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Making Good Design Decisions

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Making Good Design Decisions

  1. Good Guesses: Making Better Interaction Design Decisions Dan Saffer dan@adaptivepath.com
  2. “It depends.” the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 2 How many of you are on a mailing list where someone asks a question like, “Where should the cancel button be placed?” and this is the answer that invariably pops up. I hate this answer, because the next question should always be, well, what does it depend on? That’s what this talk is all about. As designers, we spend an inordinate amount of time making decisions, both small and large. Everything from what should we label this dial to should we be making this product at all? We need to make decisions.
  3. Good Guesses 3 But when it comes to making those decisions, we’re like the mathematician here in Sydney Harris’ cartoon. A miracle occurs. Even if we follow a rigid design process, there will be moments when we have to do something that some people are uncomfortable with and yet is essential to the work we do. We have to make a guess. Then a miracle occurs, in other words. Step two.
  4. I have hunches. Of course, it's not enough merely to have hunches. They have to be good hunches. My hunches have to be better than the hunches my clients have—that's why they hire me. Jesse James Garrett, ia/recon the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 4 Here’s my colleague Jesse James Garrett in his influential essay called ia/recon, written about 5 years ago. In it, he admits his secret, and here it is. He has hunches. And I’m going to admit to you here today the same thing. My name is Dan Saffer and I’m a designer. I have hunches. And I bet you do too.
  5. Good designers have good hunches. They make good guesses. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 5 I’m going to make this claim here today, which I think, in the era of the iPod and the iPhone, is pretty easy to defend. The best designers aren’t the ones who are the smartest or are the best trained or do the most research or have the most experience. The best designers are those that make the best guesses. This should be a comfort to some of you (those like me who aren’t an Ivy League genius who has been designing for 30 years) and a shock to others, I’m sure. Now, I’m not saying that training or intelligence or research or experience aren’t important. They are. What I am saying is that a good hunch--a really good hunch--might sometimes come up with a better design.
  6. How do we improve our guesses? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 6 So this is the big question. If the way to becoming a great designer is to make great guesses, how do we do that? How do we improve our guesses?
  7. ...in a method- agnostic way? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 7 I don’t want to simply offer up another method to you either. Personas! Do more research! More card sorting! Draw comics! Yes, these are all great techniques, but I want to get at the heart of what we do AFTER and WHILE we’re doing other techniques: making guesses.
  8. Understand how we make decisions. Consider many factors in making decisions. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 8 Here’s my suggestions and the outline of this talk. By understanding a little about the structures and mechanisms of decisions, we might not do them differently than we do them now--although perhaps not. Part II of this idea is how we set about making those decisions. What should we as interaction designers consider when we make decisions? Perhaps a pause--an extra second or two--for every decision we make will have us make wildly better decisions. But first, how do we make decisions.
  9. UNDERSTANDING DECISIONS the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 9 I’m going to preface this section of the talk by saying that I’m not an expert in cognitive psychology. Most of what I’m presenting here I’ve shamelessly cribbed from other sources, particularly a textbook called Cognition by Daniel Reisberg. Most of the examples and sources come from that book and from various locations around the web. There is, as you’d imagine, a whole body of literature from a large number of fields about how we make decisions all of which are clustered around what’s called Decision Theory.
  10. RAPID VS. CONSIDERED DECISIONS Good Guesses 10 You can’t talk about decision-making these days without talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. In it, he makes the case that rapid, snap- judgement decisions can be as effective--if not more-so--than reflective, considered decisions. He uses the example of the Aeron chair which users initially hated but went on to be a huge best-seller and design icon.
  11. From Blink: When you start becoming reflective about the process, it undermines your ability. You lose the flow. There are certain kinds of fluid, intuitive, nonverbal kinds of experience that are vulnerable to this process. Malcolm Gladwell the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 11 While I agree that slowing down the process breaks the flow, I also want to note that I think, especially for knotty problems, slowing down and deliberately considering them can also yield dividends, especially for knotty problems in which a solution is NOT immediately apparent. Which is of course, most of the problems we have to deal with.
