–Engage

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

The future of digital product design – Dirk Knemeyer

Dirk Knemeyer of Involution Studios gave an amazing presentation (I wasn’t there, but just reading the presentation gave me chills) on the future of Digital Product Design this past week @ Yahoo in Sunnyvale, CA. This is my appreciations and critique of some aspects of that presentation. I believe this presentation expresses a lot of what I was trying to say in my own presentation, which I gave here in NY at the Parsons School of Design in October.

Dirk’s new ven diagram overlays most of the core aspects of Digital Product Design very well from role, to discipline to difining makeup of a product, and finally the organizational model that makes up the economics surrounding product design.


Dirk, AWESOME presentation. In so many, many ways you hit the nail on the head. I know as someone who wasn’t there, that the slides here present a lot of great thinking.

Things that positively stuck out is how UX is a component of DPD and that we need to expand our careers up and across if we want to continue to be relevant and participate in the coming era. Totally agree.

I think the one part of the presentation I wish there was more information about on the slides is the section about “Research”.
1) it isn’t in the ven diagram that I saw. Is there a way to express the pervasiveness of research?
2) Is there only 1 type of research? I think the discussion on the UXnet list shows us that there are different types of researcha nd they all bring a certain value.
3) Why? Why is research that great differentiator that all designers should use? And why the superlative? (more down below).

I really like most aspects of the ven diagram. I always have a hard time translating them and of course the representation leaves lots of room for interpretation and you may have explained these when you talked over your slide. First, I loved the overlay aspect of it. For me I think it is probably one of the more complete examples of a diagram I have seen. The one aspect I feel it is missing is the goals/qualities of the product itself. This is something that Peter Morville’s honeycomb describes. I wonder if there is a way to overlay aspects of that on top of your ven diagram. Then I feel the complete story would be made.

Reasearch: Ok, I asked above why is it superlative to all the other pieces. The only thing I think of is that it is a controlled differentiator and in a growing business-centric (read bottom-line) world research is a tangible object that seems to take away the perception that design is magic. [Note: I am not saying that Dirk believes that Design is magic.]

Recently though my pursuit of a design degree (Industrial Design) has taught me that in the design discipline (it is not my formal background) actually is so far from magic than I ever imagined. That “leap” from task analysis to interface that I never understood (for example) can actually be done in a very processed and controlled methodology. And within the design discipline there are a set of foundation offerings that actually explain the relationships present in presentation, structure and behavior.

That being said, I believe Design’s big problem is communicating this in a useful and relevant way to business so it becomes as tangible and graspable to those decision makers as research and validation.

This begs another question, which I am struggling with, “Why aren’t designers decision makers?” Yes, this is a huge topic of cultural and economic change, but is probably also related to your slide about formal education as well. Bahaus”>NextD is an example of an organization thinking about this issue.

Back to research … To me when we talk about research we need to make a separation between academic research and applied research. Research that explores cognition outside of practical use is relevant in so far as the results can be then later tested in practice. I.e. red is a striking color and thus gains the attention of users. So then I can make various widgets red in my design and then evaluate the use over time and validate it later. This validation in context is very important. The other type of research is of the ethnographic and participatory design nature. I have a vision already defined in some high-level manner and my research is being used to directly apply to the focusing of that vision, and even to supply criteria for use beyound the strategic into the tactical design.

This latter type of research to me is a great goal, and to me most closely matches what Dirk is trying to say by making research a superlative piece of DPD. But even then, based on what I said above about design process and methods and the lack of magic in design, I would say that good design truly stems from good design. At best research can ONLY inform good design, it cannot MAKE good design. Only through rigorous practice, exploration, and experience can good design be allowed to come to the fore.

Research of both qualities at best does not create good design or even directly add to a design, it does however, increase the confidence of the designer’s decision making process and thus bring a greater confidence to the final solution of the design.

In our 3 branch system (reference to the US’s 3 branches of gov’t and its supposed checks and balances) the great equalizer is the validator (the usability engineer). They are the last check/balance in our system. And design validation which I would not call research per se is that process which adds the “stamp of approval” onto a design. If done correctly it can be applied in a quite exacting manner, but even then it only increases confidence that the designer is not off in la la land. It does not guarantee a positive or even a negative result.

So in this regards, I would say that DESIGN is the most important aspect of GOOD design. While research is probably that aspect that seems most lacking in our design community, I would actually say that our historical cross-discplined background actually has diluted DESIGN and it is DESIGN that is that element that needs the most work in the area of DPD. Not Art School design that grew the Graphic Design movement, but that combination of Design education that comes from the Bahaus, IofD of Chicago, CMU and Pratt which refuseses to relinquish beauty but remains stereo in its focus on both form and function. And that its combination in harmony is the true “beauty” that we experience at the emotional level of “Ahhhh!”.

That being said, I do think that this “nit pick” should not detract from what is a wonderful contribution to the UX community. Dirk, I’d love for you to come to NYC and deliver that same presentation there, or maybe you can talk to Richard Anderson about delivering it at CHI’s Development Consortium as an introduction there.

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  • http://www.vaspersthegrate.blogspot.com Steven Streight

    Where the “rubber meets the road” is the user experience, and we must thank the many good designers out there who design web sites that:

    1. Convey an immediate visual impression of credibility via color choice, artistic skill, aesthetic considerations

    2. Provide web navigation and other functions, and page categories, that help users to quickly, easily, and satisfactorily find the information, or perform the task, they desire.

    There is the “Ahhhh” of visual beauty.

    There is the “Ahhhh” of successful information foraging and task completion.

    There is the “Ahhhh” of confidence that the information on the web site is reliable, accurate, up to date, complete.

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