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Good Guesses:
Making Better Interaction
Design Decisions


                 Dan Saffer
                 dan@adaptivepath.com
“It depends.”


                               the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   2



How many of you are on a mailing list where someone asks a
question like, “Where should the cancel button be placed?”
and this is the answer that invariably pops up. I hate this
answer, because the next question should always be, well,
what does it depend on? That’s what this talk is all about.
As designers, we spend an inordinate amount of time
making decisions, both small and large. Everything from
what should we label this dial to should we be making this
product at all? We need to make decisions.
Good Guesses           3




But when it comes to making those decisions, we’re
like the mathematician here in Sydney Harris’
cartoon. A miracle occurs. Even if we follow a rigid
design process, there will be moments when we
have to do something that some people are
uncomfortable with and yet is essential to the work
we do. We have to make a guess. Then a miracle
occurs, in other words. Step two.
I have hunches.
 Of course, it's not enough merely to
 have hunches. They have to be good
 hunches. My hunches have to be
 better than the hunches my clients
 have—that's why they hire me.

 Jesse James Garrett, ia/recon
                          the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   4




Here’s my colleague Jesse James Garrett in his
influential essay called ia/recon, written about 5
years ago. In it, he admits his secret, and here it
is. He has hunches. And I’m going to admit to you
here today the same thing. My name is Dan Saffer
and I’m a designer. I have hunches. And I bet you
do too.
Good designers
  have good hunches.

  They make
  good guesses.
                                    the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   5



I’m going to make this claim here today, which I think, in the era of
the iPod and the iPhone, is pretty easy to defend. The best designers
aren’t the ones who are the smartest or are the best trained or do the
most research or have the most experience. The best designers are
those that make the best guesses. This should be a comfort to some
of you (those like me who aren’t an Ivy League genius who has been
designing for 30 years) and a shock to others, I’m sure. Now, I’m not
saying that training or intelligence or research or experience aren’t
important. They are. What I am saying is that a good hunch--a really
good hunch--might sometimes come up with a better design.
How do we
 improve our guesses?


                      the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   6




So this is the big question. If the way to
becoming a great designer is to make great
guesses, how do we do that? How do we
improve our guesses?
...in a method-
 agnostic way?


                        the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   7




I don’t want to simply offer up another method
to you either. Personas! Do more research!
More card sorting! Draw comics! Yes, these are
all great techniques, but I want to get at the
heart of what we do AFTER and WHILE we’re
doing other techniques: making guesses.
Understand how we
 make decisions.

 Consider many factors
 in making decisions.
                              the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   8




Here’s my suggestions and the outline of this talk. By
understanding a little about the structures and
mechanisms of decisions, we might not do them differently
than we do them now--although perhaps not. Part II of
this idea is how we set about making those decisions. What
should we as interaction designers consider when we make
decisions? Perhaps a pause--an extra second or two--for
every decision we make will have us make wildly better
decisions. But first, how do we make decisions.
UNDERSTANDING DECISIONS



                                  the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   9



I’m going to preface this section of the talk by saying that I’m
not an expert in cognitive psychology. Most of what I’m
presenting here I’ve shamelessly cribbed from other sources,
particularly a textbook called Cognition by Daniel Reisberg.
Most of the examples and sources come from that book and
from various locations around the web. There is, as you’d
imagine, a whole body of literature from a large number of
fields about how we make decisions all of which are clustered
around what’s called Decision Theory.
RAPID VS. CONSIDERED DECISIONS
                           Good Guesses           10




You can’t talk about decision-making these days
without talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book
Blink. In it, he makes the case that rapid, snap-
judgement decisions can be as effective--if not
more-so--than reflective, considered decisions. He
uses the example of the Aeron chair which users
initially hated but went on to be a huge best-seller
and design icon.
From Blink:
 When you start becoming reflective
 about the process, it undermines
 your ability. You lose the flow. There
 are certain kinds of fluid, intuitive,
 nonverbal kinds of experience that
 are vulnerable to this process.
 Malcolm Gladwell
                           the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   11




While I agree that slowing down the process breaks
the flow, I also want to note that I think, especially
for knotty problems, slowing down and deliberately
considering them can also yield dividends, especially
for knotty problems in which a solution is NOT
immediately apparent. Which is of course, most of
the problems we have to deal with.
WICKED PROBLEMS
                              Good Guesses               12




The types of problems we as designers face are what have
been named Wicked Problems by design theorist H.J. Rittel.
Here’s the characteristics of Wicked Problems and see if
they don’t describe most of the projects you work on:
1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of
a solution. 2. Stakeholders have radically different world
views and different frames for understanding the problem.
3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change
over time. 4. The problem is never solved.
MACRO- AND MICRO-DECISIONS
                              Good Guesses               13




These Wicked Problems can take many forms, big and
small. During the course of a project, we’re asked to solve
both macro and micro problems. Macro problems are those
of design strategy: Should this product be made? What
features should it include? Micro problems are those of
tactics: should this button be red or blue? Can the user
upload more than one file at a time? We can even have
these wicked problems IN our process: should I do user
research?
The Structure of Decisions

