Writing on Design

At the UX Now conference last week, I was speaking to fellow designers and academicians on the dearth of good literature coming out of the Indian design fraternity. So while, we live in interesting times, where people have a lot of devices and avenues to read on, there is lesser original content that is being published to read. When it comes to writing, we in India flair pretty badly at it.  As a result, we continue to rely upon literature that from other contexts, which are more likely from the west.

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I speak a lot at conferences and do multiple workshops on Design, Design Thinking, User Experience and when it comes to giving materials as pre-readings for my workshops, it all boils down to finding articles from a totally different context. I truly feel that we need more writings from here. We need to have more good literature on Design from India. Design in India is heavily influenced by culture and the ways we respond to it. Our business ethics are different and our structure of the economy is different too. So it makes sense to read more about it. For long, Design in India has been ‘inspired’ by the west, and it is time to change that.

As a part of a class I am teaching this semester, I am seeking the students how to write. I am a firm believer that designers today need to be better at writing and conveying their thoughts. Needless to say, it has been challenging. I strive to get at least one paper out of the class. My only goal for the class is to ensure that students learn how to write well.

Why is it difficult to write?
We struggle to write, because people spend lesser time reading lengthy articles. In the age of instant gratification, reduced attention span, the plethora of information available at fingertips, and information in shorts, it is difficult to expect someone to devote a lot of time to read an article. Even though the average time spent reading has gone up, it is more with multiple short articles or information bits in that of 140 characters and smaller news notifications. Building arguments in short articles is tough and if your piece does not have the sufficient interest from paragraph to paragraph, one has  lost the reader.

Coming out of the writers block
This is more challenging that I thought it to be. For people who were accustomed to writing (like me), getting back to doing it regularly after a considerable amount of time (few weeks to months), is immensely challenging. The mind is too fickle to concentrate on the writing part, and gets easily distracted. It is important to make writing a habit. Only then will one come out of this block. Pledge to write at least a minimum number of words every alternate day, if not everyday.  I remember the days when I wrote long articles. I need to get back  to doing so.

Writing in the Flow
I am striving to get into the flow of writing more often. Bring in discipline is important. It has to be done. I am now looking at at least 1 if not 2 articles / post on my website every week. There is so much to write about. From politics, to environment to education to wicked problems to governance. Design in India is seeing a resurgence, with its value being felt across disciplines. Therefore its the best time to write on design. 

If you have any particular thoughts on how to write better, I would appreciate some in the comments too.

Design is not ‘cosmetic’ work

Good things come with a price. Good Design is one of them. How well do you know what good design is? Do you even understand what Design is ?  These are some questions that keep me up a lot these days. An integral part of my work these days is Design Evangelism through workshops at corporates and colleges.

The good part of things, as it stands today is that owing to the popularity of ‘design learning centres’, there are a lot of ‘designers’. The bad part is that there are very few ‘good designers’. The worst part is that there are a lot of people out there who hire people who are not designers and get them to do design work, for their understanding on design itself skewed and limited.

There are lot who still view Design as an add on-thing. Something that comes later. Historically, the goal of design as an act was to make things look beautiful. This means that the impact of design stopped at the Visceral level. More often than not, this ‘beautification’ would come at the end of projects. In software engineering parlance, Visual Design or the final appearance is a Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) thing. Designers add the visual (cosmetic) component to the designs only after the development has been done.

It is important to let clients know that there is a lot that goes on to make things look (simple and) beautiful. Unfortunately there are many who don’t believe so still. Recently, I got this email from a client, whom I have been chasing to do some balance payment. They shamelessly put it as, we will not pay because the logo design you did was just ‘cosmetic’ work. They go on to further say that for these small change requests we have, on the designs you delivered for the android application screens; we will not pay anything. That is also ‘cosmetic’ work, and we are not in a position to pay. And that we will continue to ask for changes.

In my previous avatar of not being able to say no to clients, and being the good-exploited-designer, I would go ahead and agree and do the work. This time I did not. I reminded about the balance payment and refused to do the work till past payments was cleared.

There are numerous designers out there who do not refuse what the client wants, or question the clients and later complain of being exploited by clients.

Design has moved beyond just the aesthetics. It has even reached the boardroom! It’s time clients accepted that fact. It’s time designers speak more about this.

The client often does not know the terms of engagement with the designers. Is it the designer’s task to inform the client about what design is and what the deliverables would be like? Now this is important because often we as designers ourselves are not sure of what our deliverables are.

