometres. It will be used for advertising, messaging and art. The LED screen is designed to still allow natural light into the building.

But already up and running is the GreenPix digital media wall, in Beijing, possibly the largest color LED display in the world. It uses 2,292 low-energy lights spanning a 24,000-square-foot glass surface. In the evenings the wall plays massive low-resolution arty abstract video installations.

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[above] What’s also fantastic about this display is that it’s an example of innovative sustainable technology. The designers laminated photovoltaic cells inside the glass curtain wall generating enough electricity each day to power the display at night.

One of Click Suite’s favorites is the World’s Biggest Fake Fish Tank. It’s a 250m by 30m LED screen installed in the ceiling of a new mall in Beijing. It hangs 80 feet in the air, and is actually five screens combined.

skinnyfishtank

[above] Photo by Skinny. Video below…

But is massive-scale LED displays all good news? This blogger talks about the pitfalls of massive displays when advertisers get their hands on them : “Toiletries being sold to us from a 17-story TV”.

They have  a  good point, but I think  it depends HOW the products are being sold. As these technologies become more common (and bigger) advertisers and interactive designers need to think of ways to get the message across in creative ways which enhance the urban environment, not send us into a sensory overdrive. Otherwise, people will learn to ignore these screens, no matter how massive.

What’s Your Strategy for the Downturnaround?

The seeds of the next big thing are being planted now. Are you getting ready to turn the downturn into an upturn?

No-one yet knows what the new economy will look like, but one thing is for sure, 2009 is going to be pretty turbulent. This is why it’s crucial to know your customers and where they are headed in the next 12 months.

strategydownturnAround 2000, when the dot-com bubble burst, some of the most influential companies on the web today were in their infancy. Businesses familiar to Kiwis are Google and Trademe, while early internet adopters such as Woolworths Online and AirNZ turned-around their online presence to ensure ongoing success.

No one knows what the next Trademe or Google will be, but if it is not being built now, then someone will probably start working on it in the near future. Examples of New Zealand online businesses in their infancy today include Ponoko, Xero and HireThings.

What we need right now are ideas that could turn into brilliant products and services. These then might turn into the catalyst that spur your business onward in the new economy.

One vital (but often overlooked) ingredient to online success is the creation of an Online Strategy (aka ‘Web Strategy’).

So what does an Online Strategy look like?

While businesses and their interactive agency often talk about the desired results of their work, what we don\’t talk enough about is the careful framing of the project that allows us to do the great work in the first place.

Typically a strategy includes:

  1. An understanding of the goals of your business.
  2. Attention to how your online presence will generate business value.
  3. A clearly articulated description of the user experience.
  4. Analysis on the unique value your online presence offers to customers.
  5. A roadmap to ensure your project delivers the right initiatives at the right time (scope).

Recently I shared a draft of a website strategy with a designer. His response was “wow, that’s really useful!”. It helped him to understand the big picture, the business and marketing objectives and how the success of the website would be measured. A strategic approach your online presence creates focus and a much higher chance of success.

The new economy is full of opportunity and now is the time to start planning for the downturnaround…

Last week Adaptive Path talked to my friends Lulu Pachuau and Bob Medcalf from my old firm Provoke. In this podcast they talk about and show the tools and methods they used to help the research institute Industrial Research Limited create a cohesive web strategy for the future. Great interview!

leftovers

It has been about six months since I changed jobs and now some of the projects my old team were working on at the time have started going public…

landcorp

This was my last mini-project during my last week at Provoke (ironic since I don’t eat meat!). I did the Information Architecture and Alastair Bruerton the visual design. Visit website.

marram

I wasn’t heavily involved with this one, but sure does have some fancy backend stuff going on which allows members to enter a ballot for holiday homes. Visit website.

wellcoll

The flashest high school website around. Visit website. Most of the work was done by Kate Insoll – she now runs Trinkit. Another project (which I can’t show you a picture of) was for Kiwibank. The innovative Information Architecture was created by Lulu and visual design by Alastair Bruerton. You can find out all about  it on day two of the Strategic Information Management Summit, December 8 – 11, 2008 in Wellington, New Zealand (“How to Get Organisational Buy-In”  presented by Kevin O\’Donnell Knowledge Manager at Kiwibank).

nbnz2008

I can’t claim credit for this, but I was involved in the early stages of the redesign. Good to see the bank taking a more user-centred approach but in my view there’s still too much content. Most other banking websites also suffer from clutter and need to simplify their product/service offerings. Visit website.

And more recent work…

riverocks

This was my first project when I joined Click Suite – an interactive game of shot put. I purposely kept it simple and fun so young kids can get into it. Visit website.

‘Goggle Type’ exposed as fake

as-seen-on

A modified typewriter touted as the original Google appliance is, in fact, a well-crafted fake, the Skeptics Society, Mr Vintage and a font expert says.

The device, an object known as a ‘typewriter‘, was said to have contained the template for Google, the popular search engine, as well as a strikingly similar name (“Goggle”).

Embossed on one side is an inscription in the ancient font of Catull bearing the letters: “GO GLE.” It appears that this once said GOGGLE but the experts were split on whether the faint outline of the missing letter was an ‘O’ or a ‘G’.

img_0950

Experts say: “The font isn’t the right type”.

Officials with Mr Vintage, a Retro Authority, announced on Wednesday that while the writer may date from the correct era, the inscription is a forgery added at a much later date.

“The inscription appears new, embossed in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters,” the officials said in the statement.

They said that a panel of font designers lead by guru Kris Sowersby had agreed unanimously with the findings.

The device first came to public attention last Friday when zef[a]media published a story on Jack Wyndham, a struggling beekeeper who claimed he had invented the original blueprint and a working prototype for Google Chrome, a new type of web browser.

However, after viewing the browser prototype once it appeared on a New Zealand trading website Trade Me (then later Flickr, Digg, Facebook, Twitter and TV3 Nightline), the team of Skeptics concluded that the finding was incorrect.

“The typewriter is real. But the inscription is fake,” the Skeptics Society told zef[a]media.

“What this means is that somebody took a real typewriter and forged the writing on it, probably to give it a religious significance,” a Skeptical spokesperson added.

The committee said another indication that the Goggle was not all it was claimed to be was that the chrome from which it was hewn was more likely to have originated in England or Northern Ireland than Milton.

However, Skinny La Veal, a Wellington country singer, dismissed the findings.

“I am certain the Goggle Type is real and I am certain that the Skeptics Society is wrong regarding its conclusions,” he said.

La Veal had earlier said he had problems with the Society and its methods of investigation saying they had “preconceived notions.”

He said he had bid on the Goggle Type at a charity auction earlier in the week from a dealer in Kapiti, but he was unable to remember the dealer’s name.

Typewriters were commonly used by families between the late 1700’s and 1980 A.D. to store words on paper (a.k.a. documents).

In 1971, Jack Wyndham obtained a New Zealand patent for a device that, from the patent, appears to have been similar to a Google. Zef[a]media attempted to locate Wyndham but he has reportedly “gone bush”, hunting for veroa mites in the Nelson territory.

An interview with Jack Wyndham : Inventor of Goggle

as-seen-on

Jack Wyndham invented the Goggle Chrome Appliance and founded the Milton Beekeeping Society. He talks with zef[a]media.


You invented the Goggle Chrome Type Appliance?

jackwyndhammiltonroof
Jack Wyndham – inventor and beekeeper from atop his Milton cottage. Photo by Brooklyn Hilary.

I came up with the idea of a quick-search sheet for cataloguing honey varieties (and bees) down copper telephone lines in 1957 when I was 39, and patented it in 1971. I had developed a working prototype in 1959. We had orders worth £199 from some Dunedin librarians for our modified Imperial typewriter when we lost control of the patent. There was a raid attempt by the Muldoon government in 1975 and we couldn’t raise enough money to pay the patent fees in time. So the patent was voided.


Do you have the virtual-appliance replica of your invention, the Google Chrome browser?

No. I like Google Chrome, but it feels a bit unfair to have to download one. I could show you my prototype from 1959 and there is the search cataloguing template – same layout, underlines. It feels like mine.


What gadgets and technology do you use?

I’m a bit of a bee nut. I am always fiddling with bits of wax and wire. I use a carrier pigeon as my phone so my mail is permanently in transit. I was the only one able to send messages during the floods last year. I spend a lot of time watching bumble bees. I find it hard to imagine a world without bees.


1971_bct_wyndham_googletypeDoes the Milton Beekeeping Society (MBS) rely on your Goggle Chrome Type Appliance?

Not very much. It’s a bit outdated to tell the truth so they all use unlocked first generation iPhones. We have four members and nine affiliated clubs around the country who can freely access the Goggle but they prefer Yahoo and Twitter. Beekeepers have always worked in isolation and we’re used to being stung by big business. MBS is bringing everyone together and it is starting to make a difference.


What is your latest invention?

Beedriod (Bee for “Beeline” and driod from “Android”) is an open-source system for making a beeline to relevant search results from anywhere. The problem with Google (the search engine) is that you always get results, but how do you know it’s the right result? I liken it to a stack of needles inside a haystack. All they’re giving you is the most magnetic needle. But what about the sharpest needle in the needle stack? I think this will eventually be bigger than the Goggle Chrome Appliance and perhaps even Google itself.


Anything else up your sleeve?

In the past 11 days, I have come up with the antidote to mash-ups. I call it the monster-mash and it’s the ultimate mash-up to end all mash-ups. Only one person knows the technical details and the plans were in transit but the pigeon went missing somewhere in the vicinity of Mountain View.

The Milton Beekeeping Society, which Wyndham founded, will be selling raw propolis this Saturday morning at the Otago Farmers Market. See www.otagofarmersmarket.org.nz or ask for Toki.

Goggle and Google : Side by Side

as-seen-on

With the “Goggle Type Appliance” making the TV3 Nightline news last night, many people have been asking “…so what’s the difference between Goggle and Google?”

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of a Goggle-generated document and a Google-generated webpage…

google-search-results-4

[A] A slight variation in spelling.

[B] The key topic or phrase is wrapped in a box.

[C] A note of how many copies on file.

[D] A cross reference to another document – underlined and coloured for emphasis.

[E] The size of the document.

[F] Origin of the document.

[G] Cataloging by type of content.

[H] Related content.

Inventor donates browser prototype to ‘Art with a Heart’

as-seen-on

After my exclusive  scoop last week created ripples on the internet, the original “Type Goggling Appliance” (one of just three prototypes) has been discovered on a dusty shelf at the rear of the Mataura Muesum.

 

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No one knows how it came to be there but suspicions are that it was ‘acquired’ at a dawn raid in 1975 when Wyndham was suspected of harbouring Vietnamese beekeepers.

Jack Wyndham’s 1959 prototype of the “Type Goggling Appliance” looks remarkably similar to virtual replicas today.

A “virtual appliance” beta of the Google Chrome web browser was unveiled in Septemer 2008 and, since then, 163 million have been downloaded, filling Google’s coffers with billions of bytes of human-to-machine activities.

Jack Wyndham, now 88, took out a worldwide patent in 1971 for a “Type Goggling Appliance” that looks similar to the Google Chrome but could store only 50 words per minute.

Wynham dubbed his prototype (a modified chrome typewriter) the “Goggle Type” and planned to expand its capacity as technology advanced.

At the request of Jack Wyndham the Appliance has been donated to charity and is now available for auction on Trade Me. All proceeds are going to Save the Children.

 

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IMPORTANT STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

The creation of this, and over 20 other art works, was made possible by Click Suite supporting us by donating a day to “Art with a Heart”.

There’s more information at www.clicksuite.co.nz

Proceeds from this auction are going to Save the Children to support our fundraising efforts as part of the 2008 Vietnam cycle challenge.

Thanks for supporting our cause by bidding on this auction – bid high, coz its all going to charity!

Follow this link to all the other Click Suite creations: http://www.trademe.co.nz/Browse/SearchResults.aspx?searchType=all&searchString=clicksuite&x=0&y=0&searchregion=100&type=Search

Google Chrome invented by beekeeper

as-seen-on

Google has admitted it did not invent the Chrome Browser, which was in fact the brainchild of a New Zealand man from Milton who patented his prototype 37 years ago.

1971_bct_wyndham_googletype
FIRST IN: Jack Wyndham's 1959 prototype of a "Type Goggling Appliance" looks remarkably similar to virtual replicastoday. Photo: Balclutha Times/Mataura Muesum.

Jack Wyndham, now 88, took out a worldwide patent in 1971 for a “Type Goggling Appliance” that looks similar to the Google Chrome but could store only 50 words per minute.

He dubbed his prototype (a modified chrome typewriter) the “Goggle Type” and planned to expand its capacity as technology advanced.

However, after running out of funds in 1980 Wyndham was unable to put forward the $50,000 needed to renew the patent so his idea fell into the public domain.

Wyndham, now a struggling beekeeper, was therefore not entitled to receive any money or recognition from those who used his design.

The revelations came to light after patent holding company Imperial sued Google, claiming the Google Chrome infringed on its patents.

Google flew Wyndham to somewhere in Cuba to give evidence in its defence and used his original 1959 prototype of the appliance as evidence that Wyndham, in fact, was the Google Chrome’s inventor.

A “virtual appliance” beta of Google Chrome was unveiled in Septemer 2008 and, since then, 163 million have been downloaded, filling Google’s coffers with billions of bytes of human-to-machine activities.

“I was up to my arms in bees and icing sugar (commonly used for trapping Veroa mites which attack bees) when I got the call from a lady with a sweet Hispanic-American accent from Goggle saying she was the head of legal affairs and that they wanted to acknowledge the work that I had done,” Wyndham told zef[a]media.

“I must admit that at first I thought it was a cheeky wind-up by friends. But we spoke for some time, with me still in my bee-suit smothered in icing slightly bewildered by it all, and she said Google would like me to come to California to talk to them.”

Wyndham was questioned by Imperial’s lawyers for 29 hours. The sticky dispute was eventually settled out of court and Wyndham was finally allowed to remove his suit.

Wyndham, who recently closed down his struggling Royal Jelly business, is now negotiating with Google to receive compensation for the company’s “rejig” of his prototype.

So far he has only been paid a fee by Google for a honey sample used in a cup of peppermint tea during the legal case.

“I can’t even bring myself to download Google Chrome for myself,” he told zef[a]media.

“Google did give me a copy on USB-key but I’m using an Apple Mac and it doesn’t seem to work on OSX”.

IMPORTANT STUFF YOU SHOULD KNOW

The creation of this, and over 20 other art works, was made possible by Click Suite supporting us by donating a day to “Art with a Heart”.

There’s more information at www.clicksuite.co.nz

Proceeds from this auction are going to Save the Children to support
our fundraising efforts as part of the 2008 Vietnam cycle challenge.

Thanks for supporting our cause by bidding on this auction – bid high, coz its all going to charity!

FIRST IN: Jack Wyndham’s 1959 prototype of a “Type Goggling Appliance” looks remarkably similar to virtual replicastoday.
Photo
: Balclutha Times/Mataura Muesum.
Jack Wyndham, now 88, took out a worldwide patent in 1971 for a “Type Goggling Appliance” that looks similar to the Google Chrome but could store only 50 words per minute.

Gesturing Government

A lot of people I’ve been talking to recently are excited by the emergence of NUI (Natural User Interfaces), but are asking “Isn’t this just for gamers?”

My immediate answer is “yes”. Gamers have been the first to embrace the technology (the Nintendo Wii remote controller  is one example of this). Future gaming consoles are likely to require no handheld controller at all, but will simply recognise your hand/foot gestures, facial expressions and vocal commands.

NUI is  also great for music, performance and artistic expression. See the inspirational experiments created by the Auckland Collective Purple Spheres. Additionally, museums around the world have been making use of this sort of technology for years.

But what about practical uses for NUI in the “real world”?  Recently I’ve been seeking examples beyond the realm of gaming.  Here are  a few examples:

Information Graphics


Pictured above:  It seems that analysing data is well suited to NUI and the NBC recently rolled out a Microsoft Surface to do real time analysis on the Obama and McCain campaigns. The presenter is in-control of the presentation and can trigger information-graphics via the touch-screen or by dropping objects (in this case a card for each month) on top of table.

Crisis Management


Pictured above: GIS for Crisis Management (The DAVE_G prototype). The research showed that even people without experience using gestural interfaces quickly learnt the system. It was also found to better for collaboration within teams. Case Study (PDF, 565kb).

