11 January, 2017

Bibliography – Books I read in 2016

This article was originally published on Linked In.
My first encounter with a book apart from school books was in my 9th grade. I think, it was a short story written by Munshi Premchand, well-known for his modern Hindi-Urdu literature. I neither remember the story nor the name of the book, but I remember going to the school library for the first time in my life and picking this book. Years later, I was introduced to Swami Vivekananda’s writings by a friend Preethi in college. Since then, my reading journey has undergone a sea of change.

Books I read in 2016

These books are in roughly the same order in which I read through the year.

User Experience

Change by Design by Tim Brown
Written by the CEO of Ideo, one of the top design companies of the world, this is a moving book on creating a human-centered design framework to build products. This book also includes two interesting case studies from India. My favorite quote from the book is:
“UX Design is not a link in the chain, it’s the hub of a wheel”
Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices (Voices That Matter) by Dan Saffer
This book is a good introduction to Interaction Design and the little things that matter. This is also the first book that set me in the direction of specializing in Interaction Design last year. The quote below is a reflection of how important it is to focus on ‘Now’ in Interaction Design phase.
“What you think of as the past is a memory trace, stored in the mind, of a former Now. When you remember the past, you reactivate a memory trace — and you do so now. The future is an imagined Now, a projection of the mind. When the future comes, it comes as the Now. When you think about the future, you do it Now. Past and future have no reality of their own. Just as the moon has no light of its own, but can only reflect the light of the sun, so are past and future only pale reflections of the light, power, and reality of the eternal present. Their reality is “borrowed” from the Now”
Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) by John Maeda
A simple book that promotes simplicity at its best.
“The world’s always been falling apart. So relax.” ~ Anonymous”
Mobile First by Luke Wroblewski
Luke Wroblewski is my mobile hero. I am very grateful to have discovered his deep work in mobile space. Every word he speaks or writes has such depth and brilliance, that it is hard to believe that he is a human. He is a true icon of our times!
“As a general rule, content takes precedence over navigation on mobile. Whether people are checking on frequently updated data like stocks, news, or scores; looking up local information; or finding their way to articles through search or communication tools — they want immediate answers to their needs and not your site map.”
Content Strategy for Mobile by Karen McGrane
Our lives are overloaded with hard to manage content everywhere and all the time. Karen takes us through a sensitive journey on suiting content in mobile application contexts.
“Whether we want to deliver exactly the same content to everyone, or prioritize and feature content differently on different platforms, we have a process that helps us do that without wasted effort. That future is adaptive content. Adaptive content is content that is flexible, so it can adapt to different screen sizes, and can be presented in different formats as appropriate for the device. What’s the secret to this flexibility? Why, it’s having more structure! Adaptive content has structure and metadata attached to it, which helps it figure out what to do when it winds up on all those different platforms and devices.”

Machine Learning

Best Interface is No Interface: The simple path to brilliant technology (Voices That Matter) by Golden Krishna
As a child, Golden Krishna was apparently named ‘Golden’ because astrology suggested that his first name should start with G and have 6 letters in all. His work in User Experience Design is pure gold. He is one of the most accomplished and sound User Experience Designers of our times. I am so proud to walk this earth around the same time as him.
“Let’s change our conversation with computers. Let’s empower computers to observe the world beyond form fields. Let’s give them the ability to sense our needs with sensors and other signals. Let’s replace tedious user input with instantaneous and painless machine input — where the computer system finds the information it needs on its own — whenever and wherever possible”

