Archive for the 'POP' Category

Who’s got two thumbs and is $70 richer today? This guy.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

ncaa 2008 winner … kansas and me

Thanks to Kansas, I have won the office pool. I hated Bill Self when he left Illinois to coach for Kansas, but boy, this guy can recruit or what? The title game was an exciting one, too — with the last-second 3-pointer to push the game to OT and all. I just love this stuff.

And not to brag, but this is the third year in a row that I’ve picked the eventual winner of the tourney. And in 2005 I had Illinois picked when they lost in the final — how could I not?

JFo’s Birthday Scafunjer Hunt

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My coworker JFo sure knows how to have fun. For his 34th birthday celebration, he put together the most elaborate scavenger hunt competition, and I was lucky (?) enough to be invited. It seemed daunting (see the rules here while it’s up), but I said what the heck.

I was crammed in a car driving around for most of the day, I spent more money than I planned to, and the judging phase lasted waaaay too long. Worst of all, our team didn’t even come close to winning. In fact, we came 13th out of the 15 teams that participated.

DSC03648

But you know what? I had lots of fun. I got to do some things I had never done before, like:

…and on and on. We didn’t win but we sure beat the crap out of the Careless Bears, and that’s something I’ll have with me for the rest of my life!

> See the flickr pool from the day
> See Dave’s photos of our team, Tanuki-Neko
> See my flickr set of the party + judging afterwards

Thoughts about IA’s role vs. title and the future of the UX group

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This isn’t what I threatened to blog about yesterday, but it’s on my mind now, so here goes.

How to structure a user experience team is something I’ve been thinking about as of late. Related to that, obviously, is a role of each member on the team. Currently, all members of the UX team at POP are called information architects, and we (including myself) all perform information architecture tasks day-to-day.

But that’s not all. I feel like we do so much more, and the label of IA doesn’t always adequately describe everything we do. We’re starting to see IA as a service or a task instead of a role. Other tasks might include user interface design, usability testing, user research, and here’s the part that begs for some clear delineation — strategizing with clients about their online marketing goals.

For a while now, many folks have been talking about the impact a designer can make on not only the design decisions, but on business decisions that clients make. In the product world, IDEO and Frog come to mind as the pioneers in this area. In the online world, Luke Wroblewski has been talking and presenting about this for quite some time.

The debate about IA’s title/definition is not exactly new, either. As long as I’ve been an IA (since 2000) all listservs and discussion platforms I’ve been part of see this topic flare up at maybe about once every three months. I never paid much attention, because I always liked the term IA and I understood it just fine for what I did for my career. Lucky for me, I suppose then, that the title of “IA” seems to have gained sufficient traction and acceptance inside the industry, and most people these days have a pretty consistent understanding of what an IA does.

And personally, this strategy thing never really came into my career path until the last year or two. I don’t doubt that it’s always been a part of some other IA professionals’ skillset or responsibility. But not me, and not most other IAs I have worked with. And if helping clients with figuring out their digital strategy was always part of being an IA, it was always done implicitly as far as I could tell — like it’s a byproduct of our real focus which is creating excellent user experience — rather than an explicit offering. But like I said, that’s been changing lately, at least at POP.

So I’ve learned that it’s important to recognize being a UX-minded strategist as one of the essential skills for a member on a UX team, along with being a good IA and researcher. Perhaps I should refer to this role as — hmm — UX strategist, or maybe take a step back and call it UX designer.

But here’s the dilemma. I also think that while anyone can learn the skill of providing strategy work for clients, not everyone would want to take their career in that direction. Some UX designers/IAs want to focus on solving complex UI problems rather than being involved in stakeholder-level meetings and presentations. I personally see that as a fork in the road for UX designers and IAs, and the two options are not hierarchical, but rather two equally valuable roles within a company with multiple offerings. I say it’s a dilemma because I think it’s a simple matter of personal interest. And because the two paths stem from the same set of basic UX design skills, one path should not be automatically associated with a higher pay grade. But most places consider strategy-related work to be of higher value than the “tactical” task of solving UI/IA problem, no matter how complex. (I think how you determine the value of each role should match the type of work your company is interested in taking on.)

I would stress that all UX designers should be familiar with and practice a certain level of strategy-minded approach. But as a UX designer’s career progresses, I think there can be different paths for someone who wants to focus on providing strategic value for clients from UX point of view, and someone who wants to focus on solving that great UI puzzle so users can get the job done easily and efficiently.

I don’t have the answers yet, and I’d imagine this will be a moving target because other issues play into how you create a structure for a team. Unless you’re starting from scratch with no ceiling, you’re always dealing with an optimal head count for your workload and the levels/skills/preferences of your existing team members.

