UXtraordinary: everything is UX.
find your way around

Most recent articles

Habitual creativity: The writer’s vow of chastity

Posted by on Mar 12, 2014 in inspiration

At SXSW I had the pleasure of sitting in on Andy Barr’s and Sarada Peri’s 37 Practical Tips to Help Your Write & Speak Better. Much of these focused on simplicity of grammar and content, and reminded me of the writer’s vow of chastity my husband conceived back in 2007. Since then, my first drafts attempt to follow the below rules as much as possible. Only then do I go back and add anything more, trying to restrain myself to choices that add clarity.

So here it is.


 

Just as Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote the film maker’s vow of chastity (also know as Dogme 95), so Bart has proposed a writer’s vow of chastity.

A draft of the rules as of August 4, 2007:

The writer’s vow of chastity

The writer will use no modifiers.

  • No adverbs.
  • No adjectives.

The writer should act as a behaviorist.

  • No words describing emotion.
  • The writer will not make the reader directly privy to a character’s thoughts (no interior dialogue or interior monologue).

The writer may break these rules only when it is unavoidable.

The above may be summarized as, “Not doing the reader’s work for them*.”

 

*The summary references advice from C.S. Lewis to his students:

Don’t say it was “delightful;” make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do the job for me.”


Habitual creativity provides concrete, immediately applicable tips for stimulating the creative process, learned and earned over several decades. See where they take you!

Habitual creativity: Turn around

Posted by on Mar 8, 2014 in inspiration

For a little over two years, I left work and went to a particular bus stop on Elliott & Western in Seattle. So I spent a little time every day looking at this building, near the base of a hill leading up to the Queen Anne Hill area.

building-across-busstop

One day, for whatever reason, I turned around and looked behind me. Due to an accident of unusual angles (hills, buildings, streets), suddenly I could see everything the building was hiding from me, including the Space Needle:

building-behind-busstop

The beauty of turning around is that it changes your perspective. Sometimes it even shows you the forest for the trees—or in this case, the neighborhood for the buildings.

So how do you turn around, metaphorically speaking? Here are some straightforward and a couple less obvious methods:

  • Try the other person’s perspective on for size. You may not end up agreeing with it, but you’ll understand it better, and this process frequently provides insight into design challenges. You UX people are used to this one. 
  • Are you looking from the outside in, or UI first? Try flipping it. Do the mental exercise of imagining your web application from the back end out – network to content buckets to databases to identifying the right content to surfacing, navigating, and consuming it. Getting a better understanding of the building blocks will let you do more with your Lego.
  • Set yourself challenges that push you beyond your normal boundaries to see the point of view inside someone else’s. For example, find a song you like in all the music genres you can think of.
  • Like sitting alone? Join a group. Like groups? Try taking some time away from them.
  • Reverse the flow. (No, not that flow.) Does your taxonomy go from broad to specific? Why not try specific to broad? Or, put everything on the same level and make it flat. The meaningful concepts will float to the top.

Habitual creativity provides concrete, immediately applicable tips for stimulating the creative process, learned and earned over several decades. See where they take you!

Aldrich on educational engagement

Posted by on Jan 29, 2014 in inspiration

Simulations are powerful when students need to be engaged more than they are. Clearly, this is an area in which distributed classrooms have suffered, as death by PowerPoint has not just been refined in many programs but almost weaponized to military specifications.

— Clark Aldrich

Venn pie-agram

Posted by on Nov 29, 2013 in fun

Love data visualization? Love pies? So do I.
Venn pie-agram

Last Tuesday we had a Thanksgiving potluck at work, and at the instigation of a coworker I made a Venn diagram pie. Here’s how I did it, if you want to try it yourself.

What you’ll need

You can use whatever flavors you want, but remember they have to combine into a pleasing flavor profile. The flavors of the three ingredients I used were pumpkin, pecan, and apple crumble.

The recipes were fairly straightforward. Since the undertaking was complex I went simple with the recipes. For pumpkin and pecan filling I adapted About.com’s Southern Food Classic Pumpkin Pecan Pie recipe. For the pumpkin filling I bumped up the ginger and added nutmeg. For the pecan filling I used dark corn syrup, replacing about 1/3 of the dark syrup with maple syrup and a little molasses.

For the apple pie I used Cortland, Gala, and Honey Crisp apples. (I recommend The Apple Works for good information on what apples work best in what contexts.) Once again the About.com Southern Food section provided a good Apple Crumble Pie recipe.

I’d never used it before, but Pillsbury’s rolled up pie crust did pretty well.

So, to make this happen you need the following:

  • Two sets of aluminum cake or pie pans (4-6 pans). Cake may allow you to overlap the three pans and the middle section more easily, but pie works, too. You’ll need three pans for baking, and at least one extra to make the middle crust.
  • Aluminum foil to cover the pie plates and prevent leaks. You’ll also need it to protect the crust while baking.
  • Enough pie crust for the bottom of four pies. This will cover the three-plate section, provide crust for the middle, a base to hold the middle pie crust in place, and a little extra in case you want to add decorations.
  • Pumpkin pie filling to taste.
  • Pecan pie filling to taste.
  • Apple pie filling to taste.
  • Crumble mix (no pecans to start).
  • Pecan halves for topping and to add to crumble mid-way.
  • A cookie sheet to support the pie plates, which will not be structurally sound enough to support the weight of the pie.
  • Two six-packs of graham crust mini-pies (for excess filling).

