The Future Interaction Designer Email

A few weeks ago I started a little experiment: a simple fortnightly email list to share interesting articles with the Interaction Design community.

Every two weeks I email out 10 interesting posts to inspire designers.

Inspired by similar email lists like Reilly Brennan’s Future Of Transportation and Data Machina, my goal was to look beyond the immediate challenges of UX and the design patterns of UI (after all there are plenty of people offering links to great articles in these areas). Instead I want to consider the other forces at work on our industry.


My hope is that by looking a little further we might we inspired by technology, psychology, business and the role we play in the organizations we work for.

It’s a simple start, and it’s pushing me to evaluate what I call inspiration, but I’m going to keep digging for new things and sharing them.

As a little taster here are a few of the interesting links from the last few emails:


Prospect theory – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome”


When UX meets AI…
“Artificial intelligence is attracting more and more interest in the business world. It looks increasingly likely that AI software is going to find applications in the front-line between companies and their customers.”
(via @Foolproof_UX)


Ian Bogost: Play Anything
“The lesson games have for design is not really a lesson about games at all. It’s a lesson about *play*.”


I’m pleased to say the response has been very positive, so I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the fortnightly email newsletter, and to submit your own inspiration for the benefit of the community.

You can also see the previous emails here.

For those already subscribed, and those planning to subscribe, thanks for being part of my ongoing experiment.

Building on unfeasible ground – An Amendment

This post was originally published on the 30th August. Since then I’ve been contacted by who dispute the claims made by the Bloomberg article and the summary I gave. Having reviewed the article and rebuttal by I’ve decided to amend this article.

The section below on has now been updated. More to follow on this fascinating and evolving area.

As a designer it’s important to be aware of the current state of cutting edge technology and experience in your discipline area.

As an interaction designer this increasingly difficult as the line blurs between the technology that underpins the things we experience each day. Looking at the average digital product or service, it’s now all but impossible to distinguish between a public beta, a stable service, one half of an A/B test and an untested prototype.

This makes if difficult to know where the cutting edge really is. Staying up to date with things requires that we’re all aware of what’s technologically feasible. In the pr-software world of design it was easier to assume that real meant feasible. However, it’s not longer safe to assume that seeing and interacting with something in the real world means it’s a safe example of technology that you could suggest in your own work.

Real doesn’t mean feasible any more

Feasibility is the measure of how possible it is to build a design with today’s technology. In the design world it’s a term tied to our industrial heritage: a time when success was all about engineering a solution and mass producing it. Feasibility in the age of software is much murkier, much less easy to define.

As designers we still need to strive for feasibility on behalf of our clients. Although we might not be the ones engineering the impossible, it might be us who’s specifying the impossible. It’s really important to see how some of the most cutting edge experiences we’re inspired by might be entirely unfeasible. Below are a few examples.

1. Kickstarter’s fail rate

A case in point is the very existence of Kickstarter – a service built in the notion of a yet-to-exist product being available for preorder. Listers are encouraged to make it as real as possible to encourage people to invest.

The success rate of fulfilled products is an impressive 91%, however it means that 9% of successfully funded items will never actually see the light of day. This of course doesn’t include the others that simply don’t make their funding goal, the much higher number of 56%.

Kickstarter Fail Rate

Amazon would be quite a different service if half of the products we’re listed as ‘unavailable’ and one in ten products order didn’t actually arrive.

2. Lyft Carpool

San Francisco born ride hailing service Lyft recently announced it was rolling back it’s pooled ride feature ‘Lyft Carpool’ – where car riders were encouraged to pickup someone on the same route.

Lyft Carpool

It’s yet to be seen if the Waze equivalent Waze Carpool will also survive. But either way it’s interesting to see features rolled out and rolled back again.

Waze Carpool

Uber itself is an interesting example as leaked information earlier this month showed it had lost $1.2bn in the arly part this year.

