Category Archives: work

Ignite Charlotte!

This is my presentation from Ignite Charlotte v2. I had to cut down the script a lot, to fit the 5 minute format. So, included below is the full story (even though this version is a bit less polished), including links to sources and some really interesting further reading on several topics.

Amateur Advantage

1- A bit of background: this started as a set of slides I began accumulating a couple years ago, exploring the idea of how knowing less about something can be advantageous, and the effect this has on creativity.

2- Knowledge is Power! (…or something along those lines) said Francis Bacon. He’s all about empirical knowledge, the scientific method, learning via observable facts… That’s all well and good, but… kinda boring. I’m more interested in creative breakthroughs, innovation, and invention.

further reading:

3- In his TED talk, J.J. Abrams talks about his “Mystery Box” – a box of magic tricks that he was given as a child, which he hasn’t opened to this day. Not knowing what’s inside helps to inspire him in his work. “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination.” … “Mystery is more important than knowledge”. You can certainly see this theory at work in storytelling – take LOST for example… where mysteries were abundant, and every answer came with 3 new questions… “Withholding information is more engaging”

further reading:

4- Ever been disappointed when you finally saw the movie version of a favorite book, or when a shadowy monster is finally revealed? Seeing it onscreen steals away the multitude of possibilities that your imagination has created.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” — Albert Einstein

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5- If you have kids, you might know the joy of discovery through their eyes… seeing them experience the things in the world – new to them – which you now take for granted. Children are extraordinarily creative… but as they go through school, creativity declines…

Picasso said: “All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist as we grow up.”

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6- “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” (What is this big yellow thing? It covers my head nicely.)

That’s a saying from Zen Buddhist teachings. “Shoshin” – Beginner’s mind.

A similar point is raised in Marshall MacLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage. “The amateur can afford to lose. … The “expert” is the man who stays put.”

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7- In their book Made to Stick, Chip & Dan Heath talk about “the curse of knowledge”. They say: “When we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators”. Think of a doctor giving a patient a diagnosis, and using lots of medical terms. Or an IT geek explaining something to a novice user. If they assume too much knowledge on the part of the recipient, they can become unintelligible.

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8- Here’s an interesting exercise:

Write a set of explicit step-by-step instructions for a relatively simple task, like making a PB&J sandwich

Follow the instructions – better yet have someone else follow them – assuming no prior knowledge of anything (“what is a sandwich?”) Notice how many opportunities there are to make mistakes. This can reveal a lot of assumptions we have about our audience.

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9- So, knowledge can be a double edged sword. But, that doesn’t mean we should opposed to learning. Kids, don’t go dropping out of school. Without knowledge, you’re not even in the game.

The point is: how do we train ourselves to get around the roadblocks that expertise can put up?

10- Empathy is a good place to start.

Empathy is a skill that designers have to use a lot. We create something for a client, which is intended to reach an audience… we’re not a direct stakeholder in this transaction. We have to get into the head of the client, to understand their motivations and goals, and we have to get to know the audience, as well, to try and figure out how to connect with them.

Shifting your point of view – or frame of reference – is an important way to leave behind some of your own prejudices.

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11- But empathy will only get us so far. We can design something we think will be perfect, then put it in front of users to find that it baffles them. Ultimately, you have too much knowledge of your project – whether it’s a client’s website or a new business idea – to objectively judge it. You have to get it in front of someone else, who has no prior knowledge of it, to get some fresh feedback.

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12- And do it early enough in the process that you can get feedback you can act on. Paper prototypes, mockups, sketches. In fact, the less finished it looks the better. People will be more likely to offer criticisms if it does not look like a finished product.

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13- “yes, and” is a mantra for improv performers. It’s about accepting all suggestions. You take what the other actors present you, and go with it. If you don’t, the scene is losing momentum. You have to say yes, and… add to it… move it forward to advance the story.

14- like in improv, “yes, and” is a great mantra for brainstorming. Don’t shoot down any ideas at this stage. Welcome all points of view. Explore all avenues.

15- A team of T-shaped people, who have deep skills in one discipline and empathy and understanding of others, make powerful project teams. An expert in one discipline is an amateur in another. Start collaborating early in the project and run your ideas by one another.

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16- Ask “What if…?” Ask “Why?” Be childlike. Don’t be afraid to question everything. Propose alternatives, question assumptions. And welcome this questioning from your peers.

17- Think outside the box while you can. Soon enough, you’ll have to answer to the box. The box represents the realities of project schedules, budgets, technology constraints. These things are crucial to know. You have to know where the box is. But don’t let it inhibit your early conceptual work.

18- To avoid getting too caught up in details, artists will stand back, squint their eyes and look at their work. Obscuring their vision, to just get a sense of the thing, the overall composition, and flow. Do other things to freshen the eyes. Put the work away overnight and revisit it fresh in the morning.

