Get inside the animals

A story about finding and understanding the materials that you work with.

This is Gord (played by Tom Green) in Freddy got Fingered. Gord wants to be an animator. He has this idea for a comic where his relatives are all centaurs. Mixes between zebras and humans.

In the scene below he’s just been rejected by a publisher because his drawings sucked. The publisher told him to get inside the animals to truly know how animals act and behave.

He took it a little too serious…

From 01:24 to 2:27.

The Good, the Bad and the Interesting

The last couple of weeks I’m hooked on the podcast: the Good, the Bad and the Intersting by Vasilis van Gemert. In this serie van Gemert is on a quest to find an answer for the question: “What is quality in digital design?”.

In episode 12 Vasilis talks with a former teacher of him who gave his perspective about quality: “You can only make quality if you master the material that you work with”. Sounds like a Star Wars quote right?

It made me think.

What are materials

Material can be anything that someone works with. It can be a lump of clay, a saxophone, lines of code or a skateboard.

  • Bob Dylan won a nobel prize for literature for his writing skills. But hey, he made over 70 albums to get the hang of it.
  • I heard Coltrane spend so many hours with his saxophone that he even slept with it. He became one with his instrument.

As the teacher of van Gemert stated: Understanding the material that you work with is knowing everything about it. That could be e.g. every state, form, inch, smell or practice.

Whether it’s about writing HTML, writing a book or playing a saxophone.

What are my materials

I’m an interaction designer. I work with many materials like tools (Sketch, Axure, pen and paper), research methods, UI patterns (Navigation, forms, buttons, etc.) but most important: users and their needs.

Let’s focus on that. How can I start to master my users and know exactly what their needs are?

I can’t. But I can try. I use shadowing as my research method:

Shadowing involves researchers immersing themselves in the lives of customers, front-line staff, or people behind the scenes in order to observe their behaviour and experiences. — This is Service Design Thinking

The whole customer journey is captured and can later be used as a great starting point when building a website or application.

A few examples:

  • I went a day on the road with a KLM employee who’s responsible for planes to depart on time. My task was to connect the passengers bridge to the airplane with a joystick. Lucky me.
  • I drove on a bus which transported elderly to daycare centers. Did you know there is a hairdresser in the daycare centers in Holland?
  • I saw the behind the scenes luggage handling at Schiphol Airport. There’s almost 65km of rails below the surface carrying luggage!
  • I experienced life on a dairy farm with hunderds of cows eager for more food. Did you know there are special cows for hugging therapy?

Gord’s publisher was right

There’s a lot you can say about the movie Freddy got Fingered but one thing’s for sure: his publisher was right. Maybe not that literally but close enough. Gord eventually did make a million dollars selling his comic.

Knowing your material really pays off. In my case materials are users and their needs. What are yours? Let me know in a comment below or watch Gords comic instead.

Listen to his hooves.