Deep Work and Passion

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap……And Others Don’t by Jim Collins
There is an old saying, “What got you here, won’t get you there”. This book tells you how to move from being good to great and how much of hard work it can be.
“People are not your most important asset. The Right People are!”
Deep Work — Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
In a world of constant distractions and interruptions, it is hard to focus. This book tells you how you can focus, do deep work and deliver great resulst, the kind that we think only ‘research scholars’ are capable of.
“If you are comfortably going deep, you’ll be comfortable mastering the increasingly complex systems and skills needed to thrive in our economy. If you instead remain one of the many for whom depth is uncomfortable and distraction ubiquitous, you shouldn’t expect these systems and skills to come easily to you”
Together is Better by Simon Sinek
I sense warmth when I listen to Simon Sinek. A great influencer of our times, he comes out with another fabulous book on the power of team work and being together. If you are pressed for time, you should watch this video.
“Leadership is hard work. Not the hard work of doing the job — it’s the hard work of learning to let go. It’s the hard work of training people, coaching people, believing in people and trusting people. Leadership is a human activity. And, unlike the job, leadership lasts beyond whatever happens during the workday”
Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter) by Garr Reynolds
One of the three best books on Presentation Skills ever. Period!
“There are four characteristics of a good presenter:
1. He knew his material inside and out, and he knew what he wanted to say
2. He stood front and center and spoke in a real, down-to-earth language that was conversational yet passionate
3. He did not let technical glitches get in his way. When they occurred, he moved forward without missing a beat, never losing his engagement with the audience
4. And he used real, sometimes humorous, anecdotes to illustrate his points, and all his stories were supremely poignant and relevant, supporting his core message”

Non-Fiction Inspiration

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
It is an age-old belief that a dying man can only tell the truth. A moving account of Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 46 is an inspiring tale on how to LIVE LIFE WELL.
“It’s not about how you achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”
David and Goliath — Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
I am a great follower of Malcolm Gladwell ever since I read his book, ‘Outliers’. I am also a big believer of his 10000-hour rule. This book takes the ancient story of an old shepherd David, fighting a giant Goliath and brings a whole new perspective of why underdogs will always win.
“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all”
The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back from Setbacks by Dr. Al Siebert
It is hard to be resilient in today’s competitive world. With life’s suffering, being resilient can often be considered as an act of inability and lack of skill. This book tells you why resilience is powerful and how it can lead you to a state of inner peace with yourself and the world.
“Resilient people don’t wait for others to rescue them; they work through their feelings, set goals, work to reach their goals, and often emerge from the resiliency process with a better life than before. Later, they say they are glad that their difficult situation happened”
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz
We are inundated with too many choices today. Want to buy a pair of clothes? You have at least a thousand websites. Want to buy a smartphone? There are at least 500+ smart phones to choose from. If this leaves you mentally exhausted, this book could be for you.
”Regret less and practice an attitude of Gratitude”
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink
In this book, Daniel Pink outlines the six fundamentally human abilities that are essential for professional success. Pink introduces readers to a new way of thinking about the future.
“Here and now is all we got”
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
A 9 year old who feared darkness, visualized a dream of becoming an astronaut after watching Neil Armstrong landing on the moon in 1969. 21 years later, this little boy was selected to go to space for the first time. A fabulous story of how dreams come true through sheer hard work and will power. A must read book if you have children of any age.
“If you’ve got the time, use it to get ready. What else could you possibly have to do that’s more important? Yes, maybe you’ll learn how to do a few things you’ll never wind up actually needing to do, but that’s a much better problem to have than needing to do something and having no clue where to start. I don’t regret being ready”
“One of the most important lessons I have learned as an astronaut: to value the wisdom of humility, as well as the sense of perspective it gives you. That’s what will help me climb down the ladder. And it won’t hurt if I decide to climb up a new one, either”
“Good people often select themselves”
Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient and the Past-life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian Weiss
If you believe in Extra Sensory Perceptions, this book is for you. In October 2016, I met a lovely women Uma, at a train station near Nice(France) who shared the same ideas and thoughts as I did about our universe. While chatting with her, I jumped up and down all over the place, telling her that she was my long lost sister who came to guide me in this life. To her, I am forever grateful for introducing me to Dr. Brian Weiss’s work. Without her, my life would be incomplete. As you might understand by now, this book is not for the faint-hearted.
“Patience and timing….. Everything comes when it must come. A life cannot be rushed, cannot be worked on a schedule as so many people want it to be. We must accept what comes to us at a given time, and not ask for more. But life is endless, so we never die; we were never really born. We just pass through different phases. There is no end. Humans have many dimensions. But time is not as we see time, but rather in lessons that are learned. Everything will be clear to you in time. But you must have a chance to digest the knowledge that we have given to you already”
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
We are capable of forming great character and creating happiness for ourselves. James takes us through a simple, yet powerful journey of bringing joy into our lives.
“Spiritual achievements are the consummation of holy aspirations. He who lives constantly in the conception of noble and lofty thoughts, who dwells upon all that is pure and unselfish, will, as surely as the sun reaches its zenith and the moon its full, become wise and noble in character, and rise into a position of influence and blessedness.”
No Limits: The Will to Succeed by Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps, world class swimmer ever known talks about his journey from a 9 year old ADHD diagnosed child to becoming the most decorated Olympian of all times. A mind-blowing account of a great soul and his will to succeed.
“Nothing is impossible. Because nothing is impossible, you have to dream big dreams; the bigger, the better”
Which books would you recommend this year?

