Innovation talk by Doug Field

Yesterday there was an innovation talk by Doug Field, who is VP Product design for Apple.  I attended it.  Surprisingly I could learn things what I didn’t anticipated, and couldn’t learn what hoped.

Okay, so “what I couldn’t learn” part first, for it is first, because it is short.  There was no info about iphone 5.  Somebody asked it, but couldn’t get the answer.  And all audience was told not to take pictures and notes at all to keep secret where there is no secret! Actually I don’t believe that there will be a lot of innovation in iphone 5.  Unless Apple has an UFO technology, the innovation in this fierce competitive field is limited.  Apple did great job when they introduced IPhone first, thus freeing us from the big network provider like At&T, which was really bad at making useful thing and only good at keeping their gate.  But now it is given.  And the company like Google and Samsung is working hard to keep up.  Although I am sure , I will buy another IPhone for the all investment I made in the system, if I were new comer, it will be hard to select if other guy is really cheap.

Anyway, here is “what I learned” part which I think get interesting.  The talk is divided into two part.  Part one is general advice for the career and second part is about working in Apple.  The talk began with the quotation of the Darwin, “the survival of the fittest”.  Doug pointed that there is two preceding condition, which is “mutation” and the “the nature produces more than that can survive”.

For mutation, what he means try to keep diverse interest, which someday somehow can lead to the work he/she do.  A nice example was the music.  Doug played horn and liked music.  That domain expertise came useful when he designed the gear ratio of segway. By designing the gear box ratio to be harmonic, segway can produce pleasant sound.  Another example was perfect symmetrical fan of new Apple laptop, which will produce noise of pleasant tone, rather than white noise tone of asymmetrical fan used in conventional laptop.  So he suggested that we keep our interest open.  As Steve Jobs said “You can never know how the dots will connect before.”

And for the “Nature produces more than that can survive” part, he means failure.  And he suggested we should get used to failure, because without them it is impossible to achieve the great leap.  A famous quote from David Kelly like “Fail fast, to succeed fast” was given.

And here comes the following “Working in the apple” part, which is basically commercial.  He told that what Apple is distinguished from other company for their obsessive, impulsive, pathological adherence to the detail to make something perfect.  I can’t agree more.  I think, at least among the computer makers, they are the only one who really loves their product.  For others, it is a just work to make living.  You know that computers are basically same.  They buy same component from same vendors and manufactures it in the same Chinese factory.  And even for the low priced netbook, it is actually the 3rd party manufactures that makes the variation of the product, and big brands just select one of them, and paste their logo.  However Apple sometimes go to the extreme even silly economical decision to make perfect product like no standard screws.

However their passion remind me the more of the traditional asian value like master craftsmanship.  Today chinese product is regarded as cheap dispensable product.  But historically China has been a world leader for a long time than any other country and it resulted in lots of arts crafts, which the maker put their soul on them.  My favorite example is this ivory sculpture.

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I found it at the hotel Treasure Island at Las Vegas.  The note besides it says that it takes so long time to make this sculpture, that there is a generation of family or union of workers working on this.  Think about the craftsman whose job is for all life sculpturing this.   I assume his only motivation was making perfect thing.   It is quite interesting to see the same kind of passion in the consumer electronic product.

But when we think about the volume of the product, their strategy works.  I mean the initial cost of designing can be justified when the cost can be divided by the large quantity.  Everybody wins.  The consumer can have a great product at reasonable price while the company can earn enough to compensate for the R&D.  It explains why Apple makes very few product for their company size.

One good question was when to stop optimization.  Though no silver bullet, his good insight was we should know the fundamentals more.  If a thing is a little better than the previous product, should we stop? No, said Doug.  Maybe when the law of physics or mechanics says, it is theoretically minimum, it will be good place to stop.

And finally, I gave a question for the class of whether apple conduct usability test?  There was a discussion about it.  The answer was yes and no.  But basically ‘No’.  According to Doug, the consumer can tell us what they hate, but they cannot provide solution or even decide which is better solution when given choice .  So they conduct usability test to test previous product or competitor’s product.  But they never ask user what is better iphone 5 design ,showing them 3~4 mockups.  They think it’s designer’s job to find best solution for user, like it’s a doctor’s job to find best treatment for the patients.

