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The Oppenheimer Moment - Alan Cooper | Open Transcripts
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"All of our social sys­tems bias us toward a pre­sen­tist focus: cap­i­tal­ist mar­kets, rapid tech­no­log­i­cal advance, pro­fes­sion­al reward sys­tems, and indus­tri­al man­age­ment meth­ods. You have to ask your­self, how will this be used in ten years? In thir­ty. When will it die? What will hap­pen to its users? To be a good ances­tor, we must look at the entire lifes­pan of our work.

I know I said that there were three considerations, but there’s a strong fourth one, too. Having established the three conduits for bad ancestry—assumptions, externalities, and timescale—we now need some tactical tools for ancestry thinking.

Because it’s a systems problem, individual people are rarely to blame. But people become representatives of the system. That is, the face of bad ancestry will usually be a person. So it takes some finesse to move in a positive direction without polarizing the situation. You can see from the USA’s current political situation how easy it is to slip into polarization.

First we need to understand that systems need constant work. John Gall’s theory of General Systemantics says that, “systems failure is an intrinsic feature of systems.” In other words, all systems go haywire, and will continue to go haywire, and only constant vigilance can keep those systems working in a positive direction. You can’t ignore systems. You have to ask questions about systems. You must probe constantly, deeply, and not accept rote answers.

And when you detect bad assumptions, ignored side‐effects, or distortions of time, you have to ask those same questions of the others around you. You need to lead them through the thought process so they see the problem too. This is how you reveal the secret language of the system.

Ask about the external forces at work on the system. Who is outside of the system? What did they think of it? What leverage do they have? How might they use the system? Who is excluded from it?

Ask about the impact of the system. Who is affected by it? What other systems are affected? What are the indirect long‐term effects? Who gets left behind?

Ask about the consent your system requires. Who agrees with what you are doing? Who disagrees? Who silently condones it? And who’s ignorant of it?

Ask who benefits from the system? Who makes money from it? Who loses money? Who gets promoted? And how does it affect the larger economy?

Ask about how the system can be misused. How can it be used to cheat, to steal, to confuse, to polarize, to alienate, to dominate, to terrify? Who might want to misuse it? What could they gain by it? Who could lose?

If you are asking questions like these regularly, you’re probably making a leaky boat.

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about what I call working backwards. It’s my preferred method of problem‐solving. In the conventional world, gnarly challenges are always presented from within a context, a framework of thinking about the problem. The given framework is almost always too small of a window. Sometimes it’s the wrong window altogether. Viewed this way, your problems can seem inscrutable and unsolvable, a Gordian Knot.

Working backwards can be very effective in this situation. It’s similar to Edward de Bono’s notion of lateral thinking, and Taiichi Ohno’s idea of the 5 Whys. Instead of addressing the problem in its familiar surroundings, you step backwards and you examine the surroundings instead. Deconstructing and understanding the problem definition first is more productive than directly addressing the solution.

Typically you discover that the range of possible solutions first presented are too limiting, too conventional, and suppress innovation. When the situation forces you to choose between Option A or Option B, the choice is almost always Option C. If we don’t work backwards we tend to treat symptoms rather than causes. For example we clamor for a cure for cancer, but we ignore the search for what causes cancer. We institute recycling programs, but we don’t reduce our consumption of disposable plastic. We eat organic grains and meat, but we still grow them using profoundly unsustainable agricultural practices.

The difficulty presented by working backwards is that it typically violates established boundaries. The encompassing framework is often in a different field of thought and authority. Most people, when they detect such a boundary refuse to cross it. They say, “That’s not my responsibility.” But this is exactly what an externality looks like. Boundaries are even more counterproductive in tech.

A few years ago, a famous graphic circulated on the Web that said, “In 2015, Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.”

The problem is that taxi companies are regulated by taxing and controlling vehicles. Media is controlled by regulating content. Retailing is controlled by taxing inventory. And accommodations by taxing rooms. All of the governmental checks and balances are side‐stepped my business model innovation. These new business models are better than the old ones, but the new ideas short‐circuit the controls we need to keep them from behaving like bad citizens, bad ancestors.

