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Feed me, Seymore

. Pete

In all my spare time here at work, I'm working to develop a little black dress.

I actually work for the Digital Innovation Group, but I'm sort of on loan to the Social peeps for now. In between the cracks I'm working on this idea for an algorithm, this little-black-dress of an idea to help support our activity feed. In case you haven't heard, feeds are currently in vogue.

Our effort to evolve Social Shopping from more than the ham-handed attempt at a Facebook redeux of Likes and Badges has its ups and down, and while I am not actually wearing a cocktail dress ( mercifully; I'm a dude ) I am working on a bit of functionality that is elegantly portable, serve its function like nothing else can, and will make a statement wherever it is seen.

If you go to our social homepage you'll see an interation of the feed, though definitely an early one. I have it in my head that your actions on a retail site, those of anyone you're following, the types of interactions, and time since these things have happened should all should play a part in what gets shown in "the feed". Where the feed is displayed also matters; if we're putting it on the homepage that's one thing, but what about other places... does a customer's placement in the conversion flow affect what's shown in the local feed?
Of course it should. What else?

Things I've bought, certainly; some kinds of purchases suggest additional things to buy, or counterindicate others. When and where, maybe even how I bought them. How about things that people I'm following say they want? Similar items in followed-categories being on sale, and so on?

I'm still toying with a name. Facebook has "EdgeRank," and there are others... but this one is particular to shopping, and maybe not really "Edgy". Current ideas I can't get out of my head are LBDRank ( yep, "Little Black Dress" ) or AlexRank ( short for Alexander, who split the Gordian Knot ). Yea, still working. It'll come to me.

In all my spare time.

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NY's Digital Runway

. Tracy

Well, New York’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week is over.

Like most normal people, I wasn’t invited. But, digital was louder than ever this year with more designers streaming their runway shows live, on their own sites or at www.firstcomesfashion.com. The tweeting was impossible to keep up with, without it being a full time job. And Betsey Johnson even had a way for registered users to buy the shoes she designed with Steve Madden and wore to her show in sync with her appearance – quick!

I managed to catch one show live, watched parts of others (while asking myself whether I really ought to be working on that report I owe my boss) and looked over some of the other collections online. But I was feeling inadequate. It’s a lot to take in, and frankly, I was more worried about whether I’d packed decent outfits for my stint in the Chicago office than about how to get ready for Fall 2011.

So what are my customer’s thinking about? Which ones of them are following high fashion and how do they translate it into their wardrobes? With more and more access to high fashion, access to the world of products online, and about a gazillion fashion blogs…how’s a working girl supposed to get a handle on her closet?

Google’s Boutiques.com walked a new Trend Analysis tool down the digital runway – a way for savvy shoppers to investigate what’s hot, see what’s trendy in context of what’s out there right now. It wasn’t easy to find, and it wasn’t all I was expecting (with some of the data being weak and products in-actionable), but the idea is there – narrowing down the sea of drool-worthy products to a smaller set of what’s currently cool.

Now, what will happen this week in London?

Kick Ass. The Rest WIll Take Care of Itself.

. jenny bento

One of the first questions people ask at a party is, "What do you do?" I dread this question. Not because I don't want to talk about work, not because I hate my job, but because the answer, "I'm a taxonomist." usually results in a lot of blank looks. Sometimes I just tell people I am a librarian (which I am) but explaining why Sears.com needs a librarian is even more difficult.

About 6 years ago I was at a SXSW party, and was faced with just this question. I told them the boring truth--I worked on metadata quality & harvesting, but that my research area was taxonomy & classification of online data. After waking from her nap, she replied, "You know, no one knows what that is now, but in 5 years, everyone will want someone who knows how to do that well."

At the time, newly out of grad school and not relevantly employed, this statement made me angry. I think I told her, "That's great--what do I do until then?!" But in retrospect, it's the most prophetic statement I've ever experienced.

Often in information architecture, we complain about how no one takes us seriously; no one understands what we do. We fantasize about all the great work we'll be able to do only when everyone recognizes us for the geniuses we are. That's the wrong way to go about it. Keep kicking ass at a solution to the problem instead of shouting about how everyone should pay attention to the problem. Eventually people will realize there's a problem themselves and need you. And no one else has spent the last five years solving their problem.

