Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

February 25 2014


February 18 2014


November 12 2013


An Open Letter to Project Managers

Dear Project Managers,

It has been a very enjoyable experience working with everyone over the last couple of months and sharing our ideas on UX design. The various discussions about user interface, product usability, and user engagement have been an enlightening experience for me as well, and it is very positive to see that everyone involved in the product thinks so highly about improving the user experience.

In an ideal world with unlimited time and resources, I think the best way to address UX issues is to perform the same tasks as the user under the same environment/pressure–even if we’ve built something never done before–because then we would understand the exact problems that they have to solve and hopefully come up with the best solution.

User-centric design principles, however, do not replace the fact-finding mission we all need to take as UX designers; they merely serve as a starting point for making design decisions. We are not here to critique or provide expert opinions, but we are here to help ask the right questions and get the right answers from the users.

So, let’s talk for a minute about this thing we just launched.

What went wrong?

When you asked me what the users think without giving me time or money for research, you are in fact asking me what I think the users think.

When you asked me to apply standard guidelines and industry best practices, you are asking me to ignore what users have to say and to treat them like everyone else.

If our users are feeling a little bit neglected, it is because we’ve allowed ourselves to think we know better than they do.

Standards and guidelines abound, but not all of them apply. You have to know the rules first to know when to break them. These then need to be combined with as much knowledge or information as possible about our users so we can make some design decisions on the assumption that it is in their best interest.

Finally, we need to test and validate these assumptions so we can correct any misconceptions and continue to improve the product.

Somehow, SCRUM masters have convinced senior managers that standing in a circle in front of a board full of sticky notes constitutes a meeting and playing poker figures out the work schedule and priorities, but any suggestion of UX designers talking with end-users seems to be a waste of time and effort and not worth considering. If we aren’t given the right tools and resources to do our work, how can we be expected to deliver the best outcomes?

UX practitioners are not mind readers, and even if we do manage to guess right once, you can be assured that users won’t stay the same forever.

What could have gone right?

The more time you can spend thinking about UX and talking about it, the less time you will spend on fixing your products later.

If improving the user experience is something that the organization as a whole thinks is important, then everyone should be involved in UX design, just as the UX designer interacts with various people within the organization to come up with solutions.

Critical to improving an organization’s UX competency is removing the ‘black box’ view of UX design. There are definitely technical skills and knowledge involved, but I believe the most important skill for a UX practitioner is empathy, not Photoshop or CSS or how to read heatmap reports–as handy as those skills are to have and despite what many of the recruitment agencies would have you believe.

Certain aspects of UX design are familiar to all of us, in the visible and tangible part of the user experience. The user interface has a very visual and often subjective element to its design, but as a graphic designer can tell you, there are definite components (color, typography, layout, and the like) that are used in its creation. User interaction has a more technical and logical focus to its design because the nature of programming is modular and systematic.

Where I think people struggle to make a link with is the less accessible aspects of UX design, like dealing with user engagement of the product or the connection between the user experience of the product and the corporate brand/image. An organization may have many channels of communication with the end-users, but the messages spoken by the business unit can be very different than those of the product development team or customer support team.

Within the general scope of UX design there are different ways to involve the users: generating new ideas for product features, getting feedback on new releases/betas, running conferences or webinars, conducting research workshops, and so on, and it’s not as if organizations aren’t doing some of this already.

However worthwhile these activities are in themselves, if we make our decisions based on just one or two of them–or worse, carry any of them out but don’t act on the results–we’ve missed the opportunity to improve the user experience.

People who make complaints may just want attention–or perhaps they have been suffering for so long they can no longer deal with this unusable product. How do we know if all the complaints are filtering through customer support, and do fewer support tickets necessarily mean greater customer satisfaction?

Where to from here?

If we don’t like a particular color, we know how to change it. If a particular technology is incompatible, we can modify it or find an alternative.

But if we want to influence the behavior of our users, where do we start? Like any complex problem, the best way is to break the problem down into smaller and more manageable pieces.

If we want to make an impact on our product design, how do we go about it in the right manner? I think reversing some of the current attitudes toward UX design is a good starting point, because clearly the status quo is not creating the appropriate environment and culture for a UX-focused organization.

Don’t make the only UX designer in your company the UX team, don’t restrict the scope of UX design to the user interface alone, and don’t hide the users from the UX designers.

Do spend the time and resources to implement company-wide UX strategies, do try and understand UX design a little bit better, and do it as soon as possible.

But if we haven’t done anything yet, is it too late? Like everything else worth doing, it is never too late. However, not doing UX at all is probably not much worse than doing UX poorly. To act on good assumptions with caution beats acting on bad assumptions with confidence. A good UX designer knows that nothing about the user should be assumed or taken for granted, and we always need to be on our toes because just like the product, the user may see the need for change–even more readily than we do.

Having said that, if you don’t start taking small steps now, the challenge will become even greater. Make everything you do in UX design a learning experience that helps to reduce the problem.

If I haven’t lost you yet, then I think we are ready to talk some details.

Remember, there are a lot of standards and guidelines already, so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel–we just need to work out what works for us and what we can disregard.

As with any problem-solving process, we have to go through an iterative cycle of observing, hypothesizing, and testing until we derive at the optimal solution. I emphasize the word optimal, because there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer but there may be the most optimal solution given the circumstances (time, resources, assumptions…).

For those of you that have gone through the pain (and joy) of implementing Agile methodologies, I think you will agree that there is no out of the box solution that is guaranteed to work for any organization. You can certainly embrace the philosophy and principles, but how you adopt them to work for your team will be quite different depending on how you define the goals and objectives you want to achieve, not to mention the type of teams that you work with.

Remember, I am not here to critique or provide expert opinions, but to help you ask the right questions and get the right answers from the users. What UX means for the organization is up to you to decide, but if I have managed to spur you into some action, then I will have considered my job complete.

Thank you for your time.

October 22 2013


Clicking Fast and Slow

Through social psychology and cognitive science, we now know a great deal about our own frailties in the way that we seek, use, and understand information and data. On the web, user interface design may work to either exacerbate or counteract these biases. This article will give a brief overview of the science then look at possible ways that design and implementation can be employed to support better judgements.

Fast and slow cognitive systems: How we think

If you are even remotely interested in psychology, you should read (if you haven’t already) Daniel Kahneman’s master work “Thinking Fast and Slow.”1 In it, he brings together a mass of findings from his own and others’ research into human psychology.

The central thesis is that there are two distinct cognitive systems: a fast, heuristic-based and parallel system, good at pattern recognition and “gut reaction” judgements, and a slower, serial, and deliberative system which engages more of the processing power of the brain.

We can sometimes be too reliant on the “fast” system, leading us to make errors in distinguishing signal from noise. We may incorrectly accept hypotheses on a topic, and we can be quite bad at  judging probabilities. In some cases we overestimate the extent of our own ability to exert control over events.

The way of the web: What we’re confronted with

We are increasingly accustomed to using socially-oriented web applications, and many social features are high on the requirements lists of new web projects. Because of this, we need to be more aware of the way people use social interface cues and how or when these can support good decision-making. What we do know is that overreliance on some cues may lead to suboptimal outcomes.

Social and informational biases

Work with ecommerce ratings and reviews have noted the “bandwagon” effect, where any item with a large number of reviews tends to be preferred, often when there is little knowledge of where the positive reviews come from.2 A similar phenomenon is the “Matthew” effect (“whoever has, shall be given more”), where items or users with a large number of up-votes will tend to attract more up-votes, regardless of the quality of the item itself.3

Coupled with this is an “authority” effect, when any apparent cue as to authenticity or expertise on the part of the publisher is quickly accepted as a cue to credibility. But users may be poor at distinguishing genuine from phony authority cues, and both types may be overridden by the stronger bandwagon effect.

A further informational bias known as the “filter bubble” phenomenon has been much publicized and can be examined through user behavior or simple link patterns. Studies of linking between partisan political blogs, for instance, may show few links between the blogs of different political parties. The same patterns are true in a host of topic areas. Our very portals into information, such as the first page of a Google search, may only present the most prevalent media view on a topic and lack the balance of alternative but widely-held views.4

Extending credibility and capability through the UI (Correcting for “fast” cognitive bias)

Some interesting projects have started to look at interface “nudges” which may encourage good information practice on the part of the user. One example is the use of real-time usage data (“x other users have been  viewing this for xx seconds”), which may–through harnessing social identity–extend the period with which users interact with an item of content, as there is clear evidence of others’ behavior.

Another finding from interface research is that the way the user’s progress is presented can influence his willingness to entertain different hypotheses or reject currently held hypotheses.5

Screen grab from ConsiderIt showing empty arguments

Screen grab from ConsiderIt showing empty arguments

The mechanism at work here may be similar to that found in a study of the deliberative online application ConsiderIt. Here, there was a suggestion that users will seek balance when their progress is clearly indicated to have neglected a particular side of a debate–human nature abhors an empty box!6

In online reviews, much work is going on to detect and remove spammers and gamers and provide better quality heuristic cues. Amazon now shows verified reviews; any way that the qualification of a reviewer can be validated helps prevent the review count from misleading.

Screen grab showing an Amazon review.

Screen grab showing an Amazon review.

To improve quality in in collaborative filtering systems, it is important to understand that early postings have a temporal advantage. Later postings may be more considered, argued, and evidence-based but fail to make the big time due never gaining collective attention and the early upvotes.

In any sort of collaborative resource, ways to highlight good quality new entries and rapid risers are important, whether this is done algorithmically or through interface cues.  It may also be important to encourage users to contribute to seemingly “old” items, thereby keeping them fresh or taking account of new developments/alternatives. On Stack Overflow, for instance, badges exist to encourage users to contribute to old threads:

Screen grab from Stack Overflow showing a call to action.

Screen grab from Stack Overflow showing a call to action.


Designing smarter rather than simpler

We know that well-presented content and organized design makes information appear more credible. Unfortunately, this can also be true when the content itself is of low quality.

Actual interaction time and engagement may increase when information is actually slightly harder to decipher or digest easily. This suggests that simplification of content is not always desirable if we are designing for understanding over and above mere speedy consumption.

Sometimes, perhaps out of the fear of high bounce rates, we might be ignoring the fact that maybe we can afford to lose a percentage of users if those that stick are motivated to really engage with our content. In this case, the level of detail to support this deeper interaction needs to be there.

Familiarity breeds understanding

Transparency about the social and technical mechanics of an interface is very important. “Black boxing” user reputation or content scoring, for instance, makes it hard for us to judge how useful it should be to decision making. Hinting and help can be used to educate users into the mechanics behind the interface. In the Amazon example above, for instance, a verified purchase is defined separately, but not linked to the label in the review itself.

Where there is abuse of a system, users should be able to understand why and how it is happening and undo anything that they may have inadvertently done to invite it. In the case of the “like farming” dark pattern on Facebook, it needed a third party to explain how to undo rogue likes, information that should have been available to all users.

There is already evidence that expert users become more savvy in their judgement through experience. Studies of Twitter profiles have, for instance, noted a “Goldilocks” effect, where excessively high or low follower/following numbers are treated with suspicion, but numbers more in the middle are seen as more convincing.7 Users have come to associate such profiles with more meaningful and valued content.

In conclusion: Do make me think, sometimes

In dealing with information overload, we have evolved a set of useful social and algorithmic interface design patterns. We now need to understand how these can be tweaked or applied more selectively to improve the quality of the user experience and the quality of the interaction outcomes themselves. Where possible, the power of heuristics may be harnessed to guide the user rapidly from a to b. But in some cases, this is undesirable and we should look instead at how to involve some more of the greater deliberative power of the mind.

Do you have examples of interface innovations that are designed either to encourage “slow” engagement and deeper consideration of content, or to improve on the quality of any “fast” heuristic cues? Let me know through the comments.


1 Kahneman D. Thinking, fast and slow. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2011.

2 Sundar SS, Xu Q, Oeldorf-Hirsch A. Authority vs. peer: how interface cues influence users. CHI New York, NY, USA: ACM; 2009.

3 Paul SA, Hong L, Chi EH. Who is Authoritative? Understanding Reputation Mechanisms in Quora. 2012

4 Simpson TW. Evaluating Google as an Epistemic Tool. Metaphilosophy 2012;43(4):426-445.

5 Jianu R, Laidlaw D. An evaluation of how small user interface changes can improve scientists’ analytic strategies. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems New York, NY, USA: ACM; 2012.

6 Kriplean T, Morgan J, Freelon,D., Borning,A., Bennett L. Supporting Reflective Public Thought with ConsiderIt. CSCW 2012; 2012; .

7 Westerman D, Spence PR, Van Der Heide B. A social network as information: The effect of system generated reports of connectedness on credibility on Twitter. Computers in Human Behavior 2012; 1;28(1):199-206.

September 24 2013


Your Boss Works for You

This past June, I stood on the brink of achieving a major professional goal. The UX apprenticeship program I’d been working so hard on was going to begin on Monday. It was Thursday. On my desk lay a curious stack of paper labeled “Manager’s Onboarding Kit.”

Of all the things I’d planned for and anticipated about the apprenticeship program, becoming a manager was something I hadn’t even considered. It’s something I’ve consciously avoided my entire career. The apprentices arrived, and I awkwardly mentioned that “technically” I was their manager. But after working with them for awhile I noticed something that changed my whole perspective.

I was working for them, and I loved it!

Granted, my situation might be unique in that my express purpose is to nurture and grow the apprentices’ nascent skills, but I learned many lessons about management that other managers can benefit from. Each of these lessons revolved around ways in which I found myself working for my team.

I cleared the path

Long ago, Samantha Bailey told me that the role of a UX manager is to shield her team from the chaos above them. I’m glad that lesson has stayed with me for so long, because I was able to put it into practice with the apprentices. I told them that their primary goal was to learn new skills and grow them. If anything got in the way of that, they should come to me and I would make whatever it was go away. I helped them clear a path to their goal through the organizational jungle.

An unexpected but happy consequence of this was that my working hard for my team inspired them to work hard for me. If you work for a consultancy or agency, you’re probably required to fill out your timesheet daily. And you probably don’t do it. The apprentices did. I told them that I relied on their time entries to track their progress and needed them to enter their time, daily, and never once did I have to have the timesheet talk with any of them.

I told it like it was

I wasn’t born in Minnesota, but I may as well have been. I am rife with Minnesota Nice. Giving people feedback beyond, “Great job! Here’s some hotdish!” makes me twitchy. But my role is to help people with promise develop that promise into talent. To do this, I needed to extend myself beyond my comfort zone and give the apprentices feedback about things they needed to work on.

It wasn’t easy for me, but it did get easier as time went on. This was because my telling it like it was led them to trust me. That trust yielded results. One apprentice in particular would make a point of implementing the feedback I gave her. One week I’d awkwardly say she should work on something, and then the next week I’d both hear feedback from mentors about how she’d done that thing and she would tell me herself. That not only helped her grow; it helped me grow too.

I increased my say/do ratio

One of my early mentors kept track of her “say/do ratio” on the whiteboard at her desk. This is a personal metric that describes how reliably a person does what they say they’re going to do. I laughed, but she was serious about it. She was exceptionally reliable. I’m fortunate that this is another early lesson I retained.

When you work for your team, you need to do a lot of things for them. I’ve not always been the most organized person, but I felt was important enough to commit to making a concentrated effort. Working for my team would be no good if I didn’t do the things they needed me to do.

Being an interaction designer, naturally I designed a process to keep track of what I said I was going to do and whether I had done it. Often, apprentices would come up to me as I was at my desk. A to-do would often come out of that conversation. I use Things to track my tasks, and I keep it open at all times. With a simple key combination I could instantly enter a new task, leaving for later the classification of the new task. During our weekly one-on-one meetings, I left a section in the Evernote note that guided each meeting for me to keep track of new things an apprentice would need me to do. Each item had a checkbox, and after the meetings I’d enter them into Things and check off the boxes in Evernote. Once the item was completed, I’d check it off in Things. Maybe this seems excessive to you, but it works for me. Find whatever works for you and do it consistently.

I constantly sought feedback

At the very beginning of the program I let my team know that I had neither managed anyone before nor run an apprenticeship program. I told them I needed them to provide feedback on both me and the program for it to be as good as it could be. Sometimes they’d provide me with feedback I wouldn’t implement, but when that happened I explained why. Sometimes the things they needed me to do for them would take awhile. Sometimes the solutions to the problems they brought up weren’t obvious.

In these situations, I communicated with them about what was happening and I sought feedback on my proposed solutions. I consciously showed them that by giving me feedback they could make things happen. As it turns out, the apprentices and I improved the program together.

My favorite example of how we built the program together is the internal project they all worked on as a team. Initially, I was dead set against apprentices working on internal projects. To me, internal projects were something to keep interns busy. I felt that internal projects would be a waste of time for apprentices. The goal of apprenticeship is to learn UX design through actual client work.

The apprentices were getting that experience, one design method at a time. They’d do stakeholder interviews on one project, then user research analysis on another. What they weren’t getting was a look at how the design process moved from one stage to another, say from research to analysis and then design. After they brought this up enough times, I swallowed my pride and suggested they work on an internal project together, from start to finish, with me as their mentor. They jumped at the chance, did a stellar job, and learned what they’d set out to learn.

I was there

The act of being physically present with your team shows that you support them. I chose to sit right in the middle of mine. Not at one end of the desks, not in an office, but right in the middle of the apprentice team. We have an open floor plan at The Nerdery, where people sit in groups of 6-8 desks rather than in individual cubicles. Being right in the middle of my team made me easier to talk to because I was only a glance away from any of them. The result was that the apprentices talked to me a lot and used the support I offered.

I ran the numbers, but I didn’t let the numbers run me

Running an apprenticeship program for four apprentices takes a lot of tracking. I have to track their time, feedback on them, and feedback they’re giving me. I also have to track how much the program is costing and whether it’s hitting its metrics. If it’s not, I have to do things to move the numbers up. Yes, this takes time. But I did these tasks early in the morning before the apprentices arrived. When they did, I could focus on them.

With management comes administration, but administration is not the essence of your job. Your job is to clear the way for your team, and administration is just another thing you’re clearing from their path. Yes, it’s something you have to do, but it should absolutely not be your focus. Your team is your focus.

Problems I faced

Even though I felt exhilarated and energized by my new role as a manager, it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. For example, I was still on a project as a billable designer. Balancing the work I wanted to do for my team with the work I needed to do for my client was challenging. Sometimes, I just wanted to hide so I could focus on data analysis or sketching, but I resisted. When you’re physically present, you should expect to be interrupted. What’s helpful, though, is to remember that they’re not really interruptions; they’re your job. The really tricky thing is that you can’t ever predict your team’s needs, so always expect the unexpected and have someone who can support you.

My own managers and my project team were my supports. One manager had a knack for giving me feedback without pussyfooting around. I appreciated that in her and I tried to emulate it myself. When I talked with her about becoming a manager, she let me in on a secret. She was like that with me because that’s what I responded well to. Other people needed pussyfooting to accept feedback.

When I confessed my newly positive feelings about managing to my other manager, he beamed with a knowing smile. At that moment, I knew that he’d been working for me and everyone else all along. Now when we meet, he encourages me to keep working for the apprentices and he helps me break down any organizational barriers that arise.

My project team supported me by respecting the fact that I now had two jobs. When they needed my undivided attention, they scheduled collaborative work time with me. This helped me balance my client and management responsibilities. They didn’t schedule all my unscheduled time, just some of it. This allowed me to focus on the client for a time without being out of reach. I simply told the apprentices where I’d be.