And at a recent presentation to the Wellington Usability Professionals’ Association I suggested a number of ideas for NUI within Government, including the following:

Property Information


Pictured above: What if your District Council supplied your property records on a touch-screen? You could intuitively zoom in to view details on your property, scroll forward for town planning and overlay hazard maps such as flood and earthquake information.

Opinion Polls


Pictured above: Gestural voting. Voting (or, more likely opinion polls), would be more fun if you could simply give the thumbs up or thumbs down to any party or candidate presented on-screen (and perhaps the system could be smart enough to recognise  a few alternative gestures if  some people  felt  strongly about a particular party?!).

So beyond art and gaming it just takes a little bit of imagination to see how we might be able to utilise NUI for commercial and government applications.

Don’t get GUI : Get NUI!

Have you been getting NUI recently? If you’ve ever used a touch screen then you’re well on the way to the brave new world of ‘Natural User Interfaces’.

touchscreenroundtable

Well, that’s what they were calling it over at UX Week in San Francisco. But it’s also know as ‘Gestural User Interfaces’ by many.

NUI will be preceded by GUI (‘Graphical User Interfaces’ – still predominant today), and before that CLI (‘Command Line Interfaces’).

Some programmers still prefer CLI (are you old enough to remember DOS?) and it’s amazing to watch the speed at which they work in an alphanumeric world.

And then there’s the not-so-distant-future of OUI (‘Organic User Interfaces’). It’ll blow your mind… I’ll blog about OUI at a later date.

So, whether you like it or not, NUI is the next wave of human-computer interaction. Pull your socks up and get ready!

On the Click Suite blog I mentioned new Windows features based on software it calls “multi-touch”. This will be part of the next version of Windows due out in 2009.

We’ve been living with NUI for quite a while. Touch-screen kiosks, ATMs, the Palm Pilots and more recently the iPhone.

But many of the interactions we see on touch-screens still conform to GUI-style buttons and commands. Even the majority of iPhone apps are stuck in the old-world paradigm of point and click. That’s because the people designing this stuff are still stuck in GUI.

The true potential of NUI won’t happen until GUI designers step outside their comfort zone. They need to understand that interaction with a computer via a keyboard and mouse is different from a gestural interaction with your fingers and a touch-screen.

The beauty of mutli-touch and touch-screen is that you can break-out of the point and click mentality. The primary input device becomes the human finger (which is a lot more flexible and nimble than a mouse).

For example, on the iPhone and Microsoft Surface you can zoom pictures, maps and web pages using a ‘stretch’ or ‘shrink’ gesture with your fingers. A traditional GUI interface would require you to multiple-click a [+] or [-] icon to achieve the same zooming action.

So, are YOU getting NUI?

FREE EVENT

UPANZ Wellington – Spring Meeting – NUI, Strategy, Trees

  • When: 12-1.30pm, Tuesday 2 Sep 2008
  • Where: Ground-floor conference room, Statistics House, The Boulevard, Harbour Quays, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Who: Anyone (UPA members and non-members)
  • Cost: Free!

Agenda

  • Natural User Interfaces (Zef Fugaz, Click Suite)
  • Design Strategy (Lulu Pachuau, Provoke Solutions)
  • Tree Testing (Dave O’Brien, Optimal Usability)

DON\’T GET GUI – GET NUI!

The brave new world of Natural User Interfaces
Zef Fugaz, Click Suite

Multi-touch is one of the most talked-about interaction paradigms, with the iPhone raising awareness of what\’s possible. But even single-touch screens and the burgeoning trend of multi-user interfaces represent significant interface design challenges.

Removing the mouse, the keyboard, and even menus and buttons from the user experience might seem radical, but therein lies the path to the natural user interface, or NUI, which could herald a major shift in interface design.

Zef will talk about the basics of designing for touchscreens and gestural interfaces and look at what\’s happening in NZ and overseas.

Zef\’s focus is experience design\’, which encapsulates user research, interaction design and information architecture.

DESIGN STRATEGY

Lulu Pachuau, Provoke Solutions

Most web projects lose focus, taking longer and costing more than we estimate at the start. There is constant scope creep and feature-itis that tends to crop up during the course of our web projects. With new technologies emerging every day for the web, it is hard to know what to use let alone what to do first.

Having a strategy for your website means knowing where your investment is focused and how you can measure the return. Whether you\’re selling things, providing services and information or promoting your company, it is imperative to any business to have a road-map that gives you a big-picture view of where you are going and potential opportunities along the way.

This talk will present tips and techniques on how to develop a plan on what to focus on, to help guide your web projects, technology decisions and how to present it back to your stakeholders through design.

Lulu Pachuau is an interaction designer and an experience design consultant at Provoke Solutions in Wellington.

TREE TESTING

A New Way To Evaluate Your IA
Dave O’Brien, Optimal Usability

When you work on information architecture, card sorting is a great way to get user input and generate ideas. But once you’ve come up with an IA (or several candidates), what’s the quickest way to find out how well it works?

At Optimal, we’ve been experimenting with a method called tree testing, designed to get objective data about the findability and labeling of items in a tree. We’ve built a simple web tool that lets us quickly test an IA on real users, without having to build the site itself.

Dave will talk about tree testing as a method, building a web tool for it, and what he’s learned so far from running tree tests with clients.

Directions

Access by road is from Aotea Quay at the traffic lights near the stadium. Parking is pay-and-display.

There is also a footpath beside the sheds and construction site on the harbour side of Aotea Quay, and a bridge walkway from the railway station and stadium. Get to the walkway from the north end of several rail platforms, and from the steps opposite East Day Spa on Thorndon Quay. Because of construction, you now have to go up onto the walkway ramp and then down steps to The Boulevard to get to the front door.

Please sign in at reception, then head left through the library. Tea and coffee will be provided.

See you there!

Stamps Licked?

You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a stamp for a postcard in San Francisco.

Getting a postcard is the easy part. But buying stamps? They should make it a new sport at the Olympics.

The place that sold me the postcards told me to try the liquor store next door. But they only sold ‘domestic’ not ‘international’ stamps. They recommended the 7/11 store, who subsquently suggested Walgreens (a kind of supermarket). No luck there either. They suggested I try the Post Office (which was closed as it was a Sunday).

So come Monday I start the merry-go-round looking for a Post Office.

I ask a cycle courier who points me in the right direction and I head straight for the spot. I can’t find it but sure I’m in the right spot. Using process of elimination (nope, that’s a hotel, nope that’s a flower shop, nope that’s a cafe) I find myself staring at a non-descript building with blue and red stripes and no signage. I go inside and viola! I see a few people standing in a line with parcels.

What caught my eye (being from Click Suite these things jump out at you), was a touchscreen stamp vending kiosk.

I rock on over to give it a try. After clicking a dozen buttons to say I wanted an international stamp, and having to type in ‘New Zealand’, then swiping my credit card, it tells me “Wait while I’m printing your stamps”.

“Printing” my stamps?

I realised it meant this literally when I heard the whirr-whirr of the printer coming from somewhere inside the kiosk. About a minute later I had four freshly printed stamps which look like this:

qrcode02
Stamp collectors around the world will be horrified. Is this the future of stamps? And what's that funny bitmap square pattern?

I immediately recognised it thanks to Rex, who had educated Click Suite just a few weeks ago about what this funny pattern is and the clever secrets contained within it.

It’s a two dimensional barcode called a QR Code.

The “QR” is derived from “Quick Response”, as the its contents can be decoded at high speed.

Initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, QR Codes are now used in commercial tracking applications (such as my stamps) and social applications aimed at mobile phone users (known as ‘mobile tagging’). QR Codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards or just about anything a user might need information about.

A person with a camera phone and the reader software can scan the image of the QR Code. This triggers the phone’s browser to redirect to a URL. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a ‘hardlink’ or ‘physical world hyperlinks’.

So I’m betting that the US Postal Service QR Codes on my stamps contain machine-readable information about the origin and destination. It might also contain specific codes to aid the delivery supply chain from San Francisco to Wellington. It will be interesting to see if the postcard gets to New Zealand before I do in 5 days time!

Flying like a Conchord

clothesline
Dryers are free in the USA

On my 12-hour flight to San Francisco, Air New Zealand offered a plethora of inflight entertainment including a grumpy hostess, movies, music and computer games.

I’m one of those people who feels overwhelmed by too many choices when visiting a record store or bookshop. The Air NZ inflight entertainment system made me feel the same way. It didn’t help that the navigation system was clunky – this made the experience of browsing the titles slow. They did offer the ability to sort content by content type (movie, music, audiobook etc) and genre (comedy, drama, arthouse etc) but that was it.

What I really wanted to know was what other people on the plane were watching. I took a nosey at the person beside me and in front. Interestingly they were all watching the same movie – the one with that doctor from Grays Anatomy. Incase you’re interested I ended up watching Flight of the Conchords.

It made me think : When will social networking come to the airline industry? What if I could see the ratings of movies from previous travellers? What if I could see how many were watching ‘movie x’ right now? What if I could play Mario against the person in seat 36F?

My 12 hours could have been a lot more entertaining.

So despite my unusual name (or perhaps because of it) customs let me into the USA no problemo and even commented on the sandflies in Fiordland. I had to agree that they were a key reason NZ remains a sparsely populated backwater

San Francisco on the other hand is teeming with people (and no sandflies in sight).

My first cafe experience in the Latin quarter became pure entertainment when the waiter asked my name then asked if I was Bret from the Conchords. I don’t know how “Zef” can sound like “Bret” – obviously to some Americans it does. So he obviously picked my accent as “Kiwi”. I soon noticed they changed the music to The Black Seeds, and later, didn’t charge me for the espresso (Kiwi translation – in the US this is like a single-shot short black).

So, it looks like The Flight of Conchords have done for 30-something roughly-shaven Kiwis what Lord of the Rings did for tourism.

Thanks Bret, I owe you a short-black.

Backstage in San Francisco
Backstage in San Francisco

Make that a double cona

203701970_c1f5c23e1b
Photo: © 2006 dubh

Rex and I are off to the West Coast of the USA this weekend…

I’ll be attending  User Experience Week in San Francisco and Rex SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles.

It might come as a surprise to our American friends, but the biggest concern we have about visiting the US is not the startling fact that people carry guns… but the US interpretation of “espresso”.

In New Zealand cona-coffee (drip-fed) has effectively been banned from any urban centre with a population less than 10,000. Drinkers of instant coffee are frowned upon and coffee cartels such as Mojo and Havana roam the streets of Wellington “de-bucking” anyone carrying Starbucks.

The coffee subject is so hot in New Zealand that it has frequently spilled over into social commentary and local celebrity blogs.

Fortunately for me  it’s the internet to the rescue once again!

Coffee Ratings is simple yet effective website based on the book  ‘San Francisco Espresso: A Pocket Guide’. There’s a simple map then a click-through to ratings for each neighbourhood.

While this website could have been created using the latest and greatest Web 2.0 mash-up technology (with Google maps, social networking and animation) –  sometimes I think we can learn a lesson from old-school Web 1.0 websites such as this. What I like about this site is that  it delivers “just enough” content. It answered my question in about  five seconds flat.

So based on CoffeeRatings.com I’m hoping to find time to sample some fine coffee houses while visiting San Fran next week. Perhaps I might even debunk the urban legend that “coffee is crap” anywhere outside of New Zealand and Cuba?

Photo:   © 2006 dubh

Govt details HTML switch-off plans

Technology Minister Dave Cunlife, says the Government will announce a date for the turn-off of HTML websites by 2010 – or sooner, if uptake of rich media hits 55 per cent of users.

Cunlife with a friend he met on Facebook

He expects there to be a six to ten month transition period before the migration to rich media is completed.

New Zealand’s relatively leisurely move towards rich media contrasts with that of Tuluva, where the HTML websites will be switched off later this year.

Many other Asia-Pacific countries have already switched off HTML, with South Korea being the pioneer by completing the transition in 2003.

Australia was originally going to turn off HTML transmission in 2008, but will now instead do so at a date to be determined between 2008 and 2010.

Speaking to zef[a]media, Cunlife said he was encouraged by the rapid uptake of Flash, the rich media transmission service launched in 1997.

Some 98% of households with the internet now have Flash, accessed by websites and some cellphones.

However, Cunlife says that while the Flash numbers look good, it’s hard to know how many users are also using Silverlight, leaving some doubt as to how successful the rich media service actually is.

Cunlife said that 78 per cent of households can now access the internet, whether through a modem, wifi or in person.

Rich media offers users clearer images without pixel compression, compared to HTML transmission, and modern features such as sound, animation and drag-able objects.

However, rich media requires broadband and a computer with a colour screen, making it a costlier proposition than receiving HTML broadcasts. The broadband box is usually free but will likely cost tens of thousands of dollars in access fees and lost productivity due to waiting time due to network lag\’ says Telecon.

Cunlife says he uses Flash himself and ‘it\’s great’.

‘My daughter also uses Flash but only to connect with other people, access useful information and have fun’ he said.

blogger blogs blogging

I’ve been contemplating if I should ditch my blog and vanish. What do you think?

jimi at webstock
Hendrix - Webstock - Spock : What's the hidden link?

While my blog subscribers have halved in the past year, the other statistics indicate this (niche) site is still reasonably popular, attracting over 100,000 unique visitors in the past 12 months.

So, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you. Even if you don’t regularly comment on blogs, please consider taking a minute to tell me and the other readers:

1. Who are you? If it’s not too personal, what’s your name and job title?
2. What industry or field do you work in or most strongly identify with?
3. What do you most want to see happening on this blog?

And anything else you want to talk about.

And if you are new here or need a reminder here’s a list of the articles I’ve published on this site over the past few years…

Back to the Future

The time has come for a change and it is with some sadness to tell you that next week is my last at Provoke.

It has been an invaluable experience over the past 4+ years, but for numerous little reasons it is time for me to move on.

It’s especially difficult to leave behind my exceptionally talented team of Interaction Designers, Information Architects, Visual Designers and Web Developers.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been successful in building one of the top interaction design teams in New Zealand. Provoke now competes squarely with the best New Zealand has to offer in the IT industry. I’m leaving the team in good hands and I look forward to seeing them evolve and continue their success.

The Click Suite coffee table – it gives you butterflies. 


My move will be to join the Information Design team at Click Suite.

I’m looking forward to it, especially to the change my role (I’ll be managed, not a manager!), and surroundings (character building, above the Lido cafe), and working with some people more experienced than myself.

In many ways it will be a return to the sort of work and environment I had worked in for many years prior to my abduction by the corporate sector when Spunk Media sold to Innvovus which then subsequently sold to Synergy (Fronde).

When I joined Provoke I told Mason, the Managing Director, “on average I tend to stick around for about 5 years”. Well, it’s not far off that. Maybe I’d already mapped out my destiny back in 2004.

So what is it with my 5-year itch?

My Career Pathways

It seems that as soon as my occupation becomes mainstream I like to reinvent myself. This time it’s not so much a reinvention, but a realisation that I need to go back to my past – “new media”.

In the mid 1990s (at Vidmark, CWA and Synergy) I was designing interactive stories on CD-Roms, 3D visualisations, kiosks and mixed-media environments for dance-parties.


Back in the 90s I liked to humour my clients with ‘Concept C’. This concept was for the Royal Society homepage – a simple search box. The MRI scan of the head followed the mouse around the screen.
Working within the web for the past ten years has had some of that richness of experience, but not quite enough to truly excite me.

Fact is, I’ve been finding the web a bit boring.

But that’s about to change…

After years of hype and fringe activity I believe we are on a tipping-point. The internet is finally moving from a point-and-click/keyboard environment to a sensory “touch and feel” environment which isn’t restricted to a personal computer.

The iphone is one such device which is a taste of things to come. The location-aware Snapper cards (being launched for public transport micropayments in Wellington) is another. The advent of realtime data, calculations and visualisations to better understand and manage climate change (and other stuff) is another.

And all these devices will need User Experience Designers to make them compelling, useful and fun.

This is part of the reason I’m moving to Click Suite. They are recognised as pioneers within the interactive industry and create not only websites, but games and interactive spaces.

And in 5 more years where will I go next?

Someone said yesterday I should write a book…

…maybe. But maybe I’ll surprise you.

Stay posted!

Quantum Theory Perplexes Information Hippies in Nelson

Brendon Ford and I have just returned from a miniature junket in Nelson to present the mechanics behind the award-winning intranet we worked on for the Ministry of Transport back in 06/07.