30 December, 2016

Lessons Learnt from 2016 — A Year in Review





2016 was a fantabulous year. It came along with its set of hardships, but it brought along many happy surprises too. I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities that came my way.
Herstory asked intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs across India to review lessons learnt in 2016. I was one of them. Here is what I wrote for them. The original article can be found here.

Excerpts from Herstory
As 2016 wraps up and we find ourselves on the threshold of 2017, it is yet again time to look back on the year that was, what we learnt, and what we can (hopefully) carry forward into the year that awaits. As we look forward to 2017, we spoke with some women in business to discover how 2016 went and to understand the changes and developments they hope can become realities in the year to come.

2016 was a great year of fabulous challenges and achievements. Three lessons I learned are:
  1. We have to fight our own battles. Our near and dear ones might walk along and help us cope with our battles, but we still have to walk the talk.
  2. We have to choose which battles to fight, wisely. One comes across several battles in a lifetime — some with ourselves and some with others. One needs to choose wisely which ones to fight and which ones to ignore in order to maintain sanity.
  3. There is enough goodness for everyone in this world (a recurring lesson I learned again this year).
Changes we need to see in 2017
In general, it is best to create ecosystems where men and women come together and solve women’s challenges inclusively rather than setting up purely women-centric groups (some of which end up as gossip groups, with due respect to such groups). Having said that, we need to create secure environments where women can speak about their challenges in open forums without fear of being judged or stereotyped.
There have to be better funding platforms for women entrepreneurs. Government policies for supporting women-led enterprises have to improve. Talent and skill, rather than gender, should be the parameters that matter.

What are your lessons?


28 October, 2016

Microinteractions: Designing the Little Details


Last week, I was in Auckland and Wellington, speaking on User Experience (UX) and teaching UX Design courses at two WeTest Conferences in Auckland and Wellington. I also had a rare opportunity to teach/speak at large corporates like Bank of New Zealand and Assurity Consulting. I am blown away by the lovely interactions I had and the new bridge I created with many in New Zealand. 

Token of Thanks
I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Katrina Clokie for inviting me to WeTest Conference. I never ever imagined that a chance meeting with Katrina at CAST 2013, which was my first self-funded trip to a US conference would bring us together again. I would also like to thank the Conference Organizers Katrina Clokie, Aaron Hodder, Shirley Tricker and Daniel Domnavand for conducting a world-class conference, for taking care of the little details for international speakers and introducing me to a super awesome community in New Zealand which is so passionate, warm, curious, learning-focussed and yet humble. This conference and my interactions will truly remain close to my heart for getting the ‘Conference based Microinteractions’ right! 

Teaching UX
It was a fabulous experience to teach UX Courses at the other end of the planet. At the end of these talks/workshops, many people walked up to me and shared many *pain points* in their daily line of work. For example, one of the workshop organisers, Merridy said, “Pari, I am going to put up a board indicating ‘Toilets’ on the door and avoid frustrating our visitors.” One of the conference organisers Shirley mentioned, “The motion detector lamb in our service apartment doesn’t light up instantly and expects a tribal dance which needs to be fixed.” I was thrilled to see people pick up this concept so quickly and apply it at work. 

