Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Introducing Meld Consulting & looking forward to 2008

After nearly 9 years at Red Square - the last two years spent as Director, User Experience Strategy - I've finally decided to make the move and set up my own company. I've really enjoyed my time working at Red Square: I've had the opportunity to work with some of the brightest and best in Australia's Web industry; and worked on a lot of good projects (at last count I've contributed to just under 1,500 projects - large and small - in those nine years) for some great local and international clients.

During the past two years I've been able to start to build up a good portfolio of UX projects, working with small teams of UX professionals to create good designs to solve client problems. But the competing demands of delivering projects, managing the company, and bringing general work into the company has meant the UX side of things hasn't gone as far as I'd like.

Looking at the state of the local (and, for that matter, international) UX field, two things appear fairly consistent: a) a lot of organizations are engaging UX professionals and agencies to help them with their design & development projects; and b) everyone is finding it difficult to get experienced staff. As a combination, that's a good sign that the field is growing & healthy, and able to support a new, small, focused consultancy.

So a little over 6 weeks ago I notified Red Square that I was punching my card for the last time, and going it alone. 3 weeks ago Meld Consulting was born, but is still getting on its feet. Right at the moment I have a name; a domain name (meld.com.au) and applications in with the Australian Tax Office and various other institutions for the basics.

I also have my first proposal out with a prospective client; my first international trip being planned; and work lined up through most of the first quarter of 2008. All in all, a positive first 3 weeks.

Thanks go out to all those friends & family who've offered up their time, advice & support in helping me make the decision to start up Meld, and in getting it from an idea to a reality.

Finally, I wish you all well over the coming holiday season, wherever you are in the world. I hope you take the time to rest and relax ahead of what's looking to be an interesting 2008.

Merry Xmas

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Online Trust - uxmatters.com article

My latest article has been published at uxmatters.com - the article covers the nature of trust relationships and why it is important for us to pay attention to the details when designing a user experience, using abbreviated URLs as an example.

Come along to the Sydney WSG meeting on December 5th for a presentation & discussion of this topic.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Day 2 of Oz-IA 2007

A more reasonable start to day 2 of the Oz-IA conference at 8:45am, and it was even a good presentation to start the day: Sharyn Varley of Eclipse talking about interaction design patterns. A very practical, case study-esque look at the use and practical application of patterns.

Building up the conceptual complexity for the day, Scott Parson's talk Exploring multidimensional tagging frameworks looked at the problem space that is tagging and the possible extension of tagging frameworks into multiple dimensions to address some of the drawbacks of tags.

Matt Hodgson's (from SMS) talk: Semantic analysis in IA took us through an introduction to the topic of linguistics & semantic analysis and their application to the construction of a taxonomy for a large-scale content project. Included a quick look at Connexor's semantic analysis tool - Machinese - and a look at Axure for prototyping.

After a short break, Donna Maurer spoke about ethics, professionalism and communities of practice in interaction design and information architecture. After some technical hurdles (mics, notes, thoughts) Donna spoke about:
  • really caring for our users;
  • designing for true inclusivity;
  • 'causing no harm';
  • making good design decisions;
  • respecting other people and their skills;
  • our actions influence others' perception of our profession;
  • providing value;
Some take-aways: building empathy with users of the systems under design is an important component of making good design choices; communicate understanding and meaning to decision-makers (outside of the team) so that they can make good selections; and much, much more.

After lunch, Gary Bunker and Gabriele Hermansson look at the challenge of conducting user research within virtual communities such as Second Life. Good applications of virtual worlds for user research are tasks like User interviews & workshops, training, whereas usability testing was ruled out early.

Research participants within Second Life were paid in 'Linden dollars' - the virtual world currency - the equivalent of around AUD$50. Issues around respectful behaviour, the peculiarities of virtual worlds (everybody flies!!), differences between online & offline running of the same techniques such as:
* online responses for much more concise and lacked elaboration;
* shorter sentences, more condensed & relevant;
* emotional expression requires 'extra work' on the part of the participant, however offline people tended not to be overly expressive either, although for different (e.g. self-conscious);
* less group interactions; more individual comments than offline environments
* less interaction between participants since latency between comments & response, and requires extra effort.

