UX

Wonderfully Weird

  Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film,  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory . Photo Credit:  Mirror.co.uk

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Photo Credit: Mirror.co.uk

I recently read an article written by James Victore about "The Undeniable Benefits of Being Weird," and it made me think about all of the times I felt so weird amongst my peers growing up. Have I suppressed this weirdness as an adult? Many times, yes. Have I released this weirdness without a care in the world throughout moments in my life? When I had the courage, absolutely.
 

That’s when others are inspired by your cause. That’s when you find those people, that audience, who accept you not because you’re weird or different, but for whom you really are. You create the potential for shared humanity, and allow others to see their struggle reflected in yours. Ultimately you hear that glorious refrain; “Oh, you’re weird? I thought I was the only one!” This is how businesses are formed. This is how relationships are formed. This is how you find your people.
- James Victore


This paragraph is truth. I have a story to prove that it is.

At my previous job, I was required to use the software product, Trello. Ugh... I hated it. I was the only one on my team who hated it. They pointed and giggled at me every time I rolled my eyes while using the product that "we, as a team," decided to use to manage our projects. Just thinking about it makes me twitch. When it came to Trello, I was weird - and I thought I was the only one. 

Until... [Pause Button] I wrote previously about the Service Design Conference I attended a few months ago and I mention this because this is where the Trello hater meet the other Trello hater. [Ok, Play Button]... I met Erik Flowers. This is how the meet cute played out:
 

Erik: "Service Design [blah, blah, blah]... ugh, I hate Trello."
Me: [gasp]
Erik: [head turns towards me because my gasp was so loud]
Me: "Omg... seriously? I hate Trello! I thought I was the only one who hated Trello!"
Erik: "HA"

 

Like James Victore stated, I had found another one of 'my people' in this one connection of weirdness. I made a new friend to be weird with and oh man, has it been an adventure. 😱

This is Erik at Blue Bottle Coffee in Palo Alto, CA where we hung out and got to tell each other our stories.

I was in NorCal about a month ago and was able to schedule some time with Erik. He wanted to meet at Blue Bottle Coffee because of a specific waffle that they sell. When he told me this, I thought, "Whoa. That's exactly what I do. Go to destinations with delicious food I've been craving... he is SO cool." It made me wonder if there was anything else we had in common.

It turns out that the list of similarities runs quite long - to the point where both of us were sort of shocked at what we were both pursuing in the near future. We had similar backgrounds of studies, philosophically aligned when it came to topics like "theoretical design," and his humor was on par with the many comedians I appreciate. I couldn't believe it. The universe is so weird.

Erik has since become a good friend of mine and has also encouraged me to make this blog public and available to the internet. (If you're liking this blog, thank Erik! Check out his blog too - great topics executed with pristine writing.) He recently spoke at the Service Design Conference that took place in SF a few weeks ago, launched a website called Practical Service Design with Megan Miller, and is pretty much taking the Service Design world by storm. 

It's important to have a support system around you and to also be a support system towards others - this is survival at its most basic definition. I'm looking forward to seeing more great things from Erik as time goes on. I'm also looking forward to his thoughts on the things I produce in the near future. I wondered today what would've happened if I didn't expose my weirdness about Trello. I deleted that thought and replaced it with a 'thank you' to the awful Trello for bringing Erik into my life.

So, I encourage you to release your weird. You will find your people this way and feel human connections you very well may have missed but oh so deeply need in your life. Who would've thought that being a Trello hating weirdo would serendipitously bring a wonderful friendship into my life? Even that thought is just so wonderfully weird.


(A note about the waffle: Right when we got to the counter, they said they stopped serving food 5 minutes before we got there. Hearts were broken. We will return.)

UX/Service Design Notes: Putting wonderfully weird quirks into your product/service can create extended human connections based on what certain people find enjoyable and memorable. When people get together to share their experiences, products and services are often on the top of the list. If you want to create excitement and have a competitive edge over others, add a little weirdness to the mix - it's like free marketing.

 

Dunne + Raby

  Photo from  Dunne & Raby's   Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

Photo from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is why I love the HCD world.