What you can take away from this

If you are determined to avoid management at all costs, like I was, here’s what I want you to take away. Managing people doesn’t have to suck. It doesn’t have the obvious allure of design, solving problems and making things, but if you approach management as if it were a design problem, it can be incredibly rewarding. Think of your team as your users and their ability to achieve their goals as their experience. Good management is the continual, real-time design of your team’s experience. When you get the opportunity to manage people, take it. Don’t run away from it.

If you are already managing people, try putting some of these lessons I’ve learned into your own management practice. It will make your work more fulfilling. If you are already working for your team, that’s wonderful! Let’s hear what you’ve learned about it!


Learn More from our Archives

Erin Malone’s So You Think You Want to be a Manager

Christina Wodtke’s Career Choices for Designers

Brenda Janish’s Leading from Within

September 17 2013


UX One-liners

A little background to start: I’ve had the honor of working as a designer-in-residence for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive Pilot Program (UXDI) from June through July. Our team built, launched, and taught a UX course 5-days a week, 8-hours a day, for 8-weeks straight.  It was quite the challenging, yet rewarding experience.

However, learning from our approach, I found something about the way we bring people into the fold that we can stand to improve.

We instructors spent much of our early days teaching techniques by going through truckloads of slides. We sent students home to read more chapters and articles loaded with paragraphs after paragraphs of definitions and use cases.

Yet, when students have trouble with a particular technique or concept during their free practice time, we’ve always had to re-explain to them the crux of these ideas with piercing simplicity.

Why don’t these simple core ideas exist in a simple, more easily referenceable form?

Looking up any UX terminology in Google results in many results: incomplete lists long abandoned, or gigantic lists of terms with accompanying paragraphs–and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to avoid the full blown articles. At a time when Dieter Rams’ As Little Design as Possible is common advocacy, we can present the fundamental impressions of UX’s core capabilities as something much more succinct than a wall of text. I’d argue that we would want the same considerations for our own products and content.

I have a modest proposal. Introduce the essence of your techniques and concepts in a single sentence. Do it in a one-liner. If it goes beyond one sentence, make it shorter.

Understand that these one-liners are NOT meant to explain UX techniques or concepts as well as articles or lengthy discussions can. Likewise, the real substance behind any of these techniques and ideas will expand and change over time, context, usage, and the like.

However, my contention is that there should be a much simpler and more concise way for people to see to the fundamental core of a technique or idea. For any confusion and disagreements that exists within the UX community, one of our common goals is to better communicate our ideas and intents to our teams and colleagues so that we can better create.

Why not then reconsider how we communicate the most basic fundamentals of what and how we work?

UX has always had a rich tradition steeped in academia, which is often somewhat verbose. It’s only relatively recently that its relevance to the consumer world has been realized on a massive scale. As UX adapts to a rapidly shortening cycles of technological–and by proxy, behavioral–change, we need to consider simplicity and conciseness in introducing the rest of our world to not only the products we design, but also the universe in which we create.

There will be another session of UXDI session beginning in September. I’ll be preparing a list for the students to use. Would you do it for a class you taught?

Here’s to an improved UX of UX.

Here are some one-liners I think adequately communicate the focus of their associated techniques and methodologies. This is a start. Add your own in the comments.

Card Sorting Activity in which users organize a set of data in ways that they think makes sense. Contextual Inquiry Ethnographic Interviewing technique where the user is observed using products in their natural usage setting. Ethnographic Interviews Interviewing techniques combining one-on-one interviewing and extensive observation. Facets Preset categories used to filter information/content into more digestible chunks. Heuristics Quick rules of thumb used to streamline design decisions. Metadata Data used to categorize other data. Personas Description of fictional yet realistic persons that represents a target user group/market. Scenarios A story describing a user’s problem situation and how she might use a product to achieve a solution. Site Maps Modular diagram conveying your site’s page inventory and, to a lesser extent, categories. Usability Testing A test conducted with end users to see how usable they find a product. User Flow A path map highlighting what a user has to do within your product to accomplish his goals.

July 02 2013


Emotional Design with A.C.T. – Part 2

Back in Part 1, we looked at how the emotions expressed by people and products communicate personality traits over time. We also learned that customers are attracted to things that have an aesthetic personality that’s similar to their own,1 but they prefer products that take on a complementary role during interaction.2

In Part 2, we’ll look at how relationships are formed when people interact with products over time, and we’ll explore how people experience the emotion of “love.” Then, we’ll examine how basic product goals like desirability, usability, and usefulness relate to the different types of love. Finally, we’ll explore the A.C.T. model, a user-friendly take on using existing frameworks for designing emotional experiences.

Designing relationships

People attribute personalities to products and interfaces and expect those products to interact according to human social rules.3 Our emotional responses to the marketing, purchase, and use of products combine over time to create emotional experiences, which further combine to create emotional relationships.4 The quality of these accumulated interactions can mark the beginning (or end) of a “relationship” between the person and the product.

Throughout our lives, we’ve all been exposed to different types of relationships, both personally and through media. We have acquaintances, coworkers, companions, friends, lovers, wives, husbands, and every combination in between. While all these relationships are important, the people we love tend to have a special place in our hearts and minds.

But even amongst those we “love,” there are a number of different relationships. Some relationships are short, passionate flings based solely on attraction or lust. Others, though lacking in physical attraction, are deep, intimate friendships formed through ongoing interaction and conversation. Others are simple marriages of convenience with a firm commitment, but little passion or intimacy.

Although these relationships might seem to be very different, the people involved might still call the emotion they share “love.” This suggests that we’re using a single term to describe what may be several different emotions. Because of this, it can be difficult to come to a mutual understanding of what the word love really means.

Some people, for example, will emphatically say how much they love certain products. But when they say they “love” products, what do they really mean? What exactly is required to feel love for a product? Is it different from the love two people might feel for one another? Is love an appropriate emotion for relationships with products?

We can gain new insights into the formation of human-product relationships by understanding how humans form relationships with one another. Let’s take a look at the different ways people experience the emotion of love to get a better understanding of what it means to “love” a product.

How do I love thee?

Sternberg5 has described human relationships in terms of three forms of love.

Forms of Love

  • Passion (Infatuated Love)
  • Intimacy (Friendship)
  • Commitment (Empty Love)

 Passion, Intimacy, Commitment
Forms of love
(Sternberg, 1988), diagram: (van Gorp, 2009)


Passion is based on aesthetics. We’re passionately attracted to certain people because of how they look, sound, smell, feel and taste. These aesthetic cues communicate information about health, reproductive fitness, fertility, and social status to potential partners 7 8. We generally evaluate these cues automatically without conscious consideration.

If a relationship had Passion but lacked Intimacy and Commitment, it would be called Infatuated Love, or lust5. This form of love would describe the quick fling or one-night stand. According to Sternberg5, relationships based solely on Passion tend to burn out quickly. We tend to be attracted to people who are about as attractive, wealthy, and educated as ourselves (i.e. those who are similar to us).


Sternberg5 defines Intimacy as Friendship, rather than sexual intimacy. Achieving Intimacy usually requires repeated conversation and interaction over time. You don’t really get to know someone well without spending time together in a variety of situations.

When we engage in conversation with another person, we make both unconscious and conscious evaluations of them. We judge whether our styles of interaction are complementary and comfortable, or similar and conflicting. Does the other person constantly interrupt when you’re talking? Are you always butting heads over who’s in charge? Does he or she give you the amount of respect you feel you deserve?

If all you had with another person was Intimacy, you’d probably be very close friends. However, you’d likely not feel much Passion or sexual attraction. If someone has ever told you that they love you, but aren’t “in love” with you, it’s likely that they were talking about feeling Intimacy without Passion.


Commitment is a mutually agreed upon agreement. In marriage, an individual consciously enters into a public contract with another person. Even in long-term relationships outside of marriage, the majority of couples in the western world still commit to an exclusive partnership. And yet, without Passion or Intimacy, Commitment is merely an empty agreement. If the only thing you had with someone was a Commitment, without any Passion or Intimacy, you’d have what Sternberg5 calls “Empty Love.”

Depending on the context, one or more of the three forms of love can occur at different times in a relationship. In the western world, Commitment usually comes after we’ve had a chance to evaluate our levels of Passion and Intimacy. At that point, we’ve hopefully decided whether the other person’s personality is a good fit for our own. In other parts of the world this may not be the case. Arranged marriages are one example of a relationship that begins with Commitment, with the expectation of Passion and Intimacy developing later.

Design goals, types of reactions & triune brain

At this point, you may be wondering how all of this relates to designing emotional experiences that encourage relationships. To start with, we could draw some parallels between the three forms of love and the three categories of product requirements I mentioned in Part 1. Here’s a quick recap:

  • Desirable
  • Usable
  • Useful

(Sanders, 1992)

Useful, Usable, Desirable

Design Goals
adapted from: (Sanders, 1992), image: (van Gorp, 2012)

Discussions of emotional design often focus almost exclusively on the aesthetics or Desirability of a product. However, much like a three-legged stool, the qualities of Usability and Usefulness still need to be there for the product to stand on its own. For software and web applications, all three legs of the stool need to be there to support repeat usage and interaction.

The most primitive part of our brain (i.e. the reptilian brain), is automatic and generates unconscious emotional responses. The part of our brain that we share with mammals and a few other vertebrates (i.e. the mammalian brain), is also largely unconscious and creates our emotional experiences. The most highly evolved part of our brains (i.e. the neomammalian brain), is conscious and is where we form complex emotional relationships. These different levels of brain function can help us understand how relationships develop through small, repeated interactions.

Emotional: Responses, Experiences, Relationships

(Demir, 2008), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)

Over time, simple emotional responses from the reptilian brain combine with the processing of social cues from the mammalian brain to form experiences, which combine with our thoughts and emotions from the neomammalian brain to create relationships.

Design goals, types of reactions, and forms of love

Let’s quickly examine how the different types of love relate to designing for emotion. The user is attracted to the product’s aesthetics, triggering the Desire or passion to approach. If the user finds the product Usable and easy to interact with, he or she may begin to feel greater connection or intimacy with the product. If the product then displays its Usefulness by reliably and consistently fulfilling its purpose, trust and commitment can result.

Design Goals, Forms of Love, Product Elements, Types of Reactions

Comparing Models

(Sanders, 1992)(Sternberg, 1988)(Demir, 2008)(McLean, 1990), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)

Desirability is connected to product aesthetics. Usability is connected to the quality of interaction, and usefulness is connected to how well the product functions. For complex products, this process repeats itself with each use, continuing over time to form deeper relationships.

The types of love

Just as there are different types of relationships between people, there are different types of relationships between people and products. For products where the context of use is a short relationship (as with a disposable product), focusing on a single type of love (or a single leg of the stool) may be fine. Various combinations of the three forms of love describes many of the common relationships we see in our lives.

Types of love

  • Passion + Intimacy = Romantic Love
  • Passion + Commitment = Fatuous or Illusory Love
  • Intimacy + Commitment = Companionate Love
  • Passion + Intimacy + Commitment = Consummate Love

(Sternberg, 1988)

Ideal Human Relationship model

Types of Love
(Sternberg, 1988), diagram: (van Gorp, 2009)

Passion (Desirable) + Intimacy (Usable) = Romantic Love

When you combine the attraction of passion with the interaction and conversation of intimacy, you get Romantic Love. In human relationships Romantic Love describes physical attraction, along with a sense of deep intimate connection, without any formal commitment.

In relationships with products, we can envision attractive, usable products and services that don’t require long-term investments. Virgin Mobile, for example, offers attractive usable phones with no contractual commitment. The target audience is young and drawn to the idea of not committing to a phone plan. Even the marketing of the page–Why “Go” Beyond Talk?–could be taken as a metaphor for moving to another stage in a relationship.

Virgin Mobile

Passion (Desirable) + Commitment (Useful) = Illusory love

Combining passion and commitment without any intimacy generally makes a poor foundation for a long-term relationship. This may be why Sternberg5 calls this combination “Fatuous” or Illusory Love. One example of this type of relationship would be a “sugar daddy” style relationship, where one partner is involved purely for passion, and the other is involved purely for commitment and the financial rewards that come with it.

In the world of design, attractive but unusable products are one source of this type of Illusory Love. We may purchase a product, attracted purely by its slick marketing or pleasing visual design, only to find that although it looks good on the surface and functions acceptably, it’s difficult to operate and frustrating to use.

Intimacy (Usable) + Commitment (Useful) = Companionate Love

When we combine Intimacy and Commitment, we get a good companion, hence the label Companionate Love5. This type of human relationship would describe a couple who are not physically attracted to each other, but are friendly and committed.

When we think of Companionate Love in terms of product relationships, we can imagine more utilitarian products. They’re easy to use, reliable, and perform the task for which they were designed. However, they don’t create that spark of attraction and desire, so there’s little passion involved. An example of this type of love would be your favorite hairbrush. This brush might be the one that does such a great job of styling your hair, you don’t need any other brushes. You probably don’t think much about your hairbrush when you’re not around it. But like the loss of an old friend, you may only really appreciate it once it’s gone.


Passion + Intimacy + Commitment = Consummate Love

Occasionally, human relationships seem to encompass all three forms of love. These relationships have achieved what Sternberg5 calls “all consuming” or Consummate Love. The people involved are passionately attracted to one another, have a deep intimate friendship, and a strong abiding commitment.

In human-product relationships, if a product has achieved trust by communicating a clear and consistent personality over repeated interactions, the user may be willing to consciously Commit and engage in transactions with the product. Transactions that lead to the formation of relationships leave us practically and emotionally satisfied in the long term. For interactive products that are used repeatedly, Consummate Love is what we are seeking to elicit from our users.

Designing relationships with A.C.T.

The A.C.T. model embodies the different forms of love, and can help you envision product development as a process of building relationships with users. The terms in the acronym A.C.T. were chosen to help designers understand the requirements they need to fulfill at each stage: Attract, Converse, Transact.

A.C.T. explores the relationship between Sternberg’s levels of love (passion, intimacy, and commitment) and product requirements to produce a model that is both more prescriptive for designers and more communicative for business stakeholders.

Ideal Product Relationship
A.C.T. Model

(van Gorp, 2009)

Let’s quickly summarize the perspectives embodied in the A.C.T.


  • Desirability (do users find the aesthetics appealing?)
  • Aesthetic properties of the product (i.e. look, sound, smell, touch, and taste)
  • Passion
  • Unconscious, automatic responses
  • Reptilian brain


  • Usability (i.e. ease of use)
  • How the product interacts with the user
  • Intimacy
  • Unconscious and conscious experiences
  • Mammalian brain


  • Usefulness
  • Whether the product fulfills its function
  • Commitment
  • Conscious relationships
  • Neomammalian (human) brain

A.C.T. Model

A.C.T. Model Comparison

adapted from: (Sanders, 1992)(Sternberg, 1988)(Demir, 2008)(McLean, 1990), diagram: (van Gorp & Adams, 2012)


We judge products by the personalities we sense through their aesthetics and style of interaction. It takes the skill and sensitivity of designers, marketers and user experience professionals to properly identify the personality that appeals to their target audience, and then consistently design, market, advertise and package that product with the appropriate personality in mind. The A.C.T. Model can help practitioners to more fully and systematically address the requirements that lead to successful products.

To explore this idea in depth, Edie Adams and I have written a book on creating better relationships between people and products. If you’re interested in learning more about emotional design, designing personality and the A.C.T. Model, pick up a copy of Design for Emotion. The book includes over 130 images and examples, interviews with industry experts, and case studies to help you do a better job of designing for emotion, personality and relationship. You can also get a free copy of Chapter 1 of Design for Emotion here.

- Portions of this post are excerpts from Design for Emotion, by Trevor van Gorp and Edie Adams -


Govers, P. C. M., & Schoormans, J. P. L. (2005). “Product personality and its influence on consumer preference”. Journal of Consumer Marketing, 22(4), 189–197.

Markey, P. M., & Markey, C. N. (2007). “Romantic ideals, romantic obtainment, and relationship experiences: The complementarity of interpersonal traits among romantic partners”. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(4), 517–533.

Reeves, B., & Nass, C. (1998). The media equation: How people treat computers, television and new media like real people and places. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Demîr, E. (2008). “The Field of Design and Emotion: Concepts, Arguments, Tools and Current Issues”. METU JFA, 1(1), 135.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The Triangle of Love: Intimacy, Passion, Commitment. New York: Basic Books.

van Gorp, Trevor. (2009). Emotional Design with A.C.T. Poster: 2010 IA Summit. Phoenix, AZ.

7Buss, David. (2003). The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating. New York: Basic Books.

Etcoff, N. (2000). Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty. Anchor Books.

Sanders, E. B. N. (1992, Fall). “Converging perspectives: Product development research for the 1990s”. Design Management Journal, 3(4), 49–54.

10 van Gorp, Trevor, & Adams, E. (2012). Design for Emotion. Boston: Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier.

11 McLean, P. D. (1990). The triune brain in evolution: Role in paleocerebral functions. New York: Plenum Press.

June 11 2013


Researching User Experience: A Knowledge Ecology Model

When we think of learning environments, we think of books, lectures, databases perhaps. But in my recent research, I discovered that the interactions we have with people in our networks play an even more important role in what we learn and how we turn information into actionable knowledge.

All of the people in my study were learning how to be lecturers and how to progress their careers after spending considerable amounts of time as practitioners in a variety of industries such as business and marketing, health, psychology, education, environmental sciences and entertainment. I focused on exploring what informed their learning and professional development and how it informed their learning.

After a series of interviews and qualitative data analysis, I found that what is primarily informing their learning activities is knowledge–knowledge of oneself and knowledge from a range of people in their professional and personal networks such as informal and formal mentors, industry and academic colleagues, family, friends, and even inspirational figures they have never met. Some of the key learning experiences include:

  • hearing from experienced leaders as ‘role models’ at professional development programs,
  • seeking and attracting developers (informal mentors or peers) while taking formal courses,
  • presenting papers at events such as conferences, thus gaining peer feedback and making friends,
  • getting known through volunteering within professional communities and internal committees,
  • maintaining personal foundations around the home, family, and social life, and
  • seeking or attracting new opportunities for expansion using a range of social media.

Five types of knowledge emerged from the data:

Knowledge Types Examples Experiential lessons from past experience, tacit knowledge, know-how Personal social savvy, common sense, trust, empathy Technical how-to guides, user reviews Disciplinary conversations or reviews within similar discipline or field Interdisciplinary conversations or reviews between different disciplines

Each knowledge type refers to knowledge co-created within relationships: knowledge from the new lecturer (knowledge of self) and knowledge from their developers (knowledge of others).

I also found that, for these new university lecturers, what they gleaned from informal interactions is key to meaningful learning experiences. All of the above forms of knowledge are created and used during the key learning experiences within the informal sphere of learning. The informal sphere is where trust is built and where people can ‘be themselves’ and choose to learn what matters most to them.

Contrastingly, information is discussed as useful for learning but is experienced as secondary to knowledge. My participants view the knowledge types as listed above as more important to their learning than information types listed below. Although they are both useful for learning, the lecturers first ‘relate’ to information types–they select information that they can relate to or they have something in common with–that becomes knowledge stored in the mind which strongly informs their learning.

From the data, I have identified the following categories of information resources used for learning experiences.

Information Types Examples Texts articles, books, websites, multimedia, emails Tools software, hardware, mobile devices, equipment Humans elevator speeches, business cards, online profiles Culture organizational or community Environments work/home space design, geographical location or political climate

Once a person interacts with these forms of information by relating to them personally, the selected information turns into knowledge inside a person’s head, to be used and re-used for learning experiences.