People will never like the person who keeps pointing out the problem, but they won't complain about the person who just fixed the problem no one saw.

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. andrew

Great night last night at the IXDA networking event. They gave out stickers to everyone indicating if they were hiring or looking. It really facilitated breaking the ice. I have to say our biggest weakness in recruiting is awareness. Every singular person I spoke with had no clue we even existed or that we did anything remotely interesting. I personally spoke to at least 15 people, collected their cards and will follow up with them next week. I spoke with folks from SCAD, Carnegie Mellon, MIT, U of Michigan, and tons of companies I won't identify here for obvious reasons. Even if we only actually hire two people it will have been worth the trip. Above and beyond the networking event this has been the absolute best conference I have ever attended, and I have been to dozens. So kudos to IXDA and to the 2011 organizing committee. Next year it will be held in Dublin, Ireland and I expect to be back.

The Lightbulb

. Pete

How many UXAs does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Wisdom from various places around the web, none written by me:

“1,000. 1 to screw it in and the rest to argue about what a ‘light bulb’ really represents, what is meant by ‘screwing it in’ and to DTDT.”

“ 1 person to conduct an ethnographic study how people currently change light bulbs 1 person to conduct a card-sorting exercise around the different types of light bulbs 1 person to draw a storyboard of the light bulb user journey 2 persons to moderate & take notes for a usability test of changing light bulbs 1 user test participant to actually change the lightbulb “

“Why are we assuming screwing in the light bulb is the right answer? Let's do some studies to see if we can redefine the process of changing light bulbs, or of gathering light altogether”

" ‘How many would you expect it to take?’ asked the UX expert”

“None. That's a development / engineering problem.”

“It depends.”

And my favorite-

“Well, define ‘lightbulb...’

UXAs can be kind of silly. But the job itself can be amazing, sometimes.

I have a few guesses as to how people here see UXAs ( heh ) But this came up recently, in an interview. The person I was interviewing asked about the various roles we have here. I have a stock answer for this question, but in the heat of the moment inspiration took me, and I put out something like this:

“What we do here is part science, but also part art. I’m probably not doing either term much justice... but it seems like it breaks down this way: Product Managers can be muses, the sources of inspiration, when things go well. UXAs and Taxonomists are like composers, hearing the music of a design in their heads, and they’re the first ones to actually write the notes down onto paper, to give it any form at all that can be acted upon. Then we walk that music through... The Creatives, Copywriters, and Developers are musicians, taking the basic music as we write it and giving it color, sound, and light. They riff on it, improvise on our original thoughts so that the whole thing is greater than the sum of its parts. The Project Managers are maestros, conductors guiding us all.”

Of course the interviewee looked at me like I was crazy. I get that, now and then. : )

My question... What’s your role in all of this, and how do you see it? When your own particular lightbulb goes on, how do you express it to the world?

Extra credit for how you see the other roles in our little Keebler Tree.

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Stellar Opening Day Lineup at IXDA Conf

. andrew

End of day one and my brain hurts. So much to take in, so much to comprehend, what a great opening day here at IXD11 in Boulder. The first four speakers in the morning just really set the bar high for all that follow. Bill Verplank kicked it off by drawing with crayons, sounds crazy, but he articulated our role as interaction designers. Michael Meyer wowed us with his sideburns and the impact of salmon on the State of the Union address and what we comprehended. Peter Knocke was able to walk us through how he would like to live, connected, but only so much and what role design played in helping him get there. Then Tim Wood and I connected on the only correct way to drive on a golf course, in a vintage Mustang and the complexities of interactions. We tweeted through out the day, so I hope you caught those, if not, look for us to keeping the dialog going all day tomorrow.

