On UX Dept

“UX dept” is used to represent the gap between a product’s ideal user experience and its actually quality. The expression gives life to that gap and provides designers a language for perceiving and evaluating the real state and quality of UX experience in terms of the 4 emotional measures: functional, reliable, usable, and pleasurable. According to Aarron Walter’s “Hierarchy of User Needs,” which follows Maslow’s framework of Hierarchy of (Human) Needs, the functional measure lives at the lowest level of the quality axis and supports the increasingly qualitative measures: reliable, usable, and pleasurable; the latter sitting at the top of the pyramid denoting the ideal, target or “peak” experience.

This notion is interesting to me because it gives me a quality matrix to place my work against and aim for when designing a user experience. It seems the work delivered in UX focusses more on the first 3 floors of the pyramid, often sacrificing the best quality defining measure; the pleasurable. For the author of the article, Andrew Walter, “UX dept” only takes place when designers think an experience can or should be better. It is the result of “cutting corners” and making fast constraint-based decisions to the detriment of a pleasurable and best user experience.

— source: http://bit.ly/18UoFHL


Frog’s Research Learning Spiral (How the Why of data wins over the What)

As clients are becoming increasingly aware of ethnographic-ish research being an essential and integral part of the design process for a high quality user experience offer, it is important for us (designers) to learn an appropriate format for approaching and customizing research on a project basis.

Frog’s Research Learning Spiral, as David Sherwin names it in A Five-Step Process for Conducting User Research, allows us to think of research as not only a set of insight-focused methodologies and collaborative practices, but also very much so as a process of articulating and defining the focus area and scope of the research itself through its 5 learning stages: Objectives, Hypotheses, Methods, Conduct, and Synthesis.

I would like to focus on the the 3 early stages of the spiral. These are fundamental in situating the research area and addressing design questions with methodologies geared towards feeding our knowledge lexicon of people and things in their habitual contexts according to pre-defined objectives and hypotheses.

1 • Objectives focus on the framing of questions following the 3 Ws and an H structure: Who What When Where Why and How. These together help us define who the demographic user base is, what activities they might be involved in while using our service or product, when they would be engaged in such activities, where these activities would take place, under which emotional or rational states (why), and using which processes. These questions are in turn reformulated into simple statements of research objectives, which outline the scope of the research effort.

2 • Hypotheses are assumption packed opinions or suppositions we have about a product or service, its users, and the contextual settings in which the product acts, which are meant to be tested and challenged. Sherwin lists 3 types of hypotheses: attitude (what users would like to get out of a service), behavior (what users would like to do with the service), and feature (which feature users would most enjoy using).

3 • Methods — such as contextual enquiry, surveys, interviews, and benchmarking — can help prove or disprove these hypotheses by revealing key data about a demographic user, their contextual environments, and identify leverage points wherein design can affect their everyday and provide positive change or support. Other more participatory activities which involve probing users — such as diary studies, card sorting, and paper prototyping — can serve as experiential idea generating methods with a capacity for drawing design solutions and concepts that meet the user’s needs and mental models. Finally, evaluative methods — such as usability testing, heuristic evaluations, and cognitive walkthroughs — will demonstrate whether these ideas are effective, useful, and desirable.

[F]inding meaning in your data […] can mean reading between the lines and not taking a quote or something observed at face value. The why behind a piece of data is always more important than the what.” — Lauren Serota, Associate Creative Director at Frog Design

According to Sherwin, data tells us what and when users do things, but not why. Context is in fact king. Integrating such framework for user research helps provide us with the contextual understanding — the understanding of given demographics’ everydayness — for making more informed design decisions.

I am particularly interested in the name “learning spiral”: a looping process that doesn’t need to be lengthy, costly, and a unique event. It is spiral and has the potential of being a cyclical and iterative process, which can be applied as needed at different stages of a design process and with a different scope. That spiral from which I can learn allows me to investigate more specific areas of my users’ everyday by defining learning objectives.

While every research endeavour has a plan and objectives, i particularly found this interpretation because it gives importance to the planning and framing of research and integrates objectives definition as part of the research itself. Typically research seems to begin with contextual inquiry and interviewing right away as a recourse to inform the design approach and concept which does not necessarily end up being a solution that is desirable. Involving research participants in the framing of the research seems to be a more inclusive and humane approach that is bound to have a worthwhile and desirable quality.

— source: http://bit.ly/1eCoUyH

‘The Changing Sites of Value’

As part of The Internet as Playground and Factory, a conference series on the politics of digital media organised by Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Orit Halpern, and Melissa Gregg introduced their individual areas of research and idiosyncratic takes on the notion of ‘affect’ and its evolution in meaning today as a result of technological progress.

Patricia Ticineto Clough is a sociologist currently developing a theory or logic of affect, or to use her own words, “the measurability of affect” which she calls affect-itself (a reference to the idea of life-itself) through various techno-scientific and mathematical approaches. Her proposal stressed the importance of affect as being a potential, which intangible in itself, but ‘real’ nonetheless; and that, as a potential, affect could be measured, not necessarily in terms of the human body, but rather in terms of its relation to value, measure, exchanges and accumulations. Clough referred to the quantum physicist and theorist, David Bohm, who wrote extensively on the topic of Wholeness and the Implicate Order (also the title of his book on perception and the understanding of matter), and who suggested that the world was enfolding and unfolding within itself. This lead Clough’s logic of affect-itself to include open-ended mathematical as well as biological extensions: she described it as “a scale-less matter [that holds] new curves in the temporary extension of digital experience and spatial experience.” In addition, she investigated Michel Foucault’s study of the seriality of governable populations, and noted that the ‘milieu’ should be understood as a spatial-temporal topology; which is to say that, the ‘milieu’ has both depth and breadth, and is mutating through time. This is where, I think, Clough’s idea of measurability of affect-itself takes full shape. Affect can only be measured when seen as a quantifiable value (divorced from the human body), and seen in light of its potentiality and ability to vary from past, present, and future. Clough ended her talk with a note on the aesthetics of value and measure conventions, and raised the necessity of rethinking measure and probability.

