- One chance to see these visionaries, next month, at Gel 2013
- March 18, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | Post a Comment
Back to life! In 2003 we took a leap of faith and launched the Gel conference - despite a war and a plague (the Iraq war began on March 20, 2003; the SARS epidemic started around the same time) - and began something special, including the first stage presentations by Marissa Mayer, Ze Frank, and others.
Now ten years later (and today, Monday is the last day of early-bird tickets), we announce the speakers of the 10th Gel conference, centered on a theme of "back to life."
Albert Wenger, partner at Union Square Ventures, writes that Gel is one of his favorite conferences:
What makes GEL so special is that Mark Hurst who organizes the conference always brings together a wonderfully diverse and thought provoking group of speakers. And Mark tends to be ahead of the curve. For instance, Sal Khan spoke at GEL in 2010 when Khan Academy was still subsisting on a bit of online advertising (btw, Sal’s TED talk wasn’t until a year later).
This year Gel will feature visionaries, entrepreneurs, and experience-design innovators who are bringing something back:
• Robert Hammond, cofounder, The High Line
• Gabriel Weinberg, founder and CEO, Duck Duck Go
• Ben Kaufman, founder and CEO, Quirky
• Rachel Shechtman, founder of STORY
• Leslie Koch, president, Trust for Governor's Island
• Joel Salatin, founder of Polyface Farm
• Liam Casey, founder and CEO, PCH International
• Zahra Aljabri, founder, Mode-Sty
• Sam & Leslie Davol, founders, The Uni Project
• Roman Baca, founder, Exit 12 Dance Company
• Ken Freedman, General Manager, WFMU
• Ellie Balk & Nate Affield, Green School educators teaching NYC high school students to visualize data by painting urban murals.
You have one chance to see them all, one month from today, at Gel 2013. For anyone interested in customer experience, design, or innovation, there is nothing quite like the Gel experience. As Michael Sippey, VP Product at Twitter, put it:
It takes guts to put an eclectic program like GEL together–even with a great set of smart people doing interesting talks, there’s always a chance the program slips off the high wire. But Mark pulls it off, and when he’s up on stage walking that wire you can see the joy he takes in sharing the things he loves.
- Outcomes of the Google Glass column
- March 12, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | 14 Comments
Since starting the Creative Good blog in 1997, I've never seen a post here get the response generated by The Google Glass feature no one is talking about. It went viral shortly after I published it on Feb 28. Here are the sharing counts on major social networks as of today:
• Facebook: over 16,000
• Twitter: 6,300
• Google Plus: 1,400
That's just for the English-language version. The column is now also available in Spanish, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Russian, and Dutch. The press has picked up on it, too: WSJ.com, the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Dutch newspaper NRC Next have all quoted the column or run excerpts.
Well, some press has picked up on it. Sadly, no technology journalist among the U.S.'s mainstream media has commented on the issues raised by the column (please correct me if I'm wrong!). However, since the column was published, we did learn that...
• JetBlue has announced a possible use of Glass at airports (via The Verge, leading tech blog)
• the New York Times is part of an initial group of likely apps for Glass (via The Verge, mentioning NYT)
...which feels like a bit of a disconnect. The response to the column shows that many people - from normal folks to techies and everyone in between - have some questions about Google Glass. Real questions about what it means for their experience on the streets, in restaurants, anywhere in public. The technology press doesn't seem to be responding to those questions. In all of this, Google had one - just one - public response that I could find. In response to the WSJ.com piece, a Google spokesperson had this response:
“It is still very early days for Glass, and we expect that as with other new technologies, such as cell phones, behaviors and social norms will develop over time.”
In other words: get used to it.
Is this the best we can hope for, from the tech industry?
- New Gel 2013 speakers; sign up before price jump
- March 12, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | Post a Comment
The Gel ticket price jumps on Monday, March 18, so sign up before then!
- The Google Glass feature no one is talking about
- February 28, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | 295 Comments
Google Glass might change your life, but not in the way you think. There's something else Google Glass makes possible that no one - no one - has talked about yet, and so today I'm writing this blog post to describe it.
To read the raving accounts of tech journalists who Google commissioned for demos, you'd think Glass was something between a jetpack and a magic wand: something so cool, so sleek, so irresistible that it must inevitably replace that fading, pitifully out-of-date device called the smartphone.
Sergey Brin himself said as much yesterday, observing that it is "emasculating" to use a smartphone, "rubbing this featureless piece of glass." His solution to that piece of glass, of course, is called Glass. And his solution to that emasculation is - well, as VentureBeat put it, "Sergey Brin calls smartphones 'emasculating' - but dorky Google Glass [is] A-OK."