Once, I had to convince a client that as a consultant to their product, one of my deliverables would be a critique ‘document’. The client was of course shocked to hear this, because they were expecting fancy screens. It is important to let the client know that even this is work, for we spend the time and energy in doing the exercises. There are many instances where I have delivered only paper prototypes as a part of the final deliverables too. Sometimes they are just wireframes that explain the entire product.

Design is NOT just cosmetic work.

There are ample resources out there to tell you that there are so many more components to design. The sooner you understand this, the better are your chances of a high success to the designer.

If you are a designer in the true sense, either by virtue of training, I sincerely request you to spend some time of yours in purely Design evangelism activities and letting the people know the difference between a the role of a designer and a software operator. Until that happens, we would be forced to pay high amount to people just trained in softwares and assuming they know design well.

#design #startups #teamwork

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The post will form the crux of Chapter 3, from upcoming book ‘Make-it-look beautiful’.
Notes from my teaching and consulting work in Design over the past 12 years.

You can read the previous chapter Do me a favor, kill the term UI/UX .

The Designer’s Angst

We have built this product, and are looking for a UX designer who can ‘Make it Look Beautiful’.

This would be the content of I do not know how many mails I have received in the past from Product Owners, Entrepreneurs, Cool Startup Guys, Project (Product) Managers at large companies, etc. I have had no problems with that, except when it started getting repetitive and, as a result frustrating at times. More often than not, I would reply back with the question whether you are looking for a Visual designer or a UX Designer. The reply would always be UX Designer, but in reality, I knew that they wanted a purely Visual Designer. Needless to say, I would often end up refusing to work with that client because more often than not the UX suggestions would be discarded.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 18.50.10

Over the past few years, I ended up teaching at an Exec MBA program, mentoring students taking courses in design both online and offline, taking workshops at corporates and speaking about Design at various conferences and events. My interactions with lots of Product Leaders, Product Owners, Product Managers and people who want to start their own Product Companies gave some very interesting insights. From being clueless about UX to the classic misunderstanding that UX is UI, to not understanding the value of research, to being driven by beautiful things! I also attended numerous startup events, spoke to numerous investors, visited a couple of accelerators to understand where the problem is.

I come to the conclusion, that in India (and to some extent perhaps around the world), we face a huge supply-demand gap. There are few (good) designers, and the demand has suddenly risen; for design is cool and the buzz word in the industry today. The role of the designer in the industry itself has changed over the years. However, the notion of what constitutes a good UX is still missing widely.

It is for sure that almost every Product Leader now at least knows that design is ‘important’ and should not be ignored. But not everyone is sure about when to invest in it and how to go about it. These are perhaps the greatest challenge that a Product Leader faces.

For some this engagement with a designer comes from the inception, while some get them too late. How do these things impact the team? With the introduction of new processes that teams follows, how does the Designer with a penchant for the waterfall way of working adapt and fit into it.

With the plethora of resources available, picking up the skills and knowledge is not that difficult. So why does the UX designer still demand a high value?

Make it Look Beautiful! is a handbook for Product Leaders and Designers to collaborate better to create amazing products. Over the course of the different chapters in this book, I would write about my discussions on various aspects of design, product management, innovation and research.

The Social Media Fatigue – Life in the Information Economy

We live in interesting times. Did you know that many people now access their Facebook profile the first thing in the morning and It is difficult to communicate with some people, because they are not social media savvy.

In an interesting info-graphic of a recently published research titled “How Social Media is Ruining Our Minds“, it was observed that, over the course of the last ten years the average attention span has dropped from 12 minutes to a staggeringly short 5 seconds. That’s right! Just 5 seconds! People around the world spend close to 700 billion minutes on Facebook every month, and there handling over 1.6 billion search queries per day on Twitter and 250 million tweets per day (Oct 2011). Those are huge numbers!

In such times, there ought to be better strategies for Social Media engagement for individuals as well as business. Almost as prevalent as blind social media evangelism is the level of fatigue and ennui around it.

Driving social Media or being driven by it ?
Driving social Media or being driven by it ?