Another reason why I love the HCD world is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in a HCD-like manner. 

One of the places that I found Human Centered Design is in the conceptual design world. Take for instance the subject of 'Critical Design'.

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Many design professors teach this way of thinking with their design students who are producing highly conceptual artwork within the design realm. Are you still interested? I'll keep going.

I'd like to introduce you to a duo who teach as design professors in London and Vienna and make projects stemmed from Critical Design. Their names are Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.

  Another photo from the same series.

Another photo from the same series.

'Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, NYC, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Design Museum in London, and is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Frac Ile-de-France, Fnac and the MAK as well as several private collections. [...] In 2015, Dunne & Raby received the first MIT Media Lab Award.' I don't think that I have to justify their impact within the design world - they are well respected and consistently referred to when new work is presented to the world.

Techies - listen up.

Although the list of work they have produced is quite long, I'd like to bring attention to one of their projects called, "Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots," created in 2007, which is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

I am a firm believer that it is though works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today's design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for. This theory supports HCD through this confrontation and many designers have, since then, turned to HCD for guidance.

How wonderful, right? And very appropriate for our HCD/UX/Service Design field.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today's world while keeping the future in mind. If we don't start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

Design-tervention

Have you ever had a friend-tervention? When your friends stage an intervention regarding something in your life because they know you need it?

I've had several done by those who love me and I've also been part of a few acts of the kind towards the people in my life I care about. At times, it is quite necessary but sometimes, looking back, I think that some of them could have been constructed better in its delivery. A few of them, when evaluating with a bigger picture in mind, most definitely could have just used patience in knowing that the loved one will get there eventually and absolutely needs to get there on their own. Hurt feelings aren't the best way to pursue interventions and during my college and early 20's, my naivety rushed critical understandings that perhaps one was not ready for - I also feel the same way about several things that were thrown in my direction when I wasn't ready for it.

Human Centered Design isn't any different. A lot of times, it is actually, in fact, an intervention. When you're reconsidering a project, putting it on hold to perhaps insert a HCD process, or even when you're reevaluating something that has been done from an HCD lens, you are intervening on behalf of humans. This is a good thing, in theory, but delivery is key. What that delivery consists of is perhaps the greatest piece of the puzzle when designing anything. Designers must know this criticality within the process. 

I'd like to share an intervention that is happening to me during this design residency I am taking part of for two weeks.

  A Civilla class that begins and ends with a circle of community and expression of thoughts.

A Civilla class that begins and ends with a circle of community and expression of thoughts.

In my past work environment, I will share that it was a bit toxic in the context of management personalities, as well as general advocacy for design as a professional skill. I won't go into detail about specific stories and people, but just know this - it was not healthy for me to be in that environment anymore and I had to pull myself out of it. (This is a great reason to take a sabbatical if you are kicking around the idea. Take a step back and reevaluate who you are in your work environment. If you don't like it, maybe it's time for you to take a step back and recalibrate your compass.)

What I will share, though, are the behaviors that were drawn out of me by putting myself through an environment in which I thought I could handle. To name a few, the following are things that came to surface: Actions that were opposite from 'Shine Theory' with my fellow women workers; Political insecurity which manifested itself by speaking downward towards those who I felt threatened by; Insecurity in the credit and value of my work; and a wretched habit of name dropping just to level up to those in the room.

It was terrible. I was terrible. 

Another goal that I added to my list during this sabbatical is to regain who I am as I despised who I was becoming in a work setting. I am not perfect and I will be the first to say that I am absolutely responsible for these actions because they are mine, but I do know myself and I know that within my beliefs regarding what is right and what is good, it doesn't include any of the above actions. It hurt my heart to know that I had evolved into a person I promised I wouldn't be. So, I put an end to it.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't be smart in how you navigate work culture. You must learn the way the machine works and move through it in your most sincere, truthful, and kindest manner. You must know and master the system so that you don't let it push you around.