   Discover    Frame         Assess               Consider
                                                              Act
   a Problem   the Problem   the Problem          Solutions




                                   Good Guesses                     14



This process can take years or milliseconds.
1. A problem is discovered or simply presents itself.
2. Framing the problem. We need to put some sort of boundaries
around the problem before we can solve it. We’ll talk more about
this in a minute.
3. Assess the problem. Is it a huge problem or a small one? What
kind of resources do I need to make a decision here?
4. The heart of the matter, at least for designers. Considering the
solution. We’re going to talk a lot more about this in a moment.
5. Act. Execute the decision, for good or ill.
Design
  The Structure of Decisions
              Strategy      Scope
                                                 Prototype Build
              Research      Discovery
  Discover    Frame         Assess               Consider
                                                             Act
  a Problem   the Problem   the Problem          Solutions




                                  Good Guesses                     15




It’s kind of weird how the decision making process
is like a hologram of the design process. It’s the
same at the micro level as it is at the macro level.

What I’m mostly concerned about is how we
consider solutions, but it’s awfully hard, as we’ll
see, to break this process apart.
DECISION FRAMING
                      Good Guesses         16




How we make decisions depends strongly
on how those decisions are presented and
constructed. Framed in other words. The
choices we make can be completely
inconsistent simply depending upon the
context we encounter them in.
I’m giving you $300. You have to
 choose between:

 1. a sure gain of another $100
 or
 2. a 50% chance to get another
    $200 and 50% to get nothing
                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   17




Here’s an example. Pick 1 or 2.
I’m giving you $500. You have to
 choose between:

 1. a sure loss of $100
 or
 2. a 50% chance to lose nothing
    or a 50% chance to lose $200
                      the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   18




Now again, do the same thing.
The decision is identical.

 1. $400
  or
 2. $300 or $500

                          the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   19




As you might have guessed, the outcome in both is
identical. They both leave you with the same amount
of money. But when the question was framed as a
“gain” more people (72%) chose option 1. When it
was framed as a loss, more people (64%) chose
option 2. Obviously, HOW you frame the problem can
change how you think about the answer to that
problem.
METAPHOR TO “NAME AND FRAME”
                             Good Guesses             20




Even the words we use to talk about a problem can
change the solution. This is the late Donald Schon who
wrote a number of books about problem framing such as
The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in
action. His famous example was about a troubled urban
housing project. When it was referred to as a “blight on
the community” or a “disease” the solution to it seemed
obvious: blights should be removed and diseases should
be cured.
W
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                                        ike
                                  ike


                                         d
                                   d                         sed
                                                    t   is u
                                                  ha
                                              W


                What is wanted                                                    What is unused




                      n
                 n ow
           is   k
     h  at                   wn
    W                    k no
                     un
                t is
           ha
         W




                                                                   Good Guesses                    21




Luckily, as designers, we have some pretty good tools
at our disposal for framing decisions: namely
visualization. We can take abstract ideas and give them
form. This, for example, is a model of an intranet. It
framed the problems with the intranet nicely and it was
easy (or at least easier) to see what needed to be done
to fix the intranet: we had to move the lines!
WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: REASON
                          Good Guesses              22




So what goes into considering solutions? Three
ingredients:

We like to think we’re reasonable, logical people
and that’s how we make decisions. That
discounts...
WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: EMOTION
                      Good Guesses       23




Emotion. How we feel about a decision, what
we value, and how much we value it are
inescapable to making decisions.
WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: COGNITION
                      Good Guesses         24




Cognition: how people pay attention,
remember, and think.

Let’s see how all these combine into two
major theories of decision-making.
PRESCRIPTIVE (“UTILITY”) THEORY
                                 Good Guesses                25



Utility or Prescriptive Theory says that each decision has costs
to it. Costs meaning consequences (this will take a long time,
say, or will injure 1% of the users). Each decision also has a
benefit to it. These benefits can move us towards our goals
(like finishing a design) or provide us with things we value
(like, say, money). When we decide, we weigh the costs vs.
the benefits. When we have several options available to us, we
take the one that has the most beneficial mix of benefits to
cost. Almost every decision, no matter how minor, will have
some sort of tradeoff. Seems...logical, right?
SUBJECTIVE UTILITY
                                   Good Guesses                   26



Except that most of the time, we have to compare things that are
nearly impossible to weigh objectively. Is there more benefit to
using the colors red and green or is the cost of color blind people
not being able to see it too high? Umm...

It comes down to subjectivity, ultimately. How much each factor
means to the individual. It might mean more to me to have the
color red than for some people not to see it because I value the
clarity of red more than a small percentage of the population. This
sounds callous, but we make these sorts of trade-offs all the time.
Expected Utility =
  (Probability of Particular Outcome) x
  (Utility of Outcome)



                                   the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   27



But of course, most decisions aren’t so easy to determine--it’s
very hard to predict the future. Game theorists John von Neumann
and Oskar Morgenstern came up with this formula in the late
1940s to account for risks. Utility here means “something that is
important to you.”