Understanding the Why

Information as the building block for Social Media Platforms

In my opinion, one of the key influencers of the Social media phenomenon is around the word Information. In an article first published in 1995, advances in computers and data networks inspire visions of a future “information economy’‘ in which everyone will have access to gigabytes of all kinds of information anywhere and anytime. Ten years from now we may find the economic institutions of the information economy a similarly unremarkable part of our day-to-day life. (The Information Economy: How much will two bits be worth in the digital marketplace? – Hal R. Varian, 1995).

I would like to believe that the Social Media is a direct consequence of this information economy and its main drivers are the terms Informational Activity and the Information Industry. Information could be of different kinds. They could be functional, instructional / actionable, recreational, motivational, confidential, philosophical, knowledgeable etc. Each of this information created could be either short lived or meant to last for a certain amount of time. It could be a valuable one or a useless one. It could be global or it could be local. It could be a created bit or it could be shared bit.

In the times of the Social Media and Social Networks, this information is getting created at a rate faster than ever before. Emails, Tweets, Social network updates, are best when they are consumed fresh and the rise of technological platforms that ensure a 24X7, seamless experience, we end up consuming more than we can handle. Social Networks and Social Media platforms are the facilitators of this information dissemination and promoter for information exchange.

In the times of Social Media, we are the champions of creating Information. From amateurs to professionals across all age groups are creating this information. Practically anyone with an access to the technology has the power at his fingertips to create the information, which could then be shared and consumed at a much larger platform in this globalized world.

However we should understand that every-information that we consume, takes some of our energy. It is this excessive consumption of energy that brings in the fatigue.

Nobel laureate economist Herbert A. Simon puts it nicely, “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. Technology for producing and distributing information is useless without some way to locate, filter, organize and summarize it.”

On one side you have excessive information being created and on the other hand, there is only a certain amount that the brain can process and consume. This is resulting in Social Media Fatigue.

What is it resulting in?

You are being watched. Every thing from whom you follow to what you read to what movie you saw to whom who hanged out with. It has taken over our lives.  This takeover of the life by the Social Media Networks is something that needs some pondering over. The times we live in often reminds me of the note in the George Orwell’s classic 1984, Big Brother is watching you. Social Media and Networks are the new Big Brother.

In a research done by Retrevo, for over 1000 participants, they found that close to 42% of the respondents accessed Facebook the first thing in the morning. The Retrevo Gadgetology study also shows that 48% of those polled say they update Facebook or Twitter during the night or as soon as they wake up. And 19% of people under the age of 25 say they update Facebook or Twitter anytime they happen to wake up during the night; 11% over the age of 25 say they do the same thing. (March 2010)

Social Media and Social Network Sites on its face value seem like just a new set of cool tools for involving people for consumption of information, but the impact of that is beyond that.

For example young people are using social network sites for:

  • Keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances;
  • Developing new contacts often with friends of friends, or people with shared interests
  • Sharing content, engaging in self expression & exploring identity
  • Hanging out and consuming content including commercial and user-generated content
  • Accessing information and informal learning
  • Participating in informal groups, and formal youth engagement opportunities;

We have become adept at Multi tasking and become masters of the usage across platforms. The impact is felt on the mind on our Social status, the personal self, the position in the society, and also on our productivity.  Our conversations are in 140 characters or less and videos that are often under 10 minutes are used as a tool to pass on judgments easily. We have become more opinionated and have developed a knack for raising our voices over anything we feel is not right. We keep waiting for a basic notification of an information bit we created getting acknowledged.

All these are leading to the fundamental change in the way we view and consume information. Because the information has to be processed at such a higher rate, it is but natural that fatigue sets in early.

Addressing the Social Media fatigue problem

With the overload of information all around, it is so easy to be disillusioned, frustrated, feel lost. It becomes necessary to identify a way address it.
“We all know very well that activity within social networking can lead to distractions. With one click, we can find ourselves hopelessly lost in a labyrinth of fascinating experiences that have nothing to do with our initial focus. Serendipity is part of the splendor of social media, but it is something that necessitates discipline to learn, entertain and be entertained, while also staying the course. In the end, we exchange time and privacy for exposure and attention.

The reality is that the cost of social networking is great and without checks and balances, engagement can cost us more capital than we have to spend. The net result is then social and emotional bankruptcy. And, the most difficult part of this unfortunate state is that it is at first difficult to recognize and far more exacting to overcome.

 – Brian Solis, principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm in The Human Cost of Social Connectivity

It is important for both businesses and individuals to understand this. Here are a few tips on how this could be addressed.