technoloy, my savior, my downfall

. andrew

Throughout my career i have always been on the cutting/dull edge of technology. It has been my savior on so many occasions that I can't remember them all, in fact i forget them faster than they happen. It's the times that it has been my downfall that I remember the most. I remember all the times during a new business pitch it failed, from not getting an internet connection to the projector not connecting cleanly to the computer. I remember demoing a new iPad/iPhone app to the chairman and it not working at all, in fact it crashed his iPad, all the time trying to explain to him that it just worked fine on my iPad, just moments ago. Just before I left for a business trip our email system went down, some may view that as a blessing, but for me it sent me into a panic state. I wasn't in a state of euphoria the day before when it worked just fine. Do we ever consider the customer's state of mind when technology fails, how do we account for that? If the customer is willing, how do we handle that follow up communication opportunity? Do we ever send an apology? How do we repair this relationship? I think these are questions I'll be looking to get answered at the annual IXDA gathering here in Boulder, CO

3 Rules for Designing Great iPad Apps

. Rod Rakic

But it does feel good.

The team here at Sears has been pushing hard to deploying digital experiences in previously unconnected places. We've had success in delivering some pretty good experiences on mobile devices, and we'll continue to innovate here.

This week we hosted an iOS Summit at the Sears Holdings HQ in Hoffman Estates, IL. This brought together subject matter experts from Apple, and folks working on iOS based projects from all over the company. We learned a lot from each other.

There were plenty of simple rules of thumb, lessons learned, etc. to share. Much of day included conversations about how tab navigation don't translate well to the iPad, or how drop down menus often don't work well on a touch interface...

But the process for delivering compelling apps on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod can be boiled down to 3 rules.

  1. Simplify.
  2. Prioritize.
  3. Optimize.

...and repeat as necessary.

Come to think of it, it's good advice for most any project.

App Stores and Quarter Machines

. wandereye

App stores feel much like those $.25 machines at the exits of supermarkets. They look so cool on the placard with stardust trailing happy flight or ponies or charms. There are the scientific and gadget like machines with fake handcuffs or Chinese finger torture tubes, super bounce balls or fake moustaches. They are positioned strategically in the transitional exit, post-checkout space of the store, calling for you to spend the change jingling in your pocket. Anthropometrics play a crucial role in child recruitment, close to the floor. The stamp machines are adult-height. The micro-cost conveys disposability or one-time use, frivolous cheap fun used to pass the time in a waiting room, boring car ride home, an artifact of a trek to the supermarket. But a small price to pay for countless minutes of joy. With credit cards and cash cards, loose change seems to be disappearing as fast as these quarter machines. Next to them now stands the "red box" where I can, for $0.99, rent a recently released DVD for a night, encouraging a trip back for the return the next day. Even the red box feels slightly obsolete noting my ability to stream movies from Netflix or rent or buy and download from Amazon or the Apple Store (or pirate via IRC or some other exclusively nerdy portal). But there is some behavior here as universal as the dollar store model and as universal as the penny arcade. The pay-to-play culture, the leasing of an experience. The add-on frosting to the hearty cake of aisle browsing and staple stocking. The evidence of the ability to consume mass manufactured goods imported from third world countries that used to be hard to find or high tech novelty (like casio finger watches). I know about these things because I do, in fact, collect them. In my desk is a collection of every "homie" I could find. I used to collect stickers.

When the iPhone came out and I started using the Apple store, the wonder of all the things I could buy for $0.99 was overwhelming. I'd worked on phone UI before, one of the designs very close to the iPhone for a major cell manufacturer. In 2000, we all saw the coming age of the "smart phone" but few saw the coming of the "platform" that would extend the use of a phone beyond messaging or contact management, maybe music playing. Multitouch added a level of interactivity that brought us out of the vernacular of point and click. Back then there was the "WAP" version of the "mobile" website. There was texting. There were games reformatted from the days of my youth like snake and pong. Suddenly my phone become a handheld gaming console. Beyond games and communication and PIM and music, the phone remained separate from a tool. But then it caught up with technology and caught up with the way we pay for things (on the internet) and utilized an old vernacular (the dime store model) to distribute goods through a platform (built on music sales at first, expanding to movies and then apps and books). Pricing played a key role at first as I quickly racked up embarrassingly high bills thinking $0.99 was $0.99 without multiplying exponentially. All of the apps looked so fun and interesting to me. Suddenly I didn't need a laptop to write a document or edit a photo. Suddenly my phone camera had better resolution than my digital SLR. Suddenly, I didn't need a guitar tuner. Suddenly, my car's GPS console was stupid and ugly.

