Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Designing for everyone at Google

As expected, it’s been a busy month. As a result I’ve let some obvious blog posts slip. Time to catch up!

Last week’s uxWaterloo meeting was a particularly interesting one, as it featured a design workshop facilitated by Adam Baker, a user experience designer at Google.

Adam divided the large crowd (over 70) into groups of four and gave each group a design to complete as well as a constraint. It turns out that there were only two designs being worked on amongst the groups, though there were several constraints.

After a short period of design activity, Adam directed that pairs of groups merge. At this point we discovered that half the groups were designing a user interface for specifying a pizza to buy, while half were designing a user interface for specifying delivery instructions. We now had groups of eight, and needed to integrate our designs for pizza and delivery UIs into a whole design. We also had to handle new constraints, as each former group of four brought one to the new group of eight.

After another short period of design, the groups were merged again, resulting in larger groups of 16 or so, and a larger group of constraints in each group. The larger groups engaged in a final period of design work, after which each group shared their results with the larger meeting crowd. At this point it became clear that the constraints were quite varied: design for someone just like you; design for iPad; design for an old BlackBerry for use on a train; design for 9-year olds; design for blind; design for first-time users; design for 100 pizzas delivered to 100 locations, etc.

The exercise was a practical demonstration of some of the challenges for user experience at Google, where designing for everyone (many millions) carries with it many specific and even opposing requirements.

Adam followed up with a fine presentation in which he identified some of the design considerations that are important when designing for search at Google. He likened it to travel in the “back country”, where a premium is placed on solutions that are lightweight, field-repairable, multi-purpose, few frills (are fast), degrade well, and are adaptable.

Famously, Google places an emphasis on measurement, which informs design rather than dictating it. Amongst the kinds of questions they ask, and look to measurements for answers, are “How long…”, “How many…”, “How ofter…”, and “When…”. Nothing earth-shaking there, but the rigour with which they approach measurement is striking.

All in all, it was a highly successful night, and there may be similar uxWaterloo events in the future. Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A busy calendar for November

November features a full slate of local events that I’m looking forward to.

StartupCampWaterloo is, at this point, well-known in the technology community. I’ve always enjoyed attending the events, and have presented there in the past as well. At the tenth edition on Nov 10, Rick Stroobosscher and I will be talking about, and showing, what Karos Health is doing. As an aside, this is right in the middle of Entrepreneur Week, a yearly “innovation festival dedicated to entrepreneurial spirit”.

I’m particularly close to a couple of organizations that have three fine events coming up, and I’m going into carnival barker mode here!

uxWaterloo has not one, but two, events this month. The first, on November 16, is Lessons from designing at Google, a workshop presented by Adam Baker, a user interface designer at Google. Closer to home, we’re excited to have Joey Benedek speaking on November 24 about User Experience at Research in Motion. Both these visits have been in planning for some time, and we’re happy that the stars aligned to bring these exceptional speakers to the group. Register soon, as these have become two popular events.

Another group that I help organize is Ignite Waterloo. We’re putting on a fourth event on November 18. and are pretty excited about the talks that we have lined up. Be sure to get your tickets if you haven’t already, as tickets are moving fast.

Somewhat farther afield, in Guelph, the fifteenth edition of DemoCampGuelph is happening on November 17. It’s always a good time, as past posts here should indicate. Happily, I’ll be just sitting back and enjoying the talk and beer at this one!

Plenty to do!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Marshmallows at Karos Health

Several weeks back I reported on the results of running two editions of the Marshmallow Challenge. Yesterday I tried it out with my colleagues at Karos Health. Three teams completed three towers — a 100% completion rate, a higher rate than at the previous two events that I wrote about. It was good fun, though after facilitating three of these events it would be fun to build something as well.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A visit to a Karos Innovation Center in Boston

I visited Boston last week along with Karos Health’s Rick Stroobosscher to meet with our partners in the Department of Radiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a recently announced Karos Innovation Center. We’ve been working closely with the team there on a project, and the time had come for an on-site visit.

In addition to very productive meetings, I was able spend time with some of the department’s radiologists during an overnight shift in the Brigham emergency department. It was an eye-opening experience to observe how they do their jobs. Their knowledge, skill, and dedication in providing timely readings of the imaging studies that came to them was striking. Beyond that, knowing that there were real medical emergencies being handled with such calm expertise was quite humbling. I also appreciated the team’s gracious accommodation of my presence and their interest in the work that Karos is doing.

I’ve written previously about the sense of purpose that working at Karos provides. Seeing the radiologists at work brought that purpose to life in an unambiguous way. I’m excited by what we’re doing and looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership with the Brigham team.