Relationships between people (in particular, reciprocal relationships based on trust and empathy) can be viewed as complex knowledge contexts, where knowledge is created from relating to information. By asking how particular forms of knowledge from people inform learning and development, we begin to see processes associated with the experiences of knowing oneself, knowing other people, and recognizing multiple layers of relationships. Processes involved in knowledge user experience include:

  • Knowing self by identifying, testing, feeling, discovering, reflecting on, and offering knowledge of oneself;
  • Knowing others by accessing, monitoring, aligning, seeking, applying and sharing knowledge of other people; and
  • Recognizing multiple layers of relationships by selecting communication modes, exploring personal dimensions, navigating across boundaries, balancing roles, and changing over time.

My findings reflect the experiences of a group of people who are moving between different contexts, such as industry to academia or research. The conceptual model described above is a ‘knowledge ecosystem’ which could also have implications not only for UX practice in designing, learning, and professional development experiences (both online and offline) for user groups who transition between different worlds, but also possibly for building bridges between them. Some general implications for UX practice are below.

At first glance, it seems that the current generation of UX practice is geared towards users’ experiences of information (texts, humans and tools) and also context (culture and environment), as in the case of service design, for example.

If information is only secondary to knowledge in terms of usefulness to achieve a particular goal or purpose, this finding suggests that the UX field could advance by looking beyond interacting with information and towards a more holistic, ecological view that encompasses both information and knowledge user experiences.

A key question here could be: How do we create a user experience that facilitates tapping into the different forms of knowledge found within people’s heads?

Thinking about people as users of knowledge rather than just users of information opens up a whole new terrain of potential design, thus moving from information user experience to knowledge user experience.

At the heart of people’s user experience is the concept of the human relationship, the processes of informing our relationships through knowledge, and strengthening our social networks to achieve one’s life purpose. Relationships are not just between the interface of human-to-computer/website but also, more importantly for knowledge user experience, human-to-human interaction, whether that interaction occurs online or offline.

May 21 2013


Information Architecture’s Teenage Dilemma

Imagine if you will information architecture as a pimply-faced, malcontent teenager.  IA is eager to express and redefine itself. It wants to be an individual yet accepted by its peers. It is simultaneously aggravated and apathetic about its parents, mentors, and role-models. It is a bit of a mess, but a wonderful, beautiful mess with endless opportunity and potential.

The IA Summit (and information architecture) enters adolescence

The first IA Summit was held April 8-9, 2000, in Boston, MA, and was titled Defining Information Architecture. Now, fast forward to this year’s 13th IA Summit held April 3-7 in Baltimore, MD, in which the Summit entered the awkward teen years against the slogan “Observe Build Share Repeat.”

Taking the slogan to heart, a number of Summit workshops, sessions, keynotes, and discussions focused on reframing information architecture as a practice and as a field. Granted, IA is closer to 40 in chronological age (many date back to Richard Saul Wurman’s 1976 declaration “I am an Information Architect,” though personally I subscribe to Andrea Resmini’s Brief History timeline), but it is also experiencing adolescence thanks to a rapidly transforming digital landscape that makes puberty seem pretty innocuous. Consider, for example, the proliferation of:

  • Big data and open machine readable datasets (e.g., and AWS Public Data Sets)
  • Content syndication, especially approaches like COPE (Create Once Publish Everywhere)
    • Plus increased use (and occasionally understanding) of taxonomies and metadata
  • Free and open-source:
    • Blogging and content management systems like WordPress
    • Content management frameworks like Drupal
    • Design tools like Twitter Bootstrap and hosting services like GitHub
  • HTML 5 and CSS3 with their improved capabilities especially around design and media
  • Mobile devices and technologies
  • Responsive web design in its various approaches and permutations

Like a teen whose body is changing faster than it realizes, so too is information architecture stretching and growing and developing. But information architects (at least most of them) have gone through puberty and should be able to adapt their practice and usher their field through this tectonic change.

Remaking information architecture

Coming of age is always difficult. It requires patience and introspection. It is uncomfortable, unpleasant, awkward, and is in many ways unending. But, it offers a unique opportunity to remake and improve information architecture in the face of change and to prepare for the next tools, technologies, and even modalities altering both the digital and physical landscapes.

This means making hard choices and invariably suffering missteps and setbacks. But when the IA community comes through it, it’ll be older and wiser with a better understanding and control of its body (the practice and field of information architecture). Then IA can start realizing the unmet potential of its youth. So what is the path ahead?

Define information architecture not as a concept, but as a practice and a field

For me, the highlight of the 2013 IA Summit occurred before the opening keynote. It was the pre-conference workshop, Academics and Practitioners Round Table: Reframing Information Architecture, moderated by current Information Architecture Institute president Andrea Resmini. The all-day session consisted of 30+ information architects working to identify the requirements that would lay the foundation for a common language, grammar, and poetics for IA.

While the proceedings of the workshop will be published in the Journal of Information Architecture, the real work will begin when the larger community comes together to define and formalize itself. This necessarily includes:

  • Defining what is and is not information architecture
  • Identifying and documenting the major IA schools of thought
  • Mapping out and understanding how IA relates to sibling (such as usability, information design), parent (such as architecture, library science) and extended-family (such as psychology, linguistics) fields
  • Agreeing on a basic timeline for information architecture’s intellectual history, including formative events that pre-date the emergence of the field as well as key technological and cultural events that shaped it
  • Codifying information architecture best practices and developing standards around key artifacts
  • Formalizing the requisite background, training, skills, and certifications for practitioners and then defining the various roles within IA, noting which overlap with other fields and how

Here it should be noted that individual IA practitioners, organizations, and programs have made strides in addressing the above. But until there is a confluence from across the information architecture community, these will be little more than outposts in the wild and may even promote schisms within the community.

Accepting some basic truths about the practice of information architecture

The larger discussion around remaking information architecture also includes coming to consensus around some important concepts that every information architect needs to understand. These are discussed in my April 17, 2013, Aquilent (my employer) blog post 2013 IA Summit Themes but are summarized here:

  • You cannot control device usage. Device usage will change and evolve faster than we can keep up, and it is a fool’s errand trying to predict or determine how users access content.
  • You cannot control content. Syndication and content reuse ensure that content takes on a life of its own, so it’s essential to understand and leverage taxonomy and metadata.
  • You cannot control meaning. It is not inherent or discrete and can’t be turned on and off; information architects can only share meaning and should consider a meaning-first approach.
  • To serve the users you must serve the content. Understand and leverage syndication, promote content longevity and usefulness, and consider targeted, accidental, and future audiences.
  • Sometimes you’re the architect, but often you’re the builder. We cannot always do dramatic and innovative work, but remember, the best information architecture is invisible.

There are, of course, many other concepts that are essential to the practice and field of information architecture will be identified and defined as its adolescence continues.

The time is now…

With the IA Summit turning 13 and information architecture in a time of adolescent turmoil and transformation, it seems clear that the timing is right to define and formalize both the practice and field of information architecture.

Heading into the 2014 IA Summit, members of the community need to open their minds and roll up their sleeves for the difficult, awkward, and emotional work ahead. And they should do so knowing that once information architecture enters its adulthood, it will open up new world of influence and opportunity.

Put another way – and paraphrasing B&A founder Christina Wodtke – be bold, take risks, and fail spectacularly. Now is the time to clearly define and state the communities’ vision for information architecture then set out to realize it.

May 14 2013


Is the iPad mobile?

My Android phone died on the train when I was several stops away from my destination. I should have remembered where I was supposed to get off, but, like everyone else, I rely on technology to offload cognitive processes when I should be using my brain.

Wait, I thought, I have both my iPad and my laptop in my backpack.

I felt ridiculously conspicuous pulling out either just to check Google Maps. Between the two, I chose the iPad. It’s smaller and it has 3G. However, I felt as if all my fellow passengers were reading my giant screen along with me.  There’s a reason, I realized, that I’ve been observing commuters on their phones or slightly larger Kindles, but seldom whipping out their iPads on trains, bus stops, or speed walking through the city.

The iPad hit the market about three years ago, quickly becoming disruptive by creating a user need where there previously was none. 22% of U.S. adults now own a tablet. Given that it looks and acts like a larger smartphone (minus the obvious calling feature) and that there are apps, it’s easy to classify it as a mobile device. And that’s probably true – the iPad is more mobile than, say, your laptop.

However, as an app developer or a brand that wants its presence on the device, the larger question remains. Do you design for users on the go? Or do you focus on a more in-depth user experience? What is your content strategy? After three years of usage, we have data and opinions to support multiple points of view.

Mark Zuckerburg famously stated that the iPad isn’t mobile (Parr, 2010). Jakob Nielson’s report suggests that iPad users don’t use their iPads in truly mobile situations, and those that do take their iPads away from home tend to use them in more relaxed situations (Nielsen, Budiu, 11).

Where does that leave your feature offering and user flow?

I design mobile apps for After several years, countless usability sessions, and app design for three platforms (Android, iPhone, and iPad), our design team came to the realization that we should not necessarily think of it as design for mobile, but as design for tablet, or even more broadly: design for touch.  And when it comes to interaction, this is certainly true. The iPad shares the same interaction model as other touch devices. Our content strategy, however, has had to shift after trial and error.

Our apps are built primarily around the assumption that users are searching for cars. On top of that, since they’re doing so on a mobile device, they’re also interested in contextual tasks, which include finding dealers who stock those cars, contacting those dealers, and test-driving the cars. This basic flow was positively reviewed in the app marketplace for both the iPhone and Android apps. Thus, when the iPad app was developed, we had employed the same content strategy. We also focused a large effort on creating an in-app map feature, assuming users would be using it on the go.

After conducting user testing, I realized the following:

  • About 20% of our users have WiFi iPads instead of 3G. This meant that all the contextual features we were considering, such as on-the-dealer-lot and on-the-go usage would be available only to those who either have a 3G iPad or access to a free WiFi.
  • iPads were generally a shared device. Spouses and families typically had one per household, and therefore no one person carried it with him or her at all times.
  • The largest iPad use case was on the couch, in front of the TV. In this case, iPads replaced laptops for consumption of information, such as browsing the web, or more cognition-heavy tasks such as researching a product. This is different than a laptop, which is still turned to for creating, or a smartphone, which is used for contextual and hyper-local information, such as finding the closest dealership or grocery store. This is also the reason why Josh Clark recommended considering the “belly zone” when designing the navigation for your app and avoiding putting controls on the bottom (Wroblewski, “Design for Mobile: iPad Design Tips”).

Given all the arguments against the iPad being mobile, where does this leave content strategy? All evidence points to the fact that you should design for touch but consider content differently. Think of it as a touch device that is used in one place. As you plan your content strategy for an iPad app, consider the following.

Focus On What You Do Best

It’s tempting to cram in many bells and whistles into this highly visual device. After all, the graphics are at the foreground and Apple’s design guidelines extensively instruct us to let the user interact with the content, not the chrome. The content, however, should be what your brand does best. Focus on your core user path and keep the flow simple and fairly linear, at least in the beginning.

For example, our initial app at primarily allowed users to research new cars. We designed for large graphics and minimal content, thinking that we were meeting iPad users’ expectations. Our users, however, expected to find listings of cars, not just research, because that’s what our brand is known for. Their expectations didn’t change simply because they were using an iPad. We re-focused on search, which is what we do best, and our ratings improved greatly.

As you consider content, pare down features that are essential to your brand and develop one solid user flow. Often, your core user flow is an obvious one. We leveraged analytics to understand how consumers used our regular site on their iPads prior to making changes to the actual iPad app. After all, a significant portion of traffic to our site comes from iPad devices. This provided insight on what specific features from the site can be customized in the native app for a better experience.

Consider The Funnel & The Couch User

If you have a cross-channel brand, consider the consumer journey through your brand. For example, for us at we’re always thinking about the consumer’s shopping funnel. When people first begin their search for a new car, they may perform high-level searches, research, and comparisons. As they get lower in the funnel and near their car purchase date, users turn to their smartphones for activities such as locating and contacting dealerships.

Since we’ve established that people use their iPads on the couch, we now aim to design primarily for the couch user. Our iPad tasks focus more on the initial search, with research features folded into the main flow, and we spend less time worrying about location-based services. Our secondary and tertiary flows, however, include map features and geo-location because it is still, after all, an iPad.

Sync Across All Channels

50% of U.S adults now own either a tablet or a smartphone, and many own more than one. This has major implications on how and when users consume information across the same brand. For e-commerce, for example, one-quarter of visits to e-commerce sites occur from mobile devices, however all but 15% return back to their laptops to purchase. For us in the automotive industry, 79% of new vehicle buyers use the Internet to research their vehicle purchase. While virtually all of them use a desktop/laptop at some point, nearly 30% use multiple devices.

That means, depending of where they are in the shopping process, users can ostensibly be searching for cars on their laptops at work, checking listings on the iPhone during the commute, and comparing cars in front of the TV on their iPads at night. This doesn’t mean that we should necessarily replicate all tasks and flows equally across all devices. It does, however, mean that the user experience should be seamless.

Figure out what your users are doing on each device and provide syncing capabilities across channels. On Etsy, for example, where 25 percent of the visits but 20 percent of the sales come from mobile devices, the site syncs items in the shopping cart, favorite items, purchasing history, and conversations with sellers.

For, this means that when users save their favorite listings or dealers, they are expecting to see the same saved items whether they are on their Android phone, laptop, or iPad. It’s perfectly fine if the iPad is only used on the couch, as long as when the user is ready to head to the dealership with their smartphone in their pocket, the same information they had saved on their iPad the weekend prior is available at their fingertips. If there is any difference in the information they see, it should be contextual to the user’s mobile needs and mental model.

With smartphones, that means taking into account location and urgency. For example, seeing a dealership nearby on a smartphone can include such data points as sales and service hours, and whether they are open now. In another instance, availability of listings can show in order of proximity to the user’s current location.

What About Other Tablets?

The iPad may have started the trend, but other tablets are certainly catching up. Now, just over half of tablet owners report owning an iPad. Nearly half own an Android-based device. The Windows 8 tablet has recently entered the market, and so has the iPad mini. What are the implications of these newcomers?

In addition to whether a device has cellular service, price and physical size ultimately factor into the users’ decision to take a device on the go. From my experience with the Surface Windows 8 tablet, its physical size alone may preclude it from becoming a mobile device as well. In addition, Windows is advertising a physical keyboard attachment. While this may be convenient, the keyboard definitely places the tablet closer to the laptop realm and may not necessarily be very portable. It weighs in at two pounds, according to Microsoft’s website, which is heavier than the iPad. The tablet is also expensive and is only WiFi for now.

The iPad mini, however, is smaller, lighter, and has a cellular data plan option. Like smaller Android tablets, it’s relatively less expensive, which makes users more inclined to bring it along when they’re on the go. This could mean, however, that your apps on these smaller tablets resemble more of the smartphone app experience rather than the larger tablets, at least in terms of the tasks users conduct.

Iterate Often

Whichever features you decide to release, the app marketplace is dynamic and provides a direct pipeline into user feedback by way of ratings and reviews. With the pressure to keep the app fresh in the marketplace, it’s tempting to add more features.

For example, GateGuru from Kayak initially delivered its promise to show airport information and flight status. However, more and more features were added to the point that users are now questioning whether it’s even the same app.

As mentioned above, we experienced something similar with our iPad app. The first release of our app did not meet users’ expectations because it didn’t deliver what our brand promises: the ability to locate car listings. The app ratings and reviews certainly reflected that, and we worked quickly to ameliorate our standing with the app marketplace to add listings in the next iteration.


Listen to your users and always check whether the new features are desirable. As you first release an app, start with your core competency and consider the features that are essential to your primary user path. As you iterate and add more features from your business and product road map, take into account what users are saying. You may find yourself adding or sunsetting features based on how and where people are using your app. Mobile or not, the tablet market is here to stay and, directly or indirectly, users will tell us what features to build next.

Suggested Reading

April 30 2013


A Truly Ambitious Product Idea: Making Stuff for People

When I was eleven, my parents bought a Mac Plus. It had a tiny monochrome screen, a floppy drive, and 1MB of memory. And it came with something called HyperCard. HyperCard let you make stuff. It had documents called stacks, each a series of cards – similar to PowerPoint today. In addition to graphics and text, you could create buttons and tell them what to do – flip to another card, show or hide an object, and so forth.

Down at the bottom of the screen was a little window where you could type simple English-like commands – things like go to card 2 or beep. Once you’d mastered those, you could add them to your buttons or trigger them at certain times, creating real interactivity. Pretty soon I was making little games and utilities. It was the coolest thing ever.

HyperCard's Home Stack

HyperCard’s Home Stack: Pure Nostalgia

HyperCard came with something called the home stack that opened when you first launched it. I looked at it and thought, This isn’t very useful. It shows up all the time but it doesn’t do much. So I made a better one. It included various utilities, and of course a rock-paper-scissors game. I made packaging and convinced the local Mac store to sell it for $7.

It sold two copies.

Since then I’ve worked on products with more than twice as many users, but the story remains the same. This isn’t very useful. This doesn’t serve people’s needs. Let’s make a better one.

In college I discovered a career for what I did: user interface design. And though the title has changed over the years – user experience designer, interaction designer, product manager, product designer, founder – the motivation hasn’t. Technology is confusing and doesn’t meet people’s needs. I want to fix that.

Eat Your Vegetables

These days, it’s fashionable to talk about audacious ideas. Paradoxically, it’s also popular to focus on ideas that can be built in a month.

In a post last year, Paul Graham listed Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas and spawned a bumper crop of companies (though my favorites, Bring Back Moore’s Law and The Next Steve Jobs, don’t seem to have much traction). Wired’s cover story for February was 7 Massive Ideas That Can Change the World.

But I can’t help thinking we’ve skipped our vegetables and gone straight to dessert. We are insinuating ourselves into more and more of people’s lives, yet we haven’t managed to meet their needs in predictable, understandable, let alone enjoyable ways.

I watch people using their devices and I cringe. They get their single-click and double-click mixed up. They open an email attachment, update it, and then can’t understand why their changes aren’t in Documents. They try to set up iCloud and end up creating three Apple IDs. They miss out on all the useful things technology can do for them, lost in a sea of complexity, confusion, and techie-centric functionality. These things were supposed to be labor-saving devices, right?

Make no mistake: This is our fault. To begin with, we’ve created ever-more-inconsistent expectations over time. Consider single- vs. double-click. Easy, right? You single-click to select, double-click to open. Unless it’s a webpage. Or Apple’s column view, where selecting and opening are the same thing so it doesn’t matter. Well, for folders; for documents, it matters.

Anyway, it’s really easy to tell if you’re in a webpage or not so you know which convention to use. Just look at the top of the screen, on the left. It should say Firefox, or Safari, or Chrome. Oh wait, you’re on Windows. Look at the top of the window. No, the frontmost window. See, it has a bigger shadow than the others. Oh wait, you’re on Windows 8? Well, are you in Metro or not? Oh wait, they don’t call it Metro anymore. I forget what they call it. Do you see a lot of colorful flat boxes? What were you trying to do again? Hey, where are you going?

You may think I’m overcomplicating things for effect. I’m not. It seems simple to you because all that stuff is already in your head. When you switch from GMail in a browser, to Outlook on Windows, to on Mac, you know which conventions change. You have what designers call a mental model, rooted in years of experience and history, that allows you to make the right call. Most people don’t – nor should we have to.

