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Thoughts on the Nokia Lumia 900


Click on the image for a larger view.

I’ve written before about how excited I am about the merger between Microsoft and Nokia. More so when the folks from Fleishman-Hillard kindly invited me to an exclusive pre-launch as well as “seeding” me with a device so that I may rip it to shreds! But seriously, I like to thank the team from Fleishman and from Nokia for this opportunity.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is their flagship and should epitomize all the goodness of the strategic alliance between Nokia and Microsoft. Does it? Read on to find out.

Generally the Metro operating system is not too bad. The overall UX design is what I had expected, which it is essentially a large notification screen with direct access my information. Not only that, I do like the new squared tiled GUI. Swiping is snappy and the touch screen is responsive. The screen resolution and color is awesome. I also like the screen size when compared to the Samsung Note, which I find too big.

I like the industrial design of the phone. It feels solid, though not as solid as the iPhone. The SIM card tray is a little wobbly, but that could just be a tolerance issue on my unit. I do miss the curved glass available on the Lumia 800. It does make the phone more finished as well as sliding off the face better. I smell an engineering or budgeting compromise here? The phone casing is also painted in a shiny gloss color, which unfortunately turns the device into a large bar of soap. It has pretty much slid off everything I put it on, so I now need a case…

One of the key “promises” of the Metro UI design is the ability to get to the information fast, and then out again(see above). One of the key hubs for this feature is the “People Hub”. It basically consolidates all your social networks such as Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Live (who uses this anymore?) and email into one place. It is great in theory, but in reality it is a fish market! I can’t tell which message is from which network, and how I can respond to it. Having to slide through the different screens gets a little confusing. One of the problems is that the Metro OS uses font sizes to differentiate headings and different parts of the text paragraph. It makes for a unique GUI, but when you are scrolling through large amounts of data, it becomes a mishmash of words.

I think there is a lot that can be improved, for example the use of Twitter or Facebook icons to see which message is from where. If Microsoft can somehow organize each stream, and also allow me to see it all consolidated in one place, this feature would be a killer!

In reality, the thoughts that I’ve shared above are things I can accept and have managed to get around it. But I do have one big complaint and it can be a huge turn off when using this phone.

We have the makings of a brilliant UI/UX, but it’s all totally messed up by the inclusion of all kinds of software “droppings” on it. I’m not sure if this is a Microsoft thing, but it’s like buying a typical Windows PC, it comes with all these little bits of software “droppings” I don’t really use/need. In the Metro OS they have, for example, include a phone welcome App and some Tango VoIP phone App.

However what is really annoying is that you have a double of almost every standard App! You have the following Apps with similar functions: Nokia Music / Zune, Nokia Maps / Maps, Nokia Market Place / App Highlights, and Nokia Drive / Maps etc. I know some of these Apps may do slightly different things, but logic and sanity should prevail. Things like Nokia Drive and Maps should really be the same App as people expect it to be.

With that, it is quite clear to me that there is a huge business agenda between Nokia and Microsoft with both wanting their value add services on the device. The alliance seems to be some kind of 50/50 partnership mash-up where the person that loses out in the end is the user.

Both companies need to look at this device from the point of view of the customer, identify the benefits they provide, and determine what roles each organization will play. Otherwise they risk killing off a great interface at its infancy.

Before I sign off, I like to say that I won’t go to much into the Apps in this article as I’m still “getting into” the phone but suffice to say I’m currently not as productive as I am on my iPhone. As they say, the survival of any phone platform has to do with the range of Apps available. Microsoft has to decide if they want to create a new market, or convert existing users who already have a long relationship with Apple. If it is the latter, Microsoft will have to convince developers such as Instagram, Path or Instapaper to come on over to Metro OS.

Design Manifesto 2012

When Tim Brown said that ”design is getting big again”, he meant that Design is moving (or has moved, in my humble opinion) from a form giving exercise and into the boardroom where is have become a much bigger strategic activity.

