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)

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.

>Information-Free Is Invaluable

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Tree-of-knowledge

At first I admit it, I didn’t really get Google; I mean what is this G-o-o-g-l-e and the shtick about “doing search”?

But the writing was on the wall all along with their incredible mission statement of: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

So search is the just the beginning of a long list of now amazingly valuable Google properties and services (now valued with a market capitalization of almost $169 Billion):

– Search (Google Search, Google Search Appliance, Google Desktop)
– Cloud Computing (Google Apps Engine, Google Storage for Developers, Chrome Notebooks)
– Advertising Technology (Adwords, AdSense, DoubleClick)
– Website Analytics (Google Analytics)
– Operating Systems (Chrome OS, Android, Honeycomb)
– Web Browser (Google Chrome)
– Productivity Software (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Apps Suite)
– Social Computing (Google Wave, Google Talk, Orkut, Buzz)
– News Aggregator (Google News, Google Reader)
– Translation (Google Translate)
– Telecommunication (Google Voice)
– Clean Energy (Google Energy)
– Geospatial (Google Maps, Google Earth)
– Video (YouTube)
– Photos (Picassa)
– Electronic Books (Google Books)
– Blogs (Blogger)

What Google seems to intuitively get is that their free powerful web services creates invaluable consumer market share and mind share–like a honey pot. Once the consumer comes on board–like good little bees, they are ripe for companies to reach out to via advertising for all and every sort of product and service under the sun. And according to 1998 revenue breakdown, as much as 99% of Google’s revenue is associated with advertising!

Google is brilliant and successful for a number of reasons:

1) Google is consumer-oriented and knows how to attract the crowd with free services, and they let others (the advertisers) concern themselves with monetizing them.
2) Google is incredibly innovative and provides the breath and depth of technology services (from cloud to productivity to search to video) that consumers need and that are easy for them to use.
3) Google is information rich, but they share this broadly and freely with everyone. While some have complained about the privacy implications of this information bounty; so far, Google seems to have managed to maintain a healthy balance of information privacy and publicity.
4) Google values their people, as their “owners manual” reads: “our employees…are everything. We will reward them and treat them well.” And to help retain their talent, Google just gave their employees a 10% raise in January.
5) Google wants to be a force for good–their creed is “Don’t be evil.” They state in their manual: “We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served- as shareholders and in all other ways–by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forgo some short-term gains.”

Do not underestimate Google–as the Wall Street Journal, 23-24 April, 2011 summarizes today, they are not a conventional company.

At the end of the day, if Google is successful in their business of making information universally accessible and useful, then we are talking about making an invaluable difference in the lives of humanity–where information builds on itself, and knowledge–like the Tree of Knowledge in the Book of Genesis–is alive and constantly growing for all to benefit from in our Garden of Eden, we call Earth.

(Source Picture: Honeybird)

>Paper Catalogs Have Seen Their Day

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Every day in the mail comes oodles of consumer catalogs: printed on quality stock paper, glossy, and many almost as thick as the community phone book.

Often, right in the mailroom, there is a huge recycle bin and there just about everybody drops the catalogues from their mailbox straight into the “trash.”

Who needs these expensive and wasteful printed catalogues that typically go from mailbox to recycle bin or garbage can without anyone even breaking the binding on them? With the Internet, the same information—and more—is available online. Moreover, online, you can comparison shop between stores for the best prices, shipping, and return policies, and you can typically get product and vendor ratings too to make sure that you are not buying a dud from a dud!

Despite this, according to the Wall Street Journal, 16 October 2009, “more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the U.S. last year–about 56 for every American.”

Read again—56 for every American! This is obscene.

Here are some basic statistics on the wastefulness of these catalogs:

“Catalogs account for 3% of the roughly 80 million tons of paper products.”

“Making paper accounted for 2.4% of U.S. energy use in 2006.”

“The paper typically used in catalogs contains about 10% recycled content…far less than paper in general, which typically contains about 30%…[and] for newspapers, the amount of recycled content is roughly 40%.”

“The average U.S catalog retailer reported mailing about 21 million catalogs in 2007.”

“The National Directory of Catalogs…lists 12,524 catalogs.”

YET…

“Only 1.3% of those catalogs generated a sale.”

So why do printed paper catalogs persist?

Apparently, “because glossy catalog pages still entice buyers in a way that computer images don’t.” Moreover, marketers say that catalogs at an average cost of slightly over a $1.20 each “drive sales at web sites.”

And of course, the U.S. Postal Service “depends on catalogs as an important source of revenue.”

However, in the digital era, it is time for us to see these paper catalogs get converted en-mass into e-catalogs. Perhaps, a paper copy can still be made available to consumers upon request, so those who really want them and will use them, can still get them, but on a significantly more limited basis.

Sure, catalogs are nice to leaf through, especially around the holiday time. But overall, they are a profligate waste of money and a drain on our natural resources. They fill our mailboxes with mostly “junk” and typically are completely unsolicited. With the advent of the Internet, paper catalogs are “overcome by events” (OBE), now that we have vast information rich, e-commerce resources available online, all the time.

Normally, I believe in taking a balanced approach to issues, and moderating strong opinions. However, in this case, we are talking about pure waste and harm to our planet, just because we don’t have the capacity to change.

We need to stop persisting in the old ways of doing business when they are no longer useful. This is just one example of those, and business that don’t transition to digital modernity in a timely fashion risk becoming obsolete along with their catalogs that go from the mailbox right into the trash.

>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.

>Ask the User and Enterprise Architecture

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The best way to find out what the end-user wants is to ask them.

The Wall Street Journal, 25 January 2008 reports on Ask.com that “Ask Searches for Answer to Luring New Users.”

Since 2006, Ask.com spent $140 million to Google’s $34 million on advertising between Jan. 2006 and September 2007, yet Google’s market share of the internet search business stands at 58.4% to Ask’s 4.3%, and “Ask’s market share hasn’t grown in the past couple of years, while Google’s…has seen its dominance increase.

Google is beating Ask based on “superior technology and word of mouth,” so the advertising is a moot point.

Jim Safka, the new head of Ask says that to understand the discrepancy, “the first step is figuring out who uses Ask today and what they use it for. We are not going to take wild swings.”

Apparently, Ask took some wild swings in the past without asking their users and ended up getting rid of the “Jeeves” from their original name Ask Jeeves.Com and getting rid of the “friendly butler designed to answer any question user posed him.”

Ask also goofed on a number of marketing campaigns which didn’t resonate with end-users, like “one campaign named ‘Use Tools, Feel Human’ [that] featured a primate [who] evolves into a human by using Ask.com.”

While “Ask’s market share continues to weaken,” Mr. Safka says that “Consumes are smart. If you look at the data and listen to them, the answer ends up being obvious.”

From a User-centric EA perspective, it is critical to ask the user what they want and understand their needs. One of the principles of User-centric EA is that we are focused on developing useful and usable products and services for the end-user; we do not build any information products that do not have a clear end-user and use. In contrast, traditional EA is often user blind and as a result develops “artifacts” that are difficult to understand and apply. Like Ask.com is learning, if you don’t understand your user’s needs, you end up with a lot of shelfware—whether it’s EA or search engines.