Environments and their surrounding cultures are critical to the kinds of people organizations will produce if constructed a certain way. We are always growing as people and when you're young, you're kind of a flaring firework that is just waiting to explode into the air to be recognized as a shining, talented creature. If you deny this, you are lying to yourself. Work culture in America is constructed this way and if you are trying to survive for the many reasons you have on your priority list, all humans behave in this way. Darwin is absolutely right in this context - it is the survival of the fittest.

But, what happens when the ones who make it to the top are monsters? Well, they produce fellow monsters, of course. And what happens when the ones at the top are gentle, kind but firm leaders? They produce fellow gentle, kind but firm people.

I share these thoughts because I have met wonderful leaders during this design residency and I have experienced, again, what it means to be led in a thoughtful manner. It has given me hope for myself that I am actually not this way in work groups when respect and encouragement are foundations for a working culture. I am relieved to know that I am not a monster in the working world and have more confidence in myself and my work than I ever did in the past. This all happened in 1 week.

I'm proud to be a member of Civilla's family. 

I sit in my temporary home in Detroit and think about how miraculous this experience is. The story of how I got here and who I have met is nothing short of a miracle. What I am learning right now, I will never give up for the world. Never have I ever met such beautiful souls with whom I have immediately connected with and wondered, "Why am I meeting these people now? What took so long? What is happening right now?!" 

For starters, Civilla is a social impact/innovation startup that began in Detroit at the beginning of September 2015 (that's last month). This little group has one of the biggest hearts within the range of startups I have consulted with, and the projects they are pursuing are a testament to that fact. Passion is the project. Social intervention is the evolving experiment. 

  Civilla has taken a repurposed storage closet as their first home. A great transformation indeed.

Civilla has taken a repurposed storage closet as their first home. A great transformation indeed.

Although Civilla is intervening on behalf of the people of Detroit using the HCD method, I am proud to say that they have intervened in my life as a beacon for knowing what exact environment and culture makes me feel safe and confident when it comes to work. I can only attempt to describe the joy I feel of knowing this truth. Perhaps using a food analogy will help. I feel as though I have tasted the simple, yet delightfully thoughtful bowl of porridge that is ever so slight in its first impression but immersed with enriching ingredients that slowly expose themselves bite by bite - teaching you the roots of what food and taste should be while humble in its packaging and delivery. Better? I hope so. I need you to understand this.

  From left to right: Lena Selzer, Adam Selzer, and Michael Brennan

From left to right: Lena Selzer, Adam Selzer, and Michael Brennan

There is nothing about this experience that I expected in my lifetime, but I will wholeheartedly accept it and appreciate, in utter awe, the fact that it is happening. The universe is beautifully mysterious like that - I often wondered what would actually come out of my sabbatical but this journey has proved to be filled with more than just rest and goal seeking. Or could it be that through the pursuance of rest and goal seeking that the things that must open our eyes actually come to fruition? At this point, however way you want to look at it, I'm just glad it's happening. 

UX Notes: We are what we experience and our experiences will guide our future decisions and paths. If you are enjoying your current experience in your workplace, bravo. Continue with that experience but don't forget to challenge yourself so that you will grow. If you aren't enjoying your experience in your workplace, I challenge to seek out why that is. Was it the 'Login' process with HR that exhausted you right from the beginning? Or was it the enticing interactions you fell in love with during your interview and when the curtain was unveiled, you saw the reality of what you signed up for? Think about it.


Amtrak Customer Service = Hugs

Remember that magical conversation I referred to in my last post? Well, turns out that stars have aligned and something in the universe has been preparing me to go to Detroit. 

Am I excited? I'm trying to keep my cool... but I think it's going to be pretty rad. !!

The thing about this is that I don't know what to expect... but I do know this - I believe in my heart that the people there are great and that we believe in the power of Human Centered Design. So, let's do this. 

However, sometimes when the universe aligns perfectly for someone else, things are breaking apart for others. It's strange how life works like that but this has happened to me before. Actually, when I know things are about to be great and everything just seems to be going right for me, there's a part of me that begins to reserve space in my heart and mind for sadness. It's almost like metaphysics. You can't control it.

This time around, a really good friend of mine was the one to break some awful news to me about something in her life. I get so upset when bad things happen to good people. I just... I just can't. 