I agree. Design is fast becoming a more strategic and holistic consideration in many organizations evident with its application through out many levels of the entire business.

If we use Everett Roger’s theory of “Diffusion of Innovations” to help explain the rate of take up of new ideas, we can see that Design (Thinking) has moved into the “early majority” phase. Many organizations have realized and recognized the power of design through the success of early adopters like P&G and Apple. I believe Design has crossed what Jeffry Moore calls the ”chasm”.


Click for a bigger image. Cartoon by Tom Fishburne.

With every success there are sacrifices. Through my day-to-day activities in Design Strategy and Design Thinking, I’m starting the sense that the tonality of design is changing a great deal.

The type of Design that lives in the boardroom has taken on a very serious tone. It’s all about results, budgets, trade-offs (or not) and getting stuff done. Design activities such as User Centered Design and Services Experiences have become a by-product of this commercial and strategic approach to design.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with being commercially minded in Design. In fact at Design Sojourn, we pride ourselves in taking a very commercial and pragmatic approach towards our client’s projects.

However it is this change in Design’s tonality that worries me. This soul of design seems to be slowly and surely slipping away. So how do we fix this?

Here is part of the answer. If you ask any wide-eyed designer entering design school why they getting into design, the most common answer would probably be a variation of “making people’s live better”.

Unfortunately Design in the boardroom seems to forget that it is all about the people in the first place. How can this be? Is Design not about the people? Are humans not central in User Centered Design and Design Driven Innovation?

Yes they are.

But humans are often now seen as just a means to an end, an end goal that is under-pinned by a commercial consideration. It’s looking more and more about giving people what they want, regardless if it’s good for them or not. The engine of consumerism just goes on and on.

We mentioned earlier that half of the solution is about making people’s lives better. The second half should then be about focusing your design work on making people happy.

When put you combine making lives better with making people happy, it all starts to make sense. Suddenly, the edge gets taken off those tough commercial design decisions. There is now a greater meaning in why you are designing this product or service in the first place. I think this is a much better approach than just focusing on giving people what they want or did not know they wanted.

So I like of offer all you dear readers this industrial design manifesto for 2012 that asks you to put the soul back into design. I hope you will join me, and together we can make the world a better place. If you find this manifesto meaningful, please share it and tell all your friends. Thank you!

Presentation Skills I Learnt From Pecha Kucha

I was shocked how hard it was preparing for Pecha Kucha Night. Even after seven iterations, I was still not done! Despite being a seasoned presenter, Pecha Kucha was a brand new experience and a challenge indeed.

For those that don’t know, Pecha Kucha is a gathering of creative minds to share what they are passionate about. As creatives like to talk, Pecha Kucha runs its presentations in a unique format; 20 slides that stay up for 20 seconds each, no more, no less. Like an emotionless robot, it all runs on automatic leaving many presenters in mid-sentence when the slide changes.

People say that we should treat the creation a presentation like a design exercise. I agree. But being forced to work within the constraint of 20 X 20 slides you suddenly realize why Simplicity is hard and very few people do it well.

In the process of creating my slide deck for Pecha Kucha and then subsequently presenting it, I relearned a number of presentation techniques that could also apply to any normal presentation that has the luxury of time.

1) Consider your Presentation Style.
Are you a presenter that tells stories and uses slides as a visual backdrop? Do you need to prepare your presentation with detailed notes? Are you the type that bullet points everything you need to say on a slide? Whichever it is, you will need to be fully aware of your presentation style and keep to it.

I’m the type that likes to talk off the cuff, flowing and ebbing to the crowd’s response. However because of the format of Pecha Kucha, I wrote everything down for fear of overrunning the 20 second per slide format. This killed my flow, as my mind struggled to switch from my usual presentation technique. I ended up referring to my notes frequently and that cost me some audience engagement.

2) Keep it Light
I also realize almost immediately that a slide presentation should not be used as a training manual.

There are just some topics that don’t work at Pecha Kucha. Explaining complex theories or scientific problems is one. It goes so fast anyway, so the heavy stuff just goes over the head.

