Posts tagged “msft”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Wired on the big big money being made selling virtual items in online games – With about 30 workers on staff, Liu was able to keep a gold-farming setup running around the clock. While the night shift slept upstairs on plywood bunks, day-shift workers sat in the hot, dimly lit workshop, each tending three or four computers. They were "playing" World of Warcraft, farming gold at an impressive clip by hunting and looting monsters, their productivity greatly abetted by automated bots that allowed them to handle multiple characters with little effort. They worked 84-hour weeks, got a couple of days off per month, and earned about $4 a day, which even for China was not a stellar wage.
  • Wired on Ray Ozzie and cultural change at MSFT: At first, the skunk works-like nature of Ozzie's operation engendered suspicion and resentment – Previously, a big part of any development team at Microsoft was making sure its new product worked in lockstep with everything else the company produced. While that approach avoided annoying conflicts, it also tended to smother innovation. "This philosophy of independent innovation…is something Ray pushed very strongly," Ozzie's approach was to encourage people to rush ahead and build things. Then he'd have a team of what he calls the spacklers fill in the gaps and get things ready for release.
    He spent a lot of time on the physical workspace for his team. He had workers rip down the labyrinthine corridors on one floor and called in architects to create a more open design. Now, walking into the Windows Live Core group is like leaving Microsoft and visiting a Futurama set. Office windows open onto hallways so that quick eye contact can trigger spontaneous discussions. Whiteboards are everywhere. Pool tables, mini-lounges, and snack zones draw people toward the center of the space.

Simulacrap 2

I already described the ridiculous persona-encrusted collateral from Yahoo’s Search Marketing. This week I received a package from Microsoft (with an unnecessary piece of styrofoam in the box to protect their precious wire-bound book).

With tips from me – Search Master Steve

Search Master Steve? Good Lord!

I’m not sure whether Microsoft’s only-works-in-IE search marketing interface is worse than Yahoo’s. I guess it’s like asking if you’d rather have two fingers ripped off by an angry gorilla or have three fingers removed surgically. These products are not fun to use and the crap I’m getting in the mail from the Microhooligans is insulting.

Dan and Steve write: We express ourselves

Cool artwork at 111 Minna makes for an exciting backdrop for presentations

Steve and I recently attended an event hosted by Microsoft, called Express Yourself. It was a party/networking gathering focused around a “design contest” in which four prominent Bay Area software design firms presented the work they had done to “solve a real-world design problem” that Microsoft had posed a few days beforehand. As they promoted it:

Are you a User Experience Rockstar? Are you a Master UI Coder? Do you know how to work together? Want to network, drink and learn with 100 of your finest peers in San Francisco?

Please join Microsoft and four leading software design firms in the Bay Area as they compete head to head to solve a real-world design problem… Contestants will receive their design problem three days ahead, and the day of the party will compete to finish and present their solutions using Microsoft’s new Silverlight technology and Expression Suite of design tools. Attendees watch the solutions come to life, comment and party until the awards ceremony.

To begin with, it was a great party–a beautiful venue in downtown San Francisco, open bar, excellent food. Balancing a Martini glass in one hand and a half-spherical bowl of Pho and chopsticks in the other, I contemplated the usability of flatware.

The design problem Microsoft had posed to the firms was to create a “safe” social networking environment for a teenage girl. Microsoft had supplied the firms with personas representing the girl, her mother, and her “quasi-bad-ass” friend.

Update: the contest’s problem statement, rules, and evaluation criteria are now posted here.

The presentations all shared what seemed to us (and to many of the people in the audience around us, judging by an almost non-stop flow of derisive commentary) as a common and almost complete lack of thought or even lay-knowledge about the culture of users for whom this environment was being designed.

Update: details (including screenshots) of the different submissions, and the winner are posted on organizer Will Tschumy’s blog (7/2/07 and 7/3/07).

This apparent lack of consideration for the consumer/end user’s culture and needs/wants stirred a reaction and raised some questions for us.

Dan: None of these (contest entries) look like they’re for teenagers. I mean, it seems so obvious to me that the place you would start would be figuring out what the person you’re designing this thing for would find exciting.

