Sunday, 13 July 2014

UX: Death to Versioning! (aka. the Perpetual BETA program)


The other day I was viewing weather updates on when I ran into a new feature "Percip Start Stop" for tracking rain by the hour. What surprised me was not the new feature but the above disclaimer. BETA stage. Soliciting User Feeback.

As a long-time user (back when you had to get a invite just to get an account!) I'm used to being the QA department for companies. Google is known for being in "perpetual" BETA, as this Wharton K@W article: "Is Google Stuck in ‘Perpetual Beta’?" outlines. Ever try to figure out the exact "version" of gmail you're using?

However controlled BETAs help facilitate rapid deployment of new features. It's often a low-risk, high gain way of not waiting for a major release to see if there are new features users like and will use. For UXers this is a chance to update small changes without having to wait for major release (but I don't suggest changing the UX too radically too regularly... that's a good way to annoy users). 

"Back in the day" we used to wait patiently for new version, like Windows 3.1, 95, 98, XP, Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, etc, we expected to have to pay more for the newest release to get new features. Many users didn't upgrade and that's why we now have the Windows XP EOL issue as outlined in this Microsoft support article: "Windows XP support has ended". Yet I think he Web and Mobile revolutions have changed radically for the following reasons:

#1 -  On a website you can generally *only* have access to the latest version. A website generally has usually one version and this makes it easier to maintain. There is no install for a website, so changes are implicit and virtually immediate. When it's it's UP it's OUT! Very different from former native apps which changes only occurred when users installed an update.
(For the record I think Gmail does usually have a linked to revert to the old theme or UI, at least for a little while.)
#2 - Users are always running latest version. Generally speaking users who buy mobile apps from AppStore/Google Play Store have free upgrades and do in fact upgrade often. Pretty much when the new iOS update is out within days everyone is upgrading.
(After Heartbleed Bug and other vulnerabilities it seems like some apps update every few weeks now. I always get these notifications on my iPhone.)
 #3 - Users culturally embrace change. For the most part users are very open to changing UI. Therefore, because there generally isn't a uproar or backlash, this has given license for companies to regularly re-vamp their apps and websites, almost as often then as they re-org.

(UX Warning: However I've encountered issues with older users who spent years learning how to to use, only to have one day all the button changed on them and not know how to use the site anymore.)
 #4 -Cloud SaaS and pay-per-use. Since companies like have turned software into a lot like leasing cars. If you don't care to own it then were happy to give you the latest and greatest car every few years (or in internet years, every few months).
 #5 - Rapid pace of change. It's likely cliche, but really the pace of change is so quick that without a steady pace of updates many of our websites and apps would be obsolete. Every so often I read a UX book with a screen capture of a website from 5-10 years ago and laugh how outdated the IxD is.
The only unfortunate part I see in perpetual BETA program is that sometimes I feel companies use this as license to release lesser tested software. In a true BETA I should be providing feedback on my experience, not submitting bug reports. +_+

(In full disclosure, I work for SAP and we have a very strict release process and I don't think it's changing any time soon. For the curious, it's called I2M (Idea-to-Market) and PDF executive summary is available online: Product Quality at SAP.)

However even SAP is quickly becoming a cloud company (see SAP buying SuccessFactors for 3.4 Billion back in Dec 2012). When you move to SaaS/on-line/Cloud offering, you are basically no longer owning the maintenance and upgrade of the platform. So when we upgrade the Cloud, we're doing it for everyone, and this allows us to roll-out these BETAs and hopefully provide things even quicker than ever!

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. For more jokes about Gmail spending so long in BETA you can read this blog: "Gmail leaves beta, launches "Back to Beta" Labs feature" in which Google actually added a way to put back the BETA disclaimer. ;) Jokes.


Sadly when I tried it on my gmail today I couldn't find the setting. I guess that joke got old quickly. Likely when they started to charge companies for an "enterprise" version.

It also does not escape me that ironically I'm blogging this on Blogger/Blogspot, which is also another Google product. :)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Global Accessiblity Awareness Day May 15, 2014 (aka Let's talk about A11y...!)

