Monday, February 28, 2011

Still Mucho Excellente


Here is this week's grab bag of inspiring craziness. Now my week would be so much better if this tornado warning siren had a snooze button. Oh, Midwest...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Evolution of the Bobi Digital Shelf


What inspired me to create an artifact based on the "trapped" nature of MP3s? Coming from a generation that experienced the radio, mixtape, CD, and digital music file, I was heavily invested in taking inspirations from the past to explore my cultural origins and the place of modern day music in our collective history. I asked: "What makes vinyl more of a collectible than MP3s?" "How do people view collections in their homes?" "How can I design an artifact that fits into the context of today's modern day information architecture of multimedia?"
Not only did I wanted to connect with those who get kicks out of showcasing their connoisseurship, I wanted to generate culturally relevant justification for taking an already highly efficient digital medium (the MP3) and externalizing it into a physical material "thing" that could potentially have more meaning associated with it than bits and bytes.
From my interviews, I learned people - despite this whole green movement - showed appreciation towards items by allowing them physical space. Collections that had meaning almost always required an area in a person's home. The less space a collection took up, the less value the item had. When asked about their MP3 collections, many expressed great enthusiasm towards them, but often said, "But it's often hard to mix and share if you don't have the right tools. Even though digital is suppose to make it easier, I often feel like my music is trapped on the computer and the Internet." Others stated they wanted to feel more social again, as if technology mediates a lesser level of social interaction with their music. This, I found this interesting.
Working for a media company has its perks, even if their focus is more on pure aesthetics than functional technology. Attacking our archives of millions of photos, I sifted through and did a 2-month artifact analysis of our readers' homes and their collections. I found while almost everyone had their own way of showcasing their collections, there was a common trend of placing items in personally invested areas that have a curated collection on display. "This curation process," I thought, "has to have an effect on how they view their collections."
I also inquired on the different methods of organizing music itself. I checked out modern day music organizers (iTunes, Winamp, FooBar) and many forums associated on its shortcomings. I read into physical theory (tangible vs. digital), digital deterioration, and digital hoarding. I learned about tangible luxury, the sustainability argument, and referenced Weiser's writings on UBICOMP. Also in the mix are Dennis Dutton's Darwinian Theory of Beauty, interviews with DJs, and human gesture research. After 3 months of that, I was beat. But there was no doubt a linger set of ideas and ideals I now had in my pocket to pursue a design.
The core. The most important part of any design problem. I had originally defined it as trying to "fix" the MP3 - to give it CPR. But the problem wasn't the medium, but the lack of power people had over it. By giving people the ability to curate their collections in a more personal, meaningful way, there could potentially be a new method of interacting with our digital collections that we never could have before. But what to build, exactly?
The jump from research to design isn't an easy one, and to be perfectly honest, it almost never occurs as I expect it. Though I had originally started with the basic idea of creating an easier way to generate mixtapes) for small social gatherings, I wanted it to be more than a jukebox for parties. I wanted something that didn't draw attention to itself; something seamless and integrated. Perhaps a remediation from the past into today's version of digital life.
To answer the question: "Why does this solution cater to creating a better experience interacting with our 'trapped' MP3s on our computers and iPods?" required a step back and for me to realize that shelves and special dedicated areas in our homes played a huge role in collections. Would then a digital version of the shelf be the answer to leverage both digital (and its nearly infinite music in the cloud) and physical (we organize tangible music differently than "folder structures" on computers) space? I had to try it. It was on.
Starting with a few scribbles in my doodling pad, I attempted to sketch the user experience. I compared the walkthrough of organization habits from the individuals I interviewed and overlayed them on fleshed out personas. I utilized affinity diagrams to draw connections between the past and present, highlighting attributes and insights from what makes a collection truly memorable and valued.

Inspired by DJs' milk crates that used to house pounds of vinyl when the MP3 didn't exist, I liked the idea of naming the method of organizing music using the system I would create "mixcrates" rather than "folders." The idea was to allow them to create custom playlists and organization structures that felt open-ended enough to generate a form of stickiness that would be unlike anything your normal iTunes user had ever seen.
But should it be like OLED wallpaper that you can stick on any surface? A glossy piano black box with a screen? A projected interface from the ceiling? Mirrored glass?

Since it's still in the early works and interface elements are still being worked out, what remains are those design decisions and the usability test(s). To be honest, this should probably have its place as its own post, but for now I'll cover the gist of my process for those interested:
First, you need a purpose (a testing discourse) or a problem statement (can people figure out ___ works?). Second, you need a profile, task scenarios, environment, and evaluation measures (performance vs. preferences). Finally, it's about triangulation. This is best done in teams as to avoid subjectivity, so I'll likely resort to my colleagues for feedback and to help me flesh out the insights from user testing.
Woot! Had enough user experience talk? No? Well then, check back in a few weeks for the final design. I might even have an online prototype for you to try out!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 Lessons for Young Designers


I couldn't have said it better myself. Looking to do more of #5 in the coming months. From John C Jay of Wieden+Kennedy:
1) Be authentic. The most powerful asset you have is your individuality, what makes you unique. It’s time to stop listening to others on what you should do.
2) Work harder than anyone else and you will always benefit from the effort.

3) Get off the computer and connect with real people and culture. Life is visceral.

4) Constantly improve your craft. Make things with your hands. Innovation in thinking is not enough.

5) Travel as much as you can. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to learn just how much you don’t know.

6) Being original is still king, especially in this tech-driven, group-grope world.

7) Try not to work for stupid people or you’ll soon become one of them.

