Create winning HW/SW designs (was Re: Bill Moggridge talk at Ideo tonight)

4 Nov 2006 - 1:08pm
7 years ago
4 replies
573 reads
Ted Booth
2004

On Saturday, November 04, 2006, at 09:03AM, "Jared M. Spool" <jspool at uie.com> wrote:
>Can we get a good night's rest, snap out of this bickering about whose
>personal name tag has better foundations, and focus on how we get our
>entire community to know what they need to know to create winning designs?
>That's the question I'm most interested in.

Excellent point Jared! I was perhaps needlessly provocative ...apologies for leading toward the rat hole of professional self-righteousness.

A challenge with integrated hardware/software products is getting the hardware and software teams to meaningfully collaborate - in a way that actually blends the hardware and software design decisions. Peter's inventory of the iPod UI/iTunes UI is interesting but it's all software. There's nothing hardware about it - the main points of hardware-to-software interface are the scroll wheel and the USB cable (and of course the standard desktop controls).

Once those two things were decided the software and hardware could be developed in isolation from one another. Moreover, the decision on the scroll wheel was probably not dependent on the design of the menuing system - in all likelihood, the decision on the scroll wheel drove the UI - but I haven't read the book on this one. Once you decide that the device UI is a text-based menu, then you can send an IA-minded person off to figure out the labels and the hierarchy.

In this kind of situation, there's really not a lot of overlap between the IA-minded folks and the hardware-focused folks.

As someone who works with industrial designers, I'm most interested in finding ways to surface the concepts, ideas and desired experience of the software system(s) to the hardware and vice versa. A lot of it boils down to the decisions around the hardware controls (i.e. is it a capacitive touch panel, a directional+select, dedicated buttons, etc. But there's got to be more to it, greater potential for HW/SW permeability within an integrated hardware and software system.

That's, hopefully, more interesting that debating who figure what out first. :-)

Comments

4 Nov 2006 - 3:37pm
Bill DeRouchey
2010

On Sat, 4 Nov 2006, Edwin Booth wrote:

> A challenge with integrated hardware/software products is getting the
> hardware and software teams to meaningfully collaborate - in a way that
> actually blends the hardware and software design decisions. Peter's
> inventory of the iPod UI/iTunes UI is interesting but it's all software.
> There's nothing hardware about it - the main points of
> hardware-to-software interface are the scroll wheel and the USB cable
> (and of course the standard desktop controls).

Everything that happens onscreen is software, but the it's the
layout/labeling/prominence of the controls (onproduct UI) that helps the
user to understand how the onscreen UI works. The two halves of the UI
must together form a coherent cognitive model for the user to 'get' the
product.

To illustrate this how tight this connection must be, let's compare the
iPod UI with the Tivo UI. The Tivo remote control navigation controls are
a 4-way rocker plus an optional Select. The iPod also has a 4-way (not on
a rocker) with a center Select, overlayed by a Scroll wheel.

List-based navigation must have methods to Scroll the options in the
current list, Select the current option (which may be another list), or
Return to the upper level ("go back", "go up").

Tivo and iPod handle this completely differently.

On Tivo, the cognitive model is that menus move horizontally. Deeper is
to the right, higher to the left. Press the East button takes you to the
right (deeper). Press the West button takes you to the left (higher). Up
and Down let you Scroll in the list.

On the iPod, deeper is the center Select, higher is the North (menu)
button. West and East do nothing. Scrolling is dragging circular around
the wheel.

So cognitively, according to the controls pressed, Tivo menuing is a
left/right model, while iPod menuing is an up/down model. However, both
systems transition the menus with left/right animation, sliding left or
right to indicate depth in the menu structure.

Cognitively, Tivo makes sense while iPod is disjointed. Sure, you -get-
the iPod after a little use, but almost everybody is confused the first
time they touch it.

This is an overly long way to come back to your point above and say that
the UI is not only software. Even calling it hardware and software forces
an artificial split. The UI is the whole product, the whole concept.
Hardware and software are then components of the implementation once the
concept and cognitive model are agreed upon by every one involved.