1.The veracity of Information in consumption

At times we do feel overboard with the entire information flood around us. Not everything we see and read is trustworthy, reliable, and even true. The key is to get to the truth of the information. This filtering out of information based on what is needed versus what is just useless mass would enable to get to actual information that matters most. It would also enable in building the trust with the consumer and the creator of the information too, which would further allow to have better engagements.

 2. Rethink the Social Media Strategy when it comes to sharing

Like they say, an overdose of everything is bad. For businesses and individuals this mean that they need to see the Social media technologies as a tool that enables them to relate more to the user but not overdoing it. The novelty of social media can wear off soon (as is evident by the numerous ones that did not take off), leaving all those fans and followers wondering about the unexpected dip in activity.

 3. Get SMART in your engagement

Fight social media fatigue by getting a S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed) plan in place. This means that we know the reasons why we are on a Social Network, understand what we want to get out of it, be realistic in our assumptions and devote only a certain amount of time to it. Scheduling the time for the Social Media engagement also works wonders.

4. Understand the Value add and do not get burdened

Every Social Network or Social Media Technology is created to bring in some value add. We need to understand what it is. Whether twitter can be an avenue for our daily news, or Facebook is a better source for getting accolades on photographs that Flickr. The answer lies in understanding what value add what social networks provide. Always remember what you are on the Social Media platform for. Do not start out to do things that are potentially beyond the intended usage of the Social Media platform, which results in feeling burdened about it.

5. Understand user’s online behavior

Understand the key profiles like influencers, motivators, consumers, creators etc. in your network. Tools like Klout measure the online influence of their users and content and provides with a score. This measure of influence is primarily seen as the ability to drive others to action.

6. Do not be a master of all

With the constant rise of social networks, and peer pressure, we often give in to the temptation of being omnipresent across social medias. This is not only bad for privacy issues, but also brings in the tiredness resulting from the obligation of being active everywhere. Choose the SM platforms and tools that really benefit who you are and who you’re connected with. Do not just sign up for the latest thing without some understanding of what you’re signing up for.

In conclusion

It is evident that we cannot do away with Social networks and Social Media Technology, for once a particular technology has penetrated a significant portion of the market, it may be very difficult to dislodge it. While a lot of us will agree that social media has added much to our lives, let’s just not forget that it is NOT life itself. Our online behaviors have changed and so have our notion of relationships and commitments.

Platforms will come and go, and the impact that these Social Media platforms will have is going to be a lot more than what it is. A few Social Media platforms are already doing that, and constantly finding ways to engage the user to have a more lasting impact.

The need of the hour is to understand the human potential in being able to cope up with this. This is important for both the businesses as well as the individual.

 (This is a re-print of the article that appeared in the Issue 3 of the Social Technology Quarterly magazine, published by Kuliza Technologies Limited. )

The Social Media Construct – a case in remediation

They say that the Social Media Technologies is the in thing right now. Some call is fashionable, while some call it a necessity to keep up with the times, while some see a real value add in it. While many companies adopt it, not all understand it completely. It is now well accepted that the Social Media Technologies (SMT) are an integral part of the marketing budget of any company.  The adoption of SMT should be tied down to a business need and an assist with the business processes. Apart from the usual goals of increase in sales, the one thing that the social media technologies has done is, making the consumer more informed and help them in taking decisions that are influenced by a gamut of reasons. Come to think of it, the advent of SMTs follow a similar pattern.  resulted in the way the audiences are exposed to media. We consume stuff in a different way than we used to in the days prior to the SMTs. To support the claim of Social Media technology being omnipresent in the lives of many now, one has to understand where this comes from.

The notion of followers
The notion of followers

Over the course of this article, I wish to do a construct of the notion of the Social Media Technology as a new kind of media. I shall refer to Bolter and Grusin, amongst others to understand why the notion of the Social Media technology is a New Media that plays out on the notion of remediation. I shall be looking into this with the example case study on Social Commerce and how the notion of media and Social media is changing and will continue to change the way we do our commerce.

Marshall McLuhan one of the greatest writers on media says and I quote, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”  It is in this context that I analyze the Social Media Technologies construct. The SMTs have changed our lives and that is a fact that we accept. But at the same time, it has also resulted in a lot of users (or consumers) of leaving the traditional media forms. This can be felt over the numerous discussions I have with the present internet users, who claim to do just about anything, from watching movies to hearing music to writing to painting to socializing to entertainment, over a Social Media platform. This article hopes to provide an argument for the rise of this phenomenon and I use the notion of Remediation to provide an argument of why SMS is nothing but a construct of the traditional.

