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Gel conference, April 2004, New York City

Five Ideas for 2004

Wednesday, January 7, 2004
by Mark Hurst

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I have five ideas for you to consider this year. They're not exactly predictions - you can get those almost anywhere, this time of year - but rather thought-starters for you to consider as the new year begins.

Each idea is listed with pointers, if you're interested in learning or doing more.

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IDEA 1. Organization is the hardest part of user experience work.

This is an idea I've written about in the past, but it bears repeating as the primary challenge in creating good experiences: how do you work within the organization to get the change made?

This year, think about how to create positive change within the organization. Not merely to be right in the suggestions you make, but to actually create a tangible change with measurable results.

-> Pointers:

The Most Important User Experience Method

Top Sites' User Experience Teams and Their Challenge

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IDEA 2. The big picture is the only picture.

Many widely-used user experience methods ignore the big picture in favor of tiny, tactical details. My favorite example is the traditional task-based usability test, which presumes to define the tasks of the test before the customer even shows up - ignoring the "big picture" of the customer's context.

My colleague Josh Seiden compares it to sandpaper: if you're building a house, you wouldn't start with the fine-grain sandpaper - the logs aren't even cut yet! To build the house, you start with the "strategic" tools - blueprints, saws, hammers - then you gradually work down to the tactical level. It's impossible to build a house (or a customer experience strategy) out of fine-grained sandpaper (or task-based user tests).

-> Pointers:

Four Words to Improve User Research

The ROSE framework (read the "S" bullet!)

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IDEA 3. Experience is bigger than Web usability.

This year, make it a point to observe the experiences around you. Not just online, but everywhere. Certainly commercial experiences - shopping, travel, banking, health care, etc. - but elsewhere as well: what is your experience with art? Music? Architecture? The neighborhood where you live? And the central question - what makes the experience good or bad?

The key here is to understand that what you do at work - whether you're a marketer, designer, manager, usability practitioner, or anything else - concerns just a tiny piece of what experience actually is. I want the Good Experience newsletter to broaden your awareness about what "good experience" really means.

-> Pointers:

To explore the subject of good experience in all its forms, come to the second Gel conference in New York in April.

If you can't make it to Gel this year, you can still read the transcripts of last year's Gel speakers.

If you see a bad experience, take a photo and send it in to This Is Broken.

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IDEA 4. Blogs are just content management systems.

2003 was the year that weblogs broke into the popular press. Presidential candidate Howard Dean owes some of his recent success to his use of blogs and other technology. Several top journalists are using blogs to augment their regular columns.

But the popular conception of blogs - as online personal journals, with the most recent diary entry at the top - is a grossly limited vision of what this technology actually provides.

Blogs are actually just an easier-to-use version of the content management system, a tool that (albeit in a harder-to-use form) has been with us for years, in many environments, with a far greater impact than the online diary. There's nothing new about blogs except that they're easier than what was there before (which, in my book, is the single most important advancement any digital technology can make).

Watch this year - oops, is this a prediction? - for blog companies to pitch their software as CMS tools, not "blogs." Perhaps they'll drop the geeky "blog" term altogether, for uses outside diaries.

-> Pointer: Check out an unlikely use of the (excellent) Moveable Type system - a personal project of mine, the archives of sermons from the church I attend. (Note that the word "blog" appears nowhere on the page.)

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IDEA 5: Managing one's bits is an increasingly essential skill.

Last fall I began coaching a friend of mine on his bit literacy - the ability to manage one's bits: e-mail, pictures, files, contacts, calendar, applications,... everything that laptops and other digital devices might hold.

I've learned that bit literacy is a skill that most people don't have, and almost no one else is talking about. Yet it's an increasingly essential skill. We deal with more and more incoming bits every day - and not just spam mail. Bit literacy is the ability to manage it all and still be effective.

This idea is more of a resolution for me this year: to focus more on writing about bit literacy: what it is, why it's important, and how to attain it.

-> Pointer: Check out Hurst's Law, which I named recently in the EDGE Question Center (along with responses from Marvin Minsky, Howard Rheingold, Sherry Turkle, Craig Venter, and others). I'll write more about this another time...

And if you haven't read it yet, this is the beginning of bit literacy: the Managing Incoming E-mail report.

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Get Good Experience by e-mail:

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Come to the conference! Good Experience Live, Friday, April 30, 2004 in New York City.

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