Quantcast
Subscribe!

 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

 

E-mail Steve
This form does not yet contain any fields.
    Listen to internet radio with Steve Boese on Blog Talk Radio

    free counters

    Twitter Feed

    Entries in design (48)

    Tuesday
    Sep202016

    Learn a new word: Fault Tolerance

    Why does your car continue to run if one of the tires goes flat?

    How was Sully able to still steer and point the plane, eventually landing in the Hudson River, when both of the plane's engines had lost power?

    How are our organizations able to (more or less), carry on when something goes wrong, or someone fails to get the email, or Jerry in accounting just screws up?

    It's called Fault Tolerance, and it's today's entry in the wildly popular 'Learn a new word' series. First, some definitions from our pals at Wikipedia:

    Fault tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of (or one or more faults within) some of its components. If its operating quality decreases at all, the decrease is proportional to the severity of the failure, as compared to a naively designed system in which even a small failure can cause total breakdown. Fault tolerance is particularly sought after in high-availability or life-critical systems. The ability of maintaining functionality when portions of a system break down is referred to as graceful degradation.

    fault-tolerant design enables a system to continue its intended operation, possibly at a reduced level, rather than failing completely, when some part of the system fails. The term is most commonly used to describe computer systems designed to continue more or less fully operational with, perhaps, a reduction in throughput or an increase in response time in the event of some partial failure. That is, the system as a whole is not stopped due to problems either in the hardware or the software.  A structure is able to retain its integrity in the presence of damage due to causes such as fatiguecorrosion, manufacturing flaws, or impact.

    Why does fault tolerance matter?

    Obviously it matters a ton in complex, mission-critical technologies and machines that rely on hundreds, if not thousands of components, connections, and systems. If every time a single failure point in a car or a plane or in a power delivery grid caused the entire system to crash and become inoperable, then, well, we would hardly every drive or fly anywhere and we'd be sitting in the cold and dark in our houses most of the time.

    As the sage Bender once said, 'Screws fall all the time, sir. The world is an imperfect place.'

    But why does falut tolerance matter more generally?

    Because I think we don't spend nearly enough time thinking about what will happen when something goes wrong in our organizations, or in our lives for that matter. Even just thinking about bad things happening is so unpleasant for folks that we tend to underestimate the chances of them happening, and undervalue the impact when they do happen.

    But the engineers who design systems and processes and machines with the idea of fault tolerance in mind seem to have come to terms with the inevitability of bad things happening - like both engines going dead on a jet plane, and have proactively designed the system response to such failures. 

    Put more simply, they know something is going to go wrong, because something ALWAYS goes wrong. The trick is knowing ahead of time not just that something will go wrong, but how to prepare the rest of the system and people and processes to not allow the thing that went wrong to crash the entire system.

    Something always goes wrong. In your car and in your semi-annual budget task force. 

    Be ready instead of surprised next time. Think about fault tolerance and what it means for your shop.

    Friday
    Dec042015

    Color of the Year 2016

    I continue to be completely, and probably irrationally fascinated with Pantone's 'Color of the Year' designation and process.

    In case you are unfamiliar (shock!), with Pantone and the Color of the Year designation here is all you need to know. Pantone is the world's leading authority on color, color systems, and publishes the industry standard definitions of colors. In other words that nice new orange shirt you just bought is not just 'orange' it is 'Pantone Persimmon Orange 16-1356 TPG'. Pantone provides guidelines and definitions for thousands of variations of colors, and it is the standard by which colors are classified.

    Each year the color experts at Pantone declare one specific shade the 'Color of the Year'. This specific color, (in 2015 it is 'Marsala' in case you did not know), is meant to be a kind of reflection of trends in art, design, fashion, movies, popular culture, and branding and often will subsequently become more common in actual products like clothing and jewelry as a result of the Color of the Year designation. So perhaps if you think back on 2015 and think you have seen a lot of Marsala around - a 'subtly seductive shade that draws you in with its embracing warmth', you have Pantone to thank or blame.

    So this week Pantone announced its choice for Color of the Year for 2016 and in a surprise the Color of the Year is actually two colors of the year - 'Rose Quartz' and 'Serenity', also known as sort of a light pink and light blue.

    The rationale behind the choice of two colors of the year, and these two shades in particular? 

    Here's what Pantone's color experts had to say about the selections:

    As consumers seek mindfulness and well-being as an antidote to modern day stresses, welcoming colors that psychologically fulfill our yearning for reassurance and security are becoming more prominent. Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.