> Once those two things were decided the software and hardware could be
> developed in isolation from one another.

Yes, once all the team members agree on the cognitive model, the basic
behavior of the onscreen UI, and the layout of the hardware controls, then
each team can figure out the details appropriate for their job title.

> Moreover, the decision on the
> scroll wheel was probably not dependent on the design of the menuing
> system - in all likelihood, the decision on the scroll wheel drove the
> UI - but I haven't read the book on this one. Once you decide that the
> device UI is a text-based menu, then you can send an IA-minded person
> off to figure out the labels and the hierarchy.

> In this kind of situation, there's really not a lot of overlap between
> the IA-minded folks and the hardware-focused folks.

The IA-minded people will likely own the structure of the menu, but you
also want to make sure that you have an IA-type person when figuring out
how to label your controls. Words? Icons? What's the most succinct? IA
thinking can help everywhere.

4 Nov 2006 - 6:04pm
Peter Boersma
2003

Edwin wrote:
> A challenge with integrated hardware/software products is getting the hardware
> and software teams to meaningfully collaborate [..]

You wrote this under the new subject line of "Create winning HW/SW designs".
Now, if you'd written "Create integrated HW/SW designs" I would not have written this message.

But you wrote "winning", and I am curious why...

Peter
--
Peter Boersma | Senior Experience Designer | Info.nl

4 Nov 2006 - 7:45pm
Ted Booth
2004

On Saturday, November 04, 2006, at 12:37PM, "Bill DeRouchey" <bill at flume.com> wrote:
>This is an overly long way to come back to your point above and say that
>the UI is not only software. Even calling it hardware and software forces
>an artificial split. The UI is the whole product, the whole concept.
>Hardware and software are then components of the implementation once the
>concept and cognitive model are agreed upon by every one involved.

I agree totally, in theory. In the best circumstances, a truly integrated team develops an integrated product together. In practice however it doesn't always work out this way. To the contrary, it seems most 'digital products' (to use a term that avoids the HW/SW split) are created by divided hardware and software teams, either within a single organization or across multiple companies.

I'm not promoting a HW/SW split. Rather I have observed and lived it; and it seems very common to a lot of companies. The work schedules, terms, backgrounds, etc are usually very different between the people working on SW and HW. There's a lot of ignorance and misconception from either side. So, in a lot of ways it should not be surprising that "product" designers don't know or recognize much about the things that seem so, so important to software UI people.

So, to Jared's point about being productive, one principle for creating great products is having an integrated team. Hardly novel. Having a strong overall project leader who shepard's the vision of the whole product would be another one, I suppose.

Last I saw Jared speak he presented his challenge to the usability field to become either 1) a real science, or 2) recognize itself as a craft. In that presentation he mentioned investigating the design groups behind web sites that are generally recognized as being usability benchmarks (Amazon, etc). Low and behold, none of them had a formal usability department or centralized usability practice. Rather they had a culture of being focused on the customer and of experimentation. Jared, please correct me if I misrepresent.

I wonder if the same is true about companies that make great integrated HW/SW products? They don't bother with the professional distinctions and just focus on the customer and making great stuff?

4 Nov 2006 - 11:20pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

At 07:45 PM 11/4/2006, Edwin Booth wrote:
>Last I saw Jared speak he presented his challenge to the usability field
>to become either 1) a real science, or 2) recognize itself as a craft. In
>that presentation he mentioned investigating the design groups behind web
>sites that are generally recognized as being usability benchmarks (Amazon,
>etc). Low and behold, none of them had a formal usability department or
>centralized usability practice. Rather they had a culture of being focused
>on the customer and of experimentation. Jared, please correct me if I
>misrepresent.

That is a correct representation of what I said (and what I meant to say).

>I wonder if the same is true about companies that make great integrated
>HW/SW products? They don't bother with the professional distinctions and
>just focus on the customer and making great stuff?

Our research suggests it is.

Jared

Jared M. Spool, Founding Principal, User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike Street, Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
978 327-5561 jspool at uie.com http://www.uie.com
Blog: http://www.uie.com/brainsparks

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