Tag Archives: ux

a little discussion about Behavior Modes

Photo provided courtesy of C. Nancy Niu

Once again — I’m fortunate enough to in life to engage with The Boston Area UX, Design and Tech Community by giving talks on topics I am deeply passionate about within the realms of creativity, collaboration, experience and story.

Akshat Pradhan invited me out to UX Boston last week to present Behavior Modes for UX, an important sub-topic to my larger concept of designing with a storyFirst human-centered design approach. And I got to give the presentation as part of an evening of talks called Ideating Mobile, Prototyping w/ Sketch, and Behavior Modes! that included a talk on The Mobile Ecosystem Matrix from The Meme Design’s Carlos Cardenas and a super helpful prototyping walk-through by Aquent Gymnasium’s Jeremy Osborn.

So, here’s a quick, high-level fly by
on what I’m calling Behavior Modes:


Behavior Modes for UX


In a nutshell — as a now near-20-year-spanning, lifelong experience designer in New England, I feel that UX teams embedded in various firms in the area nicely use all the amazing industry-standard tools and tricks, but we sometimes seem to just go through the motions of assembling the toolkit while missing the core point and actual tactical unique benefits of why we’re using some of these tools to begin with, ya know?

My case in point for this particular talk — personas

Companies develop personas. Sometimes they outsource persona development and invest a lot of big money to conduct painstaking research to craft a fantastic batch of 10 or so personas per user type within a company’s anticipated target audience. And this is all wonderful. It shows that firms are really starting to step up and take research and user-centered methodologies seriously because hopefully they understand that serving people is what we need to be all about.

But …

In 2015 most teams seem to almost treat personas as some sort of Fine Art object we put on the wall. We see faces and little blocks of stats and commentary pinned to the wall like strange dossier-like posters to remind us that there’re people on the other side. Its a bit reminiscent of the hunter’s lodge tucked so politely away in a wooded Vermont hillside cabin, nicely decorated with the dead, static remains from that huge invoice —from all that research — like a pristine, captured set of kills strangely stuffed and mounted to the wall like a museum-like reminder of the people that we once knew and talked to and taxidermically preserved. We got ’em. Check! Task done!

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But I’m not sure that this is how Alan Cooper intended teams to leverage personas in our daily work. And I’m certain they’re not supposed to simply be flowers on the wall. We’re, at the very least, always supposed to keep the faces, names and motivations of our personas in mind as we design — and I’ve noticed at least a dozen occasions over the last 17 or so years where someone does the whole ‘Do you really think that’s the way TechSavvy Simone would want to create a new user profile on ProductX?

That’s not enough though, right? Just a dozen times in nearly 20 years? C’mon!

I mean, besides UX professionals digging into putting together a list of potential user types and maybe referencing one of the personas as a way to advocate for a semi-fictional real person in a design review meeting, not once have I seen anyone fully embrace the entire potential and value of tuning into your personas.

This is why I am talking about putting our personas into a situational context to bring them to life.

As creatives, I feel that its quite sad how flat and dead our design processes can feel. It seems that you get the gig, set up at a desk, start attending the meetings and doing the work ‘n all — but we all tend to hang up the power of our imagination somewhere else entirely. And this is a shame. After all, these powers and skills are forces we were actually hired by a company to use in our daily design work. But somewhere along the line we all tune out of The Imagination Channel and tune into whatever readymade, prescribed policies and processes make the most sense to use at work because we’re used to them.

I want us to tune back into The Imagination Channel.

Personas are the best way for us as designers to get out of our own heads and into the minds, hearts and emotions of our human users. Its literally a way for us to channel the users in that fuzzy kind of New Age way and wonder from somebody else’s perspective. But I think there’s a reason why our personas remain on the wall in their frozen taxidermied state as these cutely named posters on the wall. Personas need context to come back to life. We need to not only understand the statistics we’ve researched around real people that use our products, but in order to best design for real people we also need to understand:

  • when they’re using the experience(s) we’re designing;
  • how often they use it;
  • why they’re using it in a certain temporal context;
  • how often they might get interrupted mid-task;
  • when and how they might re-engage and continue an interrupted experience with your product or service;
  • where they’re using it;
  • what version of a holistic experience design our users are engaging with ( mobile, desktop, tablet, wearable, kiosk );
  • who else is around when they’re using it;
  • how people use it within different levels of criticality ( if that even pertains to the experience );
  • etcetera, so on and so forth

This is what Behavior Modes are all about.

