At d.construct at the end of last week, I presented on the experience stack. This is an idea I’ve been mulling, thinking about the various layers of experience in a way analogous to the seven layer OSI model of computer networking.
As usual, I’ve put the slides and transcript online. Read the Experience Stack.
Some portions of the presentation went well, but overall I wasn’t pleased with my articulation of the ideas. The comments I’ve received and read online are also mixed–some people got a lot out of various slides, while others felt presentation was confusing. That’s a shame. I used to feel okay about confusing pieces, because nonlinearity can be fun and confusing is a price you pay. But I’d prefer now to have a baseline accessible to everyone, so I want to review what happened.
What made the talk confusing
I threw the structure baby out with the bathwater. My presentations so far this year have shared a very definite rhetorical structure. In an attempt to get some distance from this, I organised the material as a fool’s alphabet, starting with A is for adaptive design and finishing with Z is for zooming user interface.
The scattered approach was intended to mirror the experience of people with products, where every pattern is assumed meaningful and so we have to design for all levels of the experience stack simultaneously.
It also meant, however, that the fundamentals of a good presentation were skipped: I did not say, at the beginning ‘this is what you’ll get'; I did not, at the end, give a simple, graspable take-home message (violating my own point about treating everything as products with simple statements of intent); I did not use pacing to help people know when I was illustrating versus when I was building up to a more substantive point.
In short, I took away the contextual cues people use to feel situated and comfortable within a presentation, and removed the explicit ‘resets’ I usually use to help people who have drifted off get back into the flow. In short, people felt lost!
I had too much material. There are simply too many examples in this presentation, and they aren’t grouped well because of the constraints I set myself. I usually leave room to dive into examples if the audience are looking lost, but because of the quantity of material I didn’t give myself time to digress on the fly.
I tried a live demo. No matter that it worked in AV check on the previous day… I was using a Wii remote control to pan and zoom an image embedded in a Quartz Composer movie embedded in a Keynote slide, controlled by an application broadcasting Wiimote data to a custom-written Quartz Composer patch. That’s precarious at the best of times. Ironically it functioned perfectly well technically–I just forgot that I gesticulate a lot more than I notice when I talk, that my hands shake, and that – when I’m on stage – I get so focused that I forget what buttons do what (seriously: I can’t even take photos on stage unless my camera is already turned on, because I can’t remember what button does what).
Other technical problems were the metadata portions of my slides being cut off (my computer recognised the projector differently on the day), a couple of movies freezing (I think because the presentation slides had been set up a lot longer than I’d tested), and the loss of sound.
I didn’t explain the core premise sufficiently. This is partially due to the absence of structure, but also because I could have used the experience stack as a common thread but choose to leave it till later to introduce it. Even then, I didn’t spend enough time explaining myself. Consequently some people didn’t get what they came for (and for those folks, I’ve written up the stack concept itself in a separate post).
Why I made these mistakes
There are two reasons. First, I tried to change too much at once from my usual style. There are problems with using the old rhetorical structure, so I needed to find an alternative… but it would have been better to make that shift with old material. I don’t understand this new material well enough yet to really, really condense it, and my discomfort with this style of presenting almost made me freeze on stage about halfway through. It’s been a long time since that happened.
Second, I took a risk and it didn’t pay off. I wrote the full talk in long-hand before delivering it, and it looked unusual but I genuinely thought it would work. In retrospect I can see that it works better as something written: you need to be able to refer back to make sense of the structural reveals and the examples.
What I was pleased with
All of the above makes it sound like my talk went terribly. It didn’t – I’ve had good comments too – but I’ve had a few talks recently go as well as I could ever hope and that’s pushed my standards pretty high.
I’m still pleased with the experience stack concept itself. I think I have, now, a decent way of understanding and explaining experience design, in a way that draws together my various other explorations.
I enjoyed putting together the slides. I colour controlled the slides again (as discussed in this first slide of Products are People Too), and it really binds them together visually. And the first slide uses gentle video in the background, with the ocean washing the beach behind the title. I’m going to do more with that.
This was also my first outing of the new version of last year’s 2D presentation code, this time integrated with Keynote and using a Wiimote. It didn’t go smoothly, but it had to be used to be understood and I know a lot now about what needs to be built.
Finally I was pleased – and thankful for – the friendliness of those who came to d.construct 2007. I talked with a ton of people afterwards, and my talk got a good reception with at least some of the audience. It was fun to see the notes they’d taken, and to hear about their work.
I’ve been asked for a list of books (and other things to read) mentioned. They are, in order:
- Spares, Michael Marshall Smith (slide 1)
- History of the Button blog (slide 3)
- How Buildings Learn, Stewart Brand (slide 2)
- Design for the Real World, Victor Papanek (slide 8)
- Mind Hacks, Tom Stafford and Matt Webb (slide 14)
- Fool’s Alphabet, Sebastian Faulks (slide 17)
- A Theory of Fun, Raph Koster (slide 19)
- Microsoft Inductive User Interface Guidelines (slide 24)
- The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman (slide 25)