With this model, you predict the expected risks based on the
likelihood of it ever happening times how great the utility is. So
even though the probability is extremely low, the utility of winning
the lottery is so high people will still buy lottery tickets.
PASCAL’S WAGER
                           Good Guesses             28




The most famous example of this sort of decision
making is Pascal’s Wager. According to Pascal, the
question is whether or not God exists. We don’t
know. However, the reward for belief in God if God
actually does exist is infinite. Therefore, however
small the probability of God's existence, the expected
value of belief exceeds that of non-belief, so it is
better to believe in God, according to Pascal.
UNSTABLE VALUES
                                Good Guesses                29




The major flaw with Utility Theory is that our values are
unstable and difficult to measure. One day we can believe
one thing, the next day another. Our emotions can lead us
one way or another, and, as we saw earlier, how a problem
is framed can cause us to change our position.
If I asked you what is more important, crime prevention or
$500, you’d probably say crime prevention. But if I said, give
me $500 for crime prevention, you might respond differently.
HIGHLY ILLOGICAL
                            Good Guesses            30




If I said, for example, you can trade in your wedding
ring for a new one, you logically should say yes. A
newer gold ring seems to have more utility than an
old one. But you’re likely to say no. Something more
than reason is going on.
DESCRIPTIVE THEORY
                           Good Guesses              31




This brings us to the second major theory of
decision-making: Descriptive Theory. If utility or
Prescriptive theory is about how we SHOULD make
decisions, Descriptive Theory is about how we DO
make decisions.
AVOIDING REGRET
                            Good Guesses            32




One of the strongest forces in choosing is a desire to
avoid future regret. We don’t want to regret the
decisions we make, so we have a coping mechanism
called...
JUSTIFICATION
                            Good Guesses             33




Justification. We justify our decisions so we won’t
have regrets afterwards. With this theory, even if the
decision brings us utility, but makes us feel bad, it
was the wrong decision.
SATISFICING
                                     Good Guesses                    34



There’s one more concept I want to talk about in regards to decision-
making, dealing with cognition, and that’s a term coined by the late
Nobel Prize winner Herb Simon: satisfice. Human beings lack the
cognitive resources to know all the relevant probabilities of outcomes,
and we can rarely evaluate all outcomes with sufficient precision. Our
memories are weak and unreliable. Thus we have to satisfice, or make
quot;good enoughquot; choices given the short amount of time and huge
amounts of data we have. Satisfice is a mechanism for managing the
world, because, Simon argues, there is too much information and thus it
is impossible to model the entire environment of any given problem.
All decision is a matter
 of compromise. The alternative
 that is finally selected never permits
 a complete or perfect achievement of
 objectives, but is merely the best
 solution that is available under
 the circumstances.
 Herb Simon,
 Administrative Behavior  the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   35




Here’s Herb in his own words.

And this is what we as designers (and as humans),
ultimately do, right? We satisfice, making the best
decisions we can given what we can know at any
given moment.

This again should be comforting to many.
MAKING BETTER
       INTERACTION DESIGN
            DECISIONS


                           the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   36




Now that we at least understand a little bit more
about the structure of how we make decisions and
the factors involved in decision-making, we can
approach specific decision points and look at them
from an interaction design perspective. I’m
approaching this as a series of Socratic questions
that we can ask ourselves when we get stuck on a
problem.
UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE
                                   Good Guesses                  37



Doing this will be natural to some of you, who might
automatically--Blink-style--go through all these things in your
head in an instant. For the rest of us, it’s going to feel a little
awkward at first. The idea is to move us all collectively towards
an unconscious competence with IxD decision-making. So that
we begin to have a base for making good decisions that doesn’t
rely on any particular method to achieve good designs. And like
I said earlier, for knotty problems, it might be good to simply
take the time to step through these questions in a more
methodical way than you normally would.
Is the solution I’m considering...




                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   38




So here’s the questions I think we need to
consider when making a guess. When a
solution presents itself, you can rip through
these questions, either formally or
informally and briefly. I content that doing
so will help our hunches.
FIT A CONVENTION IN OUR FIELD?
                                       Good Guesses                      39



The first thing I ask myself when I get stuck is: Is there a good solution
we’ve seen elsewhere in our field? Have other people solved this
successfully and can we draw upon their solution? After all, there is no
need to reinvent the wheel every time, for every little thing. This was one
of the issues with Flash when it was first introduced--all conventions
went out the window. I usually follow Alan Cooper’s rule here: if there is
a standard or a convention, I better have a better solution that will
provide some significant increases in usefulness or usability before I
break it.

This solution, however, should still be able to pass the test of the other
questions, however, or else it might be a lousy standard.
FIT A CONVENTION OUTSIDE OUR FIELD?
                      the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   40




If there isn’t a convention in the digital
realm, perhaps there is in physical or
mechanical realm that we can adapt for our
use. One of the reasons I started a
collection of
Just what is interacting, anyway?