Thursday May 15th 2014 will be Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

Global Accessibility Awareness Day Logo

So what is GAAD? From GAAD website:

Global Accessibility Awareness Day is a community-driven effort whose goal is to dedicate one day to raising the profile of and introducing the topic of digital (web, software, mobile app/device etc.) accessibility and people with different disabilities to the broadest audience possible.

*IF* you're doing #A11y or your site/app/store/business is already Accessible, great; give yourself a pat on the back because you're already aware. If you're not, maybe spend some time thinking about #A11y? (If you already are aware, consider the next step trying to make others aware too!)

To be honest, I ultimately think that Accessible Apps and Sites are just *better* designed and more usable in general. 

I believe that the heart of inaccessibility is ignorance and how we start to fix that is through Awareness. The following infographic does a succinct job expressing the issue of Equality vs. Equity:

Equality vs. Equity: See descriptive text below...

(For those using Screen Readers, the left picture has 3 boys of varying heights trying to watch a baseball game, but the shortest boy is too short to see over the wall. On the right is a picture of 3 same boys, but they have various number of boxes to stand on to make them effectively the same height. The shortest boy has 2 boxes to stand on and can now see over the wall and enjoy the game. All the boys can now watch the game.)

The text below the image is:

Equality = SAMENESS
Equality is about SAMENESS, it promotes fairness and justice by giving everyone the same thing. 
BUT it can only work IF everyone starts from the SAME place, in this example equality only works if everyone is the same height.

Equity is about FAIRNESS, it's about making sure people get access to the same opportunities.
Sometimes our differences and/or history, can create barriers to participation, so we must FIRST ensure EQUITY before we can enjoy equality.

(I have seen the infographic many times, but I got my copy from

The other day I was at a site with "wheelchair" accessible washrooms. Or at least they were supposed to be Accessible. However the button to the open the door was on the inside of the bathroom only. When I observed a wheelchair user open the door, stick their arm inside and hit the button and then back-off and wait for door open I was a little shocked. Ingenious work-around solution, but hopefully unnecessary in the near future.

I realized Accessibility should not be viewed as a checkbox. 

I'm hoping that GAAD and other events help promote the Awareness of Accessibility, so that we can then leverage Empathy to adequately execute Accessibility. (Maybe a bit of user-testing might be useful as well, but I digress...)

In this way I hope that we can fulfill all 4x of the principles below:
  1. Dignity
  2. Independence
  3. Integration
  4. Equal Opportunity
Awareness, then Empathy == Greater Accessibility.

Hope that helps...
Wayne Pau

p.s. If you are interested, below is a presentation I did at Conestoga College at their #A11y/AODA event back on March 27, 2014:

Designing With Empath Presentation

Friday, 18 April 2014

Design Thinking: LEGO & DT (Not just for Kids!)

Design Thinking built using LEGO

I *always* had an obsession with LEGO so please excuse me if this posting is a little bias. For years my relatives and family friends knew every X-mas and Birthday a fail-safe gift was LEGO.

For me LEGO is a great fit for Design Thinking approach and development overall because:
  1. LEGO supports Rapid Prototyping
  2. LEGO is Abstract
  3. LEGO is Creative
  4. LEGO is a Right Brain activity
  5. LEGO is Constrained.
  6. LEGO supports CI (Continuous Integration)
  7. LEGO is Fun
  8. LEGO supports A11y (Accessible)
  9. LEGO is Reproducible.
  10. LEGO supports i18n (Internationalization)
Don't take my word about it. Tim Brown has a whole chapter (Chapter 4 - Building to Think, or the power of prototyping) in Change by Design. To be honest, if you aren't building or prototyping something, you may not be doing Design Thinking effectively. 

1. LEGO supports Rapid Prototyping

LEGO builds are generally fast. There is no waiting for things to dry, no ordering parts, no welding, etc. It's so fast that often it's better to start building than it is to design something on paper (or in a some CAD program) beforehand. Changes can be done on the fly without having to re-architect the whole build.

Lastly LEGO builds are generally transient and don't last forever. It's understood that they get taken apart and put back in the drawer for reuse later. Therefore builders are less attached to a specific prototype, a key component to good rapid prototyping. 

