Wheelchair Complexity

Wheelchair Complexity

So my approach to enterprise architecture, product design, and customer service, as many of you know, is plan and simple, User-centric!

Innovating, building things, servicing customers, and communicating needs to be done in a way that is useful and usable–not overly complex and ridiculous.

The other day, I saw a good example of a product that was not very user-centric.

It was a type of wheelchair, pictured here in blue.

And as you can see it is taking 2 men and a lady quite a bit of effort to manipulate this chair.

This little girl standing off to the side is sort of watching amusingly and in amazement.

What is ironic is that the wheelchair is supposed to be made for helping disabled people.

Yet, here the wheelchair can’t even be simply opened/closed without a handful of healthy people pulling and pushing on the various bars, levers, and other pieces.

If only Apple could build a wheelchair–it would be simple and intuitive and only take one finger to do everything, including play iTunes in the background. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Google Hypocrisy?

Google Hypocrisy?

Google, which touts itself as the one that “organize[s] the world’s information and make[s] it universally accessible and usable,” ended its Reader product on Monday, July 1.

The RSS reader was a terrific tool for aggregating content feeds on the Internet (and Google is a terrific company that benefits the whole world’s thirst for knowledge).

With Google Reader you could subscribe to tens or hundreds of news services, blogs, and other information feeds and read it on your desktop or mobile device.

Reader represented the Google mission itself by pulling together all this information and making it available in one reading place, simply and easily for anyone.

While the Goolge line is that they killed Reader, because of a declining user base, I find this less then credible, since anecdotally it seems like a very popular that is helpful to people. Moreover, Google could’ve chosen to competitively enhance this product rather than shut it down.

So why did they end a great product that literally fits their mission perfectly?

We can only surmise that the ad clicks weren’t there (and thus neither was the profit) or perhaps Google felt this product was cannibalizing attention from their other products like Google News (a limited aggregator) or from some of their paying ad sponsors or partners feeding other products like Google Glass.

We may never know the answer, but what we do know is that, in this case, Google sold out on it’s core mission of organizing and providing information and abandoned their adoring userbase for Reader.

Feedly and other more clunky readers are out there, but Google Reader is a loss for the information needy and desirous and a misstep by Google.

RIP Reader, I think we will yet see you, in some form or fashion, yet again. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Laurie Pink)

Bathroom De/sign Winner

Bathroom_signage

This is a winner to me when it comes to smartest bathroom signage.

 

From graphic designer, Aliza Dzik.

 

I like that the signage identifies the wo/men bathrooms very cleverly and simply (and without any obscene graphics).

 

Intelligence + Simplicity = User-centric

 

Love it!

 

(Source Photo: here)

Describing Meal Time

Dietary_guidelinesjpg

The USDA released their new dietary guidelines yesterday (2 June). 

And while there is no surprise in the recommendations that we eat more fruits and vegetables; what was refreshing was the new imagery for conveying the information.
Gone is the Food Pyramid and in is the Food Plate. 
This new visualization overall makes a lot more sense since:
1) As the Wall Street Journal stated today (3 June 2011), “People don’t eat off a pyramid, they eat off a plate.”  In other words, this is something we can relate to at meal times.  
2) The plate here is used like a pie chart to easily show what portion of our meals should come from each food category. For example, you can clearly see that fruits and veggies makes up a full half of the plate. (Boy, I’m sure there are a lot of smiling moms and dads out there today, saying I told you so!) Also the role of protein in a healthy diet is reaffirmed with almost a full quadrant itself. 
I am not sure why this initiative, according to the WSJ, cost about $2.9 million and three years to accomplish, since the representation seems fairly straight forward (unless some of that went to modifying the nutritional guidelines themselves).
In any case, I think we can all be glad they got rid of the 2005 version of the food pyramid that “left many baffled” as to what they were trying to say.
Still even in this new visualization, there are confusing aspects, for example:
1) Greater than a Pie–The Dairy piece is separate and off to the right of the plate. I would imagine that this is supposed to represent something like a glass of milk, but it is odd in this picture, since it takes away from the pie chart presentation of the plate where theoretically all the food groups on the “pie plate” would add up to 100%.  Here, however, the Dairy plate (or glass) is off to the side, so we have something like 120% total–confusing!
2) Missing Percentages–The actual recommended percentages are not noted in the diagram. This type of information had previously been provided in the 1992 Food Pyramid through the recommended servings. Where did they go?  I would suggest they annotate the pie slices for each food group with the actual recommended percentages, so that we have the imagery of the slices, but also have a target number to go with. Helpful, if you are counting your calories (and food types) on a diet. 
In short, information visualization can be as important as the information itself–with information, having quality data is critical or else you have “garbage in, garbage out.”  Similarly, with information visualization, you can take perfectly good information and portray it poorly and confuse the heck out of folks–in essence making the resulting information into potential garbage again. 
This is why efforts such as the Choose MyPlate are important to help us communicate important information effectively to people, in this case so they can eat and live healthier lives. 
I think the new Food Plate is generally effective at presenting the information and I support this effort wholly, but I’m still looking forward to version 3.1.