   FIT WHAT’S KNOWN ABOUT THE USERS?
                         Good Guesses          41




Do they have any behaviors, expectations, or
motivations that would make this a bad choice?
If I’m not giving them what they expect, am I
working with the MAYA principle? This is where
user research can play an important role is in
finding this out. (But even with user research we
might still be guessing here.)
FIT THE BUSINESS AND PRODUCT STRATEGY?
                          Good Guesses           42




Does my guess fit the business strategy and
goals? We shouldn’t forget (nor be overwhelmed
by) the big picture for the company providing
the product or service. We need to ensure the
goals of our clients, be they internal or external,
are also met. A brilliant feature that detracts
from the overall strategy may not be so brilliant.
Texture




         CULTURALLY-APPROPRIATE?
                       Good Guesses           43




Products and services have to be culturally
appropriate. The Yahoo Hong Kong page
looks like this not only because the
characters are different, but because the
colors, clusters, and page density are
appropriate for China.
Texture




            CONTEXT-APPROPRIATE?
                       Good Guesses        44




When and were will this be used and under
what circumstances? Is it one-time use and
thus has to be simple, or will it be
something used frequently, daily? Is it
mobile or stationary? Small screen or large?
Is there a screen at all?
FIT THE ACTIVITY?
                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   45




Activities are actions and decisions done for
a purpose. Does the solution provide the
necessary tools and information to complete
the activity?
FOLLOW KNOWN LAWS?
                           Good Guesses             46




Does the solution follow known interaction design
laws like Fitts’ Law? Just because you have a
gorgeous “designery” solution doesn’t mean you
should ignore what is known and tested.
Hick’s Law: Users will more quickly make decisions
from a list of 10 items than from two items of five.
FOLLOW THE POKA-YOKE PRINCIPLE?
                     Good Guesses       47




Poka Yoke means preventing error. Does the
solution I’ve come up with prevent
inadvertent errors by the system or user?
TOO COMPLICATED?
                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   48




Tesler’s Law of the Conservation of
Complexity states that for every process
there is a core of complexity that can’t be
overcome, only moved between the system
and the user. Are we making users do
something the system could handle?
TOO SIMPLE?
                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   49




The flip side is too make sure you didn’t
just remove all control from the hands of
users, especially your power users.
Simplicity is great, but sometimes users
need the control that complexity gives
them.
Ludic




    ENCOURAGE EXPLORATION AND PLAY?
                       Good Guesses        50




Being playful allows you to explore options.
Users need to feel safe in order to try out
features. Can what I’m proposing be
undone? And if so, how and how easily?
ELEGANT AND APPROPRIATE?
                          the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   51




Is the solution overly disruptive? Does it manifest
itself at the correct time and in an appropriate
way? (Clippy isn’t elegant or appropriate.) This
comes down to importance: how important (and
thus how prominent) should this be? How much
of the users’ valuable time should it take up?
FIT THE COMPANY’S BRAND?
                          the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   52




Does the solution work with the company’s
brand? As much as usability gurus tell us
otherwise, pure utility simply won’t work for every
company. Imagine if Tiffany’s website looked like
Ebay or Amazon.
Moore’s Law




     NOT DOING AS MUCH AS IT SHOULD?
                        Good Guesses          53




Smart products and services do for us what we
could in no way do for ourselves. Things like
advanced calculation, data crunching, gathering
of information that would take us forever to
find, if we even could. Like Amazon’s What do
Customers ultimately buy? Can the solution do
more using what the user is already doing?
SENSE AND RESPOND TO INPUT?
                          the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   54




Does the solution make an attempt to
personalize the application for each user, slowly
over time?
Isn’t there just one right way to do
        interaction design?

                   GOOD?
                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   55




The last thing (or maybe it should be the
first thing) we should ask: Is the solution
just? Does it preserve the dignity of the
users? Is the interaction pleasurable for
both the initiator of the action and the
receiver?
HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’VE
   MADE A GOOD GUESS?



                       the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   56




The $64,000 question. After I’ve done all
this, how do I know if I guessed correctly?

Well, I have some bad news.
TIME
                          Good Guesses            57




Time is the only final arbiter of good design.
Does your design last? Even if it is improved
upon? The design of a fork took hundreds of
years to perfect. All designed objects, Henry
Petroski asserts, leave room for improvement.
Nothing is perfect. Even things that have been
quot;perfectedquot; over a millennia such as tables and
chairs can be improved upon.
ONE IMPLICATION



                      the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   58




One implication of thinking about guessing
and guesswork as the core of design returns
the focus of design back onto the designer,
away from tasks and from users. Some
people are uncomfortable with that.
RESEARCH IS A TOOL NOT A METHODOLOGY
                         the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   59




Research, especially, is de-emphasized with this
design stance. Research is more about filling in
the gaps in the designer’s knowledge than an
activity to be done for its own sake. But perhaps
that is how it should be viewed.
How a problem is
                  framed affects the
                  possible solutions.



                  The Utility Theory says
                  that each decision has
                  associated costs and
                  benefits to be weighed.

                  Good Guesses              60




So to summarize
The Descriptive Theory
says that we justify
decisions we make in
order to avoid regret.


We have to make
“good enough”
decisions all the time.
Every decision is
a compromise.