But by recognizing that there is a fork in the road, and that it’s OK to have specialties under the umbrella of UX team, I feel like I’m starting to have a clearer idea of how to prepare ourselves in the coming months or years ahead. POP is definitely growing, and it’s exciting to be able to take part in shaping the company’s future.

Coming soon: another blog post

Monday, January 21, 2008

Yes, you read about it here first, folks. Yummy or Crummy will be adding another blog post here sometime in the very near future. Do hold your breath, and don’t sit back and relax, because before you know it my new blog post will kick you in the teeth and throw you down like your daddy never could, no matter how much he drank.

Steve Krug speaks at a SIGCHI meeting

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I checked out this event for three reasons:

  1. I never read Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, but I read/heard it being referenced so much, that I felt that I shouldn’t miss a chance to see someone like that for free.
  2. I wanted to take the opportunity to attempt to network and do a little bit of recruiting since we’re currently hiring for an IA.
  3. I’ve never been inside Adobe. I was just curious!

Steve KrugWell — mission accomplished, I suppose. #1… To be honest, Krug’s talk that promised to reveal secrets behind creating a “perfect web page” was a bit disappointing, because it turned out to be nothing more than hammering home two of the most basic IA/user-interface design points for an hour. The two pointers — clearly indicate where you are on the site by highlighting a nav item or using a breadcrumb trail, and use a clear and consistent page title on each page — are not revolutionary by any means, and they’re something most UI designers practice without thinking about them. In fact, we do so much more nuanced thinking to solve complex UI problems everyday. To be fair to Krug, it might be true that some designers forget the basics when we get caught up in small details — but I still think he was overstating how many websites really do miss these two mindnumbingly simple steps. And he was truly exaggerating when he implied — although he cleverly never said so — that having those two things will give you a perfect web page.

Then again, I have to remind myself that it was a free event after all, and his job is to educate the ones who may not be as familiar with the basics as others.

I still liked Krug as a speaker. He comes across as a genuine guy, and he reminds us all to always look at things from the user’s point of view. Also, he doesn’t speak with the Nielsen-esque conviction that you must follow all the rules to be successful. He recognizes that there are plenty of gray areas, that we all make mistakes, and that’s why we should frequently test and evaluate our work to catch the problems. For example, he was extremely kind to the site owner when we found that a “home” link on her site that we were viewing live as a group turned out to be a broken link. (At the end of his talk we all looked at URLs — suggested by the audience — to apply his two pointers.) Instead of singling out that site to talk about how important it is to check your site for broken links, Krug simply reminded us that everyone’s sites contain errors like that and more all the time. To him it’s not bad to make mistakes — but it is if you don’t find out by testing with users.

Oh, one more thing. He has not finished his “Site Navigation Identification Chart” — so that was not shared as promised at this time. He did say that his idea is based on plane spotting cards from World War II.

#2 was bit of a disappointment as well. I met a few people, but I didn’t quite get a chance to talk to as many people as I had hoped. If you are looking at this post and are looking for an IA opportunity, please send your resume to careers[at]pop.us.

#3 — I really didn’t see enough of Adobe to make any impression. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I guess it’s no surprise that it looked like any other corporate giant.

(By the way I illustrated his mug since I didn’t have any photo that I could legally use for this post…)

Collaboration gets it done

Monday, June 18, 2007

Here’s a list of skills essential for a designer to take on a more strategic role rather than a tactical one, from Luke Wroblewski’s Functioning Form.

I would add one more to this list:

Learn to build consensus.
It’s essential to approach these high-level meetings with stakeholders as a chance to get everyone on the same page. If you’re a good designer, your solution will always be gounded on long- and short-term business objectives. What separates you as a good strategist is your skill to corral disparate organizational needs and allow your client to shoot for the same goal as a group. If everyone feels like they’re heard during strategy phase, it builds a good foundation for when you get into actual design and implementation. The client will trust you and you will feel like you’re working together. But if you come off as an outside expert who’s telling them what’s best for them, there will always be somebody who will make a point of diagreeing with you, and you’re in for a rocky project. Sometimes it’s not even about design. It comes down to involving the client and making them feel invested in the process.

Something else about this topic in general… I’m just starting to learn how to lead these strategic meetings with high-level stakeholders, and I want to stress that this and other skills that Luke lists on his post are all learnable. I think many designers fall in the trap of thinking that they’re somehow more authentic than those in the suit talking strategy, and it’s not their role, or they can’t because “it’s not me” to speak in business terms. I myself used to associate “strategy” with something a little negative, because I felt that real value was in a solid design and implementation rather than just talking about something to death. But now I realize that in order to win bigger clients and have a meaningful impact as a designer, you have to share a strategic vision with the client as well. As someone who’s always been tactical, the learning curve has been pretty steep. Fortunately I have great coworkers who can teach me a few points and keep a very collaborative environment internally, so we’re able to brainstorm almost daily about how best to improve as a group in this direction. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to share some of the things we collectively learned.