I think my presentation on Design Thinking almost crossed the no-go line. I believe the best topics for Pecha Kucha are anecdotal stories which works great for the portfolio stories it originally started with.

In the real world, your presentation format may be in the form or a class lecture, a cozy portfolio review, or staged performance etc., regardless of what it is, be aware of how much a presentation can do before it become too much.

3) The Power of One.
One thing to keep strictly to when designing a Pecha Kucha presentation is that your total presentation should only communicate 1 key topic. Furthermore, each slide should be restricted to 1 point only. The key to keeping things simple is to ask “What am I trying to communicate?” and “Do I really need make this point?”

While this restriction is a must for a 20 second pace, I have found that this should be also a key requirement for presentations in the real world. Even with the opportunity of having more time to read the content on each slide.

I have sat through so many presentations that meander badly, or have far to many confusing bullet points on a slide. There is something to be said on the efficiency and impact of keeping slide presentations simple.

4) The Tale of 2 Presenters.
There are actually two presenters at every presentation; you and your slide.

You really figure out the value of both “Presenters” at Pecha Kucha. You can use one to support the other, or even design the presentation in a way that when combined together they tell a much bigger story.

Therefore, it is a real pity to only repeat to the audience what the bullet points on each of your slide say. Furthermore, this also means that most slide decks can be reduced by 50%.

5) Keep the Presentation Sharp.
In Pecha Kucha we are advised to keep the verbal element to 2-3 sentences a slide.

This also makes sense in normal presentations as well. Focus on the points you are trying to communicate and that will prevent you from rambling on more than you need to.

6) Pick a Topic You are Familiar With.
At Pecha Kucha always pick a topic that you are familiar with, or willing to get familiar with. When you are familiar with a topic it just rolls off your tongue naturally, especially in presentations with time constraints. Oh, don’t underestimate the value of practice, it does make perfect.

7) Pause for Effect.
One thing that was really hard to create at Pecha Kucha was strategic pauses to let points sink in. With the rapid 20 second pace, even giving people time to laugh was almost impossible. This means you could come across like you are racing through your presentation.

This challenge made me realize and cherish the importance of strategic pauses in a presentation. When you are now designing a presentation that has the luxury of more time, you can now use this time efficiently to drive home key points, increase audience engagement, or even as a great icebreaker.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my learnings from presenting at Pecha Kucha. I love to hear your thoughts, and if you have experienced Pecha Kucha please do share your learnings as well?

What it Means to Have a Designer as a Startup Founder

So it looks like The Designer Fund, a VC fund that specifically invests in Startup companies that have designers as founders is starting to gain traction. It seems that suddenly everyone seems to have an opinion on the premium placed on designers.

Brace yourselves! I’m going to join the fray with my 2 cents worth simply because I find that many people seem to miss what the Designer Fund is extolling. I would even dare say that even the Designer Fund itself seems to miss something in the communications of their objectives.

But before we go on check out some of the current sentiments on this hot topic, researched and organized for you in chronological order:

1) The Designer Fund in all its glory! A brag list of all the exciting and successful companies that have a designer(s) as one of the founders.

2) Yongfook rants, (in respond to this brag list) in his post “Design is Horseshit!“, on how the premium set on designers is overblown and there is a lot more to running a start up than being a designer. Yongfook seems to lean towards the view that design is about creating value through making things beautiful.

3) Joshua Porter calls out YongFook in his post “Design is not Horsepoop“. Joshua’s take is that design is more than skin deep, it’s a process and a mindset. He quotes Steve Jobs saying, “Design is how it works.”

4) Finally, a bunch of us were having a conversation on Twitter today on the seemingly narrow view of design on this website: “Startups, This is how Design Works“.

You see, it is not about how you define design, but how wide (or narrow) you consider the scope of design to be. This is the same problem many people have with the whole Design Thinking shindig. Take a look at the following graphic and you’ll know what I mean.


Click on the Image for a Bigger View.