The second guest-speaker, Orit Halpern (PhD History of Science), discussed perception and data information as understood in terms of cybernetics, communication science, psychology, and cognitive science. Her presentation revolved around the works of Gyorgy Kepes (1942, 1944) and Charles & Ray Eames, who looked at vision as an organ of choice, able to link and combine abstract forms (or data points) and allow new associations to occur in the perceptive field. For them, this was an anticipatory sight of design, where making links between abstract matter could generate new patterns of perception and help people develop a more comprehensive method for interpreting information and understanding communication. Halpern also touched upon the concept of algorithms, scales of information, and data storage, and by doing so, made connections between perception and cognitive processes by distinguishing data storage from mental processes. She noted that, in cybernetic vision, perception and cognition become the same, and that the brain and the eye become closely related. She gave the example of Warren McCulloch’s mapping of the eyes and brain of a frog, which suggest that the vision is a relationship of understanding and seeing, cognition and perception.

Finally, Melissa Gregg, specialist in affect theory and work, presented her study on affective labour as it appears today in white-collar professional work and the creative industry in Australia. For her, those are today similarly equipped environments. Her documentation demystified aspects of domestic labour (or un-free labour) as discernable in undocumented migrants, conscription, containment, students, the critically ill, and workfare regimes. Some of her findings were that with an increasingly digital lifestyle, workers often express an inability to switch ‘off’, an intensification of stress and anxiety levels, and a heightened sense of responsibility. And more crucially, workers find themselves doing unrecognized work. Greggs’ presentation essentially showed that the digital, whether as domestic appliances, mobile devices or computer stations, has developed new ways of thinking about work in terms of gender, race, and environment.

The Internet as Playground and Factory. The New School, New York City, NY. Date: November 13, 2009. Patricia Ticineto Clough. “The Digital Affect and Measure Beyond Biopolitics.” Orit Halpern. “The Scanning Eyes: Knowledge and Visuality in Cybernetics.” And, Melissa Gregg. “Affective Labour: Past and Present.”

Rob Wynne

In early September 2009, I met Rob Wynne (see www.robwynne.net), an American artist living in New York and had the opportunity to visit his studio in Soho, where he showed me a retrospective of his work as it evolved from the early stages of his life to the present. As a dyslexic, his work revolves around ideas of language and found defects in texts and matter. He uses a wide range of materials and works on a variety of scales and surfaces, from installations, glass text, drawings, embroidered paintings, to ceramics as well as glass sculptures. Two of his works, which particularly touched me were: his exploration of embroidered creatures with their see-through quality unveiling the entangled threads as an expression of movement and shadow, as well as his glass texts which clearly reveal the visual experience of dyslexia.

‘Reckoning with Torture’

On October 13, 2009, at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, was hosted a conference entitled:‘Reckoning with Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the “War on Terror.” ’ The guest speakers included Matthew Alexander, Jonathan Ames, K. Anthony Appiah, Paul Auster, Ishmael Beah, David Cole, Don DeLillo, Eve Ensler, Nell Freudenberger, Jenny Holzer, A.M. Homes, Jameel Jaffer, Susanna Moore, Jack Rice, George Saunders, Amrit Singh, and Art Spiegelman. The conference aimed at bringing to light hidden information of torturing methods used to obtain information from suspected terrorists in the aftermath of September 11.

The conference was presented as a series of readings from censored documents, such as CIA memos, interrogation accounts, presidential speeches, FBI e-mails, autopsy reports, and tribunal transcripts. Additional evidence were shown as video captures of detainees’ testimonials, clearly reflecting the dehumanizing conditions of the methods and their repercussions. The goal of this conference was, I think, first to create accountability of tortures, abuses, and killings made in the name of America, and second to comment on selective information and create more awareness and evidential proof. In an ongoing backdrop slide-show, Jenny Holzer exposed her latest work showing biometry documents.

Armando Guiller

The Cuban Art NY (see www.cubaartny.org) offered a collective exhibition of contemporary Cuban artists in New York, in October 2009, at the Dactyl Foundation Gallery. Some of the artists on view included: Lilliam Cuenca, Carmen Herrera, Giovanni Bosch, Carlos Estevez, Heriberto Mora, Mario García Joya, Armando Guiller, and Arturo Rodriguez.

I was taken there by one of my Cuban friends and while this is all very interesting in terms of symbolism and the way those artists mesh their indigenous culture with contemporary ideas of human communication, environmental activities and philosophical themes; I did not think I would find anything potentially related to my research. But I did…

Armando Guiller is a mechanical engineer by training, and a growing artist by passion, and has won numerous honorary awards. His sculptural work has the ability to communicate with scientists, engineers and artists, as it involves craft, mathematical precision, and highly conceptual and philosophical investigations into spatial and perspectival associations. He uses both industrial (metal) and natural (wood) materials, which he treats himself with heavy machinery. Guiller’s modular structures address the relationships between time, space and matter, with a specific focus on helical displacement, which he names “Mechanical Archetypes.” As it has been defined, “a helix is a type of space curve,” and is characterized by its curving property as it continuously performs an angular directional growth.