Eggbox

Eggbox in Transit - soon to be settled again!

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Antagonism Required

Two Bad Words

Nothing turns a design to crap faster than a certain two words.  They are the bane of my professional life. They are a signifier that work I’ve done is either the wrong work, the right work done at the wrong time or the right work done for the wrong people.  They are, without fail, the worst words to hear in response to a request for your work to be reviewed.

The words in question?

“Seems Fine.”

Give a shit

There are other words that can be similarly bad, but “Seems fine” basically boils down to “this was not important enough for me to give any time to”.

If it’s a design review, and you’re seriously and honestly not able to see any problems then shout it from the rooftops.  You have found the perfect, shining unicorn. Hand that designer all the money in the world and tell everyone else to retire because they are done.

If you are involved in a design process, be involved. Merely being present is not good enough. In the event that it’s not so perfect that a life of perpetual ecstasy would disappoint, say something.

If you don’t give a shit, you’re in the wrong place.  I don’t care what job you actually do, but if you don’t care enough to do more than phone it in then be up-front about it.  Remove yourself from the process.

Push Back

If you do give a shit, then push back.  It’s not even about disagreeing.   It’s about making sure that the design stands up.  A rough design that you agree with still needs to be challenged, otherwise that rough design is what you’ll ship.

All design thrives on creative tension – you can usually produce “good enough” without it, but is “good enough” all you want? Do you really want to ship your designer’s first draft?  They sure as hell don’t you to.

Constraint

A request for a design to be reviewed is a request for one of the following:

  • Information to inform or further constrain the next iteration of the design
  • Information to inform the complete restart of the design within different contraints
  • Confirmation that the design is the best it can be, given the established constraints

A first draft is more interview technique than design

I always consider my first-draft to be an interview technique rather than a design. It’s a means to gather more information about what’s needed and refine the direction, rather than an actual attempt to deliver a solution.

The sacrificial first-cut is a long established way to tease out other people’s ideas. People are a lot more able to articulate what they’d rather see than they are to articulate what they want in the first place.

If you don’t push back, then you’re committing to a shot-in-the-dark.

Constraint

Design is all about constraints. Without constraints, all problems are trivial and solutions are obvious. Design, as a process, works best when the current result of that process is challenged and pushed to improve.

One of the best ways for that push to come is from tightening and refining the constraints – from speaking up when something is not good enough.

If everything is good enough from the outset, you’ll never get to actually good.

Summing Up

If you take one thing away from this post, take this:  If you’re meant to be involved in a design process, be involved or acknowledge that you’re not, acknowledge what that means and step away.

An annual games convention in the offing?

Over-The-Hill-CON

A few days ago, I was at “Over-The-Hill-CON” – a local mini gaming convention arranged (largely by my fiancé, Katrina) as a slightly late birthday celebration. We’d been far too jetlagged to organise it around my actual birthday, having just got back from 3 weeks trailing around New Zealand… so it was about a month later instead.

As an event, it was a huge success.  I also thoroughly enjoyed running one of the RPGs and facilitating another. We had roughly 35 people across two rooms, with one room purely RPGs, the other mostly tabletop gaming with a bit of RPGing.

What follows is a bit of a roundup of the day from my perspective… and some thoughts around the idea of making it a regular event.

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One up, One Down

Half finished posts from the unpublished archives:
I’m pulling this post out and making it live largely unedited.  This is because it’s been sat there a fair while and I thought the idea deserved to be put up, even if the post isn’t ready for prime time…

Anybody who’s worked in software know that one thing is virtually impossible to get: Positive feedback.  You’ll get negative feedback up the wazoo, but meaningful positive feedback is a right bugger to get hold of.

So how about we start asking for it more?  We’re always very good about inviting people to tell us what we’re getting wrong, but we’re also terrible about asking what we get right.

Why don’t we have a bug reporting tool that’s specifically designed on a “one up, one down” basis?  The idea here isn’t that you can’t submit bugs without giving praise too, but that giving meaningful, useful positive feedback gives the bugs you raise a higher priority. Yes, folks, I’m talking about bribery.

Raise a lot of bugs without giving any commentary about what we’re doing right?  Well, you’ll still get help, but we’d prefer it if you engaged with us on a less superficial level.  Tell us what you like.  We probably already know about the stuff you hate – we probably hate it too, but can’t get it on the table to fix it.  What we’re less clear on is if you’ve used the bits we don’t hear about.