Like every other shiny innovation these days, Google Glass will live or die solely on the experience it creates for people. The immediate, most visible problem in the Glass experience is how dorky the user looks while wearing it. No one wants to be the only person in the bar dressed like a cyborg from a 1992 virtual-reality movie. It's embarrassing. Early adopters will abandon Google Glass if they don't sense the social approval they seek while wearing it.
Google seems to have calculated this already and recently announced a partnership with Warby Parker, known for its designer glasses favored by the all-important younger demographic. (My own proposal, posted the day before, jokingly suggested that Google look into monocles.)
Except for the awkward physical design, the experience of using Google Glass has won high praise from reviewers. Seeing your bitstreams floating in the air in front of you, it would seem, is an ecstatic experience. Weather! Directions! Social network requests! Email overload! All floating in front of you, never out of your sight! For people who delight in a deluge of digital distractions, this is much more exciting than a smartphone, which forces you back to the boring offline world, every so often, when you put the phone away. Glass promises never to do that. In fact, in a feat of considerable chutzpah, Google is attempting to pitch Glass as an antidote to distraction, since users don't have to look down at a phone. Right, because now the distractions are all conveniently placed directly into your eyeball! (For a more accurate exploration of Glass-enabled distraction, see this darkly comic parody video. Even edgier is this parody - warning, some spicy language.)
As if all that wasn't enough, Google Glass comes with yet another, even more important feature: lifebits, the ability to record video of the people, places, and events around you, at all times. Veteran readers will remember that I predicted this six years ago in my book Bit Literacy. From Chapter 13:
The life bitstream will raise new and important issues. Should it be socially acceptable, for example, to record a private conversation with a friend? How will anyone be sure they're not being recorded, in public or private? ... Corporations, police, even friends with 'life recorders' will capture the actions and utterances of everyone in sight, whether they like it or not.
Today, finally, that future has arrived: a major company offering the ability to record your life, store it, and share it - all with a simple voice command.
And this is where our story takes a turn, toward a ramification that dwarfs every other issue raised so far on Google Glass. Yes, the glasses look dorky - Google will fix that. And sure, Glass forces users to be permanently plugged-in to Google's digital world - that's hardly a concern for the company or, for that matter, most users out there. No. The real issue raised by Google Glass, which will either cause the project to fail or create certain outcomes you may not want (which I'll describe), has to do with the lifebits. Once again, it's an issue of experience.
The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience - not of the user, but of everyone other than the user. A tweet by David Yee introduces it well:
There is a kid wearing Google Glasses at this restaurant which, until just now, used to be my favorite spot.
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn't what it's like to wear them, it's what it's like to be around someone else who's wearing them. I'll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you'll suspect that you don't have their undivided attention. And you can't comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally - here's where the problems really start - you don't know if they're taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don't know a single person who wears Google Glass... and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public - any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway - you're liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you - and all 49 other passengers - could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Now, I know the response: "I'm recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn't bother me, what's the difference?" Hear me out - I'm not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it's a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google's own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people's accurate, real-world names): Google's servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video. And if Google Plus doesn't sound like much, note that Mark Zuckerberg has already pledged that Facebook will develop apps for Glass.
Finally, consider the speech-to-text software that Google already employs, both in its servers and on the Glass devices themselves. Any audio in a video could, technically speaking, be converted to text, tagged to the individual who spoke it, and made fully searchable within Google's search index.
Now our stage is set: not for what will happen, necessarily, but what I just want to point out could technically happen, by combining tools already available within Google.
Let's return to the bus ride. It's not a stretch to imagine that you could immediately be identified by that Google Glass user who gets on the bus and turns the camera toward you. Anything you say within earshot could be recorded, associated with the text, and tagged to your online identity. And stored in Google's search index. Permanently.
I'm still not done.
The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.
Remember when people were kind of creeped out by that car Google drove around to take pictures of your house? Most people got over it, because they got a nice StreetView feature in Google Maps as a result.
Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device - every single day, everywhere they go - on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google's cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won't know if you're being recorded or not; and even if you do, you'll have no way to stop it.
And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience - it's the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.
Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you've ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google's cloud - whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between - will instantly bring up documentation of every word you've ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.
This is the discussion we should have about Google Glass. The tech community, by all rights, should be leading this discussion. Yet most techies today are still chattering about whether they'll look cool wearing the device.
Oh, and as for that physical design problem. If Google Glass does well enough in its initial launch to survive to subsequent versions, forget Warby Parker. The next company Google will call is Bausch & Lomb. Why wear bulky glasses when the entire device fits into a contact lens? And that, of course, would be the ultimate expression of the Google Glass idea: a digital world that is even more difficult to turn off, once it's implanted directly into the user's body. At that point you'll not even know who might be recording you. There will be no opting out.