It is this transition that is leading to a coming transition. The phone I own has replaced my camera, my guitar tuner, my word processor, my map or GPS device, my music player. It is soon going to replace my wallet with mobile payments, my driver's license and insurance card (with encryption), my transponder (already sort of with Google Latitude but soon with NFC), my virtual assistant and possibly therapist. The point to all of this is that innovation, while disruptive sometimes, doesn't abandon some universal human factors when applied but sometimes leverages them to enable adoption. My phone can't do everything but is a platform that can become almost anything I would consider a tool. With my otter box, it could even be a hammer. There are cases and add-ons that enable it to be a laser pointer or bottle opener. Which is the other point: innovation is enabling. Inventions often answer to the calling for a tool or a product that solves a problem in a new way. Dyson's vacuum cleaner for example gets rid of the problem of using a bag. But like the vending machines, their placement in the transition space of the exit at the supermarket probably came from observation of and awareness in how people shop and the loose change in their pockets as well as their needs for the car ride home or their state of mind while walking out of a store (parents needing to placate hyper children after an exhausting stroll down aisles packed with an overwhelming amount of value).

Price-wise, I bought my phone for over $200. My service plan at the time was over $100 a month. To add to such a (to me) pricey object for $0.99 was a mute point at that point. The possibility of the applications I could buy to transform my phone into something else was and is much like the feeling I get when I find the novelty of continually rotating swag available in quarter machines at the super market exit. The similarities are endless: sharing them with friends by showing them off in use, using them once and forgetting about them in the clutter of more. Last, the fact that the machines are always updating themselves like the app store is.

To reflect, after several years of using my phone, here is a list of the apps that stuck with me (besides the "core" PIM, Phone, Text, Email, Web Browser, Music and Video Player, Camera) in order of importance and/or frequency of use:

01. Evernote
02. Google Maps (mobile on iPhone)
03. Facebook Mobile
04. Delicious Mobile (via bookmarklet Javalet in Mobile Safari)
05. Skype Mobile
06. Scrabble
07. Paypal Mobile
08. Grubhub
09. Fandango
10. 55k Quotes

Some interesting articles/links on GigaOm today:

People Download Lots of Apps, But Many Get Discarded

Feature Creep Emerges as Next Challenge for Mobile Devs

User (Customer) Behavior

. Pete

Picture taken at the iOS conference out at Hoffman. In case it's not clear, there are a bunch of peeps on the floor, huddled around a power outlet as they multitask while listening to the Apple presenters. I was struck by the similarity between the above, and this:

People ( or animals ) will gather around resources of value. They'll endure hardship if the value is great enough, they'll take social risks. They'll cluster together, and develop their own norms and whatnot.

Our customers are the same way. They gather in places where they find value. If we happen to build a sucky watering hole, or maybe just one in the wrong place, our customers will gather at some other watering hole instead.

The trick is identifying a need, serving that need, and nurturing the community that starts to form there.

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Time Travel Lesson: from IE4 to iOS

. PeteW

Once upon a time, back in the year 2001, there was a cool new Web browser called Internet Explorer 4.0.

It let Web designers and developers do cool stuff through new capabilities like a Document Object Model, enabling us to do things like CSS. Almost overnight, it became the preferred browser for the UX community, to the exclusion of many others. The obvious problem was that the Web isn't a single browser--it's an ecosystem with various platforms and platform standards. Designing for one to the exclusion of others isn't just short-sighted, it's ignoring core portions of your customer base and leaving money on the table.

Fast forward to 2011. Apple's iPhone and their iOS have a commanding, first-mover advantage as the first smart phone to really get user experience. Plus, there's not only some good standards to consider, but a whole service model with the Apple's App store selling millions of Apps.

AT&T's mobile data traffic increased 50x in 3 years (2007-9009)--a 4,932% increase. Some of the iPhone Apps even deliver a better user experience for mobile than they do for conventional Web. Access to Facebook via mobile browser grew 112% in the past year to 25.1 million users in January 2010. Access to Twitter via mobile experienced a 347% jump to 4.7 million users in January 2010. Who wouldn't want to have a mobile app for iOS?

