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...

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...

Exploring the Google Glass UX

As wearable devices enter the mainstream, UX designers must develop ways to maximize those devices’ potential while acknowledging the new limitations they impose. That’s what the software team at ELEKS concluded after evaluating Google Glass – an experience that allowed them to abandon their expectations about head-mounted wearables, adapt user experiences to tiny screens, and forget about keyboards altogether. For many UX designers, Google Glass evokes visions of an Iron Man-like interface with numerous controls and augmented reality features. Our team at ELEKS, too, fell victim to these assumptions. It was only after designing and developing multiple applications for Google Glass that we began to truly understand its distinctive features – and how to work within its limitations. In particular, we came across numerous technical and contextual challenges that few in the UX space will have encountered before. As the market for Google Glass, and thus the market for compatible applications continues to expand, we feel it is of vital importance for UX designers to share their experiences creating applications for the device. It’s in this spirit that we’re sharing our own. Photo Credit: lawrencegs via Compfight cc Technological limitations We began playing with Glass in August of 2013. Since then, our team of designers, analysts and engineers has worked on seven related projects, ranging from business concepts to fully operational applications. Most of the projects catered to unique usage scenarios and provided an application from which clients can benefit, either by opening new opportunities or by optimizing business processes. First, we discovered that the predominant way to interact with Google Glass was via Mirror API, which showed text...

Breaking the Constraints

On August 7, 2014, UX designers and developers around the world cheered to the news that Microsoft would officially drop support for older versions of Internet Explorer, effective January 2016. Yet by and large, the outcry was less “hooray for Microsoft!” and more “why didn’t they do this sooner?” The answer is “because people still use IE,” and yet people still use IE because it’s supported, and it’s supported because people use it. It’s a vicious cycle. Two years ago, Nicholas Zakas wrote an article for Smashing Magazine entitled “It’s Time to Stop Blaming Internet Explorer,” in which he said: It’s not actually old browsers that are holding back the web, it’s old ways of thinking about the Web that are holding back the Web. He went on to explain that constraints will always exist, be they older browsers, business requirements, or user needs, and it’s the UX designer’s job to focus on what can be done rather than how to rid the world of the constraint. It’s an intriguing idea. We do work within constraints on every project, and many of them will never wane no matter how much we complain about them, but some constraints can be cracked, or at least altered, if we know where to begin. We’re often told to ask for serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage (or coffee) to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference. By understanding where constraints originate and why users react to a given constraint the way they do, we can gain the wisdom we need to identify whether each constraint...

NUX3 – UX & Design Conference – 10th Nov 2014

Royal Northern Collage of Music, Manchester ~ 10th Nov 2014 ~ 9.00am-5.30pm NUX3 is an all-day event in Manchester focussed on how an understanding of people can help you define, design, and build better experiences, on the web and beyond. With international speakers from some of the biggest digital brands, the day will provide a...