8) Instinct and intuition are all-powerful. Learn to trust them.

9) The Golden Rule actually works. Do good.

10) If all else fails, No. 2 is the greatest competitive advantage of any career.

Home Is Where The Heart Is


From rudimentary to Scandinavian awesome, this couple takes a dated home and flips it in less than 4 years. What better way to celebrate than to share it with their home community on the Internet?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Disseminated Dreams


Here's this week's grab bag of inspirational junk. Enjoy!



Just found out about a new experimental trip-hop/jazz/dub mastermind called Shigeto. His ghostly jams make me want to invest in a fog machine and strobe light.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Alpha Phase of the BobbiDigital Shelf


Exciting times. I never thought it'd come to this, but I'm finally starting the build of the concept digital shelf I've been relentlessly obsessing over the past 6 months.

A bit of background for those just jumping in. After 40+ hours of research including academic journals, interviews with DJs, music collectors, designers, breakdancers, and supermodels, and an intense artifact study of people's collections and mental map of organization patterns, I decided to take a design direction for my problem space of degenerating value of digital music.

Specifically, I was going put music back where it belonged: back on the shelves of individuals' homes. Not as mere personal collections, but as conversation pieces and trophies of connoisseurship, adaptable and organized to one's personal preference. Most importantly, it wasn't going to be trapped on some beat up iPod somewhere - in which case, you'd need to shove it in an iHome in order to play a mere few tracks before someone rudely interrupts with their own personal "preference."

This digital externalization of the traditional MP3 collection takes the form of a physical touchscreen shelf. Because my research showed that physical objects did indeed hold much more value, providing a newer way to think of music organization and challenging the user to use it a conversation piece was... well, a challenge.
Similar problems of playback in the digital age has plagued services such as YouTube and iTunes for decades. The same problems of scalability, error prevention, and universal naming standards reoccurred, though I did find a few ways around some of these issues.
Coming up with an intuitive way to allow both small collections (200-1,000 songs) and much larger ones (20,000+ songs) to fit on a single visual interface was a tough one. However, I soon realized that my user group was familiar with such technologies and are willing to acknowledge that despite its function is an externalization of a digital music collection, it's still not a normal bookshelf - it's a digital one. If based on that fact alone, I could push the boundaries on search and scrolling, but still remain true to a humble, intuitive interface.

The next few days will admittedly be rough, as I have limited resources and no money as a starving graduate student married to technology, good food, and travel. I do have high hopes, though.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Resilient Energy


Pretty excited about the next few days. For some reason, I feel like I haven't experienced true sunshine in years.

Monday, February 14, 2011



Napoleon once said, "I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies." Power can come in ownership of space, mastery of knowledge, or fame. I view power as integration of all the above.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Authenticity Without Real World Items


Never thought I'd be giving M$ love like this, but I cannot agree more than with this quote I heard today: "Folks need to understand that you need to be authentically digital, moving away from emulated real world metaphors." I agree these new experiences, like language, will require formulations that are more than just references to our non-digital world, but ones in the virtual realm as well.

Explicitly, this means a shift from dated shopping cart icons and "book-flipping" animations to new visual language based in contextual emotional states, delight, and universal principles of design based on other creative disciplines. It's about integrating the incredible repertoire of knowledge in our wonderful world into a digestible medium that empowers the users we design for.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sales Like Design


These notes are taken form a workshop by Jennifer Bove, head UX asskicker of Kicker Studios.

First and foremost, let's just say sales is non-mutually exclusive equivalent of design. It's not set in stone, but let's just assume this is true for now. Think - proposals are much like presentation prototypes. Shareholders like users. A funnel of deduction that leads to an end and we finish with a product that is curated, tested, and based on good questions asked. Like design, empathy is key.

Let's take a service. A hypothetical one. We want it to be the go-to place for people interested in anything and everything cocktails. Think of it as Epicurious meets Facebook meets Meetup. We want to avoid information overload, as well as providing a mobile app and an eStore - all with a deadline for a proposal this week.

How do you approach this? Well, if you approach it like design - we simply connect the dots. When talking to our clients, ask open ended questions that get at their actual needs; how decisions are made, results they'd like to see, and ideal effect of those results. Get at the background, biggest challenges, impact, and value. You need this to win the work (instead of reciprocating exactly what they came up to you with - that usually fails 99% of the time).

Think design principles (strategic checkpoints) to see whether the client is the best fit for your company. You, as a company, need to benefit as well. Needs are needs - and they go both ways. Sales is not about persuasion, but determining a mutual fit.

Consider the process: frameworks help us determine how to hit success, so build one. Scope the client with a task flow that's familiar to building a website. Watch for client self-diagnosis and build a collaborative strategy that works for everyone. Conversation works!

Finally, consider the presentation. Sales proposals are like interfaces - one that reflects the users' intentions (not the engineer's) tends to have a higher rate of success. Consider the context, engagement, and delivery. Think of it as delivering the journey (storytelling) and use it to onboard everybody. Remember: it's about them, not you

Monday, February 07, 2011

Flying on a Jet Plane


I'm off to Boulder for a week, folks. Expect a video soon thereafter. Now if I could just find the right song to fit the mood. Guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The St. Hubert Residence


Stumbled upon this rear-extension project for under $250,000 earlier today. It probably has every single element I want in my home. Green construction. Natural and modern details. Bright lights. I basically want to marry this house.

Jolida for Stereophiles


For all you tube lovers out there, here's some amps for your aural-visual stimulation.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Don't Mind Me


I'll just be over here listening to some old school Prefuse 73.

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