November 8 saw this year's worldwide No. 1 usability event – the World Usability Day, conceived by the international Usability Professionals Association (UPA) and carried out in 23 countries by local UPA chapters or other interested parties. I took part in the event in Hamburg, Germany, which attracted over 300 people from industry, administration, and academia. My invited talk on Google User Experience was the final element of this great and well organized event and was very well-received by the approximately 150 people in the audience. Exciting!
In an interview with Jeffrey Veen of Adaptive Path, Irene Au, Director of User Experience at Google, talks about her background, the way Google as a company works and innovates, and what she thinks is important to be able to ship great products:
I think it?s really important to be very pragmatic about what you?re building, and how quickly you?re building [it]. There?s a balance [that must be struck when pursuing] something that?s really perfect. When you?re innovating very rapidly, sometimes you just don?t even know how things will be used and what [they?ll] be used for. So sometimes it?s just important to get it out there. Being able to adapt to the conditions and the environment?that was kind of a survival skill that I had to learn.
There are so many things that are so fascinating about Google. The way this company is designed, the whole organization is completely inverted. There?s incredible empowerment in all levels of the company. A lot of start-ups, they start out flat, but then as they grow as companies, they become more hierarchical and more silo-ed. Google has done an amazing job of avoiding that. So the company still operates in a very flat way. People are very much empowered, and there?s a lot of freedom and flexibility to explore and pursue your passions. If you really believe in something, you can absolutely go make things happen. That [makes it] very easy to build things.
I think a company’s setup and design process are vital for the resulting design quality.When companies start giving engineers and designers freedom and power to innovate, trusting them rather than controlling their every move, and handing over responsibility for complete tasks, people will be motivated to create truly great products.
Kimmy Paluch over at paradymesolutions.com presents a nice write-up on what actually constitutes User Experience Design. These elements add to the overall idea of user experience:
- Interaction design
- Information architecture
- Human computer interaction
- Human factors engineering
- User interface design
Kimmy continues to say,
User experience is the culmination of all of these parts into one field. Although, user experience design does not wholly contain these fields (that is to say, some research and practices in each of these fields falls outside the realm of the user experience) it does serve to unite many of the principles so as to improve each of the facets of the user experience.
The following image nicely shows the interaction of the various disciplines:
The post additionally covers an evaluation of uxd as a form of design and some thoughts on the design process. Definitely worth reading!
Gelsenkirchen[GP:Gelsenkirchen], in Germany's far West, hosted this year's "Mensch und Computer" ("Man and Computer") conference, the most important conference for the German-speaking usability community. As usual, A UPA track accompanied the research and science paper sessions. Again (like in 2004 and 2005), the UPA track featured the sessions I found most interesting – there were a presentation of a non-intrusive remote usability method, some important discussion on whether or not usability professionals had to get a certificate, and the founding session of a new workgroup for in-house usability consultants.
Of the invited talks, I much preferred the one by Prof. Dr. Matthias Rauterberg, TU Eindhoven. Back in 2000, I interviewed Mr Rauterberg for my thesis on Joy of Use. I must confess it was quite difficult to stick to my prepared set of interview questions – actually, I didn't manage and got a long, very interesting and though-provoking, but not too focused interview out of it. Now, Mr Rauterberg's speach on "Usability in the Future – Explicit and Implicit Effects in Cultural Computing" tackled Eastern and Western design philosophies, C.G. Jung's archetypes, who we thought the 21st century Copernicus could be, and Alice in Wonderland. I guess he left most of the listeners puzzled, but some found harsher words. I myself must say I quite enjoyed it. Overall, the conference didn't present any surprises. The talks, papers, and posters were ok, but not as inspirational or innovative as I had hoped. It might be a good idea to switch from an annual schedule to every second year to give researchers and practitioners more time to prepare better material. But maybe I've just been spoiled by the euroGel conference experience just two days before.
The next week will be quite busy conference-wise: Next Thursday, I will catch a plane from Hamburg to Copenhagen, Danmark, to get to Mark Hurst's euroGel, the first of its kind on European soil. (Mark calls, and everyone is coming!) Mark has managed to get a great number of fascinating speakers onboard the conference, and there are even two seminars on Thursday afternoon. I'm very much looking forward to a supposedly completely different conference experience – and I'm excited to participate in this trial. I'm convinced there will be a sequel, and this will be a huge success (at least one that will help spread the word of Customer Experience). (I better be excited – I'm paying this one myself: ticket, flight, hotel.)
The actual conference only goes to Friday evening, and I'll fly out of Copenhagen late Friday. On Sunday I'll move on to Gelsenkirchen, deep in West Germany's Ruhr area where this year's Mensch und Computer conference will take place. (The Mensch und Computer, Man and Computer, conference is the most important HCI conference for German-speaking HCI practitioners – see my reports for the 2005 M&C and some thoughts inspired by the 2004 M&C. I've attended this conference since 1999.) As during the last years, I'm especially looking forward to the UPA track, which will feature e.g. some topics for in-house usability practitioners. And, of course, it's THE place to come together, update one another and do some important networking.
Looks like it's gonna be a fun week
This Monday's Hamburg User Experience Roundtable featured a special guest: Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good (NYC-based[GP:CreativeGood]) and initiator of the Good Experience train of thought, visited us through iChat AV and gave a great and inspiring talk on good experiences, the focus of usability work, and the upcoming euroGel 06 conference (Copenhagen, Denmark[GP:Copenhagen], 1 Sept 06). It was great to finally meet him (if virtually) and to hear his enthusiasm and conviction resounding through the conversation. Even if the group here in Hamburg[GP:Tribal] seemed a bit reluctant to show a great amount of ardor (which might have to do with the North-Germany mentality ), he really got people hooked on the Good Experience thing. We went for a beer afterwards and people were really excited and started thinking how to make it possible to attend euroGel. I guess out of the group some three or four participants will come to Copenhagen (me, for example – I just bought a ticket ).
GEL (Good Experience Live) is a conference that's a bit different from other usability conferences. It's not about teaching people usability methods or exchanging the latest research results. Its approach is: make people have a good, rich, inspiring experience, make them enjoy themselves and get them thinking about what it is that is different from other, less inspiring situation, and let them carry over this feeling of richness, of enjoyment, of the good experience into their daily work. GEL has taken place annually in New York since 2003, and euroGel is the first of its kind on European soil. Mark talked a bit about why he didn't have the same "gurus" on the speaker list who appear at about every conference (Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman, Jared Spool): He said he felt it's disrespectful to bring a group of Americans to Europe to have them show the Europeans how to do good design. Furthermore, he went on saying that usability isn't an end in itself – usability is about creating a good experience which means good business. Funny how much in parallel this is to an impression some of us younger usability professionals here in Germany seem to share – that there is one group of die-hard usability people who don't design stuff but only evaluate it, and there is a second group of UX-inspired ones who see usability is just a factor facilitating a and contributing to a plesurable user experience. Personally, I guess (and hope) that in a couple of years time, the profession of "usabilty engineer" will be extinct and be replaced by a "customer experience" pro with a holistic point of view and powerful standing within the companies. But maybe that's just wishful thinking …
Mark's closing appeal to all of us was: collect good experiences, let them enthuse and inspire ourselves, spread the word … and make sure our usability work isn't too narrowed down to optimizing task performance