My Coursera course continues, flaws and all

CourseraSince I’m exploring peer communication I’ve been spending a lot of time in the forums.   I continue to get quick responses to questions just like everyone else.  I’ve read through the highlights on many posts and have yet to see anyone not get a response to a question.  I find this pretty unusual compared to traditional forums.  People seem very supportive of one another, perhaps because we’re all going through this together without any real access to the professor?

There seems to be a lot of discussion about how some people are “gaming” the system with late homework submissions.  Since all that is being tracked is a submission made by a certain time, many people are taking this as an opportunity to make updates to their sites at a later time.  I’ve read where people have asked a peer reviewer to “come back later” to see the updates.

Much of what we’re learning feels industrial design focused.  I realize there are core methodologies that translate but my project is an entirely digital experience.  So it makes me question if what I’m working on (a mobile app) was the right choice to get the most out of this course.  There are some things he asks us to do that are challenging at best with a digital experience.

I do however really enjoy the “mad scientist” impression he gives off when fiddling in his workshop.  It is a bit intimidating with everything that he has access to and what he can create.  I think there is a little bit of assumption on his part for students to just “go build it” in the quality that he is producing.

Just one minor technical feature that I think is useful for the videos.  The site keeps track of the videos you watched so it’s easy to know what you’ve watched without having to watch a bit of each.  It would be nice to add tags, or notes to sections of a video that you want to come back too.


First observations from my Coursera class

courseraHaving no idea of what to expect from an online course I would say I’m pleasantly surprised.  The quality of the content feels very much like a real university level course.  In many ways it’s actually more work than some of my regular graduate courses.

Partly it’s because I’m taking on the role of the student and the teacher.  As the student I have an increasingly large amount of videos to watch every week.  The quality of the videos are fine.  They feel a little “homey” or “amateurish”.  Maybe its purposeful, they certainly have an authentic feel to them.  In addition to the video content there is a surprising amount of iterative sketching involved.  Sketching, interviewing, researching, brainstorming.  There is a lot.

Add to that this concept of all the students are the teachers as well.  With 17,000 students it’s really the only way to grade something which could be interpreted as subjective homework assignments.  If all of us we’re filling out multiple choice answers then perhaps it would work and feel more official.  But while peer criticism is entirely valid, I miss the communication and feedback from someone who I know has years of experience and education to back up the critique.


Diving into my first “MOOC”

MOOC’s… the buzz word of the moment.  To save you the time of looking it up MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course” and if you believe the hype it’s on its way to upend higher education.


As part of a research group for my masters program in HCDE at the University of Washington, I’ve committed to tackling one of these online classes.  Specifically this Coursera class “Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society” which is taught by Dr. Karl Ulrich from the University of Pennsylvania.  This is an 8 week commitment for me that will encompass taking the class itself, with lectures, reading and design work along with tracking my impressions for the UW research group.  Follow along if you’ve ever considered taking one to get some insights to the pro’s and con’s of online education.

Using your Nokia 920 like a WiFi hotspot

If you were lucky enough to be one of the BUILD attendees in Redmond earlier this month then you left with this beautiful device in your pocket: The Nokia Lumia 920.  However when you tried to turn on Internet Sharing in your system settings you were met with a message from ATT that you would need to call them to set up this option.

Lucky for me I spotted a tweet from my friend @waltritscher that unlocked the ability to turn on tethering. Follow these instructions:

1) Go to Settings
2) Go to Keyboard
3) + Add Keyboards
4) Select Spanish (Spain)
5) Click on the checkmark icon to install.

You now have the abilty to have up to 5 devices connect to your 920 as your personal hotspot!

So here is my question to my fellow 920 owners… How long will this last?  This seems like a bug to me that at some point will be closed.  ATT charges $50 a month for 5gb of data.  Is this a unique feature of our development versions of the Nokia 920? Love to hear feedback from other attendees on this.

EDIT:  As of yesterday’s Access Point update from ATT this option is now closed #disappointed!

At the intersection of mobile, social and location

According to global research agency Millward Brown, 55 percent of smartphone owners in the US rely on their phones for directions or recommendations that are based on their current location.  As authors of our app Geogether, we cannot miss out on maximizing our monetization opportunities by not including social platforms in our app.

I’m currently enrolled in the HCDE certificate program at the University of Washington.  As part of the research for the mobile application my team is working on I came across three articles that all had a very similar theme for the task we are undertaking in our research:

Social + Location + Mobile: The ultimate relevance written by Marketing Magazine

Geolocation and Social Features in Mobile Apps written by Maggie Taylor

How mobile, apps and social media have changed the restaurant industry written by Niall Harbison

So what happens when you combine the power of social features with location based information on your smart phone?