Some good insights here from Gary and Gabrielle.

[At this point I snuck off to watch the MotoGP round 15 telecast from Motegi in Japan...so I missed James & James present their talks, but I heard they were good.]

An open session followed, and then the conference ended on a fairly bouyant note about the local IA/UxD scene. I'll be back next year :)

Day 1 of Oz-IA 2007

After an alarmingly early start to the conference (8:15!!), the day settled down to the rhythm of presentation-break-presentation-break.

We kicked off with a presentation by Liz & Andy from Fairfax Digital talking through the user experience design process for the recent redesign of the smh.com.au and theage.com.au Web sites. This was a great insight into the process of uxd at a large organisation, and the quality and candor of their commentary was exceptional.

Iain Barker took up the baton from Liz & Andy, running through an overview of recent research into the issue of visitor scrolling behaviour, browser window height, and the implications for interaction designers and information architects. Some really interesting insights into the issue of 'the fold' and how IA thinking might be adjusted to accommodate the disappearance of this myth.

Hural Inan from Bienalto Consulting took a tour through the use of web analytics to optimise landing page layout and content. ( I'll admit to not paying as much attention as I might have, as I was preparing my own presenation, which was up next...)

Next up your's truly talked through a number of statistical analysis concepts, examples & bad practice. And then lunch!! (Photo by Ruth Ellison)

ROI in Information Design was the post-lunch talk by David Sless from CRI. Aside from a very interesting look at the practice of information design, there was a very clear message to the conference to measure what we do. To paraphrase: if you don't measure it, you have no right to espouse the benefits of your work. There was also a bit of semantics about the distinction between usability testing and diagnostic testing, which I'm sure others in the room took more seriously than I did.

Stephen Collins' talk Love in an elevator was up next, looking at the role of IA and UxD in large organisations, which paired nicely with Faruk Avdi's introspective look at a history of projects within the Department of Education in NSW, and the role of external agencies & consultants in those projects.

Patrick Kennedy from StepTwo gave us a very interesting case study in coaching & mentoring an inexperienced UxD/IA team as they journey through a large-scale organisational site re-design. The presentation walked us through the process, challenges, tactics & learnings for the team and for Pat as the mentor.

And last up we had the opportunity to listen to Rashmi from SlideShare.com talking about their ninja-style of iteration, release, iteration, release. An anti-process talk was a nice way to end the day, and very Web 2.0 :)

That was it for the serious stuff of the first day of the conference, and so it was off for a few drinks to wind down.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Conducting successful interviews...

New article by yours truly has appeared on UXMatters: "Conducting Successful Interviews With Project Stakeholders". Many, many pearls of wisdom - I think...

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Brand experience article translated into Spanish

An article I wrote a little while back has been had the cobwebs blown off and been translated into Spanish. The South American-edited interaction design online magazine - capire - has published a Spanish version of Brand Experience in User Experience design.

Experiencia de marca y diseƱo de experiencia de usuario

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

oz-ia 2007 Registrations open

If you're in Australia, New Zealand - or would like an excuse to visit - the Oz-IA 2007 conference registrations have opened! The conference/retreat is on 22-23 September (not much time, I know), in Sydney. There's an interesting and eclectic mixed of presentations & workshops, including one by your's truly.

Last year's event was a treat - around 90 people attended the weekend - and this year's promising to be at least as good.

Oz-IA/2007 - Sydney, September 22nd/23rd 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

FullCodePress - judging over

I've just gotten home from judging the first FullCodePress competition (see the site for details, the winners, and all the action). Two teams - from NZ and Australia - worked for 24hrs straight to design & develop a complete Web site for two different (one each) not-for-profit organizations.

