About Greg

Greg Hintermeister is an inventor, musician, believer, husband, father, parrothead. His designs can be found in many IBM products…his heart can be found wherever his wife is.

“Delightful” Doesn’t Have To Mean Simple

At our last design summit at IBM Design, we worked through some pretty great ideas, including how to delight our target user, Maureen, who we defined as an experienced developer who lives and breathes “DevOps”…she needs a much better experience than the one she has now. During one of the “User Empathy” sessions, we were trying to define what would delight her…what would “wow” her…what would make her jaw drop and wonder out loud how she ever got work done without it. We spent quite a while discussing how to simplify her experience and make things more automated…

…when a colleague quipped:

“A ‘wow’ for a craftsman is not a button that “with one click” creates a table. A ‘wow’ is common tools, common grips, common chargers, that enable him to fluidly use his skills and express his creativity”

We all stopped talking.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

We can’t assume that a delightful experience equals a guided “let me help you” approach.

That’s exactly why I use Logic Pro as opposed to Garage Band. I want to express my creativity using my skills to the best of my ability…not press “Create” and have a fake song appear.

Thank you, Johnathan, for this infinitely valuable reminder.

Now That I’ve Experienced Creating Great UX, I…

Over the last several months, I’ve been working with the IBM Design team. Through that interaction I’ve come to improve and refine my measure of great user experience. The project I was just on had it, and it was so exciting…so unifying. We brainstormed on parts of the experience that would add no functionality other than pure delight. We were very proud of what we did. The “It’s like a dream” user quote will stay with me for quite some time.

But now I look around and there are other projects…I have a pit in my stomach…what will it take to change the culture…change our DNA…to make everything we create outstanding…to make everything we create delightful to our users?

I’m not the best designer. By far. But now that I know what working on a team that strives to deliver a great user experience is like, anything less is just sad.

No, not sad.

Heartbreaking.

The Power Of Twitter

I had just finished a session on IBM Design Thinking in a room full of technical analysts. We taught, had some quick exercises, and the interaction was great. Some great questions showed that the audience was thinking deeply about a topic new to them. Some laughed, nodded in agreement, while others asked hard questions and we had rich conversation.

Yet just a few minutes later I was shown the twitter feed.

My heart sank. Sure the rest of the night was filled with other great conversation, complements on the session, how we were spot-on, but the negative tweets really stuck to me.

It’s amazing the power Twitter has to…

…enable anyone to make an accusation without the chance for true human to human dialog

…make a seasoned presenter feel like a incompetent middle-schooler

I won’t mention the third.

I guess I need to trust my instincts, engage with real-life humans to learn, get tips, understand, improve, and receive compliments (and complaints) and ignore the smug (and hurtful) assertions that litter twitter feeds from those that sound so confident in virtual-land but don’t seem to want to say it face to face.

Don’t Always Rely On Users?

I write songs. Some I think are pretty good and some are just ok. I’ve been wanting to take the craft of songwriting to the next level.

But, to do that I’m not going to walk the street asking what kind of song users want to hear. I’m going to ask songwriting experts. Those that have experience writing great songs that truly connect with the listener know far deeper what it takes to write a great song, the pitfalls, the rules, and when to break the rules than those that listen to those songs.

Now certainly there is a spark of imagination, a connection to an audience, that creates the core of a great song, but it certainly takes expert skill to craft a song into a work of art that deeply connects with a listener…especially as it works its way through a recording studio to the listener’s ears.
I wonder if the same applies to user experience?
I’m the first to agree that deep user research is required to understand what users needs are, and what can truly delight them. However, lately I wonder if we risk creating something less than exceptional if we focus only on user feedback and not receive peer/expert critique once we enter the design phase?
I’ll admit that a songwriter doesn’t really know how exceptional a song is until it’s played in font of an audience, and I agree that a designer doesn’t know if it’s an exceptional user experience until we see users smile while using it, but I’d bet my next royalty check from Spotify that a users smile will be bigger, an audience reaction louder, and the actual product better if we get peer review and craft the song/UX using that expert critique.
What about you? What kind of peer critique do you run for your designs?

Understanding the COMPLETE End-To-End User Experience

We in the tech industry talk a lot about ‘information integrity’, and ‘data security’, and how the world can use information to better their company…so keep it safe!

While true, I loved seeing this photo as a reminder that everything we create has a life-span. Nothing we create will last forever: Our products, our designs, and even the information we generate along the way.

IMG_8335

And while most of us focus on offering solutions on how customers can securely analyze their precious data, this business found a way to be honest: Someday that precious data will not be useful; that destroying data is a natural part of the end-to-end experience.

I wonder how much more delighted we would make our customers if we guide them not only how to discover, try, and buy our products, but also on how to repair, upgrade, and eventually discard our products?

