Product Design Strategy

Gamification and Sociobiology

Portable Heart Monitor

For the last several years, the has been a steady drum beat: Gamify, Gamify, Gamify. Universities are struggling to gamify their students and curricula, hospitals seek to gamify their staff, corporation are trying to gamify their sales strategy. Gamification is everywhere. What’s lacking is a clear understanding of what it is and what it isn’t. Here is a couple of examples where gamification of user activity was causing direct harm. Understanding what drove undesirable behavior allowed designers to remove those aspects from interaction intentionally. And an example of using gaming strategy to increase sales. Online Support for Anorexia Patients British online support site for young eating disorder sufferers provides access 24/7. It is absolutely vital to help children during times when they feel vulnerable, especially once they’ve been released from a program. But old habits are hard to break. It’s easy to devolve into a numbers games on a public BBS — “I’ve lost/gained 5 pounds in the last 2/4 days” is an absolute trigger message for a person recovering from anorexia. Anorexia is a numbers game: How long can I go without food? How little can I eat per day? How many pounds can I lose? How fast? There’s…

We Are the Magicians

Maximilien Luce, Morning, Interior, 1890, using pointillist technique

We all make magic every day. Don’t think so? Then consider this, we conjure up complete worlds of information with a mere suggestion, just a bit of outline, a stroke or two, a few words, a spatter of color, a dash of melody. We literally make grand visions from just a trickle of data. This is true for those who design and those who consume information. Let’s first explore our ability to comprehend very incomplete information. Take pointillism — an art movement (technique) that required artists to create images using points of pure color — why are we able to “see” the complete image from a mere collection of dots? With just a collection of colored dots, we are all able to imagine the mood, understand the story, visualize the universe behind this painting. You can say: “well, the artist was great at using dots.” But it is not just dots that we are good at. We reconstruct our reality from little bits of incomplete data all day every day of our lives. Consider the tone of voice of the person who answered the phone — you can easily tell the mood and even guess at the personality of that…

Fun, Creativity, and Good Design

springy bed frame

The best product designs not only work well, they make us smile. They solve problems we as consumers haven’t even consider yet or realized we had. Take a look at a selection of product designs below. The springy bed frame is not only functional, but a conversation starter — don’t you want to try it out? The “selfy stick” helps us take better photos of ourselves. Our arm reach is no longer a limitation or a liability — I like my portraits taken from the top to reduce that double chin! It’s fun to be elegant… until it all crushes down around us. Finger tip tray is the solution! Finger food will stay safely on top of the tray with this cool design. And again, it’s a conversation starter — a perfect tool at a party. While I’m not sure I would advertise my waist size with this imaginative belt, it could serve as a powerful reminder to keep to a diet. Serving tea to your aunt? Wouldn’t this put a smile on her face? In one of my design classes, a student proposed a bed light that would adjust to awaken the sleeper gently. This one does it with…

Self-Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Schools

Self-Marketing Ideas for Small Businesses

If you are running a small business, or a non-profit, or a school, marketing budgets tend to be very small. There’s just not a lot of money to spend. But institutions that are lacking in money can use time — of their volunteers, family, friends, staff, and students — to support their marketing and PR efforts and to generate some buzz about their organization, work, and services. The chart below focuses on just five media outlets: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and a blogging platform WordPress (other blogging SMS systems can be easily substituted). The idea is to spend time to continuously generate fresh and relevant-to-your-industry and audience content and then share it. Some things are very easy and don’t take much time: sharing articles and photos, tweeting and retweeting, liking and favoring, and pinning. Other activities take a bit more time: writing reviews and comments, creating galleries and image collections, etc. The hardest is blogging — this can take a lot of time and small organizations have to be careful how they allocate their time. But students and friends and volunteers can help. Used together, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and an organization blog, can form a powerful do-it-yourself marketing strategy:

Perception of Value is Situational

When you make pancakes, do you want them perfect? Perfect in taste? Perfect in texture? Perfect in shape? Who wouldn’t, right? When I cook, I want my creations to be pleasing to my audience (usually my family). Even on cooking shows, there’s a segment which helps home cooks make their creations look more professional — i.e. more perfect. As I was looking to buy a crepe-maker (non-electric), I read a bunch of reviews for all kinds of gadgets that promised a perfect crepe. One of the important criteria was the perfection of shape — a good crepe is circular, implying that a badly made crepe has irregular borders. There were all kids of clever inventions that helped the home cook achieve this circular perfection — molds, rakes, squeeze bottles, etc. At the end of my research, I got it — my crepes better be circular! But in others circumstances, this perfection of shape has a complete opposite perception of value. If you are buying frozen, pre-made crepes, then perfectly circular shapes signals “factory-made” or “made by robots” or “cookie-cutter crepes”. All of these are now derogatory things — who would want to eat crepes made by a machine? Untouched by…

Matters of Trust

call center experience

In the last few months I’ve started several new relationships. One was with BlueShiled of California — a relationship that was forced on me by the changing health insurance laws. The other came about from trying to find a place to stay in United Kingdom for our family vacation. I didn’t actively want these relationships, but here I am. And I am not very happy. The basic problem comes from the flow of trust. I’ve never heard of anyone else talk about the directionally of trust, but it is a very important concept to understand for any customer service oriented company. I will illustrate the idea using my new relationships. BlueShield Customer Service Failure! Let me start by saying that I wasn’t overly fond of my previous insurance company. In fact, that relationship was very much like this new one with BlueShield — antagonistic. My story begins in October of 2013, when I created a spreadsheet of all my family doctors versus possible new health insurance companies. I wanted to make sure that which ever insurance I picked, my family doctors would take it. I spent the afternoon making phones calls and ended up with BlueShield of California as my…

When Design and Interface are Dictated by the Technology

You’ve probably heard: If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. This is a commentary on how our problem solving perspective is influenced by the tools we happen to have in our hands at that moment. The tools, of course, don’t have to be physical. They can be systems, or lists, or a set of approaches that we’ve learned at school or that are enforced at work. And they can also be digital tools that we feel particularly comfortable using. These “tools” constrict our metal models, limiting the possible solutions to the design problems we face at work (or at home). It’s not a surprise that if we Google “WordPress Templates,” all the results look more or less the same. This is partly because of the tool — WordPress is a great tool, but as any tool, it limits the final creative output to what is easy. (Especially, if the designer is not a programmer.) Here’s a look at Google Image results for “WordPress Screenshots”: What’s interesting is the flip side of this phenomenon. Once we see a lot of nails, we expect nails as the solution. So it is not a surprise that not only do most…