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing.” — Robert Rauschenberg

further reading:

19- “If you want to keep your brain alive, you have to do things your brain doesn’t expect.

The cortex forms new patterns… new synaptic connections in response to novel activity, and PET scans show that far fewer pathways are activated when the brain processes a routine task… even a complex one.”

further reading:

20- “The creative life requires a steady progression of experimentation and discovery. While acquired wisdom is useful, your knowledge must work in tandem with the daily exercise of your curiosity.” — Robert Genn

further reading:

Amateur Advantage

Happy trails to you

Tega Cay Parks & Recreation sent an email Tuesday announcing a new committee to design and build trails in Tega Cay. (Yay!)

I will be taking an active part in getting this group up & running, and have developed this slideshow to help sell the idea of Tega Cay Trails. (In typical fashion, I’ve also gone overboard and set up a Twitter account and a Flickr account to spread the love further still.

Please follow, link, promote, and/or join, as appropriate. ;)

Charlotte UX August meeting recap

After a summer hiatus for the month of July, the Charlotte UX group convened for lunch this past Wednesday at Principle Solutions on Tryon St. They provided lunch from Jason’s Deli, and a posh conference room. We went around the table and did introductions consisting of our titles and roles, for the benefit of the staffing folks, and got down to business. The topic for the month was start pages, and we took a look at Yahoo (which recently redesigned), iGoogle, Netvibes, Pageflakes, and Popurls. We examined interaction patterns and compared interfaces, explored the way different sites allow you to customize your content, and weighed in on what we liked to have on our personal start pages.

As far as group news and general info, it sounds like the Charlotte UX community on Ning may become our central spot on the web for discussion and event info. The Facebook group will remain, as an additional place to interact, and the current might be redirected to the Ning site.

For those who have recently inquired:

The Charlotte UX group (formerly IA Cocktail) is a group of professionals (students and other interested parties are welcome as well) in the Charlotte, NC area specializing in User Experience. The group holds regular meetings and events to share information of mutual interest and provide networking opportunities. Members have expertise in Interaction Design, Usability Engineering, Graphic Design, and Information Architecture.

We hope you’ll join us at our next event.

Charlotte UX June meeting recap

ioThe Charlotte UX group met yesterday at Modis, Uptown. Good turnout, pizza, and conversation. I dropped some Pecha Kucha knowledge, and hopefully generated some interest for PK Night vol 4 in August. Greg Corrin talked about Google Wave and let us play with the Android phone from the Google I/O developer conference.

Twitterers in attendance: I met @wwwmarty IRL for the 1st time, saw my coworker @shelkster, saw @inkblurt, @gcorrin, and watched @jorah knitting some funky wool socks.

In other Charlotte UX news, we’ve officially abandoned Evite for event administration and, for now, that is handled at We’re also trying out a Ning site, so if you want to check that out, post something in the comments (it’s invite-only for now).

Taking social stock (pt 2)


As we bid farewell to 2008, I’m looking again at the places I’ve been spending my time online. Last time, I attempted to chart all the places where I actively create content. I decided this time to catalog just the sites I use the most, and try to classify the activities that take place on each. I came up with these categories:

Some of these sites span multiple categories (e.g. – most sites have features that support conversation), and I do show some crossing over between two, but I’ve just tried to show the categories they fit in best, based on my most typical uses. I’ve also started drawing the connections that track the flow of info from one site to another. I’m mostly interested in how publishing can be automated, so in future explorations I want to try to focus on individual flows (e.g. – a photo on Flickr is used in a blog post, which gets automatically published to the Twitter feed, and aggregated in FriendFeed).

Jersey designs – initial ideas

dh jersey

I may have the opportunity to design the jerseys for a local mountain biking team. Here are the designs I pitched, initially. The logo was a real challenge to work with, as I wanted to come up with a bold, aggressive design for the jersey, while the design of the logo does not feature any strong lines, and is contained in a very static circular shape. As you can see, I’m suggesting a departure from using the logo as is…

Taking social stock

A recent blog post by Seesmic‘s Loic Le Meur yesterday discussed the “social graph”, mapping the various services and softwares used in publishing and maintaining an online presence. It got me thinking that it’d be a fun thing to attempt. So, I’ve made a map of all places I create content or maintain a profile, and grouped them into basic categories. I’d like to do some additional connectors, to indicate flow of content from place to place (eg: stories shared on Google reader get populated into a feed on my site and my Facebook profile) but I haven’t taken it that far yet. I did add some color coding, to indicate the frequency and level of involvement I have at each site. Check it out: (click the image to see the whole thing)

This sort of inventory can be a useful step in managing one’s web presence, which is a topic I’ve been thinking about today, after viewing some slides from an Aquent/AMA webcast I missed last week, on managing your content, something I need to focus on more.

Social Graph Central is a new website that’s been created to collect various social graphs. Why not draw yours up and add it?

Update: improved color coding and added flows between items: (click the image to see the whole thing)