Bolter and Grusin in their landmark book, ‘Remediation: Understanding New Media‘ , talk about the basis of the creation of a new media. The broad claim is that every media re-mediates itself and it does so through a series of other concepts in the form of ‘Transparent Immediacy‘ or ‘Hypermediacy‘. They term this as the ‘double logic of remediation‘.  We as technologists and designers are constantly looking to remediate to create something that could be exciting, engaging and has an awesome user experience. The same argument can be applied to the Social Media technologies.

Remediation is the process whereby computer graphics, virtual reality, and the internet define themselves by borrowing from and refashioning media such as painting, photography, television, and film.”  This is an important note, as the context of the SMTs is an online system. We take the notion of the existing mediums of media to re-create and as a result re-mediate the existing into a new technological framework. The rise of the usage of Facebook (almost over 800 million users) to do almost anything is just a testimony to that. Americans spend close to 101,000 years of time over Facebook in a single month! We have more and more people checking their Social Media presence updates first thing at the start of the day, goes onto to signify that the boundaries are blurring. The real world becomes analogous with the online world. This phenomena also is manifest in the fact that there’s also a significant is the increase of the conversations about the virtual life on the real life and vice versa.

Analyzing a medium through a semiotic theory view point,  we know that there is the notion of a signifier (the one making the claim, and in this case the media which is the audio, text or the video) and the signified (the meaning of what is implied through the signifiers). The channel for this relation earlier were the traditional forms of media viz, television, radio etc. and now is the Social Media Technologies. This notion of “Transparent Immediacy” is the perfection, or removal, of the gap between signifier and signified, such that a representation is perceived to be the thing itself. The intent therefore, is to design and build a medium that aims to do just that.

Transparent Immediacy‘ is at play the moment you think about engaging an audience with a strong online presence, where you expect the user to spend more time online. You wish to make the viewer forget the presence of the medium and believe that he is in the presence of the objects of representation. Because of the extent that social media has taken over our lives, we are no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium. The principal of transparent immediacy refers to users’ desire for immediacy in access, understanding, and interaction. This is to say, users want an immediate connection with the medium. This is also true in the present context when we want everything at the tip of our fingers and responses faster. For eg., we write a mail, or a post on Facebook or tweet and expect a reply, likes, or re-tweet or a reply to tweet almost immediately. We forget the presence of the medium as a medium and assume it to be present right there in front.

The other concept is the notion of Hypermediacy, which is in totally the opposite side of the spectrum to Transparent Immediacy. Hypermediacy is a “style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium”. Hypermediacy plays upon the desire for immediacy and transparent immediacy, making us hyper-conscious of our act of seeing (or gazing). This means that it does not stop only at the transparent immediacy, but goes a step ahead and make the user aware of its presence. So the usage of the words like tweet, blog, wall, share, likes it are a testimony to the act of hypermediacy. The meanings of each of these are signified differently than the original meaning of the words. In the context of the Social Media Technologies, it is constructed in a hypermediated manner and the moment these words are used, the users are aware of the presence of the media.

Remediating the Angry Birds experience
Remediating the Angry Birds experience

Let us take the example of Social Commerce. In the ideal situation of a perfectly remediated environment of the social commerce world, that tries to remediate the instances of the real life physical shop, there should be no difference between the experience of seeing a product in person and on the computer screen.  Designers and technologists have the challenge to strive towards that. To make things simpler, let us take the example of a Online store front.

Let us do a small comparison of what aspects an Online Storefront remediates in order to provide the same shopping experience as a real store.

1. The availability of a product brochure and ability to experience the product in its full form. In the ideal case the businesses should also able to give the tactile experience to a store too. The haptic feedback provide to the user would be the missing cog in remediating the experience of the store entirely and the physical representation of the product catalogue. The detailing of this experience to which is possible through the existing available technologies would be an interesting thing to work on.

2. In a store you ask questions to the sales persons. On a online store front, having the feasability of the being able to talk to anyone at any point of time, during the course of the surfing through the store, would be remediating the notion of the sales persons. The experience

3. Man is a social animal. We go to shop with people around us. We take feedback from people. We call others whilst, we are doing our shopping and we immediately take feedback the moment we come out of a trial room in a cloth shop. In the remediated experience of the online store, allowing the users to the extent of having them experience the same notion of gaining feedback is essential. It is this particular notion, of people relying on, getting influenced by the feedback, comments and suggestions of others; that makes Social commerce so much more interesting (and challenging).