- How to manage your email: or, A tiny skill that some people claim doesn’t exist
- February 14, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | 4 Comments
I thought you might like to learn an easy little skill that most of the world doesn't even know exists. First, the context. I recently spotted three articles - in the New Yorker (here), the Atlantic (here), and the New York Times (here) revealing what you might call the "email confessional." This type of article has been written for several years now, so you may be familiar with it. You know, "we're overwhelmed with email, it's impossible to tame, and alas, there will never be a solution."
Since publishing Bit Literacy almost six years ago (it's now a free ebook on the Kindle store and iBookstore), it's been interesting to see these stories pop up every month or two - always with the same conclusion: there's no solution, and we're forever doomed to be stressed and overwhelmed by email. Occasionally the articles will mention, in passing, another option that they don't think will work, such as...
• a widely-reported-on productivity theory, such as "Getting Things Done." The writer then concludes that the system is too complicated for most people to practice (which is a common response - I've met many people who tried that method and gave it up, because of its complexity, and almost no one who claims to actually have managed to practice it).
• a trendy quick-fix like "email bankruptcy," the process wherein famous and highly sought-after journalists and luminaries delete all of their emails and then email their colleagues, "I'm far too busy to read your first note, so send me another one." At this point the writer notes the obvious flaw that most people aren't able to delete all their email and stay employed.
That leads me to the "easy little skill" for today's newsletter: a quick three-step process that will permanently solve email overload. It's also the method described in Bit Literacy, which my team at Creative Good and I have been practicing for over 15 years. It's simple to learn, takes a few minutes to practice each day, and doesn't require special software, a particular email platform, or a long description of rules and regulations to adhere to.
Here it is, in three sentences.
Step 1. Move all your action items out of the inbox, and onto a todo list. (The inbox was never designed to manage todos, which need dates, priority ranking, categories, and the ability to edit the text inside. No email program allows all of this.)
Step 2. Archive (or delete) everything else from the inbox. You can always search for anything you need to retrieve.
Step 3. Work from your todo list, not the inbox. After steps 1 and 2 the inbox will be totally empty, so this will be easy to do.
Aaaand that's it. Three steps and you have an empty inbox. After the first time, you can accomplish steps 1 and 2 once a day - you might do it in the morning, or last thing in the evening - within a few minutes.
Of course, according most press accounts, this process doesn't exist, or doesn't work, or is simply impossible. But at Creative Good we have used it for years to run a consulting company, a social network, a conference, write a book (with a second on the way), create a mobile app, and so on. Pretty amazing to do this with a method that doesn't exist!
I will note that our own todo list, called Good Todo, works in tandem with the method above. For everyone awaiting an invite to the latest hot-startup productivity app, while you're waiting, you can sign up for Good Todo for free. After you've signed up, you can log in via the iPhone/iPad app or the Android app. For Step 1 above, just forward the action-item email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you're done.
Of course, once the inbox is empty, there's an extra challenge ahead of actually doing the work on the todo list. You'll be well prepared. When your todos are properly on a todo list - fully exposed and editable, not crammed away in an inbox somewhere - you will be ready to get to work.
That is what you want, isn't it?
- Announcing the Gel Design Challenge
- February 14, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | Post a Comment
- Improving the patient experience: One Medical
- February 12, 2013 | by Meghana Khandekar | Post a Comment
Despite having lived in New York for five years, I only recently signed up with a primary care doctor. Like many people I know, I used to avoid the doctor until it was absolutely necessary. But then I visited a One Medical office and had a better experience:
• The decor was attractive, atmosphere was warm, people behind the front desk greeted me with a smile and were friendly throughout my visit. It didn't hurt that I enjoyed the music that was playing on the overhead speakers.
• The appointment started on time and it seemed like my doctor had ample time for me.
• My doctor was attentive, reassuring and patient. I appreciated that she made efforts to connect with me personally.
• My doctor emailed me notes from the appointment immediately afterwards, and I was asked to give feedback about my visit a couple days later. I feel like I can email her at any time if I have issues.
Now as a patient of One Medical, I'm happy to enjoy these aspects of the experience. The innovations of One Medical originated with founder Tom Lee, who created the business model for doctors and support staff to focus on patient needs first.
Tom Lee spoke at Gel a few years ago. Here's the video, showing Tom explain how he designed One Medical:
To see more innovators in experience, sign up for our Gel 2013 conference this April 17-19. Hope to see you there!
