Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The world isn't conspiring to make you feel stupid, someone just hasn't done their (usability) homework.

Recently, a colleague  and I took a usability workshop and wanted to share what we learned.

What is usability? It's the study of making things usable, or, as you may know from filling out your taxes, backing up your computer (Mac users don't count), or even gassing up a different car, we all must do things that can be unclear at times.

Usability is not an entirely new concept but is finally becoming more mainstream: if things were designed with the end user in mind, how much easier could they be? How much money and time could be saved?

It's easier to find a parking spot at BWI now that green lights indicate open spaces. Universities that pour walkways before researching paths spend more reconstructing trampled lawns as students make preferred shortcuts known. Clear road signs can prevent existential crises, like what must happen to literally *everyone* at the below intersection:

A usable world is simply a better one.

The workshop, called "Introduction to Human-Centered Design" ("human-centered" is the preferred nomenclature in the field) was mainly an overview of the process: how to gather data, compile ideas, and make and test prototypes, and why it works to do it in a particular way (inquiry / prototype / test / repeat).

Problem-solving starts with identifying the problem. What is the issue? You may think it's one thing but until you talk to the people who experience it, you can't know for sure.

For example, chronically running late may appear to be a traffic issue but may actually be a planning one. Poor sleep quality may not be the mattress after all but instead too much light or noise at night.

In order to find out, you have to dig.

The class walked us through the process and had us leap almost immediately into the "field" to begin practicing our new interviewing skills. We used a generic question that could apply to anyone just for the sake of learning the process. We asked, "Is there anything that gets in the way of your health? Or of you being as healthy as you want?" (In a real case scenario, the questions would be tailored to the field.)

We roamed the building for people to interview. Not having been telemarketers in a previous lives made us shy approaching strangers but the class instructor gave us tips. "Approach gently and explain who you are and what you're doing. When you start hearing the same answers over and over, you'll know you've amassed enough data."

People eyed us suspiciously at first but when they realized we weren't collecting money, out poured the litany of health destroyers. They came in the form of many things: long commute, expensive food (broccoli costs more than ramen), picky children, gyms that were too far away and days that started before dawn. Our subjects looked weary just recounting all the things.

We dug deeper using techniques taught in the class, such as the "5 Whys" (a strategy no doubt borne from a toddler) where you ask "why" multiple times, or encourage a story or ask for a visual.

Answers did start to get repetitive and we found that the common thread was time. People weren't taking as much care of their health as they wanted because they didn't have enough time.

Next step: now what? People need more time, how could we make that happen?

Our team rejoined and after a brainstorming session that nixed moving to Venus just to have 5,000 more hours in a day, we developed possible "prototypes" -- actual, physical implementations to show people -- and marched back into the field to see how they'd fare.

We interviewed more people but this time sporting a poster and miniature booklet as visual aids to illustrate our ideas: policies to improve work/life balance, like telecommuting, and utopia where folks could live near their work. After all, some folks spent 4 hours on the road every day. That's horrendous.

Other teams in our class came up with different ideas for improving health, like tools for information dissemination, apps to make exercise easier, and even a snazzy business plan to offer healthy food on the metro so travelers could save time eating breakfast on their commutes.

During this secondary idea-sharing stage, teams are encouraged to ask each other: what would you add to this idea? What questions do you have? What else should be considered? (We wondered, who would clean up the extra trash? Would we lose our seats if we got up to purchase a banana?) Input refines the idea.

Design thinking is iterative, meaning it can go around and around in loops. You start with the question, gather data, test your idea, ask more questions, test more ideas, lather, rinse, repeat.

The field combines elements of engineering and the social sciences: engineering because of the prototypes, and social sciences because of the interviewing.

Marry the two and you have inquiry designing prototypes, not designing before you find out exactly how a thing might be used.

It's also important to note that how people say they will use something isn't always how they will *actually* use it, as anyone who's ever bought a treadmill will know. Observation will always reveal the most reliable data.

We can't wait until the next class!

If you're interested in learning more, see:
And now, for a little fun.

Examples of Usability Fails:


The cone of shame: healing aid or diet platform?

Now imagine you're rushing to your doctor's office...
Don't assume it's usable until you test it first!