As things stand, If you’re not complaining, it could go either way.  Either things are not bad enough to make you complain, or they’re so bad that you’ve stopped using those features and so have nothing to tell us about them.  We can’t know for sure.  “We’re pretty sure it’s not bad enough to make people complain” isn’t a great marker for design to aspire to.  There’s a big difference between “we got that right” and “we either did okay or did so badly nobody’s using it”, and being able to tell that difference would be nice.

How far is too far for a good game?

KapCon 24 in Wellington was, at roughly 18,800 kilometers, probably the furthest I’ve travelled for a spot of gaming, given than I’d have to leave the planet to go further (or find a convention in Dunedin or Christchurch, which are technically further).  I’m game for going further, but I suspect budget and convention availability would be a hindrance.

This was my first KapCon (but not K’s – she’s a regular) – and I enjoyed it immensely. I’m unlikely to be there every time as it’s a bit far to go… but I fully intend to go again.  If the logistics were easier, I’d even be interested in having a crack at running games (hell, even getting involved in helping with the flagship LARP – that kind of thing is in my wheelhouse, after all). Next time I come along, I’ll certainly have a crack at running something, though.

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A Different Flavour of SF

A while back I got a bee in my bonnet whilst I was listening to music on the train home from work.  It boiled down thusly:

I am a fan of SF (meaning science fiction, speculative fiction or whatever else you may think along those lines).  I am a fan of music – including (but not at all limited to) progressive rock.

There is a fair chunk of well known crossover between SF and prog rock, and to music in general.  So I started to think a bit more… and an couple of ideas popped into my head.

Idea #1: Host an SF music listening party.  This is a bit further off, and involves a bit more planning and whatnot, but is still something I’d like to do.

Idea #2: Create a collection of original SF in musical form. This now exists, albeit in a limited form.

Following up on Idea #2

I started out by unpacking a few terms and setting some rules, and by pinging my assorted online contacts and mining their brains for examples.  It’s their brains as much as my own which have populated the playlist so far.

Rules & Definitions

Definition: “Original SF” – Speculative Fiction which is not an adaptation of pre-existing speculative fiction from another medium.

Definition: “in musical form” – A distinct chunk of music that can be identified in some way.  A single track, a suite of pieces, an album, an EP, a performance, etc…  but in this case, standing as music alone.  Soundtracks, cast recordings and things which require you do anything other than listen to get the SFness don’t count.  There are occasions where a theme song can fit (there’s at least one in the playlist, after a fashion), but they need to stand in their own right, without the show.

Rule: No soundtracks – Stuff that exists solely as an attachment to other media doesn’t count

Rule: Scope Limit 1 – Exclude sword & sandal / sword & sorcery fantasy.  Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because there was a glut of it in the 1980s (even more than there was SF stuff in the 70s and 80s) and it’d swamp the playlist.  Creating a playlist of original fantasy in music would be a different exercise.

Rule: Scope Limit 2 – Exclude horror (unless explicitly SF horror). See above.

 

The Playlist

So you can listen along…

I’ve put this together on Spotify so you can do more than just read about the music.  The playlist is collaborative, so stuff can be added, but please don’t spam it with crap – If that happens I’ll just delete it and create a new one that’s locked down.

Spotify Playlist – HTTP Link: Original SF music
Spotify Playlist – Spotify Link: Original SF music

The Music

Rush – 2112 suite

Type: Multi-part album track
SFness: Following a galactic war, all planets are ruled by the Red Star of the Solar Federation, lead by the priests of the temples of Syrinx. They control all media & every facet of life. Protagonist discovers an ancient guitar & starts to be creative. Oppressive civilization is oppressive.

Rush – Cygnus X-1 (books 1 & 2)

Type: Multi-part album tracks from two albums (“A Farewell to Kings” & “Hemispheres”)
SFness: Space explorer is sucked into a black hole and emerges in Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are dividing the human mind, leading to conflict.  The explorer gradually takes on a role as a god of balance, bringing heart and mind together.

Rush – Red Barchetta

Type: Track
SFness: This is “inspired by” the SF story “A Nice Morning Drive” by Richard Foster (acknowledged by both band and author, and the author is aware & fine with it), but I’ve read that it’s quite distinct from it, so I’m going to include it anyway.  If somebody who’s read the story disagrees… comments are welcome.

Sontaag – Sontaag

Type: Concept Album
SFness: From the artist’s album notes:  “The Ancients, through a long process of trial and error, had discovered the secret of synthesizing essential energy from harmonic sound, giving them the power to reanimate extinct planets by utilising giant orbiting sonic generators. But life came at a price. The newly supplanted inhabitants of MP-5 were compelled to provide the musical fuel for The Great Harmodulator simply to stay alive.”

Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Dystopian, near future SF set in an increasingly aggressive post 9-11 united states as events unfold towards (and beyond) nuclear war with Iran.

Janelle Monáe – Metropolis suite(s)

Type: Multiple albums / EPs / tracks (Metropolis: Chase Suite EP, Archandroid & Electric Lady albums)
SFness: Cindi Mayweather, a messianic android, is sent back in time to free the citizens of Metropolis from The Great Divide, a secret society that uses time-travel to suppress freedom and love.

Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Near future / current day dystopian SF. An amnesiac drug addict starts to recover memories of his time as a drug fuelled, mind controlled assassin.

Keldian – Heaven’s Gate / Journey of Souls / Outbound

Type: Multiple Albums
SFness: They’re specifically an SF themed power metal band

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great)

  • Heaven’s Gate – Album of SF songs
  • Journey of Souls – Album – ideas around souls travelling through time & space (as opposed to bodies). Mostly original SF, except:
    • Hyperion (based on Dan Simmons’ Hyperion)
    • The Last Frontier (based on Battlestar Galactica)
  • Outbound – Mostly original SF songs, except:
    • “A Place Above the Air” (based on Dan Simmons’ Endymion)
    • The Silfen Paths (based on Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth books)

EDIT – October 2015 – quite a bit of Keldian (whilst still great) is turning out to be based on other works, so I might have to move some more out of this list.

The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Type: Album / Tracks on album
SFness: …less than is immediately apparent, but still fitting

  • Not actually about battling robots.
  • The “pink robots” of the title (and title track) are apparently a metaphor for cancer, and the story of the title track is an analogy to the fight against illness, presented in an SFnal way.  Still SF, because it doesn’t have to be about robots to be SF.
  • “Do You Realize” – about precariousness of existence.
  • Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have themes that can be considered SFnal – particularly “soft SF” (SF based on the “soft sciences”).

Queen – 39

Type: Album track
SFness:  Space explorers depart for a year long voyage, but relativity means that upon their return 100 years have passed.

Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient

Type: Concept album
SFness:  Ziltoid (an alien warlord) travels to earth in search of something described as “the ultimate cup of coffee”.  He finds it foul, and brings his battlefleet to wage war on earth in disgust.

The RAH Band – Clouds Across The Moon

Type: Single
SFness: A woman tries to contact her husband who’s fighting on mars.  A connection is made, and so she has a few minutes to leave a message telling him that she misses him before the connection is lost.

Kate Bush – Experiment IV

Type: Single / Album Track
SFness: Military scientists looking to create a sonic weapon… and (unfortunately for them) succeeding beyond expectations.

Zager & Evans – In The Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)

Type: Single / album track
SFness: Dystopian SF depicting humanity’s decline as a result of the growth of dehumanizing technology.  A modified cover version was used as the theme to the somewhat awful (yet bizarrely, regrettably watchable) “Cleopatra 2525” TV show.

Norman Greenbaum – The Eggplant That Ate Chicago

Type: Single
SFness: The invasion of Chicago by carnivorous, plant-like alien.

The person who suggested this to me was joking, but they shouldn’t have been – it fits.  SF can be silly, too.

Threshold – Clone

Type: Concept(ish) Album
SFness: Genetic manipulation of humans leads to the development of telepathy. Enhanced humans leave the earth to colonize other planets, eventually returning to Earth centuries later.

Electric Light Orchestra – Time

Type: Concept album
SFness: A man from the 1980s finds himself in the year 2095, tries to come to terms with being unable to return and adjust to his new surroundings.

Tandy & Morgon – Earthrise

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Space explorer longs to return to his one love on Earth, only to eventually find that true love has always been with him… inside. (from description on wikipedia)

David Bowie – Space Oddity

Type: Single
SFness: Features a space launch where things don’t go entirely to plan…  You mostly know the song, I’m sure.

David Bowie – Starman

Type: Single
SFness: It’s either about an alien or a deity.  Who knows?

Landscape – Einstein a Go-Go

Type: Single
SFness: Oddly cheery dystopian vision of a nuclear apocalypse.

Paul Kantner and Jefferson Starship – Blows Against the Empire

Type: Concept Album
Notes: Particularly Sunrise / Have you seen the stars tonight (which are on spotify, whilst the main album isn’t)
SFness: The story tells of a counter-culture revolution against the oppressions of “Uncle Samuel”.  This leads to a plan to steal a starship from orbit and journey into space in search of a new home. Loosely based on / inspired by Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children”, but apparently different enough to be considered original SF in its own right.