- Gel speaker on the Tonight Show… tonight
- January 25, 2013 | by Meghana Khandekar | Post a Comment
We're planning to announce this year's Gel conference soon. For now, a sneak peek at the speaker list: Ben Kaufman, founder of Quirky.com, will be a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, demoing some of Quirky's most inventive products. We can't wait to see what Ben Kaufman has in store for us at Gel. (Early birds can sign up for Gel here.)
- What is a career in user experience really about?
- January 15, 2013 | by Mark Hurst | 5 Comments
In this new year it feels right to say something big, something about the meaning of life, and one's career, and everything. I guess it's been on my mind since last month, when I finished teaching a graduate class in user research. (It was here in New York, in SVA's MFA in Interaction Design. Great program.) The class gave me a chance to get to know some very talented young designers, most of whom are just beginning their journey into the user experience field.
My main message to the class was that good user research isn't a matter of learning the steps of some trendy methods, as though one were just following a cookbook. Instead, good UX work requires a genuine interest in observing, listening to, and learning from other people: primarily the customers themselves, but also the organization that owns the product. That observation, and that listening, must stem from a genuine human interest in people.
You might call it "care," or "integrity," or any number of things. This "genuine human interest" goes by different names, and it's certainly not exclusive to the fields of customer experience and interaction design. For example, have you heard of the teacher in Kentucky who teaches the same message? The New York Times recently profiled Jeffrey Wright, who gives an annual lecture to his high school physics students about the force that is "greater than energy... greater than entropy." I invite you to watch the short documentary, Wright's Law, to hear him explain it. This very important aspect of his career was born out of some particular challenges in his personal life.
If I teach the master's class again, I'd give my same message, perhaps adding an important fact of life, and work: namely, you are not defined by your career. Who you are, and what you are worth, are much greater than any professional accomplishment or failure, desire or pressure. In fact, if one can internalize this message, and see life through this lens, your career begins to take on a different shape. Paradoxically, as Mr. Wright shows, understanding that you are not defined by your career actually enables you to do better work.
If you subscribe to this guiding philosophy, you're more likely to care about the people involved in, and affected by, your work. And that means you're more likely to work toward their long-term benefit. For example, UX practitioners who want to improve people's lives will find it difficult to apply their skills to a product that harms or deceives customers. Unfortunately, this type of product is not uncommon.
For years I've been fascinated by the work of Natasha Dow Schüll, an MIT professor who has studied Las Vegas gambling for many years. She gave a great talk at Gel a few years back - here's the video - showing how UX methods are skillfully employed to make the slot machine experience easy and engaging... in service of removing as much money from the customer as possible. Her new book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas describes her findings. (See also the recent NYTimes piece.)
The question is unavoidable: if UX methods are effective in projects with a wide range of outcomes, which do you want to spend out your career on? Those that benefit the customer in the long term, or those that are in the long run harmful? And don't think the slot machine example is foreign to online business. Social-gaming company Zynga has been trying to enter the online gambling market (source). The company has always paid close attention to user behavior, and now they seek to maximize the profits from such a skill.
Personally I'd rather see more UX researchers follow Jeffrey Wright's path: showing genuine care for the people you create an experience for. Telling the truth to them, even about big topics. And never confusing your personal worth with the day-to-day details of your career. If you agree, I hope you'll share this message with someone who might benefit from hearing it.
Let's do some really good work in 2013. (And drop a line if Creative Good can help.)
- Uncle Mark 2013 gift guide is now available
- November 27, 2012 | by Mark Hurst | 2 Comments
I'm happy to announce the new 2013 Uncle Mark gift guide and almanac: download the PDF. This is the 10th annual guide - wow!
This is a much shorter guide than past years, for reasons I explain in the guide. Here's how it starts:
A couple of weeks ago I went out to Long Island for a day to help clean up after Superstorm Sandy. I was assigned to a damaged house near the ocean. While taking a break from ripping out ruined insulation I was approached by the homeowner, who began talking about her experience of the storm and its aftermath. She said that she was bothered by the sheer amount of "junk" (her word) that had to be removed from her waterlogged house. She summed it up this way: "Why did I buy so much stuff?"
I have been thinking about her comment ever since. Every year around this time, late autumn, I compile my suggestions for gifts to buy during the upcoming holiday season. This is the tenth annual gift guide, so I suppose I should feel some kind of celebration. But I'm not sure I do.
I'd rather not encourage anyone to buy "stuff." I can suggest some purchases, but they're mostly with the aim of enabling people to live with fewer things. More broadly, I think that citizens of the U.S. and other wealthy nations have to find a better way of creating, buying, and consuming material goods. Between the strain on the global economy and the environment, we'll be forced to make this shift eventually. But it's easier to get started early.
Please share this year's guide, if you agree with my suggestions. Here's the Uncle Mark 2013 guide.