  12. WICKED PROBLEMS Good Guesses 12 The types of problems we as designers face are what have been named Wicked Problems by design theorist H.J. Rittel. Here’s the characteristics of Wicked Problems and see if they don’t describe most of the projects you work on: 1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution. 2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem. 3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time. 4. The problem is never solved.
  13. MACRO- AND MICRO-DECISIONS Good Guesses 13 These Wicked Problems can take many forms, big and small. During the course of a project, we’re asked to solve both macro and micro problems. Macro problems are those of design strategy: Should this product be made? What features should it include? Micro problems are those of tactics: should this button be red or blue? Can the user upload more than one file at a time? We can even have these wicked problems IN our process: should I do user research?
  14. The Structure of Decisions Discover Frame Assess Consider Act a Problem the Problem the Problem Solutions Good Guesses 14 This process can take years or milliseconds. 1. A problem is discovered or simply presents itself. 2. Framing the problem. We need to put some sort of boundaries around the problem before we can solve it. We’ll talk more about this in a minute. 3. Assess the problem. Is it a huge problem or a small one? What kind of resources do I need to make a decision here? 4. The heart of the matter, at least for designers. Considering the solution. We’re going to talk a lot more about this in a moment. 5. Act. Execute the decision, for good or ill.
  15. Design The Structure of Decisions Strategy Scope Prototype Build Research Discovery Discover Frame Assess Consider Act a Problem the Problem the Problem Solutions Good Guesses 15 It’s kind of weird how the decision making process is like a hologram of the design process. It’s the same at the micro level as it is at the macro level. What I’m mostly concerned about is how we consider solutions, but it’s awfully hard, as we’ll see, to break this process apart.
  16. DECISION FRAMING Good Guesses 16 How we make decisions depends strongly on how those decisions are presented and constructed. Framed in other words. The choices we make can be completely inconsistent simply depending upon the context we encounter them in.
  17. I’m giving you $300. You have to choose between: 1. a sure gain of another $100 or 2. a 50% chance to get another $200 and 50% to get nothing the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 17 Here’s an example. Pick 1 or 2.
  18. I’m giving you $500. You have to choose between: 1. a sure loss of $100 or 2. a 50% chance to lose nothing or a 50% chance to lose $200 the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 18 Now again, do the same thing.
  19. The decision is identical. 1. $400 or 2. $300 or $500 the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 19 As you might have guessed, the outcome in both is identical. They both leave you with the same amount of money. But when the question was framed as a “gain” more people (72%) chose option 1. When it was framed as a loss, more people (64%) chose option 2. Obviously, HOW you frame the problem can change how you think about the answer to that problem.
  20. METAPHOR TO “NAME AND FRAME” Good Guesses 20 Even the words we use to talk about a problem can change the solution. This is the late Donald Schon who wrote a number of books about problem framing such as The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. His famous example was about a troubled urban housing project. When it was referred to as a “blight on the community” or a “disease” the solution to it seemed obvious: blights should be removed and diseases should be cured.
  21. W ha W ti sd ha ti isl sl ike ike d d sed t is u ha W What is wanted What is unused n n ow is k h at wn W k no un t is ha W Good Guesses 21 Luckily, as designers, we have some pretty good tools at our disposal for framing decisions: namely visualization. We can take abstract ideas and give them form. This, for example, is a model of an intranet. It framed the problems with the intranet nicely and it was easy (or at least easier) to see what needed to be done to fix the intranet: we had to move the lines!
  22. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: REASON Good Guesses 22 So what goes into considering solutions? Three ingredients: We like to think we’re reasonable, logical people and that’s how we make decisions. That discounts...