2. LEGO is Abstract

One the best things about how abstract LEGO creations can be. People know it won't look exactly miniature real-life replica, like how LEGO mini figures all have the same head-shape and no knees! (Actually the Yoda LEGO mini figure doesn't bend at the waist and is quite a bit shorter than other mini figures, but you get the picture...)

Prototypes often have a low-fi feel and therefore invite user feedback which is core component of Design Thinking.

3. LEGO is Creative

When MOC'ing (My Own Creation) LEGO you are really building something from your own imagination. Kids never just sort or sit and admire LEGO bricks. Everyone around a random pile of LEGO seems to consciously or subconsciously starts to build things. It's like doodling.

This what I call the 'Reverse Entropy of LEGO' effect. Few LEGO fans can stand still and watch LEGO just sit there.

4. LEGO is a Right Brain activity

Without getting too technical, LEGO building is more a Right Brain process, like drawing vs. say writing. For those that traditionally favour Left Brain activities, LEGO building helps encourages Right Brain usage for a more Full Brain approach that can foster new ideas and ways of thinking .

5. LEGO is Constrained

Somewhat counter-intuitive, but for Design Thinking one great feature is that LEGO is constrained. While Desirability is the first pillar tackle, good Design Thinking designs optimize Desirability, Viability and Feasibility.

LEGO only has 6,800 unique pieces (down from 12 ,000 a few years back) and for projects we are usually constrained even further to the pieces we have at hand. Working within these constraints helps us get familiar with this pillar of DT (Feasibility) and often fosters even more creativity!

6. LEGO supports for CI (Continuous Integration)

Just like some software tools, LEGO supports backing-out recent changes and trying new things. You often don't have to destroy a whole build just to try out a small change. So unlike a painting or drawing this fosters continually updating, refining and trying new wacky ideas!

Parts can even be built separately and added together easily at the end. Integration with LEGO is always fairly easy, as generally all LEGO blocks fit with other LEGO blocks, it's a fully compatible system.

(Also, as an Agile/SCRUM Master coach, you generally *always* have something to show. =) Even if it's a few block at the end of a sprint or iteration!)

FYI - This happens to me *all-the-time* at home. I'm constantly tweaking and trying new ideas out even on old builds I have displayed. A great idea comes to mind and I'm never afraid to try it out because it often only takes seconds to reverse it!

7. LEGO is Fun

The most common verb action for LEGO is 'play', even more than 'build', 'designing' or 'creating'. Maybe it's great childhood memories, but it's rare that you have to convince someone to 'play' with LEGO. When we use LEGO in Design Thinking workshops, I don't think I've ever heard anyone call it 'work'.

8. LEGO supports A11y (Accessibility)

LEGO is Accessible. Anyone can play with LEGO. Most people are usually attracted to LEGO. I have a few sets on my desk at work and they are *always* a conversation starter. LEGO with it's Duplo lines is a toy that a person at any age can enjoy. While not everyone is a master-builder, almost anyone intuitively can start to put LEGO bricks together. You don't need years or weeks of intensive training and like drawing it seems every child is drawn to it.

9. LEGO is Reproducible

While MOC'ing (My Own Creation) is often tough, rebuilding an existing model is much more accessible. Unlike painting or drawing, it's quite easy to reproduce a LEGO creation, given the finished product.

Like an '3D Printing' process, it's possible to have an exact replica in your hands anywhere in the world almost immediately. Every replica is also exactly the same.

10. LEGO supports i18n (Internationalization)

LEGO is international. It sells pretty much everywhere in the world and seems to be quite universal in it's appeal. Started in Denmark, it's still family owned and as of 2013 was the 2nd largest toy manufacturer (behind Mattel). Like IKEA, LEGO instructions have no words and meant to be understood in any market.

Germany is the #1 LEGO consumer, followed by the US. On average everybody on the earth owns about 86 pieces bricks  LEGO. *Yikes*. I own a lot more than 86! ;)

So go, get your boss to order you some more LEGO for the office! Go ahead and dig out that LEGO bin and tell your spouse you're putting in some overtime!

Hope that helps,
Wayne Pau 

p.s. I've tried my best to use "LEGO" as the plural. For those *particular* enough to notice, the plural for LEGO is not legos. I believe it's supposed to be 'LEGO bricks'. This is called out in the 'Fair Play' guide on the LEGO site in the section "Proper Use of the LEGO Trademark on a Web Site".