Good Guesses              61
Examine proposed
solutions to see if the
characteristics and
qualities are what they
should be: examples of
excellent interaction
design.



Good Guesses              62
References
 ia/recon, Jesse James Garrett
 Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
 Cognition, Third Edition, Daniel Reisberg
 The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski
 The Reflective Practitioner, Donald Schöen
 Administrative Behavior, Herbert Simon

 Thanks to Flickr and its contributing photographers
 for the images.
                           the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005   63




Here’s some works I cited in this talk.

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Making Good Design Decisions

  • 1. Good Guesses: Making Better Interaction Design Decisions Dan Saffer dan@adaptivepath.com
  • 2. “It depends.” the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 2 How many of you are on a mailing list where someone asks a question like, “Where should the cancel button be placed?” and this is the answer that invariably pops up. I hate this answer, because the next question should always be, well, what does it depend on? That’s what this talk is all about. As designers, we spend an inordinate amount of time making decisions, both small and large. Everything from what should we label this dial to should we be making this product at all? We need to make decisions.
  • 3. Good Guesses 3 But when it comes to making those decisions, we’re like the mathematician here in Sydney Harris’ cartoon. A miracle occurs. Even if we follow a rigid design process, there will be moments when we have to do something that some people are uncomfortable with and yet is essential to the work we do. We have to make a guess. Then a miracle occurs, in other words. Step two.
  • 4. I have hunches. Of course, it's not enough merely to have hunches. They have to be good hunches. My hunches have to be better than the hunches my clients have—that's why they hire me. Jesse James Garrett, ia/recon the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 4 Here’s my colleague Jesse James Garrett in his influential essay called ia/recon, written about 5 years ago. In it, he admits his secret, and here it is. He has hunches. And I’m going to admit to you here today the same thing. My name is Dan Saffer and I’m a designer. I have hunches. And I bet you do too.
  • 5. Good designers have good hunches. They make good guesses. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 5 I’m going to make this claim here today, which I think, in the era of the iPod and the iPhone, is pretty easy to defend. The best designers aren’t the ones who are the smartest or are the best trained or do the most research or have the most experience. The best designers are those that make the best guesses. This should be a comfort to some of you (those like me who aren’t an Ivy League genius who has been designing for 30 years) and a shock to others, I’m sure. Now, I’m not saying that training or intelligence or research or experience aren’t important. They are. What I am saying is that a good hunch--a really good hunch--might sometimes come up with a better design.
  • 6. How do we improve our guesses? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 6 So this is the big question. If the way to becoming a great designer is to make great guesses, how do we do that? How do we improve our guesses?
  • 7. ...in a method- agnostic way? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 7 I don’t want to simply offer up another method to you either. Personas! Do more research! More card sorting! Draw comics! Yes, these are all great techniques, but I want to get at the heart of what we do AFTER and WHILE we’re doing other techniques: making guesses.
  • 8. Understand how we make decisions. Consider many factors in making decisions. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 8 Here’s my suggestions and the outline of this talk. By understanding a little about the structures and mechanisms of decisions, we might not do them differently than we do them now--although perhaps not. Part II of this idea is how we set about making those decisions. What should we as interaction designers consider when we make decisions? Perhaps a pause--an extra second or two--for every decision we make will have us make wildly better decisions. But first, how do we make decisions.
  • 9. UNDERSTANDING DECISIONS the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 9 I’m going to preface this section of the talk by saying that I’m not an expert in cognitive psychology. Most of what I’m presenting here I’ve shamelessly cribbed from other sources, particularly a textbook called Cognition by Daniel Reisberg. Most of the examples and sources come from that book and from various locations around the web. There is, as you’d imagine, a whole body of literature from a large number of fields about how we make decisions all of which are clustered around what’s called Decision Theory.
  • 10. RAPID VS. CONSIDERED DECISIONS Good Guesses 10 You can’t talk about decision-making these days without talking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink. In it, he makes the case that rapid, snap- judgement decisions can be as effective--if not more-so--than reflective, considered decisions. He uses the example of the Aeron chair which users initially hated but went on to be a huge best-seller and design icon.
  • 11. From Blink: When you start becoming reflective about the process, it undermines your ability. You lose the flow. There are certain kinds of fluid, intuitive, nonverbal kinds of experience that are vulnerable to this process. Malcolm Gladwell the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 11 While I agree that slowing down the process breaks the flow, I also want to note that I think, especially for knotty problems, slowing down and deliberately considering them can also yield dividends, especially for knotty problems in which a solution is NOT immediately apparent. Which is of course, most of the problems we have to deal with.