The answer seems to be it’s a must have if you want a top tier mobile app.

Mark Zuckerberg chimes in on the topic, “If I had to guess, social commerce will be the next area to really blow up.”

The authors at Marketing Magazine have come up with a clever catch phrase called “SoLoMo” which is basically selling or marketing that utilizes social platforms with the added context, courtesy of the mobile phone.  “So”, think social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  “Lo”, wherever you happen to be at the moment and “Mo”, the mobile aspect that ties them both together.  They point to research from recent Product of the Year awards showing the impact that you’re friends have on your purchases.  Turns out you friends are the ones making the most impact on your buying patterns not the so called “experts” or ratings and reviews they stumble upon during research on what they should buy.  This doesn’t surprise me that much frankly.  Bing made significant changes to their search engine earlier this year when they gave users the ability to loop in their friend’s advice on Facebook when they searched for something. “Does anyone have a good recommendation for a gutter cleaner on the eastside?” That was my most recent use of this feature. It turned out great and I took my friends advice faster than an anonymous Angies List reviews.

Last week we had an exercise in class where our team did a 5 minute presentation about our project.  One of the pieces of feedback that surprised me the most was how people got the strong impression that Geogether was a “social” app.  Our app is social? Well I guess it could be and frankly should be after reading the following from Maggie Taylor’s article: “At Skyhook, we studied the top 200 highest-ranked apps in the iTunes App Store and found a significant number of them benefiting from a variety of social features. Apps that used social features were more likely to be listed in the top 200”.

Niall Harbison’s article talked about how the abundance of location based social smart phones have killed the old model for restaurateurs who only had to deal with one food critic every few months. Now anyone with a smart phone can give a review on the spot with a picture to boot and have it front of hundreds of friends who, as pointed out above, will listen to their peers.

“The important thing to remember here is that users trust their friend’s recommendations more than anything so a good or bad review on these sites could instantly shape the opinions of hundreds of people.”

Who hasn’t seen the requisite food picture check in at their favorite restaurant?







This is a perfect example of all three piece of the social, location, mobile opportunity.  What better way for a company to take advantage of this immediate, connected glowing review?

Although these three articles were penned by different people they all hammered home the same point: Successful mobile apps must include social connections whenever possible.  I absolutely agree with this.  Great UCD is about understanding the needs, wants, and limitations of our users but I feel like one of the most important that we seem to forget is simply delighting your users.  Adding the “So” and the “Lo” to our “Mo” will not only help in that endeavor but also to help our users connect with one another in our app to give the feeling of belonging to a community.

Review of the Collaborative Prototype Design Process (CPDP)

Ok my fellow designers; let’s talk about prototyping.  It’s time to bust out of your singular shell and dive into the concept of… wait for it… team prototyping!  In the never ending quest for all of us to squeeze out every ounce of insight and productivity in our teams I submit to you my review of an interesting article I recently stumbled upon:

Collaborative Prototype Design Process (CPDP) by a large group of designers at Texas Tech University, Lubbock:


DEBRA BURLESON                                    DANIELLE SAAD

KRISTI DUNKS                                            JON S. SCHARER

KIMBERLY ELMORE                               RONDA L. WERY

CARIE S. LAMBERT                                 MONICA WESLEY

BRETT OPPEGAARD                               GREGORY ZOBEL

Yes, CPDP is yet another acronym to file away into your brains.  You’re welcome.  Hang in there with me, I think you’ll enjoy this concept as much as I did and hopefully allow you and your team to bring new insights from your users to your UCD goals.

So what is this CPDP you speak of?  Here is the high level abstract from the authors:

“To build upon user-centered design methods, we used a collaborative and multi-modal approach to involve users early in the design process for a website.  The CPDP is an innovative approach to user-centered website design that emphasizes collaboration, iterative testing, and data-driven design. The CPDP balances the power and needs of users with those of designers and, thus, enables design teams to test more tasks and involve more users. “

Here is my 30 second elevator pitch on the method:  Towards the beginning stages of your prototyping process, break your team up into small groups, let them tackle it individually, then regroup and share the findings with each other.  You’d be surprised at the depth of insights this group of designers found on this project.

Here is diagram they came up with for the CPDP process:

One of the “light bulb” moments I had when reading this article was how this process could help alleviate some of the obstructions common to teamwork (e.g., groupthink, brainstorming problems, domineering personalities, and cognitive tunneling).  By breaking people up into teams you minimize these problems over the entire team as opposed to individual teams.

