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Whitney Hess: "design is problem solving"
October 20, 2012 12:22 PM   Subscribe

What's your problem? Putting purpose back into your projects: "Design is both problem and solution. In order to know we are creating the right solution, we have to make sure we’re solving the right problem... I do this by relying on three principles of problem solving..." Whitney Hess is a user experience design consultant. IgniteNYC video presentation she did on good user design principles (5 min.).

Hess is also featured in a recent episode (video, 7 min.) of PBS's "Off Book" on The Art of Web Design. (previously)
posted by flex (23 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite

 


So, I believe the practice of user experience is about making people's lives better...

I know a UX guy personally. I can back this up -- there are really people who think and talk that way.
posted by gurple at 2:53 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd like to add to TheDonF's list of design principles resources:

Whitney Hess's User Experience Guiding Principles (in blog form instead of the video above)
Dieter Rams's Ten Principles for Good Design
Joshua Porter's Principles of User Interface Design
Jakob Nielsen's Ten Usability Heuristics
UX Booth's Complete Beginner’s Guide to Interaction Design
Patrick J. Lynch and Sarah Horton's Web Style Guide
posted by oulipian at 2:57 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


The thing is, there's more to user experience than simply interaction with an artifact. I've been looking into it from the context of those who live primarily outside of the heavily technology oriented world, whether ATMs or iPads. I'd appreciate any links to stuff that isn't web/software/UI oriented.

How would we come up with a good user centered (or rather, human centered) approach to solution development, on general principles? Say for example in policy development. The situation seems once removed from the "user" per se, yet impact is often palpable.
posted by infini at 3:22 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Framing the problem correctly is design planning's task before design can solve problems.
posted by infini at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That first article is very good. One point not touched on is design control. Seeking problems in this way can quickly cause projects to go outside the originally anticipated bounds. As an architect it is rare that the building owner is willing to give me the chance to go directly talk to a significant subset of the users - and then base the design on those conversations. But, when given that chance the outcomes are always better.
posted by meinvt at 3:39 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wish I could design users.
posted by srboisvert at 3:44 PM on October 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


So, designers are to blame for the overly wasteful products that fill the aisles of supermarkets.
posted by a non e mouse at 4:05 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow this is great, and really puts a finger on how uncomfortable I am with focus group results, and how much stock I put in individually interviewing individual trustworthy users. I thought I was just lazy and overly dependent on instincts, but maybe I was right! Also holy shit all these other links.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:09 PM on October 20, 2012


"With the Swiffer, there’s no water needed..."
Well...Except for that big, expensive bottle of Swiffer-brand, chemical-laden water you have to buy to stick into your Swiffer.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:30 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this is good stuff, and I agree with a lot of it, but there's something a little off-putting about the swiffer story. At the end of the day, they put a heavy paper towel and bottle of soapy water on the end of a stick. There are some things about the swiffer that are good, from a user perspective, but it really bothers me that it's so damn disposable.

I mean, yes, they solved a problem, they made mopping easier. But they also created a problem: they made something that is worse for the environment. And while all actions have reactions, as a designer, you probably want to avoid doing things that have immediately recognizable large negative reactions. Especially if you're trying to make the world a better place, as gurple quotes above.

And it's interesting that she paired that design with the Brighter Planet work. I'm not for a second going to doubt that UX work is good and valuable, and that she knows her stuff. It's unfortunate that she can't go into more detail about her team's recommendations, because it's unclear what advice Brighter Planet took. While there is more to their site than a mastercard, it's difficult to see what stay-at-home moms can do with the site. (There is a way to measure your carbon footprint, but it's not exactly highlighted. See if you can find their carbon profiler without searching for "carbon profiler.")

This is the hardest part of UX design. None of it is easy: defining the problem space, user interviews, ethnography, user work flows, temporal and semantic zooms, insight combinations, etc. etc. But once you've done all the testing, and really figured out the problem, you also have to come up with some kind of solution. While Einstein says that should only take the last five minutes of the hour, I would assume he's talking about the theoretical solution. Theoretically, it's not hard to determine how to put a man on the moon. IRL, if it was so damned easy, we'd vacation there.