Quantum Content

During my presentation I briefly tried to compare quantum theory to CMS-metadata-driven content – which for me has its similarities in that content can live in multiple locations and formats at the same time. Despite the blank stares from the audience I believe this might have wings and is something I’d like to explore further.

Mission Information Management

The symposium was run by the ALGIM (Association of Local Government Information Management Inc). They have a mission "To provide leadership to Local Government in Information Management and Information Processes, and to provide a voice for Local Government Information Management". So sounds like they really dig information stuff…

My impression is that they’re doing good work and are much needed to ensure our people stay well informed by local government. I discovered that there’s over 85 local govt websites in NZ, and most are run by individuals on shoe-string budgets.

It hit home to me the importance of the web as a communication channel following a presentation about the Northland Regional Council. They provided 24hr coverage during a recent disaster, floods which cut off most of the region for days. Their website included information on road closures, safety and emergency procedures. The website also acted as an information hub for friends and family outside the region and for the media to keep up to date with the news.

Dogs Being Weeded In Tauranga

Most curious to me was the Tauranga City Council who switched from a traditional Council-type website to a simple search-based approach in November 2007. Since then usage has more than doubled.

I suspect I know why. People can’t find stuff and are searching more than ever!

In a quick usability test I searched for "dog permit". I got one result on "Chemical Weed Control".

Sounds nasty.

However, a search for "dog registration" returns a nice info sheet and 66 results. Great! But they still have some sorting out to do in matching "citizen speak" with "council speak".

Personally, I regard search as a last resort. Getting an accurate, ‘on target’ search result usually involves knowing how to massage the search engine. Just because you get 49,823 results in Google doesn’t mean you found what you were looking for. You most likely found something close enough, but how do you know it’s the special content you really need? Browsing links (done correctly) is like hand-holding – it leads people to the right place – the special, well crafted and accurate content you really want to communicate to people.

Back to 1999?

 I heard something else interesting at the ALGIM conference…

Apparently a noticeable number of internet users in NZ (well, in Rotorua anyway) are switching back from broadband to dial-up.

Why?

Because they like to download games, movies and music. On dialup they get unlimited downloads for a super low price. With broadband they get a download limit and much larger access fees.

Under the Hood of Discover

Here’s my section of the presentation on the award-winning intranet for the Ministry of Transport. This has an emphasis on the metadata/tagging approach to the Information Architecture. Presented to the New Zealand Association of Local Government Information Management on 6th May 2008.

sliding around

I’ve started uploading some of my presentations to SlideShare…

Here’s the one from kiwi foocamp…

Visualisation techniques for workshops where you need to get a consensus in the room

 

And the one from Webstock 2008…


 

If you find these useful let me know and I’ll upload some others!

who wants to save the world?

The Imagine Cup encourages young people to apply their imagination, passion and creativity to technology innovations that can make a difference in the world today.

Now in its sixth year, the Imagine Cup has grown to be a truly global competition focused on finding solutions to real world issues.

The 2008 Theme: The Environment

Provoke has been mentoring Victoria University team WebStuffDone (from Wellington).

If you check out their site you’ll see it’s a simple quiz game where you earn points. If you earn 100 points then they plant a tree.

imaginecup.jpg

The more tree-planting points they earn before their presentation on Thursday (3rd April 2008) then the more chance they have of winning the competition. 

They have teamed up with a respected and dedicated organisation, Trees for the Future, to handle the tree planting (and in the process of signing-up their first sponsor).

So if you’ve got a spare minute they (and your planet), would really appreciate you spending a bit of time on it and telling your friends and family!

http://www.whowantstosavetheworld.com

Seven Deadly Design Sins

Designers who don’t pick up on their users’ confusion to the environment in the interweb may be risking more than a fine – they may be putting their souls at risk of damnation, according to a new zef[a]media list of seven deadly sins for the 21st century.

As the seven ancient wonders of the world were matched by seven modern wonders, the seven deadly sins have been given a modern version for a globalised world, announced by a zef[a]media official yesterday.

Pop-up pollution, self-centered interface engineering, obscene amounts of content, taking GUI inconsistency, task-flow abortion, submitbuttonophilia and causing accessibility injustice join the original ten deadly sins defined by Jakob the Great in the 20th century.

Jacob wrestling with the angel
Jakob wrestling with the "intelligent designer", a scene from the interweb (Engraving by Gustave Dore).

Zef Fugaz, head of the Provoke Penitentiary, responsible for absolving designers from their sins, named the new mortal sins in an interview with himself yesterday.

He did not spell out details but said the original deadly sins had an individualistic dimension, while the new seven had a social resonance and showed designers that their vices affected other people.

“New sins have appeared on the horizon of humanity as a corollary of the unstoppable process of web2.0alisation,” he said.

Jakob was offended not only by violating W3C conventions, non-scannable text or coveting your competition’s code but by ruining the user’s browsing environment, conducting immoral AJAX experiments and persona manipulation.

Traditional Jakob doctrine divides sins into mortal and venial (lesser) and holds that mortal sins, if unrepented, lead to eternal damnation.

Mortal sins are not officially listed, but include Bad Search, Not Changing the Color of Visited Links, Fixed Font Size and Anything That Looks Like an Advertisement. They can be absolved after confession, and Fugaz has acted to make this more palatable, launching workshops to teach Designers to be less self-worshipping in the interweb booth.

He said that many designers found it hard to be open about their sins to their managers, and the new course would help designers to be ministers of reconciliation.

The course includes instruction on “special cases”, such as Flash Designers and people working for start-up companies.

by jimi ! the critics have their say…

Tom Coates

Rowan Smith

Zef conjured a web persona into Jimi Hendrix before we knew what was happening. The real Hendrix was better (I was hoping for Star Spangled Banner) but Zef’s one was a damn fine stand-in.

wasabicube

Jimi plays a mean ukelele during Zef’s 8×5 presentation

Shadowfoot

2266293428_430ab85eeb.jpg

Robyn

…as one of the few people there old enough to remember the original Woodstock I can assure everyone that Jimi Hendrix lives!

Joanna McLeod

Jimmy Hendrix came out to play on a ukelale. I can’t spell.

ProjectX

Zef and Provoke and Jimi – What a live performance!

deb sidelinger

jimi hendrix makes an appearance at webstock

a world inside

Jimmy Hendrix sings about … website usability?

slice

He’s sexy and has a ukulele. He has crazy hair which turns me on I like him he has a nice

Wookiebot

Please try eating some cookies.

Getting it On! (@ Webstock 2008)

 

jimitokiThank goodness Webstock is over!  Too much of a good thing can corrupt the senses…

Photo by wasabicube

On Jimi

Was that pre-recorded? No

Was that his real hair? Yes

Wow, who on Earth was that? My bro: http://www.tokerau.net

Was it videod? See it on YouTube.
Official version should soon appear on Webstock.

Can I see the slideshow again? Here you go…

On the lyrics…

Hey Zef, where you goin’ with that persona in your hand?

Hey Zef, I said where you goin’ with that persona in your hand?

Alright. I’m goin down to run a workshop with my client,

you know I caught them messin’ ’round with a NON user centred design process.

Yeah,! I’m goin’ down to run a workshop with my client,

you know I caught them messin’ ’round with a NON user centred design process.

Huh! And that ain’t too cool.

Uh, hey Bob, I heard you prototyped your user interface down,

you work-shopped it down.

Uh, hey Bob, I heard you prototyped your user interface down

you prototyped it down to the ground. Yeah!

Yes, I did, I designed it,

you know I iterated it ’round,

iterated’ ’round town.

Uh, yes I did, I designed it

you know I caught them messin’ ’round with a NON user centred design process.

So I gave them the persona and it wowed `em!

Alright

Workshop `em one more time again, man!

Hey Lulu, said now,

uh, where you iterate to now, where you iterate to?

Yeah.

Hey Lulu, I said,

where you goin’ to iterate

to now, where you, where you gonna go?

Well, dig it!

I’m goin’ way down, way down to the Lambton Quarter,

way down to the Provoke Design & User Experience Team! Alright!

I’m goin’ way down to the Wellington CBD,

way down where I can be free!

…CODE FOR FREEDOM!

Personas was in my brain,

lately people don’t seem the same,

actin’ funny but I don’t know why

‘scuse me while I zip my fly…

Webstock people all around,

don’t know if I’m coming up or down.

Am I happy or in Facebook misery?

Whatever it is, Natasha Hall put a spell on me.

Webstock Haze was in my eyes,

don’t know if it’s day or night,

you’ve got me blowing, blowing my mind

is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

On Michael Lopp

loppZef: So what do you do?

Michael: I’m an Engineer.

Zef: Who for?

Michael: Apple.

Zef: Who?

Michael: Apple.

Zef: So what do they do?

Michael: Um…

On Shawn Henry

henryZef: I heard you on National Radio last night…

Shawn: I saw you at the dinner the other night, but you looked ‘too cool’ to talk to.

Zef: Huh? But I thought everyone else looked ‘too cool!’

Shawn: Cool.

On Jason Santa Maria

santaZef: We sponsored you because you looked angry in the photo.

Jason: A few people have said that.

Zef: You’re not angry now?

Jason: Um…

FullCodePress: User Experience Perspective

Occasionally I get emails asking about the (rapid) information architecture process I followed for   FullCodePress last year. Steve Batey from Meld Consulting asks all the right questions and has agreed to share my answers with you!

[Steve] What were your thoughts going into the event about your role in the process? Were you concerned about how much you could do in such a short period of time, and did that affect how you approached the UxD process?

[Zef] I made it clear up front with the CodeBlacks what I expected my role would entail and what I would deliver. The team fortunately agreed. Some cross-over did exist between myself and the Peter Johnston (Writer) so we decided we should sit side-by-side and keep the lines of communication open.

My overall approach did not change much from usual as I’ve designed a UCD-process which can be scaled and adapted to fit almost any timeline (which is usually weeks to months). A condensed timeline simply means spending less-time refining certain deliverables (for example, the persona profiles I created were a light-weight version – we didn’t have the luxury to back these assumptions with field research).

Where I did cut corners was for what I call the ‘content model’- this would normally include in-depth content analysis, metadata and an ontology. All up I had about 4hrs to craft the User Experience deliverables, but had set myself a personal goal of 3hrs (one hour per deliverable). In hindsight I’ve got no idea how long I actually spent, but I think it was on target!

What methodology did you choose to use? What were the key deliverables you handed over to the rest of the team? What was the thinking behind those choices?

For my part I followed a variation on what is now probably a generic approach to user-centred design for websites – with one big exception – I didn’t have any contact with actual users!

I would usually conduct user research upfront to build comprehensive persona profiles. To validate the information architecture I would normally conduct usability testing on the paper prototypes.

What I ended up creating (with the team) is based on a persona hypothesis and a ‘common sense’ approach to the IA. We kicked-off the process by meeting with client (Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association), learning about their organisation and then establishing their goals. This happened very rapidly in about 30min and my attempt at using sticky notes quickly degraded to unreadable scrawls on paper! We had learn all we could about this organisation fast and I think we reached a point after 20minutes where we had the gist of it, wrote up some goals and then moved onto the next stage- ‘user research’.

Persona hypothesis (set)

My usual process is to workshop with clients and create a set of draft personas on the spot, so this wasn’t much different for FullCodePress. We started brainstorming user roles and characteristics using sticky-notes and established the primary personas. I then sat down with Debbie from Grampians and using MS Word we crafted a first cut of the personas. We ended up with one primary and three secondary personas (Frank, Client; Pat- Caregiver; Kathy- Agency; Josie – GdAA Office Admin).

The first iteration of the persona set was released to the team (as print-outs). I later refined these when I had time.

Sitemap

I used the personas to establish tasks and primary pathways which are reflected in the sitemap. The sitemap (created in Visio) was done in collaboration with Peter who by now had a rough handle on the content. The first iteration was printed and presented to the team for feedback. At this stage labelling wasn’t finalised but it did establish a site framework which was essential for Mark Rickerby (Programmer) to build a site skeleton and linkages. As we went along all that changed to the sitemap was some swapping around of low-level content, following feedback from Debbie and once Peter began to rationalise and craft the content.

Template spec

Next stage was the creation of what I call the Template Specifications (or ‘wireframes’). Created in Visio these were rapidly created by first establishing the master template (header, navigation, footer and layout grid). This base framework allowed Jeffrey Wegesin (HTML/CSS), Steve Dennis (Designer) and Ali Green (All-rounder) to really sink their teeth into the visual design and frontend coding.

The other templates I had predetermined would be the usual set of a homepage, section landing page and content pages- so all this meant was a quick analysis of the content types and ensuring a page template existed for each. In all we ended up with five templates (homepage, section landing page, content page, multiple content and custom form). The Template Specifications acted as the blueprint for the design, frontend code and development.

How much collaboration and involvement of other team members was there during the user experience design phase? How about the clients? (Did that help or hinder the process?)

Clients are part of the design team

The whole team viewed every deliverable (as a work in progress) and gave their feedback before it was released. A release involved me giving a hardcopy to everyone. If I created a new iteration then I gave them a new copy and took away the old version. I think we went through about three iterations of the paper prototypes during the course of the 24hrs.

As for the client, to me their involvement is always essential- I see them as part of the design team and fortunately Debbie was very articulate, open to ideas and had a really good grasp on who the site was targeting. This made my job easier and is a key reason why I think the site is a success- it meets the needs of the organisation (an outr
each to isolated and potentially vulnerable people) and for their customers (as a place they can go to get information and support).

One question we asked was- “How easily do you want users to be able to contact you?”. Debbie’s answer was- “We WANT to have personal contact with these people!”. So this guided the site to be not just information, but to provide pathways to key issues and allow users to contact Grampians via an online form, email, phone or visiting a local office.

How did you decide how much time you had to spend on each task? In hindsight, was this too much or not enough?

Prior to the event Thomas Scovell (Project Manager) had mapped out a 24hour timeline. I no longer have a copy of the plan but I think my initial push was about 4hrs all up. But this time doesn’t reflect the forward planning. I’m the type of person who has good days and bad days- I can rapidly achieve a lot in a very short time frame but then spend the next few days flailing about. Fortunately for FCP I did no flailing and just churned it out. If needed you could do basic personas, a rough sitemap and scrawly templates in under one hour on a whiteboard – but you get what you pay for! The less time you have the more likely things haven’t been thought through properly- time for reflection and refinement is important.

What was your favourite ‘guerilla’ IA tactic you were able to use during the competition?

I didn’t try anything fancy (except for the tagging-engine which we had to drop), and I used templates the team would be familiar with. The deliverables I created for FullCodePress are a base-line version of the UCD deliverables we create here every day at Provoke.

How did the rest of the team react to your role? Did they know what you were doing there?

They were fine and fortunately most of the team had already worked with a similar process and deliverables.

How closely did the final result match your ‘vision’? Were there technical constraints uncovered further into the process that forced you to revise your design? Could this have been avoided?

Looking back the site is about 90% accurate to the design- we had to drop some functionality at the last minute due to time constraints. This included ‘related content’ (created by listing content tagged with the same topic) and a site map.

During the early stages of the competition the spotlight was well and truly on the UxD member of each team: how did you feel about that?

Absolutely fine. We agreed that Thomas would take care of the business side (business analysis and business goals), while I would focus on the users.

Last question: did you have fun? Does it feel like it was worthwhile to you to be involved?

Yum!

I had a great time and encourage others to give it a go – a great learning experience for all levels of experience. The WIPA and Webstock crews looked after us- good food, accommodation and great company. The fun factors surrounded the actual event with some delightful dinners, exploring the sites and killing ourselves trying to find a decent coffee in Sydney (I admit, there’s a vast improvement on 9 years ago when I lived there!).

We’re On the Front Seat!

Another little secret I’ve been sitting on for a while now (and can now reveal) is that Front Seat Media and Provoke Solutions have partnered to develop an innovative internet and digital TV platform.

  

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By 2009 you could be languishing on the front seat too…
"We can’t think of a more natural partnership than this one with Provoke Solutions, the brand synonymous with building easy-to-use, user centric websites and applications around the world.” said John Ferguson CEO, Front Seat Media.

“Working with Provoke Solutions will increase our speed to market and guarantee we have a high quality and robust product. Our users will be the big winners.”

I have to say, I’m genuinely excited by the platform – 2008 is already beginning to rock!