4. Ability to provide recommendations, push promotions through a channel that is easy to access and connect with the customers.

5. Post purchase, we always provide feedback about something. Whether it be good or bad. Recommendations are made after the usage of a product (or service). Post purchase engagement is a key part, when looking into a shopping experience. Remediating this important experience is essential for success of any Social commerce avenue.

While the above could be applicable to just about any online presence, it is the social part, that differentiates a social commerce platform like say a Facebook store, compared to any other  online commerce avenues. Thus in my opinion, a social commerce platform is the only platform that can remediate as close to the real life shopping experience, than any other.

The challenges
What I have mentioned here is the remediating the experience more than the media. The challenges however come more when it comes to remediating issues for which there is no real remediation possible. Remediating the notion of trust, or the issues of privacy is something that continues to remain a challenge to the designers of Social Media platforms.

In conclusion, Social Media technology can be seen as a construct of the Transparent Immediacy and the Hypermediacy. We are adopting Social Media technologies in a way to remediate the lifestyle we live out and the lifeworlds we live in. The key is to make this experiences as more immersive and interfaceless when we talk about immediacy. On the other hand, hypermediacy allows us to remain cognizant of the platforms and mediums that we are accessing the information in. It is thus opaque, in the face and often juxtaposed over the virtual-real, which the immediacy had set out to bring about.

Unknowingly it forces a repeated contact with the interface and as a result it becomes an integral part our lives. Social media technologies are repeatedly doing that.  What was once thought of to be completely immersive and “real” eventually comes to be explored as an aesthetics of a particular media format and the only authenticity lies in the experience that the media sets out to achieve by virtue of the things it has to offer.

The arguments will continue that this form of new media is doing exactly what their predecessors have done, i.e. presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media. In the times that we live in, a medium can never operate in isolation, because it must enter into relationships of respect and rivalry with other (and often traditional) media. It is only when we understand the above, that we can get a better understanding of the new media we talk about these days, i.e. Social Media and develop an appreciation for it.

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This article was originally written for the Kuliza’s Social Technology Quarterly Report Issue 2

The side effects of FBing!

I read a cartoon strip the other day.
One mother to the other: My son is with a book always! How cool is that!
The other mother: On that’s nice. His grades must be really good then as he is with a book always.
First mother: He is on FaceBook. 🙂

Have you been bit by the Facebook bug yet ? I must admit that I have been to some extent. However there have been many other issues of concern that I have been having. One of them being the importance of maintaining my privacy.

The way people use Facebook, Orkut and other social networking sites (SNS) have been a matter of interest to me. This difference is also a result of the cultural differences people have across countries. The fact is also that people have taken a conscious decision on their part (or alteast have thought about it), when it comes to decide what information that they want to share .

One of the things that I always face a problem is the amount of information that I would be sharing on these SNS. Facebook now is the first choice of people to share images amongst friends. I have heard many people request me to upload my professional photographs on Facebook.  I have done so only to a limited extent.

Another large chunk of people use Facebook as a way of letting the world know each and every activity that they do. I mean seriously, is there any reason why I should know in such detail what the other person is doing. If I do, then it is a serious case of intruding into the other person’s privacy. However, wait! I did not intrude… It’s you who made that information public. So there is something going on here and this is where the notion of Publicy comes into the picture. It is not to be confused with the original concept of Publicy, which was commonly understood as the opposite of privacy.

What i am really talking about, is the publicy in a different context. Laurent Haug, writes about this phenomenon in his blog post titled “Publicy, the re-birth of privacy” . I think the post captures the essence of the phenomenon that is hitting the young generation today and is definitely something to think over. I know for a fact that after reading his post, I rethought about the stuff I posted up on the SNS.

A workout plan
A workout plan

Also, now I realize that the more that I spend time on these SNS, the more stuck to my laptop I am. I get more addicted to it. The kind of activities do not involve taking up the quizzes of playing online games, but its mostly just meeting and talking to people. I often fail to make myself understand why I cannot just go out and meet people in person. I do realize that I am starting to have a more of a virtual life and presence than that in the physical space.