Another site, Brick Brothers in their glossary has gone and said it's like 'sheep', which is both the singular and plural form as opposed to 'sheeps'. 

:) More than you wanted to know right?

Monday, 24 March 2014

How Google *Pwned* Samsung & HTC (aka Why Nexus is still #1)

By now everyone has heard that Google has sold off Motorola Mobility and what a loss it was. I strongly disagreed with that and this Forbes article says a lot of what I felt. Google needed Motorola Mobility for its strategy to *pwn* other vendors who greedily thought they could exert their unique brand of is 'enhancement' further fragmenting Android is.

  • Google Nexus 5 #4, LG G2 #9
  • HTC One Google Ed. #2, HTC One #3
  • Samsung S4 Google Ed. #6, Samsung S4 #7
  • Moto X #5 (ahead of all ODM except HTC)
(As of Feb 2014 - Business Insider RANKED)

You can see this with the latest Android device rankings. Every Google Edition of nearly every ODM device is better that the original (HTC One and Samsung S4) and the Nexus 4/5 are way better that any LG offering, yet are also made by LG. Add to that the announcement that the new flagship Samsung S5 will be more Nexus/Google experience like, you can see that Google has exerted it's will over its android ODM (original device manufacturers). 

I had always wondered why Motorola devices weren't more innovative. Sure questions on 'fair play' concerns from Samsung, HTC, LG, etc was a factor but I don't think it was the main driver. I *think* Google was trying to make a point on the RIGHT way for ODMs to add value to androids with minimal OS changes and subtle hardware tweaks. All this allows for more equivalency/democracy amongst Android, (think number portability in North America years ago and carriers) making it easier for consumers to switch between makers within the android ecosystem. 

Moto X and G were like Nexus devices in disguise! This way Google could use LG as the nexus vendor for nexus 4 and 5 and basically get almost 4x Nexus phones (adding in the 2x Moto phones) in the last few years!

I was always curious as to why Google didn't try to build off the initial success of the Moto Xoom, the first Honeycomb 3.0 Android tablet. Both the Moto X and G are both Superphone format devics. If I had to guess the reason it would be either:

  • 'A' -  was happy with what it got from ASUS (why not? For the price the Nexus 7 is pretty much the best 7" tablet out there!)
  • 'B' -  thought that the larger market phone market (what Google calls "SuperPhones") fragmentation was more important to fix first.
Likely a little of both 'A' and 'B', but maybe more 'B' as money is still in "Superphones" and not really tablets. The margins are much higher still for cellular devices vs. WiFi-only. (See Cellphone Economics posting I had a while back.)

Don't believe me that ODMs don't want to make it easy to move to another Android phone manufacturer? See the photo below. Samumg and HTC intentionally make thier back button on different sides of the phone.

(S4 back button RIGHT from

(HTC ONE back button LEFT from
Notice that the back buttons are intentional opposite. Compound that with two very different icons, one with a curved back arrow (Samsung S4) and another more like a square bracket (HTC ONE). Keen observers will also note that HTC ONE has no 'middle' button. Menus are all done by Context Action Bars (as suggested by Google Android Dev site a few years back). The Home Button on S4 is really the middle non-labelled button, yet again different from HTC and others.

I wish Google could have made this a 'Hardware' standard too. Not a problem with Apple's iPhone 5s vs. 5c! *Apple fan-boys cheer* Both because there is no back button (and no labels on iPhone5s) and that there is only 1x hardware manufacturer.

Hope that helps,
Wayne Pau

P. s. Nokia and Motorola used to do this too with pick-up and hang ups buttons which was worse! It totally annoys 1st time users who muscle memory jets them to go back a screen, only to have app close and go to the homescreen.

*** UPDATE *** Looks like Lenovo is also going the patent route, buying a number of patents from UP. Read more here. So you can clearly see that Google by keeping the patents from Motorola Mobility clearly knew what they were doing!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

UX: Don't Make Me Think Revisited (aka 3rd Edition)

When I came into the office in January I realized that Santa (aka Steve Krug) via Amazon had left me a belated X-mas gift via mail!