About Provoke Solutions

Provoke is a world-class, New Zealand-based company specialising in business-focused software excellence, utilising the Microsoft suite of technologies. Since the firm’s establishment in 2001, the Directors’ vision has been to run a software house with a user centred design (UCD) focus, consistently delivering high quality solutions to customers around the globe. www.provoke.co.nz

About Front Seat Media

Front Seat Media launched in August 2007 and has quickly become a leader in the development of internet TV and digital TV solutions. Today, Front Seat Media continues to lead the industry with the development of a consumer media experience that will be brought to market in Q3 2008. www.frontseatmedia.com

Jakob’s Top 10 Provoked!

I’ve been hinting for a while that we had big news for 2008 : and now the word is out!

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Provoke – Project Management, Information Architecture, Implementation, Development. Capiche – Visual Design.
From Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, January 7, 2008

10 Best Intranets of 2008

The winners of the award for 10 best-designed intranets for 2008 are:

  • Bank of America, US
  • Bankinter S.A., Spain
  • Barnes & Noble, US
  • British Airways, UK
  • Campbell Soup Company, US
  • Coldwell Banker Real Estate Corporation, US
  • IKEA North America Service, LLC, US
  • Ministry of Transport, New Zealand
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, Australia
  • SAP AG, Germany

Most of the winning designs are traditional, company-wide intranets, but IKEA won for its regional intranet covering North America. Also, Coldwell Banker’s intranet works somewhat like an extranet: it connects 3,800 independently owned and operated residential and commercial real estate offices, while appearing to users as a local office intranet rather than a corporate intranet.

Half of the winners are from the US, closely matching the nation’s long-term performance average of 53%. The remaining five winners hail from five different countries. The southern hemisphere is strongly represented this year, including the first-ever winner from New Zealand.

Full Article

It’s about the experience…

While Provoke has a golden reputation for being leaders in Microsoft-driven solutions, this doesn’t restrict our dUX (Design & User Experience) team from crafting an awesome experience for other technology platforms.

The most recently example is sustainability.govt.nz – with the information architecture, visual design and HTML/CSS templates created by Provoke (in close collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment) – and the final product stitched-together by Catalyst IT on the open-source CMS, Drupal.

The site aims to help people reduce their impact on the environment and save money, without compromising lifestyle. You’ll find useful tips on how best to use energy and water, and what to do with your rubbish.

sustainability

2012

Recently I’ve found time (albeit, the middle of the night), to start work on a 5-year plan for the dUX team here at Provoke (which I lead/manage).

I looked around for business plan templates and checked-out PlanHQ, but in the end I did my own thing and created a visual business plan (using Visio). Without giving too much away, here’s the high-level overview.

duxgoals

My plan is ambitious but I’m determined to make it happen. Already we boast one the most talented and largest experience design teams in New Zealand. And I’m wanting to add several more of the right sort of people to my team early in 2008 (or sooner) – including…

‘Experience Design’ Leader (Auckland): We need a visionary ‘hands-on’ user experience consultant to help us build our fledgling team in Auckland. Great location, good people, fantastic projects – opportunities coming out of our ears!

‘Experience Design’ Account Manager (Wellington): You may have a background in design, branding, communications, marketing – well networked and energetic. This role is not about selling technology, it’s about selling a team who can envision solutions for complex problems and work collaboratively with technologists, business owners and their customers.

User Experience Consultants/Information Architects/Interaction Designers (Auckland/Wellington): Want to work with an inclusive team specialising in all this? Provoke could be the place for you.

HTML/CSS/Rich Media Interaction Developers (Auckland/Wellington): If you love code and crafting online user experiences, you’ll dig working with us – get to work with the latest technologies and everything from webapps to intranets to websites to interactive gadgets.

So if you are interested in a change, a challenge and invigorating work environment get in touch…

 

 

 

 

 

auckland spoolfly buys lulu

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to recently, here’s a quick update…

Fly Buying

Fly-Buys.jpg
The new site has a fresh visual design and an improved user experience. This is the first stage of an ongoing programme of work so expect some further enhancements in future (and yes, we plan to fix the flickering tab rollover issues evident on some browsers!). The site is built on MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007). Overall, a nice design built in a tight timeframe – good work Provoke!

New Band Member!

lulu.jpg
This is Lulu Pachuau – she has done great work for Baazee (E-Bay India), Fronde, Hansel and more recently Shift. She is now a permanent member of the Provoke Design & User Experience team and fast discovering why we think different. Her feedback after her first few weeks? "…I belong here!"

Provoking Auckland

PKSauckland.jpg
Pictured: Mason and Rob playing "I’m going on a bear hunt, it’s gonna be a BIG one!"

Auckland is on the brink of going insane, so obviously they thought of me… I was up there last week and visited the new office – the old Post Office building on Symonds Street – nice space!

Getting Spooled

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Jared Spool contacted me recently and asked to feature the Provoke blob charts and personas in his Building Robust Personas Seminar. I subscribed to Spool’s UIE newsletter (then on paper!) in the late 1990’s, so was thrilled that he wanted to feature our work!

 

We’re Finalists!

After years of hiding in the dark I’ve been recently making an effort to submit some of Provoke’s Design & User Experience work to industry publications and awards.

One we know we’ve already got ‘in the bag’ but can’t reveal what it is until early 2008. Two more sites we’d like to enter but they don’t go live until end of 2007. But I can announce that we have not one, but two sites as finalists in the 2007 TUANZ Business Internet Awards. 

These are both for the Information Architecture category. I expected we’d be up against industry moguls such as Shift and Clicksuite, who (unusually), are absent from this years list of finalists.

One of our entries is for the National Bank Home Buyers Centre. This was Bob Medcalf’s first big Information Architecture assignment and he overcame a series of challenges including designing an IA with no content! Despite this setback he followed a rigorous UCD process including personas and paper prototyping. Importantly he then validated and refined his architecture through usability testing.

The other Provoke entry is a prototype intranet we created for the Ministry of Transport (the first MOSS production intranet in the world). They liked it so much they rolled it out to all their staff… While they and I know it needs work, the clever Information Architecture is around the tag-driven content views. The navigation pathways are twistable, filterable and mashable!

Congratulations to the other TUANZ finalists. The preliminary judging "by a panel of independent industry experts" has taken place and the finalists in the Awards categories, are as follows:

Education Award

  • Spell Right! Endings – Boost New Media
  • Te Tuhi a-Hiko – Learning Media Ltd and Boost New Media
  • ACC Sports Sites – DNA Design
  • SciCity – Otago Museum and ZeDDD Technology

Advertising/Promotion Award

  • grabaseat – Air New Zealand Limited
  • QV iTV Campaign – Quotable Value
  • Air Force Special Ops – Chrometoaster and Ogilvy

Entertainment Award

  • MTV’s Jackass the Game – Sidhe Interactive
  • GripShift for PlayStation 3 – Sidhe Interactive

Information Architecture Award

  • Department of Conservation Website – Intergen
  • Home Buyers Centre – Provoke Solutions
  • MED SuperNav – Ministry of Economic Development
  • Discover – Provoke Solutions

e-Commerce Award 

  • QV iTV Campaign – Quotable Value
  • The Air New Zealand ISIS online booking engine – Air New Zealand Limited
  • Icebreaker.com – Flightless

Experimentation Award

  • I KISS NZ – Kentaro Yamada + ALT
  • How far can I go? – Air New Zealand Limited

User Generated Content Award 

  • Ponoko – Origin Design
  • Clever Toys Website – NV and Touch/Cast Next
  • Share My NZ – Share My NZ Ltd/Zenago
  • MTV’s Jackass the Game – Sidhe Interactive

SaaS Award 

  • Xero – Xero Live Limited
  • CNS Treasury Software – Tuatara Technology Ltd

Tertiary Student Award
All entries by students in any category were automatically considered for this award. 

  • De Escape – Lin Yew Cheang, Wanganui School of Design
  • Spinobot – Lin Yew Cheang, Wanganui School of Design
  • Searchbots – Mark Zeman, Massey University

Winners in each category above and the special Awards listed below will be announced at a TUANZ Business Internet Awards event to be held at the Renouf Foyer, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington Convention Centre commencing at 6:00pm on Wednesday 7 November. Registration details.

re-Gathering

The Gathering was New Zealand’s biggest and best outdoor dance party, which was held every New Year for six years between 1996 and 2001.

This is the first Gathering documentary which was about the 97/98 event, held at the magical Canaan Downs site on top of Takaka Hill near Nelson.

In this footage you’ll catch a glimpse of me DJing in the House tent (20:45) – but most of the time I was behind the camera.

Depending on demand we’re also considering uploading a high-resolution version or producing a DVD. Let me know if you’re interested.

The documentary includes behind-the-scenes views of the setup and running of the party; the wild and crazy days and nights of the party itself; interviews with the crew, and you – the party animals; and interviews with “grown-ups” like the Mayor of Tasman District and the local police.

We hope you enjoy it and that it brings back some awesome rave memories. Check out the new Gathering website [http://www.thegathering.co.nz] for more archives website at Gathering-related goodness!

In the meantime if you feel like joining a discussion or reminiscing about the awesomeness that was The Gathering dance party – check out The Gathering archives blog.

How Robust?

I have a lot of respect for Jared Spool – but I almost choked when I received this invite…

Building Robust Personas in 30 Days or Less 

Jared M. Spool

Jared M. Spool, User Interface Engineering

Length: 90 Minutes

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 at 1PM ET (see the time/date in your area)

Price: $129.00 (includes handout)

Register Now

30 days or less?

How much less?

How many personas?

I may just have to register to find out. I’m agape because most of the personas we’ve ever created at Provoke are done within days, let alone weeks or a month.

I’m sure Jared’s own personas are detailed, rigourous and embedded in both qualitative and qantitative analysis. And I expect his clients in the US have massive budgets and timelines and therefore can afford to employ a team of specialists to work on various aspects of the personas.

If you happen to be one of these big rich US companies I’ll even put my hand up now to offer you an awesome "blow your socks off persona set" for around $USD50,000 (+ expenses).

But in a small country like New Zealand (and I’m sure most other countries outside the US and UK), very few companies would have the luxury to spend anything close to 30 days to build personas.

426564-875932-thumbnail.jpg
This persona took about 3 days to research and create – pages of research was condensed down to just two A3 sides – making it easily digestable for the project team.
Maybe I’m not comparing apples with apples, but in my view a ‘robust’ persona should take 3 to 5 days. This equates to one day for research, one day for analysis and one day for modelling/creating the persona. Add on project planning, locating interview participants and project management to get your five days per persona.

I have no doubt a user research specialist with academic grounding would poke huge holes in my approach to user research. But I don’t seek perfection, just a sense of reality based on ‘just enough’ research.

The persona should feel realistic – if their characteristics and behaviours sound unreal, then the persona is probably off the mark (unless you can back this with statistics and research).

As you’ll see from my work at Full Code Press a fairly good persona hypothesis can be done in a manner of hours.

And this detailed persona, which we created as part of a larger set for the Department of Labour, took about three days (plus some project management).

This process involved starting with a hypothesis, followed with user interviews (five people per persona), usage observations and an online survey.

Despite my ramblings I recommend you check out Jared’s website and online seminars – some really good stuff on there.

And if you’d like to see a workshop run here in New Zealand on persona creation let me know!

Maybe I’ll call it…

Building ‘Fairly Robust’ Personas in 3 Days or Less

 

Unravelling Visual Design

At Provoke we’re increasingly focussing on visual design and how this influences a user’s comprehension of content, interactivity and pathways.

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Moments before unravelling…
Coming up with a nice-looking visual design usually isn’t the greatest challenge – the real magic lies in the delicate interplay between the brand, content, navigation pathways, interactive tools and how the visuals impact user behaviour.

There’s no doubt about it – visuals (including photos, typography and colour) hugely transform a black-and-white screen prototype – taking the concept a step closer to reality.

But the very act of adding shapes and colour actually changes user perception (and potentially their behaviour). This is where visual design done in isolation (or ignorance) can potentially unravel a great user experience (and in some cases make a smart-looking website incoherent to the user).

A classic example is a design object which looks like a link (but isn’t) and text which looks like a design element but is actually a link.

This issue has been boiling my blood in recent months…

I’ve seen a number of brilliant well-thought out website architectures effectively ruined by visual designs which ignore basic principals of user focus and legibility within the context of an online environment.

Even more gut-wrenching are existing sites which had already proven their success through such techniques as usability testing, direct customer feedback and usage metrics – but then redesigned without any consideration to the underlying architecture of the user experience.

These companies are basically shooting themselves in the foot.

And I’m not just talking about amateurish looking designs, but sites with an expensive feel. Looking slick and expensive isn’t enough!

To get to the point – if you’re serious about the success of your online presence you need a visual designer who understands the full gamut of user experience design*. If they don’t, then partner your visual designer (or agency) with an information architect or interaction designer who does.

Using personas (customer profiles) is a great way to keep the focus on the user and their goals. If you’re on a project which utilises personas then encourage everyone involved to read and discuss these – it should help the design team create an affinity with the types of people the site is intended for.

At Provoke we also create persona mood boards to help guide the visuals and consider each design decision in the context of the intended user experience. If the user experience designer intended the user to focus on a certain part of the screen first, then the visual design should help support this goal through use of colour or a design element which draws the eye.

So, if you’re about to redesign or build a new site – remember, you can’t separate visual design from user experience design – they need each other!

* User Experience (UX) Design begins by understanding the business, branding and user goals. It involves crafting of site structure, content, interactive features and proving design effectiveness through usability testing.

 

busy beavers

My design team at Provoke have been busy creating mayhem…

Congrats to Alastair who picked up Silver at the Best Awards last week for his Social Ticketing concept…

socialticketing.jpg

 

Isha (pictured below) has been finding new and creative ways to spread his fame – you can views his interviews with the likes of August de los Reyes (Microsoft’s Creative Director) and Natasha Hall (TradeMe), and some rather interesting behind the scenes footage over at Expression around the Clock

ishanut.jpg

 

And Kate has a lovely new blog. Here’s the chess set she designed during the beta-phase for Ponoko

ponk.png

Microsoft Awards Provoked

Provoke took top honours at Microsoft New Zealand’s partner awards last week…

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Provoke won both the premier award for ‘Partner Solution of the Year’ (for our work on the Ministry of Transport intranet) – and – the ‘Business Productivity Solution’ award, beating finalists Polymedia and HP. Provoke was also a finalist in the Microsoft Technology Advocates category (won by IGA Systems).

Xero (located just across the road from Provoke) took home the ‘Small Business Partner Solution’ of the Year and ‘Software Solution of the Year’ (there must be something in the coffee at Pravda).

Around 300 people attended the glitzy awards dinner at the Auckland Museum on Thursday night and the Provoke crew were still buzzing when they arrived home on Friday evening.

This is fantastic news for Provoke – it’s great to be recognised for all our hard work! 

Gadget Neglect

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Canon TX1 : Ingenious or insane – I’m not sure which…
I’ve been so busy recently that my new (and first ever) digital camera sat unopened on my desk for 7 days.
..

For just $NZ500 (plus an extra $80 for a 4Gb memory card) I’ve now got a camera which not only shoots stills, but also high-definition video.

After getting over the awkward smallness of the Canon TX1 I’m gob smacked by the endless features this little camera promises (and delivers).

Like my other super gadgets (the 1950’s transistor radio, iMac Bondi, 3rd generation ipod and Treo650), I forsee that I’ll work this little machine until it falls apart.

Am I unusual in that I don’t upgrade every 6 months?

Last weekend was the Provoke annual conference in Martinborough. As usual we had fantastic Wairarapa weather and my annual tequila ritual – my presentation went down a treat too.

confdux.jpg

I’m feeling happy with where my design team is at – we’re performing well, winning some great contracts and despite the stress and pressure that goes with the web industry, still managing to have lots of fun.

confmatt.jpg

What’s more we’re on target to double in-size of the Wellington design team by the end of 2008… plus there’s the new Auckland office – it’s all go!

confkpi.jpg

Work-wise we’re the busiest I think we’ve ever been – including two intranets, a portal, several little websites and one ginarmous one – I’ll let the cat out of the bag late November.

intraplate.jpg

And if you haven’t heard already, Webstock is back and it’s going to be great! Are you going?

long-one.png

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{press release} PROVOKE OPENS NORTH OF THE BOMBAYS

Provoke’s new Auckland office has just opened on the back of six years significant growth in the Wellington market.