And these interaction details are the tip of the iceberg. We do a disappointing job of understanding what people outside our bubble are trying to accomplish. Let’s be honest: We mostly make products for ourselves. Later, when they’re successful, we start wondering how people use them. We do user studies and surveys and ethnographies and then ignore the results because it’d be expensive to fix and besides, they’ll figure it out, right? I mean, we did. We lack the comprehensive understanding we’d need to make real, substantive change, to make products that are both usable and useful.

Downward Arrow

Therapists sometimes use the downward arrow technique with their clients. It starts with the apparent problem and proceeds through a series of “why” questions to the underlying issue:

Client: “I get nervous speaking in class.”

Therapist: “Why do you get so nervous?”

Client: “I’m worried that I might say something stupid.”

Therapist: “And if you did?”

Client: “I would be so embarrassed!”

Therapist: “Why? What would be so bad about it?”

Client: “It would mean I’m not good enough.”

And so forth.

Product design requires a similar process: start with a design or feature question and dig down until you find the assumptions that underlie it:

Me: Why do you ask for a user’s password every time he downloads a free app?

Imaginary Apple Guy: For security.

Me: What do you mean by security?

IAG: Well, if someone gets hold of your phone, they’d be able to install apps without your permission.

Me: And what would be so bad about that?

IAG: The apps could do malicious things with your phone.

Me: But doesn’t Apple sandbox apps and review them for malicious behavior?

IAG: Sure, but a maliciously-installed app could connect to your Facebook account.

Me: And is the risk of that happening when your phone is stolen worth requiring a password for every install?

Note that the point isn’t to make me look smart, or simply to reveal flaws. By the end of that (fictitious) exchange, we’ve gone from an ill-defined concept (“security”) to a specific question that deals in user needs.

The Product Mantra

To answer such questions we need the fundamental, defining goals of our product. Who is it for? What purpose does it serve? It’s impossible to evaluate trade-offs otherwise.

When I was at AOL our illustrious head of Consumer Experience, Matte Scheinker, introduced the notion of a product mantra: a clear, concise description of your product. Critically, it must be specific enough to disagree with.

Using my own to-do app, Stky, as an example:

  • Stky


    Mantra A: Stky is a to-do app for naturally disorganized people. It keeps overload in check by having you reprioritize each day’s tasks anew.

  • Mantra B: Stky is a productivity app anyone can use. Unlike its competitors it keeps you in control of your tasks and on top of your life.

Both mantras are accurate. But only Mantra A is specific enough to disagree with. Do disorganized people need a to-do app? Is daily reprioritization too much work, especially for such people?

Mantra B could describe nearly anything.

Now, suppose I’m deciding whether to add a new feature to Stky: multiple sticky notes. You could have your Work sticky, your Home sticky, maybe a Stuff to Read sticky, and the like. Seems useful, and certainly I’ve had users request it. Let’s hold it up to our mantras:

  • Using Mantra A: Do we want to add additional management overhead to an app for disorganized people? Probably not. And if the sticky represents our daily list of priorities, doesn’t adding multiple stickies break the whole paradigm? Probably. So maybe it’s not a good idea.
  • Using Mantra B: Well, multiple stickies means more control, right? And lots of people want it, and we want a product anyone will use. So I guess it’s a good idea…along with nearly any other idea.

Even better, this exercise almost forces us back into downward arrow. Why do users want multiple stickies? What are they trying to accomplish? Is that deeper goal consistent with our mantra? If so, is there another feature that would meet their need in a way that fits the product better?

Asking why and writing a mantra won’t magically give us insight into our users. But it will force us to form hypotheses, which can be tested against evidence in the world around us.

And the constraints we create via those hypotheses allow us to make choices. Because the great products, the ones we revere, are invariably the work of product teams brave enough to make choices. We marvel at Apple’s clean, usable design. We call it simplicity but it’s not that: It’s knowing what to keep and what to leave out and having the guts to disappoint some of the users all of the time and all of the stakeholders some of the time. Many of us already know that, but we can’t bring ourselves to choose when push comes to shove.

None of this is a substitute for user research. We still need usability tests, ethnographies, brainstorming sessions, click data, bucket tests, discovery, and all the rest. But in the absence of clear hypotheses and specific questions, user research is a little like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. Research tests our assumptions and tells us where we’re right or wrong; it doesn’t tell us what to build.

This isn’t the kind of audacious problem we solve all at once…nor do we have to. Every product that actually makes someone’s life better is a piece of the solution – not just for the life it improves, but for the designer who’s inspired by it, the team that decides to one-up it.

Make no mistake: This is hard stuff. It requires tenacity, and bravery, and empathy. It requires observing how people live their lives, and then handing them products that aren’t at all what they asked for. It needs more user-centered ways of doing bug triage and structuring development workflow. But as technology becomes everyone’s ever-more-constant companion I can think of no greater or more worthy challenge.

When I renamed my blog last year, I created a tagline: “We make stuff, for people.” It was meant to be funny, sure, but also to encapsulate everything I’ve said here. Technology is meaningless without people; yet, as technologists, we’re prone to forgetting that. We end up debating strange, empty questions. Does the world really need another photo sharing service? Is skeumorphic design good or bad? Is Ruby better than Python? None of it matters on its own.

It’s important to make stuff. But it only matters if we make stuff, for people.

June 18 2012


The Past and Future of Experience Design

Ten years ago, when I wrote The Making of a Discipline: The Making of a Title, 2002, there was a big debate on: Is experience design about online and mobile interfaces or is it something more? Forward-thinking initiatives, like the AIGA’s Advance for Design, began the conversation at the center of the convergence of the media, technology, and business worlds. Started by Clement Mok and Terry Swack, and supported by Ric Grefe, this group of people met periodically for several years to talk about the changes in the above industries and how to both manage and communicate them. (See: AIGA Experience Design – Past, Present and Future ) Even then, the term “experience design” was controversial and, while it became the name of the professional group that evolved out of this effort—AIGA Experience Design, the term was dangerously close to being limited to designing digital products such as websites and mobile applications.

There has been a reluctance for designers to embrace the idea of experience and I’m not sure why. Every single person involved with the Advance for Design and AIGA ED was someone who sought-out and appreciated experiences in his or her life, whether in theater and entertainment, quality customer service, or any type of real life event. Yet, many didn’t feel comfortable taking on the idea that we were creating total experiences in a professional context (as opposed to digital interfaces and media only). I remember near knock-down, drag-out fights online and in person over whether experiences like great meals, spectacular events like Cirque du Soleil, or retail experiments like Target’s pop-up shops could teach interaction and visual designers lessons in making better experiences (and whether these physical-world experiences, too, belonged under the umbrella of experience design).

To tell the truth, this desire to limit experience design to the digital world always puzzled me, especially given the rapid rise of experience dominating the branding profession (resulting in the, now ubiquitous, term brand experience) and the retail and hospitality industries (today, we call this service design). Brand professionals woke up to the fact that branding was more than the application of a corporate or brand identity. Before interactive media reminded them that brands had been interactive all along, most of the work in brand strategy, design, and management was focused on identity standards and packaging design. Interactive media forced the conversation that reinvigorated this entire profession (in addition to all media and business) and recast many of these professionals as visionaries and strategists, when before they were mostly regarded as “design Nazis.”

It just seemed ludicrous that experience could only live in the narrow world of digital media when it was already so vibrant in all other media.

There was another debate at the time, as well (and maybe this describes the reluctance to embrace experience design I referred to earlier), one that seemed even more ridiculous: Can you design experiences for people? Many in the community argued that there was no way that we could design (read: control) experiences for such a wide variety of people. By this, I understood that they meant that we couldn’t design experiences that others would move through in the exact way that we imagined, and that we could not evoke personal memories in order to trigger emotional and deeper reactions in order to feel something we intended. And, if this was to be the definition of delivering experiences, perhaps they were right. Or considering the movie Ratatouille, if a rat can, maybe we can too.

At the same time this conversation was going on, Martha Stewart was building an empire by helping people create better, more meaningful weddings and dinner parties. Weren’t her customers learning something about creating experiences for others? When we went to theaters or great restaurants, were we ready to proclaim that 1) these weren’t experiences or 2) we couldn’t teach people to make moving theater or meaningful dining? Plenty of people were saying the same thing about websites. The film and culinary worlds would have laughed at our reluctance (had we bothered to consult them and bring them into our community). Perhaps they would have branded us cowards.

I believe the term (and industry) of experience design narrowly dodged a bullet that almost killed it in 2001 or 2002, collapsing under the weight of its own self-importance. It was a big fish in a small pond. For the most part, the only people calling themselves experience designers back then were in the digital fields. Even though we worked with clients and colleagues who were engineers, branders, business strategists, marketers, and chief officers of everything, we were afraid to color outside our own little box of the Web.

Two important things happened at the turn of the century; the dot-crash and the rise of mobile. Perhaps if the Web had continued to rule, the term “experience design” would have probably faded into interface design. This is useful and important work, certainly, but how can button placing compare to shaping an experience that might inspire joy, giddiness, and empowerment? But instead we’ve grown in our power and insight into User Experience Professionals… to the point when a major professional organization renamed itself.

Humans have always created experiences for others: i.e. birthday parties, weddings, films, theater, art, speeches, hospitality, and more. Whether they were deliberately designed as experiences or not, they all delivered experiences. When the experience isn’t considered but works nonetheless, we chalk it up to intuition or good luck. Or we could end up with a bad experience. That’s not a desirable, or professional, way to work in the world.

Considering experience as we design is not that new. Louis Cheskin, probably the first experiential marketer, was researching experiences (including emotions and core meanings) back in the 60s. Walter Dorwin Teague, probably the first experience designer, was designing experiences across media despite never being trained to do so (if you can get a copy of his book, Design This Day, you can read how and why).

From Shedroff's excellent SXSW presentation on scifi's influence on designIt’s also arrogant to believe that we can’t learn from theater or retail or any other human domain how to improve the things we design and deliver. In my own professional experience, I’ve learned lessons from my colleagues and friends in medicine, sports, music, and especially theater. I’ve learned valuable lessons about interaction design from improv, biology, and even science fiction. I’ve learned about color, lighting, and music from, yes, Cirque du Soleil. I’ve learned about designing emotionally, and developing meaningful experiences from psychology. I’ve learned about systems design and stakeholders from sustainability. In fact, in the world of sustainable systems, we learn from nature itself.

Lately, I’ve been learning about how to develop and deliver better experiences more effectively over a larger timeline from the music composition and gaming worlds. I don’t understand why it was once deemed illegitimate to look to these sources for ideas, inspiration, and useful lessons. But, perhaps it’s moot now, as it no longer seems to be an issue and new generations of designers simply aren’t interested in this controversy.

So let’s move on. Let’s have more discussions about where we’re going. Experience design seems pretty stable, both in its scope and practice. We’re constantly adding to the knowledge and developing new tools to express the development and delivery of experiences to all involved with their creation. We’ve come a long way in ten years, sure, but every day environmental and biological sciences push forward our understanding of human behavior and the world we live in. This means we have new discoveries of how to design amazing experience still ahead of us . Designers need to learn more about designing sustainably, humanistically, and systemically. We need to further refine our techniques for design and customer research, enlarging our understanding of people past emotions and into values and meaning. We shouldn’t be afraid to go in these directions. Designing new experiences in new ways has a higher risk of failure, but also a higher risk of reward in greater impact and behavioral change.

Lastly, we need to better understand business language, issues, and concerns. To have the influence we think we should, we need to enlarge the solutions we create so that they can operate effectively in the economic and political systems of business. Experience isn’t just something that gets imagined and designed. It gets funded, delivered, and managed. This is one of the reasons I earned my own MBA and then started a wholly new business program for those interested in leading innovation from the inside. Experience design is just one more system we need to understand to work professionally and to successfully develop and deliver better products, services, events, and environments.

The future of experience design has never held more promise. But, to fulfill this promise, we have to explore, learn, and work passionately and confidently—even courageously, at times—in new domains. The things we create aren’t usually any less ephemeral than the experiences they deliver (how many websites or campaigns or apps or events have you created in your career that are no longer available?). What lasts, at least in the minds and reactions of our customers, are the experiences around these things. Ultimately, this is also where we derive our own greatest satisfaction in our work. It will be what makes us smile when we think of a project we worked on, years from now, and instead of focusing on how we created it or how much we earned; we will fondly look back on the experiences they created for people.

April 19 2012


Driving Holism in Cross-channel Projects

Show Time: 29 minutes 29 seconds

Download mp3 (audio only)
Download m4a (with visuals, requires iTunes, Quicktime, or similar)


Podcast Summary

Today on Boxes and Arrows, Chris Baum talks with Patrick Quattlebaum, Design Director at Adaptive Path. Patrick has some interesting insights and tools that designers can use to develop experiences across channels. Quattlebaum explores the difference between atomism and holism, and how designers often struggle with making parts of an experience that really needs to be thought of as a whole. He also discusses how he navigates relationships in large organizations across teams building different parts of the experience. Finally, he talks about how he brings those teams together using the “rough cut” from film to show the whole context of the experience and find “bridges” between channels that might be missed if the parts are developed separately.


“[As designers,] we did research and strategy, and draw great concept diagrams, and try to sell a vision. Many times it didn’t play out, or would play out, but was missing those crucial elements that really made it what it was. It’s never going to be the way you thought it would be on paper.

More lately, I’ve been thinking about atomism, about how companies break things down, and work separately and how that makes thing harder. It’s not something we need to say, ‘Well, that’s just how companies are,’ and just give up or do the best we can with what we can control with digital or the touchpoint that we own and not worry about the other things.”

“I personally can’t stop worrying about the other things and the big picture what i wanted to do is encourage people to communicate that with everybody that they work with. That’s what everyone is trying to do. It’s easy to get lost in your area of responsibility and what you can control, but that’s not going to get us where we know that customer experience and user experience needs to go.”

“What designers and IAs do is find those connections across the work stream that is going to be the experience in the design. They make sure there’s the right balance or consistency among all the diff’t touch points, without being a slave to total consistency.”


September 07 2011


Alignment Diagrams

Alignment diagramsDid you ever get bounced around between departments when interacting with a company or service? This happened to me recently with my credit card: the card issuer and the bank backing it seemed to disagree who was responsible for my problem. Each blamed the other. I got caught in the middle.

My communication with them also crossed multiple channels. For some things I used their website, for others I had to call. There were emails, regular mail and even a fax involved as well. None of it seemed coordinated. Apparently it was my job to piece it together. Bad experience.

Why does this happen? All too often companies are focused on their own processes, wrapped up in a type of organizational navel gazing. They simply don’t know what customers actually go through.

What’s more, logical solutions can cross departmental lines. Ideal solutions may require crossing those boundaries. An organization’s rigid decision making makes that difficult.

Here’s where I believe IAs and UX designers can use our skills to make a difference. We have the ability to understand and to map out both business processes and the user experience. Visual representations can provide new insight into solutions that appeal to a range of stakeholders. Alignment diagrams are a key tool to do this.

Mapping The Experience

Alignment diagrams reveal the touchpoints between a customer and a business. Illustrating these helps a company shift its inward-focusing perspectives outward. Alignment diagrams make the value creation chain visible.

The phrase “alignment diagrams” describes a class of documents that reveal the touchpoints between a customer and a business. These touchpoints are organized and visually aligned in a single graphical overview. Illustrating these touchpoints helps a company shift its inherently inward-focusing perspectives outward. Alignment diagrams make the value creation chain visible from both sides of the fence.

Alignment diagrams are not new. In fact, you’ve already used them. Thus my definition of alignment diagrams does not introduce a new technique but rather recognizes how existing techniques can be seen in a new, constructive way. 

Alignment diagrams have two major parts. On the one side, they illustrate various aspects of user behavior—actions, thoughts, and feelings, among other aspects of their experience. On the other side, alignment diagrams reflect a company’s offerings and business process in some way. The areas where the two halves meet gives rise to touchpoints, or the interactions between customers and an organization.

Below are examples of two diagrams that illustrate the alignment principle.

Example 1: Service Blueprint

The first example is a service blueprint created by Brandon Schauer of Adaptive Path (Figure 1.). This shows the chronological flow of steps for attending a live event, in this case a panel on service design. (See the original details of the event from 2009 [1]).

The top two rows show the phases and physical devices a participant might use. We can call this the “front stage.” The bottom three rows show the activities of the organizer. These are “backstage” activities. These two parts are separated by the “line of interaction,” or touchpoints between participants and organizer of the event.

Service map

Figure 1: An example of a simple service blueprint by Brand Schauer, Adaptive Path

Example 2: Mental Model Diagram

The next example of an alignment diagram is a mental model. Indi Young developed this technique and detailed it in her book Mental Models (Rosenfeld Media, 2008) [2].

Figure 2 is a slightly simplified version of a mental model diagram, but it shows the alignment principle well. This example shows a mental model for activities related to “getting up in the morning.” The top half hierarchically arranges user actions, thoughts and feelings gleaned from primary research. These are clustered together into broader “goal spaces” (e.g., “Get Dressed”).

Below the center horizontal line are products and services that support people in these activities. With this alignment, providers of goods and services can see where they address user needs and where there are gaps.

Mental model

Figure 2: An example of a mental model diagram by Indi Young, reflecting the alignment principle.

There are other visual styles and approaches to alignment diagrams beyond the above figures. (See the list of Alignment Diagram resources at the end of this article.) Customer journey maps and workflow diagrams are also examples. So there is no single approach to the alignment technique. Instead, you choose the form, the information included, and the way you present them to shape your overall message. It depends on your situation. The important thing to remember is that an alignment diagram shows user behavior aligned to business activity to reveal touchpoints.

Locating Value

An analysis of the touchpoints between users and the business lets us see value creation from both sides of the equation at the same time. This is at the core of the alignment technique.

Businesses ultimately need to earn money. But to do so they also have to provide some value to customers. An analysis of the touchpoints between users and the business lets us see value creation from both sides of the equation at the same time. This is at the core of the alignment technique.

In a previous Boxes and Arrows article entitled “Searching for the Center of Design,” Jess McMullin proposes what he calls “value-centered design.” [3] Instead of focusing solely on the business or solely on users, Jess advocates focusing on how value is created for both. “Value-centered design” is the approach he prefers. He writes:

The basic premise of value-centered design is that shared value is the center of design. This value comes from the intersection of: business goals and context, individual goals and context, and the offering…and delivery.

Value-centered design starts a story about an ideal interaction between an individual and an organization and the benefits each realizes from that interaction.

Jess McMullin, “Searching for the center of design”, Boxes and Arrows, 2003.

Alignment diagrams let us tell the story of value creation.

Once completed, alignment diagrams serve as diagnostic tools. With them we can spot and prioritize areas for improvement. They also point to opportunities for innovation and growth. Ultimately, alignment diagrams let designers capture and reflect how value is created in a holistic way. When communicated to decision makers, this can have real business impact by changing the focus from how products are made to the experience customers have.

Who Creates Alignment Diagrams?

Modern business challenges are wicked problems. Organizations unknowingly pass this complexity on to customers, resulting in negative user experiences. Alignment diagrams can reduce complexity for both customers and for organizations. They are an antidote to the challenges our business partners face.

The good news is you probably already have the skills needed to create alignment diagrams. These include:

1. Conducting Research

Alignment diagrams are not made up. They are based on real data. Face-to-face interviews and observation work best. This includes contacting people on the business side: stakeholder research is part of the alignment technique.