And I think that is wrong. There is a certain charm of meeting up people in person, and that cannot be replicated by any virtual experience, no matter how realistic they claim to be.

I am sure numerous others would be in a similar if not same position. And needless to say that due to this shortage of time spending outside, there are a lot of health issues that could come up.

Here is something of a workout that someone came up with. I think it is pretty cool and people should follow it! I admit to not having come even close, but everytime I see it, I feel guilty.

Increasing the User Experience in SNS, aims at retaining the users for a longer period of time. However this should not come at the cost of the other things.

At the same time, I am highly interested in, and have actually been thinking whether the power of the social networking, penetration of the mobile phones and other technology, can be used in the domains where they can actually make a larger difference and that is for the mankind.

On Design Thinking and Beyond

Of late there has been a sudden rise in interest in the propagation of Design Thinking. The impetus  to this has been hugely due to some articles in the Harvard Business Review(last year), and  Businessweek (this year).

If the need of the hour is to think innovation and think beyond the obvious, Design Thinking is definitely an essential tool. A lot of companies like Apple, who are driven by Design, have been doing it for years now. A few more have joined the bandwagon, as mentioned in this another post by BusinessWeek.

Apart from these above, there has been the recent publicly available talk by Tim Brown at the TED conference this year. Brown is evangelizing that Design Thinking needs to go to a much larger scale and also that designers should start to think big.

Everyone seems to be acknowledging it. A few seem to understanding it, and a fewer seem to be to be understanding it. The interesting point about Brown’s talk is that he looks at going beyond the notion of consumerism with which Design has been traditionally associated with.

One of the other great design thinkers, who I admire, and have been a student of myself, Erik Stolterman also talks about the notion of Design Thinking in his blog Transforming Grounds. He also makes the very valid point that Design Thinking is been there since a long time and has found its applications in numerous fields.

I strongly believe that one of the areas where Design can play a huge role is Design for Social Impact. This also happened to be the topic of my Masters thesis at Indiana. The challenges are immense, and the solutions are rarer to find, and that is why Design Thinking becomes important.

The outcome of the application of Design Thinking to create Design Models, to create actual solutions for a social cause, is not been explored much. Therefore in the Design Research Company that I have started, Deskala, we are primarily aiming to achieve this. The questions that we ask day in and day out, in due course of our field studies, is how Design can be used to bring about the Social Change. Being in a country like India, where there is a certain amount of Social Innovation happening at the Base of the Pyramid, we stand a good chance to see the applicability of Design Thinking and its measure its success.

Design Thinking however need not be culminating in Social Innovations in the form of  products only. The outcome could be an interface, it could be a service that is designed, it could be a model etc. Because Design Thinking itself tends to see its application in different areas, the outcomes vary.

Ethnography in User Research

One of my favorite methods of User Research is Ethnography. It could also be the result of my love for traveling and photography.

Historically, ethnography has been used as a research tool in Anthropology and also made an appearance in the other fields like Documentary film making, Market Research etc. In HCI, Ethnography is often aimed at doing, but is unable to be carried out effectively, owing to the large amount of planning that one needs to go through, especially when the time is short and there is quick research to be done.

In the context of Designing for Social Impact, Ethnography holds a special place. The following diagram would explain the areas on which one needs to concentrate in the context of the social innovations. Framing the situation from the Design perspective, becomes crucial. And ethnography is a great tool to enable the design researcher to come up with answers to these points as one gets to analyze the situation closely by staying within the context.

Designing for Social Innovations
Designing for Social Innovations

Any problem space can be said to be a design space. And within that design space lies a design problem. One has to however justify, why the problem at stake is a design problem and not say some other problem. Can governance problem be classified as a design problem? Can the lack of facilities in a rural school be classified as a design problem? Any problem that is identified, will give rise to a Design Opportunity. Once that has been understood, it is an imperative on the part of the designer to apply proper Design Thinking in order to come up with Design Solutions. So, in the case of our examples, would ensuring a better governance system, be a well ‘Designed Solution’ or a ‘Design Solution’ . Finally do a collective of design solutions lead to better ‘Design Service’, or better ‘Designed Service’. Can Service be Designed?

With the help of an ethnographic research, (even if it means for a small duration of time), one is able to get an answers to a lot of these questions.

What comes out of this small exercise is a set of parameters on which Design can be propagated amonsgt designers who are interested in the application of Design in different areas.