  23. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: EMOTION Good Guesses 23 Emotion. How we feel about a decision, what we value, and how much we value it are inescapable to making decisions.
  24. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: COGNITION Good Guesses 24 Cognition: how people pay attention, remember, and think. Let’s see how all these combine into two major theories of decision-making.
  25. PRESCRIPTIVE (“UTILITY”) THEORY Good Guesses 25 Utility or Prescriptive Theory says that each decision has costs to it. Costs meaning consequences (this will take a long time, say, or will injure 1% of the users). Each decision also has a benefit to it. These benefits can move us towards our goals (like finishing a design) or provide us with things we value (like, say, money). When we decide, we weigh the costs vs. the benefits. When we have several options available to us, we take the one that has the most beneficial mix of benefits to cost. Almost every decision, no matter how minor, will have some sort of tradeoff. Seems...logical, right?
  26. SUBJECTIVE UTILITY Good Guesses 26 Except that most of the time, we have to compare things that are nearly impossible to weigh objectively. Is there more benefit to using the colors red and green or is the cost of color blind people not being able to see it too high? Umm... It comes down to subjectivity, ultimately. How much each factor means to the individual. It might mean more to me to have the color red than for some people not to see it because I value the clarity of red more than a small percentage of the population. This sounds callous, but we make these sorts of trade-offs all the time.
  27. Expected Utility = (Probability of Particular Outcome) x (Utility of Outcome) the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 27 But of course, most decisions aren’t so easy to determine--it’s very hard to predict the future. Game theorists John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern came up with this formula in the late 1940s to account for risks. Utility here means “something that is important to you.” With this model, you predict the expected risks based on the likelihood of it ever happening times how great the utility is. So even though the probability is extremely low, the utility of winning the lottery is so high people will still buy lottery tickets.
  28. PASCAL’S WAGER Good Guesses 28 The most famous example of this sort of decision making is Pascal’s Wager. According to Pascal, the question is whether or not God exists. We don’t know. However, the reward for belief in God if God actually does exist is infinite. Therefore, however small the probability of God's existence, the expected value of belief exceeds that of non-belief, so it is better to believe in God, according to Pascal.
  29. UNSTABLE VALUES Good Guesses 29 The major flaw with Utility Theory is that our values are unstable and difficult to measure. One day we can believe one thing, the next day another. Our emotions can lead us one way or another, and, as we saw earlier, how a problem is framed can cause us to change our position. If I asked you what is more important, crime prevention or $500, you’d probably say crime prevention. But if I said, give me $500 for crime prevention, you might respond differently.
  30. HIGHLY ILLOGICAL Good Guesses 30 If I said, for example, you can trade in your wedding ring for a new one, you logically should say yes. A newer gold ring seems to have more utility than an old one. But you’re likely to say no. Something more than reason is going on.
  31. DESCRIPTIVE THEORY Good Guesses 31 This brings us to the second major theory of decision-making: Descriptive Theory. If utility or Prescriptive theory is about how we SHOULD make decisions, Descriptive Theory is about how we DO make decisions.
  32. AVOIDING REGRET Good Guesses 32 One of the strongest forces in choosing is a desire to avoid future regret. We don’t want to regret the decisions we make, so we have a coping mechanism called...
  33. JUSTIFICATION Good Guesses 33 Justification. We justify our decisions so we won’t have regrets afterwards. With this theory, even if the decision brings us utility, but makes us feel bad, it was the wrong decision.
  34. SATISFICING Good Guesses 34 There’s one more concept I want to talk about in regards to decision- making, dealing with cognition, and that’s a term coined by the late Nobel Prize winner Herb Simon: satisfice. Human beings lack the cognitive resources to know all the relevant probabilities of outcomes, and we can rarely evaluate all outcomes with sufficient precision. Our memories are weak and unreliable. Thus we have to satisfice, or make quot;good enoughquot; choices given the short amount of time and huge amounts of data we have. Satisfice is a mechanism for managing the world, because, Simon argues, there is too much information and thus it is impossible to model the entire environment of any given problem.