2. Synthesizing Findings

Designers are good at describing abstract concepts, such as an intended experience. We’re able to empathize with users and summarize their perspective well. And we can communicate this back to our business partners in a way they can understand.

3. Visualizing Information

Alignment diagrams are visual stories. Designers are good at representing ideas in graphic form. The visual nature of alignment diagrams makes them compact and immediately understandable.

4. Brainstorming

Alignment diagrams serve as an excellent stimulus for a workshop or brainstorming session. Designers have the skills to creatively brainstorm and lead such sessions.

5. Prototyping Solutions

Exploring different directions is a key aspect of “design thinking.” Designers are well-versed in trying out different options—from sketching to wireframing to prototyping.

Keep in mind that the lines between design-related disciplines are blurring. Service designers increasingly use online services and digital kiosks in their concepts. UX designers must be able to integrate offline support and services into their solutions. IAs need to be able to structure information across channels, including physical spaces. Interaction designers must conceive of workflows and actions across media types and devices.

In the end, alignment diagrams aren’t the domain of one field or the other: they can inform any field. The skills needed to create them, listed above, cross these lines as well.

Getting Started

Alignment diagrams start a conversation towards coherence, bringing actions, thoughts, and people together to foster consensus. More importantly, they focus on creating value—for both the customer and the business.

Understanding the mechanics of alignment diagrams is fairly straight forward. The hard part is getting your foot in the door. Often designers aren’t called in until after a project is already set up. Alignment diagrams, however, really need to impact decisions much earlier in the process—before a project even starts. This means you need to “swim upstream” and reach out to a potentially new set of stakeholders.

For designers in internal teams, you may have access to managers, product owners and other executives who could benefit from alignment diagrams at a strategic level. For external consultants, pitching a case for an alignment diagram effort may be harder: reaching high-level decision makers is difficult. Either way, you’ll need to effectively evangelize alignment diagrams in order to get the time and money to complete one.

Here are some things you can do to get started:

1. Learn about alignment diagrams.

Start by reading books like Indi Young’s Mental Models. Or, check out things like my resources on customer journey mapping on the web [4]. I also have a presentation [5] and an article [6] coauthored with Paul Kahn specifically on alignment diagrams.

2. Sketch draft diagrams for your current project.

What story could you tell on your current project to show where customer value and business value is located? How would best visualize that story in a diagram? Even without any official project scope or user research, you can sketch out a rough map showing the facets of information you’d include, where alignment occurs, and how you would visually convey your message. This is practice in understanding the alignment technique.

3. Complete an alignment diagram “under the wire.”

A formal alignment diagram must be based on real evidence. But this evidence could come from a variety of sources. A high-level customer journey map, for instance, could be created with data from existing research. Or, try adding a few simple questions your next usability test to understand users’ interaction with a service. Create a draft diagram from this data as you do other types of analysis. Present this to stakeholders. It’s likely they’ll find it interesting and ask for more.

4. Find a champion in management.

Seek out business partners who might “get” alignment diagrams. Discuss the possibility of a pilot project with them. For the cost of a normal usability test, for instance, you could create a simple alignment diagram. Unlike outcomes from other types of research, such as marketing studies or usability tests, alignment diagrams do not change very quickly. Be sure to highlight the longevity of an alignment diagram effort to sponsors, and remind them they’ll be able to refer to the information years later.


Truth is, the business world is becoming increasingly complex. Studies in business complexity show that leaders are unable to cope: they are pulled in different directions and unable to focus [7, 8]. Modern business challenges are wicked problems. All too often, organizations unknowingly pass this complexity on to customers, resulting in negative user experiences.

While they do not guarantee success, alignment diagrams can reduce complexity for both customers and for organizations. They are an antidote to the challenges our business partners face. At a minimum, alignment diagrams start a conversation towards coherence, bringing actions, thoughts, and people together to foster consensus. More importantly, they focus on creating value—for both the customer and the business.

Designers can use their skills to map out value creation and help solve business problems. Empathizing with users and illustrating out their experiences plays a big role. Visualizing touchpoints provides an immediate “big picture” often lacking in many organizations. This can provide a much-needed shift of attention from inside-out to outside-in. Alignment diagrams are a class of documents that seek to address the causes of poor experiences at their roots and ultimately help designers have a real business impact.


[1] Brandon Schauer, Service Blueprint,

[2] Indi Young, Mental Models (Rosenfeld Media, 2008).

[3] Jess McMullin, “Searching for the Center of Design,” Boxes and Arrows (Sept 2003).

[4] James Kalbach, “Customer Journey Mapping Resources on the Web.”

[5] James Kalbach, “Alignment Diagrams: Strategic UX Deliverables,” Euro IA Conference (Paris, 2010).

[6] James Kalbach and Paul Kahn, “Locating Value with Alignment Diagrams,” Parsons Journal of Information Mapping (April 2010).

[7] IBM, “Capitalizing on Complexity,” (2010).

[8] Booz & Co, “Executives Say They’re Pulled in Too Many Directions and That Their Company’s Capabilities Don’t Support Their Strategy,” (Feb 2011).

August 18 2010


Emotional Design with A.C.T. - Part 1

As UX professionals, we strive to design engaging experiences. These experiences help to forge relationships between the products we create and the people who use them. Whether you’re designing a website or a physical product, the formation of a relationship depends on how useful, usable and pleasurable the experience is. Ultimately, we form relationships with products and services for the same reasons we form relationships with people:

  • Pleasurable products are attractive and make us feel good. Attractive people can have the same effect.
  • Usable products are easy to interact with and easy to understand. Good conversationalists are the same.
  • Useful products fulfill our needs in a way that leaves us emotionally satisfied in the long term. Long-term relationships can fulfill our physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs.

In a previous article on Boxes and Arrows (Design for Emotion and Flow), I talked about the importance of balancing users’ emotional states to command attention and create flow: the mental/emotional experience where all the user’s attention is totally focused on an activity. The total engagement of the flow experience is highly immersive and encourages user loyalty. The experience of flow during interaction can be seen as one of the foundations for the formation of an ongoing relationship.

In Part 1 of this two-part article, I’ll be discussing how emotions command attention. Then, we’ll dive deeper to explore how design elicits and communicates emotion and personality to users. Emotions result in the experience of pleasure or pain that commands attention. The different dimensions of emotion affect different aspects of behavior as well as communicating personality over time. In Part 2, I’ll introduce a framework for describing the formation of relationships between people and the products they use.

Defining “Affective Design”

Some time ago, a friend offered me a ride home after work. I got into her SUV and sat down, ready for the short ride. After a few minutes, an annoying beeping sound started. “Oh,” she said, “You’ll need to fasten your seatbelt to make that irritating noise stop.” Grudgingly, I did up my seatbelt and the noise ceased, but the beeping had accomplished its purpose; I fastened my seatbelt.

This is an example of affective design: design that’s intentionally created to capture the user’s attention, triggering an emotional response that will increase the likelihood of performing a certain behavior. The emotional response can be conscious or unconscious. For example, a brightly colored button will attract users’ attention unconsciously by affecting the degree of arousal (i.e. physical stimulation). And the behavior could be any action, from clicking a button or signing up for a newsletter, to making a purchase online.

To make the unpleasant sound in my friend’s SUV stop, I had to perform a particular behavior. In this case, the stimulus was the unpleasant beeping sound, which triggered my annoyance and led me to fasten my seatbelt. With your latest web app, the stimulus is likely visual, rather than auditory, but the energy that it commands is the same. One thing these stimuli have in common is that they demand and command your attention.


Attention has been described as psychic energy.1 Like energy in the traditional sense, no work can be done without it, and through work that energy is consumed. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) named the mental/emotional state where all our attention is totally focused on an activity “Flow”. Flow is a highly engaging experience, and strong emotional engagement demands and narrows the user’s attention. In order for users to accomplish their tasks and attain Flow, we need to capture and hold their attention by managing the design of their emotional experiences.

The products we design need to attract users based on how they look and sound, persuading them (via their feelings) to approach or avoid. They also need to converse with the people using them. The way these products interact should persuade users to take particular actions in predetermined sequences, while also affording users a feeling of control. If we’ve done our jobs correctly, the result is that users will commit and transact with our system; they click the button, subscribe to the newsletter, make the purchase or book the flight.

These events mark the formation of a relationship between the user and the product or application. Each experience with a company’s products or services shapes the user’s relationship with the company’s brand. In order to build positive brand relationships, companies need to effectively manage the user’s emotional experiences during every encounter with their products or service channels. As we’ll see, the consistent expression of a particular emotion is perceived as a personality trait, and our personality traits determine the relationships we form.

Dimensions of Emotion

To understand how emotional expression becomes personality, we first need to understand emotion itself. All emotional or affective states can be described in terms of two underlying dimensions: value and arousal. “Value” judgments are judgments of good vs. bad. We tend to base these conscious judgments on whether something is pleasant or unpleasant.

“Arousal” has been used to refer to the unconscious activation of the body, the brain or a particular behavior.2 It has been defined by levels of anxiety vs. boredom,3 and we can measure it by monitoring heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and skin conductance. To simplify it, you can think of arousal as the level of stimulation or activation. When we combine these two dimensions of emotion (i.e. the conscious & cognitive, and the unconscious & physical) we get a circular model of emotion.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Affect Circumplex (Van Gorp, 2006 adapted from Russell, 1980)3

Because arousal is largely unconscious, it provides an especially powerful channel for designers to command attention and influence behavior. For example, large images, bright saturated colors and high contrast all increase arousal levels. Increasing the size of an image and moving anyone in it closer within the frame will increase arousal levels.4 When the level of arousal increases, the focus of attention narrows and goes to whatever is causing the stimulation. A good example of this is a stop sign, which uses a bright red to command attention within the busy visual environment of the street.

During the product development process, there is often a disconnect between design, marketing and usability for this very reason. Visual designers and marketers are often focused on increasing arousal through the attention grabbing emotional-impact of bright colors and large images, while usability analysts are focused on controlling arousal and reducing negative emotions by ensuring task completion.

Dimensions of Behavior

Each dimension of emotion affects a different aspect of behavior. Value affects whether we approach (i.e. pleasure) or avoid (i.e. pain), while arousal levels influence how motivated we are to do either. Both pleasant and unpleasant objects and experiences can increase arousal levels. For example, fear and excitement are both high arousal emotions. The level of arousal also affects how intensely we experience a given emotion, and the more intense the emotion, the more attention is demanded. Arousal also affects our level of motivation. Low anxiety or boredom results in low motivation, while higher anxiety results in higher motivation. This continues to an optimum level (i.e. the balance of Flow), after which motivation and performance decrease, while anxiety increases.

Figure 2: Behavior & Motivation Circumplex (adapted from Russell, 19803 ; van Gorp, 20064)

In the case of the annoying sound in my friend’s SUV, the value of the noise was negative (i.e. unpleasant). This unpleasant feeling creates the urge to avoid. If the volume of the noise had increased, or the rate of the beeping had sped up, this would have unconsciously increased arousal levels, further increasing my motivation to avoid the noise or make it stop.

This is a very simple example within the relatively controlled context of a vehicle, but what happens when the context becomes more layered or complex? What happens when the design is visual and interactive? As we’ll see later, that’s when simple emotional expressions are perceived as personalities.

Emotion and Personality

Humans are such social beings that we perceive the expression of emotion in everything, including products, objects and websites. Because products usually remain the same, any perceived emotional expression becomes a perceived personality trait over time. The person who appears down or sullen the first time you meet is expressing an emotion—sadness. When that same person appears sad the next 20 times you meet, he or she is likely to be seen as “depressed”. When it comes to products and websites, we can think of a personality trait as the long-term expression of a particular emotion. Take a look at the video below to get a better idea.

Figure 3: American Express Video

As human beings, we assign personalities to objects, interfaces and websites based on the way they behave and appeal to our senses. Even though we consciously know that computers and media are not animate and do not have feelings, we still respond socially and automatically when viewing, interacting and evaluating them.5 It has been suggested that products should be viewed as “living objects with which people have relationships.”6 Through the relationships that are formed by using products, people can be made to feel happy or sad, angry or passive, relaxed or anxious, proud or ashamed, and motivated or demotivated.

Personality Traits and Relationships

Like perceptions of emotion, our first impressions of personality are based on the information received by our senses (i.e. sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch). These impressions are formed quickly and unconsciously. With websites and applications, personality is inferred from the use of language, user prompts, sounds, navigation, proportions, layout, contrast, color, images and fonts that comprise the formal properties of the design. In fact, these perceptions of personality are so automatic and unconscious, they occur regardless of whether the people experiencing them believe they are appropriate. Other, more conscious decisions about personality are based on how the object we interact with behaves over time.

In human relationships, personality traits are an important part of attraction and conversation. They shape our relationships by determining who we like and what we expect from those we encounter. They also influence how well we get along with others. In this respect, perceived personalities in products and websites are no different. Unlike us, however, product personalities can exist in fictional worlds and be controlled by designers so that they appear at particular times and places. They can often be simpler, more consistent and more easily identifiable than real personalities, reducing uncertainty and promoting trust.5

Dimensions of Personality

Although human personality traits are complex, psychologists have grouped product personalities into a small number of categories that have a similar character. They’ve identified two major dimensions of personality that are readily assigned to products, computers and interfaces by users: dominant vs. submissive5 and friendly vs. unfriendly.7

Figure 4

Figure 4: Personality Circumplex (adapted from Reeves & Nass, 19985; van Gorp, 20064)

Take a look at the simple objects below. Are they expressing emotion? As static objects, any emotions they’re expressing will remain consistent over time. If the major dimensions of personality are friendliness and dominance, which object do you perceive to be friendlier? Which do you perceive is more dominant? Check the comments people left below the photos. Happiness is associated with a friendly demeanor, pleasure and approach behaviors, while sadness is associated with unfriendliness, pain and avoidance.

Figure 5: Objects Displaying Personality – (photos courtesy of Jim Leftwich)

Designing Personality: Dominant or Submissive?

Dominant visual features could be described as angular, straight, cold/cool, dark, silver, black…with a heavy base. Submissive visual features could be described as round, warm, light/lucid, soft/delicate, golden.8 When a personality is not represented with overt dominant visual or interactive characteristics, the tendency is to describe it as more submissive. Of the two sites in Figure 6, which site is more dominant and which is more submissive? Which site is friendly and which is unfriendly?

Figure 6: Martha Steward and WWE – Submissive and Dominant Designs

Notice which one of the sites above you’re more naturally attracted to. Which one do you feel more compelled to approach or avoid? Which one naturally grabs more of your attention? How well do these sites match the likely personalities of their target audiences? Generally speaking, you can attract the user by presenting a visual personality that is similar to his or her own. When it comes to attraction, we’re attracted to things that look similar to the way we are, or the way we’d like to see ourselves.

Friendly or Unfriendly?

Friendly visual features could be described as positive, while unfriendly visual features could be described as negative. Friendliness is not only determined by what is said, but also by how it is said (i.e. the tone of the conversation). Our tendency to assign and characterize personality based on conversation is easily recognizable in the example below. This example uses contrast, visual weight, , color value, size and typography to alter the meaning that is conveyed by the words. The content conveys the message, but the look and feel change how that message is interpreted, altering the meaning.

Which of the statements below would you rather hold a conversation with? Which one do you feel more compelled to approach or avoid? Which one naturally grabs more of your attention? When it comes to conversation, someone has to lead, and opposites attract.

Figure 7: Personality and Meaning4

Similar or Complementary?

Similarity is the theory that people are more attracted to those with personalities similar to their own, over those who display different personalities.5 Complementarity is the theory that people are attracted to people with personalities that complement their own level of dominance or submissiveness (Markey 20079; Personality Research10). It comes down to the old question of whether relationships work better when people are the same or opposite? And the answer is yes.

When it comes to personalities, different things stir our emotions at different stages of a relationship. Researchers found that Similarity takes precedence early in relationships, playing a vital role in initial attraction. Complementarity becomes more important as relationships develop over time.11 People in long-term relationships are more satisfied when their partners are either more or less dominant than they are. Two dominant persons may experience conflicts as both attempt to lead, while two submissive individuals may lack initiative, as neither is willing to lead. (Markey 20079; Wikipedia 200912)

Generally speaking, interaction between the system and the user should be complementary, where the user takes up the dominant role, while the product, interface or service takes on the submissive role. These roles might flip in the case of a guided tour, or an application where the system is guiding the process or has an air of authority.


In Part 1, we learned that emotion commands attention. We also learned that affective design is a term used to describe design created to intentionally capture the user’s attention and trigger an emotional response that will increase the likelihood of the user performing a desired behavior.

The value dimension of emotion influences our behavior (i.e. whether we approach or avoid), while the arousal dimension influences how motivated we are to do either. Emotions influence different aspects of behavior, and their expressions are perceived as different aspects of personality over time. Value influences the perception of friendliness, while arousal influences the perception of dominance.

Emotions, Behavior & Motivation and Personality
Figure 8: Emotions, Behavior & Motivation and Personality4

And finally, we learned that customers are attracted to things that they perceive have a personality similar to their own. Over time however, they prefer to interact with things that take up a role which is complementary to their own.

Useful, usable and pleasurable experiences help facilitate the formation of relationships. In Part 2, we’ll look at the different ways people experience love to get an even better understanding of how relationships form. Then, I’ll introduce a new framework that describes how to systematically provide experiences in the different ways that are necessary to form relationships.


1Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.

2Cacioppo, J. T., and Petty, R. E. (1989). The Elaboration Likelihood Model: The Role of Affect and Affect-laden Information Processing in Persuasion. In A. Tybout and P. Cafferata (Eds.), Cognitive and Affective Responses to Advertising (69-89). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

3Russell, J. A. (1980). A Circumplex Model of Affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39, 1161-1178.

4Van Gorp, Trevor, J. (2006). Emotion, Arousal, Attention and Flow: Chaining Emotional States to Improve Human-Computer Interaction. University of Calgary, Faculty of Environmental Design, Master’s Degree Project.

5Reeves, Byron and C. Nass. (1998). The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television and New Media Like Real People and Places. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

6Jordan, Patrick, W. (2000). Designing Pleasurable Products. London: Taylor & Francis.

7Desmet, Pieter, R. (2002). Designing Emotions. Pieter Desmet. Delft.

8Wellman, Katrin and Ralph Bruder, Karen Oltersdorf. (2004). Gender Designs: Aspects of Gender Found in the Design of Perfume Bottles. In D. McDonagh and P. Hekkert, (Eds.), Design and Emotion: The Experience of Everyday Things. New York: Taylor & Francis.

9Markey, P.M.& Markey, C. N. (2007). Romantic Ideals, Romantic Obtainment, and Relationship Experiences: The Complementarity of Interpersonal Traits among Romantic Partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 24(4), 517-533.

10Personality Research. (August 1999). Interpersonal Complemetarity. Retrieved December 19, 2009, from Personality Research.

11Vinacke, W. E., Shannon, K., Palazzo,V, Balsavage,L., et-al. (1988). Similarity and Complementarity in Intimate Couples. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 114, 51-76.

12Wikipedia (2010, January 2). Interpersonal Attraction. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

April 12 2010


IA Summit 10 - Richard Saul Wurman Keynote

IA Summit 2010

This year marks the 11th annual Information Architecture Summit. Our theme is meant to inspire everyone in the community—even those who aren’t presenting or volunteering—to bring their best ideas to the table.

As busy practitioners, we rarely have the chance to step back and think about the future of our field—we’re too busy resolving day-to-day issues. By gathering and sharing practical solutions for everyday challenges, we can create more breathing room to plan for what’s to come.