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Reading Note 3-2 UX Book Chapter 13

UX Book Chapter 13

Interestingly the UX book chapter 13 was about rapid evaluation methods. As I pointed from last blog, there can be an difference of the opinion even between the experts. (Maybe I am not titled for an expert yet.) I will give another example. I am currently in the class of the “Human Factors in Engineering” by Prof. Robert Proctor. Last week’s homework was evaluating the Europa, the European Union’s website with the heuristics by Jakob Nielsen. Among the factors, there was an “Aesthetic and minimalist design”. I thought the website was minimalist in approach. Though there were many contents, (EU surely has lots of things to say.) they were well organized and there was no flashing banner or eye-candy to distract. While submitting I asked to TA about her opinion. And she said, there are too many contents so they violate the principles. (She is a president of student chapter in Purdue University of The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). And this chapter received the HFES Gold or Silver award for Outstanding Student chapter since 2008 to 2011, which is 4 times in a row! Maybe I should submit to the authority.) As I said before, I don’t think I am right and she’s wrong. It just shows the limit of the tools we use. We were using same heuristic standard to different conclusion. And my view is supported by an academic research by Herzum & Jacobsen (2003), “which essentially states that the variation among results from different evaluators using the same method on the same target application can be so large as to call into question the effectiveness of the methods. One good side effect of this limitation is our job will never be automated by computer algorithms. And for those native Americans, their interaction design job will not be outsourced to the 3rd world cheap labor, for there is cultural differences.

And here is another story about Nielsen’s another heuristics that I couldn’t agree more. When I was at the university healthcare center for the immunization test, there was an computer error at the nurse’s computer. And guess what was an error message like. I am sorry that I didn’t take picture. There was an error code starting with 0x00 and a few sentences that error has happened, with big red stop sign. (Everybody knows that error has happened.) But the error message didn’t say any helpful message for user for possible solution or the nature of a cause. (I checked the error screen myself carefully for help.)

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It was very obvious violation of the discipline which states that “Error messages should be expressed in plain language(no codes), indicate the problem precisely, and suggest a solution constructively.” And the poor old nurse, who I think must be a very intelligent lady, could not solve the problem until I leave after talking to a practitioner. She might felt frustration, which is not good. Wait lady, we, interaction designers, are coming to rescue!

And in the book, there is pros and cons of rapid evaluation methods. There is one more advantage of rapid evaluation with a few UX practitioners or experts over the full usability evaluation with many real users. For an interaction design to be successful, it is imperative that the UX feedback is delivered to the design or developer team as early as possible. That leads to the use of low fidelity of wireframe model of an interface during evaluation. However, real users tend to be annoyed or affected by the low quality of the visual than a trained experts do. So their focus or criticisms are more on the minute aesthetics, which can be easily fixed at later stage. Though the facilitator can explain to the normal users that this is just for the evaluation, their ability to augment the humble visual is limited when compared to experts.

I also agree with the view, that what is important is follow-ups. As mentioned it the 496 page of the text, “Now that you have found the usability problems, what is next?” John and Marks (1997) ,applying the lessons from the usability is a whole new issue requiring organizational view. Sometimes nobody reads usability reports (Worst case scenario). Many cases, it is too late anyway. (Developer team is already behind launch schedule.) And that’s where a dictator like Steve Jobs could excel compared to more democratic or hierarchical organization. If the CEO of the company was the participant of the rapid evaluation, who can ignore the reports?

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This week I ended up a long review. I feel sorry to Dr.V about it, while also thanks her for reading. If feels nice, that there is somebody who actually reads long reflection like this.

Reading Note #3-1 About Face Chapter2

Overall I could not agree more with the author’s view and discipline. The power of the Software is that it is flexible. It is so flexible that it can be both ‘implemented ‘ this way and ‘represented’ that way. In my opinion, rising of the interaction design field is based on the this characteristic, which can be problematic or helpful, depending on how well represented model is designed. Previously industrial design was enough. But the famous discipline of “Form follows a function.” is not directly applicable to the SW.

However, there is very interesting thing for me that I would like to share and get your guy’s opinion. At page 36, the author argues that “Mechanical-Age representations degrade user interaction.” However, in my opinion, the evolution of technology changed that it may not be the case.

For example, a tangible human-computer interaction can be successful, if it resembles mechanical-age metaphor. An multi-touch interaction, which is common nowadays, is a good example. For example, there is a photo viewing application that adopts an coffee table metaphor. Many photos are displayed in the table. The user rotates or zoom-in using hand gestures. It is successful, because it uses an established metaphor, which don’t need to be learned by user.

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Some could argue that this established metaphor is not mechanical-age representation. Though judging whether something is of mechanical-age oriented or not can be quite difficult, I will give another example. In the book, address book is given as an example of mechanical-age thing. However in my opinion the iPhone address app is adopting the physical address book representation in their side tap.

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Maybe I am interpreting the point in the book too narrowly, thus serving my selfish need of reading review. But in my opinion that shows how a change in the technology can change the validity of the design principle.

Another point I would like to share is that I think the iCal version of representation is better than the outlook version. In my view, we have seen so many calendars, we know its relative position in the calendar, given the dates like 1st, 10th, 20th and 30th. When we are using outlook, we are losing this acquired advantage. Why do we have to lose it? As author insisted, “Significant change must be significantly better.” I don’t think that I am right and the author is wrong. It just shows the ambiguity of the evaluation, which is, in my opinion, the biggest issue in interaction design. Developing 100 versions of interface variation is easy. Selecting 1 and abandoning 99 requires Steve Jobs, who himself showed a lot of capricious changes of view over the same thing.