  35. All decision is a matter of compromise. The alternative that is finally selected never permits a complete or perfect achievement of objectives, but is merely the best solution that is available under the circumstances. Herb Simon, Administrative Behavior the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 35 Here’s Herb in his own words. And this is what we as designers (and as humans), ultimately do, right? We satisfice, making the best decisions we can given what we can know at any given moment. This again should be comforting to many.
  36. MAKING BETTER INTERACTION DESIGN DECISIONS the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 36 Now that we at least understand a little bit more about the structure of how we make decisions and the factors involved in decision-making, we can approach specific decision points and look at them from an interaction design perspective. I’m approaching this as a series of Socratic questions that we can ask ourselves when we get stuck on a problem.
  37. UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE Good Guesses 37 Doing this will be natural to some of you, who might automatically--Blink-style--go through all these things in your head in an instant. For the rest of us, it’s going to feel a little awkward at first. The idea is to move us all collectively towards an unconscious competence with IxD decision-making. So that we begin to have a base for making good decisions that doesn’t rely on any particular method to achieve good designs. And like I said earlier, for knotty problems, it might be good to simply take the time to step through these questions in a more methodical way than you normally would.
  38. Is the solution I’m considering... the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 38 So here’s the questions I think we need to consider when making a guess. When a solution presents itself, you can rip through these questions, either formally or informally and briefly. I content that doing so will help our hunches.
  39. FIT A CONVENTION IN OUR FIELD? Good Guesses 39 The first thing I ask myself when I get stuck is: Is there a good solution we’ve seen elsewhere in our field? Have other people solved this successfully and can we draw upon their solution? After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel every time, for every little thing. This was one of the issues with Flash when it was first introduced--all conventions went out the window. I usually follow Alan Cooper’s rule here: if there is a standard or a convention, I better have a better solution that will provide some significant increases in usefulness or usability before I break it. This solution, however, should still be able to pass the test of the other questions, however, or else it might be a lousy standard.
  40. FIT A CONVENTION OUTSIDE OUR FIELD? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 40 If there isn’t a convention in the digital realm, perhaps there is in physical or mechanical realm that we can adapt for our use. One of the reasons I started a collection of
  41. Just what is interacting, anyway? FIT WHAT’S KNOWN ABOUT THE USERS? Good Guesses 41 Do they have any behaviors, expectations, or motivations that would make this a bad choice? If I’m not giving them what they expect, am I working with the MAYA principle? This is where user research can play an important role is in finding this out. (But even with user research we might still be guessing here.)
  42. FIT THE BUSINESS AND PRODUCT STRATEGY? Good Guesses 42 Does my guess fit the business strategy and goals? We shouldn’t forget (nor be overwhelmed by) the big picture for the company providing the product or service. We need to ensure the goals of our clients, be they internal or external, are also met. A brilliant feature that detracts from the overall strategy may not be so brilliant.
  43. Texture CULTURALLY-APPROPRIATE? Good Guesses 43 Products and services have to be culturally appropriate. The Yahoo Hong Kong page looks like this not only because the characters are different, but because the colors, clusters, and page density are appropriate for China.
  44. Texture CONTEXT-APPROPRIATE? Good Guesses 44 When and were will this be used and under what circumstances? Is it one-time use and thus has to be simple, or will it be something used frequently, daily? Is it mobile or stationary? Small screen or large? Is there a screen at all?
  45. FIT THE ACTIVITY? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 45 Activities are actions and decisions done for a purpose. Does the solution provide the necessary tools and information to complete the activity?
  46. FOLLOW KNOWN LAWS? Good Guesses 46 Does the solution follow known interaction design laws like Fitts’ Law? Just because you have a gorgeous “designery” solution doesn’t mean you should ignore what is known and tested. Hick’s Law: Users will more quickly make decisions from a list of 10 items than from two items of five.