If you are in UX and haven't read this book (in any edition), I can't over emphasize how important this book is. Steve is great at making complex things seem "common sense" and his super reasonable, laid back, humourous approach can warm even the grumpiest usability Grinch.

The "revisited" (or "reloaded" for Matrix fans..) part also includes a whole new chapter on Mobility (Chapter 10, titled "Mobile: it's not just a city in Alabama anymore"). Really this chapter will take you 20 minutes to read but it could change your life, I mean app. It might be worth it to just to buy the book only to read this new chapter! It's 21 pages of very, very relevant material for anyone doing mobile development.

For something more "fun", have a look @ Steve's Blog on how he played with the covers before settling on the current design.


=) Then... for even more fun do a quick search in Amazon of the book to see what other covers exists! It took me a bit to identify the 1st edition cover being so vastly different from 2nd edition, but I did find one in German with a neat look (Das intuitive Web!). So from 1st to 2nd edition, not much changed, but Steve and the published definitely made some whole-sale changes for 3rd edition. I personally think it looks great.

(Amazon Web Search URL)

With a gun pointed at my head, (ignoring that I consider Steve a friend) and told I could only get my team-mates and stakeholders to read just one book, this would be that book. It totally puts UX concepts into things the "everyday" person can understand. The examples (updated in 3rd edition) are incredible helpful and the humour makes it easy to get though the book in single day or sitting (although you might want to spread it out to let it sink it more or just constantly keep using as a reference).

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. In full disclosure, I admire Steve's knowledge and expertise in usability and even more importantly I really like him as a human being. He was generous enough to add me to acknowledgements page (yes I'm that Wayne Pau) but really my contributions and insights (if any) in the Mobility Section (Chapter 10) were very tiny. He's just that nice of guy! Thanks Steve...

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Fun Topic: Apple vs. Samsung (Fine Dining vs. Mega Buffet)

*Sorry for the gap in posts. Being in Toronto, Canada we've been through Ice-Storms, Polar Vortex and Power Outages! Hopefully we'll get this back on track again in 2014... thanks for your patience.*

There is no getting around that Samsung and Apple are two very different companies. They are headquartered in two different continents, have two very different corporate histories and basically seem to go about business in polar opposite ways. Apple does everything, including write the OS and design the perfect matching hardware. Samsung uses (non-exclusively) a 3rd party (Google) to write the core OS (Android) and focuses on adding on the basic OS with value-adds aligned with in-house designed hardware. Apple only supports iOS devices, yet Samsung makes more than just Android phones, hedging their bets with Windows Phone, Bada and Tizen phones. Apple is concerned with the end-product, where as Samsung also sells it components to other companies (even at one point to ironically Apple possibly for shortfall of retina displays for new iPad Mini Retina).

However today I want to look at one specific difference in basic philosophies between the companies. In Apple we have a 'brand-name' synonymous with design, and like a fine dinning establishment believe they know what consumers want and have no problems telling customers what that is. It's the "chic" resturant with only one or two daily specials. Where Samsung seems to be the more accommodating endless buffet whose goal is to have something that will please anyone.

If you look here, it lists no less than 23 models of phones that Samsung has released in 2013. For Samsung, it seems they would be embarrassed if you asked for a phone format combination that they didn't already produce. The older Galaxy Y Pro Dous was the smallest display at 2.6" and new Galaxy Mega 6.3 is currently the largest at 6.3" (phone-format device that is not a true phone, but tablet like Tab 7" and 10"), more than DOUBLE the size!
  • Samsung Galaxy S5
  • Samsung Galaxy Win Pro
  • Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Express 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Round
  • Samsung Galaxy Ace 3
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Active
  • Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket Neo
  • Samsung Galaxy Star
  • Samsung Galaxy Core
  • Samsung Galaxy Y Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy Win
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega
  • Samsung Galaxy Fame
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2
  • Samsung Galaxy Young
  • Samsung Galaxy Grand
  • Samsung Galaxy S II Plus
  • Samsung Galaxy Pocket Plus

(Samsung Galaxy Y Pro Duos - image from here)

(Samsung Galaxy Mega - image from here)