Provoke Auckland have already started working with a selection of new northern customers and are currently looking to close their first big deal with a large Australian-based company. With a budget of seven figures over the next nine months, this one project will provide the momentum to grow staff numbers from 3 to 15 very quickly. Rob Benson who leads the Auckland operation says “we’re looking to grow quite rapidly – in line with the demand for our services”.

Provoke is a Wellington-based software development company that builds custom and product-based applications using Microsoft technologies. This northward push has been driven by combined pressure from Provoke’s existing Auckland-based customers and from Microsoft New Zealand.

Microsoft’s Managing Director Helen Robinson is more than aware of Provoke’s achievements to date and looks forward to the team replicating their success via a physical presence in Auckland. “Provoke has consistently been one of our over-achieving Gold Partners, growing from strength-to-strength. They are well respected for their innovative use of Microsoft technologies and the energy, enthusiasm and smarts of their management team makes them an absolute pleasure to partner with.”

Rob Benson is no stranger to the Auckland IT services market. He was a founding partner and former Managing Director of the successful Oracle shop Theta Systems. Rob recently sold his shares in Theta after an exceptional, eleven year track-record, building Theta into one of New Zealand’s most successful Oracle services companies.

Benson is excited about taking on the challenge of building Provoke’s Auckland presence.

“The strong brand that Provoke has established and their fantastic reputation in the Wellington market will definitely help my cause. Although we only officially started trading in August, the buzz is already widespread and the hype and demand is growing on a daily basis“ says Benson.

Provoke is positioned as New Zealand’s premiere Microsoft SharePoint 2007 implementor. This has generated significant demand for their services throughout New Zealand. Boasting one of the most qualified SharePoint teams and employing one of only two Microsoft MVPs (Microsoft Most Valued Professionals) in the country is certainly helping this along says Provoke’s Wellington-based Managing Director Mason Pratt.

Provoke’s new Auckland office has just opened on the back of six years significant growth in the Wellington market.

“We haven’t seen or heard of any design-led software business in the Auckland market really taking advantage of the demand for the new SharePoint platform. We’ve been fortunate enough to work on New Zealand’s first SharePoint 2007 implementation for the Civil Aviation Authority which provided invaluable insight into the product’s capabilities.

This took place well before the final version from Microsoft was ready for public release. By coupling our User Centred Design (UCD) methodology with our technical expertise I believe we’re uniquely positioned in this burgeoning new market.”

John Bessey, Sales & Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand has encouraged Provoke’s move into the Auckland market. “Provoke has clearly demonstrated their commitment to the Microsoft platform having achieved the pinnacle of Gold Partner status. They’ve worked extremely hard over the last few years to prove themselves as technology innovators but also as first class usability experts. We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with Provoke and excited about the value they can bring to our Auckland customers, especially in the SharePoint 2007 space.”

Provoke’s customer base has primarily been in the public sector, working for large Government agencies and SOEs such as the New Zealand Fire Service, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of Conservation, the State Services Commission, Meridian Energy and ONTRACK. More recently Provoke has been focussing on developing partnerships with private sector clients such as Loyalty New Zealand, Transpower, Contact Energy and the ANZ National Bank. Pratt feels this will hold them in good stead for further developing a market dominated by private enterprise.

Pratt’s business track record speaks for itself. He recently received the highly-regarded New Zealand Institute of Management accolade of Young Executive of the Year for the Central Region. This award he hopes will strengthen Provoke’s reputation as a market leader. Pratt is now up against the Northern and Southern finalists, with the winner of the New Zealand-wide NZIM Supreme Award due to be announced later in the year.

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

MASON PRATT
Managing Director, Provoke Solutions Ltd
P: 04 916 4360 | M: 021 848 400 | E: mason.pratt@provoke.co.nz

ROB BENSON
Managing Director, Provoke Solutions Auckland Ltd
P: 09 379 0693 | M: 027 672 2906 | E: rob.benson@provoke.co.nz

Crazy idea archives : part one

My perfect job would be sitting around sipping soy lattes and coming up with bright ideas for the next “killer app”. Now, from the archives of the legendary zef[a]media bondi blue iMac – crazy ideas that never happened!

p.u.p

{a portal concept from 1999 – then updated in 2000}

pup

Impound your PIM – and get a PUP – your Personal Utilisation Port.

It\’s much more than a bland management system. It\’s a tail-chasing tool – and does the chasing for you by gathering all those little things you need to keep in check everyday – time, money, phone messages etc…

PUP can sniff out your email, home phone message box, fetch your news, unleash your daily schedule, dig around the web for tidbits, attack your billing problems, and even deactivate your home security system so the plumber can fix that friggin tap.

All this is controlled via Kennel Central – your PUP\’s homebase on the internet. From here you can set your personal services, options, and even update your PUP\’s personality.

Access PUP from your PDA, Cellphone, or the WWW.

Eight years later this concept is probably feasible – hey, now we even have robotic dogs!

Coming up in Part 2 : “Interwap”.

reinventing dux

I’ve been reinventing the deliverables for the Design & User Experience (DUX) team at Provoke…

dux2007
The many facets of design and user experience – user requirements, business goals, content models, site maps, information architecture, task flows, interaction design, visual design – and more…

Trying to fit this all into one tidy package has proven a challenge, but I think I’ve cracked it.

Provoke’s clients are in for a treat – our new DUX specifications will be so delicious you’ll want to eat them!

FullCodePress : The Aftermath

On Saturday 18 August 2007, teams from Australia and New Zealand competed to build a fully-operational website for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours. No excuses, no extensions, no budget overruns…

fcp-trophy
We won!

FCP-winners.jpg The winning team with our client (Debbie Verdon from the Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association).
The winning team with our client (Debbie Verdon from the Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association).

Press release below. Full coverage, including videos, photos and commentary, over at FullCodePress

Code Blacks bring home the trophy

Kiwi geeks win trans-Tasman 24-hour website building competition

After an intense 24 hours in Sydney, Australia, at the inaugural FullCodePress international site in a day competition, the New Zealand team- the Code Blacks- have emerged triumphant.

The team of Thomas Scovell (project manager), Zef Fugaz (information architect), Steve Dennis (designer), Jeffrey Wegesin (HTML/CSS coder), Mark Rickerby (programmer), Peter Johnston (writer) and Alison Green (all-rounder) beat their Aussie rivals in a photo-finish- with only 2.7 points out of 100 separating the teams.

Judges commented on how well both teams performed, especially given the nature of the competition – clients they\’d never met before, 24hr deadline and incessant interruptions to be photographed, interviewed and videoed.

The competition could be viewed live as it unfolded, and was followed by members of the web industry around the world. The organisers of the competition provided a constant stream of blog posts on their website, as well as Twitter comments, photos uploaded to Flickr, and professionally edited videos of the teams in action and interviews with team members, which were posted on YouTube.

The Code Blacks website client was a small non-profit organisation- Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association (GdAA)- who advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and their carers living in the large and relatively isolated rural Grampians region of Victoria, Australia. They\’ve never been able to afford a website, and at the start of the competition had only a vague idea of what could be achieved by having a web presence.

24 hours later they had a brand new website designed and built for free by some of New Zealand\’s top web professionals; a content management system through which they will be able to edit and add to the site themselves; and a database with which they can manage their membership list and put members with similar interests and/or disabilities in touch with each other.

Thomas Scovell (Shift), the team’s project manager, says ‘It was certainly a challenge to build a website in only 24 hours. Most sites take weeks, if not months, to complete. Traditionally a website is built in stages, water-falling through the range of roles we have on our team on its way to completion. For FullCodePress we had to approach the process in a much more agile fashion, where we collaborated and worked on parts of the process simultaneously in order to get the end result. It was real team work!’

Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association co-ordinator, Debbie Verdon, was absolutely thrilled with her new website, and sees it as an opportunity for her organisation to become leaders within their field, and to raise their profile amongst both clients and potential clients, and within the advocacy and disabled communities as a whole.

The Code Blacks will be smoothing the rough edges of the new site over the next couple of weeks and have made a commitment to Debbie that they will provide ongoing support and technical expertise for at least the next year, donating 15 hours of their time each month towards improving and developing the website.

Useful info

Code Blacks team members:

  • Steve Dennis (Enlighten) – Designer
  • Zef Fugaz (Provoke) – User Experience/Information Architecture
  • Alison Green (Shift) – All Rounder
  • Peter Johnston (Sorted) – Writer
  • Mark Rickerby (Coretxt) – Programmer
  • Thomas Scovell (Shift) – Project Manager
  • Jeffrey Wegesin (Xero) – HTML/CSS

Competition location and dates:
Sydney, Australia- 18-19 August 2007

Organisers:

Sponsors:

  • Google (sponsor)
  • Adobe (Australian team sponsor)
  • Red Square (supporter)
  • SitePoint (supporter)
  • Mort Bay Communications (supporter)

Judges:

  • Gian Sampson-Wild – Manager Usability and Accessibility Services, Monash University – Melbourne, Australia
  • Derek Featherstone – Director, FurtherAhead – Canada
  • Matthew Magain – Technical Editor, SitePoint – Melbourne, Australia
  • Matt Voerman – Senior Consultant, Adobe Systems
  • Natasha Hall – User Experience, Trade Me – Wellington, New Zealand
  • Steve Baty – Director, UX Strategy, Red Square- Sydney, Australia
  • James Magill- Google Australia

Useful links:

Contact for further info:
Thomas Scovell- Code Blacks team captain

FullCodePress : We Begin!

On Saturday 18 August 2007, teams from Australia and New Zealand will compete to build a fully-operational website for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours. No excuses, no extensions, no budget overruns…

FCP-026.jpg
Around 8am : Breakfast of Champions - then I go hunting for a decent coffee shop. The place called 'Expresso' (and no sign of an espresso machine) doesn't look hopeful... Still looking...

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Around 9am : First meeting with the client (Grampians disAbility Advocacy Association).

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Around 10am : Persona brainstorm.

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Persona brainstorm.

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Around 11am : The persona profiles.

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Around 1pm : Site map.

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Around 3pm : Paper prototype.

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Around 4PM - Coffee break!

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Around 5pm - Paper prototypes of the forms.

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Around 6pm - How many coffees does it take to build a website? (I've only had two so far!).

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Around 7pm - Peter, Thomas and Ali "in the zone".

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Around 8pm - A sneak peak at the Australian team.

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Around 11pm - Found time to finish the persona set. I'm starting to run out of things to do!

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Around 1am (Sunday) - Mark (Programmer) speaks for the first time in hours... Soon we can start entering the content and applying the templates!

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Around 2am - First glimpse of the (from scratch) content management system.

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Around 4am - Jeff temporarily loses the plot and goes INSANE!

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Around 5am - Panic! We're dumping in the content like mad while Mark plays catch-up. Still a long way to go...

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Around 9am - Just 20min to go - uh oh... this doesn't look good...


FullCodePress : The Day Before

On Saturday 18 August 2007, teams from Australia and New Zealand will compete to build a fully-operational website for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours. No excuses, no extensions, no budget overruns…

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The view from my room at the CitiGate Hotel (right opposite ABC Television and near China Town).

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A quick trip to Circular Quay.

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Arty shot.

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The real work begins - set-up chaos. Turns out that my laptop is the only one on the network which won't recognise the printer or FTP! Help!!!

FullCodePress : Getting There

On Saturday 18 August 2007, teams from Australia and New Zealand will compete to build a fully-operational website for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours. No excuses, no extensions, no budget overruns…

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I'm packed. Got my new Provoke hat. Off to a client meeting then straight to the airport!

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Alison (CodeBlacks Captain's Choice) fills out her customs form.

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Enroute from Wellington to Sydney on AirNZ. Smooth flight, good food, OK coffee.

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Steve (CodeBlacks Designer), practises his mysterious sideways glance.

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Mark (CodeBlacks Developer), Pete (CodeBlacks Writer) and Natasha (FullCodePress Judge) enjoying some Kapiti Icecream.

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In Sydney (18 degrees). Those of us from Wellington are wondering - is "Mother Chu" related to "Aunty Mena?" (the name of a similar vegetarian eatery on Cuba Street).

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Jeff (Code Blacks HTML/CSS) tucks into some Stir Fried Tempeh.

geeks gearing up for website olympics

It\’s not often that the geeks get to represent their country in a team sport. That\’s an honour usually reserved for the rugby types, the netballers, and the all-round action stars.

thomas
A Code Black!

More Photos

But for seven self-confessed computer nerds, the embarrassment of always being picked last in PE is now a distant memory. This group of hand-picked web professionals is currently planning their team tactics for the 24-hour website building competition, FullCodePress, which is also known as the geek Olympics\’.

It\’s the first year of the competition, so organisers have decided to begin with a trans-Tasman clash on August 18. In 2008 there will be a worldwide challenge- to be held in Wellington New Zealand alongside Webstock- the biennial web standards conference.

The 2007 competition pitches a team from New Zealand in a head-to-head battle with a team from Australia. Each team has just 24 hours to design, develop and build a fully-functioning website from scratch. The teams\’ clients will be two non-profit organisations, whose names will be announced the morning of the competition.

Thomas Scovell (Shift), the team\’s project manager, says ‘It\’s certainly a challenge to build a website in only 24 hours. Most sites take weeks, if not months, to complete. Traditionally a website is built in stages, water-falling through the range of roles we have on our team on its way to completion. For FullCodePress we have to approach the process in a much more agile fashion, we\’ll be collaborating and working on parts of the process simultaneously in order to get the end result. It\’s real team work!’

‘I think it\’s a great idea,’ says Steve Dennis (Enlighten), ‘Not only do we get to test our skills in a high-pressure competitive environment, but a couple of charities get a $25,000 website at the end of it, which is pretty cool. The emphasis is on usability and accessibility, which makes the challenge even more interesting.’

‘Our team name, Code Blacks, follows the grand tradition of the All Blacks, Black Caps and Tall Blacks- while also reflecting the web industry\’s notorious appetite for consuming copious quantities of short blacks, long blacks, and whatever other caffeinated beverage is at hand,’ says Peter Johnston (Sorted), the team\’s writer, ‘and as an added geeky extra, our logo features the hexadecimal code for the colour black, styled as Olympic rings.’

Selected from hundreds of applicants, the team represents some of the best and brightest talent within the New Zealand web industry.

Web professionals from across the country were invited to enter, and applicants were whittled down to a Top Three for each discipline. The final selection was done randomly, by picking a name out of a hat for each position. A seventh team member, the Captain\’s Choice\’ was then chosen by the project manager from a list of the top three all-rounders supplied by the organisers.

The selection process for the team has not been without controversy, however. Code Blacks HTML/CSS coder Jeffrey Wegesin (Xero), who hails from the USA, explains: ‘I\’ve been having a bit of a battle on my blog with someone who thinks only New Zealanders should represent the New Zealand team. I pointed out that Joe Rokocoko, Sitiveni Sivivatu, and Irene van Dyk might have an opinion on that.’

With six men on the team and only one woman, Alison Green (Shift), who is the team\’s all-rounder, is feeling somewhat outnumbered. ‘I was a bit dismayed when the first six places were announced, and there wasn\’t a single female amongst them- so I\’m honoured to carry the flag for all the webgrrls out there. The web industry does skew somewhat towards the guys, but it\’s generally not 6: 1,’ she laughs.

The competition has attracted overall sponsorship by Google, and the Australian team is also being sponsored by software giant Adobe. The New Zealand team is hopeful of finding a sponsor of their own, because, as programmer Mark Rickerby (Coretxt) explains, ‘it\’s a bit embarrassing that the Aussie team has one and- as yet- we don\’t!’

The Code Blacks are currently working through a range of web design scenarios, figuring out how they are going to achieve a fully-functional website in only 24 hours, and planning what they hope will be a winning strategy. Information architect Zef Fugaz (Provoke) sums up the team\’s attitude: ‘For us this is like a geek version of The Bledisloe Cup. A winning team takes a strong sense of culture, technical competency and clever design- and we\’ll be ready because we know the Aussies need to fill a few gaping holes in their trophy cabinet!’