  47. FOLLOW THE POKA-YOKE PRINCIPLE? Good Guesses 47 Poka Yoke means preventing error. Does the solution I’ve come up with prevent inadvertent errors by the system or user?
  48. TOO COMPLICATED? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 48 Tesler’s Law of the Conservation of Complexity states that for every process there is a core of complexity that can’t be overcome, only moved between the system and the user. Are we making users do something the system could handle?
  49. TOO SIMPLE? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 49 The flip side is too make sure you didn’t just remove all control from the hands of users, especially your power users. Simplicity is great, but sometimes users need the control that complexity gives them.
  50. Ludic ENCOURAGE EXPLORATION AND PLAY? Good Guesses 50 Being playful allows you to explore options. Users need to feel safe in order to try out features. Can what I’m proposing be undone? And if so, how and how easily?
  51. ELEGANT AND APPROPRIATE? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 51 Is the solution overly disruptive? Does it manifest itself at the correct time and in an appropriate way? (Clippy isn’t elegant or appropriate.) This comes down to importance: how important (and thus how prominent) should this be? How much of the users’ valuable time should it take up?
  52. FIT THE COMPANY’S BRAND? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 52 Does the solution work with the company’s brand? As much as usability gurus tell us otherwise, pure utility simply won’t work for every company. Imagine if Tiffany’s website looked like Ebay or Amazon.
  53. Moore’s Law NOT DOING AS MUCH AS IT SHOULD? Good Guesses 53 Smart products and services do for us what we could in no way do for ourselves. Things like advanced calculation, data crunching, gathering of information that would take us forever to find, if we even could. Like Amazon’s What do Customers ultimately buy? Can the solution do more using what the user is already doing?
  54. SENSE AND RESPOND TO INPUT? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 54 Does the solution make an attempt to personalize the application for each user, slowly over time?
  55. Isn’t there just one right way to do interaction design? GOOD? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 55 The last thing (or maybe it should be the first thing) we should ask: Is the solution just? Does it preserve the dignity of the users? Is the interaction pleasurable for both the initiator of the action and the receiver?
  56. HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’VE MADE A GOOD GUESS? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 56 The $64,000 question. After I’ve done all this, how do I know if I guessed correctly? Well, I have some bad news.
  57. TIME Good Guesses 57 Time is the only final arbiter of good design. Does your design last? Even if it is improved upon? The design of a fork took hundreds of years to perfect. All designed objects, Henry Petroski asserts, leave room for improvement. Nothing is perfect. Even things that have been quot;perfectedquot; over a millennia such as tables and chairs can be improved upon.
  58. ONE IMPLICATION the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 58 One implication of thinking about guessing and guesswork as the core of design returns the focus of design back onto the designer, away from tasks and from users. Some people are uncomfortable with that.
  59. RESEARCH IS A TOOL NOT A METHODOLOGY the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 59 Research, especially, is de-emphasized with this design stance. Research is more about filling in the gaps in the designer’s knowledge than an activity to be done for its own sake. But perhaps that is how it should be viewed.
  60. How a problem is framed affects the possible solutions. The Utility Theory says that each decision has associated costs and benefits to be weighed. Good Guesses 60 So to summarize
  61. The Descriptive Theory says that we justify decisions we make in order to avoid regret. We have to make “good enough” decisions all the time. Every decision is a compromise. Good Guesses 61
  62. Examine proposed solutions to see if the characteristics and qualities are what they should be: examples of excellent interaction design. Good Guesses 62
  63. References ia/recon, Jesse James Garrett Blink, Malcolm Gladwell Cognition, Third Edition, Daniel Reisberg The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski The Reflective Practitioner, Donald Schöen Administrative Behavior, Herbert Simon Thanks to Flickr and its contributing photographers for the images. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 63 Here’s some works I cited in this talk.