Iron Maiden – Somewhere in Time

Type: Album
SFness: Lots of “space and time” themed songs – characters taken out of their time / place in SFnal ways.  Not a single SF piece, but most of the songs have SFnal themes.

Styx – Kilroy was here

Type: Concept Album
SFness: Rock music is outlawed by a fascist government and the “Majority for Musical Morality”. Kilroy (a former rock star who has been imprisoned) escapes using a disguise (“Mr. Roboto”) and becomes aware that a young musician, Jonathan Chance, is on a mission to bring rock music back.

Jon Anderson – Olias of Sunhillow

Type: Concept album
SFness: An alien race journeys to a new world following a volcanic catastrophe

What next?

This is not an exhaustive list.  The playlist will grow and change.  In writing it up, the playlist grew one album (a mistyped search found a result I’d never heard of, but which fitted better!) and was reduced by four or five songs as I researched them and found they didn’t fit the “Original” part of “Original SF”.

If you have suggestions, either go to the spotify playlist and add them (preferably pinging me a message somewhere explaining the SFness) or leave a comment somewhere I’ll see it and hope I can track it down to add it myself.  Either way, I’m interested in hearing more.

Contributors

Responses to my pleas for music references came from the following folks (even if their responses didn’t make the cut for some reason):

  • Ann (who was trying to be facetious but accidentally made the list anyway!)
  • Beth
  • Caz
  • Chris T.
  • @dakkar
  • Dave W.
  • Dean M.
  • Francis M.
  • Gav
  • Gurdy S.
  • Neil J.
  • Simon R.
  • Victoria S.

Spontaneous Human Combustion and Time Travel

I have a theory.

Two things will become understood in the next 40-60 years:

  1. Spontaneous Human Combustion
  2. Time Travel

The first will not only become well understood, but will be provided for via commercial off-the-shelf tools, or at least hobbyist/enthusiast tools and readily available instructions. The second is easier to explain in light of the first.

My reasoning can be explained as follows:

  1. I have been made to work on HTML emails again.
  2. If this happens again, I intend to travel back in time and visit every single ancestor of every single person who has ever lead to my having to work on HTML emails and set them on fire.  For the good of humanity, of course. I’ll feel bad, but it’s necessary.

Because there have been documented (however poorly) instances of spontaneous human combustion in the past, the above course of events clearly occurs at some point in my lifetime.

It’s the only way things make sense.

Music Discovery

It’s occurred to me that a) I’ve not posted here for a while, and b) I’ve never quite managed to write the post I keep meaning to about how I find music to listen to these days.

So here it is, knocked together in a few minutes over a lunchbreak.  So don’t expect a novel or, if I’m honest, any kind of continuity.

I listen to a lot of music.  I’ve written about that before.  The constant challenge is marrying up discovering new music with being able to seamlessly listen to music without having to nursemaid it the whole time.

Spotify

Lately, I’ve been using spotify’s “discover” section a fair bit… mostly because it’s easy to get to and my workplace doesn’t block it.  Thankfully.  However, it’s got a weird knack of being both transient and persistent.  Recommendations I’m interested in just vanish without a trace, whilst ones I’m not interested in just keep cropping up

It also doesn’t help that much with letting me look back over my listening for a period of time and determine what I might want to pay more attention to in future.

Playlisting

So I got into a habit – monthly playlists.  If I find something that grabs my attention (or just doesn’t make me switch off) then I bung it into a “new finds” playlist for that month.  I’ve been doing this since about last November.

This means that I can look back over them and think “Wow, I listened to a lot of style-X last month and was starting to get quite miserable and mopey.  Time for a change!”.  It also means that I can say “I was really in a good mood a couple of months ago – I’d like to get that back” or “I’m getting a bit shouty.  I was mellower in December – let’s rewind!” and then just pull up a playlist from an appropriate month and see what’s in it.