3. accused of using humans

Automated assistant service garnered some less than positive press earlier this year when Bloomberg asserted that there were perhaps more humans in the loop that the layman might assume when thinking of and AI system. Bloomberg, it seems, have mis-interpreted the role of the ‘trainer’ of the machine (a common practice in AI systems)

Whether you believe the Bloomberg article or’s counterpoint, the reality is that it’s difficult to know which side to take when the simplified, understandable version may actually be very misleading. When most people assume that the state of AI is defined by services like, it’s important to realise that all is not what it might seem…

What it means for design

So as designers what can we do? It’s not realistic for us to see inside each the companies we’re looking to for inspiration. Even if we could, few of us could really interrogate their tech or business models (although these are both areas that designers should be making themselves more literate in).

There are a few things we can try to do though…

Firstly we can recognise that the examples above are themes that will be repeated. We can keep reminding ourselves and our clients that real doesn’t mean feasible. We can make ourselves aware that if it looks too good to be true, it might well be.

Secondly we can try to be more diligent. We can try to investigate the latest tech announcements, to see if they are too good to be true. Don’t just quote the tweet about the next big thing, read the article, track down the source, cross reference the claims being made.

Thirdly we can also be inspired by the impossible. Design is not solely about operating within the constraints of technology, it’s about pushing the boundaries in search of what’s best for the people were designing. So don’t take this article as a suggestion to be less ambitious, take it as a recommendation to be more professional.

Hyper Island 2016 – Week 1

I was delighted to return to Hyper Island in Manchester again this year to teach the User Research module for the Digital Experience Design course. As with last year, I thought it might be good to capture the points that generated most discussion. If you find this usefulor want to talk more given a shout on the Twitters.

Design Thinking in 50 diagrams

Having shared the design thinking process with may different audiences recently (clients, startups, students) I’ve noticed quite how many ways there are to visually describe the process. A google image search for Design Thinking yields at least three main types:




Perhaps most surprising is that we at IDEO, who lay some claim to the process, don’t actually have a definitive version on our website. How could it be that there isn’t a generally agreed picture of a process which is so widely shared an apparently understood?

The theory that I shared with the students is that while the process is generally understood, it’s also a flexible approach that requires each designer and team using it to define in their own terms and precise usage. Much like language, it is defined by usage. I wonder if this is why it has been so successful in the last 10 years, and continues to be adopted by new and old organisations: it requires it’s participants to be creative just in the act of use.


It does raise a new question for those of us employing this way of working: do we all agree on the method and goals? Is there a danger that the loose definition leads to ambiguity? I’m now much more aware of the way I describe it to those who’ve never done it before. How will you make sure there is consensus and confidence in your team’s use of the approach?

Ethics and Principles

This year, our client has forced our students to have an active discussion about their ethics and principles as designers. While most courses raise the question of ethics, very few actually have the students really address the situation. It’s very easy in the idealised world of academia to denounce projects for arms dealers, petro-chemical companies or big pharma, but we’ve given the students a far more complex situation to resolve.

I won’t go into specific details – other than to say that the client isn’t in one of the industries above – however the group has already dealt with more mature and important discussions than most professionals have in a year. I have immense respect for their willingness to deal with things head on, and hope that they see the value in the process.

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 21.31.09

Probably the most important thing that’s emerged is the need for the students to both form a personal stance but also to respect the views of those around them. Very often the most vocal members of a group will set the tone for everyone and it’s important as a vocal participant to see the effect of their actions. It’s equally important for people to stand up for their beliefs and be vocal when they believe it is the right thing to do. Thus defining a grey area between passion and tolerance.

And you thought this was just about design?

How many interviews do you need to do?

Finally, and to bring a little levity back to this post, I shared a recommendation on the ideal number of participants for a Design Research programme. We would suggest 5-8 participants will give you all the inspiration you need to move your design forward.

“You expect us to base our future on the views of just six people”

In a word yes.

In a few more words, yes but they need to be very carefully selected. Furthermore, we don’t take these 6 opinions and build an idea, we looks for underlying patterns in this carefully selected group. The common themes between them will absolutely be enough to inspire a design team to build the right thing. And at this stage, we aren’t looking for market sizing or business cases – that detail can be added once we’ve built something concrete – for now we just want to make sure we’re building something people actually want.


The process of interview 6 people doesn’t replace the 1000 person beta prototype, or the business model design process. The 6 interviews replace the hunches that lead you to start the project in the first place. Very often teams have set off on a path to build something new based on their instincts and combinations of past research. The goal is therefore to make sure that these things are right.

