Finding New Solutions in Old Philosophy

As a graduate student at Harvard University, one of my main influences was the Austrian philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein argued that many philosophical statements, and indeed, much of philosophy itself, became preposterous when applied to the real world. Since completing my doctorate in philosophy, I have been a professional programmer for more than twenty years, and I have learned a lot about applying philosophical thinking to design and development. Philosophy offers deep and profound insights about subjects like knowledge, meaning and justice. Insofar as computer programs concern these subjects, philosophy can be a fantastic source of ideas – and often is. Reading philosophy books has given me ideas for writing useful computer programs that span multiple industries, from healthcare to business, which contradicts Wittgenstein’s belief. After all, if philosophy can guide the design of profitable products, it must be meaningful. Ideas and techniques from such varied philosophers as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rene Descartes, Karl Marx, and W.V.Quine can advance UX development and design. In this article, we’ll explore three software challenges, and the solutions philosophy inspired. Solution#1: Descartes and Austin complete sales Every point-of-sale (POS) transaction faces the same challenge: how do we bring users through the sales funnel and complete a sale? We know we must provide enticing content and a positive experience, but how? A certain number of prospective customers are expected to leave without purchasing, but the designer of a POS system wants to keep that number as low as possible. In order to reduce the number of times users abort a POS transaction, we consider an idea from the philosophy of knowledge. Descartes, in...

Designing for Dyslexia (Part 1)

There are fifty-two cards in a standard deck of cards, and we are tasked with putting them in order, whatever that might mean to us. We might choose to simply place the cards into two piles: blacks and reds, and leave it at that. Alternatively, we could separate these two piles into two further piles: hearts and diamonds for the red cards, and spades and clubs for the black cards. Adding another layer of complexity, it is possible to arrange each of these four piles into numerical order from ace to king. If this deck of cards were handed to a random person, the expectation is that the user would be able to find a particular card. If, for example, the person were tasked with finding the ace of spades, he or she would most likely flip through the cards, recognize the pattern, and extract the card with ease. This is an understandable expectation, but it relies on the assumption that the searcher’s cognition is the same as that of the card’s arranger. What might occur if the person were unable to recognize the pattern? What might occur if they were able to recognize the pattern, but it took additional time to find a particular card? Dyslexics worldwide face this very challenge. The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity estimates that 20% of the population is dyslexic, yet designers are generally ill equipped to create designs that are accessible for dyslexic users. In this article, we’ll take a look at the study I created and what I learned about dyslexia. Then, in part two, we’ll review the five universal...

Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and the Internet of Things

The internet has become an integrated, seamless, and often invisible part of our everyday lives. Some see this connection as a way to a brighter future, while others have trepidations. The only thing that seems certain is that the Internet is changing rapidly, the laws surrounding the Internet are changing even faster, and it’s all we can do to try and keep up. Changes in style, design, and interactions across the web have big implications for users, but even bigger implications for us as creators. While we often highlight the importance of connecting our design to the big picture goal, it’s less often that we consider the much bigger picture: the World Wide Web. Knowing where web technology is now and where it might be going informs the quality of our daily work. How can we create optimal user experiences if we don’t at least have a basic knowledge of what the technology is capable of? It’s akin to trying to build a house without knowing what houses looked like in the past, or what materials might exist on a future project. So let’s explore the web—from the 1990s to today, and onward into the future. The world of the web The web was originally a tool used for military, scientific, and academic purposes, but since the early 1990s, it has become a huge part of our everyday lives. As technology has progressed and as more people have begun using the Internet, the web has has gone through (and continues to go through) dominant shifts, specifically Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and the Internet of Things. As the Cretaceous, Jurassic,...

Before You Hire a Designer

Mike Monteiro’s contributions to UX design are wide and varied. His first book, Design is a Job inspired us in 2011, and his talk “How Designers Destroyed the World” called us to action. Now, we’re very excited to present an excerpt from his new book, You’re My Favorite Client. A few years ago, I made plans with a friend for breakfast. She was late. When she finally got there, she apologized, saying she’d been cleaning up for the housecleaner. “Why in the world would you clean up for a housecleaner?!?” I asked. “So she can actually clean, you idiot.” This made no sense to me, but I let it go. Otherwise, we would’ve argued about it for hours. About a year later, I got busy enough with work that my house looked like it could star in an episode of Hoarders, so I hired a cleaner. After a few visits, I found myself cleaning up piles and random junk so that she could get to the stuff I actually wanted her to get to. I called my friend and said, “I get why you had to clean up for the cleaner now.” “I told you you were an idiot.” (My friends are great.) The moral of this story is you can’t drop a designer into your environment and expect them to succeed. You’ve got to clearly lay out your expectations, but you also have to set the stage so your designers come in and get to the stuff you need them to do. INTRODUCING A NEW DISCIPLINE TO YOUR WORKPLACE Let’s assume you don’t have a designer on staff....

Guerrilla Research Tactics and Tools

I was recently in a project meeting in which several stakeholders were drawn into an argument over a homepage design. As the UX professional in the room, I pointed out that we aren’t our users, and suggested we invest a few weeks into research to learn what users are really doing. The project lead rejected the idea, deeming that we didn’t have time for research. Instead we’d just have to rely on assumptions, debate and ‘best practice’. Many UX practitioners can relate to this scenario. The need to stay competitive forces agencies, freelancers and internal teams to reduce budgets however they can. Much to the chagrin of designers, research time is often the first cut. The problem is that cutting research often results in usability disasters. With no data or insight, people fall back on assumptions—the enemy of good design. Stakeholders will preface statements with ‘As a user…’, forgetting that we aren’t our users. Without research we inadvertently make decisions for ourselves instead of our target audience. In times like these we need guerrilla research. To be ‘guerrilla’ is to practice faster, cheaper and often less formal research alternatives; alternatives that don’t necessarily need to be sponsored, budgeted or signed-off on. Much like the warfare from which it takes its name, guerrilla research is unconventional yet effective, in that it allows the designer to gather meaningful data at low cost. The concept of guerrilla research isn’t new. Experience designer David Peter Simon discussed the basics of guerrilla usability testing here at UX Booth last July. Now I’m going to expand on his premise by reviewing other tools to add...