Archive for May 2008

Adobe’s CTO on UX Design

May 29, 2008

Knowledge@Wharton recently interviewed Kevin Lynch, Adobe’s AIR apparent CTO, elevated to CTO earlier this year to make Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) the next disruptive tech platform. What’s in the secret sauce? Lots of UX, since that’s the first thing Lynch mentions at kickoff time:

Knowledge@Wharton: You were recently given the title of Chief Technology Officer at Adobe. How is that different from your previous role as Chief Software Architect?

Lynch: I’ll be involved more with Adobe overall in terms of our technology direction and the problems we are trying to solve; working across the different business units at Adobe. To some degree, I was already doing this in my previous role with the platform technology [unit at Adobe] because it touches so many of the other things that we do. This is formalizing that more.

In terms of my day-to-day activities, I’m continuing to work with the platform [group] and I’ll also be working with our design group called XD — Experience Design — to pull together our Experience Design and our platform efforts. They are obviously somewhat related — you can see a lot of great design in the Flex framework and in the applications we produce — but there’s more opportunity to build usability and best practices into our frameworks that we are learning from the XD group.

Lynch notes three disruptive technologies they are focused on – web applications, mobile computing, the ecosystems of social networks (and integration with directory management). But you knew that already.  But it is a good sign they are starting to lionize The Experience Design, even if they are overdoing it a bit on their promo pages. (I mean, do you ever see cool B&W shots of the software engineers that build the stuff? No, just designers, or now, as so many titles read, ‘experience designers”. Yes, but, do they know Human Factors?)

Adobe is still about tools for hot geeks, and not so much end user applications. But I have to admit, they finally took a big leap forward with the latest Reader, which was improved when some UX researchers noticed that people often select text, and right away, making that the default interaction mode when launching a PDF document.

Powerset – Toward semantic search in a closed ecosystem

May 29, 2008

Powerset provides advanced natural language browsing of searched terms and topics in Wikipedia. It’s designed to handle conversational language entries, and the tool is a good start. Try it on a few simple searches (e.g., a name) which is simple, then throw something abstract at it. Like “sensemaking” or “design theory” and the gaps in Wikipedia show up quickly. Wikipedia does not search across all articles for close matching terms (their search is an article finder, not a browse view). So Powerset fills a real need for knowledge awareness as Wikipedia becomes a popular starting point for Q&A, student-level research, and scanning the current cultural repertoire for memes and conventional wisdom.

The Powerset model makes sense – semantic relevance is achievable in a closed ecosystem where you have some level of editorial control of the content. They also index Freebase, which is much less mature than Wikipedia, so Powerset’s indexing of the two services does not yet offer access into deep knowledge resources.

For reaching deeply into authoritative publications, and indexing qualified (institutional) servers using the FAST search engine, I like Elsevier’s Scirus. It now looks almost exactly like Google, which was the direction we steered it in 2001 when I advised on redesign. In my opinion it has lost some personality on the start page due to its recent facelift though. Scirus’ indexing and retrieval are very powerful – the browse experience is much more inviting than Google Scholar, and it accesses highly relevant content form multiple artefacts, not just citable articles, but research reports, lecture notes, online presentations, good stuff shared online by the same authors Google Scholar only cites. Scirus indexes a different a closed content ecosystem as well – based on validity (academic, institutional, verifiable publications) and not domain (Wikipedia or .edu sites) or authority.

Toronto’s perfect getaway – NY Times Traveler

May 19, 2008

The Frugal Traveler finds Toronto more expensive than years ago, but shares a wonderful weekend with readers, filled with our kind of city exploration and good eating. In fact,  Matt Gross walks our local neighborhoods, visits Kensington Market, and the New Yorker heard about and dines at our favorite Vietnamese place, Rua Vang Golden Turtle.

The Times picture of the hot dog stand at Queen West and Spadina belies the vibrant cool of this very intersection. Most of the city’s design firms are within 3 blocks walk, the fashion district across the street, the best Queen West clubs a block either way, and Chinatown 3 blocks North. We’ve had coffees at the Lettieri (behind the hot dog stand) many times with friends.

The Frugal one explores on foot, and finds the mix of cultures from one street to the next exhilarating. These are real communities within the city, with ethnic restaurants and shops interspersed with the typical Big City coffee shops, boutiques, and clubs.

As I walked north, Ossington became more Vietnamese (billiards, video stores), then Portuguese (banks, sports bars) and a bit Italian (kitchen supplies). Very multiculti — no wonder Jane Jacobs, the proponent of urban diversity, settled in Toronto.

Toronto – city of the future, happening today. That may be why our “new Jane Jacobs” Richard Florida also settled here, to take his spot at the Rotman School of Business at U of T.  Paul Krugman’s piece about Berlin’s alt-transportation in the same Times edition (Stranded in Suburbia), could have been written about Toronto as a sizeable city on the brink of transforming, from mostly-cars to mostly-not. Give us a couple of years. Transformation takes time. To see how far our collective awareness has come, just follow neighbor Greg Greene’s documentaries, End of Suburbia and Escape from Suburbia. Many people scoffed at the End of Suburbia, but just a few short years later, the scenarios are real and are playing out every day. At the end of this day, a large dense, walkable city with great neighbors is the perfect getaway, and the perfect next place to live.

Making a Difference by Design

May 3, 2008

Like the onerously overused “innovation,” transformation may be getting a bad rap. Both are broad, overstated terms that mean very different things to people, depending on background, experience, industry. Both must be defined in their contexts of use before we can have any serious discussion. The wide range of meanings and uses of transformation should give us pause before going too far with the term in mixed company. But transformation (as in organizational) has been merging closer to design (as in envisioned, creative, structured changemaking and sensemaking).

Time magazine may have just eased our quandary by making Humantific, and its transformation practice, a sort-of household term. People may know what we mean now.  In Different by Design, Time reports on New York’s Humantific, and the West Coast’s IDEO and Jump Associates. While we’ve seen tons of press on IDEO in recent years, the 3 paragraph exposure of Humantific (with a nice shot of GK and Elizabeth) was refreshing. The brief piece keeps it light, there was nothing mentioned about their practice areas or methods (Strategic Co-creation, Visual Sensemaking, Complexity Navigation, Innovation research).

Also see:

NextD.org (Transforming that Sustainability Thing)

Jump Associates

IDEO Transformation by Design

The Hub

Designs of the Time

No post would be complete without advocating my perspective on transformation. in a paper presented at the 2007 INCOSE Symposium I suggested:

The general thrust of transformation efforts aims toward significant organizational changes that institutionalize desired behaviors necessary for long-term business success. While some management thinkers may place the responsibility solely on management to accomplish transformation, in our view successful transformation depends on the collaboration of all stakeholders in the enterprise, at a minimum by adopting the new practices as full participants. This view is supported by Kotter (1995), whose findings show transformation efforts fail to the extent that organizational communication and collaboration fails.

Indeed, that seems to be a suitably complex, interesting design problem.