  Amtrak's 1971 logo.

Amtrak's 1971 logo.

This is all to say that because of recent events such as those mentioned above, I found myself having to purchase an Amtrak ticket for my trip to Detroit. The website was confusing (UX Alert!) and their guest reward thing is separate?? Actually, it was so bad that I decided to call. Yes. I opted for calling someone on the phone to talk to a human. I didn't see any 'chat now' buttons and my password wasn't being sent to me after I reset it so I figured I had to. 

I had the best customer service that I have received over the phone in probably my entire life.

Even better than Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. 

She was kind, efficient, offered to do things for me when she didn't have to, and even asked about things I hadn't thought of regarding my trip. She also knew the order in which my mind was processing all of this information and it seemed like she had it down to a science. It was great UX. 

I think old systems like train/railroads have a great customer service embedded into their phone culture because that was the UX of their time. The hottest new thing was the telephone and businesses competed with each other by trying to offer the best services via operator. It's fascinating how often history repeats itself in different ways. The answers to things are usually already there - you just have to readjust the solution and reapply it to the context at hand in a mindful manner.

What I loved about the entire experience though was how much she made me feel at ease with the confusion of what I was seeing on screen. She explained why changes weren't showing up and assured me that my information was being updated as she typed. The secret to her miracle UX work was being able to mix both phone services and web delivery all at the same time - she made a believer out of me. 

So, I guess the phone isn't dead. I'll definitely remember this experience and take a chance on calling if everything else fails. I won't start to expect great phone service though - I think companies still need to desperately straighten that out. 

If there are any UXers who would like to tackle the Amtrak system - it would be a good idea to hang out with these phone service operators. They just might be able to write the whole architecture out for you.  
 

UX Notes: When Macy's made the decision to have their operators help direct customers to other stores to find what they needed, this was a UX decision that worked in their favor. They did this all by phone. What if our department store online checkouts also searched and crawled other stores' websites and directed their customers with a link to purchase their goods there if they were in the same situation? I guarantee loyalty.

Unexpected Kindness + Opportunities

Update: I have not yet gone back to a full-time job. I decided that 2 full months was not enough time for my mini-sabbatical and that I needed a bit more time. I have chosen to design my life in this way right now and we shall see what comes from it. I will write a full post when I take my next steps.

  Pictured here are Jen and Jo from  Starshaped Press . Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

Pictured here are Jen and Jo from Starshaped Press. Two people who are very near and dear to me and who have been incredible encouragers and friends.

This decision, magically, has done wonders for me so far and I have met, been introduced to, and created many new personal and professional relationships that I probably would not have encountered had I taken on full-time work instead. 

What I have realized through the meeting of these new folks, especially those in my field, is that I am beginning to see glimmers of hope in the context of possibilities again. I have to confess that in the past few years, I was a bit nervous and unsure about where our industry was headed. My thoughts included:
 

"Where is this going? Is it working? How can we make this better? Will this even make a difference? Why do certain groups just not care? Do I still care?"  


What I failed to realize is that I didn't have a strong network of supporters/encouragers in my field, outside of first degree work connections, that I could lean on when times were tough. I can absolutely say that building this for myself right now is a lesson learned and what I hope is not regrettably too late. 

I have met a lot of people even in these past few weeks and something that I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing and deeply appreciate from the bottom of my heart is just genuine kindness and encouragement. I know that not all folks are like this but when you do get to encounter these moments, your faith in the world sort of restores itself bit by bit and it gives you enough oxygen to keep trying. I really do believe that the universe has its own way of supporting you when you least expect it and what I love about it is that you never know what shape or form it will arrive in.

This is all to say that these relationships have led me to an unexpected opportunity that is really exciting. I'm really hoping the stars align on this one. 

I have to write this: There is something about this opportunity that feels different. I can't quite put my finger on it but it feels sort of like real magic. Stay tuned.

Anyway, I am thankful for my community and it spurs me to offer encouragement towards others who may need it more than me. Feeling down on UX? Hang out with your UX community and I guarantee you will feel better.