Now that you’ve seen the high level, let’s take a look at the process, methods used and results of their findings in a real world example.

The design team in this article was tasked with creating a website for a group of doctoral students who attend an annual two-week education seminar.  Their version of the CPDP process was broken down specifically as follows:

One team of 12 designers that divided into three independent design teams to separately:

• identify the user group

• develop and test three independent paper prototypes for the same website

• evaluate and interpret data

• create three wireframes of a website

• test those wireframes for usability with representative samples of users

• gather and analyze data per team and collaboratively across teams

• merge designs to create one final, user-driven prototype of the website

So let’s follow through on the four stages proposed in CPDP:

  1. Define your user group.  The users in this example were a very diverse group of people that would be attending this seminar from various countries with vastly different perspectives.  The teams spent considerable time conducting surveys and interviewing users to better understand them.
  2. Paper Prototypes Developed.  Three four-person teams each created low fidelity paper prototypes like the following examples:

A’s paper prototype: whiteboard technique.

Team B’s paper prototype: poster technique.

C’s paper prototype: sticky-note technique.

3. Developing and Testing Wireframes.  After testing their paper prototypes each team then built a wireframe based on their observations.  They then created a number of task based exercises to put in front of target users, using their completed wireframes.  The following Venn diagram illustrates some of those tasks:

The three teams used a variety of facilitation methods during the testing of their wireframes.  Personally I found these extremely helpful and plan on implementing them in the testing of not only the team project that I’m working on for HCDE 518 but for the usability work I’m leading at my current employer:

“The three teams used a variety of facilitation methods: TAP, Active Intervention, and Retrospective Recall. TAP [24], as previously defined, is a method in which the user speaks throughout the test to explain his or her thoughts and justifications for actions in relation to the tasks. During Active Intervention, a protocol defined by Dumas and Redish, one member of the team sits with the user during the test and prompts him or her with open-ended questions to encourage the user to explain his or her thought processes [25]. In Retrospective Recall, the user completes the tasks in the test, and then one team member questions the user about his or her experiences during the test.”

4.  Developing Final Prototype Testing.  Each team analyzed the data from their independent testing of their wireframes then came together as a group to make comparisons and discover the unique insights they generated.


This is the really fascinating part. I think the authors of this article did a great job illustrating how the three independent wireframes were merged into one final prototype.   By working independently but on the same project each team came up with entirely different results by using CPDP.  Below are screenshots of the team’s findings:

This screen shot you see below is the result of the three independent teams not influencing one another by combining the most important pieces of their individual work into the final prototype:

Overall I think CPDP has great promise for larger teams. One aspect that I wish would have been addressed was how the authors felt this could be adapted for smaller teams.  For myself, working in a startup with a small team I would be curious if they had any research that supports their model in that setting.  This would apply to my 4 person team currently testing our mobile app.  How would that translate?

Although I had many great take aways from this article the one that resonated with me most with CPDP is the potential for minimization of group think and dominating personalities.  My experience in the world of team design is that UCD has the potential of being negatively impacted by people “going along with the team” or giving in to the loudest person in the group.

CPDP is one of many processes we as designers have in our arsenal to defend well thought UCD.  The authors of this article supplied us with some compelling evidence on why we might want to give it a try.

Enjoy, Tony

Adobe Edge on my Ipad and Windows Phone

I thought I would upload one the sample projects that is on the Adobe Labs site for the Edge preview to my site and see how well it works on my Ipad and Windows Phone.

I know this is a very early stage preview but it worked beautifully and fluid on my Ipad and Windows Phone. No Flash, No Silverlight.

I’m looking forward to upcoming iterations but what they have now is a solid first start for people interested in putting together simple animations that will work across many platforms and devices.

If you want to try it here is a link to the project on my site.







Lesson learned – Application Icon bug

I learned quite a few things along the way during my WP7 app creation and submission.  Here is one problem (turned out to be a bug) that caused wasted time.

Due to a bug when icons are displayed in the program list and on the Start page (Tile), the tile icons displays properly showing the background theme color but on the program list the theme color is not shown and a grey background is shown instead: This doesn’t apply if you don’t have a transparent background for your icon. For example:

Bug verified for pubCenter

During my submission process for my latest WP7 app I found a bug that pubCenter verified:

“This is a bug that is now being addressed. You will not be able to receive text ads if your height is set below 70.  Thank you for bringing this to us.
I have no timeline as to when the bug will be fixed and the next update which will include the fix. I expect it will be fairly soon.”

I don’t remember setting my height to < 70 but either way its a good thing to be aware of going forward.