Reading Note #2

I will try to keep it short and succinct.

The UX book.

1.  After long usage of information devices, I have something wrong in my short-term memory.  I can’t remember a phone number.  For example, if I have to look at the phone number on the note App, and use it on the phone App, I rely on “copy and paste” rather than memorize.  My short-term memory seems to recess because of not using.  Or am I just too stupid?

The Gestalt theory

1.  When reading about these kinds of principles or theory, I can not help feel sleepy.  That shows my negative view over such theory or principle.  I am not sure if that kind of principle is more useful than common sense in IxD.  If the theory is so useful, why do we have to deal with poorly implemented designs.

Visual attention

1. Quite interesting subject.  I recommend watching this famous video.  It shows the influence of the attention to the visual acquisition.

2. The reading material didn’t contain any figures.  I suspect was it intentional to show the importance of visual aid to help understanding.

Information foraging.

1. It was interesting at first reading.  But though there is many common metaphor between biological foraging and information foraging, I am a little skeptical whether it provides any insight or tool about how to design an website.  Common sense seems to provide similar conclusion.

Fear, Job Security, Creativity, The hierarchy of needs by Maslow, Finland, Nokia

The recent post by Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu and the following discussion by Xin Cindy Chen evoked an idea inside me.  And I would like to share it others to enable more thinking by group interaction.

For a few years, I was constantly monitoring the Finland.  An interest to the Finland is not uncommon in South Korea.  Since the interesting result from PISA was published, there is many buzz about Finland with many books, TV programs.  Anyway maniac interest to the education is one typical characteristic of Korean.  Many comparison has been made between Finish and Korean education system.  The majority of the idea was we have to learn Finish system, which encourages voluntary participation in students.  Anyone who has experience in education will understand how hard to have a voluntary and participatory students.

Even though I totally agree with the finish education philosophy, my main view had a slightly different perspective.   I was looking at the Nokia.  For many reasons, Finland is similar to the S.Korea and different from Sweden or Norway, where there is proliferate natural resources like oil.  They were poor before Nokia became so successful.  And the welfare costs money.  The famous welfare system and high income of people in Finland requires constant stream of the money outside the Finland, where Nokia could serve.  Really bad way of explaining this is, the Indian Bus driver and Finish Bus driver does almost same thing.  However the high paying Nokia employee gives their money to the Bus driver.  So that’s why Finish drivers earn so much better.  However as people talks about the wonderful success story of the Apple, there is sad failure story of the Nokia.

So it was the background.  Now as the Nokia declines and with the world economic crisis, I was studying Finland about how they react.  Do they fail like that the welfare reside with the increasing neo-nazi?  How they react to the this challenge?

Well before I proceed with my judgment about their reaction, here is anti-dote.

– I am an outsider of Finland economy with superficial understanding

– The Finish economy is large thing to judge and even this financial crisis is not yet ended

Anyway here follows my judgement.  Many people left Nokia, and began their own company.  Some failed while some succeeded.  Some even say that this is even better situation for Finland.  For it reduces a systemic risk, by not relying on a single component.

You may check this yourself from the experts.

WSJ

Financial Times

Business Week

Intomobile

Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

This is the half of the my blog post.  I am sorry it becomes so long.  I will try to be short in the following argument.

Why many people can leave the Nokia without fear?  Because there was social security that supports your minimum living that includes healthcare, cost of living, and education.  So they could pursue their motivation without worrying that your family will suffer.  I will call this as motivation-driven society.  And what is the opposite of motivation-driven society?  Well it is the fear-driven society.  This society moves with its own mechanism that if you don’t work hard, you will suffer inhumanely.  As with everything in the world, it is prudent to say even fear-driven society has its own place with own strength and weakness.

One way of explaining relationship between the motivation-driven society to the fear-driven society is using the hierarchy of needs by Maslow.  He categorized human needs up to 5 to 7 level:

1. Biological and Physiological needs

2. Safety needs

3. Belongingness and Love needs

4. Esteem needs

5. Cognitive needs

6. Aesthetic needs

7. Self-Actualisation needs

The fear for the job security lies in the between level 1(physiological) and 2(safety), depending on the welfare.  Actually it can be elevated more but then it changes from fear to the motivation.  Using this diagram, my conclusion is that Finland is successful even with the failure of Nokia, for it provides its member a basic social safety so that its member can pursue higher needs without fear.

I think this explains a little about the comment by Dr.V that even US is not satisfactory in tolerating failure.  I agree.  US is good while Finland is one of best, while Korea needs more.

And one last comment for the Xin Cindy Chen.  I think there is more failed creative people than successful creative people.  The question is not whether it is required for being successful but whether it is worth trying.  Everybody dies.  It will be nice, if we can contribute to our society and leaves a honorary name for it.  It is highest level of the needs.  The problem is at some society lower needs are already given that we can focus on the higher level while at some society, we can’t ignore lower needs.