Competition location and dates:

  • Sydney, Australia- 18/19 August 2007

Judges:

  • James McGill –   Google Maps Engineer, Google
  • Gian Sampson-Wild – Manager Usability and Accessibility Services, Monash University – Melbourne, Australia
  • Derek Featherstone – Director, FurtherAhead – Canada
  • Matthew Magain – Technical Editor, SitePoint – Melbourne, Australia
  • Matt Voerman – Senior Consultant, Adobe Systems
  • Natasha Hall – User Experience, Trade Me – Wellington, New Zealand
  • Steve Baty – Director, UX Strategy, Red Square- Sydney, Australia

Useful links:

Dear Readers

When I can find the time I’ll be posting updates and photos to this site over the weekend – including some further insights to my user-centred design process. Thanks to Provoke who are sponsoring my time off work (right in the middle of a major project!) and for supplying me with a laptop.

Zef

Provoke chief wins (another) award

After 6 years Mase is still the pin-up boy for Provoke
After 6 years Mase is still the pin-up boy for Provoke

Mason (‘Mase’) Pratt, chief executive of Provoke Solutions, has has been named NZIM/Eagle Technology young executive of the year.


How young? Well, he’s first boss I’ve had who is younger than me (and I’m still in my mid-30s).Mase was a founding partner of Provoke, in 2001, at the age of 25. His citation points out that at the time ‘the IT industry was experiencing a significant downturn, which in hindsight was possibly the worst time to start a new company with no track-record or client-base.’

I could be putting words in his mouth, but I suspect his 2007 quote would be:

‘I’m cool – and so is our software.’Full article over on Computer World

Press Release: Kiwi team gears up for Geek Olympics

On Saturday 18 August 2007, web teams from Australia and New Zealand will compete in Sydney to build a fully-operational website for a non-profit organisation in 24 hours.The All Blacks have held on to the Bledisloe Cup. Can our ‘Code Blacks’ match their success and come home winners?

All will be revealed in the FullCodePress ‘site in a day” competition, when New Zealand’s top web talent take on the best Australia has to offer.

Also known as the ‘Geek Olympics’ the trans-Tasman event is the first of its kind and will be followed by an international competition, to be held in Wellington in February 2008.

The Kiwi team was announced on 16 July, the final seven selected from hundreds of applicants. Reflecting the Capital’s reputation for creativity and innovation, all hail from Wellington – apart from Hamilton designer Steve Dennis.

The full team is:

  • Steve Dennis (Enlighten) – Designer
  • Zef Fugaz (Provoke) – User Experience /Information Architecture
  • Alison Green (Shift) – All Rounder
  • Peter Johnston (Sorted) – Writer
  • Mark Rickerby (Coretxt) – Programmer
  • Thomas Scovell (Shift) – Project Manager
  • Jeffrey Wegesin (Xero) – HTML/CSS

(Bios available at http://www.codeblacks.co.nz/the-team/ )

Team Captain Thomas Scovell says the ‘Code Blacks’ will be going into the challenge with the attitude of a sports team.

“Rather than each of us just doing our bit we’re all going to work together as a team and help each other out for the whole 24 hours. That’s provided we can find enough good coffee in Sydney to get us through the weekend…”

The team is currently working hard to refine their strategy, get to know each other, design that all-important t-shirt and secure sponsorhip.

“The Aussie team is sponsored by Adobe so we are keen to get some big local names on board to support us,” says Thomas. “We’re open to offers!”

ENDS

For more information visit http://www.codeblacks.co.nz

Or contact Thomas Scovell, Team Captain, for all enquiries:

Cell: 027-4555-910
Email: thomas@thomasscovell.com
Web: www.thomasscovell.com
MSN Messenger: thomas@shift.co.nz

BACKGROUNDER

The team name and logo

The Kiwi team’s name “Code Blacks’ follows the grand tradition of the All Blacks, Black Caps and Tall Blacks – while also reflecting the web industry’s notorious appetite for consuming copious quantities of short blacks. long blacks, and whatever other caffeinated beverage is at hand.

The team’s logo (warning – geek talk ahead!) features the hexadecimal code for the colour black, in the style of the Olympic rings to give it a sporting feel.

smatterings

No, this isn’t the name of my latest usability technique, but a ‘smattering’ of news from the frontline here at New Zealand’s toastiest Interaction Design kitchen…

Kitchen?

Why yes… Provoke’s ever-expanding Design & User Experience team have been camped in the kitchen for several months now – we’ve been putting on the elbow grease, monitoring the toast consumption and causing havoc with coffee grinds in the dishwasher. As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re looking to get out of the kitchen and into roomier premises – preferably somewhere with character in the Wellington CBD (tip-offs wanted).

Go the Code Blacks!

codeblacks

Recently I’ve been getting feedback that my quotes are “too expensive”. I think the mistake I make is that I assume clients want “the best” when it turns out they want “anything better than what we have now!” (and fast). Not being one to compromise on quality I’ve been looking into ways to streamline without sacrificing quality. That’s why I’m looking forward to taking part in Full Code Press next month. This where a team of seven industry experts will build a fully-fledged website from the ground-up in just 24 hours. Based on an average hourly rate of $150/h we figure that’s at least $25,000 worth of website. To make it tricky we’ll know nothing about the client, content or users until we start… and the New Zealand team (the ‘Code Blacks’) will be competing against an Australia team for the best result. Here’s our blog – http://www.codeblacks.co.nz/ – spread the word and we look forward to your support!

Mase is Ace

Who is NZIM Central Regional Young Executive of the Year? Mase is! By the way, he’s also the charismatic Managing Director of Provoke, a first-time Daddy and will take on the Northern and Southern winners for the national title in November.

Generous I.A?

According to My Personal DNA I’m a “Generous Architect” – which is kinda cool because this corresponds nicely with my role as a ‘user-centered information architect’ (it must be in my genes)…

…so, what’s your Personal DNA?

I’m Full Code Press Ahead!

fcp-logo

The wait is finally over!

The following names from both teams were drawn from a hat*:

The Australian team:

  • Marla Mitelman – Project manager
  • Ruth Ellison – User experience /IA
  • Sarah Peeke – Designer
  • David McDonald – HTML/CSS coder
  • Rex Chung – Programmer
  • Melissa Cater – Writer

The NZ Team:

  • Peter Johnston (Sorted) – Writer
  • Jeffrey Wegesin (Xero) – HTML/CSS [and ex-Provoker whizzkid]
  • Mark Rickerby (Coretxt) – Programmer
  • Zef Fugaz (Provoke) – UX/IA [hey – that’s me!]
  • Steve Dennis (Enlighten) – Designer
  • Thomas Scovell (Shift) – Project Manager

Stay tuned for the announcement of the Captain\’s Choice position, to be announced next Friday (13th July).

* In an effort to be as transparent as possible, please note that a hat was not actually used for either team. they were actually an urn and a rather a large trophy shaped receptacle.

…now I’m going to have to read the rules properly…

Like, who will supply us with coffee?

{mild panic}

Congratulations to the other people selected – I look forward to meeting you all!

When Greens Go Bad

I’m surrounded by brand new Prius’ in traffic. My neighbours have installed solar panels. Organic food is now trendy. Can I afford to be “green” anymore?

THEN (the past 20+ years)

greenybefore

NOW (the past 12 months)

greenyafter

Should my track record be dated back to 1971 I figure that I’d be getting a hefty pay-out from the New Zealand Government Kyoto scheme.

For most of my life I’ve…

  • Worn recycled clothing.
  • Grown our own veges.
  • Had very few appliances – sometimes not even electricity.
  • Wrote letters to politicians and helped save huge tracts of native bush.
  • Very rarely used plastic bags and recycle.
  • (Until recently) mostly used public transport.
  • Used eco-bulbs in the past 5 years.
  • Composted our organic waste.
  • Been a vegetarian/vegan for over 30 years (low environmental impact).
  • Gone around turning off lights and appliances (yes, that was probably me).
  • Only flown overseas six times (and then only over the Tasman Sea).
  • And more…

I’m what some people not that long ago would have called an ‘Extreme Woo Hoo Crazy Green’ .

And then, flying in the face of Climate Change and public opinion, I took a few lifestyle liberties…

  • I bought a small car and now drive to work (this 10 year-old car uses the same amount of fuel as a new Prius).
  • After years of freezing and massive power bills I bought a wood burner.
  • My weekly organic vege-box is transported from 250km away in Hawkes Bay.

And then the comments started flowing from various people:

  • “You should think about car pooling”
  • “That’s not so good for climate change”
  • “Have you thought about food miles?”

Oh yeah, so I’m an EVIL POLLUTER now am I?

But even more irritating are the wealthy people who have not given a toss until recently and are now going out and buying brand new eco-cars, solar panels and eco-homes.

But are they really all that green?

How much energy did it take to build that new car? (Fact: untold more energy than you’ll ever use driving it).

How many of these people go overseas for a holiday every year and burn-up jet fuel?

How many holiday houses do they have sitting empty when NZers can’t even afford a house? (Raumati Beach waterfront is a classic example of this).

Maybe what they’re doing is ultimately better for the planet (long term), but the true greenies (often the poor), cannot afford a $350,000 energy-efficient house, $35,000 Prius and a $3,500 solar panel.

Instead they’re faced with ever-increasing power bills, drafty damp houses and medical bills after being cooped-up with coughing people on the train or bus.

So, while the life-long greenies stay static, the new wave of greenies are leaping into ‘greenie-nirvana’ by simply spending cash.

I’m in two minds…

…thankful that society is taking notice.

…but bitter that those who really need energy efficiency, cost reductions and sustainability are those who will miss out on the green revolution.

Blobbing-Up Users

We’ve been going all gooey over ‘blob charts’ – our answer to persona data analysis – a godsend when faced with dozens of interview transcriptions and observations.

When analysing users we look at a huge number of facets including:

…Gender, Age group, Family situation, Income, Housing, Where living, Occupation, Education, Race/Ethnicity, Nationality, Language skills, Social networks , Lifestyle traits, Interests/Hobbies, Media read/watched/listened to, Relationship (i.e. Employee), Job title, Time in job, Previous jobs, Percentage of overall users, Importance of person relative to [Org], Usage rate of [Org], Attitude towards [Org], Frustrations, Hours of work, Place of work, Work environment, Computer reliance, Reliance on [Site], Intensity of use, Emotional goals, Needs, Frustrations, Attitude to [Site], Users role, People interactions, Surrounding environment, Traceability, Accuracy, Confidentiality, Flexibility, Operational risk, Type of usage, Connection speed, Browser setup, Operating System, Screen Resolution, Monitor Hardware, Input Devices, Base Computer, Accessibility, Software and (importantly) Workplace Scenarios…

It’s enough to make our heads spin!

In the past we’ve painfully plotted each persona on a polar chart in Visio, then visually identified where users appear in common clusters…

polar

What we do is map user behaviour on two extremes (or opposites) – here’s some examples for a user of an online trading site:

Freq of use?       ‘Every day’ vs ‘Several times a month’
Doing what?       ‘Buying stuff’ vs ‘Selling stuff’
If buying?             ‘Know what I want’ vs ‘Random browsing’
If selling?             ‘One thing at a time’ vs ‘Several at a time’
Usage?                   ‘Keyboard’ vs ‘Mouse clicker’

So this time I said “no way – let’s automate!”

This is what Bob and Random Nat came up with…

…we rated each user on a scale of 1 to 5 in a spreadsheet – and viola! We could now generate a funky ‘blob’ chart like this…
blob
(The larger the blob the larger the number of users with the same behaviour).

We can also plot the average for each user group…
blobaverage

And then overlay different user groups to show similarities or differences…
bloboverlay

So, what’s the point of all this?

This data allows us to whittle down our many possible personas by merging users with similar behaviours and characteristics.

It’s also another rich visual tool to describe the persona, along with photographs, quotes, written content and scenario descriptions.

Here’s a portion of one of our persona profiles…

provokepersona

Next Steps

We’re considering refining the persona mapping tool and releasing it online so other User Experience people can generate their own blob charts.

If you think this would be useful or have any suggestions please post some feedback.

We’ve Been Skin’n

The Provoke Design & User Experience team had some fun last week when we were given the opportunity to design some ‘skins’ for a beta of the new Sharepoint Community Kit blogging tool.

The Community Kit for SharePoint is a set of best practices, templates, Web Parts, tools, and source code that enables you to create a community website based on SharePoint technology.

Files and source code for the CKS are available for download from CodePlex.

Some of these blog skins were thrown together within hours. It also gave our junior designers a ‘trial by fire’ experience in learning CSS (no better way to learn!).

My brief was to give the designs a “hint of New Zealand”. I’m pretty happy with the results…

‘Raglan’ by Alastair Bruerton

(Al’s first serious play with CSS!)

cksraglan

‘Motueka’ by Alastair Bruerton

cksmot

‘Wildlife’ by Isha Hartono

(Wellington Zoo?)

cksisha

‘City’ by Matt Gould

(Can you guess the NZ city?)

cksmatt

‘Creature’ by Matt Gould

cksmattcreation

‘Bird’ by Bob Medcalf

cksbob

Check these out online (along with skins submitted by other designers).

Feedback from Power to the People

govisadvert-v20-red-verticApologies to my regular subscribers – I’m not keeping pace with my goal of two blogs a week. Part of the reason is the return of my dj turntables (I sold them in 1999 – now they’re back!), gathering and stacking firewood for the winter (which we’re told is “still coming”), and my work at Provoke which is entering an exciting new phase with new designers, new clients – and soon – new premises.

Three weeks ago Bob Medcalf, Elyssa Timmer and I held our first ever full-day workshop ‘Power to the People’. It was ambitious – we’d only ever done short presentations in the past, felt we had to live up to the precident set by the likes of the experienced presenters at Webstock, and were unsure how people would react.

Anyway, we’ve finally gotten around to compiling the feedback and here it is:

What was good about Power to the People?

Very useful, relevant workshop. Really enjoyed it.

Good balance of presentations vs. interactive work.

Good pace, knowledgeable.

Good use of interactive sessions.

Content, presenters, activities, tools.

Really useful information, clear, concise.

Good practical ideas to take away and implement on my site.

You’ve put users back in the forefront of my mind where they should be.

Good interactivity, plenty of exercises.

Good overview of UCD. Activities were good.

Good to break and work on real examples.

All components were very interesting. Hope to use it.

What was bad/needed improvement?

Better to end middle section before lunch – hard to regain momentum.
[Zef: I agree]

Some more lead-in to the exercises. Clearer modeling of expectations. Some more scaffolding’¦
[Zef: Good points, next time we’ll look at having a running theme to better link the activities]

Screen saver set for longer time. It came on during activities.

Emphasis on doing this yourself…quite specialist research. Maybe stress the need to commission it?
[Zef: Our goal was to allow you to start doing this yourself in-house or have a better idea of the process when you do work with specialists – of course, I’d love to hear from you if you want to commission a job!]

Could possibly have more resources to take home?
[Zef: Next time we’ll point you to some resources. Meantime try here and here]

Unclear how conceptual model fit in – how to use practically.
[Zef: I’ll look into this point, thanks for the feedback]

More pointed on where to get more resources e.g., sample test plans, sample template.

Some more exercises in large groups to develop more significant outputs.

Did Power to the People meet your expectations?

Yes

Yes – especially usability testing

Surpassed them

Great info! and met expectations.

Definitely

Would you recommend Power to the People to a friend?

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes definitely!

Yes definitely!

Yes for sure!

So will we be doing it again?

Yes, maybe… probably – if we do it’ll be a bit later this year – watch this space!

Good News Zealand

I’m going a little off topic from ‘User Experience in IT’ this week to user experiences of a different sort…

It has been an interesting week for New Zealand with a plethora of "good news" stories.

Beating is for Eggs

First of all the so called "anti-smacking bill" (a far more accurate term would have been the "anti child-beating bill") was passed with a majority of 113 votes to 7 in the NZ parliament today.

The bill changes the Crimes Act, removing the defence of reasonable force for parents who physically punish (beat) their children. I for one have witnessed horrendous violence against children, and there’s no justification whatsoever for this sort of behaviour from adults.

Further coverage including Sue Bradford’s speech over on Webweaver.

Bailing for Freedom

Other breaking news is the release on bail of David Bain. Bain was released from prison after the the London-based Privy Council last week quashed Bain’s convictions for the murders of five members of his family in 1994, saying he had been the victim of a "substantial miscarriage of justice".

I had been living in Dunedin less than a year when the murders happened and knew about the event before most of the country.

Reason for this is that I worked on the same floor as a TV News crew – they rushed to the scene after a tip-off and returned with stories of how the "police were all over the place" and "they didn’t seem to know what they were doing". Those aren’t their exact words, but the clear impression I got early on was that the crime scene wasn’t under tight control – many of the officers didn’t follow protocol and some were fumbling with the evidence.

