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Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008

Tuesday, 23 Dec 2008 | by Mark Tucker

Earlier this month, BusinessWeek revealed its list of 10 best innovation and design books for 2008. Before I looked at the list, I wondered if I would recognize the titles of any of the books or by chance if I had read any.

 Well, I had only heard of one book on the list and I already read it:

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam

I really enjoyed the book.  Dan talks about visual thinking and explains how to solve business problems with pictures.  Speaking of pictures, the book is packed with them.  Most times no more than 2 pages go by before you encounter the next drawing.  But this is not just a book filled with pictures, the text supports the learning very well.  From this book, I gained better confidence so that I don’t worry so much how my pictures look as long as they keep the communication going.

Now I have to decide which of the other nine I will read next.

For those interested in innovation in general or those looking to innovate in the world of genealogy, check out the list.


What if Genealogy had a TED Conference?

Wednesday, 21 May 2008 | by Mark Tucker

Each year in California a conference is held where the world’s greatest thinkers and doers present “ideas worth spreading.” The conference is called TED which stands for technology, entertainment, and design. What started in 1984 as a gathering place to explore these three converging fields has expanded its content to include science, business, the arts, and the global issues facing our world. Over four days, each of the 50 presenters gets 18 minutes to give the talk or performance of their lives. The results are fascinating, inspirational, ingenious, or just plain beautiful. Many of these talks are made available for free online at www.ted.com.

TED Genealogy

Does genealogy have anything like a TED conference?

(more…)

Speaking at BYU Family History Technology Workshop

Monday, 10 Mar 2008 | by Mark Tucker

This week I will be taking vacation days from work so that I can attend both the 2008 Family History Technology Workshop as well as the Computerized Family History and Genealogy Conference in Provo, Utah.  I will be speaking at the technology workshop and have 20 minutes to discuss my topic: 10 Things Genealogy Software Should Do. 

Here is the abstract from my paper:

Innovation in genealogy software starts with ideas that lead to better design. This paper discusses 10 things that genealogy software should do but currently doesn’t. It is a starting point for discussion among those in the genealogy community: family historians, software developers, and designers. It is a springboard for additional design ideas.

With only 20 minutes, it will be both fast and fun.  If you will be attending either the workshop or the conference, it would be great to meet you.

Check out the schedule for other topics that will be discussed.

Sketching Quickly Communicates Ideas

Monday, 21 Jan 2008 | by Mark Tucker

When I think of “sketching” (or the process of communicating design ideas), I think of Leonardo da Vinci and his invention drawings. Although not the first known examples, they might be the most well know.

 Leonardo da Vinci sketch

The British Library contains a digital representation of a Leonardo notebook in its online gallery called Turning the Pages. An interesting note is that the only major scientific work of Leonardo’s in private hands, the Codex Leicester, is owned by Bill Gates.

In Bill Buxton’s book “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design,” he defines the following attributes of sketches (pages 111-112):

  • Quick – A sketch is quick to make, or at least gives that impression.
  • Timely – A sketch can be provided when needed.
  • Inexpensive – A sketch is cheap. Cost must not inhibit the ability to explore a concept, especially early in the design process.
  • Disposable – If you can’t afford to throw it away when done, it is probably not a sketch. The investment with a sketch is in the concept, not the execution. By the way, this doesn’t mean that they have no value, or that you always dispose of them. Rather, their value largely depends on their disposability.
  • Plentiful – Sketches tend not to exist in isolation. Their meaning or relevance is generally in the context of a collection or series, not as an isolated rendering.
  • Clear vocabulary – The style in which a sketch is rendered follows certain conventions that distinguish it from other types of renderings. The style, or form, signals that it is a sketch. The way that lines extend through endpoints is an example of such a convention or, or style.
  • Distinct gesture – There is fluidity to sketches that gives them a sense of openness and freedom. They are not tight and precise, in the sense that an engineering drawing would be, for example.
  • Minimal detail – Include only what is required to render the intended purpose or concept. Superfluous detail is almost always distracting, at best, no matter how attractive or well rendered. Going beyond “good enough” is a negative, not a positive.
  • Appropriate degree of refinement – By its resolution or style, a sketch should not suggest a level of refinement beyond that of the project being depicted.
  • Suggest and explore rather than confirm – Sketches don’t “tell,” they “suggest.” Their value lies not in the artifact of the sketch itself, but in its ability to provide a catalyst to the desired and appropriate behaviors, conversations, and interactions.
  • Ambiguity – Sketches are intentionally ambiguous, and much of their value derives from their being able to be interpreted in different ways, and new relationships seen within them, even by the person who drew them.

To summarize, a sketch is a quick way to generate and share many ideas in such a way that the ideas can generate more ideas. Often a sketch is in the form of a drawing, but the purpose more than the medium determines if it is a sketch.

The Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) group at Stanford University tackled the issue of speeding automobiles with a project that shows sketching to communicate ideas as well computer prototypes to show design.