  • 12. WICKED PROBLEMS Good Guesses 12 The types of problems we as designers face are what have been named Wicked Problems by design theorist H.J. Rittel. Here’s the characteristics of Wicked Problems and see if they don’t describe most of the projects you work on: 1. The problem is not understood until after formulation of a solution. 2. Stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem. 3. Constraints and resources to solve the problem change over time. 4. The problem is never solved.
  • 13. MACRO- AND MICRO-DECISIONS Good Guesses 13 These Wicked Problems can take many forms, big and small. During the course of a project, we’re asked to solve both macro and micro problems. Macro problems are those of design strategy: Should this product be made? What features should it include? Micro problems are those of tactics: should this button be red or blue? Can the user upload more than one file at a time? We can even have these wicked problems IN our process: should I do user research?
  • 14. The Structure of Decisions Discover Frame Assess Consider Act a Problem the Problem the Problem Solutions Good Guesses 14 This process can take years or milliseconds. 1. A problem is discovered or simply presents itself. 2. Framing the problem. We need to put some sort of boundaries around the problem before we can solve it. We’ll talk more about this in a minute. 3. Assess the problem. Is it a huge problem or a small one? What kind of resources do I need to make a decision here? 4. The heart of the matter, at least for designers. Considering the solution. We’re going to talk a lot more about this in a moment. 5. Act. Execute the decision, for good or ill.
  • 15. Design The Structure of Decisions Strategy Scope Prototype Build Research Discovery Discover Frame Assess Consider Act a Problem the Problem the Problem Solutions Good Guesses 15 It’s kind of weird how the decision making process is like a hologram of the design process. It’s the same at the micro level as it is at the macro level. What I’m mostly concerned about is how we consider solutions, but it’s awfully hard, as we’ll see, to break this process apart.
  • 16. DECISION FRAMING Good Guesses 16 How we make decisions depends strongly on how those decisions are presented and constructed. Framed in other words. The choices we make can be completely inconsistent simply depending upon the context we encounter them in.
  • 17. I’m giving you $300. You have to choose between: 1. a sure gain of another $100 or 2. a 50% chance to get another $200 and 50% to get nothing the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 17 Here’s an example. Pick 1 or 2.
  • 18. I’m giving you $500. You have to choose between: 1. a sure loss of $100 or 2. a 50% chance to lose nothing or a 50% chance to lose $200 the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 18 Now again, do the same thing.
  • 19. The decision is identical. 1. $400 or 2. $300 or $500 the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 19 As you might have guessed, the outcome in both is identical. They both leave you with the same amount of money. But when the question was framed as a “gain” more people (72%) chose option 1. When it was framed as a loss, more people (64%) chose option 2. Obviously, HOW you frame the problem can change how you think about the answer to that problem.
  • 20. METAPHOR TO “NAME AND FRAME” Good Guesses 20 Even the words we use to talk about a problem can change the solution. This is the late Donald Schon who wrote a number of books about problem framing such as The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. His famous example was about a troubled urban housing project. When it was referred to as a “blight on the community” or a “disease” the solution to it seemed obvious: blights should be removed and diseases should be cured.
  • 21. W ha W ti sd ha ti isl sl ike ike d d sed t is u ha W What is wanted What is unused n n ow is k h at wn W k no un t is ha W Good Guesses 21 Luckily, as designers, we have some pretty good tools at our disposal for framing decisions: namely visualization. We can take abstract ideas and give them form. This, for example, is a model of an intranet. It framed the problems with the intranet nicely and it was easy (or at least easier) to see what needed to be done to fix the intranet: we had to move the lines!
  • 22. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: REASON Good Guesses 22 So what goes into considering solutions? Three ingredients: We like to think we’re reasonable, logical people and that’s how we make decisions. That discounts...
  • 23. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: EMOTION Good Guesses 23 Emotion. How we feel about a decision, what we value, and how much we value it are inescapable to making decisions.
  • 24. WHAT WE USE TO DECIDE: COGNITION Good Guesses 24 Cognition: how people pay attention, remember, and think. Let’s see how all these combine into two major theories of decision-making.
  • 25. PRESCRIPTIVE (“UTILITY”) THEORY Good Guesses 25 Utility or Prescriptive Theory says that each decision has costs to it. Costs meaning consequences (this will take a long time, say, or will injure 1% of the users). Each decision also has a benefit to it. These benefits can move us towards our goals (like finishing a design) or provide us with things we value (like, say, money). When we decide, we weigh the costs vs. the benefits. When we have several options available to us, we take the one that has the most beneficial mix of benefits to cost. Almost every decision, no matter how minor, will have some sort of tradeoff. Seems...logical, right?
  • 26. SUBJECTIVE UTILITY Good Guesses 26 Except that most of the time, we have to compare things that are nearly impossible to weigh objectively. Is there more benefit to using the colors red and green or is the cost of color blind people not being able to see it too high? Umm... It comes down to subjectivity, ultimately. How much each factor means to the individual. It might mean more to me to have the color red than for some people not to see it because I value the clarity of red more than a small percentage of the population. This sounds callous, but we make these sorts of trade-offs all the time.
  • 27. Expected Utility = (Probability of Particular Outcome) x (Utility of Outcome) the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 27 But of course, most decisions aren’t so easy to determine--it’s very hard to predict the future. Game theorists John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern came up with this formula in the late 1940s to account for risks. Utility here means “something that is important to you.” With this model, you predict the expected risks based on the likelihood of it ever happening times how great the utility is. So even though the probability is extremely low, the utility of winning the lottery is so high people will still buy lottery tickets.