The problem is iOS is a nice tree in a forest: the Web is, now more than ever, an open ecosystem that supports different platforms, experiences, and contexts. A recent tweet put past and present into stark relief:

========= “@dhh: Taking your web app mobile just for iOS in 2011 is like taking your business to the web just for IE4 in 2001.” - BINGO! =========

Obviously it's not just an iOS world: During the year 2010 Android emerged as the single best selling mobile platform in the US. Android rose to 44% of Verizon's smartphone subscriber base, up from 2% the year before.

But this doesn't capture the opportunity.

The touchpoints we need to be designing for should really include a reasonable cross section of all the devices people use in their day-to-day lives.

For example, even mobile isn't just one or two OS's--it's phone, iPad-like devices and more. Consider where people are using "mobile":

  1. 84% at home
  2. 80% during miscellaneous downtime throughout the day
  3. 76% waiting in lines of waiting for appointments
  4. 69% while shopping
  5. 64% at work
  6. 62% while watching TV (alt. study claims 84%)
  7. 47% during commute in to work

Very different contexts--and a variety of different touchpoints (each with their own platforms and systems behind them).

Some get this and they're planning for it now. Facebook connect gets it:

Their APIs are really focused on an ecosystem of platforms, each supporting different touchpoints that fit the various contexts-of-use people have.

The takeaway? Consider the ecosystem first and the context of use for the different touchpoints within that ecosystem. The App as just a single touchpoint within that ecosystem. Your design strategy should take into account platforms and systems that aren’t dependent on any single touchpoint—or OS—for their success.

My sources for this post: - LukeW's blog: www.lukew.com - Facebook Developer image via slideshare from David Armano.

Snow-mageddon post mortem

. Pete

The worst has passed, and you now have a story to annoy your kids and grandkids with.

“Hey you kids, this snowfall is ‘perilous,’ according to the artificial intelligence know-it-alls we have ‘predicting’ the weather today. But it’s pretty lame next to The Great Snow-mageddon of ‘11. Have I ever told you that story?”

“Only about a zillion times, Grandpa.”

“Well, sit yer ass down and listen again…”

Most of us in my social circle had this experience: Monday we heard stories of the local supermarkets being out of things like bread and milk. We were warned to leave work early Tuesday afternoon. By early Tuesday evening things were starting to “look kinda hairy,” and by Tuesday night people were abandoning their cars on Lake Shore Drive en masse, seeking shelter in Hoth-like conditions on foot without a tauntaun.

Wednesday was mostly spent trapped in your abode, though the intrepid, crazy, or very fortunate might have ventured out a bit. Shoveling a small place for the dog to pee. ComEd and Comcast fell down in lots of places. By Wednesday evening, the spark of normal connectedness started to show again. Some people still had no power, and thus no heat. But by Thursday life was mostly back to as close to normal as was normal for you. The power was probably back on, the internet back up, and the dogs had places to walk.

We had a few days heads-up, and we here at SHC had accommodating management encouraging preparation and safety.

So… what’s something you wished you had done better, or knew about, or learned? Or what’s something that surprised you in a good way?

My own answers: I’m kind of a wingnut, here; I was pretty well prepared. Even if the power had gone out, the internet dropped off, and gravity stopped working, I had redundancies. Something I could have done better was not head out with a few friends late Tuesday for White Castles; that was dumb. I was very lucky, and of course WC was closed.

Something that surprised me in a good way: I ran a shelter for the Red Cross in my area, for the first time evah, and I learned people come to disaster shelters for aid, for relief on one of the worst days of their year; but others also come out to be helpful. They bring toys for kids, and DVDs, laptops, and projectors for everyone to watch movies with. They bring things they’ve baked, blankets, cans of soup, and stuffed animals. They open their homes to strangers and say “you can come stay with us, so you don’t have to sleep in a gymnasium on a cot.”

In my corner of the world, it was the “best” kind of disaster; I had a heads up it was coming, it lasted a day or so, and was just rough enough to teach me some valuable lessons without anyone getting hurt.

How about you?

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