User Experience as synecdoche

The word synecdoche is a very strange and uncommon word that seems to be popping up for me everywhere. Most recently in a talk where the speaker seemed almost embarrassed to use (or even know?) the word. As best I can tell, it is a way of using a simple word to describe a bigger concept or thing.  The other recent place where the word appeared was in a really great article by Oliver Reichenstein called Can Experience be Designed? This is a particularly enjoyable example of the navel-gazing self-justification essay that seems to pop-up with great regularity. He does not spare many punches in his critique of people who claim to be designers but have no substance to back it up.  He suggests that the only legitimate understanding of the title ‘User Experience Designer’ is as a synecdoche.  In other words, we do not presume to believe that we can actually design someone’s subjective experience, but we do understand that what we do does not begin and end with the placement of the pixels on the screen, or as he puts it “the visual design is a representative part of a much more complex construct”.

The other big trend that I hear a lot is to remind people in my field that the work they are doing is not really all that new. In fact many of the core problems have already been well discussed and articulated by the architects and industrial designers of the 20th Century.  In fact it was just a couple of days ago that I was reading on the Autodesk blog that we should all “get more familiar with Nelson, Goffman, and Dewey.” So as a little ‘tip of the hat’ to those last-century industrial designers, I have included this awesome image of car designers in the 1960′ (although I suppose I should have chosen a Herman Miller image to pay George Nelson his due).

Who needs Visio?

Microsoft Visio is a program that is commonly used in my field.  It is a versatile program that lets you do flowcharts, mindmaps, swimlanes, wireframes and even interactive prototypes. Being so full featured it does not come cheaply, and it is not one of the standard applications installed at work.  I do have Adobe Illustrator, so I have no problem with creating wireframes and other graphics, but I have always found it to be a poor tool for flow charts.  I then discovered how to do flow charts simply using MS Word. To draw flowcharts with Word you must use drawing shapes. The trick to get the connectors to lock to the boxes is:

  1. On the Insert ribbon, click Shapes, then select “New Drawing Canvas
  2. Draw your boxes
  3. Click Shapes, and select a line style
  4. On the first shape, hover over the shape, point to where you want to attach the connector (one of the blue dots), and click the first connection spot
  5. Do the same with the second connection spot on the second shape

It’s the little things that count

If you have been working with computers for a while you will have learned to be hyper-careful with important files because your system may crash or do something awful to your work at any time.  For me this means frequently saving my work and also frequently saving a new version of the work as I go along, each with a new filename.  This usually takes the form of newfile1, newfile2, newfile3 and so on.If I think ahead or plan on making many iterations I will name them newfile01, newfile02etc.  The reason being that as soon as you get to newfile10, the computer starts to put things in the wrong order if you don’t include the zero.  So newfile01, newfile02 … newfile09, newfile10 works, without the zero you typically get newfile1, newfile10, newfile2, … newfile9.  So over the years the dumb computers have trained me to always use a 2 (or even 3) digit numbering system.  Nonetheless, there are still the times where I only expect one or two versions, and I simply write the single digit numeral.  The other day this happened and in time that simple file had 9 iterations.  I realized I was about to go into double digits, so I opened up my file browser to fix my naming convention.  Well, lo and behold it seems that Windows 7 can now count properly!  It seems to know that 10 is more than 2. Amazing!  After all these years some kind soul at Microsoft has fixed this little usability irritation.  Huzzah!

Hooper’s House of Horrors

I had a dim memory of myself and a neighbor setting up a card table with some bowls of macaroni, peeled grapes and spaghetti and telling people to come inside and feel the real ‘brains’, ‘eyeballs’, and ‘guts’.  I don’t think it amounted to much, but I was telling this story to Kenton and I think I may have suggested that we charged entry to this ‘exhibit’, although I am not sure that is really true.  Nonetheless, Kenton immediately thought this was a great idea and started pressing me to let him run his own ‘house of horrors’. As the summer went along we collected interesting and weird things and talked about what we could include in our house of horrors.  I started to think of it as more of a wunderkammer – a kind of small exhibit of curiosities, rather than a traditional haunted house.  Nonetheless, Maya – who also wanted to participate – was dressed as a witch and I dressed up as a mad scientist.  We made some decorations and signs and invited a bunch of friends over.  It was a really great time.

It was fun to see Kenton run the show.  He was very serious about it and he kept Maya and I busy and in our proper positions at all times.  Towards the end Maya got a little tired of participating and she declared that she “needed a vacation”. Kenton was charging $0.50 per person and at the end of the day he paid his “employees” $2 each.  Maya was very pleased with her earnings.  I’m not sure what the total profits for the day were, since Mr. moneybags just squirreled away his money before I got to count it.

I enjoyed the event in particular for having all of the parents over for some coffee and snacks. It was like having a party – something which doesn’t happen in the Hooper household as much these days!  All in all, it was a lot of fun.  Now all of the wild and weird things have been stored away so we can do it all over again next year.