Apple on the other hand released 2x models in 2013, doubling the previous year's models with the 5s and 5c. Besides the *slight* pricing difference and visual colour offering, there really isn't that much difference between the available iPhones. Even Apple's own site points this out. The 5c has older A6 chip which isn't 64-bit, but many users would be hard-pressed to know the difference at this time between 64 vs. 32-bit iPhones (at this time... who knows about it in the near/short-term future... with apps and api in the feature that better take advantage of this... it may be more noticeable). Both phones use lighting connector, 720 video recording, 1080 HD display, 1136-by-640 resolution
and 326 ppi.
  • iPhone 5c
  • iPhone 5s

(iPhone 5s & iPhone 5c - images from here)

From a developer point of view, I find it hard to manage with the Samsung philosophy. There are so many disparate models with differing physical differences like screen sizes, resolutions, but also software & O/S level difference like Android O/S version and Premium Suite & security enhancement support like KNOX and SAFE. Having an app work perfectly on one Samsung Galaxy device does not ensure portability to another Samsung Galaxy device. Compound that with the issue that many models are region specific, it becomes a nightmare to support all but the most popular permutations.

From a consumer point of view, I find it hard to imagine how Samsung is able to make any "economy of scale" saving with so many different models of products. Shipping 3 or 4 models a year can be daunting for any company, but 23 models?!? For me I already get confused which are "budget" models or "premium" models. "S" and "Note" vs. the cheaper "Y" and "M" devices.

However it's hard to argue with Samsung's relative success. Compared to all other Android device manufacturers, they are the Apple of the Android world. For example, in 2 months, the new Galaxy Note sold 10 million units.

So bottom line? I hope I don't get into trouble for saying this, but it seems like Samsung is taking the safe-bet. It's spreading it's investment and ensuring that no device format is missed and basically offering the proverbial "Chinese Menu". So as a 'developer', I feel like the innovation is going to come from Apple and Samsung will always be playing catch-up. Realistically it seems like there are more Chinese Buffets than Michelin Star Restaurants.

Therefore, it might make sense for companies to develop for the less varied, but more refined iPhone and then attempt to move to support the massive offering from Samsung Galaxy/Android. Do you think Samsung took that into consideration when coming up with their product offering?

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

Monday, 2 December 2013

Design Thinking: User Needs vs. User Wants (What I love about my Aeron Chair...)

If you haven't sat on one of these chairs, I'd highly recommend it (you can always just go to your Local Herman Miller Show-case if your work or friends don't already own one). As a user it's pretty much the perfect chair. I don't think I've sat in a more comfortable chair (when fully configured properly), especially with the optional lumbar support at the back. 

(Not all companies are willing to invest in their employees, but it's definitely a luxury I've totally enjoy at my office.)

(My actual chair - a 10+ year old model)

Herman Miller has always been knowing for their high-end furniture, but when they invented the Aeron, it was a game-changer. I remember being in a fancy start-up and getting these chairs! It was all the rage, but it was a chair that cost many times more than it's traditional alternatives. (Today's Black-Friday sale @ HM had it at $577.15 from $679.00, but I distinctly remember it being closer to $1000 earlier on.)

This is what the HM sites says in it's description:

The Work Chair Redefined
Aeron changed the way everyone thought about office chairs—from its revolutionary look to its advanced ergonomics to the fact that it's 94 percent recyclable.
Instantly adaptable to all the motions you go through every day while seated, Aeron provides healthy comfort and balanced body support. Its innovative suspension and easy-to-use adjustment controls let the chair move effortlessly as your body moves.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to look at the Design Story feature @ the HM site. 

(Prototype -

(Above is a great example of a low-fi model. In the video, Stumpf talks about another prototype as "just ugly". A topic for another day, but prototypes are great! Sketches are great! Look at how many were created during the Aeron design! Think about the 50lbs of clay from the last blog.)

From the web site there are many quotes, but these are a brief splattering of the most "telling" ones:

"They threw out all preconceived notions of what a work chair should look like."
"Function Is Form"
"We wanted a totally new kind of chair.
"I want to sit on this really bad."

The chair we are looking at today, the first Aeron, over 20 years old (designed in 1992) was a disruptive innovative change. The chair won so many awards and it's crowning achievement is that it's part of the MoMA permanent collection. Yet how could a chair so beloved today actually almost not make it to market?