Behavior Modes are bits and pieces of modular context to map to your personas to better dream up and understand an actual person’s story within a temporal situation as they might experience what you’ve design for them.

I think of Behavior Modes as different than a formal use case scenario, although I imagine you could leverage the contextual factors that come together to make up your behavior modes to develop interesting, near-real-life use cases to consider for your design processes and reviews.

I’m working on formalizing my thoughts around Behavior Modes and my storyFirst Approach to Human-Centered Design and will post more to my blog here as my concepts come together.

Stay tuned!

portrait of the artist { @ work }


some reflections on the challenge of experience design

a huge part of ux has nothing to actually do with design and processes — ux is about establishing culture and curating the experience of ucd

..:: teaching IxD ::..


this Spring semester at Massachusetts College of Art and Design — which is, like, almost over, sadly enough — i got the distinct pleasure of taking the materials, sequencing and my approach to teaching Interaction Design { by night for MassArt’s Continuing Education Department } and filtering the entire course down into an independent study with Aliyah Domash

i didn’t realize it until we met up to work on the fine details of how Interaction Design might work at this independent study scale — but, that whole ‘small world’ kind of aspect of the design community in Boston was working its crazy magic from the onset, and strangely enough, i already met Aliyah and got to see her work from a semester or 2 back by sitting as a guest critic in one of the final presentations of Alison Kotin’s Foundations of Graphic Design course — anyhow, flashback to that class and i got to see a lot of hand-drawn, amazing depictions of an artichoke, all in black and white, cropped and composed and mounted very professionally and pinned to the wall — it was a fantastic and dynamic final critique that i’m sure involved a smörgåsbord of hummus and cookies and water and other potluck snackage as a part of this wonderful celebratory discussion of all the fine work and progress each student made over the course of the semester

so, as you can probably tell, i have a certain obsession with foodly comestibles AND a little bit of an issue with portion control, right? ;]

but, back to our regularly scheduled topic — meeting Aliyah in Alison’s design class

anyhow, that night and these sorts of conversations with students and faculty and different nuance of design potentialities always makes me happy and excited about the kind of design community we have at MassArt and in the Greater Boston Area in general — and what? with AIGA Boston, BostonCHI, Boston Cyberarts, Dorkbots, IxDA, Pecha Kucha Night Boston, Refresh Boston, Upgrade Boston, UXPA and the myriad university-driven lectures, hackathons and networking opportunities steeped in designery, you almost can find it difficult to keep up with just the community, forget about the most current trends, buzz and general discourse that accompanies the fine world of design in the general locality

who would’ve known that a year out i’d be working to teach and mentor Aliyah at MassArt in this wonderful independent study setup, right? small world, crazy small, in fact — and then, its just utterly phenomenal to see how quickly a student like Aliyah comes in on day one, starts up with the first 3 more analytic exercises in experience design deconstruction and all — and then through reading, dissection, personal and professional reflection and our near-weekly conversational sessions at MassArt and the project work that puts the focus on active exploration of interaction and user-centered design as a theory and a practice and an empathic journey to guiding this bizarre, almost otherwoldly force we call Design in a way that keeps real, live people at the center of our approach and goals as design professionals — well, its just amazing to see Aliyah’s progress over the semester and to see the full spectral journey of her final project work for final critique and completion of the course

its been a really wonderful semester — really interesting to see how i’ve had to flex and bend the materials and approach, only slightly in all actuality, to keep the design of the course itself ultimately very interactive, human and fun

i’m really looking forward to the final critique, although i know we’ll miss meeting up on a semi-regular basis with the good excuse of putting some credits on the roster while hopefully also digging into what design can really mean for all of us as both professionals and people exploring the world through the filter of human-centered experience design






as with most of the concepts i come up with — i am flooded with ideas, raw direction, so much intent, and then i typically register a domain name, attempt designing the first iteration of a logo and put together a landing page to claim my new turf

i equate it to the modernday animal domination of mental property on the subconscious market