It’s been working pretty well for me so far.  Even better, I can share the playlists.  Which I do.  So, without further ado, here are the past seven months of my work-based listening material…

Seven Months of Soundtrack

  • New Finds – 11/2013 (Post-rock / Ambient / Downtempo)
  • New Finds – 12/2013 (Progressive rock / Symponic metal / Prog-metal / Post-rock / Darkwave / Electronica with a side of chiptunes)
  • New Finds – 01/2014 – Part 1 (non-anglo-american metal / weird electronica / post-rock / game soundtracks & electronica)
  • New Finds – 01/2014 – Part 2 (post-rock / electronica / shoegaze / dream pop / Experimental Rock / Guitar Virtuoso)
  • New Finds – 02/2014 (bleepy ambient / downtempo / soundscapes / guitar virtuoso / electronica / 80s retro electronica / post-rock / Piano / Progressive Rock)
  • New Finds – 03/2014 (Guitar & Bass Virtuoso / Ambient / Post-Rock / Hard Rock / Instrumental & Soundtrack / Blues Rock / 80s Retro Electronica / Heavy Rock / Electronica / Southern Rock / Modern Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock)
  • New Finds – 04/2014 (Post Rock / Hard Rock / Psychedelic Rock / Progressive rock / Guitar Virtuoso /  Heavy Rock / Progressive Metal / Alt. Prog / Doom Metal)
  • New Finds – 05/2014 (Post Rock / Ambient / Drone / Progressive Rock / Progressive Metal / SynthPop)

Some Responses to “what does a good enterprise UX look like?”

My previous post generated a bit of commentary on one of the sites it syndicates to, so I thought I’d post them up here and follow up with a bit of response.

From Themadone:

“I think my answer would be that it should not feel like you’re trying to roll a large rock up a hill. With the obvious associated problems of something going wrong and you ending up at the bottom with a large rock on your face. Or finding the rock is stuck on something that you can’t readily see or do anything about.”

From Nojay:

“For various reasons my workflow involves an older graphics editing package, an esoteric OCR package, several web apps, another graphics package for review and testing and a batch image processing package for final release. I have to remember that “Paste” is Alt+F+W or [Shift+Insert] when editing, for the OCR package it’s [Ctrl+B] and for review it’s the classic [Ctrl+V]. Enterprise software MUST NOT work like this.”

I’ll acknowledge that I’m quoting a bit selectively in places, but can you spot the commonality between those responses? It’s been common with the verbal responses I’ve had too…

There’s a strong focus on what a good Enterprise UX isn’t.  The field is so bad that just not sucking is enough to be seen as a good experience.  That’s a pretty low bar.  It’s like having your personal best at the high jump being “didn’t tunnel underground”.

A couple of other responses did stray away from the negatives towards the positives – which I wasn’t really expecting.  I did my readership a disservice – which was nice to discover.  Some more selective quoting:

More from Nojay:

“That implies a consistent interface between apps with seamless switching and information transfer.”

From Katlinel*:

“Imperceptible? That is, the software enables you to accomplish the tasks you need to do, without getting in the way of those tasks. The software should facilitate this and not provide stumbling blocks that impede the user.”

From Cryx:

“At the moment user experience is often done like going to a convention. You open the door and there is a hubub of options. You may have a guide to the event, but you have to pick your way around to the areas of interest, and slowly fill up your bag with the info you want.”

“It should be more like you are the VIP. You say ‘I want X done, by X time’ and people scurry away and work out the best way to make it work for you. They come back and present the plan/information to you. They don’t go on at length about all the work they did, and keep asking you small questions. However if you bring your laser focus to a task they can tell you each step, and will let you modify things quickly and without fuss.”

From those it becomes clearer.

Good Enterprise UX plays nice

No enterprise software application exists in isolation – everything is just a step in somebody’s workflow, and needs to fit into that workflow.  Each enterprise application is there to fill a step, or some steps, or every step of somebody’s workflow… even if it’s not providing an end-to-end workflow, it’s still part of one and it needs to play nice with its neighbours.

It becomes clearer that enterprise software needs to not be a bottleneck or a hurdle.

Good Enterprise UX works for you

I particularly like the analogy in the final quote – about enterprise UX needing to be more like a concierge or a team of employees, being ready with what you need when you need it… but also serving a large number of users. I’d like to take it further, though – for common behaviours, I don’t think I should have to ask.  The software should know who am and what I do – all of that information is available within an enterprise anyway.

If it’s being like a concierge, it should be a really good concierge who can anticipate my needs and have prepared some information ahead of time.  I should be able to start my interaction with that software by being greeted with a clear picture of what’s going to be relevant in that interaction, to pick and choose from and add to if needed.

So, the comments exercise this time is slightly different.

In your day job, you almost certainly use some kind of enterprise software.  If the UI for it was a very, very good (human) concierge or PA, what would it be doing for you?