In the following week around the smoko-room we debated the events which were unfolding and drew a conclusion early on that Bain was almost certainly innocent. This was later reinforced for me when I spoke with a friend of David’s who worked at a local radio station. This short conversation solidified my conclusion that Bain was indeed innocent and it’s very sad that this person who had just lost his family was then blamed and punished.

I’m happy for the Government to spend my share of taxes on what ought to be a substantial compensation package for David Bain.

Further coverage over on Webweaver.
 

Eat Your Greens!

And, refreshingly the NZ National Party (a conservative party in New Zealand) has finally agreed to support the Kyoto agreement and wants a 50 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050. But as usual they are light on detail on how they will practically achieve this and interim milestones to get to the end goal.

As usual the Green Party have responded with incredibly sensible advice which no doubt the major parties will later claim as their "own ideas".

Coming up in a future post…
"When Greens Go Bad"

Reflections on Power to the People

Today I co-presented a full day workshop at GOVIS 2007 here in Wellington. I didn’t think I’d make it having spent the last few days in bed with an aggressive case of bacterial sinutus.

identitykit
Audience attempt at creating a "typical New Zealander"

Over the weekend I’d taken nasty antibiotics (for the first time in living memory), and was feeling a tad strange…

My presentation wasn’t quite finished and on top of that I have a stutter (oh, and a lisp!).

Well you can imagine, I was feeling a bit stressed…

…thankfully, the audience was fantastic and tolerated all my quirks!

Busy people working it out...

There was a really interesting mix of people from Government agencies including writers, content managers, web strategists, business analysts and all-round usability consultants.

They proactively engaged in the day – asking questions, speaking about their own experiences and doing the audience activities with gusto.

At the workshop I described Provoke’s comprehensive persona-creation process, including user-behaviour clustering and ‘POV (Point of View) Personas’ – my own technique for ensuring personas are proactively used throughout the design and development process. I also demonstrated different types of conceptual models.

There was a lot to cover and the time passed quickly.

The feedback from the workshop was very positive in all – we also got some really constructive feedback on how we could do it better next time – useful stuff.

I’ll post some of the audience feedback here later in the week, as well the presentations on ‘Conceptual Models’ and ‘Usability Testing’.

stuck in a reality distortion field

If you haven’t heard from me in recent weeks it’s because I’m stupidly busy, and when I get extra busy I often end up in a strange ‘reality distortion field’ where the busier I get the more I suddenly decide to take on.

I don’t know if this is a sign of abject stupidity or simply the law of attraction using me as a plaything. Anyway, I’m out of control…

Power to the People

Tuesday 8th May I’m presenting at a full-day workshop – “Power to the People” – there’s still places available if you book within the next few days.

If you’re already going flick me an email and let me know in advance anything you’d like to see covered.

geekzonevistasidebar
Provoke's "in the zone" for Vista Gadgets

I’ll be describing Provoke’s comprehensive persona-creation process in some detail, including user-behaviour clustering and ‘POV Personas’ – my own technique for ensuring personas are proactively used throughout the design and development process.

In the Zone

Last week we untethered one of our Design Graduates (Alastair Bruerton) and threw him in the deep-end.

The result is this – Provoke’s first commercial Vista Gadget – created for Geekzone.

Geekzone Godfather Mauricio Freitas comments:

I always wanted to have something like this, and it was made possible by the guys at Provoke. They came along for one of my weekly coffee meetings in town, we talked about the idea, what I wanted to give our users and we agreed on a quick project – less than a week to have it all done.

The Geekzone Gadget for Windows Vista Sidebar was developed in just a couple of days, from concept, design and testing through release. We already have some ideas for v2.0, including perhaps posting replies direclty from the gadget instead of having to load a webpage, user selection of which forums to monitor, and more.

I recommend the guys at Provoke if you are looking to create something similar, or even start a bigger project. They work with design, business solutions and e-government applications.

This is the first of many Vista Gadgets Provoke will be creating over the next few years, and is part of the new wave of Microsoft internet apps including WPF, Silverlight and MOSS. Watch this space…

Hot Jobs

Meanwhile I’ve been interviewing potential people for an additional Interaction Design/Integrator role.

It turns out that many good people out there are locked into Government-sector contracts… (which is kinda understandable for short-term gain). But if you’re wanting interesting work, a regular pay-packet, mentoring and to be part of a close-knit Interaction Design team – then Provoke could be a better long-term option for you.

In the past week alone we’ve won three significant contracts, so we’ve got plenty to keep the right people motivated and busy! (see top left-hand panel on this site for my current ‘Hot Jobs’).

Helping Airlines Cope with Children

Qantas and Air New Zealand could greatly improve their online booking process when it comes to children who need to fly unaccompanied.

There’s many reasons why children need to fly alone. Their parents might live in two different cities; a child might be going to spend the holidays with their grandparents; a child might be attending boarding school.

So why do major airlines such as Qantas and AirNZ make the process of booking flights for children so confusing? I never realised how laborious the process was until I read an article in The Dominion Post which said:

A mother says she will never fly Qantas again after her two unaccompanied children were bumped off an overloaded Wellington to Sydney flight and sent to Auckland instead.

A Qantas spokesman said it was not policy to offload children travelling on their own. “If we had been aware of it, we would not have offloaded them.”

The tickets had been booked on the Internet, the spokesman said, and there was no indication the children were travelling alone.

Apparently one reason why this occurred is that the mother had booked one of the children under an adult code.

But was she forced to book the child as an adult?

I think the online booking system is at fault…

Currently, the online booking system won’t allow the user to select only a child – they must select at least one adult.

This is confusing…

If the goal of the user is to book a flight for their child, then logically, why would they select an adult?

 Pictured Above: The current system forces the user to book an adult - confusing if they were trying to book only a child who will be travelling alone.
Pictured Above: The current system forces the user to book an adult - confusing if they were trying to book only a child who will be travelling alone.

The work-around the airlines use is a link entitled ‘Children travelling alone?’ – selecting this opens a pop-up window

This long list of criteria would be confusing for many people. It turns out that bookings cannot be made online for children travelling alone. I suspect as a workaround some customers are simply booking children as adults.containing a long list of complex list of criteria and conditions.

It turns out that you can’t book a child travelling alone via the website – you must visit an visit a booking agent in person and fill out a paper form!

Why?

So why won’t the airlines let people book children travelling alone online? Is there some sort of legal requirement? (add a comment to this blog if you know the answer).

Primary reasons customers book online is cost savings and convenience – they might be in a rush – they might need a specific flight day and time – so, for some people, once they discover they can’t book a child they will book them as an adult instead (the cost difference isn’t significant for children, but it is much cheaper for infants).

My Solution

Even if there’s a legal requirement to force customers to fill out a paper form (and making the booking in person), I believe the online system can be improved by:

  1. Allowing the user to select one or more children and no adults.
  2. Asking the user some simple questions.
  3. Presenting back the options specific to the child’s age, needs and the type of flight (travel duration, and domestic vs international).

Here’s some quick prototypes I’ve created to show an alternative pathway.

Programmatically this is simple, far less confusing for the customer and would fit in with the current way Qantas handles offline bookings for unaccompanied children. This solution would also be easily extendable to allow full online bookings at a future date (by making the consent form available online).

Step 1 – Let the user select (only) children!

Step 2 – Recognise the children are travelling alone and ask a few questions!

Step 3 – Get some details so you can present the options specific to their situation!


Step 4 – Make an assessment and explain what to do next.

Note: The prototype shows a way it could work with their current system. An even better solution would be to put the whole process online by allow the user to complete the ‘unaccompanied minor’ form and carrying on with the booking.

This solutions means:

  • The system intelligently “speaks” to the customer.
  • Customers are less likely to get confused when trying to book an unaccompanied child.
  • Customers are more likely to follow the instructions (even when they might feel frustrated that they can’t book a child online).
  • Qantas can enhance the process over time by adding an online consent form.

PS – The winner of the Smorkin Labbit was Alison (Webweaver) who described a very similar solution (see Make Qantas Smarter)

Make Qantas Smarter (and win!)

Qantas have a ‘thick’ online booking system.

This came to light when I read an article in The Dominion Post this morning, which reads:

A mother says she will never fly Qantas again after her two unaccompanied children were bumped off an overloaded Wellington to Sydney flight and sent to Auckland instead.

And here’s the set-up quote…

A Qantas spokesman said it was not policy to offload children travelling on their own. “If we had been aware of it, we would not have offloaded them.”

And the eyebrow raiser…

The tickets had been booked on the Internet, the spokesman said, and there was no indication the children were travelling alone.

But –  judging  by the user interface of their online booking system I believe  there is something very simple Qantas could do to ensure they will always be notified if children will be travelling alone…

Here’s the first stage of the booking screen.

I don’t know if the ‘Children travelling alone?’ link has recently been added by Qantas following the bad publicity – but even if it wasn’t, there is  a fool-proof way to ensure the airline will definitely know if children will be travelling alone.

greenlabbit

WIN!

Crickey! You could win me!Tell me how Qantas could have known the children were travelling alone (and your proposed solution to the problem) and you could win a rare spotted green Smorkin Labbit!

Some Conditions

  • Postage: To a New Zealand or Australian address only.
  • Guess as many times as you like.
  • I’m the judge and my decision is final.
  • In my opinion, the prize is not suitable for children.

Free, free – set them free…

It has been interesting watching Chandima in action at Provoke since I lured him away from Synergy Fronde (or “Fondle” as some of us  affectionately refer to them around here).

Chan
Chan

This man is on the rampage – and we like it like that…By no means is Provoke the perfect company (almost – we’re just doing some tweaking), but one thing it is really good at is unleashing an employees dreams and potential.

One thing Chan told me he was passionate about was Microsoft SharePoint – he knew he had the potential to pick it up and run with it – but felt he was never given the true freedom and support to do this.

Now, after  around six months at Provoke Chan has been able to weld his pent-up potential…

He has helped lift Provoke’s knowledge and profile in the SharePoint space, has ingrained himself into the company culture and has recently become Microsoft MVP (Most Valued  Professional) for SharePoint Server    – one of just two people in New Zealand (or 0.0000005% of the population).

Chan will be presenting at the Asia Pacific SharePoint Conference next month (May 15-16 Sydney).

I look forward to seeing what’s next in Chan’s epic journey!

PS – This just in…

Wanted: Project Manager

Provoke are looking for a polished and confident Project Manager to join their Professional Services team. You will be managing  user-centred software design solutions.

To be considered for this role you would need a pragmatic and disciplined approach to project management and ideally be Prince2 or PMP certified. You will be expected to be able to hit the ground running and be an innovative and inspirational member of the team.

Provoke is a world-class, New Zealand-based company specialising in business-focused software excellence, utilising the Microsoft suite of technologies.

Contact zef@provoke.co.nz if you are interested.

putting yourself out there

Many of you would have already heard of the threats against popular software industry blogger Kathy Sierra.

To be obscure? Or not to be?
To be obscure? Or not to be?

That is the question…I briefly met Kathy when I organised a UPANZ event in 2006. Like most famous people I’ve met she’s not as ‘loud’ as she appears on-screen or on-stage. She’s petite and quietly spoken, and I find it hard to believe that anyone would seriously wish her harm.

I suspect (and hope) it’s just a silly prank. But then again, the USA does seem to have it’s share of extreme people – maybe she’s right to be paranoid.

While I have compassion for her situation, I’m not at all surprised by the events unfolding and I believe she’s only potentially making it worse by going on CNN.

Why?

Because anyone who puts themselves “out there” (especially on the web or the media) is making themselves visible to ‘The World’ (and all that goes with it). The more your visibility grows (via public appearances, marketing, books etc), the MORE you attract people of all sorts.

I suspect that Kathy, who is really well known in the web-tech industry, has simply reached a critical mass and now the weirdos are coming out of the closet.

I speak from experience – I’m only a mere fraction of a percentage as ‘famous’ as Kathy (not even as famous as my little brother), but in the past ten years I’ve experienced about half a dozen stalkers, threats of legal action (about posts on this website) as well as a number of unprintable blog comments which I’ve doomed to the delete button.

My own little problems began when I was a performer-DJ in the mid 1990s.

Most of the attention was quite pleasant – such as the girl from Waitati who used to write lovely letters to my radio show, genuine music fans who used to phone up and chat – and the quiet persistence for years of a quirky little woman I later fell in love with.

The ones I define as ‘stalkers’ seemed harmless but felt creepy – constantly invading my space, gatecrashing parties at my house and one who turned up to almost every gig, asked inane questions (while I was performing) and completely ruined my concentration. Twice I had obsessive ‘sticky’ people who followed me home.

I’ve never talked about this – but I do wonder if other musicians, DJs, actors, or even famous bloggers in NZ have experienced similar behaviours.

Of course, this doesn’t compare to Kathy’s inordinate and much more scary situation… But it has made me think about my past, where I’m going and the value of obscurity.

prototyping tools for web design

After a slow start to the year, the Wellington Usability Professionals group has an exciting series of events planned for 2007!

To kick things off, their next meeting is Tuesday April 3rd and will be about prototyping tools for web design.

A rapid iterative prototyping process is often used with user centred design (UCD) methodologies.

With web based UCD designs interaction designers use a variety of tools to create, refine and test prototypes. With so much to learn about each tools\’ advantages/disadvantages, it can sometimes be helpful to simply talk to someone who has used the tool.

Come along to the next Wellington UPA meeting to listen to  six speakers talk for 10 minutes each on a tool that they have used for prototyping. The speakers are:

  1. Dave O\’Brien, Optimal Usability, talking about Microsoft Visio
  2. Lulu Pachuau, Hansel, talking about Omnigraffle
  3. Nicole Kaufmann, Optimal Usability talking about Axure
  4. Isha Hartono, Provoke talking about Microsoft Expression Suite
  5. Tim Norton and Natalie Ferguson, Plan HQ talking about Adobe Flash
  6. Mary Sue Severn, Effacy, talking about their own tool Simplar Studio

Good vs Evil

ponoko

ponoko

My ex work colleague Dave ten Have is making his dream real with new venture Ponoko.

Ponoko allows designers to have their own workshop and factory to create products…as well as an online showroom to sell their designs.

It’s a great idea, especially for spatial/industrial designers who can create in a 3D space or visualise realworld creations.

I think this idea has huge potential for the hazy future when nano-technology promises to deliver desktop nano-factories – allowing people to download a design then ‘render’ a functional product in their living room.

Photo by Geraint Morgan
Photo by Geraint Morgan

WOMAD

My fifth WOMAD was one of the best ever and has to be the most diverse music festival out there – the musical variety is unmatched and the event is also an incredible melting pot of New Zealanders and world citizens.

Quite a few of my friends and family came along this time as well and are raving about it. The event is in danger of becoming too popular (it sold out), and the organisers now plan to run it annually instead of bi-annually.

Highlights included Etran Finatawa (Niger), Mahotella Queens (South Africa), Mr Scruff (UK),   Gotan project (France/Argentina) and the The Mamaku Project (NZ).

UPDATE: Comprehensive WOMAD coverage, including embrassing videos of me dancing, can be found over on Webweaver.

child beaters

In New Zealand it is legal defensible to beat-up children…

Some policians are trying to pass a bill to ensure children have the same rights to be protected from violence as adults do.

But, to my disgust, thousands of people are trying to defend their right to hit their children by running protest marches, running advertising campaigns and more.

It’s rediculous to think the state will jail parents just because they might smack a child’s hand when they are about to stick a fork in a plug-socket or trash a supermarket display – people who think this are out of touch with reality and have probably never experienced or witnessed real violence against young children.

Fact is that little kids are getting bruises, broken bones and worse due to adults not knowing the boundaries and not being held accountable for their actions.

ACC

Recently ACC subjected me to a dehumanising experience.

Just before Christmas I received a $100 bill from ACC (which I decided to pay after my holiday break). Then in early February I received a warning letter from ACC’s debt collector (addressed to “Paraparaumu, Australia”).

…I paid.

A few weeks later they then threatened to fine me $1500 (for a measily $100 bill which I’d already paid!).

I complained to ACC about the experience and how they should take a lead from IRD who now use different tactics and treat tax payers with some respect.

The response I got from ACC was [insert descriptive word here].