The judging covered 10 characteristics of a Web site:
  • Purpose
  • Visual Design
  • Content
  • User Experience
  • Functionality
  • Accessibility
  • Standards-compliance
  • Development
  • Innovation
  • Overall
I was judging the Purpose, Content, and User Experience categories (everyone puts in a score in the Overall category).

It was really, really interesting to see how the two teams approached their task, including the use of some very focused, tactical IA/UxD work. The NZ team appeared to be the more process-oriented of the two teams, producing thumbnail-sketch personas, wireframes, site map etc; the Australians worked in a more collaborative, iterative fashion, concentrating on site maps & wireframes.

Without users to interact with, both teams worked closely with their respective clients, relying on their knowledge & empathy with the audience groups to define appropriate site structures, content, functionality &etc.

I was very impressed with the quality of the end result from both teams: they should both feel proud of the work they've done this weekend.

Also, kudos to the organizers - WebStock & WIPA - for a great idea, and a really well-run event. The coverage was also awesome, incorporating live blogging, twitter, videos on youtube, and photos on flickr.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Statistics in the media, again

The last few months have been extremely busy for me - three large UxD projects running concurrently - and I've been holding off writing anything so that I could say something about those jobs, but I saw this in the media yesterday and felt obligated to point it out. (Past readers will know how much this sort of thing bugs me...).

The article in question contained the following quote:

"By 2016 we will spend so much of our discretionary income on mortgages there will be nothing left for putting food on the table. We will be paying 15 times our yearly income to buy a home, if wages, debt and house prices keep growing at the present rate."

Now, there are a few things wrong here, which you should be awake to when reading.

1. Unrealistic assumptions: how realistic is it that wages, debt and house prices will continue to increase at a steady rate over a period of 9 years. These three economic characteristics are fairly volatile - house prices, for example, have been particularly unsteady over the past 10 years, so there should be no real expectation that they'll be anything other than volatile in the forthcoming 10 years.

2. Uncritical extrapolation: at some point, when extrapolating data into the future like this, it is important to take a 'reality check' and see whether the end point makes any sort of common sense. Would, for example, a family buy a house at a price that means they couldn't eat?

3. Definitions: to me, discretionary income is what we have left after all necessary payments have been taken out. So, to my mind a mortgage payment is not discretionary; nor, for that matter, is food.

4. Forgetting the alternatives: since it's not necessary for people to actually own their own home - they could rent - the notion that they would buy a house and put themselves in such debt that the interest repayments would effectively bankrupt them in all other respects is, again, somewhat ludicrous.

Sadly, this undermines an otherwise fairly solid look at the property market & the issue of housing affordability in Australia.

I promise I'll write something about my recent projects soon...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

User research column on UXMatters

The latest installment of my user research column has been published to UXMatters. Take a read if you'd like to learn a little bit more about what we're actually doing when we analyse our research data and draw conclusions...

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


One other thing I should mention while my head's out of the grind: if you're going to be in Sydney on March 1 - check out WebJam2. It's on at the CBD Hotel on King Street, Sydney. The last one was awesome; this one should be a hoot.

Busy busy busy

Too much to report and too little to say: projects underway for clients in Sydney, Canberra, Copenhagen and Vancouver. Also desperately trying to complete another column article for uxmatters.com on user research - anyone got a topic they'd like to hear more about?

At the same time, trying to hire more staff to cope with the work coming through - wineries, publishing, foods - across a whole range of disciplines.

I'll write more when I get time to put something coherent together. Alternatively, if you're looking for a challenge, drop me a line - I just might have something interesting for you.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Travels abroad...

Hello from wintery Copenhagen. It's been a fairly tiring few days, but tomorrow I'm on a plane back to Sydney, where its a wonderful 38 degrees.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Heading to Copenhagen

This Saturday I fly out for my first to trip to Europe - a whirlwind, 7 day trip to Copenhagen, Denmark. I have a little bit of time to myself while I'm there, so I'll hopefully have a chance to look around what I hear is a wonderful city.

Monday, January 08, 2007

At the cricket with my wife, Danielle :)