  • 28. PASCAL’S WAGER Good Guesses 28 The most famous example of this sort of decision making is Pascal’s Wager. According to Pascal, the question is whether or not God exists. We don’t know. However, the reward for belief in God if God actually does exist is infinite. Therefore, however small the probability of God's existence, the expected value of belief exceeds that of non-belief, so it is better to believe in God, according to Pascal.
  • 29. UNSTABLE VALUES Good Guesses 29 The major flaw with Utility Theory is that our values are unstable and difficult to measure. One day we can believe one thing, the next day another. Our emotions can lead us one way or another, and, as we saw earlier, how a problem is framed can cause us to change our position. If I asked you what is more important, crime prevention or $500, you’d probably say crime prevention. But if I said, give me $500 for crime prevention, you might respond differently.
  • 30. HIGHLY ILLOGICAL Good Guesses 30 If I said, for example, you can trade in your wedding ring for a new one, you logically should say yes. A newer gold ring seems to have more utility than an old one. But you’re likely to say no. Something more than reason is going on.
  • 31. DESCRIPTIVE THEORY Good Guesses 31 This brings us to the second major theory of decision-making: Descriptive Theory. If utility or Prescriptive theory is about how we SHOULD make decisions, Descriptive Theory is about how we DO make decisions.
  • 32. AVOIDING REGRET Good Guesses 32 One of the strongest forces in choosing is a desire to avoid future regret. We don’t want to regret the decisions we make, so we have a coping mechanism called...
  • 33. JUSTIFICATION Good Guesses 33 Justification. We justify our decisions so we won’t have regrets afterwards. With this theory, even if the decision brings us utility, but makes us feel bad, it was the wrong decision.
  • 34. SATISFICING Good Guesses 34 There’s one more concept I want to talk about in regards to decision- making, dealing with cognition, and that’s a term coined by the late Nobel Prize winner Herb Simon: satisfice. Human beings lack the cognitive resources to know all the relevant probabilities of outcomes, and we can rarely evaluate all outcomes with sufficient precision. Our memories are weak and unreliable. Thus we have to satisfice, or make quot;good enoughquot; choices given the short amount of time and huge amounts of data we have. Satisfice is a mechanism for managing the world, because, Simon argues, there is too much information and thus it is impossible to model the entire environment of any given problem.
  • 35. All decision is a matter of compromise. The alternative that is finally selected never permits a complete or perfect achievement of objectives, but is merely the best solution that is available under the circumstances. Herb Simon, Administrative Behavior the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 35 Here’s Herb in his own words. And this is what we as designers (and as humans), ultimately do, right? We satisfice, making the best decisions we can given what we can know at any given moment. This again should be comforting to many.
  • 36. MAKING BETTER INTERACTION DESIGN DECISIONS the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 36 Now that we at least understand a little bit more about the structure of how we make decisions and the factors involved in decision-making, we can approach specific decision points and look at them from an interaction design perspective. I’m approaching this as a series of Socratic questions that we can ask ourselves when we get stuck on a problem.
  • 37. UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE Good Guesses 37 Doing this will be natural to some of you, who might automatically--Blink-style--go through all these things in your head in an instant. For the rest of us, it’s going to feel a little awkward at first. The idea is to move us all collectively towards an unconscious competence with IxD decision-making. So that we begin to have a base for making good decisions that doesn’t rely on any particular method to achieve good designs. And like I said earlier, for knotty problems, it might be good to simply take the time to step through these questions in a more methodical way than you normally would.
  • 38. Is the solution I’m considering... the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 38 So here’s the questions I think we need to consider when making a guess. When a solution presents itself, you can rip through these questions, either formally or informally and briefly. I content that doing so will help our hunches.
  • 39. FIT A CONVENTION IN OUR FIELD? Good Guesses 39 The first thing I ask myself when I get stuck is: Is there a good solution we’ve seen elsewhere in our field? Have other people solved this successfully and can we draw upon their solution? After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel every time, for every little thing. This was one of the issues with Flash when it was first introduced--all conventions went out the window. I usually follow Alan Cooper’s rule here: if there is a standard or a convention, I better have a better solution that will provide some significant increases in usefulness or usability before I break it. This solution, however, should still be able to pass the test of the other questions, however, or else it might be a lousy standard.
  • 40. FIT A CONVENTION OUTSIDE OUR FIELD? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 40 If there isn’t a convention in the digital realm, perhaps there is in physical or mechanical realm that we can adapt for our use. One of the reasons I started a collection of
  • 41. Just what is interacting, anyway? FIT WHAT’S KNOWN ABOUT THE USERS? Good Guesses 41 Do they have any behaviors, expectations, or motivations that would make this a bad choice? If I’m not giving them what they expect, am I working with the MAYA principle? This is where user research can play an important role is in finding this out. (But even with user research we might still be guessing here.)
