Thoughts on Father’s Day and Interaction Models

by Paul D'Alessandro on June 20, 2010

There is this notion in society that events or interaction models center around a single person.  No where is this more true than with the concept of Father’s Day.  While the name of the event insinuates it is a day around one person it is in fact a day of family; father’s and their children doing things together.  Television is another area where I think this notion has been misunderstood.  If we look back at the history of television it is a very social event.  People even have parties around major television events like the final episode of classic shows or big sporting events.  Watching television alone is sometimes analogized to riding the chairlift alone in skiing.  There simply needs to be someone else there with which to share the moment.

While television in the 1950s through 1980s in the United States was a very social event, in recent years the advent of more screens and the move of TV onto the computer through IPTV has caused it to lose much of its social capital.  There is however recent indication that through a popular service and a new product the social interaction model is emerging again.

I think we have almost all been influenced in some way by Facebook.  It is truly become cross generational as even seniors now use it to reconnect after their 50th high school reunions and grandparents watch their grandchildren grow.  The 1:some, 1:many, some:some and many:many types of interactions that Facebook is making possible are changing the isolated nature of the computing experience into one where social is the new norm (again).

However, even more profound has been what I have recently observed around the new tablet space.  I really think that there is something magical about a 9.7″+ screen size.  What struck me at first was that everyone I knew who had an iPad wanted to show it off.  However, what I soon came to realize was that it was not the gee whiz of the device that they were showing off but instead the content on the device.  Whereas the small screen size of the smart phone has challenged the notion of it as a social appliance, the iPad and tablets will thrive by being able to once again share and be social around content.

What is most important to understand here is that the very notion of the Internet is changing as we speak.  What was in its infancy (1995-2000) primarily a broadcast tool became a simple interaction tool (2001-2007).  Today, the notion of the internet is that of a true collaboration tool far beyond simple interactions.  Witness the reality of youth dropping voice plans for data only on their mobile devices.  Consider the fact that the iPad has already eclipsed the Android and Blackberry platforms in terms of daily web page views.  We have moved from a centricity around the individual to the realization of the community/collaboration nature of the Internet.  Happy Fathers Day!

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The Kin – A Third Generation Social Media Device Failure

by Paul D'Alessandro on April 20, 2010


Since the earlier part of the last decade, mobile device designers have attempted without success to bring a dedicated social media device to the thumbs of the Twitterazzi.  The first generation included multiple iterations of Danger’s Sidekick from 2002 until 2008.  While it became a pseudo hit with a niche group it never took off with any serious momentum.  After Microsoft’s acquisition of Danger in 2008 the product suffered major pain with the infamous data loss incident of October 2009.  The second generation of social media devices came from Motorola on September 10th, 20091.  It was on that day that the Motoblur interface for the Android platform was announced.  Motoblur is a pure social media interface of gadgets on top of Android to facilitate “easy” picture taking, texting, sharing and general socializing.  To date, this attempt too has been rather unsuccessful having been plagued with battery issues, data latency problems, technical glitches and a general lack of adoption.

Which brings us to the Kin.  Some might argue that the Kin really is not a third generation but a forced rebranding as a consequence of the data backup failure of October 2009 that brought Sidekick to death’s doorstep.  Others might argue that it is a faint attempt to make Windows Phone 7 relevant to a younger demographic.  Regardless of the reason Kin is different.  Kin comes in multiple form factors to better suit users needs.  One version is definitely the more “female” of the two, looking more like a compact fit for a purse.  The other more candy bar like, or the male version.  Of course Microsoft will never say this so as not to limit audiences but who would not recognize this?  Spot and Loop are a step in the right direction.  Loop is the Kin’s scrolling interface for consuming your stream of social media.  The idea seems to overcome some of the problems with Motoblur’s gadget based interface by being more natural to the user.  Spot is an ever present green dot that users can think about as their “attach button”.  Use it to drag whatever content you like into your choice of distribution channel (Twitter, Facebook, SMS, MMS, etc.).

The biggest issue is not the Kin itself but the entire notion of a social media device.  It will be a failure or at best a niche product, never achieving the grand aspirations of Microsoft.  There are three major points in understanding why this will happen:

  1. It is wrong to design, position, advertise and sell these devices as the center of ones social universe.  Social media, as known by any company who has launched a successful campaign is not about the campaign itself but instead about giving people something to talk about.  Today’s devices are more contextually aware than ever before (where am I, who am I talking too, what is next in my day).  Why are these device manufacturers insisting upon adhering to the old notion of have experience – capture experience – share experience?  Unleash the device!  These users have already demonstrated their willingness to share with applications like Foursquare and Tripit.  Don’t make them the center of the social universe, make them the silent conspirator.
  2. Single use devices don’t work in this space.  Someday mobile device designers are going to wakeup to the fact that the center of our computing needs no longer is the desktop or laptop but the mobile device.  We have high expectations.  If we don’t have them going in then we quickly realize them shortly thereafter.  The largest criticism of Motoblur is that the interface inhibits the broader use of the smartphone or the overall Android application space.
  3. Functionality in the name of simplicity is not simplicity.  Remember Bob?  Bob was the Microsoft disaster of 1995 that put a simple user interface on top of an existing user interface (Windows 95) to “simplify” it.  The designer’s battlefield is riddled with the carnage of attempts to create simplicity through layers of functionality.  The key to simplicity is not doing in 3 steps what you can do in 2 but instead finding a way to do it in 1 (or zero as inferred by the silent conspirator notion above).

Someday we will land on a way for social media to thread its way into the fabric of our life more effectively.  I don’t expect the Kin to bring about that day.

  1. A rather ominous choice of days in Motorola history as this coincides with their badly timed sale of the government business in 2001

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Your People First

by Paul D'Alessandro on April 14, 2010


Creative Commons License photo credit: steenslag

One of the more frustrating aspects of experience design is overcoming inherently bad teams.  I am purposefully using the word “teams” and not organization or firms here as a team is what successfully delivers an experience.  Maybe the best way for me to illuminate this point is the question I often get when counseling on college campuses.  Inevitably, I am asked “What classes should I focus my studies on?”  So, I take the opportunity to quiz the student, “What are you looking at for your options?”.  The response 99% of the time includes design, strategy and technology classes but almost never organizational behavior classes.

Why organizational behavior?  Because your delivered experience is ultimately a reflection of your people.  Furthermore, your people are a product of what you incent them to be.  No, I am not talking solely about monetary incentive (which is the common misunderstanding).  I am talking about giving them clear line of sight to the impact of their efforts.  Do they truly get that each of their actions results in a cumulative perception of the organization?  Are they empathetic to the plight of their customers?
A great example of where this understanding often breaks down is in the medical profession.  As noted in the graph below1 based on the Jefferson Scale of Physician Empathy, somewhere around the 3rd year of medical school physicians for the most part lose touch with their patients and become less empathetic to their needs.
The implications of this disturbing read on one profession are both profound and simple to translate.  Challenge yourself to start by soul searching about what you are doing with your “team” as you look to deliver a truly great experience.  Incent them correctly.  Give them clear line of sight to the impact and fruits of their efforts.  Then focus on the rest of the opportunity.