If we face ‘the end’ as a natural part of the full user experience, will we cherish our users more, and not take for granted how precious it is that humans are actually trying to use something we created to be more productive

Maybe if we do, ‘the end’ won’t arrive for quite a long time.

Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Being Productive in Something You’re Good At

It seems I suck at living my dream. Jon Acuff would be so disappointed in me. Ever since I was 16 I dreamt of “making it big” as a musician, songwriter, and performer.

Now, if you look at the path I took you could point to moments where I chose to ‘pursue my dream’ and I toured for a year with Up With People. But there are other moments where I chose to ‘play it safe’, some would say betray my dream, and I got a degree in computer science.

In the end, I am not working full time in the music business and generally that’s made me sadder than when I watched the whole series of “Friday Night Lights” one winter. So I’ve been reading a lot on how to be happy…including a lot on how to rediscover your dream once it’s been lost.

But then I read this:

Don’t focus in striving to be happy. Rather strive to be productive in something you’re good at. Happiness will come.

This, along with some great perspective from Mike Rowe, is making me think hard about what it means to be working in the career I’m in. (I was just about to write “…the career I’ve chosen”, but I’m not sure I really chose this…it just sort of fell into place. I’m good at math and science, randomly checked “Institute of Technology” on my U of M admission, walked by the IBM booth at the job fair, mentioned I studied computer graphics, and voila, a career is born.)

As I look at what I do at IBM, I’ve been recognized enough to know that I’m good at it. I also know that when I’m in the middle of a design session, time flies by and I come home happy. That makes me think the quote above is true. I can strive to be productive EVERY DAY at something I’m good at…and happiness will come.

I certainly know that when I’m down about my career path I tend to be less productive and I come home sad.

By the way, that career I’m in also allows me to spend the time and money on a recording studio that I can use any evening I want. The fact that I don’t use it enough is not entirely my job’s problem, but how I let my job overtake my emotions. If I’m worn out from a day of non-productivity, then I rarely have the ambition to record. However, if I’ve had a great productive day, I feel energized to do more…and into the studio I go.

Which brings me to the inspiration of this blog title: “Life, Liberty, and pursuit of happiness”.

I’m thinking that “pursuit” sounds a lot like work, which sounds a lot like being productive in something you’re good at.

It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but I wonder if this is what our founding fathers were really pointing to. If that’s what the American dream was meant to be, then I guess I don’t suck at ‘living the dream’. Maybe I just need to strive to be productive in something, anything, I’m good at. We can’t just expect happiness to fall into our laps. I would argue that if the ‘thing’ that makes us most happy falls into our laps without working for it (pursuing it), it wouldn’t make us happy anyway.

So that’s what my next period of work will experiment with: Strive to be productive, every single day, in something I’m good at. In early tests, this has proven quite fruitful. Even if what I’m productive with isn’t related to my designs or deadline (for example, writing a patent disclosure instead of working on a design), I end up feeling happier.

How about you? Do you feel happier after you’ve been productive in something you’re good at, even though it may not be your dream job?

 

Inventions I’ll Give To The World – #5

I hate to admit it but I’m a fan of glow-in-the-dark things. I used to imagine all the cool things I would invent with glow in the dark technology:

  • A guitar shirt that would show a classical player, but when in the dark, show a rockin guitar hero
  • Guitar strings that would glow in the dark
  • A guitar strap that glows “There’s A Lick For That”

Obviously I tend to focus on certain themes, but lately serious scientists have been focusing on glow-in-the-dark animals. Inspired by that, and always trying to be serious, I started thinking what I would like to invent related to our family animals.

I’m here to offer up a truly needed invention: This I give freely as a service to the Internet and will offer any assistance possible to bring it to market…I give you…

Glow-in-the-dark dog poo.

Lets face it: How many of us have wandered around the yard trying to pick up these little presents only to later step right in it while enjoying a campfire or evening activity.

I’ve heard that some algae is toxic to dogs, but the phosphorescent algae might not be…and even if the wet stuff is, I wonder if it could be combined into dog food so that when it ‘arrives’, it can glow as bright as the ocean is deep. Besides, I keep hearing about all this ‘good bacteria’ that is inside our bellies. We can inject the glow-in-the-dark DNA into dogs belly bacteria, and, after a hearty meal…POOF, glow-in-the-dark poo.

You can even keep all the profits…just gimme a lifetime supply.

You’re welcome.

How about it? Who wants to join me in the “Light up the Poo” kickstarter campaign?!?!

Do You Want to Look Great or Actually BE Great?

I love this quote:

“Do I want to really be great or just be seen as great?”

It was from an Andy Stanley leadership podcast on the importance of inviting feedback, whether ‘constructive’ or positive, in order to make better decisions and be a better leader.

I think this is also essential for crafting killer user experiences.