I’ll have more on this in a later blog… (in the interest of exposing their flaws and in hope of them improving their wicked ways. Hey …it worked with Kiwibank!).

and in other news

you’re not alone

My goal of reaching 1000 regular blog subscribers by the end of 2007 is nearly halfway there! Welcome aboard!

going up in the world?

My website Google Ranking appears to have jumped from 4 to 5. It has done this a few times in the past but has now been fixed on 5 for a week. Not bad for an obscure little blog.

will the real Zef please stand up?

And for the person who keeps searching on google.co.nz for “Zef Fugaz” real name (it shows up in my   Search Engine Queries) some of the answer is here.

The full story is a tad complicated…

My name at birth was “Joseph Renata Wilson” – this was later changed to “Jozef Wilson”. My nickname became “Zef” and this has stuck for over 20 years now.

“Fugaz” came about for various reasons…

One being my fascination an involvement with Spanish, Cuban (Salsa) and Colombian (Cumbia) music…

A frame from my 3D rendering of the Hale-Bopp comet (1997).

The other being Hale-Bopp Comet which I saw though a large telescope outside Dunedin in ’97.

At the time I was a 3D animation whizzkid and spent hours creating a replica of the comet in 3D Studio – complete with transparency, blur and my own particle effects (which in the mid-90s was bleeding-edge stuff).

The other influence was my girlfriend of the time – Lisa Maria – who also shared my fascination with comets, shooting stars and stuff like that.

We looked-up the Spanish translation for “shooting star” which is “Estrella-Fugaz”.

“Estrella” just happened to be one of the names I was already using for one of my music-performance non-de-plumes (along with DJ Java, DJ Fiesta and the Kaos Posse).

And… I was bored with ‘Wilson’.

So I changed my name by deedpoll in 1997 to ‘Zef Estrella Fugaz’.

Now I’m older this all seems a bit whacky and strange, but I was never one for normality.

My mother also changed her (first) name when she was young, so maybe it’s in my blood!

Adios,

Zef

Seeking User Experience Strategic Guru (E-Commerce)

Provoke has some exciting projects on the horizon and  I’m keen to hear from (or about) any fantabulous e-commerce gurus out there (freelancers or full-timers).

If you're as good at E-Commerce as Dan Saffer is bad at pool then I want to hear from you... (or as good at E-Commerce as Dan is good at Interaction Design would be even better!)

You might be the sort of person who could lead the research, strategy, requirements and information architecture of a large e-commerce and dynamic data-driven web site.

When I say “large”, I mean mind-bogglingly massive – hundreds of product lines and millions of visitors on an international scale – the unfazed need only register their interest.

Experts already living in New Zealand preferred, but if you’re overseas and have a compelling story then send it my way.

Qualifications or experience you might have…

  • 5+ years of web-based technology experience and usability expertise.
  • Understanding of consumer research and ability to translate those results into web dynamo.
  • Knowledge of e-commerce best practices are key to this role.

If you\’re interested in having a confidential and casual chat via email or over a coffee, please contact me (Zef Fugaz):

Email  zef@provoke.co.nz
Cellphone 021 619 629
International+64 21 619 629

About Provoke…
Provoke is a fully New Zealand owned and operated company. Established in 2001 the vision was to create a design-led organisation producing world-class software with a true user focus. As a company we develop bespoke and product-based software using the Microsoft suite of technologies and industry best-practice. We develop and implement both internal and external facing solutions in the Internet, Extranet and Intranet space(s).

We\’re a boutique Microsoft Gold Partner who focuses on enterprise content management, collaboration, workflow and business intelligence applications on the Microsoft platform. We\’re not a large company with large overheads to support and we\’re not a design agency with a few developers or a reliance on our technical partners. We have the perfect blend of technical developers and interaction designers bonded together by our innovative User Centred Design (UCD) methodology.

Reprasent!

The new few months are going to be busy in Wellington when it comes to conferences and presentations.

This time I’m involved in a few myself…

Power to the People!

govisadvertftm

The biggie (for me)  is GOVIS 2007 where I’ll be teaming up with Bob Medcalf (fellow Provokateer) and Elyssa Timmer (of Webstock fame) to present ‘Power to the People!’

Our one-day intensive workshop teaches you how to incorporate user goals and agency needs into the web design process. You\’ll develop a detailed understanding of users through user research, usage scenarios and conceptual models. You\’ll help create a user-centric government website that meets both agency and user needs. You\’ll learn how to conduct simple in-house usability tests. You\’ll learn about the impact on your design decisions in context of government web standards, the search experience and web 2.0\’ concepts. Be prepared to be engaged while gaining practical, actionable knowledge! This workshop is for website managers, business analysts, interaction designers, information architects and anyone interested in the user experience.

The workshop takes place on Tuesday 8 May 2007 and costs range from $395 (for GOVIS members) through to $595 for non-members ($495 for early birds).

I hope to see you there – and if you are going please get in touch and let me know what topics and techniques you’d like to see covered at the event.

It’s Fresh!

pie

The other event about to make waves in Wellington is ‘Fresh from the Oven’ – where Provoke are running two FREE half-day seminars in Wellington – designed to provide you with an introduction to the new MOSS platform.

Put simply, “MOSS” is the abbreviated name for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. MOSS is a new server-based product that combines a series of existing Microsoft products into one complete solution; in particular Content Management Server 2002 and SharePoint Portal Server 2003.

MOSS is a street-wise tagger

I was involved in the first NZ intranet build using MOSS for the Ministry of Transport – and one of the first ever sites built on the platform.

The first phase was a “trial by fire” which was built on the beta version of the software.

The next phase (on now) is going a whole lot smoother and what the Ministry will end up with is a funky fully-faceted tag-driven information architecture.

This is where all documents, pictures and other objects are tagged with attributes such as topic, origin, ministerial portfolio – and whatever you like actually.

Then the users can view the content in a way which makes sense to them – by topic, by content type, by audience, by transport mode (in the case of the Ministry of Transport!) and many other angles.

This does take a bit longer to set-up when you first create a piece of content, but the pay-offs thereafter are huge for findability of content.

I’m really impressed with the built-in metadata capabilities of MOSS – you can do pretty much anything using its tagging and attributes engine. It also has built in sorting and filtering.

I still have a lot to learn (the product is huge and varied), but it does seem to offer some very powerful tools for Information Architects and Knowledge/Information Managers.

Below: Some sneak-peeks from my Information Architecture specification.

One row from the Metadata Set

Attributes by Content Type
Attributes by Content Type

View by [hey, whatever!

Narrow Thinking

They’re ripping up the footpath along the Queens Highway on the Kapiti Coast – then laying it down again in pretty much the same place.

walkway
Would you walk this close to 80-100km/hr traffic?


For years the footpath has been right next to the most busy road in the district, and one of the busiest in New Zealand.

The thing is, it’s on one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline with amazing views of the South Island, Kapiti Island and Mt. Ruapehu on a clear day.

But most people won’t use the footpath because it’s so close to the road –  it’s dangerous for pedestrians.

My question is – why didn’t they simply put the footpath on the other side of the wall next to the coastline?

This was their  chance to create an incredible boardwalk all the way from Pukerua Bay to Paekakariki, which would have been used daily by pedestrians, cyclists and children.

I would love to know if they even considered this… and if they did, then their reason for not doing it…

The view from the other side of the fence (photo by Alan Miles)

Sitting on a Hybridised Bomb?

In my search for a fuel-efficient car I was amazed to learn that in New Zealand you can buy a Prius (Toyota’s hybrid car) for around $5000.

While New Zealand has some of the cheapest second-hand cars in the world, I wondered – was this too good to be true?

prius
Cheap Generation I Prius? It comes with a big risk.


After some extensive desktop research I found out that it probably is. Here’s why…

Any Prius earlier than year 2000 (NHW10 model or ‘Generation I’) was an experimental model which was released only in Japan. About 70,000 were sold and it appears hundreds  of these are now being exported to New Zealand.

Apparently around 1 in 40 can have a battery problem and Toyota Japan still replace these battery packs for free – but only in Japan. Additionally the diagnostic equipment in most Toyota workshops throughout New Zealand aren\’t compatible with the Generation I Prius (so if you have a problem, you may have trouble finding someone who can fix it).

I rang three Toyota dealers to verify this.

Toyota Wellington seemed unsure but strongly recommended I avoid the Gen  I Prius. Toyota Kapiti told me a similar story, but it was Toyota Northshore who seemed to have the most hands-on experience trying to fix common problems with the Generation I Prius.

The Toyota Northshore workshop said they frequently had people coming  in with the Generation I Prius, and while making repairs is possible, can often  be very expensive. For example, a new battery costs upwards of $7000 plus labour costs.

They recommended, if looking for a cheap Prius, to start with the Generation II (NHW11 model). If the back seats fold down flat then it’s probably the NHW11, and they began producing these in 2000. But if you’re wanting a Prius for under $10,000 you’ll be out of luck, the cheapest NHW11 I’ve seen advertised was $12,000 – they usually sell for around $15,000.

A good place to start your own research is the Green Car Company – at first I thought their information sounded bias towards enticing me to buy a more modern Prius – but it turns out they are right in their analysis.

Anyway, I ended up buying a freshly imported 1997 Honda Logo for $5000 – which is averaging   5 litres per 100km (just as good as the Gen I Prius).

Hiccups ruin commuter’s lives…

Stuff reports a ‘big financial hit’  for Stagecoach due to staff not understanding  their new software.

The mess has seen up to 70 services a day cancelled or delayed, and bus passengers enduring two weeks of cancelled or delayed services since the bus firm introduced a new computerised roster.

Their excuse?

“The (roster) package has done nothing wrong. We made a few mistakes in understanding it.”

That’s a quote for the books!

metlink
metlink is smarting

They went on to say:

“As often occurs with that sort of implementation, you can have a few hiccups.”

And it gets worse. Passengers on a Khandallah bus were stunned last week when their driver stopped and asked them for directions. Huh? Don’t they even carry paper maps anymore?

The company still faced problems with its new roster as drivers did not have enough time to complete some trips.

Two weeks of stuff-ups, stranded passengers, lost bus-drivers, page  one news  and a big financial hit? Sounds like more than a few hiccups to me!

One has to ask…

  • Did they assess the software from a user’s perspective?
  • Did they do live run-throughs with the new software alongside their old system?
  • Did they train staff how to use it?
  • Did they have a back-up plan incase of ‘hiccups’?

Doesn’t sound like it.

Starving on the main-trunk line

A few weeks ago I ‘treated’ my daughter to her first big train trip – on the Overlander – in what proved to be a scenic experiment in illusion and culinary depravation.

it goes over land
it goes over land

The Overlander is an epic journey (by Kiwi standards) through the heart of the North Island, travelling between Wellington and Auckland.

Along the way you pass the Central North Island ski towns of National Park and Ohakune. You also see sweeping views of New Zealand farmland, corn fields, a wind farm, the volcanic plateau, Mount Ruapehu, the world famous Raurimu Spiral and plummeting river gorges – all from the trains panoramic windows or open air viewing deck (complete with diesel soot and, later, tinnitus).

Naively, perhaps, I leapt on expecting a three-star dining car serving delicious coffee and cakes in modern railway mugs with Nanas wearing teatowels. But instead I was greeted with bored looking kidults stuck behind a fortified pie cart complete with instant watery coffee in a flimsy paper cup and dangerously oversized date scones.

Really, I was in shock. I had gotten on the train without espresso coffee – I was a transitory prisoner!

worse coffee in the land
worse coffee in the land

Last year when they threatened to close-down the Overlander train (which has been running for 99 years) there were riots in Te Kuiti and the Green Party almost imploded – but fortunately for sake of the heartlands the owners they decided to keep the service running – subject to self-sacrifices and cold hard cash from tourists and the New Zealand public.

While the scenic views are all that they promise (well, between Porirua and Taumaranui anyway), the service leaves a lot to be desired.

While reeling from the shock of having my first instant coffee in years I kept reminding myself I still had the ‘leisurely’ stop-off for lunch to look forward to. The stop-off is about half way in National Park at the old railway station which has been converted into a pretty funky little cafe (by backwater standards).

Over the loudspeaker the Overlander staff hyped up customer expectations into a frenzy… “We’re sooo excited because we know you’ll lap-up the views while you lap-up a steaming hot volcanic latte, and relax over your al-fresco lunch – you’ll have plenty of time to stretch out, relax enjoy your meal with our leisurely 40-minute stopover”.

lunch at one metre an hour
lunch at one metre an hour

But, on arrival we were greeted with a massive queue of smug-looking people.

The Auckland train has arrived just a few minutes prior. My hungry daughter and I stood for nearly an hour in line while those at the front got seats, were served hot plates of cooked food, coffee and pink fairy cake.

Over the loudspeaker the Overlander staff promised “You will all be served! Don’t worry – we know you’ll enjoy your lunch   because we’re enjoying ours right now!”.

The cafe counter was only just in sight when the train staff were ushering people back onto the train which was already an hour late when we arrived. With about 30 people left in the queue they waited an extra 10 minutes and tried to rush us through – but we only had time to grab some pre-cooked soggy chips.

Some of the cafe staff were stressed out beyond belief (one was sneaking after-dinner mints but was spotted by my daughter so gave her one to keep her quiet – this was the most nutritious thing she had all day).

All around me in the queue people were complaining under their breath – if this is normal no wonder the train service was/is under threat!

all a bored!
All a bored! happy joyful staff serving microwaved mush and nescafe at the Overlander food counter

The queue worked out a masterplan to stop this from happening again… This involved a simple idea of stopping the Wellington train in Ohakune (just 20 minutes down the line) and giving us lunch there – while stopping the Auckland train at National Park as it usually does – that way never the twains shall meet.

3 Things Tranz Scenic Should Do

Get Real!
Were the staff pre-recorded? They reminded me of apprentice hairdressers reading from an auto-cue. They kept over-promising and under-delivering and didn’t blink. While they did try to ease the massive lunchtime stuff-up by reassuring us it would “all be OK” – it was obviously a hopeless case for the last 30 people in the queue (which included staggering elderly and flailing young children).You should have given these people some sort of compensation – or at least a muffin.

Cater to the Coffee Snobs and Bring Back the Mugs
The coffee on budget airlines is better, and flying is cheaper. Why would your customers want to spend over 12 hours drinking over-priced rubbish? Good coffee is something New Zealand has going for it – 150 trapped people will consume a fair bit of deluxe coffee over a 12-hour period! And bring back the mugs! And while we’re at it – bring back the dining car!

Enter the 21st Century
A week prior to my journey I had decided to cancel my return trip (I decided I was buying a car in Auckland and driving home). Could I get a refund over the internet or phone? No – don’t be silly. I had to traipse to a ticketing office in person. Then I had to wait while the officer found a paper form – which I then had to fill out in detail. I was then told I would have to wait up to two weeks to get the refund. What’s going on here – am I in 2007 or 1907? Did you know other businesses simply reverse the charge in just a few seconds using an EFTPOS terminal?

Did I mention I quite like trains? Really, I do! But Tranz Scenic need to do a whole lot better if they’re going to woo people back to rail – it’s simple…

  • Run on time.
  • Serve satisfying food and drinks.
  • Don’t treat customers like cattle.

I wonder if Gordon Ramsay also fixes trains? They need him…

I’m going off the rails

In an act of hypocrisy I’m abandoning electric rail in favour of a fossil-guzzling car. This was not a light decision, but the Kapiti-Wellington public transport system has literally driven me off the rails…

For years I’ve been a staunch climate change warrior. I’d catch a bus from home to the Paraparaumu train station (20 minutes) – catch a train to Wellington (add 60 minutes) – then walk to work from the station (another 15 minutes). Count in waiting time at the stations and in all this would take me about two hours each way – that’s at least 20 hours a week commuting.

Except, it’s not actually 20 hours a week.

At least one day of the week the trains are running late, cancelled or take 90 minutes instead of 60 (last week I received six TXT messages telling me of peak-time train delays). And several times a month my train doesn’t connect with the last bus home (8pm) – turning a bus trip which usually costs $1.50 into $11 for a taxi. There has also been numerous times over the years when a taxi has not been available – meaning a very long walk home.

Last week  I tried commuting by car for the first time – maybe I struck a lucky week, but despite 15 minutes of traffic congestion each day the whole trip from home to the carpark  took me under 60 minutes. Add 15 minutes walk to work this comes to 2.5 hours a day – a time saving of at least 7.5 hours a week (in reality more like 10hrs a week saved).