In another post, we will apply the technique of sketching to a specific genealogy problem.

Genealogists Can Share Ideas and Innovate

Thursday, 27 Dec 2007 | by Mark Tucker

The more we understand the design process, the better we can design genealogy software. In a previous post titled “More Design in the Genealogy Community”, we discussed the development process. In this post, we will look specifically at the Design Process that was represented as Phase 0. 

Development Process - Phase 0

Design is represented by a funnel showing that more ideas exist at the beginning of the phase than at the end. Much of this information can be found in “Sketching User Experiences: getting the design right and the right design” by Bill Buxton.

Genealogists as well as designers and developers must work together as part of the design process. In the early part of this process, it is important to generate as many ideas as possible. No idea should be held back as it might be a stepping stone to a much better idea. Ideas tend to generate more ideas. As the two-time Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, once said:

The best way to a good idea is to have lots of ideas.

The diagram indicates that no matter how many great ideas enter the funnel, there will be less at the end. Not all ideas survive.

On page 144 of “Sketching User Experiences”, a slightly different visualization by Paul Laseau is presented which shows two opposing funnels: one for idea generation and the other for idea reduction. My modification of the diagram is as follows:

Design Process Timeline

The process begins with a single idea or a few ideas. This leads to more ideas. Ideas are explored quickly and cheaply and can be discarded just as fast – easy come, easy go.

At some point choices need to be made and ideas need to be refined. After all, idea generation cannot carry on indefinitely. We must create something to ship. If we do this correctly, we won’t just have something we will have the right thing. Ideas are refined roughly at first and then with more granularity. More ideas might still surface but they are more fine tuning of existing ideas than radical new ones. More choices are made as we approach the final design. If you think of these two funnels superimposed, it’s not too difficult to visualize the single Design funnel represented as Phase 0.

To make this point a second time, designers, developers, and users (genealogists in our case) are involved in this process. Everyone’s ideas are important. Designers share their ideas and also guide the others through the process.

The subtitle of “Sketching User Experiences” is “getting the design right and the right design.” This process of working together to generate ideas and refine them into a final design is part of getting the “right design.” When this process is not followed or those who use the software are not involved, a design will result but quite possibly not one that will provide an effective, usable, and enjoyable experience.

This blog is a place where we can have a conversation about design and go through the process together.  I want to listen to your ideas.  All ideas are welcome as we are at the starting point of design.  We can change the world of genealogy software.  Innovation can happen.

In a future post, we will explore the technique of sketching and how it can be used to quickly capture and share ideas.

More Design in the Genealogy Community

Friday, 21 Dec 2007 | by Mark Tucker

… Continued from this previous post.

The previous post ended by asking a few questions.  One of these was: Do we really need designers anyway?

Bill Buxton would answer that we need designers. Just because we are able to add up our grocery bill doesn’t make us all mathematicians. There are principles and practices of design that must be learned and honed. I know that Carnegie Mellon University has an acclaimed Human-Computer Interaction Institute whose mission is to create effective, usable, enjoyable experiences with technology. Are graduates in this area finding their way into genealogy software development?

Both authors (Bill Buxton and Alan Cooper introduced in the previous post) share a similar view about design’s place before development with users contributing significantly to the process. Typically the development process is Design, Engineering, and then Sales. Design is shaped like a funnel to indicate that the number of ideas or concepts at the beginning of the phase is greater than those at the end. The arrows indicate involvement from the other teams in the design process. Bill also accounts for the need sometimes to do engineering (or in the case of software: programming) before design as an input into the design process:

Product Development Process

Let’s discuss the advanced Research and Development team for a minute.  What is it purpose?  Sometimes there are enough unknowns that you must do something first to determine what you do and don’t know.  The question might be if something is technically feasible. Or maybe we want to try out a concept some people who will actually use the product.  There are three main places that I have seen this:  Google Labs, Microsoft Research, and FamilySearch Labs. What is the purpose of all those free applications that Google develops?  One reason it to try out concepts and explore possibilities?  The same goes for Microsoft and I would propose it is the same for FamilySearch Labs.  Some projects that started in Phase -1 have later passed through the other phases to become a real product.

Take the recent example from FamilySearch Labs.  The Pedigree Viewer prototype has recently been incorporated into Genetree (which I wrote about in this post). This same viewer in combination with the Life Browser is now part of another FamilySearch Labs project, called Family Tree that can be used with the new FamilySearch.

It appears that some organizations in the genealogy software field understand the importance of design and are taking advantage of current principles and practices.  I hope many others will see it too.  It is my desire to encourage innovation in genealogy software.  We need better experiences with the software.  It needs to help us more.  These types of experiences must be designed.  Working together as genealogists and family historians, software developers, user experience designers, and management is the way to improvement.  We need to better connect as a community.  We must share ideas and knowledge.  We need to care.

Ideas. Design. Experience. Innovation.  Are these words also buzzing around in your head?

 

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