Thursday, March 27, 2008

Innovation Spaces

A hot topic these days amongst managers in the Design business is whether a specially designed workspace can facilitate more creative thinking and thus more innovative designs. Case studies of IDEO and the like make people think this is the case.

The assumption is that traditional wisdom about workplaces measures only worker efficiency, economy of construction, maintenance, and similar factors that are easy for MBA managers to optimize. Creativity, Good Design, and Innovation cannot be quantified in a spreadsheet, so perhaps environment is the key.

23 years ago, I read this fascinating article.

The article cites some research that proved that changing conditions of a workplace does not have any real effect, and that while a poor environment can have negative effects, a good environment won't cause whatever it is you want {efficiency, creativity, etc}

Something to consider if you think throwing some money into a fun space is going to revolutionize your products and somehow make you the next Apple. My employer tried that. It doesn't work. :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Alan Cooper on Innovation

I saw Alan Cooper speak tonight at IxDA-SF.

Contrary to the popular business axiom of the first mover advantage, Cooper points out that nearly all successful products and sites are not the first to market-- not the innovators in their market. Usually the first product in a market is supplanted by a better designed, more carefully designed copycat. (This is actually Microsoft's standard business strategy- embrace and extend)

Cooper gave these examples:
  • newton - palm
  • some noname MP3 player - ipod
to which I'd add these examples
  • netscape navigator - IE
  • xerox star - mac
  • friendster - myspace
Thus he concludes that Innovation does not lead to success. Rather, harnessing innovation matters. Notably, allowing sufficient time to get it right - get the design quality sufficiently high, is what ultimately leads to success.

Cooper also points out that software development is a craft, like carpentry, where quality requires time and experience (even apprenticeship), and cannot be schedule driven. This is further evidence that rushing to market generally will mean shipping a shoddy product which is doomed to failure for that reason, regardless of competitive dynamics.

Another Cooper observation is that programmers fit into two categories. Those that want to get something done and shipped (getting satisfaction about delivering profitable product), and those that want to craft the perfect technology solution for an abstract theoretical problem. These two types fit into Cooper's recommended two stages of software development-- design engineers (the latter type) and production engineers (the former type). He suggests that design engineers are suited to working with interaction designers to closely work to design both user experiences and technologies and frameworks to enable implementing them, while production engineers should be recruited to rapidly build and ship software to those designs.

In my observation, perhaps because of its older and more educated employee demographics, Sun is densely populated with engineers who cherish design engineering, and has fewer production engineers who just want to ship code. This has some interesting implications...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'm taking an interesting UCSC seminar-course "User Experience Managers Speak" led by the Richard Anderson, famous for his roles in leading BayCHI and DUX.
Those of you who are not familiar with Richard Anderson's work or taken any of his courses are missing out!
Check out his blog.

One theme that is emerging is the importance of Trust. We don't hear a lot about that in the literature or in casual conversation of the HCI business; usually we talk of Us (HCI people) versus Them (engineering). In this class, however, ALL the successful manager-speakers so far (4) have stressed the importance of the UX Manager and staff establishing Trust relationships with the engineering teams they work with.

The speaker at the first class was Jim Nieters, formerly of Oracle and now director of UX at Yahoo. He said that as a leader, a UX manager needs strong relationships with many key people across an organization. These relationships are emotional bonds - trust - and very important. He said that this is far more important than more traditional UX organizational concerns such as "whom you report to in the org chart". He cites a "Trust Gap" between UX Staff and senior corporate executives in most organizations. (Many UX practitioners are not trusted to be pushing for things that the company really needs). He also points out that trust requires face-to-face physical contact- meetings, conversations, etc., and that trust is earned.

Here's Anderson's take on Nieter's lecture.