Making your Venn pie plate

Here’s how the three pans overlapped. Note how corners are folded over. I used an ancient pizza pan for support instead of a cookie sheet (most cookie sheets don’t fit in our tiny oven).
Three overlapping pans

A detail from the bottom. Cut your flattened sides into sections so they lie flat and don’t warp your pan.
Pans, bottom detail

Line your completed pan with aluminum foil to cover the sharp edges you’ve cut and prevent leaks.
Aluminum foil lining

Making your crust

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Unroll your pie crust and lay it out. Cut away excess and press edges together so you have a continuous bottom that isn’t too thick.
Pie crust laid out

What not to do

The image below, with raw dough and supporting aluminum, does not work. The crust melts and doesn’t hold its shape. Thin metal dividers also do not work: they leak abominably. I learned this making my first “pie chart” pie; metal dividers were much more trouble than the crust below (for one thing, I had to tilt the pie in the oven until the pecan filling set).
Don't try this in the middle diagram area. It doesn't work.

What works

Partially bake your pie crust edges and bottom about 10 minutes at 350°. Also bake sections for the middle crust, separately (see below). Note that the middle crust has a slightly tighter curve, to make the overlapping areas slightly egg-shaped instead of pure circles. This will give you more space in the middle sections. Don’t forget to puncture the crust with a fork to avoid bubbles!

Important: reserve extra unbaked pie crust. You’ll need it to make the middle section work properly.
Middle crust section

These are the crust pieces you’ll need to shape the middle of your Venn pie-agram. I used six crust lengths: one long curve, one not-so-long, three short ones, and one tiny one.
Venn pie-agram diagram

To make the crust stay in place and reduce leaks, use unbaked dough to hold the partly-baked middle sections in place. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Tip: Use a bread knife to gently saw the pie crust sections. Pie crust is crumbly. Try to make them line up naturally with the outside edge.
Middle crust section installed

Filling and baking

Tip: Start with the firmest filling first. It will fill up any weak spots a more liquid filling might break through, keeping your sections more compartmentalized. Here, the apple pie section has been filled and covered with crumble; apple has been layered in the bottom of its three overlapping sections in the middle. To the right, pumpkin filling (my next step). The pecan filling is in the center; pecans have yet to be added. I used crumbled pecans for a thicker mixture. Pecan filling went in last.
Pie workspace and fillings

Here’s how I did the fillings, in order:

  • Apple crumble
  • Apple covered with pumpkin filling with normal crumble (no pecans)
  • Apple covered with pecan filling
  • Center: Apple covered with pumpkin filling with pecan crumble (I added pecans into the food processor with some of the crumble mix)
  • Pumpkin
  • Pumpkin covered with pecan
  • Pecan
  • Cover the pecan area with pecan halves; place pecan halves in the three pecan-containing middle sections

Ready to bake! Note the aluminum foil protecting the edges from over-baking. You can see some of the mini-pies I made using the excess filling.
Ready to bake pie

Results

The pie baked about an hour before a knife came out cleanly from the pumpkin filling. The mini pies, which I baked after the pie, took about 35 minutes without a cookie sheet. Oven heats vary, so check your pie at around 45 minutes, and your mini-pies at 25 minutes.
Venn pie-agram and mini-pies

Have fun!

Narrative taxonomy in UX

Posted by on Jul 28, 2013 in taxonomy

I’ve submitted a proposal for SXSW 2014! Vote here.

User experience and storytelling go hand in hand. UX professionals consciously apply personas, use case scenarios, underlying narratives, content strategy, and visual elements to provide a stage on which users play. But there is a key element missing in this drama: taxonomy. Much more than mere collections of categories, hierarchies, facets, and navigation elements, taxonomies “narrate the natural relationships between concepts.” That quote is from a 2011 article in the journal Data & Knowledge Engineering, in which three computer scientists explored narrative taxonomy from the perspective of data algorithms in effective, adaptive content retrieval. This session will discuss the implications of narrative taxonomy for user experience design; specific kinds of taxonomy stories; how to recognize, analyze, and apply narrative taxonomies; and the results of user testing against different narrative taxonomies in different contexts.

Preview presentation.

Questions answered

  1. How does a taxonomy tell a story, and what are the narrative elements of that story? How can a UX professional recognize and analyze them without the help of sophisticated database algorithms?
  2. Why and when is analyzing taxonomy from a narrative perspective helpful to UX design? How does it compare to more typical approaches?
  3. In UX, taxonomy is primarily addressed by information architects and content strategists, but not always by both at the same time. Can narrative taxonomy bridge gaps between these different specialties?
  4. What does narrative taxonomy mean from an interactive perspective? What are concrete examples of this? Can users tell their own stories?
  5. How can narrative taxonomies be tested, and what are the results of such tests?