The Cartography of User Experience
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The Cartography of User Experience

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“MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” ...

“MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

Why would anyone in their right mind answer and ad like this? Humans are explorers by nature - we seek to extend our knowledge by journeying beyond visible horizons.

Exploration is as much about the journey and what we learn from it as it is about the destination. It’s a nonlinear, dynamic process.

Exploration is inherently uncertain. As explorers, there is uncertainty over whether we will be able to find what we're looking for, or if it even exists. When we’re in that boat, we’ll often use words like “stressful,” “intense,” or “needing to manage the client,” but the truth is, it’s scary - and that calls for courage. In our everyday lives as in the lives of explorers, courage isn’t fearlessness. Rather, it’s the ability to do what we must in spite of our fears.

There’s a lot to thinking like an explorer. We focus on three aspects here: obtaining provisions (trading, berrypicking, foraging); navigation (trailblazing, orienting, mapmaking); and coping with obstacles (backtracking, rerouting, improvising).

“Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout Motto. But as any scout knows, no one starts out prepared; there’s a reason the first rank in Scouting is called a Tenderfoot. Preparation is a skill acquired through experience, and mistakes are a part of that.

In our journeys, we come away changed as individuals as knowledge gives way to understanding. That understanding is our greatest reward… it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

"We shall not cease from exploration. And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot

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  • This talk is entitled “The Cartography of Experience,” but in particular I’d like to share some reflections about the spirit of exploration that we share, and what we can learn from the explorers in the history books that came before us. As an Eagle Scout, I’ve always admired those explorers – the phenomenal fortitude and ingenuity it took to venture out into the unknown in a time before GoreTex or LED headlamps. This talk was inspired by a particularly adventurous project that I worked on last year, but I believe the lessons are universal. To begin, I’d like to talk a little bit about what it means to be an explorer.
  • “MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” Why would anyone in their right mind answer and ad like this? Humans are explorers by nature - we seek to extend our knowledge by journeying beyond visible horizons.
  • Remember Billy from The Family Circus?Exploration is as much about the journey and what we learn from it as it is about the destination. It’s a nonlinear, dynamic process. Nonlinear: the paths we take are full of twists and turns;the journey wouldn’t be nearly as interesting or rewarding if we just went from Point A to Point B. Dynamic: the explorer’s journey is an a constant state of flux, as we respond and adapt to new circumstances.Process: we have a goal in mind; that goal is what drives the actions we take and the decisions we make.
  • “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn't call it research.” Exploration is inherently uncertain.As explorers, there is uncertainty over whether we will be able to find what we're looking for, or if it even exists.Over the course of a project - a journey of exploration - oftentimes the uncertainty gets worse before it gets better. When we’re in that boat, we’ll often use words like “stressful,” “intense,” or “needing to manage the client,” but the truth is, it’s scary. But contrary to some definitions, courage isn’t fearlessness. Rather, it’s the ability to do what we must in spite ofour fears. Game of Thrones - Bran: “Can a man still be brave if he is afraid?” Ned: “That is the only time a man can be brave.”
  • Thinking like an explorer involves Obtaining Provisions, Navigating Unknown Territory, Coping with Obstacles
  • Provisions: how we gather the knowledge and resources we need along the way
  • Explorers traded with natives and trappers for knowledge, resources, and sometimes their own safety. We trade with stakeholders, subject matter experts, partners, and competitors for those very same things. Trading should be a mutually agreeable exchange - look for ways to make it a win-win proposition.Trading can be as much about building alliances as it is about the actual transaction.Caveat emptor - it's up to you to determine the quality and value of what you receive. Exercise diplomacy - make sure to give something back.
  • Berrypicking is about recognizing (and taking) what's useful when it crosses your path. In the course of a journey, explorers might come across a berry patch or take down an antelope for an extra special dinner with little extra effort.When we are inquisitive and watchful, we can do the same through secondary research or leveraging previous work.It's improvisational, iterative, opportunistic, and often serendipitous.Test the waters and learn from experience - it's up to you to determine what's safe to eat.Assess the risks and rewards - a blackberry patch and a briar patch are the same thing.
  • Foraging is about applyingestablished methods todeliberately seek out and harvest patches of resources.Explorers would chart a course where they knew they will find ample food and water, or encamp with a friendly tribe to rest and stock up.We forage through time-tested UX processes - workshops, surveys, analytics, user testing, etc. A good forager knows what they need and how to acquire it most effectively.They also know when it's time to move on: you have all you need, you have all you can carry, you've reached the point of diminishing returns, there's more fertile ground elsewhere…
  • Navigation: how we make our way through unknown territory
  • Before it became a buzzword, “trailblazer” had a real meaning. Explorers blazed trails by piling rocks, cutting branches, or tying ropes to trees; if you've ever hiked the AT you know the white blaze that marks it. We mark our trail with design documents, and more informally with wikis or Evernote notebooks. Like torches to light our way, "blazes" mark the way there (and back again).
  • As explorers, we constantly straddle and extend the barrier between the known and the unknown.Orienting is about maintaining our bearings and being able to re-acquire them when we’re lost. Orienting is an ongoing, iterative process.Knowing where you are one day is no guarantee of the next.
  • The explorer must find ways to conceptualize the space as a whole. Gathering and re-presenting what we find is part of the sense-making process.Why do you think user experience designers love diagrams so much? A map can be the greatest treasure that an explorer brings home.
  • Obstacles: how we cope and adapt when thingsdon't work out the way we expect
  • In 1487, Bartholomew Dias set out from Portugal in search of a sea passage to India. The expedition reached and – in a serious leap of faith – a route to the Indian Ocean that safely avoided the rocky shoreline of the Cape of Good Hope. BUT: Getting around the cape was a month-long, 300-mile journey. The natives they met when they made landfall threw rocks at them. The crew threatened the mutiny, forcing Dias to turn back. But look at the big picture here - 10 years later, de Gama picked up where Dias left off, then the rest of the way to India. Sometimes we have to go back the way we came to move forward.Discovering dead ends and detours is also valuable, especially for those who follow in our footsteps.
  • The Great Falls Portage: 18 miles over land through moccasin-piercing prickly pear cactus to bypass 21 miles of rapids on the Missouri River.
  • The French frigate Meduse shipwrecked 30 miles off the coast of Senegal in 1816. This is the raft that carried 15 men to safety. Guess how many people boarded the raft eight days earlier? 164. Backtracking, Rerouting, and Improvisingaren't pretty - far from it. We deal with obstacles as best as we are able because we don’t have a choice
  • The Scout Motto: Be Prepared. Little secret: no onestarts out prepared.There's a reason the first rank in Boy Scouts is called Tenderfoot.Preparation is a skillacquired through experience. Mistakes are part of that - in my experience, the best way to make a lesson stick is to learn it the hard way.
  • As knowledge gives way to understanding, we come away changed as individuals.Understanding is our greatest reward as explorers - it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
  • Josh Cothran | josh.cothran@gtri.gatech.edu | www.joshcothran.net | @joshcothran

The Cartography of User Experience The Cartography of User Experience Presentation Transcript

  • The Cartography of User Experience Josh Cothran, Georgia Tech Research Institute UX Thursday Atlanta February 20, 2014
  • MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton 4 Burlington st.
  • “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.” - Mr. May, my high school Robotics teacher
  • Thinking Like an Explorer PROVISIONS NAVIGATION OBSTACLES
  • PROVISIONS
  • Trading
  • Berrypicking
  • Foraging
  • NAVIGATION
  • Trailblazing
  • Orienting
  • Mapmaking
  • OBSTACLES
  • Backtracking
  • Rerouting
  • Improvising
  • "We shall not cease from exploration. And at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T.S. Eliot
  • Godspeed! Josh Cothran josh.cothran@gtri.gatech.edu www.joshcothran.net @joshcothran