If you've read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, it tells of the chair didn't do well.
  • 4.5/10 for Comfort Scale
  • 2-3/10 for  Aesthetics Scale

It actually didn't even meet min. score (7.5) that Herman Miller internally puts on Test Group ratings before product release. It was actually called "The Chair of Death" by in the 1st group. Yet luckily Max Depree the Chairman and CEO of Herman Miller at the time had the foresight to ship it regardless. This is his explanation:

“We are a research-driven product company. We are not a market-driven company. It means that we intend, through the honest examination of our environment and our work and our problems, to meet the unmet needs of our users with problem-solving design and development
- Max Depree (Chairman and CEO of Herman Miller, Inc)
Notice that Depree clearly understood the role and limitation of Market Driven data. He had the courage to forge forward and now the chair he oversaw is now in the MoMA. Yet that wasn't blind-faith, it was because he knew his guys *knew* users. The product was too disruptive to get an accurate Market Target Group rating.


So why did I write this post? Was it simply just because I wanted to talk about the amazing chair that I've sat on for far, far too long? No. I believe that today far too many people looking at Design Thinking confuse interviewing Users for their Insights with asking consumers their Opinions. In Design Thinking, especially at the Empathy stage, I would never give a survey on a final product and ask them to rate from 1 to 10 what they thought of Comfort, AestheticsUsability and then using some fancy math to determine how to optimize those parameters.

It sounds cliche but simply Users don't know what they want. As Design Thinkers if we get "Lazy" and try to get end-users to design products, we will never get Disruptive Innovation. At best all we can is slightly better, incremental development (ie a prettier iPhone, etc). At worse we get something totally unusable, like the Car built for Homer.

"A camel looks like a horse that was planned by a committee"
- Sir Alec Issigonis
Users are great at being Users, but usually are very poor Designers. That's why even in Usability Testing we *never* ask questions which lead a user to offer an alternative design. Questions like: "Oh, so you don't like that button? How would you like to see the button?", rather we're about the why: "Oh, so what makes that button difficult to use/hard-to-find/etc?".

So what are Users good for? Why are they SO vital to Design Thinking? They are vital because:

"It's the user's most primal needs that drive our insights which are the basis for our designs."

         User Need ==> Insights ==> Design Ideas

Users don't mean to, but often they aren't trained to separate 'actions' from 'intents', 'opinions and prejudices' from 'feelings and raw emotion'. When we do Design Thinking practically in our teams, we often are asking each other what is the "raw" feeling there, what is the underlying motivation. (Think: Toyota/Kaizen's 5 Why type of approach).

As Malcolm Gladwell put it in Blink:

“The participants in the early experiments weren't telling the testers how they really felt; they were telling them how they were prejudiced against something so different from their experience.”

- Malcom Gladwell (Blink - 2005) 

If you haven't done so already, I suggest looking at my previous blog on Levels of Insight. As we move up the hierarchy we need to become more and more empathetic, it's not up to the user, but the Design Thinker to be properly trained and educated in how to extract those insights. We need to asking the right questions and tune-out the noise.

To become a great Designer I believe you need to ensure that you are not falling in the trap of being caught up with lower insights, fraught with prejudice and fear, but are mining the more deep-seated core "needs" which will drive those monumental "insights". To be honest it's hard work...

    User Interviews != Market Research Panels

If you want to "do" Design Thinking correctly, spend the time upfront with doing single User Interviews that will drive your Empathy stage. Use those interviews to drive your ultimate single Character Composite and then create your Point-of-View and How-Might-We statements in your Define stage.

To end off off, if you also haven't seen the video from the late Bill Stumpf from the Herman Miller sit, it's just great. His best quote is:
"I enjoy myself.. and I do it through Design" -  Bill Stumpf (1936-2006)
(Not surprisingly the video doesn't mention any of the difficulties that Malcolm Gladwell outlined in Blink. It almost makes you think that users loved it on the 1st try! However we know that wasn't really the case. However history and the 'real' market have definitely vindicated Bill Stumpf,  Donald Chadwick and Max Depree.)

Let's get to "WOW". Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau

p.s. Besides reading, Blink and looking at the HM site, another great article on Aeron is on Barkham Office Furniture website here: