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Posted January 12, 2009 by dialogicdesign
Categories: User Experience

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Madoff & Cultural Change in 2009

Posted December 28, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: Cultural Design, Socionomics

Bob Jacobson (Total Experience blog) recently posted about the Madoff scandal, and I quote:

“In every culture, the battle of the classes is so intense it overwhelms ethical considerations. Every apparent ally is lauded by those who constitute the culture’s moneyed class — and when the fraud betrays the ideology of wealth, it is he or she who pays the price, not those who enabled them to play their predatory games by idolizing them.”

Our culture has enabled them at every turn, symbolically and materially, through a lionizing media, aspirational pop culture, and the continuation of a false American Dream we’ve been sold. We’ve lived the last two decades in an culturally inflated bubble that protected us from having to consider smarter alternatives.

But during the good times, Madoff worked his community hard. It is during the so-called “good times” that people overly trust, and when hitting the bear market, they need cash and start to ask questions. Madoff was trusted because he represented a class and way of life people aspired to. In the spirit of irrational exuberance, he was a credible investor. The fact that the Ponzi scheme was exposed just NOW is a positive signal. A 3-decade long scheme was exposed, which had to happen at some point. The sign of the times to notice is that the Madoffs (and Fulds and Princes) are getting flushed out, the times of inflated CEgOs are ending.

Madoff does not represent a tipping point toward more bad times, but calls (in investment terms) a “bottom” where investors get flushed out of the markets so a new cycle can start at the depths of pessimism. It is also a culturally symbolic bottoming, with its Jungian synchronicity of occurring near the winter solstice when humans observe the progressively diminished cycle of sunlight. We may see a few more bottom signals in the year to come, however.

These patterns can be seen as historical, and therefore repeating and repeatable. We’ve gone through these cycles before, in the Gilded Age before the 1900’s, the 1920’s before the crash and what we call the “Great” depression. With some analysis of these earlier cycles, we can see that values changes once the shift is big enough. Mentioned in the prior post,  The Fourth Turning (1996) refers to the last cycle as an Unraveling, ending in the crash of massive debt, just as in the prior Unraveling cycles.

Kondratieff (1926) observed these secular cycles in Soviet and capitalist culture, and named these same cycles after the seasons. The lionizing of the rich is inherent in the last cycle. The Crisis cycle follows an Unraveling, and values changes when the reality of the economic and cultural change becomes obvious and accepted across a large population.

We are seeing a such a shift in values already, and we will see an emphasis on sustainable living, workable human scales in economics and systems, humane enterprises, cooperative (and less cut-throat) markets. The Millennial generation was not invested in Madoff’s schemes, and because they have largely observed the crash from a distance (not as heavily invested as the Boomers), they may be able to draw their own conclusions about value and sustainable practice and investment. They will be inclined to invest their energies in the new energy, infrastructures, and new agricultural projects that will sustain their future and away from the corporatist hold on things.

Because these changes are secular trends, developing over and lasting for many years, they seem to assume a kind of destinal trajectory. Our collective expectation that things will change positively will help to create a new foundation of values. And while Millenials are rejecting the Boomer’s last legacy that led to crisis, the Boomers will also help lead the way out of the crisis. What else can we do?

Creative Capitalism for a Crisis Time

Posted December 18, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: Cultural Design, Socionomics, Transformation

One of my doctoral committee members, Alex Pattakos, blogs for HuffingtonPost and wrote Meaningful Capitalism: Change We Can Believe In

In response to the article and some of the comments, I said:

Organizations pursuing meaningful entrepreneurship are not in strong evidence by the media. We ourselves should become the new news media that changes the emphasis on what gets reported. People learn from success stories, and the meaning of success itself is and will be changing. People’s values will slowly change as their society shows these shifts in many tangible and subtle ways.

We knew this collapse was coming at some point. Capitalism was already being referred to as “late” by many writers and thinkers, over the last decade or so. Most of us just did not know what to expect our how it would appear on our national and global scene. The Crisis time we’re in now nearly exactly matches the historical theory of Strauss and Howe’s 1996 book The Fourth Turning.  And because we are now in a Fourth Turning, a Crisis era, the times are compatible with Alex’s recommendation.

The crisis of capitalism should not be framed in the “greed” dynamic – there have been greedy exploiters since before the time of Draco. Certainly Kim Jong-Il can be seen as greedy. The corporate form is merely a modern organizational framework, and is a structure developed in response to laws and conventions. It can be changed. People bring their values to work and their organizations, and as Americans facing a new crisis and a new era, we need to take responsibility for the redesign of these institutions.

Designdialogues.com – Blogging from host

Posted September 22, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: User Experience

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Opportunity Overload

Posted August 26, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: Business design, Cognitive Research, Design ecology, Information Ecology, Innovation Strategy, Systems thinking, Transformation Design

Information overload has been with us since the dawn of electronic media. According to McLuhan’s theories (and Robert Logan’s recent enhancements to media theory), when we humans overextend a communications channel, we create a new one.  We create one commensurate with the increased volume and complexity of content that our culture generates. When we overwhelmed the capacity of radio and television (and print), the Internet emerged to expand our ability to communicate, globally.

So each new media “channel” expands our scope and matches the developing complexity of communication. As we adapt and learn the new media channel, our cognitive capacity – trained as it was from prior media eras – experience cognitive infoload.

As the online experience consumes more of our attention and with it our time, all of us notice the acceleration of overload. And with very little guidance from research, we are left with a range of practical time-management options from the Pickle Jar to scheduling your email. But none of these address the fact of information overload, which threatens to significantly diminish the value of the web and email. As demonstrated by the situation of too many choices.

Jared Spool once posted (and podcasted) an interview with Barry Schwartz where they discuss his book and the line of research into “choice overload,” which starts off with the Iyengar and Leeper Jam Study:

“… that showed when you present 30 flavors of jam at a gourmet food store, you get more interest but less purchasing than when you only show six flavors of jam. All of a sudden, it became an issue, or at least a possibility, that adding options could actually decrease the likelihood that people would actually choose any of them. More and more, because of that study, people have actually tried to study it in the wild, in the field, by getting companies to vary the variety that they offer and tracking both purchasing and also satisfaction. So that’s starting to happen, but there are not very many papers that are actually published on that. This whole line of work is only about five years old.”

There may be a common phenomenon underlying choice and information overload. Neither of these surfeits of stuff are problematic unless we’re interested, unless there’s an opportunity. Since information is neutral until deemed interesting, information overload is not problematic until we admit ever-larger boundaries of interest and attention. When we overwhelm short term memory and task attention, we’re forced to stop and change the focus of attention. The same with choice – I don’t care whether there are 5 jams or 30 unless I really want jam. Otherwise, like the overload of celebrity stories in the public media, the overload is easy to ignore.

Once we evaluate email and user experience with the concept of opportunity overload, the angle of insight shifts from technology itself to the idea of value. While 90% or more of all my email I could ignore, I also have extraordinary opportunities presented by way of this communication channel. Not only most of my consulting projects, but collaborations, new tools, great ideas to work with, answers to questions I did not think to pose. Its opportunity “push,” with the Web as opportunity “pull,” a nightmare of opportunity overwhelm if you let it.

As a research issue this interests me as it entails hermeneutics (individually and not externally interpreted) and economics (as in the cost/value of opportunity). We attend to the extent we are emotionally engaged with the perceived value of the opportunity represented by a choice (a product or a message in an email). But attention is only the intial draw. There are significant cognitive requirements demanded in processing the value (what is this worth to me? How cool is that?) and choice (Which one do I want, or is it worth my time to evaluate further?).

To finally make a decision may require additional learning (which one really is better? do I know enough to choose this opportunity? What are the costs in time and lost business/opportunity?). It may require communication (who should I ask about this? Wouldn’t Nick want to know about this?) Next thing we know, the day is gone!

So nobody except Miles the Marketer seems to be onto opportunity overload. (And Miles means to make you money, and I don’t, so go there if you want marketing opportunities!)

Valuing tech vs. valuing learning

Posted August 19, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: Business design, Design ecology, Human Values, Systems thinking, Transformation Design, Wicked complexity

When will the computer finally recede into the ubiquitous background as promised by Don Norman a decade ago? Instead, educational reform is grasping at technology as the innovation, bringing technology front and center, as you have pointed out here. But how do we expect students even younger than yours Sam, such as inner city high school students, to switch to an online pedagogy and self-educate with discipline?

It is the individual that chooses to self-educate – the tech are tools, not the stuff of learning itself. I’m not as sanguine about the role of interactive tech per se in the classroom, even though two heavy hitters in innovation (Clay Christensen) and organizational learning (John Seely Brown, blogged here) have recently weighed in with tech-oriented reform promises.

Christensen says “For virtual learning to have this transformative impact, however, it must be implemented in the correct way. The theory of disruptive innovation shows us a way forward.”

A disruptive innovation transforms an industry not by competing against the existing paradigm and serving existing customers, but by targeting those who have no other option and are not being served — people we call non-consumers.

Little by little, disruptive innovations predictably improve. At some point, they become good enough to handle more complicated problems — and then they take over and supplant the old way of doing things.

The key is that instead of simply cramming computers in the back of classrooms as a tool of instruction as we have done in the past, we need to allow computer-based learning to take root in places where the alternative to computer-based learning is no learning at all. Only then will computer-based learning have a true impact in transforming education.

There are a few problems with Clay’s innovation theory as applied to education. I am a big fan of Innovator’s Dilemma, and have written up RPV as serious business theory in “real” articles, not blogs. But my issue with disruptive innovation in education – is that the problem is NOT with students, or school systems as such. It is socio-economic, cultural, and systemic – a complex system, not a market of users or consumers. Disrutpive innovation owes something to the concept of early adopters predicting the trend. But in education, the early adopters are the self-educators who workaround the system. We can pick up and use anything, but that doesn’t mean other students should use the tech tools I did to self-educate. Example: Long before the Internets, after exhausting the simple lessons in 5th grade, I would ask to leave the class and sit in the hallway and read the Britannicas.

And which students get to fail while the system tries to “go disruptive” and falls even further behind in the tyranny of state school district measures? A couple of years worth of classes before they get it right? Christensen’s innovation theory says large incumbent firms are literally unable to innovate in this way. But has he ever seen charter schools in real “urban” districts? These attempts at innovation lead to outsourcing (like to Sylvan), which does no good, and leaves “no learning behind” for others to bring forward as an innovation.

Take a look at Dayton, Ohio. Patricia started one of the Gates schools (she’s not teaching there or anywhere in a system anymore). The program was primarily problem-based, no issue with that. But self-motivated, self-direct learning kids excel at this already, regardless of technology.  The charter schools in Dayton are (not to put too fine a point on it) total failures. The Gates program? Mixed – the self-motivated always do well, the others make teachers do twice the work they normally do, which is already a lot more than you can imagine.  “It won’t change until society values education” Patricia says “It’s so much government cheese.”

Interaction flow or Activity flow?

Posted August 12, 2008 by dialogicdesign
Categories: Design ecology, Information Ecology, User Experience

Boxes and Arrows is a great source for the publication of in-depth discussions of ideas and concepts emerging in the user experience community. Originally more of an information architects how-to, nuts & bolts go-to service, it has grown into a true eJournal with good editorial review and a “real” community of readers that know each other (supra-virtual?). EiC Christina Wodtke and editor Austin Govella have done a great job of encouraging publications beyond the expected scope in the IA readership.

A new, well-cited article by (another sharp alumnus of Calgary’s nForm shop) Trevor van Gorp –  Design for Emotion and Flow – brought a raft of comments related to designing for flow and to enhance positive emotional response in an interactive experience. Trevor gives a guidelines for design based on his research and the classical model from Csikszentmihalyi:

Flow channel

Flow channel

1. A clear goal… The user navigates to accomplish a task, like seeking information on a particular topic or surfing for fun. This is an evolving goal, dependent on the options presented to the user and aided by logical information architecture, intuitive navigation, effective wayfinding and clear options for proceeding like information scent, breadcrumbs, meaningful labels, clear page titles, etc.

2. With immediate feedback on the success of attempts to reach that goal… The user receives quick, sensory feedback in the form of a visual shift and/or sound from links, buttons, menus, or other navigation items.

3. Presented as a challenge that you have the skills to handle. Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of flow in the context of user experience was debated between designing flow into the experience, and deisgning to optimize the flow as an end in itself.
“The key element of an optimal experience is that it is an end in itself. Even if initially undertaken for other reasons, the activity that consumes us becomes intrinsically rewarding.”

Andy Polaine, who’s doctoral research was also on this topic, described another path toward interactive flow:

“The main point here is that interaction designers can encourage this self-contained activity, the intrinsically rewarding aspect unrelated to future benefit through the design of interactions and interfaces that are rewarding in themselves to use. Interfaces that are satisfying in their own right encourage users to play with them and explore them further, which means they learn them without thinking about learning them.”

My notion of facilitating flow in interactive experience design leans more toward optimizing the experience of a real world activity or a whole system. In most of my design challenges, for Redesign Research anyway, we are aiming to design a total service to support a professional or intellectual activity of some sort. Consumer or discretionary experiences that may lend themselves to interaction for the sake of its own enjoyment, or a gaming-type pursuit experience.

In professional activity we might consider several questions relevant to optimizing their cognitive flow, such as:

How is individual flow affected when multiple players are involved? (For example, you need a critical mass to make a multiplayer game, or Second Life, compelling enough to flow – there are tradeoffs between individual and group experience of flow).

How about the world beyond interactivity, which is where work and play live for most people?

Where is the focal experience of the flow? Where is it experienced?

Is it in the interactive experience or in the activity that the interaction supports?

Consider the design requirements for medical decision making – the flow is happening in the consult room, not in the information display. The physician, nurse, order clerk, pharmacist are part of a complex, continual loop-closing communications feedback system. The attempt to design-in flow states to an interactive experience could be counter-productive to total flow, which requires maintaining context awareness, status updates, attention cues to change in patient state, and providing brief-but-accurate communications at the time and point of need. Yes, flow could be improved. But a UX, designed in relative isolation from the total system, might over-flow the information display and sub-optimize the activity.  Is this situation amenable to design for flow?

Trade-offs. There might also be multiple interactions involved that trade-off “more flow” or enjoyable challenge in one state versus more radical efficiency in another.

Take an eBook reader for example (a project I just finished). If an eBook vendor designs their platform for the purpose of maximizing reading flow while online, they may inlcude features or navigation that impedes the flow state of the researcher, who is attempting to understand a thread of ideas across a number of publications (common task), or who is maximizing the number of references to an idea by finding all the citations in and across books.

Flow is a good example of a classical concept that has been retrieved for adaptation in a pragmatic design context, and may have a lot to offer practitioners. But we can also see where Flow Theory becomes weak – other theories (whole system) may require us to expand the flow theory to accommodate it. Is Flow scalable? Should we keep interpreting Csikszentmihalyi or should we start to make our own observations about interaction flow and extend the aging theory of flow for other domains?


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