>The User-centric Web

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David Siegel has written a book called “Pull: The Power of the Semantic Web To Transform Your Business” (Dec. 2009).

The main idea is that businesses (suppliers) need to adapt to a new world, where rather than them “push” whatever data they want to us when they want, we (consumers) will be able to get to the information we want and “pull” it whenever we need it (i.e. on demand).

Siegel identifies three types of data online of which less than 1% is currently visible web pages:

  • Public Web—what “we normally see when searching and browsing for information online: at least 21 billion pages indexed by search engines.
  • Deep Web—includes the “large data repositories that requires their internal searches,” such as Facebook, Craigslist, etc.—“about 6 trillion documents generally not seen by search engines.”
  • Private Web—data that “we can only get access to if we qualify: corporate intranets, private networks, subscription based services, and so on—about 3 trillion pages also not seen by search engines.”

In the future, Siegel sees an end of push (i.e. viewing just the Public Web) and instead a new world of pull (i.e. access to the Deep Web).

Moreover, Siegel builds on the “Semantic Web” definition of Sir Tim Berners-Lee who coined the term in the 1990s, as a virtual world where:

  • Data is unambiguous (i.e. means exactly the same things to anyone or any system).
  • Data is interconnected (i.e. it lives online in a web of databases, rather than in incompatible silos buried and inaccessible).
  • Data has an authoritative source (i.e. each piece of information has a unique name, single source, and specified terms of distribution).

While, I enjoyed browsing this book, I wasn’t completely satisfied:

  1. It’s not a tug of war between push and pullthey are not mutually exclusive. Providers push information out (i.e. make information available), and at the same time, consumers pull information in (access it on-demand).
  2. It’s not just about data anymore—it’s also about the applications (“apps”). Like data, apps are pushed out by suppliers and are pulled down by consumers. The apps make the data friendly and usable to the consumer. Rather than providing raw data or information overload, apps can help ready the data for end-user consumption.

All semantics aside, getting to information on the web is important—through a combination of push and pull—but ultimately, making the information more helpful to people through countless of innovative applications is the next phase of the how the web is evolving.

I would call this next phase, the “user-centric web.” It relies on a sound semantic web—where data is unambiguous, interconnected, and authoritative—but also takes it to the next level, serving up sound semantic information to the end-user through a myriad of applications that make the information available in ever changing and intelligent ways. This is more user-centric, and ultimately closer to where we want to be.

>Five Ways To Motivate Employees With Meaning

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By Andy Blumenthal
(Published in Information Management)


Employees need to be motivated to perform. No, not just with money, and not even with a pat of the back (although both can go a long way to demonstrate appreciation for a job well done).

People need to know that their efforts have meaning and effect—i.e. that they are not in vain. This can have some of the biggest impact of all on motivating behavior, because people inherently want to be productive human beings and for their life to have some ultimate significance. This concept was best portrayed by Victor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor who wrote In Search of Meaning, and it is the basis of logotherapy, which has been shown to help sufferers of terminal illnesses better cope with the remainder of their lives.

When people at work feel that they have no chance to succeed, they may cease to find meaning in their efforts. This can lead them to decrease their engagement at work instead of going all out to prove themselves. As the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article, this is what happens when golfers compete with extremely superior rivals like Tiger Woods, and they just “cave.”

Why this de-motivational reaction from people who care about doing their best?

From an IT perspective, this is like an Integrated Definition Function Model (IDEF 0) that examines input, process, output, and outcome: When loss is viewed as a predestined outcome, the process is seen as meaningless, and the input therefore as wasted. In the face of meaninglessness, people recoil to save their energy for something they feel that they can really have a shot at, rather than invest in something that they see as going nowhere.

If the above is true, then, why do some people “fight to the death” when their “backs are against the wall”?

My grandfather used to say, “Where there is life, there is hope.” Some people are able to confront what seem like insurmountable obstacles, and fight their way forward anyway.