All business models have good sides and bad sides. We cannot protect ourselves against the bad parts by legislating symptoms and artifacts. Instead of legislating mechanism mechanisms, we have to legislate desired outcomes. The mechanisms may change frequently, but the outcomes remain very constant, and we need to step backwards to be good ancestors.

And when we step backwards, we see the big picture. But seeing it shows us that there’s a lot of deplorable stuff going on in the world today. And a lot of it is enabled and exacerbated by the high‐tech products that we make. It might not be our fault, but it’s our responsibility to fix it.

One reaction to looking at the big picture is despair. When you realize the whole machine is going in the wrong direction, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with a fatalistic sense of doom. Another reaction to seeing this elephant is denial. It makes you want to just put your head back down and concentrate on the wireframes. But those paths are the Option A and the Option B of the problem, and I am committed to Option C. I want to fix the problem.

If you find yourself at the point in a product’s development where clearly unethical requests are made of you, when the boss asks you to lie, cheat, or steal, you’re too late for anything other than brinksmanship. I applaud you for your courage if you’re willing to put your job on the line for this, but it’s unfair for me to ask you to do it. My goal here is to arm you with practical, useful tools that will effectively turn the tech industry towards becoming a good ancestor. This is not a rebellion. Those tools will be more of a dialectic than a street protest. We can only play the long game here.

Our very powerlessness as individual practitioners makes us think that we can’t change the system. Unless of course we are one of the few empowered people. We imagine that powerful people take powerful actions. We picture the lone Tiananmen protester standing resolutely in front of a column of battle tanks, thus making us good ancestors. Similarly, we picture the CEO Jack Dorsey banning Nazis from Twitter and thus, in a stroke, making everything better."

"Now fortuitously, I had recently been talking with folks at the engineering school at the University of California at Berkeley about teaching something there. Renato Verdugo, my new friend and collaborator with the great hair, agreed to help. And we just completed co‐teaching a semester‐long class called “Thinking Like a Good Ancestor” at the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation on the Berkeley campus. Renato works for Google, and they generously supported our work.

We’re introducing our students to the fundamentals of how technology could lose its way. Of awareness and intentionality. We’re giving the students our taxonomy of assumptions, externalities, and time. Instead of focusing on how tech behaves badly, we’re focusing on how good tech is allowed to become bad. We’re not trying to patch the holes in the Titanic but prevent them from occurring in future tech. So we’re encouraging our students to exercise their personal agency. We expect these brilliant young students at Berkeley to take ancestry thinking out into the world. We expect them to make it a better place for all of our children.

Like those students, we are the practitioners. We are the makers. We are the ones who design, develop, and deploy software‐powered experiences. At the start of this talk I asked you to imagine yourself as a tech practitioner witnessing your creations turned against our common good. Now I want you to imagine yourself creating products that can’t be turned towards evil. Products that won’t spy on you, won’t addict you, and won’t discriminate against you. More than anyone else, you have the power to create this reality. Because you have your hands on the technology. And I believe that the future is in the hands of the hands‐on.

Ultimately, we the craftspeople who make the artifacts of the future have more effect on the world than the business executives, the politicians, and the investment community. We are like the keystone in the arch. Without us it all falls to the ground. While it may not be our fault that our products let evil leak in, it is certainly within our power to prevent it. The welfare of our children, and their children, is at stake, and taking care of our offspring is the best way to take care of ourselves.

We need to stand up, and stand together. Not in opposition but as a… [more]
alancooper  design  ethics  ancestors  2018  time  systemsthinking  systems  capitalism  neoliberalism  technology  lifespan  externalities  economics  ancestry  legacy  side-effects  morality  awareness  intentionality  renatoverdugo  powerlessness  longgame  longnow  bighere  zoominginandout  taiichiohno  problemsolving  johngall 
may 2019 by robertogreco
Design Is Mainly About Empathy — Track Changes
"1. The user has a way of thinking about the information they want. Example: “I heard about jousting and it sounds weird so I think I’ll watch some jousting videos.”

2. The information our user needs actually exists a certain way in the world. Example: A database of video information with some metadata are magnetized regions of alloy on a hard drive on a server somewhere in North Carolina.