Please let me know either as comments where you see this post, on the original blog post at www.eggbox.org.uk or however you like on social media – but please tell me where so I can read!

What does a GOOD enterprise user experience look like?

It’s been a fair while since I posted on here, so I thought I’d try kicking off again with a question, and then see what comes back.  But, because not everyone works in the same field I’d better define some terms first:

Enterprise Software is software designed to serve the needs of an enterprise (typically a larger business) rather than an individual, although individual human users still have to use it and may have multiple different jobs to do which require them to use it.

User Experience is what you have when you are one of those individual human users being forced (it’s rarely a choice you’d make on your own) to use it.

So, on to the question:

What does a good enterprise software user experience look and feel like?

Answers in comments please. Or on your own blog or social media of choice, but let me know about them here.

The Rise of The Shadow Persona!

I feel is is my duty to warn you that you have been infiltrated. Your product (or service) has an interloper. There, lurking in the shadows behind everyone else. Clothed in darkness, wrapped in silence, there lurks the mysterious shadow persona.

You can’t see them, but you know they are there. Dark figures, moving behind the scenes and manipulating things from out of your line of sight.

They never go so far as to touch your product itself, though. They’re far to clever or important for that. But they manipulate and influence those who do. You’ll never see them, but you will hear talk of their presence. They’ll come for those you do know, stalking them quietly when you’re not around. Putting demands on them, or twisting them to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Or those you do know will be constrained by their whims, unable to act in accordance with their better judgement.

Whilst these quiet, faceless creatures never touch your product themselves, you’ll know them by the marks they leave on those who do. From the stains and the scars.

If you wish to truly understand those you know, seek out the unseen figures who whisper to them from terra ingognita. Get to know their ways, as their impact is often greater than is otherwise apparent.

In Plain English

In User Experience design, the idea of the persona is well understood – well defined examples of those who use a product. But a few years back, I encountered a situation where we needed to design for a user who would never use our product.

At the time I called this a “Hidden Persona“, “Indirect Persona” or “Shadow Persona“.

One of our known personas needed to work with this person to extract relevant information that they could then use to work with our software. That conversation, which happened out-of-sight of our product, was a key interaction for the feature we were designing.

But it was a difficult interaction to nail down. That “Shadow Persona” was somebody we couldn’t ever really know, and we could never interact with them directly through out product.

Indirect Interactions

Historically, we’d always considered the information gleaned from that difficult, formless discussion to be the starting point for the job this feature was designed to achieve. The problem was that nobody knew what information would be useful to glean until after that conversation, and the person embodying the hidden persona would be quite unlikely to know any better.

There would usually be several rounds of back-and-forth before a rudimentary language and understanding could be reached, and meaningful exchanges could occur.

Typically, this left the person embodying the known persona frustrated and the person embodying the hidden persona annoyed. As you might imagine, that didn’t help achieve good results and a steady working relationship.

So we had to think of a new approach.

Start With An Icebreaker

We figured that a good place to start would always be with a gift. Not just a fruit basket, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates (although those might help too – don’t rule them out!) but an offering that says something about how to go forward. A sign that our known persona cares and is trying to do something useful.

In this case, we treated our shady figure as another persona. A shadow persona, lurking behind the one we can see. They’ll never touch our product, but a smooth interaction with our product depends on them all the same. We learned who they were and how they fitted in.

So we build an offering for them. Something that our known persona could use to introduce themselves and start the ball rolling quickly, without taking much of the shadow persona’s time. In this case, it went through some iterations, but ended up being a printable or email-able report of the few things that were already known prior to the discussion, with spaces and questions included to find out more and feed it back in to the process.

This report also included conversational affordances – things that announced reasons to speak, and reasons why the information was relevant. Catalysts for discussion. Icebreakers. That sort of thing. Things that would let the shadow persona cut to the chase and see value in what was being done. Things that would hint at what information would prove useful and what wouldn’t, and to let them provide that information painlessly.

Make It A Conversation, Not A Monologue

What’s more, the report provided information in a format designed to be added to through notes and comments – ways to capture the conversation quickly, easily and without repetition or clutter. We then provided ways for our known persona to collect this information together and encode it back into the product.

Once that was all included, the early conversations could happen without the frustration and annoyance that had previously made them painful.

Rethink Personas – Learn To See The Invisible

So, if you’re going to take something away from this post, make it this:

Stop making personas just for anyone who uses your product.
Instead, start making them for anyone who impacts the usage of your product – even if they don’t use it themselves.

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