This is the core theme of the “Rocky” character and the incredible success of the movie series. In every movie, Rocky represents the determination to succeed against all odds.

I believe that the essence of life is the search for an opportunity to make a meaningful difference, and when one is able to make a difference, that is inherently motivating. (And so of course, the opposite is true.)

So if you are a leader, and your employees are demoralized, how can you engage them so that they feel like their work makes a real and significant difference? Here are ways that work:

  • Visualize the end-state: Articulate for people a compelling vision and a clear set of goals as well as why they are important.
  • Take an incremental approach: Show people an incremental path forward; small wins can add up to big success.
  • Focus on the customer: Look together at positive downstream effects of their work on their customers (and other stakeholders).
  • Make use of their work products: No one wants to build “shelfware.” Demonstrate that you really do appreciate their efforts by actually using the work they generate.
  • Be a mensch: Treat people according to the Golden Rule; for example, it’s really a small thing to say “please,” “thank you,” ad even an occasional “how are you today?” By treating people with respect, you show that they are valued personally and professionally.

As a leader, what better way to motivate and drive personal and organizational success then to provide genuine opportunity to contribute of ourselves in a meaningful way, in a way where our efforts have an impact, are valued and valuable, and where everyone can succeed.

>Stairway to User-centric Heaven

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This video was sent to me and I do not know the original source (except VW), but it’s great.

It shows what happens when you take the most ordinary daily activity (in this case a simple flight of stairs) and make it user-centric.

Even more, people will walk “the extra mile” when something is appealing to them.

Notice how an unused staircase becomes the preferred method–down and even up–over the escalator when people have a user-centric reason to switch.

This is brilliant and the true essence of what it means to enterprise architect our organizations, products, services, policies, plans, and so forth in a way that people can really use.

Further, technology is not only bits and bytes, but any tool we use to get the job done.

Life truly can be healthy, meaningful, and fun when it’s user-centric, visionary, and innovative.

>The Need for Control and Enterprise Architecture

>Human beings have many needs and these have been well documented by prominent psychologists like Abraham Maslow.

At the most basic level, people have physiological needs for food, water, shelter, and so on. Then “higher-level” needs come into play including those for safety, socializing, self-esteem, and finally self-actualization.

The second order need for safety incorporates the human desire for feeling a certain degree of control over one’s life and that there is, from the macro perspective, elements of predictability, order, and consistency in the world.

Those of us who believe in G-d generally attribute “real” control over our lives and world events to being in the hands of our creator and sustainer. Nevertheless, we see ourselves having an important role to play in doing our part—it is here that we strive for control over our lives in choosing a path and working hard at it. A lack of any semblance of control over our lives makes us feel like sheer puppets without the ability to affect things positively or negatively. We are lost in inaction and frustration that whatever we do is for naught. So the feeling of being able to influence or impact the course of our lives is critical for us as human beings to feel productive and a meaningful part of the universe that we live in.

How does this impact technology?

Mike Elgan has an interesting article in Computerworld, 2 January 2009, called “Why Products Fail,” in which he postulates that technology “makers don’t understand what users want most: control.”

Of course, technical performance is always important, but users also have a fundamental need to feel in control of the technology they are using. The technology is a tool for humans and should be an extension of our capabilities, rather than something like in the movie Terminator that runs rogue and out of the control of the human beings who made them.

When do users feel that the technology is out of their control?

Well aside from getting the blue screen of death, when they are left waiting for the computer to do something (especially the case when they don’t know how long it will be) and when the user interface is complicated, not intuitive, and they cannot find or easily understand how to do what they want to do.

Elgan says that there are a number of elements that need to be built into technology to help user feel in control.

Consistetency—“predictability…users know what will happen when they do something…it’s a feeling of mastery of control.”

Usability—“give the user control, let them make their own mistakes, then undo the damage if they mess something up” as opposed to the “Microsoft route—burying and hiding controls and features, which protects newbies from their own mistakes, but frustrates the hell out of experienced users.”

Simplicity—“insist on top-to-bottom, inside-and-outside simplicity,” rather than “the company that hides features, buries controls, and groups features into categories to create the appearance of few options, with actually reducing options.”

Performance/Stability—“everyone hates slows PCs. It’s not the waiting. It’s the fact that the PC has wrenched control from the user during the time that the hourglass is displayed.”

Elgan goes on to say that vendors’ product tests “tend to focus on enabling user to ‘accomplish goals…but how the user feels during the process is more important than anything else.”

As a huge proponent of user-centricity, I agree that people have an inherent need to feel they are in some sort of control in their lives, with the technology they use, and over the direction that things are going in (i.e. enterprise architecture).

