Interaction design is a different kind of design

Road crossing a ranch with trees and mountains on the background a few animals to the left and a few human-made structures to the right like a hut a barn and fences. This is just a cool picture of where I live and is not really relevant for the article.
Road crossing a ranch with trees and mountains on the background a few animals to the left and a few human-made structures to the right like a hut a barn and fences. This is just a cool picture of where I live and is not really relevant for the article.
Monkey Ranch

The brilliant author and observer, Scott Berkun (@berkun), asked (on Twitter) the provocative question:

What is the greatest design lesson you’ve ever learned?

There were many varied replies, and I finally weighed in with my answer:

The design of the behavior of digital systems is not at all the same kind of design as visual, print, architectural, industrial, or any other design discipline. There are many similarities, but they are qualitatively different.

This provoked Víctor David (@victordavidmx) to inquire of me:

Apart from the fact that we are dealing with humans and their complexity and not with inert matter, what…

A sign of the times

If you love a design tool, set it free

Yesterday, on a video conference call, I gave a presentation to more than a thousand people around the world. I was billed prominently as “The inventor of Design Personas.” Afterwards, several people pointed out that I never once talked about personas. I didn’t even say the word. I’m proud of my contribution of personas — and other tools — to the interaction design toolbox, but I am not the caretaker of personas.

I created and developed design personas over many years and they became one of our central design tools at my consulting company, Cooper. I presented the idea to…

A whole lotta space opera. Woohoo!

These are the books I read in the past year

As usual, I read lots of books this year. Some of them were fun and frivolous while others were as serious as a heart attack. Welcome to 2020, the year of breakdown.

It pleases me to find plenty of women authors on my list, and several of the best books were written by women. For this year’s reading I continued to quest after an understanding of America’s descent into dysfunction, but I also found myself reading a lot of escapist fiction. That seems only fitting for the year of pandemic.

1. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources, by M. Kat Anderson (2005)

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, fingers on triggers, aiming at protesters

A new story and an old story

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who pointed a pistol and an assault weapon at peaceful protesters in St. Louis last June, have filed suit against a news photographer who snapped their rumpled likenesses. The picture went viral and they instantly became an internet meme.

I can only hope that the judge is not insane and summarily dismisses the case. But the plight of the McCloskeys reminded me of a similar — and similarly tragicomic — case from years ago.

One of my favorite books is The Egg and I, a bestselling memoir originally published in 1945. The author, Betty…

A serene view of a placid pond with a woman sitting on the end of a wooden dock, gazing at the waterbirds swimming.
A serene view of a placid pond with a woman sitting on the end of a wooden dock, gazing at the waterbirds swimming.

Why your company’s actions seem counterproductive

I have this recurring vision of tech practitioners as skilled origami experts, trying to fold paper into clever and graceful swans while their house is fully engulfed in flames. As quickly as they create the little paper animals they burst into flame. It doesn’t really matter that they are masters at their difficult and obscure craft because other issues obviate and destroy their good works.

Despite the thousands of conscientious, skilled practitioners who want nothing more than to create superb quality products with beguiling and powerful interactions, the businesses they work for are fully engulfed in the flames of runaway…

The twenty-year war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history.

Even weapons. Especially weapons.

On 5 December 2001, an American Army Special Forces team entrenched Taliban soldiers outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, ordered an air strike against their foes. A waiting B-52 bomber responded quickly, dropping a single 2,000-pound precision-guided bomb. The huge bomb fell with digital precision directly on top of the American Special Forces team, killing three of them, along with five of our Afghan allies, and wounding at least 20 others, including Hamid Karzai, the recently chosen interim leader of Afghanistan. Tragically, the bomb fell precisely where it was directed to fall. A soldier accidentally instructed the bomber to drop its deadly load…

Lambs on Monkey Ranch.

The Band-Aid of UX

Software designers often speak of “finding the right metaphor” upon which to base their interface design. They imagine that rendering their user interface in images of familiar objects from the real world will provide a pipeline to automatic learning by their users. So they render their user interface as an office filled with desks, file cabinets, telephones and address books, or as a pad of paper or a street of buildings in the hope of creating a program with breakthrough ease-of-learning. And if you search for that magic metaphor, you will be in august company. …

Springtime green.

Tech practice in a post-capitalist world.

Corporations pay tech practitioners to focus their attention on tactical minutia, so when we are not heads-down slinging code or spinning wireframes, we’re heads-down debating the efficacy of various languages, design systems, or whether agile is a cult or a religion. I think it’s time for us to lift our heads and examine the larger issues that we face. What are the most important concerns for an interaction designer today? What are the biggest questions tech practitioners face?

In decades past, businesses shared a broad set of goals that included caring for their employees, their customers, and the towns and…

So many books so little time.

Books I’ve read in 2019

Here are all of the books I read last year, presented roughly in chronological order. For some reason I read fewer books this year than I have in past years. Then again, more of them were by women, so that’s good.

1. Slöjd in Wood, by Jögge Sundqvist (2018)

One half of sloyd is a discipline of woodworking using hand tools to make practical objects for daily use. The other half of sloyd is the daily use of practical hand tools as a discipline for learning. Picture grampa sitting on the porch whittling a stick with a pocket knife. Now imagine that he’s actually whittling something useful, a…

Tomales Bay, California

A purely aspirational litany.

Imagine a medium…

Whose essence is pure thought.
That is constructed purely from the arrangement of logic and intention.
That is completely invisible.
That is insanely complex.
That is composed of millions of extremely simple components arranged in fantastically complex ways.
That unlike things built from atoms, it has “behavior” in addition to function.
That doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics.
That is perfectly flexible.
That is utterly changeable.
That can be individualized for every single customer.

Imagine a factory…

Where you can manufacture an infinite number of products instantly.
Where there is no variable cost.
No cost of materials.
No cost of warehousing.
No labor cost to…

Alan Cooper

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher

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