sometimes the investment is well worth it and the page i create blossoms into a blog or smallish web site — the initial concept evolves and moves, it comes alive either through further visual thinking or through writing down my near-daily thoughts on that particular and typically invented subject

at other times i realize my property purchase is a fixer upper or maybe a subtle spin-off of someone else’s idea, and i either work on it or i don’t, it becomes a dead end of the interwebz or a tiny root-like germinated seed of an idea in slow motion, not fully developed but just waiting to grow { but in dire need of food, water, soil and sun }

the term or phraseology storyFirst originates from Dynamic Media Institute at Massachusetts College of Art and Design

i really don’t know yet where i am taking this idea, but here’s the gist and the backStory for storyFirst

Jan Kubasiewicz { sometimes known as Jan Kuba } developed an assignment as an improvisational evolution of work from previous weeks in the DMI Course Design for Motion, Time and Sound — in this week’s workshop session, our teams were to take the work done to-date and start up again from scratch, focusing on putting the story first this time

what’s your story? was also a question i recall Jan asking me several times at reviews each semester — he wasn’t really looking to string my projects together in a more cohesive manner so much as he was trying to figure out why anyone should give a shit about my project work, my research and ultimately my design

and this became a very important way of looking at the entire body of my work, at examining my process, the materials i choose to work with and the very reason why i research using both critical reading and visual design methodologies to actively understand my terrain

i think i registered the domain name for storyFirst around the time that Joe Liberty, Andrew Ellis and i collaboratively designed and fabricated the embeddedStory System for MassArt Made — i think i understood back then on some sort of subconscious level how important story was to my work and to my research in cyberSurrealism

but it wasn’t until i read Luke Wrobelewski’s recent book Mobile First that i felt the full-on inspiration to write a book about using story to drive design in a new way — i want to use story as a means to drive my professional design work and also a means to design and redesign my life { and the lives of others }


now, i’ll be the first to admit { since we’re in a safe place here and i know you won’t just give away my little secret to just anyone, right? }, i tend to have issues with figures of authority — its almost a built-in mechanism, something i’ve only discovered through deep psychotherapy and self-reflection — i know that my satiric and humorous demeanor, my uncanny ability to ‘make fun’ out of just about anything, literally comes with severely scrutinizing the philosophies and actions of others and then trying to articulate what i honestly think and feel about well-established and revered pillars of practice and thinking

but i want this project, as much as it is inspired by my gut negative reaction to the Mobile First mantra and movement, i want storyFirst to become something of its own — i value some but not all of the thought that was put into Mobile First, i don’t necessarily believe its as practical and realistic a methodology as its advertised to be { i mean, how many clients can you convince to restart everything with a mobile experience as the filter to every single design decision you’re going to make across every extension and experience related to the brand of an organization? are corporations even that unified and organized to begin with to get THAT much buy-in and work in some harmonious, collaborative way to actually go Mobile First everytime? } — i don’t even think my most recent thinking about storyFirst benefits clients, prospects and corporations as much as i hope to benefit real people, and specifically designers

i believe that people — as natural human organisms — always strive to make meaning in the world — in fact, i believe that meaning itself doesn’t actually exist on its own in any way and that people, families, villages, societies and ultimately the symbiotic entirety of our macro-organic civilization create fictions and fact and rules around what these meanings are all about

we own a personal story,everyone of us — we can tell stories from memories, from episodes of our past and bring those stories back to life in conversation, in photographs, in dynamic media, in dance — and then we can imagine stories for ourselves and others, we can project what we think our lives can be or we can also dream up what we actually want our lives to be and then we can tell that story to ourselves and others — and then through user-centered design processes, confounded and delightfully weaved into the fabric of storytelling and retelling and actively pursuing these stories we create, we can design our lives — as individuals, as families, as villages, and as a global society

a little utopian, i know — but unless we strive for the impossible we will never achieve the dream

we may fail, and i believe right now we live in a time that manifests far more of a distopian twist on the original promises made by dreamers of progress and technology from the 1940s, 50s and 60s — but we need to follow the story, we need to follow the story a LOT more carefully and adhere to the benefits originally enmeshed with the original stories

i hope i can do this idea justice — i hope i can adequately tell the story i envision behind putting storyFirst in design and in life