Finally, an honest pop-up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The truth of nostalgia

"[H]ere is the truth of nostalgia. We don't feel it for who we were, but who we weren't. We feel it for all the possibilities that were open to us, but that we didn't take.

Time is like wax, dripping from a candle flame. In the moment, it is molten and falling, with the capability to transform into any shape. Then the moment passes, and the wax hits the table top and solidifies into the shape it will always be. It becomes the past – a solid single record of what happened, still holding in its wild curves and contours the potential of every shape it could have held.

It is impossible – no matter how blessed you are by luck, or the government, or some remote, invisible deity gently steering your life with hands made of moonlight and wind – it is impossible not to feel a little sad, looking at that bit of wax, that bit of the past. It is impossible not to think of all the wild forms that wax now will never take.

[...] But then you remember – I remember – that we are, even now, in another bit of molten wax. We are in a moment that is still falling, still volatile – and we will never be anywhere else. We will always be in that most dangerous, most exciting, most possible time of all: the now. Where we never can know what shape the next moment will take." - _Welcome to Night Vale_ #21, "A Memory of Europe"

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Togetherness when life's journey hands you an illness

"Tracy was just like, 'You've got a stone in your shoe. We'll do what we can until you can get it out. In the meantime, if you limp with the stone, that's all right. You can hold my hand, and we'll get over that.' "

Michael J. Fox, on his wife Tracy Pollan after they received his Parkinson's diagnosis.

(Sent from my phone)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

From a hospice nurse on the process of dying (another way to look at it)

What's happening to me?

Your body is figuring out how to separate from your spirit.

Oh. Yeah. That's it.

Are you having any anxiety?

I'm restless in here...(pats his heart). I haven't done this before. I'm a little nervous.

Your body knows what to do.

How long does this take?

The separation?

Yeah. How long.

It's different for everyone. Your soul knows. The separation has already started. I can see it happening. Can you feel it?

Yeah. I can.

Thanks for telling me this stuff.

Yes sir. We're glad you're here with us.

Me, too.

<He told us this morning his bags are packed and he's waiting for the train to come---and there's a female conductor. 😎The staff pulled out his bags for him so he can see them. He's very excited to travel and see his family.>

Martha Jo Atkins

(Sent from my phone)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Bernie Sanders on spirituality

"Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' And what I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I've believed it in my whole life.

"That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it's very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is 'I don't have to worry about them; all I'm gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.' But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can't even understand. It's beyond intellect. It's a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child … I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say 'hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don't care about anyone else.' That's my religion. That's what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings. And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don't deal with climate change … Trust me, we are all in it together, and … That is my spirituality."

Bernie Sanders

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Shallow State | Foreign Policy

"Art is not an adornment to society. It is not a luxury. It is the purpose of society. It becomes our legacy. It is also, however, our teacher; it helps us consider that which is around us and what we want to be. It makes demands on us that in turn lead us to place demands on ourselves and those with whom we live and work. And that is precisely why these programs have been targeted by Trump. They are the enemies of the shallow state. So, too, of course, are the members of the press whom Trump has mislabeled as "enemies of the people." The only people they are the enemy of are those who are at war with truth and thought: Trump and his supporters, the champions of the shallow state. That is why, while it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn't read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognize that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalize that decline. He is at war with that which has made our society great. He seeks to eviscerate the elements of our government and discredit those within our society who are champions of the depth on which any civilization depends."

(Sent from my phone)

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Narrow Bridge of Art, Virginia Woolf

"We all know people…who are at loggerheads with existence; unhappy people who never get what they want; are baffled, complaining, who stand at an uncomfortable angle when they see everything askew. There are others again who, though they appear perfectly content, seem to have lost all touch with reality. They lavish all their affections upon little dogs and old china. They take interest in nothing but the vicissitudes of their own health and the ups and downs of social snobbery. There are, however, others who strike us, why precisely it would be difficult to say, as being by nature or circumstances in a position where they can use their faculties to the full upon things that are of importance. They are not necessarily happy or successful, but there is a zest in their presence, an interest in their doings. They seem to be alive all over."