However, I would disagree that how the user feels is more important than how well we accomplish goals; mission needs and the ability of the user to execute on these must come first and foremost!

In performing our mission, users must be able to do their jobs, using technology, effectively and efficiently. So really, it’s a balance between meeting mission requirements and considering how users feel in the process.

Technology is amazing. It helps us do things better, faster, and cheaper that we could ever do by ourselves. But we must never forget that technology is an extension of ourselves and as such must always be under our control and direction in the service of a larger goal.

>Gobbledygook and Enterprise Architecture

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The premise of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is to transform traditional EA, which is often user-blind, and which develops “artifacts” that are difficult for the end user to understand and apply, and to instead produce truly useful and usable information products and governance services.

User-centric EA is about taking the gobbledygook out of architecture and making it clear and simple for the end user to understand.

The User-centric EA approach has a lot in common and is consistent with the drive to make federal communications, in general, more straightforward and understandable.

Government Executive magazine, July 2008 reports that “Congress is on a crusade to clean up the language in federal documents.”

The Plain language in Government Communications Act covers benefit and tax forms, letters, publications, notices and instructions sent to the public. Under best practices mandated by the bill, federal document drafters would have to tailor communications to targeted readers, employ personal pronouns, offer examples, and use the active voice.

Spread government wide, such fixes would save agencies, citizens, and businesses billions of dollars in time and effort, backers say. The prospect of simplified interaction with the government has won the proposed legislation backing from influential organizations such as AARP and the National Small Business Association.”

The goal of the “plain language” legislation is to kill off the “clause-ridden federal guidance that former vice President Al Gore used to deride as ‘gobbledygook’ [in exchange for]…lean prose and declarative sentences.”

Oh, music to my ears and eyes!

Unfortunately, there are still quite a few naysayers out there when it comes to making things easy.

So, “by design the plain language legislation is modest. The bill exempts internal communications. And to avoid opposition from agency lawyers, it does not cover federal regulations.”

Why would anyone want to make things more difficult or NOT User-centric?

Frankly and with all due respect, the explanations I read—about plain language causing existing policy to become muddled or about having a one-size-fits-all policy not working—sounded like more gobbledygook.

Some people argue that by “oversimplifying” documents, you are leaving out important information or missing shades of meaning. However, it’s the job of professionals to communicate effectively regardless of the complexity. Put simply, how can taxpayers comply with laws and regulations if they don’t understand them?

Plain language and user-centric is the way to go in serving our citizens and our organizations.

P.S. Hats off to Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language.

>Cognitive Styles and Enterprise Architecture

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We are all familiar with personalizing websites like Yahoo.com to make them more appealing, functional, and easy to navigate.

Now, according to MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2008, websites are being personalized not by the person, but rather by systems “that detect a user’s cognitive style” and changes the website accordingly

What is cognitive style?

Cognitive style is how a person thinks. Some people are more simplistic, others more detail-oriented, some like charts and graphs, and some like to be able to see and get to peer advice.

Why is cognitive style important?

Well, if we can figure out a person’s way of thinking and what appeals to them, then we can tailor websites to them and make them more useful, useable, and more effective at selling to them.

“Initial studies show that morphing a website to suit different types of visitors could increase the site’s sales by about 20 percent.”

So what’s new about this, haven’t sites like Amazon been tailoring their offering to users for quite some time?

Amazon and other sites “offer personalized features…drawing from user profiles, stored cookies, or long questionnaires.” The new method is based instead on system adaptation “within the first few clicks on the website by analyzing each user’s patterns of clicks.”

With cognitive style adaptation, “suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need.” Yet, the user may not even realize the website has been personalized to him.

“In addition to guessing each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive style.” So there is learning going on by the system and the system gets better at matching sites to user types over time!

If we overlay the psychological dimension such as personality types and cognitive styles to web design and web adaptation, then we can individuate and improve websites for the end-user and for the site owner who is trying to get information or services out there.

Using cognitive styles to enhance website effectiveness is right in line with User-centric Enterprise Architecture that seeks to provide useful and usable EA products and services. Moreover, EA must learn to appreciate and recognize different cognitive styles of its users, and adapt its information presentation accordingly. This is done, for example, in providing three levels of EA detail for different types of end-users, such as profiles for executives, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for analysts. This concept could be further developed to actually modify EA products for the specific end-user cognitive styles. While this could be considerable work and must be balanced against the expected return, it really comes down to tailoring your product to your audience and that is nothing new.