We are all aware of how ego can affect design decisions, and the resulting user experience. I’ve been guilty of it myself. After all, in the corporate design world, our performance rating is really only as good as our last “hit”…our last user experience we can claim as ours. This reality triggers our instinct to want our own ideas realized solely because it has our name on it, rather than inviting input that would dilute ownership.

What this quote reminds me is that by inviting feedback, we help the design, and more importantly, help our user become truly delighted when using our product to accomplish what they need to.

I can highlight past designs that really made an impact on users, and all of them were better because of the constant feedback we requested from other design experts and users. Every few days we would review certain pieces of the design and work to improve it…see if a panel can be improved, a flow simplified, data visualized, or terms clarified. We would also have ‘design blitz tests’ that brought in experts from various disciplines around the site and just ran through the newly developed UI to test out the designs in mass. We’d then collect the findings and work to improve the product through that internal design test.

So here’s my question: Are we ready to serve our users by dropping our ego and completely focus on making our designs great by inviting feedback? Or, are we more worried about being the sole ‘artist’ so we can fill our portfolio with controlled demos and screen shots that make us merely look great?

 

Another Reason We Don’t Have Time To Think

Last time I wrote about how our machines still don’t give us the time to think because those same machines inundate us with casual mind-fillers that at best distract us from the time we set aside to think, and at worst provide us an excuse to just not think because thinking requires effort we don’t want to exert.

However, there’s another answer, too…one that happens to me all the time.

For me, these machines are not designed nor built well enough and force me to trouble-shoot…destroying both my “muse” and the time I’ve set aside to think.

How familiar are these examples to you?

  1. I prepare to sketch a design idea, but spend 20 minutes fighting a printer in order to print out my basic grid
  2. I sit to record a guitar solo for 30 minutes, and end up fighting the Firewire connection to get my guitar into Logic
  3. I start writing some thoughts down and 15 minutes into a great essay I get the ‘beach ball of death’ and lose everything

In all these examples, the intended design is awesome and my time to think is there to start with, but something about the tool, usually the connectivity, completely fails. My think-time is snatched away and I end up frustrated and fruitless. To me it just reinforces yet again that a user experience mostly has nothing to do with the shiny UI nor the promised capabilities of the tool, but is completely about the product’s connectivity and reliability, which provides the underlying foundation for a great user experience.

So while we can dream of our machines being our personal trainer to help us think more, we could all be more pragmatic and just test the crap out of our software so that the intended design shines through and isn’t crippled by frustrating connectivity issues essential for an awesome user experience.

 

Do We Still Need Machines to Do the Work So We Have Time to Think?

This is a quote from an old IBM Design documentary:

“We need machines to do the work so we have time to think”

It’s noble, and inspires us technologists to create better machines to do our daily monotonous work so we have time to think about more noble efforts, more serious problems to solve, and become better humans.

The problem, I think, is that while we’ve succeeded in creating machines that do the work giving us the opportunity to think, we still don’t. It takes effort to think, and a lot of us just don’t want to take that effort. Further, since our new smart machines provide an endless stream of mildly interesting information, games, or even ‘IT administration’ activities like downloading apps, cleaning up messages, reading detailed logs, and other mundane activities, we have ample opportunity to do a new kind of time-wasting work that fills up any time intended for us to think, while at the same time giving us an excuse not to have to think because we were ‘being productive’.

Unlike my dog. For her, she LOVES to learn new tricks and she enjoys thinking hard and figuring out what I want her to do. Teaching her tricks is mentally exhausting for her because she has to think, but she loves it. I love it, too, because I have to think to always be one step ahead of her to reward her, guide her, and when we’re both thinking towards the same goal, it builds our relationship.

I wonder why we waste these “think opportunities”? Is it because our problems are too big? Na. Is it because we are afraid of the companionship we will build together? Maybe. Is it because we’re exhausted? Probably.

Or, is it simply that the machines we’ve built give us unprecedented access to information and ideas but fail in the one primary purpose that these machines were invented in the first place? Did we lose sight that that these machines were built so we actually have time to think?

Is it now that after all this time we realize that quote was wrong…or at least incomplete…that it’s not about the machine but about the experience the machine offers? It’s not the machine’s fault we’re still not thinking. Rather, it’s the user experience those machines deliver that fail in achieving the true goal.

We need time to think. To become a better version of ourselves, to build a better version of today. But thinking takes effort that not everyone is up for.

Maybe our new machines need to be like personal trainers…guiding us to think even though we don’t really want to at that second…forcing us to discard the ‘productive’ activities like sifting through email, logs, playing casual games, and forcing us to think through hard problems. Maybe our interfaces need to ask, “Why are you doing this? Is it helping you solve the difficult problems on your list? As you do this activity, here is a space to list ideas, ‘a-ha’ thoughts so you can build on them later”

Then, at the end of the month, just like a personal trainer, our machines help us look back at all we accomplished…and how much we actually did think.

What do you, well, think?

 

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