Subscribe to the Boxes and Arrows Podcast in iTunes or add this page to your account:

iTunes     2010 IA Summit theme music generously provided by Bumper Tunes


| “Day 1 Keynote – Dan Roam”: | Day 2 Keynote – Richard Saul Wurman |

Full Program

| “Day 1”: | Day 2(coming soon) | Day 3(coming soon) |
Additional podcasts will be posted as available over the coming weeks.

Day Two Keynote – Richard Saul Wurman

Richard Saul Wurman encourages the design community to take initiative and solve big problems rather than make small changes incrementally.

With the majority of the earth’s population now living in cities, Richard Saul Wurman realized there was a yawning information gap about the urban super centers that are increasingly driving modern culture.
In this keynote presentation from the 2010 IA Summit, Mr. Wurman discusses his 19.20.21 initiative: an attempt to standardize a methodology to understand comparative data on 19 cities that will have 20 million or more inhabitants in the 21st century. He encourages the design community to take initiative and solve big problems rather than make small changes incrementally.


These podcasts are sponsored by:

MAD*POW logo
At Mad*Pow, they leverage the disciplines of Human Factors, Psychology, and Visual Design to create engaging experience that maximize customer acquisition, increase attention, and reduce costs.

ASIS&T logo
The American Society of Information Science & Technology: Since 1937, ASIS&T has been THE society for information professionals leading the search for new and better theories, techniques, and technologies to improve access to information.

IA Summit 2010
The IA Summit: the premier gathering place for information architects and other user experience professionals.

The design behind the design
Boxes & Arrows: Since 2001, Boxes & Arrows has been a peer-written journal promoting contributors who want to provoke thinking, push limits, and teach a few things along the way.

Contribute as an editor or author, and get your ideas out there.

Transcript of Richard Saul Wurman Keynote from Day 2 of the 2010 IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.

Announcer: In this keynote presentation from the 2010 IA summit Mr. Wurman discusses his 19.20.21 initiative an attempt to standardize a methodology to understand comparative data on 19 cities that have 20,000,000 or more inhabitants in the 21st century. I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers. Richard.

Richard Saul Wurman: May I introduce the person who’s going to introduce me?


Dan Klyn: Thank you.

Richard Saul Wurman: Go, Dan.

Dan Klyn: Thanks. In a book he published 14 years ago Richard Saul Wurman described information architects as the people who understand and organize the patterns inherent in data. Information architects, he wrote, are the people who create systematic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work. Making the complex clear. His life and work provide a blueprint for how to do this work. It’s not the only way to do this work, but it’s a really good way. Ladies and gentleman, please join me in welcoming Richard Saul Wurman.


Richard Saul Wurman: Not a standing ovation, but genuine.


Richard Saul Wurman: I’m going to start with one quite brief story and then a slightly longer story. Then, I’m going to do something that I am not comfortable doing. I am actually going to be caring and a little pedagogical about what I felt in the last day. I normally really don’t give a shit about transferring the information I have or giving advice, but I think some of you need it. Because, it’s a little confusion, here. And then, I will tell my little stories and at a certain point the time will be over. A designated hitter, Dan, will put up his hand I will stop mid-sentence even though you’re going to want more. And, that’s the end and it’s very nice meeting all of you, even in this sort of distant way. So, that said, for most of my life that I can remember, I’ve loved the banana. There’s nothing phallic about that love for the banana, I just love the banana. As I grew older, I found that the banana was the perfect fruit, wherever I went. India or anyplace. I could eat a banana, it was always clean, I didn’t have to wash, in fact, it would be rather strange to wash. And slimy, to wash a banana. So, we have the banana as the perfect fruit.

I lived in the jungle for six months and we had banana trees. I pulled the little finger bananas off the tree and ate them fresh. Of course, we get them green shipped and then they turn yellow in the stores. And, they’re slightly sweeter, slightly better. But, bananas. You get good bananas and bad bananas. I have about 10 miniature banana trees in my green house, over the winter, and I put them outside in the summer. Because, I live in a northern climate and I actually grow some little finger bananas in Newport, Rhode Island, every once in a while. They don’t flower that often, but the banana’s been part of all our lives for a long time, including the fact that the banana, we think, is so good for us. Because, we are told it has potassium in it. We wouldn’t know what to do with potassium if we found it on the street. But, it’s told it has potassium, and somehow, that’s good for you.

For my whole life I’ve been opening a banana, they way you take it off of a tree. And, I’ve sometimes bruised the top in getting it open. I sometimes go like that to do it. Have we all done that? Well, the theme of this talk is opening the banana from the other end. And, if you open the banana from the other end. It just opens right up.


Do you see how fucked up we are?


This is new; I’ve never had a prop before. I disdain props and slides. But, isn’t that interesting? I couldn’t resist it. I could have done it by just talking about bananas and say, “Turn it over.” But, I though that was rather dramatic.


Well, this is really metaphor for the opposite paradigm. For creativity and innovation. By the way, the opposite paradigm spells TOP and that should be your top priority. To do the opposite pattern. Look at everything you’re doing and do the opposite pattern. Many of the conversations I’ve had with people as they were trying to do a better version of what already didn’t work. As a resultant, they get a better version of something that doesn’t work and it still doesn’t work. They are polishing the lily. They are just making something a little better. They are afraid of beginning again. Several conversations were about minutia change in their life so they could make things just better.

You don’t want to make things better. You want to start again. Is that terrifying? Yes. What is more interesting than terror? What is the feeling, the sweat on your brow, but terror? Are you going to fail sometimes. You bet. The two precepts that I have here, standing here this morning, is I am terrified and I am confident. They don’t cancel each other out. They help each other.

Because I’m terrified, I’m really thinking about what I’m doing. I’m not just phoning it in. Because, I’m confident I can get up here and talk to you. Obviously, I’m a little more relaxed than some of you might be up here on the stage, but that comes from being an old fart.


That’s the first story, the banana’s for sale, because I had to pay for it, at breakfast.


The second story is about innovation, too. And, that is, in 1398, two brothers. Well, one was born. I don’t know whether it was his older brother, so he might have been born earlier or later. But, Gutenberg was born in Mainz, Germany. Gutenberg Museum is still in Mainz, Germany. There’s a nice copy of the 42 line bible, there.

And, that’s worth a visit, the Gutenberg Museum. And, about 40 years later, he and his brother adapted a wine press into a printing press. And, then the Gutenberg we know, not the brother, started carving type and he carved an alphabet of 126 letters. 126 letters were so that every letter was perfectly space with other letters. So, the letters, as you know, is the spacing between letters. It’s not just like this. They have to hug each other in the right way so it looks even. And, the lines work out even.

Well, they had vellum. But, he had to invent a paper that would work on that. And then, he had to figure out that you had to dampen the paper. And, he had to invent the ink because, the “Book of Hours,” all the “Books of Hours” that you know, I assume many of you take courses in illuminated manuscripts. That you know about the “Book of Hours” and how they’re done. They use a water-based ink and he had to have an oil based ink to work and to tamp down this dampened paper on the press.

And, he did a 42 line bible. Some of them, he did on the press twice, with red and black. He printed about, they don’t know exactly, between 180 and 200 of them. They were extremely expensive. Very valuable books. It was not mass communication. Still only very wealthy people bought these books. And, in the western world, this was the first incident that we can point to as far as a multiple pressing.

It’s not really reasonable to come in late, because you don’t even know what I’m going to be talking about know.


So, we really can close the doors.


I mean, I’ve set up the whole psychology of this talk already.


I mean, being late, is really being stupid.


But that is not really the story. The story is that the church saw this and they said, “Holy shit! We can print little pieces of paper, and sell them for a lot.” They were called “Indulgences.” So, all of the brothers died penniless, never made a penny on their amazing work, and I will tell you how amazing it is in a minute. The church sold indulgences, which were confessionals to rich people, and got wealthy off of the printing press, but that is still not really the story.

It took 99 years for somebody to invent pagination. There was no page numbers. There is no page numbers on the early books, because after all it was the Bible. You knew the Bible. You knew where you were. You didn’t have to find something. You weren’t looking up anything. You weren’t doing any of the things to find it, to find something, the way of finding through a book, Google. You weren’t doing any of the things that we have a passion about in this room. So, in 99 years, somebody invented pagination.

Pagination led to finding things, and to find it in the world we are in now. There’s White Pages, and Yellow Pages, and Google, and Yahoo, and Bing. There’s dictionaries, and thesauruses, and encyclopedias. If I took 140,000 words, the average number of words in an collegiate dictionary, and threw them on the floor, it wouldn’t be a dictionary. If I organize them alphabetically, so I can find stuff… Although, there is that idiot conversation we all have in school, “How can I look up how to spell a word, if I can’t spell a word?” I mean, have we all been told that’s insanity?

I am a terrible speller, and when I go to “Spell check” on my thing, I still have difficulty, because I don’t even know how to start the fucking word, but we have a dictionary.


Richard Saul Wurman: If you group those things at all the words in a particular subject, all of the biological words are together, you have the beginning of an encyclopedia. If you group all of the words that have the same meaning together, you have a thesaurus. It is the same words. The organization of information actually creates new information, new access to information, the same information. So, organization of information is not trivial, it is really a fundamental part of how we think.

Some of you have read “Information Anxiety” and “Information Anxiety 2,” where I talk about “LATCH.” I have talked about LATCH for quite a number of years. LATCH; Location, Alphabet, Time, Category, and Hierarchy, as the five ways of organizing information.

I’ve always said to every audience who has bought the book or where I have spoken, I said, “I thought there was a huge number of ways of organizing things.” I was surprised that I could only come up with five. Let’s say there is no more than 10. I don’t care if there’s 5, or 6, or 7, but if after 20 some years nobody has come up with a sixth, I feel safe to say there is no more than 10, and there’s probably not more than 5, and it works, because you can decide when you start a project of how you get into it.

But that is not only a project on paper or on a computer, it is also a conversation. How do you have a conversation? Does the conversation start as it did with this gentleman here this morning at breakfast? We started talking, and I asked him where he was from, and he said, “Lancaster.” I said, “Oh, my father used to have a cigar factory in Lancaster and in Newark, Pennsylvania, and Newark, Pennsylvania was the capital of the United States for about 10 minutes. My father every other week went to Lancaster, and he used to bring back celery.”

He said, “Yes! They have the best celery in Lancaster.” I said, “Yes. It’s fantastic celery, and then everybody now cuts off the heart. It is the best part of the celery. Why do they do that?” And he said, “Yes. That is quite true.” I said, “He used to also occasionally in the summer bring home peaches.” He said, “Well, Cumberland or North Cumberland, or something Cumberland, is where they have incredible peaches.” I said, “They’re probably from there. I didn’t know where they were from. I didn’t know they weren’t from Lancaster.” Obviously, some farmer brought them in, and he brought them home. I had a very conversation about celery and peaches, and I have never had peaches better than that.

In almost anything there’s just amazing things you can learn, and that started with location, and then we did categories, categories of peaches and celery, and then we went from that to the quality of them, that they were the best, so that is hierarchy… and that was that.

He told me yesterday when we were sitting upstairs that he had moved from anthropology to something else, and then I quizzed him on what kind of anthropology, and he didn’t have a kind of anthropology. So, then I thought less of him.


Richard Saul Wurman: As my mother used to tell me as I grew up, “Well, you lose some, and you lose some.” She was very supportive of my career.


Richard Saul Wurman: Yesterday, I was in a lecture that this gentleman on the left was, and I was inappropriate. I got up and ranted at one point, but I just couldn’t help myself, because there were people in this little lecture, It wasn’t him that I was ranting at by the way, although his grammar was not well. You say “Like” something, and somebody “Goes” this way. It is somebody “Says” something. You don’t “Go” this. You “Say” something. You don’t say, “You know.” You can’t be sloppy, and be on the stage. The grammar should be at least at a certain level in pubic, in any case.


So, what I was ranting about is somebody was talking about “Wireframes,” and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I know what a “Wireframe” is. I mean a “Wireframe” to me is something you do, it is what Jeffrey Katzenberg showed me of “Shrek” before he filled in the colors. It’s something in animated films, and I didn’t know what a wireframe is. I even talked to other people, and they are so interested in certain technologies, and certain modalities, and certain…

What my rant was about is what information architecture, not to me, this is a generalized statement. It is about understanding. It starts with understanding, and ends with understanding. What are we doing this for? It is for understanding. We want to make something understandable to another human being, to ourselves. That is my ploy. I don’t care about you. I want to make it understandable to myself. I want to have an interest. Something I don’t understand, I want to make it understandable.

I had a company called the “Understanding Business.” I have three books called: “Understanding USA,” “Understanding Children,” “Understanding Healthcare.” I am doing a book on “Understanding Dogs,” and “Understanding Cats,” only because they’re interesting to me, and I don’t understand them. So, one starts from this park place of zero, the land called “Zero,” and you really try to describe the journey from not knowing to knowing.

I had a conversation with somebody the other day, who surprisingly used that phrase of “Not knowing,” going from “Not knowing” to “Knowing.” That is the magic of our business; how do you go from not knowing to knowing, and how do you systemically do that? The modality is just an add-on, and it’s going to change in 10 minutes.

Anybody, who thinks what they are doing and have expertise in it, is going to lose that expertise in 10 minutes, because everything is changing, and will continue to change at a more rapid rate. Having expertise is the least interesting thing. It’s just so boring for somebody to have expertise, but somebody that has passion, somebody that has desire, somebody that wants to make something understandable, that’s interesting. That you could sit and have a cup of coffee with them. That is reasonable. That is exciting.

I had flew out to Charlotte, and then I flew from Charlotte, here, and on the way to Charlotte from PVD, Providence, I sat next to somebody who makes valves and tubes, and things, for the transmission of blood through hospitals. It was fascinating! We got into a long discussion about cow’s blood, and the antigens that cows’ blood have. He felt within three years they are going to work it out, and the cows blood is going to be used for transfusions, human transfusions, and they are going to be very healthy, and they are going to be able to adapt them.

Well, that was really an interesting plane ride. Really fascinating. I always ask somebody the next question, and then the next question, and the next question of what they do. I am fascinated with all of it, and I remember all of it, and I connect all of it. I’m going to look at the cow’s blood, and see if I can have something about cows blood in my next TED MED Conference.


The next person I talked to on the way here was a Brit and a young man, and apparently he’s one of the top three or four golf instructors. Alex Rose, who was number six in golf, he’s his instructor.

And we started talking about golf. I’ve never held a golf club in my life. I’ve never belonged to a country club. I have no skill sets, and no interest in that.

I don’t like the people who play golf. I love George Carlin’s idea that we should turn all the golf courses into places for the homeless.


Richard Saul Wurman: However, it was fascinating. He told me that the three top balls are all made by the same manufacturer and are exactly the same with a different emblem on it. I didn’t know that. He told me there’s only 10 ways you can hit a golf ball, and you can train for which way you want. 10 different angles and ways of holding your hands.

He has apparently the best selling book on golf swings, and of just the way you hold the hand there. In some of the illustrations, very nice illustrations, by the way, in one of them, to show the line up of things, he had a nail going through the hand through this. A major book distributor wouldn’t handle it because of the religious implications.

I mean, can you believe that? But that was what he told me.

I’m sending him some books, he’s sending me some books. He’ll probably come to my TED MED conference, and I think it’s fascinating.

I learned something, and I really got to think about how would you teach golf in China? They’re building 400 golf courses in China right now. Because they want it to become a major international sport, because business is done on the golf course, and they’re so business minded. So they’re building 400 golf courses at once and in November there’s going to be one of the five majors outside of Shanghai.

Nobody understands the game of golf there, and I was trying to think, “How could I make golf understandable?” Because I don’t understand a damn thing about golf, and wouldn’t it be a fun little project to make golf understandable?

I started thinking about how I would do that, and I was working on it last night, and thinking of what would be the fun of… because I did a book on baseball, football, and the Olympics, so I’ve done three sports.

So I thought, is it the same, or would I do them really completely different now. Because I don’t want to do it the same way I did it before. And it makes me think about that.

There’s no conversation you can have that doesn’t really test your mind of thinking about how, what is the journey from not knowing to knowing?

It has nothing to do with wire frames, or little pads where you peel off things and write notes or all the stuff that I see around here. It’s just the trivia. It’s the ephemera of this business. The only part of business that makes sense is our head. I’ve told this joke before. I told it at dinner last night, so only three, four people have heard it.

I had a very good dinner, by the way. Shockingly… the only thing shocking about this rather seedy hotel is that they have this thing that turns on the top as a restaurant, where I’ve never been to a turning restaurant, because why would you go to a turning restaurant? Seems…I mean, I would not be here…sure, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, I’m going to a turning restaurant tonight.”

But I went to a turning restaurant, and everything I asked for… I always try to order off the menu a bit. My father taught me you should never really order on a menu, you should order off the menu.

You know the kind of restaurant it is. You know there’s a chef in the kitchen with food. You tell him how you want it, what you want. Assume that any dish comes with anything they say it comes with, or well, anything. You should never assume that.

You should order off… there is always a table in a restaurant, a seat on a plane, and a room in a hotel, and it should be mine. I think you have to go into life thinking that, that you deserve this. If you don’t get it, well, some things don’t work. But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. It’s that simple. If you realize that some things don’t work, you go back to asking. It’s an empowering thing.

So, please get off of this path of expertise and jargon and…

In 1976 I did a conference called the “Architecture of Information,” and then I started calling myself an information architect. I was national chairman of the AIA Conference then. I’m an architect, I’m not trained in anything.

But in 1962, that’s long before ‘76. Not long, 14 years, some of you might be a long time. If you’re 20, 14 years ago is a long time ago.

I did a book which had the plans of 50 cities in the world all to the same scale. Wasn’t that information architecture? I think so. It was a systemic way of understanding information.

There were no computers then, by the way. There was no wire frames. There was no web pages. There was none of those things. That doesn’t make information architecture.

What makes an information architect is an attitude. A desire, a passion to communicate systemically with rules and systems, and transfer information to another human being.

It’s not all this other stuff. Those are… all the stuff is. It’ll be here today, gone tomorrow. Somebody else will give a speech and sell a book about how they do that.

But that’s not the principles. It’s not where your heart is. It’s not what we do. It is not that desire.

Web pages. We’re all involved in web pages. I have web pages. They’re all awful. We are primitive.

There’s some pretty web pages. I think my web page for TED MED is pretty, it’s nice, but it’s not a good web page.

When movies first came out, they were photographing stage shows. What we have is lousy books on the web. We have pages. We’re still talking about pages.

I’ll tell you a little story about the Macintosh and what it allowed us to do.

Macintosh came out, and the first Macintosh was shown at my TED conference, have to get a little plug in for my past, in 1984. And very easily on a Macintosh you could do a pie diagram. So you could take some numbers, make a pie diagram, and construct it really quickly.

Then color came in. So you could first do it in 16 colors, 32 colors, 64 colors, and then, they actually had this expression, “Millions of colors.” You could do it in “Millions of colors.” I mean, you can’t discern “Millions of colors.” Just like, you don’t know the difference between the top six violinists.

Do you really think you could pick which is the best of the top six? Nobody’s ears in this room are good enough to do that. Maybe the ears in another room are, but not this room. I couldn’t probably tell you the top 18, 20, 50. Maybe I would know.

So, we put colors on these pie charts. And then we found easily we could make them in three dimensions. We could make them look like a coin or something. And they had sides. And then we could put shadows. Round-sided, soft shadows. At first they were sort of like that, but then they got smooth.