We’ll repeat the process of testing multiple times as we iterate towards a solution, each time we’ll select 5-8 carefully chosen participants – in fact you can think of them as members of the design team as we want their opinions on very specific things.

Don Norman has an excellent chart that illustrates the point. Here he shows that the first 6 participants will identify 90% of the total UX problems in a prototype. We feel this graph is equally true at every stage of the design process.

Always remember, your goal is to inspire the design process and build the right thing.

Next week

We’ll be getting into the details of running a design research interview, and the ethical issues the teams might encounter while out in the real world.

Teaching at Hyper Island – Week 3

By the third week of teaching the Understanding People module at Hyper Island in Manchester things got serious; we went through the process of synthesis and sense making. We did it in just one day.


Moving from the foggy start of the day surrounded by post-it notes to a coherent end point was tough but very satisfying. I was joined by two fellow IDEO Design Researchers – Jenny Winfield and Kate Wakely. They brought great experience and knowledge to the day and helped each team to shape their research into a clear set of insights, themes and opportunity areas.

This was probably the hardest and most enlightening day for the group. The feedback at the end of the day was very positive and it’s testament to the abilities of each and every member of the Digital User Experience cohort as it was a new process for them all.


Synthesis is a simple concept but a difficult process; you learn it by doing it. I learnt what I know from working alongside more experienced colleagues and observing the way they approached the challenge. The IDEO designers worked alongside each group throughout the day. This certainly wasn’t about giving some tips and letting them try it alone.

As with previous posts from my work with the group, I’ve picked out a few points that generated discussion

Synth setup basics


Five rules for a successful synthesis session – preparation is everything.

1. Close laptops, phones on silent. Get rid of anything that will distract you. You need to get lost a little, and your email beeping will break this up. Print out your photos, and your notes should be handwritten (as you wont have used a laptop to make note in the first place).

2. Everything in one space. Before you begin make sure you have enough post-it notes, wall space, pens, paper and anything else you’ll use to capture a structure your ideas. You should also have all of your downloaded research activities in the room with you. If you haven’t downloaded everything, do that first.

3. Snacks and sugar. It can help to have a few snacks in the space with you. It’s a draining process and so you might find you need the sugar/coffee/tea close to hand to get through it. Going to get a drink will be the first thing that breaks up your flow; once it’s broken it’ll take at least 15 minutes to get back up to speed. If anyone needs to go to the toilet, go now. And wash your hands.

4. One conversation at a time. This is one of IDEOs Rules of Brainstorming, it’s vital for several reasons: making sure only person talks at a time means that everyone hears what is said. It means that the group’s focus in magnified in one place and not dissipated around the room in multiple conversations. It’s also polite to listen to everyone, it signals that everyone in the room is of equal importance – and if they are in the room, they are.

Rules of Brainstorming

5. Explain every Post-it note – tell stories. When you take it in turns to share an observation or quote make sure to explain it fully. If you don’t understand a post-it note ask the owner to clarify it. Everything that comes out of the session is owned by everyone involved. It’s your responsibility to understand everything.

Spatial memory

During this week’s synthesis session I reflected on the physical nature of post-it noting in a room surrounded by other post-its. It struck me that the process is no accident. As a group, when we structure our shared intelligence as many small fragments stored spatially we essentially create an external map of our collective brain.

When you move, or introduce a new post, it’s vital to explain it; everyone needs to understand and agree with it. Don’t just read it out, tell the story that inspired it.

Once it’s placed you aren’t allow to move it without everyone seeing where it moved to and from.

In doing this you build the shared brain of the group. Sticking the post-its onto walls means that you make use of people’s spacial memory skills. Humans are wired to remember things spatially, think about how easy it is remember the route between your home and work. It’s an amazingly complex sequence of stages, but you make it without thinking. Laying out the thinking from a group synthesis session spatially means we can literally free space in our brains and store ideas in a way that’s easy to find later.

Maybe this is obvious to everyone else.

The fog

One of the most disconcerting things that the group experienced is sometimes known as ‘The Fog’. It’s the murky place you might find yourself in as you complete your research phase. You bring together your notes and start to wonder if any of it makes any sense.