-- Virginia Woolf, The Narrow Bridge of Art

Friday, February 24, 2017

On taking advice

"You should take [yoga] advice from people who write about NOT doing yoga. Because not doing yoga means the person is struggling to do yoga, which means waking up every day and trying to do something new and difficult. ... Failing in front of you is a sign that the person is living the kind of life you'd like to live – one where every day you wake up and struggle to do something difficult. ... My instinct tells me that the best advice comes from the people with the most difficulties. Not in the past. But right now. Because that's where you want to be: doing something difficult right this moment."

Penelope Trunk

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March, or the day humanity stood together. Theme: "Why I marched."

"In our America all people are equal, love wins, Black lives matter, immigrants and refugees are welcome, disabilities are respected, women are in charge of their bodies, people & planet are valued over profit, diversity is celebrated."
Photo from Nguyet Vuong and Doug Wilson

"After a lot of waffling, I decided to march today.  I have no sign, no pussy hat, no affinity group.  I have spent a good chunk of my life avoiding conflict, ducking my head to avoid stares, changing my routes to avoid bullies, and often being the only one who looks like me in a crowd. I like to be invisible and safe.  A march with a couple hundred thousand people - not exactly my scene.  So why am I marching?  Not to protest. Not against the President.  I march for all those whose abilities have been judged based on the way they look, I march for those living with disabilities, visible and invisible, I march for my friends who are rearing daughters and sons to be kind and strong and empathetic and voices of change in this changing world. I will march, visible and my head held high.  I mean, if I even get there...I really suck at reading maps." Denise Henderson

"We cannot succeed when half of us are held back!"
Photo by Nadine Beck
"I'm nervous in crowds, but this one inspired me. The energy was so positive - everyone was smiling. There was such unity. It was so amazing to see how many showed up and how we all worked together. No frayed tempers, no impatience. We listened to each other, we helped each other out (ie. "Can we get through up there?" "Nope, too many people, its at a standstill." vs. how we typically ignore each other when we pass by). I only wish the stage had been in a location where more could gather and hear what the speakers were saying." Kristin Laing

"My body, My choice, My country, My voice."
Photo from Nguyet Vuong
"I marched for love, equality, justice for all, in our nation's capitol. This is what democracy looks like. This is what America looks like." Nguyet Vuong

Photo by Stephani
"I marched to ensure that when the Presidents says that he's giving the government back to the people and people's voices will be heard that the voices he hears are the ones chanting 'this is what democracy looks like!' and that the voices he hears are those of all people." Stephani

"I shouldn't have to march before I can walk"
(Photo by Meghan Kennedy)
"I marched for equality - not just for women, but for every group that has ever felt disenfranchised." Katherine V.
Photo by J.K.
"I marched for equality and human rights and for defending ideals that I believe are integral to the future of America. I marched for the rockin' women in my life and I marched for me, as good done unto them is good done unto all of us. I marched against what I see as a significant threat to those ideals: ignorance, cronyism, irrational denial, and binary thinking. In a rare moment of disgust, we took this picture outside Trump Hotel on Penn and 12th. I resent the conflict this building represents." J.K. 
Photo by M.K.
"Why I walk? For improved, for people with disabilities and chronic disorders who need healthcare."
Photo by Meghan Kennedy
We the people are greater than fear"
Photo by Nadine Beck
"American Jews welcome Muslim refugees"
Nadine Beck
"You will respect me in skirt or pants"
Photo by Nadine Beck
"I'm with her"
Photo by Robin Waldman
"Respect existence or expect resistance"
"Love trumps hate"
Photo by Nguyet Vuong
"History has its eyes on us"
Photo by Robin Waldman
"They're trying to bury us. Little do they know that we are seeds."
Photo by Robin Waldman

"Justice, Justice shall you pursue"
Photo by Robin Waldman

"I spoke with the parents of this young girl. They almost made another poster...
"I'm 2 and already have pre-existing conditions."
Photo by Meghan Kennedy

Photo by Nadine Beck
"The ONLY thing that should be separated by color is laundry"
Photo by Nadine Beck