  • 42. FIT THE BUSINESS AND PRODUCT STRATEGY? Good Guesses 42 Does my guess fit the business strategy and goals? We shouldn’t forget (nor be overwhelmed by) the big picture for the company providing the product or service. We need to ensure the goals of our clients, be they internal or external, are also met. A brilliant feature that detracts from the overall strategy may not be so brilliant.
  • 43. Texture CULTURALLY-APPROPRIATE? Good Guesses 43 Products and services have to be culturally appropriate. The Yahoo Hong Kong page looks like this not only because the characters are different, but because the colors, clusters, and page density are appropriate for China.
  • 44. Texture CONTEXT-APPROPRIATE? Good Guesses 44 When and were will this be used and under what circumstances? Is it one-time use and thus has to be simple, or will it be something used frequently, daily? Is it mobile or stationary? Small screen or large? Is there a screen at all?
  • 45. FIT THE ACTIVITY? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 45 Activities are actions and decisions done for a purpose. Does the solution provide the necessary tools and information to complete the activity?
  • 46. FOLLOW KNOWN LAWS? Good Guesses 46 Does the solution follow known interaction design laws like Fitts’ Law? Just because you have a gorgeous “designery” solution doesn’t mean you should ignore what is known and tested. Hick’s Law: Users will more quickly make decisions from a list of 10 items than from two items of five.
  • 47. FOLLOW THE POKA-YOKE PRINCIPLE? Good Guesses 47 Poka Yoke means preventing error. Does the solution I’ve come up with prevent inadvertent errors by the system or user?
  • 48. TOO COMPLICATED? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 48 Tesler’s Law of the Conservation of Complexity states that for every process there is a core of complexity that can’t be overcome, only moved between the system and the user. Are we making users do something the system could handle?
  • 49. TOO SIMPLE? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 49 The flip side is too make sure you didn’t just remove all control from the hands of users, especially your power users. Simplicity is great, but sometimes users need the control that complexity gives them.
  • 50. Ludic ENCOURAGE EXPLORATION AND PLAY? Good Guesses 50 Being playful allows you to explore options. Users need to feel safe in order to try out features. Can what I’m proposing be undone? And if so, how and how easily?
  • 51. ELEGANT AND APPROPRIATE? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 51 Is the solution overly disruptive? Does it manifest itself at the correct time and in an appropriate way? (Clippy isn’t elegant or appropriate.) This comes down to importance: how important (and thus how prominent) should this be? How much of the users’ valuable time should it take up?
  • 52. FIT THE COMPANY’S BRAND? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 52 Does the solution work with the company’s brand? As much as usability gurus tell us otherwise, pure utility simply won’t work for every company. Imagine if Tiffany’s website looked like Ebay or Amazon.
  • 53. Moore’s Law NOT DOING AS MUCH AS IT SHOULD? Good Guesses 53 Smart products and services do for us what we could in no way do for ourselves. Things like advanced calculation, data crunching, gathering of information that would take us forever to find, if we even could. Like Amazon’s What do Customers ultimately buy? Can the solution do more using what the user is already doing?
  • 54. SENSE AND RESPOND TO INPUT? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 54 Does the solution make an attempt to personalize the application for each user, slowly over time?
  • 55. Isn’t there just one right way to do interaction design? GOOD? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 55 The last thing (or maybe it should be the first thing) we should ask: Is the solution just? Does it preserve the dignity of the users? Is the interaction pleasurable for both the initiator of the action and the receiver?
  • 56. HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE’VE MADE A GOOD GUESS? the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 56 The $64,000 question. After I’ve done all this, how do I know if I guessed correctly? Well, I have some bad news.
  • 57. TIME Good Guesses 57 Time is the only final arbiter of good design. Does your design last? Even if it is improved upon? The design of a fork took hundreds of years to perfect. All designed objects, Henry Petroski asserts, leave room for improvement. Nothing is perfect. Even things that have been quot;perfectedquot; over a millennia such as tables and chairs can be improved upon.
  • 58. ONE IMPLICATION the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 58 One implication of thinking about guessing and guesswork as the core of design returns the focus of design back onto the designer, away from tasks and from users. Some people are uncomfortable with that.
  • 59. RESEARCH IS A TOOL NOT A METHODOLOGY the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 59 Research, especially, is de-emphasized with this design stance. Research is more about filling in the gaps in the designer’s knowledge than an activity to be done for its own sake. But perhaps that is how it should be viewed.
  • 60. How a problem is framed affects the possible solutions. The Utility Theory says that each decision has associated costs and benefits to be weighed. Good Guesses 60 So to summarize
  • 61. The Descriptive Theory says that we justify decisions we make in order to avoid regret. We have to make “good enough” decisions all the time. Every decision is a compromise. Good Guesses 61
  • 62. Examine proposed solutions to see if the characteristics and qualities are what they should be: examples of excellent interaction design. Good Guesses 62
  • 63. References ia/recon, Jesse James Garrett Blink, Malcolm Gladwell Cognition, Third Edition, Daniel Reisberg The Evolution of Useful Things, Henry Petroski The Reflective Practitioner, Donald Schöen Administrative Behavior, Herbert Simon Thanks to Flickr and its contributing photographers for the images. the elements of user experience — 29 february 2005 63 Here’s some works I cited in this talk.