Thought / The distance between phone icons and phones

Recently a friend asked:

“Imagine a phone…. Now tell me why does a phone‬ icon still look like a landline headset?”

I said:

Icons as visual abstractions that refer to a specific concept, come from an old paradigm, that of the mechanical (mail envelope) and electronic (landline phone set) era, where object’s looks and shapes came from their use and function.

Now we’re in the digital paradigm, where objects are impervious to function and don’t need a defined shape or, worse, as pure digital, they don’t even have a shape anymore. So most give images that are more vague and less recognisable that those of their mechanical counterparts.

So symbology has to take from the physical recognisable world, and thus from old shapes derived from old paradigms.

If you think of it, a phone is really no longer a “phone”. “phone” is one of its functions, but my iPhone is more my personal computer (I work and play through it) than my phone (I hate talking on the “phone”).

Thought / Myspace might unthrone facebook

I’d bet that in 5 years, give or take, Myspace might unthrone facebook. Not kidding.

Think about it: teens and tweens are leaving facebook, and they need (could use) a place where to hang out. Myspace is a hangout place about music. music unites people, creates tribes. teens hang out in tribes, not personally but socially. Myspace is the perfect place where to hang out with people “like you”.

I saw it with Fotolog and argentinian flocks of thousands gathering to talk and dance “Electro” online, and then even offline through the connections created in Fotolog. Myspace is perfect for supporting that social behaviour for teens and tweens everywhere.

Teens and tweens (in my experience) tend to be the most forgiving when it comes to uneasy interfaces, so they make great early adopters. They tend not to flock to empty sites, and places where their friends are are much more attractive, but the idea of getting to know new friends is also an enticing for them. Think IMVU with music as an avatar.

I really think there’s room for Myspace, as much as I feel Facebook cannot be the only place, the only online social network place. I feel there’s also plenty of room for other ways of socialising.

My bet is on an era of specified, specialised online social network places, where different people can have different, and several social needs covered more specifically.

Note: I specifically left undefined what “unthroning” means in this context. Let’s for now say that it means for Facebook not to be the only significant online social network service.

Thought / Unified conundrum of web design Intention

More and more, I find myself wondering, and lately pondering, about what’s wrong with my job. More and more the feeling points not to the job itself, but at the way it is managed. More and more I find that reassuring, as I know my job, that of a ‘User Experience Designer’, as my work business card says, is, more and more, a necessity within my realm, that of ‘Web Designer’, as my personal business card says.

There’s something that I can still find valid on that User Experience title, and every time it gets closer to what I always felt Architecture was about: creating experiences. (I won’t talk directly about the ‘experience creation’ paradigm validity, as I already explored in a previous article, and I would assume to an extent it is what we web/experience designers, and architects, do).

As anyone that has sat with the dare intention to create a set of rules that try to satisfy a wide possibility for mindsets, the most crucial point is to maintain credibility within the user. Credibility in this case is often conveyed by repeatedly signaling directions in a concise way, for the user to be able to read them as signs, like in motorways and hotels, and be able to decide which paths will stimulate or satisfy their own experience.

In order to create these directions, anyone that is involved in the project needs to be pointing at the same goals, and, moreover, be talking the same language, not amongst each other, but with the user, the persona, the customer, you name it.

Lately I’ve found the biggest potholes in this road to fulfilling a coherent, unified user experience framework to be a lack of agreement from various team members on the project’s main goal.

Our (the company I work at) structure, as many others I’ve seen, is divided into disciplines each tackling a different piece of the project. We have executives, visual designers, media strategists, interaction designers, developers, testers, marketers, account managers, technical producers and project managers.

All of these departments have a different history that trails and defines their approach to the project. Thus, oftentimes, each of these departments have a different personal objective: social media wants people to connect and share value, interaction designers want to make it easy, visual designers want to engage and enjoy, developers want it to work, testers want it to be bulletproof, marketers want it to sell, account managers want it to please the client, and executives want it to stand out and bring more clients towards a company that delivers and satisfies every possible need the best way possible.

After a thorough look, one can realise those agendas don’t necessary collide. A great project might satisfy each and every one of those premises. So then why sometimes (oftentimes) too many do not?

I’m inclined to think there’s lack of an overall vision that unifies them all. Or to put it in geek enough terms, the lack of  “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”<a href=”#quote1″><sup>1</sup></a>.

Oftentimes, what projects lack is an unified, agreed upon main objective. It is here where I see the user experience being brought out and exposed to the user. There has to be a place in the process where a goal, a set of objectives to be met by every proposition have to be defined.

I know by experience in the architectural world, that role is covered by the head architect for the project. This person takes care of the group bringing the project under one solid unified vision (in the best of cases, of course). However, in the architectural world, any head architect is a laureate of architecture that has made his road up through the architectural ladder. I know this head architect is a person that roughly knew how to lay pipes, calculate structure and place standardised windows and doors, define parking lot spaces while deciding column situation, and define how the façade should look like. This person knows the trade enough to assert a continuum of all these disciplines into a unified vision for a project, while being directly advised (and admonished) by a team of experts in each category and industry.

I know by experience that in the nascent conglomerate of what we humbly call web design, all the concurrent disciplines come from different realms and backgrounds, and were circumstantially summoned. Hence the differing agendas.

That explains to me the (scaled) success of small shops and studios in tackling better than anyone else the complexity of the task with a most coherent vision and delivery.

There comes now the point where I’m utterly jaded about this line of thought, as I don’t find myself but in the position to state that what we need is more web designers in an unifying, strategical position. Unfortunately, even by being a fine extrapolation from architecture, it doesn’t seem as the right strategy, as it is retrograde and propelled by hindsight.

If you have an opinion, I’d love to hear it.

<blockquote><a name=”quote1″>1.</a> This quote from <a href=”http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077869/”>The Lord of the Rings</a> is particularly fit as “in the darkness” well exemplifies what user experience design might be about: a shot in the dark at what people will enjoy and use.</blockquote>

Thought / Designing experiences

Some people (IxD/UX designers) think experiences cannot be designed. Wrong. People experience by navigating flows, and we can define those flows, making them easy/easier.

Experience does not equals to perception, though perception informs it. Experience is about doing something (and learning from), which requires a path, which we design, e.g. by creating a scenery path through a forest or canyon, we can optimise flow and goal achievement, thus enhancing the experience.

As gothic cathedrals emphasised a sensation of “smallness”, design can emphasise an intended experience, with a goal in mind. Thus, though experience cannot be determined, perceptions, paths and collection of them, and consequently the creation of a memory for a site (in both meanings as space and web property) can be guided.

If we visit the Sixtine Chapel, in Rome, and we decide to hire a Guide, we’ll end up with much more information, given to us in the proper context, that if we just roam the space by ourselves, depending only on perception and memory to map all the information the space offers. Similarly, we can provide the proper cues, inflections and comments, and even the right turns, in order to inform and enhance comprehension of the vast, complex amount of artwork the chapel offers us.

In web design, there’s also the notion of goal, or what the person intends to achieve, guided by their current desire or need (e.g. “learn about the artwork of Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli”), and to do, guided by their mental model (e.g. “by visiting the spaces and viewing the real artwork in context I can understand it better”). These goals and processes can be guided and informed by a contextually-aware strategy that maximises contact and absorption of information, thus satisfying the goals better while enhancing the process.

By defining it so, we can thus conclude (I presume) that the experience (the “visit”) has been elevated to a different level, as two persons, one with the guide and another without it, could argue.

Is that what I refer as to “designing the experience”.

Thought / The (very near) future of online information (Part 1)

We live in an overwhelmingly online world. Every new system, service, platform and framework means a new set of data that will be bombarded to us, incessantly, online.

Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, The New York Times Online, Google Buzz, The Guardian, Venturebeat, Techcrunch, Huffington Post, Chatroulette, Tumblrs, the myriad of blogs we follow, Foursquare, Gowalla, and even IM, email, sms, calls, have become open channels of data, and their model is that of throwing as many bits as they can physically produce. No wonder people still decide to keep themselves to the outskirts of the web.

It be stated that when I say people I mean all people from all the corners of the world, not the sleeve of internet-savvy geeks or the information-thirsty folks that don’t have a problem being attached to a monitor for hours, perusing screen words and photos posted by others like them.

The web is an overwhelming world of stuff thrown to our faces, and everyone and their mothers are trying to make a living on creating more, or as they’ll say, better content to be hosed to you, every minute of every hour of the live of the servers that will pump the data blood all around the open arteries of the internet.

I’d risk to say that the huge success of facebook was (and might not be anymore in a short while) that of giving a concentrated, aggregated way of consuming that huge amount of information, but even facebook, can become an unsurmountable amount of other people’s lives.

Even with the success of some services like twitter and foursquare can be calibrated against our incapacity to digest more data: the former making that data so ephemeral and transient it does not transcend but the glimpse of casual browsing on a lost, idle moment for one too many a user; the latter promising a physical encounter in the best of cases, or channeling it through the idea of it related to our movement through cities and spaces, thus describing something less ethereal than just a thought.

If that was not enough, recently facebook announced a scheme where it’ll support the totally indiscriminate sharing of everything online. It has received many critics, and most of them of a very high level of harshness. I personally see it as an eye opener: the one fact that will show us one factor, one side, one missing perspective about the web: we own the internet, but it is not of much depth, and sometimes even use for us, as like a tsunami of diluvian proportions it might, it will wash us away from all we could grasp, get, understand and process, and will substitute it with just more status, more quizzes, more lines of shared articles and photos and rubbish and pics of what i’m eating right now; just more information.

I say there has come the time for one thing i’ve been thinking, envisioning for a while, one thought I’m sure I’m not alone in fostering and hatching, one thought that has to make sense for once and for all: the internet of mediation, or much better: the mediation of the internet.