my recent reads..

Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters; From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima
Power Sources and Supplies: World Class Designs
Red Storm Rising
Locked On
Analog Circuits Cookbook
The Teeth Of The Tiger
Sharpe's Gold
Without Remorse
Practical Oscillator Handbook
Red Rabbit

Thursday, July 31, 2008

24 Season ... 7?

Props to Sophia for finding me the Jack Bauer quotes at 24 wikia.

It's a curse to be reminded how long we've been waiting for Season 7, but great to find out that a two-hour Season 7 prequel, 24: Exile, will air in the US later this year on November 23rd.

Hmmm ... time to break out the 1-6 box set again and go sleepless for a week. That will be the longest week of my life;-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What Customers Really Want

I was involved in a conference last week that left me painfully aware of the missing "voice of the customer".

However it did bring to mind a great book I recently read - What Customers Really Want by Scott McKain.

Not to be confused with the product management text What Customers Want: Using Outcome-Driven Innovation to Create Breakthrough Products and Services by Anthony Ulwick. Completely forgettable in my view, and arguably dangerous in the wrong hands ... particularly when it gets into the dangers of having customers actually involved in the process!

.. well perhaps one good thing about "What the Customer Wants" is that when picking it out at the library I discovered "What the Customer Really Wants" only a shelf away.

I still can't find "What the Customer Really ReallyWants".

Back to "What the Customer Really Wants": in the first few pages I was skeptical, expecting the book to be yet another meaningless management ra-ra piece. Luckily Scott managed to catch my attention before too long and it soon became clear that the book is a gem. Scott McKain talks from the perspective of real experience, and his no-bullshit, folksy plain talk is a welcome relief from the "gurus". Importantly though, it is not just about experience, but also the fact that McKain has distilled and can share valuable insights as a result of that experience. Most are in the "bleeding obvious - but why haven't I thought of that before?" category.

Even the book's organisation is refreshingly to the point. Six main chapters covering six key disconnects..
What Customers REALLY WantWhat Business Supplies
Compelling experienceCustomer service
Personal focusProduct focus
Reciprocal loyaltyEndless prospecting
InnovationStatus quo

"Continuous improvement is the enemy of innovation". That got my attention. It's an interesting point of view: Kaizen - constant change - has its role. But innovation is anything but about being constant - its about seeking the dramatic step change. The problem is that most of us cannot cope with being completely focused on incremental change AND at the same time the search for shattering innovation.

The customer is not always right .. but they are always the customer!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Designing the Obvious, the Moment, Not Thinking and how bad design can make you physically ill

I had a violent adverse reaction to the design vomit that is
  • massive visual overload

  • poorly aliased graphics used instead of heading text

  • shockingly low-res advertising images (at least DBS have had the initial ads used on launch replaced)

  • "social networking features" that pervert the term, like submit a recipe that is an email link!!

  • Deserves a Daily Sucker award and should probably be renamed to

I could go on, but it just makes me choke. Best medicine: jump to hungrygowhere, who got there first and have done a vastly better job on the web site.

The other essential part of my recovery was to go back and luxuriate in the clarity of thought epitomised by Robert Hoekman's two books on design:

These are two books I think every web designer and, yes, every developer should read. Or have on a bookshelf in easy reach.

Designing the Moment is the one I find myself returning to. It takes a case study/cookbook approach and nuts out many of the issues in contemporary UI design. It's not an encyclopedia or complete reference - you will need to go elsewhere for that. But it does get you in the groove (in a "teach a man to fish.." kind of way). Even if my immediate design challenge is not directly addressed, it is great for getting in the right frame of mind for cutting through all the confusion and honing in on my core issues and purpose. It also contains the single best argument for using "sign in" rather than "login", and some great discussion of form alignment considerations.

Designing the Obvious is the first book, and contains the full discussion of Hoekman's philosophy of the obvious. You could probably get a web design job on the basis of studying this book alone! My only slight qualm is that while it presented a methodology and process for requirements analysis for example, it doesn't really give you a glimpse of other established practices and advice on how to harmonize in a larger and more diverse team situation.

This may sound like sacrilege, but I find these books even better than Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think. Krug's book is great in its own right, but I feel that Hoekman has taken the art one step further. I'm sure he would agree with Isaac Newton:
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants..

But there's no doubt Don't Make Me Think has some great advice. Some of my favourites:
  • Don't use a mission statement as a Welcome blurb (aargh!!)

  • Usability testing on a budget. Spend one morning a month with a few testers. Debrief immediately over lunch. Act.

  • Mad magazine parody of the NYT tagline:
    All the News That Fits, We Print..