Thursday, July 23, 2015

Please see the Iteration Group blog

Hi there!

This is an old blog - with occasional posts from 1999 to 2012.

Please see the Iteration Group blog, where the team and I post about User Experience, Product Development, Web Design, Mobile App Design, and related topics.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Video 4 of 4: Strategies for Early Stage Companies to Be Successful at Trade Shows & Conferences

I was recently invited by the team at Docstoc to participate in their "expert" video series, meant to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals. This is part 4 of 4.

In this last video, I bring up ways for startups to be effective at trade shows:
  • Don't get a booth.  Expensive: space, booth itself, manning it, etc.
  • Find out who will be there; identify those who you'd like to meet
  • Craft a persuasive e-mail asking to meet briefly.  Make it personal.
  • Private room, Coffee shop

Video 3 of 4: Difference of Business Development Responsibilities During the Early Stages of a Startup

I was recently invited by the team at Docstoc to participate in their "expert" video series, meant to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals. This is part 3 of 4.

Here I talk about the difference in biz dev responsibilities during the beta stage and growth stage of a startup:
  • In the early stages, it's the responsibly of the founders.  Sell the vision to prospective customers.  Refine the product as necessary.  Get the first few deals done yourself.  Figure out how to sell the product into what markets.  You’re the passionate visionary – you’re the heart and soul of the company.  You can’t possibly expect an outsider to be able to jump in and start selling.  And if you can’t sell it yourself, don’t bother hiring.

  • In the later stages, bring in folks into biz dev and tell them exactly what to do.  Here’s what works, here’s what doesn't, here’s what to say, here’s what not to say - all informed by the other deals you've already done.  The general sales process will be in place, the legal documents will be in place, the rollout plans in place, etc.

Video 2 of 4: How to Validate a Business Idea Spending Minimal Time & Money

I was recently invited by the team at Docstoc to participate in their "expert" video series, meant to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals. This is part 2 of 4.

Here, I talk about how to test a business idea:

  • Throw something in front of customers. Create minimal marketing materials and present them to customers (in person, via mail, via search, etc). Don’t need a lot. 500 visitors or 10 in-person consultations will probably get you 90% of the information. (See: Jakob Neilsen, Hallway usability testing).

  • Gauge the response. # of folks who provided email address, # of survey respondents, what they said, etc. Some of this is not scientific. Hopefully you will have verified some of your hunches. Perhaps you’ll hear something that you didn't expect.

  • Refine or drop the idea. Proceed with confidence, or, further dig into some of the concerning pieces. Better to work hard at this, up front, and be honest with yourself (vs. spending lots of time and money building stuff folks don’t want).

Video 1 of 4: Four Steps to Build Great Software Products, A User Centered Approach

I was recently invited by the team at Docstoc to participate in their "expert" video series, meant to help small business owners, entrepreneurs, and individuals.

In this first video, I describe the software development process I like to follow. I think that it optimizes for the end user.

It requires a lot of focus and energy, up front, iterating on the user interface in each phase:

  • Wireframes
  • Design mockups
  • HTML / CSS / Assets
  • Development

The product person remains as the primary advocate for the user - nothing rolls out until they approve.

Lots of stuff can get lost in translation from design to development. Lots of really important nuance can be lost. Development is hard. Help the development team by clearly and consistently communicating to them what you want.

Friday, August 10, 2012

WinDirStat - See treemap of your file system, easily find big files

WinDirStat is still a really great tool, even after all these years.  Very useful!

I don't know of any other way of quickly and intuitively finding out what's taking up my disk space.  Perfect use of the treemap visualization.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Excel "Comment" Bubbles Need to be Improved

It's about time that Microsoft improve the "Comments" functionality in Excel:

Wow. Just plain ugly. Shooting from the hip:

  • That shadow technique (angled lines) is a bit...dated.
  • Square corners? Rounded would be much better, especially given the grid-like nature of Excel.  Rounded corners would create a nice contrast to the rest of the display.
  • 8 ways to tug / pull / stretch?  Totally unnecessary.  Why should this be resizable to begin with?
  • Default size: about four rows of text high.  Doesn't automatically resize.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stop Using Lorem Ipsum!

I think I've discovered a handy way of summing-up how I think about designing user interfaces: No Lorem Ipsum!

A Symptom of a Bigger Problem: Lazy Product Design
Lorem Ipsum isn't always bad. It's often useful in "marketing pages" - places where you want to indicate there will be a few paragraphs of text here, a sentence or two there, etc. But when designing interfaces? No way. Use Real Data. Text that represents, you know, what the user might actually see.

Designing and building great software is hard. You've got to put yourself in the shoes of the end user, try to understand their needs and motivations, and try to create a tool that's really useful (and hopefully fun and interesting too). You've got to sweat the small stuff. Every screen. Every permutation of every screen. Every label, every text box, every error message. It's the accumulation of thousands of design decisions that makes something great.

Using "Lorem Ipsum" or "Menu Item 1" or "Product 1" (or whatever) makes it harder to design great software. What happens when "Product 1" becomes "How to Be Funny: The One and Only Practical Guide for Every Occasion, Situation, and Disaster (no kidding)"? Find out early so you can design accordingly.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"The problem is we don't understand the problem"

Aza Raskin, the talented user interface designer (and son of the original designer for Macintosh, Jef Raskin), shares a really insightful short story that suggests how we should go about tackling "deeply difficult challenges."

Aza goes on to talk about a man named Paul MacCready who sought out to build the first human-powered airplane. From the article:
The problem was the problem. Paul realized that what needed to be solved was not, in fact, human powered flight. That was a red-herring. The problem was the process itself, and along with it the blind pursuit of a goal without a deeper understanding how to tackle deeply difficult challenges. He came up with a new problem that he set out to solve: how can you build a plane that could be rebuilt in hours not months. And he did. He built a plane with Mylar, aluminum tubing, and wire.
I think this perspective is useful when thinking about technology-based solutions to K-12 education. Modern instructional formats (like Academy123 and Khan Academy) afford scale, "failing quicker", and iterating toward success.

Imagine "a process of ongoing improvement":
  • 100,000 mini-videos, 2-3 minutes in length, in one subject (say, algebra).  For each specific topic (say, simple factoring), videos are recorded in dozens of different ways (teacher A, B, C. Easy, Medium, Hard. Instructional method X, Y, Z).

  • Each student is prescribed a customized path through those videos. The prescription changes on-the-fly.  Some students, for example might respond better to a male teacher, a female teacher, a young teacher (peer), and older teacher, etc.

  • Hundreds of videos are re-done each week, based on student results, attention data, and other analytics. The content gets better over time.

Click here to Play

Scaling teachers using technology

Issac Asimov, the famous Science Fiction writer, wrote an amusing short story (below) that describes a highly individualized and customized learning environment, while at the same time, reminds us how our existing education system is so outdated and inneficient (textbooks that students don't read, 35 kids in a class, students grouped by age and not by ability, etc.).

Has technology advanced enough such that we can approximate, with sufficient "fidelity", a real flesh-and-blood teacher?

Isaac Asimov - The Fun They Had -