And then we could have a light source throw a shadow from this three dimensional thing on whatever surface wasn’t there on our screen.

And then we really learned how to make this pie chart good. We could explode it and pull out some of the wedges. And put it up in the air and cast shadows down on the ground from that.

People did this. And why did they do this? Why is this so attractive?

It’s because you can. Just because you can do it, you do this. My question to you, and my statement to you is, that a pie chart is a really stupid way to show comparative numerical information.


Making something that doesn’t work better, prettier…is dumb! It’s just simply dumb.

Little teeny numbers in a thin little pie give you no comparative information, and you really can’t compare those strange areas of almost triangles with slightly curved ends to one another.

Bars are easy. Wedges aren’t. It’s very dumb. I tell you that because it’s fundamentally dumb. It comes from not asking the question of “What works? What’s the way in? How do you communicate to another human being?”

You just don’t do things because you can do them. Because you can push a button and flip something or show a little movie, you don’t just do it. Because you can put 1200 things on one page, you don’t just do it.

Look at WebMD’s page. I mean, you’d be dead before you found your way through the first page.


They jam as much of it because it is the same mentality that they teach in a school of photography. The more on a map is a better map. It isn’t. I don’t want to be wearing a belt, suspenders, and then glue your pants on to your stomach. It just isn’t better.

It’s scary. A lot of people have conversations with me about their fears. Fears about changing jobs. Fears about being an information architect, for being transferred into the strategic planning department or something. Or doing something… I don’t know what any of the words mean. I don’t know any department or anything… I had been very fortunate in my life to be so abrasive that nobody would hire me.


Richard Saul Wurman: That certainly has helped me a great deal. It’s also filtered out the fact that I have quite a number of acquaintships, but no friendships. There’s a lot to be said for being abrasive. There’s a lot to be said for saying really what’s on your mind. Like, “Oh, there is a booger in your nose.”


There really isn’t.


Richard Saul Wurman: But would you want to walk around with a booger in your nose and not have somebody tell you? And then if somebody tells you, [sarcastically]
“Oh, that guy told me I had a booger in my nose.”

That means, just see, you can’t win in a conversation.


Richard Saul Wurman: I was lying. He didn’t have a booger in his nose. He rubbed his nose. And then he is embarrassed and doesn’t like me for doing that whole thing to him. I’m just making a point. I’m fortunate that these series of things, personality flaws, have been really helpful to me. Some of you know I started a conference called the “TED conference.” The “TED conference,” which is out of control in it’s “TED-ing” of the world at the moment.

I sold in 2002, the same way I’ll sell this banana later on.


But not for eight figures.


Well, if we use a decimal point, I can sell it for eight figures.


See, that wasn’t even the truth, “eight figures.” Which gets me to numbers for a while. We had a nice conversation about numbers last night at dinner, we were talking about… Recently I got some passion about the year and numbers and…

[audience member sneezing]

Bless you! Welcome-we keep on going. That was David Gray sneezing there.


If you would like something for the camera, and when you’ll have little, if you translate it into Japanese at the bottom when you think, “David Gray sneezing.”


Well, we are information architects, we should explain what we’re doing and what’s happening. I mean it’s an odd sound from the back or the front of the room. We should understand what that is. And it gives him some fame that will last for a short period of time. So the laughing will make him sneeze again.

I’ve gotten interested in the “year.” Stephen Jay Gould was an acquaintance of mine. I hope some of you know who he is. If not, Google him. One of, may be the 10 best, most remarkable, [inaudible 33:11] speakers that I have ever heard in my life. Stephen Jay Gould, he’s dead. Well, it’s an interesting thing about his death. He had cancer at a very young age. A cancer, which had only one percent chance of surviving. It was one of those aggressive, aggressive cancers. They told him that he was going to die. What he did was sort out the one percent of the people who didn’t die from that cancer. He lived another 30 years and died from a different cancer.

In the meanwhile did amazing work. He was an amazing Darwinian biologist. Wrote the front pages of “Natural History” magazine month after month after month. He came to my house in Newport. I live rather pretentiously. So the front whole is marble. He walked down and he looked at the marble and he was identifying all the little animals that were embedded in the marble. Just by looking down, he knew all those little things which was rather astonishing. To tell you something else about Newport, then we walked out in the backyard, I had just moved in, and he walked out the backyard like this, and he said, “Jew stepped, Jew stepped. First time a Jew has ever stepped here.”


Richard Saul Wurman: I’ve never told that story ever before, but it’s funny.


I have eight acres in Newport. There’s a big fence all around the property, high fence around the property. The urban legend in this town is that I didn’t build this fence, the town built it to keep me in.


Richard Saul Wurman: It’s not true. It’s not true. [laughs] I was talking about Stephen Jay Gould for a while. Over here, thank you. I’m old. He wrote a little book in 1997 about the bicentennial, it was going to happen, and we all went crazy, -for the turning of the century from 1999 to the year 2000. Now many of you know now, particularly the Europeans in the room, because they were the ones who brought it up. Not brought it up, but understood at the dinner table well. The other people were masticating their food. It’s that the new century began in 2001 not in 2000.

Well, we just like the little zeros. We like little zeros, it’s easier to celebrate.

However, if you go back to 1899, the front page on the newspaper on December 31st was saying, “The next year,” front page story in 1899, “That the next day would be the beginning of the last year of the 19th century.” Then in 100 years, the year time switched by a year,how they described the centennial, the 1000… Isn’t that odd? Because it’s marketing. It’s easier to market all those zeros. The 2000, it’s a logo that looks better.

The lack of fact bothered nobody and they shot off fire works quite beautifully at the Tour Eiffel in Paris. On the year 2000 even that was the last… And maybe they were celebrating the last year of the 29th century. But I don’t think so. Nothing is very accurate about numbers, not very sensible about numbers. We have an arrogance about human beings and numbers and birth dates, birth dates of Christ, the death of Herod, and starting centuries, our calendar that we use generally today was started in the sixth century.

It wasn’t a calendar before the sixth century that had anything to do with anything. So it was 400, 500 years when it wasn’t really a calendar. So we made up a calendar. The Pope asked a little guy by the name of “Dennis The Little.” He was a monk. Actually it’s his name and I mentioned that to you this morning, Dennis. I told you about Dennis the little. He came up eventually with Christ’s birthday being on the 25th of December. Then as all of Jewish holidays are eight days, he counted forward eight days to January first and that’s the celebration of the festival of circumcision. And that’s when January first was first born.

But he started with the year one. Because there was not year zero, because there wasn’t the concept in Europe of zero. There was a little bit of zero in the Mayan world. Of course, there is the Baptoon and Cartoon and stuff like that. I love, if anybody is really interested in Mayan things, I can go on for quite a while. I’ve lived, as I told you, in the jungle of Guatemala and mapped one third of Tikal and I go frequently back to the Yucatan.

While we’re talking about the Yucatan, that bump that you see in Mexico is not the Yucatan. That’s made up of three states. It’s our neighboring country. It’s the state of the Yucatan, which has Merida as its capital, the state of Campeche, with Campeche as its capital, and the long skinny one with that funny town called Cancun, the invented town called Cancun, with Chetumal as its capital is Quintana Roo.

So when you go to what you call the Yucatan, you’re going to Quintana Roo, if you’re going to Cancun.

And Quintana Roo was lawless, brought into the Mexican state system in 1915, but until 1931 you couldn’t enter there, it was so much of a Wild West show.

That’s our bordering country. We know nothing about it.

Do you see where any word can take you any place? Any place? You just have to remember this shit.

I have a nice story about, however, the Yucatan, and Sisal, and why it was developed the way it is. And if somebody’s really interested, I’ll tell you later about this strange story of change. Change is somewhat what this whole talk is about. The acceptance of change.

I’ll do a real rapid run of it. There was an industrial revolution in the 1800’s. So they started sending stuff places.

Things were manufactured and goods, and food and cloth and silk and bananas, and everything was sent everywhere in the world on big ships with big sails called clipper ships, or something like that. Then they came up with these steam engines. And they had hybrid ships. The hybrid was invented with those ships.

No, maybe it was invented with Romans with oars and sails. That’s a hybrid too. Hybrids are not something new, is what I’m saying.

And then they dropped the sails and bigger engines, and the engines were run first by coal, and then I guess by oil and then eventually aircraft carriers have atomic energy on them.

About four years ago… no, what year was 9/11?

Huh? 2001? So it was nine years ago, right immediately a week before 9/11, I flew out to the Teddy Roosevelt aircraft carrier. It was in war games in the Atlantic. Landed on it. It was scary.

You land on it, you’re sitting backwards in a plane that has no windows and you’re trying to catch these rubber bands. And I spent a couple of days in war games on that boat. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I can’t imagine being on one of those boats for any length of time.

And then you take off, and the Admiral said, “I’ve done this a lot of times, and this is still the scariest eight seconds of my life.” And it is, it’s really scary. You take off and you go down.

And then came home and just a few days later was 9/11 and they brought the ship back and then they sent it over there. And they have atomic energy. It was the only part of the ship I was not allowed to see, I don’t know why.

But everybody who showed me around the ship who was attached to me to show me around the ship got lost.


Richard Saul Wurman: 5,000 people live on this fucking boat. And the people that were assigned to me don’t know their way around. And there are no maps and there are no diagrams, and you have no idea where you are. There’s no windows.

The only time you have any sense where your absolute complete anxiety and terror leaves you is in a place where you can’t hear yourself think, and that’s because of the noise on the deck with these exploding planes every two minutes.

But down there, there’s no two stairways that line up that you can go to. There’s no diagram. You don’t know what deck you’re on. And every stairway, the riser tread is slightly different. If there was no light… and some are metal, some are wood, some have chain handles… there’s nothing common. It’s like 1,200 chimpanzees built the boat.


Richard Saul Wurman: And they glued together the parts with super glue. Well, that’s something else. I wouldn’t do it again, but I did that then. In 1962 I did a book with plans of 50 cities of the world. In 1967 I did a massive book to which I’m absolutely and utterly convinced no one has seen called “Urban Atlas: 20 American Cities.”

It was a major huge book with every page that would fold out that big, and it had 14 colors, and it was the first time there was ever a comparative statistical comparison of 20 cities in America, the 20 largest cities in America.

It was a Herculean project I did for MIT. I had 55 people working on it. It took quite a while, and it is still an amazing book, and it was all done by hand, and it was because in 1967 it was before computers.

Both of those books I have brought back to show to two new partners. They had never seen them. And they’re just astonished that it was done in ‘62, and then ‘67… for a project that I’m doing called 19.20.21, which is trying to set up a methodology for understanding cities.

Now, this is a project that is so big that there’s something there for everybody. And this is a fact. It’s absolutely a fact. I wouldn’t say it here on this stage unless I’ve said it before, and there’s no two cities in the world that do their maps the same scale, ask the same questions, have the same legends, and there’s no methodology whatsoever how you do the border around the city, and if you don’t know how to put a border around a city, you have no area within it which to collect information, and therefore get comparative densities.

By general opinion, the largest city in the world is Tokyo, and the variations in population of Tokyo is from 25 million to 65 million, because they draw different borders.

I’m not talking about the city border as the incorporated city, but actually how a city is. Encompassing other cities, of going out with transportation lines, of the urban fabric going out. How do you draw the edge? There is no accepted methodology for drawing the edge.

It’s not a trivial thing. It’s a fundamental thing, because 51% going to 70% of the world’s population live in urban areas.

This is not trying to make cities better. That is not what I’m trying to do. This is not a value statement of whether people should live in cities or shouldn’t live cities. Whether there should be slums or there shouldn’t be slums. This is not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about just understanding what is, so that other people can make value judgments of making use of success and failure from one city to another.

It’s an interesting project. It’s vast. It’s a five year project. I have two partners. One is the biggest map maker in the world who is way below the radar.

ESRI has 4,000 employees and they are owned by one person in Redlands. In fact, if you go to the website, they have this website and in the website it says, “This company is not for sale.”

The other company is Radical Media, and you can go to their website. So I have two partners, and I’m going to be meeting with them all day Monday and Tuesday in Redlands.

Well, that’s a fascinating project. It’s huge. It’ll be probably, I hope, we hope, it’s all dreams, most things don’t work, a TV series, and of course websites or iPad sites, and I’ll talk about iPad in a minute.

And urban observatories around the world simultaneously, live museums where the information constantly changes and you can talk from one city to another and see your city relative to other cities in the world.

IBM has helped us with the first presentation of proof of concept, where we looked at Tokyo a little bit and New York in a deep dive to show that what we’re really talking about starts to make some sense.

In fact, I had a brief conversation-I don’t know if he’s in this room, is Mr. IBM in this room? Yeah, there he is.

I’ve had a brief conversation with him. He’s seen the presentation. He thought, maybe because he was sucking up to me, that it was pretty good. But there’s a real business there, it’s an interesting thing and we’re talking to other people about that.

That’s one project. Another project I’m doing for my TED…when I talk about TED MED, that is absolutely transparently avarice and greed on my part. I’m running the conference. If it does well, I make money, so I know I’m hawking something, and I apologize in advance, but it’s an interesting exercise, and I’m telling you that in advance.

One of the things I want to do with the conference this year is proactively in a conference explain something to the group rather than just have a speaker come up. To begin a conference and make them have some epiphany, some understanding of something that comes from the person running the conference.

Not in a speech, but through an exercise I bother going through, much as if you saw a book I did called, “Understanding USA,” which is only a mediocre book. Some parts are very good. Some parts aren’t so good. The parts that are good are good. The parts that are bad are bad. I can’t rip out the bad parts, so I don’t sell it at all.

But that was a proactive way in the year 2000, I bought into the thing, of doing an annual report of the United States of America. It’s called “Understanding USA” And it has three different color covers because I could. It’s all the same book, but for a while I liked the white one. I never liked the red one. The blue one’s OK. The white one’s nice because it shows fingerprints.

Anyway, the project I want to do for this conference is called “Five By Five By Five By Five.” Don’t take it down. If you can’t remember “Five By Five By Five By Five,” you shouldn’t be in this room at all.


Richard Saul Wurman: What I want to look at, because I don’t understand the health care system anywhere, and I want to understand what the health care system is sort of like here relative to someplace else. I might know a little bit more of what happens here than someplace else. I want to look at five countries: Japan, United States, Great Britain, Norway, and India. I want to look at five things that can happen. You’re born, what birth is like. What the last five months of your life is like. Really, you usually do six months, but the thing is called, “Five By Five By Five By Five,” so I’ll say the last five months of life.


Richard Saul Wurman: Basically death, a chronic disease, diabetes II; a trauma, breaking her hip; and a heart attack. And what happens at five different percentiles based on the percentiles within that country, not percentiles across all the countries. Five different percentiles within those countries, reasonable percentiles, of income or net worth, whatever we can get. What would be a little story of what would happen getting born someplace or having diabetes someplace. Not encyclopedic, just a beginning way of knowing enough to see some patterns in it. It’s not meant to be an encyclopedia. It’s a simple little study. It’s not so easy to do, but it’s not a doctoral dissertation. And just set up probably in a film and in an exhibit and posters and some other things like that.

I think Nigel Holmes is going to help me, and Paul Suel’s going to help me and an amazing person who you should look up who came into my office. Kind of nice-looking, handsome guy who I guess made a little bit of money. I think he’s in his very early 40s or late 30s and has this passion to make some complex governmental information clear and wanted my help.

He did a poster on everything, beyond anything, you wanted to know about the Supreme Court and all its justices and its history. It’s worthwhile getting and looking at it. His name is Nathaniel Pearlman, and it’s worthwhile getting this. It’s a big poster. It’s extraordinary.

He just sent me the preliminary of all the Presidents of the United States, which I had some real criticisms of it he’s getting from other people, and I hope he makes a few changes. But it will be an amazing single poster on all the presidency, better than anything I’ve ever seen.

I want him to do “Five By Five By Five By Five” along with other stuff I pump in there, too, and he’s been doing some of the research for me. You can all help. Anybody can help me. I mean, for nothing. I don’t pay anything.


Richard Saul Wurman: Just if you want to help me, you can help me. I love help. That’s my scam. I get people to help me do things, and your name will be someplace.


Richard Saul Wurman: Well.


I mean everybody helps me. If you look at any of my books, everybody helps me. Their name is there. Everybody helps me, and everything is there. More so than anybody I tell the name of the paper I use always. I do everything like that, but it’s an interesting project. And it’s called “Five By Five By Five By Five.” And then I got this idea, and this idea’s about four days old. As I told you before, I follow tornadoes. This is another one you could help on. I don’t know how to begin this one at all. I have some ideas how to begin “Five By Five By Five By Five.” But what I’m doing is I’m giving you examples that a single human being without a client can do things. Are you seeing a pattern here?

I don’t understand something. I want to make it understandable. I’m a single human being. I don’t even self fund them. They just get done because people want to do it and learn from it. And it often leads to other things that they get to do. And they learn in the process. So is it a scam? Yeah! Is it helpful? Yeah! I don’t get complaints after these are over.

And I’m upfront about what I do. Right? Over the years I have about 18 people who are far better educated than myself changing slightly over the years as they get too old. But usually from their mid 20s to their late 30s who, wherever I do a conference, they get a hold of me or I get a hold of them.

And they, of their own expense, fly to my conference. I put them up there and pay for all their food and everything, and they do sometimes grunt work. They register people. They do that. They attend as much of it as they can, and they’re my volunteers. They keep on coming back, and I’ve done 30 conferences!

And they enjoy it. It’s like a family wherever I am. Whether it’s a medical conference or a technology conference or an entertainment conference, they’re all interesting. One isn’t more interesting than another. It’s just what one does.

Well, so this new idea as I told you I follow hurricanes and tornadoes. My son is the hurricane chaser and tornado chaser on “Storm Chasers.” You know that. You know the guy with the blue truck with the big Doppler radar in the back who follows and tells Sean where he should take his tank. He’s tried to go to the eye of 11 hurricanes, and he’s made it to the eye of 11 hurricanes.

That’s fairly boring because you have to go pretty early, and then the moment you’re in the eye it’s pretty dangerous. Then he also chases tornadoes obviously. They’re hard to find, and you don’t find them all the time. There’s a lot of misses on that. And he’d get too close. They’re a little dangerous, but they’re interesting and they don’t last very long. The hail can screw you up a bit because it hails often before, and that’s what he does.

But in being around him and finding out a little bit about meteorology, I see there’s some patterns here. There’s patterns that occur with hurricanes that are geographic patterns and patterns that have to do with health care. Patterns to do with natural disasters and people dying.

We saw that probably about 220,000 people died in Haiti from an earthquake, which was a pattern of an earthquake of how far it was below the kind of earthquake it was. But also, it was directly related to the building codes. We saw that many less people died in Chile with a slightly bigger earthquake. The aftershocks were actually bigger in the Chilean one, better building codes, and it was slightly different level below the ground.

Most scientists along with the public had a big epiphany about tsunamis during the Day After Christmas Tsunami a number of years ago that killed 250,000 people in Ateh or Aceh or wherever it was in Indonesia. When they saw it came in it was only about six feet high, [laughs] and we were thinking of a wall of water. Well, there are tsunamis that are a wall of water, but they come from landslide tsunamis.

All tsunamis are not the same. All volcanoes are not the same. Volcanoes sometimes are liquid molten stuff, and sometimes they send a plume up. Depending on where they happen in the earth, it depends on the ongoing wind patterns of whether they go across the United States or Europe or go south. Things are different, and we’re not going to stop these things right away.

