From ACM Interactions / July — Aug 2019

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Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

It’s often said that one should not “go meta” because things just get too abstract and unwieldy, trying to make sense of it all in your mind. But perhaps it’s exactly the right time for designers to go meta, at least as a useful respite from the daily grind of that which is becoming automated and instrumented ad nauseam — and maybe more dramatically, for our professional survival, with a reframing of authentic, substantive design value.

Algorithms, automation, instrumentation: Designing is becoming increasingly routine, predictable, and systematic for the sake of efficiency and reliability, to safely ensure high-velocity outputs. The poetics of human-computer interaction have evolved into prescriptions for scaled, scheduled delivery. From distributed symbol libraries to computerized usability tests, what then becomes of the designer? What is now the reason for being? But perhaps the true realm for a designer’s value is starting to reveal itself. …


From ACM Interactions / March — April 2019

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Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

While applying for a UX manager position recently, I was asked to send in my portfolio along with the usual résumé/CV. It’s a rather perfunctory request, but that’s exactly it. It’s like some bodily reflex by the hiring staff, performed dozens of time daily, without thought. I was about to conform to this request, but I paused midway in my equally perfunctory response (“Of course, I’ll send over the link…”). This time, the rebel in me awoke, questioning: “Is a portfolio truly the best way to showcase my qualifications as a design leader?” Especially for one who is experienced and operating at a more meta level in a company, shaping strategy, process, and culture to enable good design to thrive? …


From ACM Interactions / Nov — Dec 2017

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Photo by Humberto Santos on Unsplash

For a designer guided by human-centered methods toward improving our finicky relationship with technology, what does it mean to have impact? What are the primary means of enabling an impact with lasting value for your team or company, as well as your customers? These are truly existential questions. Who I am and what value I provide as a human-centered designer are concepts shaped by the actions I take and their consequences. It matters to me as a professional, in terms of pride and integrity, and to my cross-functional colleagues to justify my service to them toward collective, shared goals. …


from ACM Interactions / July — August 2016

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Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Human-computer interaction, as implied in the phrasing, involves approaches for exploring, enabling, or optimizing the relationship between people & computational systems. There is a negotiation of intent between users and systems via discrete combinations of controls with fairly constrained yet recognizable behaviors: buttons, tabs, switches, dials, text fields, icons, and so forth — both pixel- and atom-based. Such elements make up the interface, helping users accomplish some task that may occur across a range of forms or screens. Sure, it all seems quite complex, yet it’s fairly direct and tangible. To put it bluntly, there is something there to interact with. …


From ACM Interactions / Nov — Dec 2019

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Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

We are living in an “age of automation”, where computational intelligence guided by algorithms is woven into our daily lives. What does this mean for the human aspect of experiencing literally artificial intelligence? The challenge before us is the act of humanization itself — shaping tech interactions with humanistic qualities, like emotion, conversation, and relationship, that impart values for humane living, like trust, respect, and dignity. Doing that well requires uncovering mental models, identifying emotional drivers, and unpacking our expectations of how a smart device or predictive service should behave — and how to interact with it to achieve our goals gracefully… and safely!


From ACM Interactions / July — Aug 2018

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Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

How many of you have heard or lived this: The product manager of the app for which you’re serving as the UX lead types out a 10-page requirements doc. You read through it and realize there are some critical dependencies that correlate to the presumed user’s “day in the life” usage patterns. You wonder, Is there a way to expose them and get clarity among the team? So you excitedly suggest mapping out the user’s activities, using a team work session to get everybody to discuss it in real time. But the PM balks, saying (a bit huffily) that it’s time-wasting, repetitive work. After all, they already wrote it all down — it’s in the Word doc! And besides, there are assets to ship this week to meet the delivery schedule.


From ACM Interactions / Nov— Dec 2015

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Photo by timJ on Unsplash

Thrown into the swirling currents of digital product development — either at an agile startup or a corporation “going lean” — designers must work with a variety of commercialized concepts that typify current design practice. Yet these concepts raise doubt, if not outright suspicion, about truly cultivating design depth and forethought in that practice. Validation, metrics, sprints and spikes, filing project tickets — all with an enthusiastic “bias to action” to “move fast and break things.” Woo!

For new practitioners emerging from a steady diet of HCI theories and behavioral frameworks debated amid college discussion groups, this all may be somewhat jarring. For veterans in the field, it’s a matter of quick adaptation to new, albeit buzz-wordy, models of thought and vocabularies that seem a bit newfangled … and roughshod. It all suggests a dependency that infects our daily discourse with project participants, weakening our sense of design’s intellectual value: the nuances of thought, analysis, and comprehension; a robust perspective informed by deliberation and plurality. Decide it now and move fast! But why? And what impact does this language have on a team’s approach in terms of enabling design, writ large, beyond pretty pixels and specs for a minor point release? …


From ACM Interactions / March — April 2015

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Photo by Alfred Rowe on Unsplash

It has become rather routine to present a multi-device graphic on a company’s website, complete with laptop, tablet, and phone as a unified happy family, when selling a branded product or service. This imagery ostensibly promotes cross-device flexibility, if not uniformity. Today, that’s simply a baseline expectation, given that many people use multiple screen-based (mobile) devices over the course of a day, or across many days. And yet, underneath this benign ubiquity there’s the ominous specter of interminable, inescapable notifications/alerts/messages (i.e., “attention-disrupting entities”) distracting you anywhere, anytime. …


From ACM Interactions / Nov — Dec 2016

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Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

How do you interrupt someone plugged into a virtual reality (VR) system?

I was faced with this peculiar issue when meeting with a colleague working on VR. Ambling over to his desk amid an open-air setup of cubes and pods, I noticed right away that he was fully plugged in. Giant dark goggles covered his face, his head bobbing and weaving while his hands gripped two controllers, making jerky movements as if he were playing air guitar. Yup, he was in another world for sure! So how could I approach him and let him know I was physically there for our (now twice rescheduled) coffee chat? How to ease him back into this world without jolting him, causing him to mess up whatever virtual work he was doing? …


From ACM Interactions / May — June 2016

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Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Startups are a fascinating, unique animal amid the dynamic landscape of high-tech business. They arise from a bold, risky bet to deliver something “game changing,” making them seductive to UX professionals dedicated to delivering maximum design and research impact for potentially revolutionary (and wildly lucrative) projects. Why not, right? UX is sexy now — I mean, founders get it! And hey, it sure beats working for a lethargic corporate dinosaur lumbering toward a gradual mediocre demise … snooze! From an early-stage band of rebels cranking on the raw kernel of an idea to the late-stage pre-IPO company ready for public rock-star status amid a confetti-strewn backdrop at NASDAQ (note: It’s all virtual trading floors today; this is simply a photo-op set, folks), startups offer incredible opportunities for high-impact rapid growth. It’s exhilarating and marvelous and overwhelming, too. …

About

Uday Gajendar

Design catalyst / leader / speaker / teacher. Always striving to bring beauty & soul to digital experiences.

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