Steve: The most exciting moment (leading to spontaneous applause) was for a interface widget that created this very Web2.0 mosaic of media, kind of like a tag cloud of images and movies. Completely unusable since you couldn’t see what was in the teeny pictures, and very adult in its visual. The audience applauded for something they would like.

In the presentations, I really wanted to see one of the teams consider a definition of what it meant to be safe. That is a very loaded word and it needed to be unpacked. Until you know what safe is, you can’t design for it.

Dan: If I was a kid, the last thing I would want would be any kind of web thing that my parents were involved in.

Steve: If any of these designs get published, I’d like to see someone compare them with Imbee, an actual site that that just launched, aiming to address this same need. Will those appeal to teens? Have they found a way to navigate the tension between “safe” and “parental involvement”?

I’m not being a research snob here. I understand the timeline didn’t support the teams doing their own research. But Microsoft supplied personas. Aren’t personas proxies for research? Or, are they, (as I’ve said before) simply user-centered bullshit. For all the power they are supposed to have with design teams to keep them focused on designing for the user, they didn’t help at all in this case.

Dan: People have all these tools, but they have no idea what needs to be built.

Steve: And maybe the focus of the event was purely on the building. But then Microsoft should have framed it differently. Distributing personas and judging solutions would suggest that it was about building the right thing. But Microsoft’s tool is to help you build better; perhaps their assumption was that the designers would bring the process and MSFT would bring the tool?

Dan: I wonder what Microsoft wanted to find out from doing this, and whether they found it out?

Steve: That’s a good question. I assume they were doing it more as a way to create a splash and be seen as a real player in the design community.

Dan: Then they should have done a challenge that was geared to the strength of the people they had competing. Plus, this was about using their software, right? So why focus on research results as the way to get people into the task? I think they went too far towards the front end of the “project.” They should have given more of a creative brief, and let people go at it.

To me, this whole thing really shows how a lot of people still don’t acknowledge (or don’t fully get) how much work has to be done to actually turn research into design decisions. I think this bodes really well for the work we do.

Steve: I’m relieved you think that. I felt the opposite, actually. I felt depressed about the opportunities for our approach. It’s kind of depressing that in 2007 the “top” software design firms are so locked into distinguishing themselves with shiny shiny and no thinky thinky. [Assuming these were in fact the top players in their firms and not the B Ark].

If making use of real tangible understandings of real users isn’t even on the table for a lot of these folks, then where do we find people to play with? To inform or collaborate with? Maybe that’s not even the point though. Maybe those designers should be working for us rather than the frequent reversal.

Dan: I totally agree-the needs and desires determine what will really work for people and be successful. Then the design should be executed within those constraints. Context, not content, is king, right?

Expression demo

I had a fun time at a Microsoft event in SF yesterday, essentially a product demo day, with 300 people watching presenters tweak HTML (and other arcane variants of such code), and then some more intimate discussions on design, user experience and so on by Chris Bernard. Given the emphasis on User Experience, I thought these demo kiosks were lovely but discouraging to use.
Things look nice.

I’m not sure about the term demo assets exactly, and why I need to get them ready, but the mess of a screen at least has a “do this first” zone.

Except it’s a non-stable trick. They put a Windows shortcut on top of that white triangle, but I accidentally dragged it when I went to click it. It’s not really a button, it’s a fake button, and one that easily breaks when someone tries to use it. Oops.

Okay, so now you do the double clicking they want you to do. And up comes a DOS window that lasts more than 1 second. Maybe I’m just un-tech enough to have that bother me, but it really seemed like the backstage was being revealed in a way that it shouldn’t. Why do I see DOS stuff when I’m running a new Windows app?

Anyway, it wasn’t clear what that was doing (perhaps restoring things to a pristine state) and it was even less clear what to do next. Some things to click were just Word documents that you couldn’t interact with (that’s a demo?), and others were apps that gave dire warnings about expiring betas. Again, maybe I’m not the right person to be trying this stuff anyway, but you can see that the commitment to design and user experience has a long way to go.

My hosts were exceedingly kind with their time and made me feel very welcome, so I apologize for having the poor grace to only post something negative. I suspect they are only too aware of the many instances of this sort of thing going on, and are marching uphill. But at least they are marching!


About Steve