The Castro brothers and the Mandelbaum boys

Monday, February 25, 2008

The recent news about the 81-year-old Fidel Castro stepping down as the president of Cuba only to be replaced by his 76-year-old brother Raul reminded me of a Seinfeld episode.

Season 8, episode #151: The English Patient. Jerry faces the Mandelbaum boys, who are all comically competitive while being, well, old.

I can almost hear Raul saying, “It’s go time… Oooh! My back!”

(This is the only clip I could find on YouTube… The second half includes scenes from “The Blood” episode in season 9 where Izzy and his son reappear as Jerry’s personal trainer.)

Script supervisor is like a UX designer

Friday, February 22, 2008

OK, maybe not exactly. But that is what I thought when I heard a little story on NPR’s Morning Edition about “script supervisors” on movie sets. Their job is to ensure that continuity mistakes do not happen in between takes. We’ve all seen it — a dinner scene where a steak magically regains its size even as the character munches away.

A script supervisors on the set prevent mistakes like this by sweating the details, and their end goal is to provide a seamless experience for the viewer. If you notice a mistake while watching a movie, it’s that much more difficult to immerse yourself back into the story. They are most successful when nobody notices the result of their hard work.

This reminds me of my own job, where a bulk of my effort is spent on making sure that no user gets tripped up on their way to accomplishing a task on a website. Like script supervisors, I’m successful when nobody remembers the site for being frustrating to use.

And just like when they make mistakes, it’s a lot easier to point them out than to know how to prevent the mistakes in the first place!

Evangelicals have smaller… you know what

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There seems to be plenty of critiques of this year’s presidential candidate websites. Here’s something I noticed for myself.

While I was looking for Hillary’s and Obama’s speeches from last week, I observed that Clinton’s site was smaller than Obama’s in width! At where I work, we have been targeting 1024×768 for quite some time. Obama’s site seems to fit that resolution, and Clinton’s, while bigger than the next smaller threshold of 800×600, was considerably smaller — about 100 pixels narrower than Obama’s.

Obama screenshot

Clinton screenshot

The difference of 100 pixels makes Clinton’s site look just a bit more crammed and busy than her rival’s., by comparison, benefits from the extra white space by communicating (at least to me) a sense of confidence.

So it got me curious — I went to the two other remaining candidates’ websites. Black? You really went with black for your background color? Anyway, the screen resolution is even bigger than Barack’s. Guess we know who the real man is!

McCain screenshot

Huckabee screenshot

And here’s the punchline… Mike Huckabee’s site targets 800×600! Over a year ago, it was reported that only 17% of all monitors support up to 800×600. It says something about how mainstream this guy is aspiring to get, huh?

Yummy for Obama, crummy for Huckabee! And if Obama and McCain win nominations for their respective party, you know their websites’ size really mattered.

Obama vs. Clinton in Seattle

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Obama handed Clinton a serious beating in Washington this Saturday. It was a bit surprising — I thought with the support from both WA senators, Clinton would do a little better. But Obama clocked Hillary in every county in Washington. Whoa.

I missed the chance to go see either one of them when they were in town last week. But luckily for me, the web is full of other people’s recordings. I caught a little bit of Hillary’s speech on NPR tonight, but I missed most of it, so I was glad to find hers as well as Obama’s on The Stranger’s Slog.

Here’s Hillary’s.

…And here’s Barack’s.

If I could vote, I’d probably go for Obama — because every time I hear him talk, I almost get shivers from the charisma in his voice. After 8 years of a fucking chimp (with apologies to actual chimps) in the office, I feel like someone like Obama will have such an impact. He will wake up this nation, if enough people listen.

But then again, after I heard some of Clinton’s speech, I couldn’t help but respect her as well. She sure is one smart and courageous woman. I hope they will both continue the good flight (while keeping it clean). And who knows? Maybe a Obama-Clinton (or vice-versa) ticket may not be such a farfetched dream.

Lesson of the day: don’t ever buy a hair product at a salon or a barbershop, even at a cheap-o place like Rudy’s

Monday, February 11, 2008

OMG, I was too much of a chicken to tell them to take it back after they told me the price. There’s a reason those shelves are always fully stocked.

I was so shocked, so I looked up its retail price on Amazon, and it’s about what I paid. So I guess I feel a little better knowing that it’s not like Rudy’s was trying to rip me off too much. But come on! It cost more than the haircut itself!

On a positive note, I can carry this on a plane without ever worrying about getting it confiscated. It’s tiny!

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.


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

3 months to go until baby

Monday, February 4, 2008

We have about 3 months left in the pregnancy. When faced with all the things we had to buy/prepare, I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t even ready to think about our baby. We needed to take care of ourselves before we stocked up on the baby stuff.

There were both practical and emotional reasons. On the practical side, there were (and still are) a bunch of things that needed to be cleared out or moved before we have the baby. So it’s a matter of preparing for the baby preparation. On the emotional side, I felt like we needed to get stuff that we always wanted, since after the baby we’d be less likely and willing to spend money on ourselves. Before the priority completely shifts to the baby, I wanted to make sure to take care of ourselves, so that we don’t feel depressed about not having those things because of the baby, etc.

So — we got a new dining room set (a cheap one from IKEA, but still the one that fits our kitchen better). We replaced the living room rug. We bought a new futon mattress and finally got rid of the lumpy one I’d had for like 10 years. And the last piece to complete this effort came in this weekend — a new bedroom set.

It’s frigging huge — we measured every set we looked at, because of how small our bedroom is. We were confident that this new piece would fit in fine, and it does — actually better than we estimated. But still, a big headboard, solid side tables, and a tall dresser (to replace the double dressers we had) fill up the room quite a bit. We love it, and we’ll be sleeping on it as soon as the smell of the varnish goes away. Right now, it’s a bit strong — enough to make me uncomfortable to think about Lucretia breathing it in.

But all “adult” purchases are complete… Now we have 3 months to think about all things baby, all the time!

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.

Thanks, flood water

Saturday, December 8, 2007

This past Sunday and Monday, Seattle (and pretty much rest of the northwest) was hit with heavy rain that caused flood in many areas. We’ve been in our house long enough to know we had a leak in the front concrete stoop, but we failed to protect it once again. The water came in from the unfinished area of the basement, and it traveled to the lowest part of the house, which we unfortunately learned is our office.

I was so freaking busy at work this week, so I didn’t have time to do anything about it — which was super frustrating because by Thursday we could smell the mold growing on the carpet. Lucretia had wisely moved some things off the floor by Monday evening, so not much was damaged. But we knew the carpet had to go.

So today, I finally had some time to get down there and rip up the smelly carpet. First I had to move everything to the TV room, which is also in the basement but seems to be safe from flooding because of its slightly higher location.

Here are two photos to compare what the office used to look like, and how it looks now. The concrete floor underneath is looking decent, a small consolation because we didn’t know what kind of nasty mess we would find under the soggy goodness.

Office before the flood

Office after the flood

There’s still a lot of work left — we have to scrub the floor, rip up the molding, install new molding, and paint the floor. We’ll probably keep it uncarpeted until we figure out the leak situation.