Wednesday, July 10, 2013

UX Not as Weird as Usual, unless you Count a Penchant for Insults & Mobsters

It was a surprisingly tame evening for the UX Speakeasy crowd - I have no idea what got into them. I was
on my usual scoping mission for the odd and bizarre and everyone...ok almost everyone...was on their best behavior.

Maybe it was because there were a few Suits in the room. Perhaps because someone listed our event as part of San Diego Tech Week. No one is willing to fess up to having put us on their web site, but the result of that nice advertising was that of the 120-ish people there I spoke to several people... in ties...

(we tried to cut it off at 100 but apparently we were just too popular....go figure)

We were situated at EvoNexus, an incubator for up and coming tech entrepreneurs, so that probably had something to do with it. Nice place, nice people. The food and beverages were provided by our trusty friends at Vitamin T. Yes, this is a blatant advert for both of them, but they really are good people.

About that bizarre moment. After a rapid fire group activity to practice an entrepreneurial design process under tight time constraints one group made a pitch for sending "the perfect insult". As in, you designate who you want to insult, plug it in and the system comes up with a customized, really rude and offensive insult and blasts it off almost instantaneously. My first reaction was that no one in their right mind would put up venture capital for such an idea. My second reaction was that, sad to say, I bet they would.

Then there was the pitch to create a matching service for gangsters. Something akin to online dating. Was this inspired by all the Whitey Bulger news stories I wonder? The idea was that there are kingpins out there who need henchmen, and henchmen in search of a job. This team had all the pieces worked out. You sign up, fill out a profile, and a match is generated. Part of the process involves asking about ethical boundaries, opinions on weapon usage and, if I recall, modes of preferred violence. There was a loyalty test. And a trial run. You have to do something horrific and if you leave a trail you are out. Completely out. As in kaput. With this product, headhunting could take on new meaning.

In case you think there is a theme here... other groups made serious and well presented pitches for non violent, creative ideas. Unfortunately I can't remember what they were. That tells you something about ... something.

I sat with a group that was trying to come up with an answer to: "We want to provide the safest most connected experience while driving. With our forward thinking, we've achieved a safer commute without sacrificing connectivity".

[I neglected to mention that every group was given some sort of blurb like this to work off of]

It was fascinating to watch a microcosm of the real world in action when the group did the all too human thing and jumped right to wanting to describe a really geeky cool product. Skip the hard stuff of really delving into the analysis process and working towards figuring out a minimum viable product (yes, the notorious MVP).

It was fascinating to watch the classic developer sinkhole start to develop. It could be a cool product but would anyone care? Would anyone outside of the designers want it? At one point someone (me) pointed this out, and the comment back was "we only have 20 minutes. we have to come up with something". Well.... there is never enough time is there? There will always be pressure to cut corners won't there?

Another fascinating twist I observed in one group was when someone tried to simplify things by changing the problem so that it only tangentially addressed the original statement. The rationale was to simplify things, but the end result was that a problem that wasn't "the" problem was proposed because it would be easier to solve.

In the end everyone involved recognized what was happening and things got back on track. That was the whole point I suspect - experience the experience of trying to design user experience without experience.

Post Script: we are holding our next exciting event really soon - the MOB'd UP conference.  It promises to be incredibly professionally useful, fun, and yes, there will be some weird people there along with the random suit. But not too many suits. Promise.

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