And that's where UX design sort of falls flat. We can theorize solutions til the cows come home, and we can back up those solutions with metric shit-tons of research. But realizing those solutions -- and then having them prove to be correct -- is harder than many UXDs would like to admit.
posted by nushustu at 10:41 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can theorize solutions til the cows come home, and we can back up those solutions with metric shit-tons of research. But realizing those solutions -- and then having them prove to be correct -- is harder than many UXDs would like to admit.

I'm not sure exactly what you're saying here. Let's assume that you did get UXDs to admit that building their ideas is really hard — what then? What's the benefit to that? Is it just about appreciation and recognition?

Sometimes I get the sense from engineers that they are afraid of being upstaged by designers, and it's all about who is the real star of the show. The point that I like to make is that users don't make distinctions between designers and engineers, most of the time they assume that the quality of the design reflects the quality of the engineering. If they need a screwdriver, and you hand them an elegantly-designed hammer, they don't go "Wow what an amazing hammer! The people who built it are clearly geniuses, too bad I can't use it for this screw!" Instead, they will try to hammer their screw and then curse the incompetent idiots who built the worst screwdriver in history.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:32 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


inifini: For interaction principles not web/software/UI oriented The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is a good place to start.

Poka Yoke - Mistake Proofing is another, and Mistake-Proofing: Designing Errors Out has the basics. And John Grout's Mistake-Proofing Center has links to more.
posted by techSupp0rt at 1:00 AM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


For interaction principles not web/software/UI oriented The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is a good place to start.

*grins ruefully*

Don will be pleased, I'm sure, to hear how often he gets recommended for his books rather than say, Toothpicks and Logos by John Heskett or some such. Its a pity nobody has written anything after that comes anywhere close. Shall I just ask him? *hmmm*
posted by infini at 4:07 AM on October 21, 2012


It is my opinion that Don's work is more approachable than any of the others i have read. And, imho, DoET is head and shoulders above his later works. I would love to hear what he has to say. *grin*
posted by techSupp0rt at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2012


I saw Whitney give this talk at edUi last month. She glossed over the important fact that the Swiffer was invented and popularized in Japan years before it was "invented" in the US, as what has been described to me as a near-perfect duplicate. The whole UX story sounds like a cover for international patent infringement.
posted by waldo at 7:51 AM on October 21, 2012


Let's assume that you did get UXDs to admit that building their ideas is really hard — what then? What's the benefit to that? Is it just about appreciation and recognition?

No no. This isn't an engineers vs. designers thing. Engineers are damned good. And so are designers. The issue I have with a lot of design is that the "solution" they came up with did in fact make mopping easier, but at the cost of creating a lot more solid waste for an already polluted planet.

Look, if 3M or Monsanto or whoever made some awesome new product, but at the cost of lots and lots of new air or water or solid pollution, everybody would be pissed, and rightly so. But when UX design does it, it solves an immediate problem and so, yay? No. We need to hold design to the same standards as everybody else does. Solving a first world problem such as "mopping is hard" doesn't seem nearly as important as "mopping uses too much water." While that's not as salable as "look, mopping is easier!" that's another problem (and one that design maybe ALSO ought to consider.)
posted by nushustu at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2012


Wow, you're all writing out saying almost exactly what I came here to type.

*sits back*
posted by infini at 2:53 PM on October 21, 2012


Design is first and foremost a system of values innit?
posted by infini at 2:56 PM on October 21, 2012


infini: right. She says "I believe the practice of user experience is about making people's lives better," and I agree with that. But then we have to define "better." Is making mopping easier at the expense of the planet really better?
posted by nushustu at 4:15 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Meta.
posted by infini at 4:24 PM on October 21, 2012


"Don will be pleased...Its a pity nobody has written anything after that comes anywhere close."

Exactly, people just keep restating DoET and putting their own names on it. The real pity is that people feel the need to do this.

We interviewed a graduate-level candidate for a design role about three months ago. When asked about certain aspect of design, he said "Well I've read a book on it, but it was from the nineties."
posted by Señor Pantalones at 10:26 AM on October 25, 2012


So is the expected version of DoET a revision or an update or simply a re-issue?
posted by infini at 12:32 PM on October 25, 2012


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