    The prevalent combination of Rose Quartz and Serenity also challenges traditional perceptions of color association.

    In many parts of the world we are experiencing a gender blur as it relates to fashion, which has in turn impacted color trends throughout all other areas of design. This more unilateral approach to color is coinciding with societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity, the consumer's increased comfort with using color as a form of expression, a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged and an open exchange of digital information that has opened our eyes to different approaches to color usage.

    So what, if anything, should any of us care about what Pantone says about culture, trends, society, fashion, and how we all are collectively feeling - expressed through the colors we are seeing and using more and more?

    I suppose the main thing to think about is right in the verbiage Pantone used to describe their thinking processes behind these selections. The words soothing, tranquil, reassurance, security, and wellness all show up in the first paragraph. Pantone is suggesting that the colors we will seek in 2016 will be ones like Serenity and Rose Quartz, hues that (if such a thing is possible), will help to make us feel better, safer, more secure, more at home perhaps.

    Recent news events from Paris to San Bernardino and a thousand places in between remind us all too often that the world continues to be a strange, mysterious, and sometimes scary place.

    The colors we choose say plenty about us, about who we are, how we feel, and perhaps how we want to feel.

    What do you think? Ready to rock plenty of Serenity and Rose Quartz in 2016?

    Have a great weekend! 

     

    Thursday
    Apr302015

    Revealing Complexity

    Probably the most significant barrier to user adoption of new workplace technology is that users don't see the personal benefit of adopting these technologies. This is the classic 'What's in it for me?' conundrum. While that subject is important and worthy of exploration, I won't be hitting that specific problem today. Instead, let's talk about what is likely the second-most important barrier to employee adoption of workplace technology, namely, that most enterprise technologies have provided (relatively) poor user experience and/or are just too complex for them to use intuitively.

    While enterprise technology companies have talked about, and some have actually delivered, better, more compelling, more consumer-like technology user experiences, even the most modern, best-designed applications eventually run into a common problem in that enterprise tools often require LOTS of data be input into them.

    It could be a new sales prospect being recorded in a CRM, a new supplier that needs to be set up in Procurement, or even a relatively simple matter of entering a new hire in the HRIS, all of these use cases while impacting disparate systems and organizational departments, have much more in common than we usually think. Each of these transactions requires (usually), a whole bunch of data fields to be populated with a whole bunch of data. And even in 2015, for many organizations the bulk of these myriad data elements have to be manually typed into the respective system form fields the old fashioned way - manually.

    And so since the makers of CRM and Supply Chain and HR technologies understand this reality, and like to be able to sell to customers the things they need to run their business operations, even the most modern, slick, mobile responsive, and really amazing looking enterprise solutions often and still have these kind of busy, kind of ugly, kind of tired looking data input forms in order to support these kinds of transactions. And while we might be tempted to look at these kinds of forms, (and the processes that make these 37 field data input forms necessary), as relics from an older, less awesome age, they still have a place in most organizations and in most modern technology solutions.

    Not every interaction with an enterprise technology can (or should) be reduced to a graphic or chart on a tablet, or a glanceable notification on your new Apple Watch. Sometimes, the hard and necessary work of getting relevant data (and lots of it) about customers, vendors, and employees into the enterprise tools that organizations rely upon is, still, kind of boring, kind of repetitive, and even kind of monotonous.

    But that is entirely ok, and should not be considered some kind of an indictment of the technology solution provider that has not figured out a way to make inputting 32 fields about a customer into some kind of a gorgeous 'swipe left' and 'swipe right' kind of user experience.  

    User Experience and what is good User Experience is highly variable and highly personal. And what usually constitutes great User Experience for the sales exec who wants to look at the Q3 funnel on her tablet is much, much different than what makes up great UX for a payroll entry clerk. We can't confuse them with each other.

    The best designed enterprise systems, of course, support both UX's and both kinds of users. The key is, I think, to have the system only reveal its fundamental complexity, and the form with 37 input fields, only to those people who really need them, and care about them, and help them see the 'What's in it for me?' as well as treating them and their role with respect.

    Tuesday
    Mar102015

    Users don't know what they want - but they know something

    How much, or little, should product designers and developers interact with potential users and customers of the products the designers and engineers are creating?

    It seems like a simple question, but if you think about it some and recall some of the famous perspectives on customer input into product development you find that the answers to this question tend to land on one of two extremes.

    On the one side, you have the Steve Jobs/Henry Ford take on customer needs and wants. Jobs more or less thought customers had no idea what they really wanted, and he (and Apple), had to create that want by building amazing products that met that need (that the users didn't know they had). Ford is famously quoted as saying that if he had asked customers what they wanted they would have replied 'faster horses', instead of reliable and affordable automobiles.Ford

    The other extreme, and one seen traditionally in lots of workplace kinds of technologies, is for developers and designers to build just exactly what customers request. This approach is mostly an outgrowth and evolution of internal IT shop's tendency to build custom applications based on a list of documented requirements from the end users. If the feature was in the requirements doc, it made it into the product. If not, then the capability didn't get built in the delivered product. And the IT response to downstream complaints was always, 'Well, it wasn't in the requirements.' 

    So what is the best, or most effective middle ground between Jobs/Ford (customers don't know anything) and the traditional IT (customers HAVE TO know exactly what they want) approaches?

    Maybe the best approach is summed up in this recent piece from the O'Reilly Radar site, 7 User Research Myths and Mistakes:

    The most common reason people give for not talking to users is that “users don’t know what they want.” While that’s sometimes true, it’s not a good reason for not talking to them. It’s just a good reason for not asking them to tell you exactly what they want.

    Instead, ask people about their problems. Ask them to tell you stories about how they use other products and how they make buying decisions. Ask them when they use specific products. Is it on the train? In the car? At their desks? At work? Ask them about their lives.

    Users might not be great at telling you what new product they’re definitely going to use, but they’re great at telling you about themselves, and that is a very good thing for you to understand if you’re making a product for them.

    That seems right to me - describing that sweet spot or middle ground between not giving a rip about what users think and the other extreme of expecting the users to tell you exactly what you should build for them.

    Keep this in mind the next time you sit down with some HR tech solution provider salesperson. How much do they ask you and your team about the problems you need to address? How much do they seem interested in what makes your organization work (and unique)?

    And how much do they like to talk about exactly what their product does?

    You are the user. You might not know everything. But you sure know something.

    Wednesday
    Dec172014

    Show and tell

    The 'Steve Jobs was an amazingly creative thinker and leader' anecdotes will seemingly not be stopping anytime soon, and that is probably just fine. One of the latest, and that particularly caught my attention was related in this recent piece on Business Insider, Here's the Simple Yet Brilliant Challenge Steve Jobs Posed to Employees During Product Meetings.

    Here is an excerpt from the BI piece:

    Ken Rosen, a managing partner at consulting agency Performance Works, which worked with Jobs at Apple and at NeXT, shared one way Jobs was able to get the NeXT team thinking about design from different angles. 

    The challenge was simple: each person would bring a product he or she respected into their team meeting.

    "It could be anything, [even] a paperclip," Ken Rosen, who worked in marketing at NeXT, tells Business Insider. "People brought in very different products, from electronics to a paper notebook to a jump rope."

    Jobs wasn't interested in criticizing or judging the employee based on what product he or she brought in. Rather, the assignment was about broadening the way the team thought about product design.

    [Jobs] just really wanted to develop an organization where people knew what good products were," he says. "He wanted to develop a vocabulary and a kind of nuanced sense of judgement about what a good product really was."

    I think this story is cool for at least two reasons. One, it shows a willingness and a predisposition to look for ideas, inspiration, and even answers to NeXT's particular product and design challenges from just about anywhere. Notice Jobs did not instruct his team to bring in examples of their favorite competing computers or even broadly similar products in the electronics family. He asked them to bring in any products that resonated with them.

    Good ideas can come from everywhere, anywhere really.

    The other reason this story is cool is that it probably helped Jobs understand better the point of view and the design sensibilities of the members of the NeXT team. It is one thing for a team member to sit in a meeting and offer comments on a design sketch or a prototype, but it is quite another for that same person to carry in an object or a product and explain to the group what it is about that object that they find compelling. The exercise wasn't really about rating or evaluating any of the particular objects that the team brought in, but rather to think and see what good product design really was.

    Fun story for sure. Probably something worth trying sometime in your shop as well. And of course after reading I had to think about what product or object I would bring in for workplace show and tell...

    Hmm. I do love my little Acer Chomebook, (used to write this piece). I also might consider my Adidas Superstars, (classic sneakers for the uninitiated).

    Good question.

    What would you bring in for show and tell?