SIFF 2007: The King of Kong

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Donkey Kong The King of Kong is the best film I’ve seen at SIFF 2007 so far. OK, so it’s only the fourth day, and I’ve been to five screenings so far. But this is one of those documentaries that you just cannot believe is true, because if you could make this up it wouldn’t be nearly as good. It’s not just the classic arcade thing that draws on your nostalgia, but it’s the good vs. evil and the spirit of fair competition that makes you root for the main character. It’s also very funny — watching these geeks talk about their passion is hilarious. The film has a perfect villain, and he continues to voluntarily supply unbelievable lines that you could not pay him to say. This film is precious. Not to trivilaize the hard work they put into making this, but the filmmakers were lucky to have found a story like this. And you’ll feel lucky to have seen it if you go. And I feel doubly lucky because POP has a DK arcade machine (my high score: measly 100,000+), and this movie is definitely going to affect my productivity in the weeks to come.

SIFF 2007 is here

Friday, May 25, 2007

Woo hoo! SIFF 2007 is finally here. POP is once again one of the grand sponsors, on the account of the work we have done for their box office application and the website. So once again, I was lucky enough to get a sponsor pass that gets me into all regular screenings. I’ll have to purchase tickets for special events like galas or forums, but for most part it’s great to be able to run around and see films without having to be too discriminating because of the price.

Son of Rambow The opening film this year was called Son of Rambow. It was a very, very cute film about crazy imaginations, a home-made movie, and friendship. The main characters were sweet, not tooth-achy but more in a satisfying way. And funny, too. Someone at work accurately described the humor as Rushmore-like.

I must say that McCaw Hall as the opening venue was very impressive, too. I know a lot of people were probably there on a free ticket just like I was, but SIFF still did a great job filling up the place, and creating a great excitement around the event. As usual, Gary Tucker did an awesome job of making the daunting task of reading the sponsor list funny and participatory. (This concludes the Yummy part of the post.)

So that was Thursday night… Lucretia and I decided to take advantage of the Memorial Day weekend by checking out some movies while the buzz from the opening night celebration is still strong. So Friday night, we went to see Pleasant Moments (Hezké chvilky bez záruky), a Czech film about a female shrink whose “endless parade” of patients seem to drive her crazy by the end. I must say, we did not enjoy this movie very much. Some people might say that this is exactly the style of movie to expect from a Czech director, but if that’s the case I’ll have to say, “No, thank you” to all movies from that country. I’m trying to stay somewhat open-minded about this, but shaky camera work, faded colors, circular plot with no real progression, bad acting, bad dialogue, and even bad translation combined to make a pretty bad experience for both me and Lucretia. When I went to see Once last week, the director was happy with the sometimes shaky camera movements because he was able to achieve authenticiy without making the film ugly. And I completely agree — it was a beautiful film. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about this film — it got ugly! But hey, don’t take my word for it. Go see for yourself!

Into the Woods, I go

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I get to spend the next two days at the beautiful Sleeping Lady lodge to attend Into the Woods. I’m not usually big on AIGA events, but the last one of these I went to (October 2004) was pretty fun. The focus of this event is on fun, rejuvenation, and camaraderie. Not the best timing for me, since things are crazy at work and I can’t exactly relax and forget about work 100% (leaving for another trip early Sunday morning), but I’ll do my best to have fun. Very grateful for POP for generously sending the entire design team!

How to Draw Cartoon Animation

Saturday, April 7, 2007

How to Draw Cartoon Animation

Recently we had a swap-meet at work. It was a ton of fun. I didn’t have much to offer, so that made it a bit difficult to acquire good stuff. But some people were more into getting rid of their stuff than acquiring new, so that helped.

One of my “wins” is this book — How to Draw Cartoon Animation by Preston J. Blair. The cover is different, but the inside looks exactly the same as what’s featured on this blog about animation archive. There are some more photos on my flickr.

I like this book because it really breaks down drawing into basic blocks and steps. You see the end result and it’s hard to do that with your eye and your imagination only. But seeing these small parts that eventually make up such animated characters helps you feel confident about learning how to draw. I’m not a huge fan of American style comic books and animation, but the techniques in this book can be applied to a more broad style of drawing. It’s no wonder that newer editions keep getting printed, and it continues to have impact on what we see today.

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