I am trying to put into words what yesterday was for me. The joy, camaraderie, unity, and joint sense of purpose was unlike that of anything I have ever felt. I am overflowing with inspiration today and cannot wait to continue the fight for women’s equality. I’d like to make something clear: I did not attend the march yesterday to protest our new president. I respect & accept the democratic process and understand that Donald Trump is our president. I truly hope he does good for our country and that at the end of these four years, we have moved our country forward. However, I will not accept regression. Women and men have fought throughout history for their rights and to be stripped of them would be devastating. Being surrounded by likeminded people restored my faith in humanity. I felt the support from across the globe where women marched in solidarity to show American women that we are not alone and we are a powerful force to be reckoned with. A few days ago I was interviewed about why I was marching. Yesterday I marched to show our new administration that the power of women and their allies should not be underestimated. We will be watching, and if he takes a step in the wrong direction, or implements the discriminatory policies he promised throughout his campaign, he will be met with insurmountable resistance. I marched because we cannot succeed when half of us are held back. In order to take our country forward, we need policies that support and empower women. We will never reach our greatest potential as a family, community, nation, or world until we achieve this. #womensmarchonwashington #womensmarch #womensmarch2017 #feminist #feminism #genderequality
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*Flint, is a city of 98,310, where 41.6% of residents live below the poverty line and the median household income for those below the poverty line is $24,679. The median household income for the rest of Michigan is $49,087. The city is 56.6% African-American. _ *Historically, the water in the Flint River downstream of Flint has been of poor quality, and was severely degraded during the 1970s, due to "the presence of fecal coliform bacteria, low dissolved oxygen, plant nutrients, oils, and toxic substances." In 2001, the state ordered the monitoring and cleanup of 134 polluted sites within the Flint River watershed. _ *According to a class-action lawsuit, the state Department of Environmental Quality was not treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent, in violation of federal law. The river water was found to be 19 times more corrosive than water from Detroit, which was from Lake Huron, according to a study by Virginia Tech. _ *Since the water wasn't properly treated, lead from aging service lines to homes began leaching into the Flint water supply after the city tapped into the Flint River as its main water source. _ *Health effects of lead exposure in children include impaired cognition, behavioral disorders, hearing problems and delayed puberty. In pregnant women, lead is associated with reduced fetal growth. Some pregnant women who have been exposed to the contaminated water have miscarried. In everyone, lead consumption can affect the heart, kidneys and nerves. Although there are medications that may reduce the amount of lead in the blood, treatments for the adverse health effects of lead have yet to be developed. _ We March because Reproductive Justice and Women's Rights is more than just abortion. The ability to raise your children in safe places free from violence and environmental racism is also apart of the fight. . . . . . . . . . . #WomensMarchOnWashington #WomensMarch #January21 #WMW #WhyIMarch #HearOurVoiceFeminism #TheFutureIsFemale #RadWomen #Activism #Organize #StrongerTogether #WhyIMarch #HearYourVoice #January21 #StayHuman
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Monday, November 21, 2016

In this culture...

"In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we're forced to stay on the surface of life. Poet Kahlil Gibran said, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths. We are an ascension culture. We love rising, and we fear going down.

"Consequently we find ways to deny the reality of this rich but difficult territory, and we are thinned psychically. We live in what I call a "flat-line culture," where the band is narrow in terms of what we let ourselves fully feel."

Tim McKee

Friday, November 18, 2016

When you're different...

"When you're different, sometimes you don't see the millions of people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn't."
― Jodi Picoult

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


"We have met the enemy and it is us." -- Walt Kelley

"I do not say that democracy has been more pernicious on the whole, and in the long run, than monarchy or aristocracy. Democracy has never been and never can be so durable as aristocracy or monarchy; but while it lasts, it is more bloody than either. … Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty. When clear prospects are opened before vanity, pride, avarice, or ambition, for their easy gratification, it is hard for the most considerate philosophers and the most conscientious moralists to resist the temptation. Individuals have conquered themselves. Nations and large bodies of men, never."

― John Adams, The Letters of John and Abigail Adams

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


''I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear:
I'm not screwing around. It's time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you've developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go.

Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you're still searching and you're more lost than ever.

Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can't live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It's time to show up and be seen.''

~ Brené Brown