3. A product designer has represented the information to the user with some degree of abstraction. Example: A web page at a certain URL shows a place to type a search query, a loading indicator, some branding, a sorted list of results with previews, and a plenty of enticing buttons to click on in case your jousting interest flickers out and Christina Aguilera on Jimmy Kimmel could help you pass the time instead.

[screenshot captioned: "Jousting is actually pretty interesting btw"]

Between the magnetized alloy and a user on a couch watching jousting videos is…a bunch of abstraction. So it’s the job of a good product designer to hold all three models of the information in her mind, and build a bridge between them. She covers the gaps between her users and the machine, so her users don’t have to bother. As Alan Cooper puts it:
Computer literacy is a euphemism for forcing human beings to stretch their thinking to understand the inner workings of application logic, rather than having software-enabled products stretch to meet people’s usual ways of thinking.

Let’s take a closer look at those three methods. Alan Cooper tackles all three in the seminal About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design.

The first one is the user’s mental model. Cooper writes that a lot of people think “electricity flows like water from the wall into the appliances through the little black tube of the electrical cord” when they plug in their vacuum or computer.

Of course, the electricity doesn’t flow like water at all. In the real world, electricity’s implementation model is much more complex. But a simpler view of electricity works just fine for most of us. It’s informative enough to help us understand, for example, that we need to cram a cord into an outlet to charge our computer.

Finally, the represented model is the way the thing ends up looking to the user. This is the part the designer spends their time working on, and the part that people will actually touch.

Here’s the secret for the designer, again from Cooper:
“The closer the represented model comes to the user’s mental model, the easier he will find the application to use and understand.”

Bravo! For a designer, that might mean spending more time talking to users, and less time digging through the API. It might mean that early design phases are better spent researching user psychology instead of tinkering with typography.

The user’s mental model, faulty though it may be, is our guiding light. If we don’t invest effort in understanding that model, it’s going to be really hard to know if our work is successful. Design is mainly about empathy.

Example time. Animation is a great tool for practicing user empathy. Animation is a user interface pattern for aligning a user’s mental model with the product’s represented model. The notifications menu in iOS 9 isn’t physically tucked up underneath the top of the device on a curtain roll, and everyone knows that. But users have mental models of tugging on objects in their world from the near the top to reveal a new temporary state.

[two GIFs (one of blinds, one of the notifications pane in iOS being opened by swiping from the top) captioned "Blinds image courtesy IKEA"]

The thing that’s special about the represented model—Cooper helped me see this—is that it’s the only part a designer can control. We can’t control the implementation model, because a good engineer will use abstractions in the codebase to make it maintainable and safe. And we can’t control our user’s mental model, since it’s shaped by their culture and dozens of other unknowable factors.

As designers, we have the power to manipulate representations. Design is the process of making our users feel awesome by representing the software in a way that meets them where they are."
design  ux  alancooper  richardfeynmann  teaching  empathy  explanation  2016  neilrenicker  representation  ui  mentalmodels  abstraction 
july 2016 by robertogreco
Treehouses: Online community for internet // Speaker Deck
Notes here by litherland:

“The ephemerality of speech [sic] in these tools better affords intimacy.” Revisit. /

“That speech is temporal also means someone can be absent, which makes presence meaningful.” Makes a lot of assumptions; needs to rethink (or think harder about) what speech is. Or what he means by it. /

Concept of “intransient group memory.” /

Interesting thoughts about playgrounds. /

“Conversation is an iterated game, so your pseudo can be a strong identity even if it isn’t your *public commercial web face*.” [my emph] /

“Hosts use soft power to influence. The group still governs itself.” /

“Recording is corrosive to candid sharing, so a private internet space must be transient.” /
2012  markpaschal  dannyo'brien  via:litherland  heatherchamp  self-organization  openspace  hackerspaces  autonomy  richardbartle  johanhui  johanhuizinga  play  groupmemory  availabot  ephemerality  muds  space  place  alancooper  sovereignposture  secondlife  personalization  tomarmitage  animalcrossing  ambient  presence  minimumviabletreehouses  minecraft  gaming  games  clubhouses  socialmedia  darkmatter  privacy  sharing  conversation  groups  onlinetreehouses  treehouses  organizing  activism  community  ephemeral 
january 2012 by robertogreco

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