It’s marks the point of maximum divergence. The notion of divergence is sometimes expressed as a Double Diamond or a graph line. They both point to the process of exploring and looking outward, at first it’s fun – but after a while it gets a little uncomfortable.

This is the fog.

You can’t avoid the fog, and nor should you. It’s a natural part of the creative process, the best thing is to recognise it. You might even come to love and embrace the fog. But only if you have a clear path forward.

The next step will be to synthesise your ideas, it begins with downloading – you can read more about that here:

Design Research–From Interview to Insight: Part One, Summarising the Interview

Next week, final presentations.

Teaching At Hyper Island – Week 1

I’m lucky enough to be participating in the first ever cohort taking the new Digital User Experience course at Hyper Island in Manchester. My official role is ‘Industry Leader’ but i’m learning a lot myself, anyone who uses the phase ‘those who can’t do, teach’ has obviously never taught.

Digital Experience Design – find out more in the Hyper Island website.


We’ve just started the second week and it feels like a good point to reflect on the things that generated the most discussion in the first week. The course aims to get designers better set to work in the rapidly evolving digital/design/creative workplace, where traditional universities are struggling to keep up with the ongoing change in industry Hyper Island is looking to close the gap. This is a good thing. It’s also vital that Industry is actively invested in the designers of the future. Which is why i’m getting up at 5:30am every Monday and taking the train to Manchester.

Week One – Designing Your Research

At the heart of every great IDEO project is a great research programme that has inspired a design team to do great work. Research isn’t just about discovering opportunities, it’s also about building empathy for your users and getting a design team excited by the prospect of fixing a real problem for real people.

In depth user interview

The heart of our research process is getting out of the studio and going to meet people in their homes and offices. Great design starts in the context of the people you’re designing for. Not at your desk. We meet a small group of carefully selected users to meet in person for 1-2 hours. We want to meet them in their own context to observe the way they behave, to make them comfortable and ultimately to see the things that they take for granted.

Conversations are highly structured – we use ‘discussion guides’ to keep us focussed – and we prefer one-on-one as it lets us build up a rapport. At most we take three interviewers to meet one person. A ratio of 2:1 or 3:1 interviewers to interviewees is best to make people feel comfortable.

In home interviews are a great opportunity to have you preconceptions and assumptions tested. When you walk into an interview you must respect the participant and keep in mind that they are the expert. You are just the designer.

Analogous Experiences

Analogous Experiences

When investigating a new area you can often find inspiration in adjacent or equivalent industries. Analogous experiences will often reveal solutions to the same problems you are encountering in your project, for example the medical industry can learn a lot from the hospitality industry. The world of health and fitness can often be inspiration to the finance industry.

Most importantly it’s good to remember that the best examples of user experience may well be defined outside of your industry. How often have you heard the phase “we want to the be the Uber of x”? It’s a great example of the best UX coming not from your client’s competitors, but from an exciting startup.

Get out away from your desk and try things out, if you can take your whole design team along you’ll find even more as each of you spots different things. The picture above is from a design team who went scuba diving as inspiration for a healthcare project investigating anaesthetic gas.

Guerrilla Research

Guerrilla Research

As a more open ended suggestion I also shared some thoughts on Guerrilla Research as an area that needs more investigation and is ultimately defined by the designers testing it out. I wrote more on this on Medium is you’d like to get into the detail a bit more.

In short, this process (or more accurately, collection of processes) looks to tap into existing platforms and systems to carry out inexpensive quick research. Inspired* by Tim Ferris’s approach to selecting the ideal cover design for the 4 Hour Work Week, he simply printed the various options and put them in a real book store to see which one people gravitated to.

Take this mentality and seek out other way to quickly test. We have used Google Adwords, and the Google Adwords: Keyword Planner to understand which proposition people are more interested in. Setting up real adverts and seeing which generates the most clicks is a good approximation of future engagement. I’ve also seen people have success using Reddit, Craigslist and Task Rabbit to recruit people for example. Get scrappy and see what you can do quickly and effectively.

Next Week

The teams will be preparing for interviews

* The designer in me winces at the thought of using this process to select a ‘good design’, the researcher in me admires the reality check that it gives me