It’s one of the situations where people are both wrong and right at the same time. We are all really talking about the same thing. It’s all design. From making things look good or easy to use, to creating the right experience, to identifying opportunities for market grown through user insights etc., we are all talking about the same thing.

Now, lets go back to the Designer Fund’s point of view, and look at what they mean where they say that Designers should be part of a Startup’s founding team. What they are trying to say is no different to what some of us (go Rita-Sue!) have been saying for years, and that is we need to get a Designer in the boardroom.

When you have designers (skilled in the “Design as a Strategic Activity” bit) in the boardroom or coffee shop table (where most Startups find themselves), design becomes central to the business strategy and decision making process at the highest level. So the Design Fund believes that having Designers as founders will lead to a design driven Startup that will have a high change to build something meaningful, useful, and awesome!

But to start building, you will need everything to come together in the right way, and at this stage design switches to design implementation mode. Therefore, in reality you will need both parts of Design (and in between) as outlined in my graphic above. Any argument, for or against the Designer Fund, which only considers one part of this equation is fundamentally wrong.

When Designing Experiences for Humans, Consider Common Psychological Behaviors

Often designers design stuff (products/services/interfaces etc.): to fit user personas, to solve problems, to make it beautiful etc. but don’t often consider the how it psychologically interfaces with the user. Such user experience design draws heavily from human psychological behaviors that are a result of millions of years of evolution. These behaviors will not change tomorrow or even in the next 10 years, therefore we should be aware of what these behaviors are and how our designs should take them into consideration.

I was therefore really excited to stumble on this article “The Psychologist’s View of UX Design” by Susan Weinschenk which is the most comprehensive collection, I have seen, of these “truths” of human behaviors. For my and your reference, I’ve taken the liberty to summarize the list here and added a sprinkling of my thoughts.

1. People Don’t Want to Work or Think More Than They Have To
Consider simplicity, lead by example i.e. show users how it is done, provide what people only really need, and help users make decisions.

2. People Have Limitations
Remember information overload? This is where it rears its ugly head. Keep information on a need to know basis, clump and/or create visual priority.

3. People Make Mistakes
People will make mistakes, respect that and try not to make them feel stupid. Having an “Undo” is vital and the best error message is none at all. Oh, do make sure the errors, if any, are not fatal please?

4. Human Memory Is Complicated
Human memory is prone to errors and inconsistency. It’s BS to say, “oh they will remember how to use it after using it for the first time”. Susan says “People can only remember about 3-4 items at a time. The ‘7 plus or minus 2’ rule is an urban legend”. From my anecdotal experience, I agree with her.

5. People are Social
People are social animals and will listen to others for guidance even if they don’t know that person. This is probably why many companies that the 5 star rating system seriously. Furthermore, the famous 150 “friends” social limit does apply. Any greater, the bond between people weakens.

6. Attention
People are easily distracted; design for focus or for attention, not both. You will be surprised how often both things happen at the same or at the wrong time.

7. People Crave Information
Susan says it best:

People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. Having more choices makes people feel in control. Feeling in control makes people feel they will survive better.

Don’t forget that feedback, such as at acknowledgement chime or a message, is also considered as information.

8. Unconscious Processing
Be careful in creating the wrong associations with your design, particularly important with communication and object design. There is a lot of subtle processing that happen especially through the visual sense, and this impacts greatly on decision-making. That is why, for the longest time, aesthetics was the key driver for the definition of good design.

9. People Create Mental Models
Mental models are the reason why Skeuomorph Design is so important in user experience design. If user research cannot determine a relevant mental model, use Metaphors to help with the ease of understanding and acceptance of a new concept or technology.

10. Visual System
Despite knowing that our visual sense is the strongest sense, this insight surprised me:

Research shows that people use peripheral vision to get the “gist” of what they are looking at. Eye tracking studies are interesting, but just because someone is looking at something straight on doesn’t mean they are paying attention to it.

I do encourage you to check out the full article at UX Mag, it is well worth the read.

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