We’re not going to stop hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis. We can have a little bit more warning with tsunamis. We can maybe increase the tornado warning to five minutes, six minutes. We can increase the warning thing a little bit. We’ll be wrong a lot of the times.

There’ll be a lot of crying wolf because all they can do is warn when they see a weather pattern that is likely to have tornadoes.

By the time they see the tornado, forget about warning anybody about it. So that means it’s a whole psychological reaction of people of how many times can somebody cry wolf. As you know, when hurricanes approach a lot of people won’t leave their homes anyway even though they know they’re going to be flooded out.

Anyway, there’s an interesting series of cross patterns between the types of these natural disasters, the geographic patterns they have, the local code. I was in a 7.1 earthquake on the 17th floor of a building in San Francisco.

Although the news agency showed you fire in one part of town and quoted the deaths in the one part of the entranceway to the Bay Bridge falling down, basically it was amazingly no damage. I mean it just wasn’t much damage. A big crack in the street, and I was on the 17th… I was in a fancy hotel room. I had a wonderful bathroom with beautiful marble tile, close, nicely. There was no cracks anywhere.


I was thrown off the chair, but the building code was pretty good.

The modern buildings that adhere to the code did pretty well in a 7.1 earthquake. It wouldn’t do so well in an 8.1. On a Richter Scale one point is 32 times. I assume everybody knows that. Does anybody here not know that? Oh, a few people didn’t know that, and the others are just lying.

But it’s 32 times. See, they don’t tell you that, either. They just give you a number. What does that mean, they give you a number? The Fujita scale, which was the scale for tornados, was only based on whether a cow gets thrown up in the air or an automobile. It’s based on damage, not on wind speed. Well, now they have the revised Fujita scale. Fujita luckily died, but he was the king in the thing. They have a revised Fujita scale. It’s still only marginally better. It’s not really a way of measurement. How we measure things is also how we understand things.

So we measure. Well, you look at an ad. You want to buy a car, so you look and it tells you miles per gallon. Well, that doesn’t mean very much if you have an electric car. Maybe it doesn’t mean so much anymore with a hybrid car. Maybe you just want to know how far you can go in a car, not miles per gallon.

Going 0 to 60 in three point some seconds in the new $1.7 million Bugatti to a top speed of 250 miles an hour is a meaningless statistic that they use in their ads because you can’t go 250 miles an hour anyway. Nobody in this room probably is able to control a car at 250 miles an hour.

I’ve gone on racetracks because they use to close down to Laguna Seca before my TED conference. I was driven at about 170 or 80. I was scared by a [laughs] driver. I mean I was just terrified. I did one spin around in the car, and I tried to drive about 120 around a track. I just couldn’t do it.

It’s not so easy to do! 250 miles an hour? I mean what highway are you going to go? Well, I think I’ll go down to CVS and get some toothpaste.


Richard Saul Wurman: Ha! I’m there before I left!


Richard Saul Wurman: So how we measure things, how we advertise things, how we describe things are pretty good. You know that dollar bill I gave you is almost exactly six inches. But it’s not six inches. [laughs] It’s 6.14 inches. Isn’t that stupid? Why not make it six inches? Nothing has a measurement that makes any sense. How we measure things and describe things tells us how we can receive them and put them in our head and compare them to something else we know because you only understand something relative to something you understand. Wurman’s first law. You only understand something relative to something you understand.

So you have to begin someplace. You have to get in. You have to open the door to some kind of understanding in people to go the very next step.

Now, the second thing I talked to you about about understanding, I think you should really huddle together. Huddle together and reform yourself into a kind of understanding business. An understanding business with you is accepting of any modality, any means, any ideas as temporal as they all are, and accept the fact they’re all temporal.

Accept the fact that the best idea of anybody in this room has a 10 minute shelf life. Just accept it, and that’s the same in every business. It just has a 10 minute shelf life. There are no eternal ideas in this room except understanding. That’s an eternal idea.

We want ourselves personally and another human being to understand us, understand something, and we want to do what we can to be able to translate our methodology to somebody else. Well, you do. I don’t. But it’s a nice goal for people to have because then you can form in a group and dance around the Maypole and have a conference because you have some commonality.

Talking about commonality, I said I was going to do this. And I’m sorry to do this, but I have to do this. This is a story about, she doesn’t know yet what I’m going to say, a story about conferences. I’ve run good conferences. I know how to run a good conference. It is my only area of semi-expertise. I have no other skill sets, but I seem to know how to do that and you can’t be taught to do that. You somehow have to feel how to do that. How do you feel how to do that? I try to design conferences so I would like to be there. Of course, I hate being at anybody else’s conference because I can’t bear how they run them. But, that’s sort of my fiction in my head is, it’s a meeting I would like to be at.

We talked several times, yesterday, about how I want this room set up. I said, “I want the first row real close to the stage, I want a chair in the middle of the room, I want just a little table, no podium.” You stand behind a podium, your groin is protected, you’re less vulnerable.


No, you are. And, you have something to put something down on in front of you, you tend to read it. And, I can’t stand right here. Even though your neck might hurt at the end of this session, from looking up, I am making eye contact with a lot of people in the front row. And, it makes me feel better and it’s intimate. There a certain intimacy.

So, I came here. The first row was back where the guy is falling asleep with the orange shirt. And, all this was empty space. I mean, what were we going to do there? The orchestra was going to come in?


Dan Klyn: That was a surprise.

Richard Saul Wurman: Yes.


That was Dan Klyn saying, “That was a surprise.”


Then they had an aisle, one aisle, in the middle. So that if I was sitting here, I would be looking at a long, empty alley. That’s often what they do in conferences. They have an aisle in the middle. Then, when I asked for it to be changed, the woman said, “Well, it’s fire regulations.” I said, “I’m a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, I have a Master’s degree in architecture. I’m not going to put you in danger about fire here. I’m just not going to do that. You can have an aisle on either side and still not have too many seats.”

And, then I said, “Would you take the panel table off the front.”

Because, I hate panels and I don’t even like the idea that other people do them. So, they had to take that away. And then, “Would you fill in these seats?”

And, they filled in the seats because there’s a pocket door that’s going to close here. Because, they have to do a quick change on the room. They took four rows from the middle, so that there was a gap in the middle of the room, of four rows. So, the people in the back were like, in a different planet.


I said, “Why don’t you take the chairs from the back of the room? Fill them in here.” So, they did that. And then, they brought probably the world’s ugliest three legged table.




You can say, “Wurman is now looking at the chair.”


You also have, in this democratization of your wanting to have everybody have their 31 seconds of fame, you have all these separate lectures that people go to. You have to make a choice. It’s like going to a supermarket and seeing 81 kinds of water. It’s fucking water. It’s water. It’s water. If you want lemon water, buy a lemon.


And then, you get together and you say, “Which room were you in?”

“Oh, mine was much better.”

“Oh, I should have been at that one.”

I have nothing to talk to you about because we don’t have common experience. What do you want? If your goal is to have commonality and have a group and a sort of camaraderie here, everybody should hear everything.


Well, I know there’s some people, there’s somebody shaking their head but, that’s OK. I’ve run conferences for 30 years. I tell people that everybody attends everything and it’s worked. And, it works because then, every break, people can reflect on the same things they heard.

I have three minute talks, though. And, I have some five minute talks. And, I certainly would never have a talk this long.


And, I have full one hour breaks where everybody gets to talk to everybody, including the speaker. But, I don’t have questions. If I asked this room, as I’ve asked many rooms, “How many people would like to have questions and how many people would not like to have questions?” Everybody, “Oh, we would like to be able to ask questions of the speaker.” And, the questions come in two varieties. Bad questions and speeches.

Every once in a while, there is a good question, but why should your time be wasted for waiting for somebody to ask a good question, so I stood up and I broke up his session yesterday by ranting and I sent my apologies, but the point I have made I think, is a valid point because this is the main point of this talk and that is the point of understanding.

Understanding is so fundamentally basic, that you’re not competing with any other group if you talk about understanding. You’re not going to be bumped off the ledge. You might become the experts in understanding. It is the all encompassing word to things.

You want to call yourself information architect. I do not call myself anything. I just started calling myself an information architect because I do not want to be an, just call it, what do you do if I say, “I’m an architect,” then somebody says “Oh, you do remodeling?” and I wanted to do something that least provoke them to ask me what does that mean and then I had a chance of a conversation, and a chance of opening a conversation is not a bad thing and everything can’t be legislated.

If in the back page of my… I just did this new book, I am not trying to sell from the stage, I am trying to sell from a stage, it wasn’t ordered but it came this morning. I hope nobody told me it came, did it come? Maybe it came, if it came, and you see something that looks like that, I did the cover that way so you could see the title from the back row, the real book just as little thing to it. That’s a lie. That’s the real book. The 33 stands for the fact that it is a sequel to a book I wrote 33 years ago, I could not think of another title.

It’s a case in point of trying to give everybody here permission that they can do things. A number of people ask me to revise the book I did 33 years ago that I had some people knew about, but I never sold, did not print many copies of, but it got out there. It was called “What If Could Be, an Historical Fable of Future,” when I was national chairman of the AIA convention in Philadelphia 1976 and I don’t ever reprint things and I do not revise things, I just, when they’re done they’re done, but I thought, “Maybe I will do a sequel.”

“How can I do a sequel that is real easy because I can’t type and I am not a very good writer.” So I did a sequel by talking into a tape recorder for a two very long sessions having it transcribed, editing it a bit, sending that to somebody who I expect to type and they setup and type then I looked, read it through again and then I got some blank pieces of paper that big and he sent me the sheets of this set type and I just had a pair of kindergarten scissors and I cut apart the things and I rearranged the things and used Scotch tape, pasted them down on that, then and I sent the Scotch taped things to this guy and he had arranged them better again, I mean just squared it up again.

Made a sketch for the cover he did that, I xeroxed this off of “The Wall Street Journal,” I like their ampersand. I don’t know what typeface it is. And then I sent it to a printer, I called Sappi Paper up and I said I would like a lot of paper free and they send me about $15,000 worth the paper free, better sheets than I ever would have bought.

I went to a printer that Michael Bierut the top guy at Pentagram said he has never been to the printer, but he uses them a lot for his year work, and they are pretty good, so it was pretty close, I want to go to some place I could go. So I went to the printer, I spec-ed the color on the press, was at the press run and that’s the story of the book. I don’t have a publicist an editor, so there is probably lousy editing. I don’t have a publicist. I don’t have an editor. I don’t have a publisher. I don’t have a distributor. It’s on Amazon, and somebody stores them in Atlanta for me, the same place where the guy works where he cleaned up the thing. He’s a friend of mine who suggested I do this again, and he takes any money that comes in. And that’s the story of my second book.

Now if I can do that, everybody can do that. It’s just not, “The books are here! The man is holding it. He has one with the big 33 on it, too.” OK. So I sent some here, and it is a very odd book. I mean it’s odder than anything. It’s not information architecture. It’s not anything you do. You will not learn from this book what to do next.

This has no hints about your field. It is merely a collection of 33 episodes of a TV series by the commissioner of curiosity and imagination, who is me. It’s a thinly veiled autobiography. Everything in the book is true except the story.

Uh-huh. It’s filled with factoids, and it is just me talking and babbling about the facts I know and the things I know and connecting them together. I really like this book. I’ve done 82, and there’s only three others I’ve done that I like. So that’s not bad. I’ve done 30 some conferences. There’s only four conferences I like.

I sound like Jung. You know, Jung did things. He had four. Most things we like, male/female, two. Catholic Church likes three. Jung was four. Things five are because of our hands. 10 is because of our hands. Two hands, 20, which is the Mayan’s number system.

Nine is three times three. Nine times nine is 81, and the pegs on the doors in China. So numbers can be anything. And 33, if you look at this part of the book, which we often call the spine, you have 33 bones in your spine.

So you can take any number and make it work for anything you want. There’s nothing magic about 33. Two nice numbers. That’s all. Maybe it gives me a reason to do the next book. If I don’t do “Understanding Dogs,” it will be called “34.” It won’t.


Richard Saul Wurman: How we doing on time? And should I start another…

Dan Klyn: You have 16 minutes.

Richard Saul Wurman: Oh! I will do something else. Was the woman who was walking out, would you like to ask me a question?

Audience Member 1: [inaudible 75:31]


Richard Saul Wurman: Well, that was the only person I wanted a question from.


Richard Saul Wurman: Do you have a question? Yeah!

Audience Member 2: No, I don’t have a question for you.

Richard Saul Wurman: In the first four rows is there…Yes, ma’am! Do you have a question?

Audience Member 3: You were going to talk about the iPad?

Richard Saul Wurman: Oh, good! That’ll take 16 minutes.


Dan Klyn: You only have 15 now.

Richard Saul Wurman: That’ll take 15 minutes. Well, it really fits into the other part of the conversation I was talking about, about the web page. Please have this epiphany with me. Please! Please understand that everything that everybody has done in this room, including myself especially, is primitive. We are in the first moments of doing something, the first moments of looking at computers and doing these websites and connecting things, and we have this arrogance that we’re really doing something. No. We’re looking at numbers, and people are Twittering and Facebooking and we think, “Social networking!” and how wonderful that is.

And then the next year it will be something else and then something else. We’re in this rapid changing things, and we can’t invest in the excellence and the finality of anything we’re doing. Look at the sites you’re looking at. Look at any travel site. Dan tried to print out my boarding pass yesterday in the lobby, and I thought he was going to drool because it was so complicated.

It just was not a sensible way to do things. It was not a helpful program. Everybody is printing out their boarding pass. I don’t do it. I give it to somebody else to do. I wouldn’t do anything like that. And he’s supposed to, “I can do it.” And he went up to it.

Dan Klyn: It took two tries.

Richard Saul Wurman: Well, that’s two and a half tries too many. I mean it was not, the two tries weren’t… And why they want to know when I was born. Nobody ever asks me when I was born. I’ve given it to concierges. Do they know when I’m born without asking me? And they give me a boarding pass back. Nothing is very clear. It’s really bad.

Rent a car at an airport that you’ve never driven before at night. And try to figure out, in a car you don’t own, you’ve never owned one. And try to figure out how to turn on the windshield wipers. Try any simple thing. Anything.

Adriana: How about the shower?…

Richard Saul Wurman: I don’t like interruptions like that. What is your name?

Adriana: Adriana.

Richard Saul Wurman: Adriana asked, how about the shower? Now, are you suggesting something between you and I?


Richard Saul Wurman: She laughed at that, which was rather insulting.


Adriana: I’m married.


Richard Saul Wurman: It was an interesting extension of the conversation. The shower. I don’t know how to use light switches in showers, and many of the hotels I go to. I go to upscale hotels, so they make it more difficult, because they think you’re more intelligent, or maybe you will call someone and they have to come upstairs and show you and you have to give them a tip.

Nothing is very easy. And things are confusing, and there’s too many things happening. And that very soon is going to change.

There is going to be a game changer where, probably through the iPad and others, because everybody’s going to be onto it, or already onto it. But they’ll understand that it isn’t a book, it’s not a collection of pages, it’s not selling real estate on 20 pages.

I have about 150,000 or so or less, something like that, of Google citations. And they have some ads on some of the pages. Could they possibly have an ad that makes any sense on page 1,000 of my citations?

Who would ever go there? I’ve never gone past the first page. I just look at the number to see if it goes up or down.

And if I spell it RS Wurman, as opposed to Richard Saul Wurman or Richard Wurman, whether it changes the number.

It’s going to be a movie. It’s going to be an infinite flight through information, and a personal flight.

It’s not going to be a static page where you organize it, and are able to show it to a client as a page. We’re going to put this here and you can push this button and it goes to this page. You can push this button and it goes to that page, and you diagram the 20 or 50 or 100 or 1,000 pages and go to it. It’s going to go to millions of pages.

You’re going to be able to have a journey. You’re going to have experiences of going to the thing. You’re going to be able to fly through information of your choosing.

How many people have ridden a Segway?

You know you direct it to where it wants to go. That feeling of freedom, of making it move, go fast, go slow, do that. That feeling, that empowering feeling you’re going to have when it comes to understandable information. And that’s going to affect how you do it.

And you’re not going to talk in terms of wireframes and design of a page, or have the metaphor of a book in your head. It’s going to be different. Very soon!

I’m not talking about “Looney Tunes” in 20 years. I’m talking about a couple of years, a year. Somebody will do it. We’re already trying to do it for some projects that I’m working on.

I am not an early adopter, because I don’t know how to do anything.

By the way, why did people buy iPads when it’s not 3G? Why didn’t they wait? Why didn’t the early adopters have enough…and you’d think that they’re the ones with the bigger cranial capacity… Why would they not wait a few weeks and get a better machine? Or as some of us wait a year and get a camera on it?

Well, there’s some logic to that.

So what we’re doing is going to be a different way of finding out things, and a more magical way. It is going to be an incredible flying carpet of going and picking out things and putting them together. Twisting them around, and being able to go backwards and forwards to find where you started and go places.

You’re going to have an incredible journey of traveling through understanding. And that’s what you can do if that is the collective passion of this group, not of an ending, but of a beginning.

Of a beginning that starts with understanding, and with personal bodying yourself, empowering yourself to be personally satiated with understanding. Not what the client wants, not what the great washed wants…

HL Mencken called the Great Unwashed, and in America he called them the Great Washed, which I always thought was funny. I always thought for when he talked it was about Ivory soap.

That was a big thing when I was young, and I really objected when Dove soap came out, or Swan. Swan came out. Ivory soap was what you had, and Heinz Ketchup. And when some other ketchup, Del Monte ketchup came out, I thought that was terrible. And “Newsweek” was awful, because I liked “Time.” When I grew up, there was real great loyalties to things. There’s no loyalties in that way. That’s old-fashioned, loyalty.

But just think about where you begin, and how much personal power you have to do what you want to do. Sometimes people say, “Well, how do you get all this done? How do you do 82 books? How do you do 30 conferences?”

Nobody’s ever asked me to do a book, ever. Nobody’s ever asked me to do a conference. Nobody’s ever asked me to do a project. And I take it personally.

I told you in the beginning, that’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I just didn’t understand it, when I felt so rejected by the world.

I still feel rejected by the world, because nobody still asks me to do anything. I’m not on one board, one committee, or one organization. I’m not an advisor to a board or any committee or any organization. And I don’t have any of the people helping me, and that lack of help, the lack of running things past people, or thinking I have to, or thinking I have to get permission allows me to fail and succeed. And I would rather fail and succeed than be told what to do.

I took off, and Chad knows, Chad saw me, what, a year and a half ago?

And he said, “Jesus! You’re a new person.”

“Yeah, I took off 80 pounds.”

So there’s another whole person out there. Looks somewhat like me. Wears a scarf. And I took it off because I had a good physical.

That sounds counterintuitive. No, I had a good physical, so I knew the doctor wasn’t going to tell me to do it, because if he had told me to do it, I wouldn’t have done it.

I don’t want to be told to do anything. I really don’t. I don’t want to take directions from somebody. I want to take directions from me, from what’s in here.

Twice already to different groups here…not groups, a couple of people, I’ve told the same joke, but it’s such a wonderful place to end, and that is the Emo Phillips’ joke.

I know, you probably don’t know who Emo is… how many people do know who Emo is?

OK. Then I’ll tell it in his dialect, sort of. Short joke.

“For years and years and years, I thought my brain was the most important organ of my body, until one day I thought, hmm. Look who’s telling me that!”


Richard Saul Wurman: I leave you with that pleasant thought. Have a good morning.



Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.
Get rid of the ads (sfw)

Don't be the product, buy the product!