Ctrl+Alt+Delete
Have you ever wondered why you need ‘Ctrl+Alt+Delete’ to lock/unlock windows? Did you ever wonder why we couldn’t have a single key to do the same task? In my early days of school, I was told to believe that 3 keys were given as a security measure (God knows how this could prevent hackers though!). However, Bill Gates confessed that having three keys was a mistake. “It was a mistake,” Gates admits to an audience left laughing at his honesty. “We could have had a single button, but the guy who did the IBM keyboard design didn’t wanna give us our single button.” David Bradley, an engineer who worked on the original IBM PC, invented the combination which was originally designed to reboot a PC. This brings us to microinteractions. 

Microinteractions
Microinteractions is a concept introduced by Dan Saffer in his acclaimed book, ‘Microinteractions’. By definition,
A microinteraction is a contained product moment that does one task well.

Every time you change a setting, update a device or post a tweet, you are engaging with a microinteraction. They are everywhere and they just need some *noticing*. Microinteractions are so simple that we don’t notice them until something goes wrong. Yet, they are incredibly important in creating delightful experiences for users. 

Structure of a Microinteraction
A beautifully crafted microinteraction contains four main parts: Trigger, Rules, Feedback and Loops & Modes. 

Trigger
A trigger initiates a microinteraction. For example, turning ON a lamp needs someone to press the switch. 

Rules
The rules determine what can happen, what cannot happen and the sequence of events that might happen. 



For example, what should happen when a user presses the switch in a particular direction (Up/Down), is determined by rules defined for this lamp. 

Feedback
Feedback lets people know what’s happening. In his book, ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, Don Norman writes,
“Sending back to the user, information about what action has actually been done, what result has been accomplished is a well-known concept in the science of control and information theory. Imagine trying to talk to someone when you cannot even hear your own voice, or trying to draw a picture with a pencil that leaves no mark: there would be no feedback.”

Feedback gives each action an immediate and obvious effect to avoid pain to the user. 

Loops and Modes
Loop is a cycle and mode is a state. Consider ‘Memories’ feature on Facebook. Facebook app constantly loops into your account to check if you have posted something on this day, 1 year, 2 years, 3 years….. X years ago. If the condition turns out to be true, a message pops up to remind you of your memory and your willingness to share your memory. 


If you share the memory, the state of your timeline changes, by showing you a memory in addition to other posts on your timeline. To summarize, loops & modes form the meta-rules of a microinteraction. 

Sketchnote
While there are different components that form a good microinteraction, one should remember that each one must be applied based on the context. Putting a hard rule saying, ‘Every microinteraction has to follow the set guidelines may turn out to be painpoints rather than delightful experiences.’ TEST Yvonne Tse, who works at Assurity Consulting in New Zealand attended my talk on ‘Microinteractions’ at WeTest Conference, Wellington. She created a lovely sketch note that is very close to what I covered in my talk. Take a look. 


Show That You Care!
Users today, have scores of options to choose from. All they want in return for their loyalty is that you care. In the words of Dan Saffer,


What microinteractions have made you happy today?

10 October, 2016

The Writer's Block and It's Mysterious Journey


This article was originally published on Linked In.

Wikipedia describes writer's block “as a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work.”Anything a writer writes is new work indeed which contradicts the definition itself. Confused? Read on.
Many people have written about Writer's block in the past. Naomi Karten writes that every writer hits writer’s block and one needs to unblock himself. Seth Godin thinks that writing isn’t the hard part, it’s the commitment. He also talks how Writer’s block never existed before the 1940s and it became a hit with writers only when Writing became a respectable and lucrative profession. Seth asks amusingly,

No one ever gets talker's block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down. Why then, is writer's block endemic?

Writer’s block is an excuse to get away from writing. It’s at best, the fear of writing anything crappy. It’s not the inability to write that is the problem, it’s the hard work, motivation and commitment to write that writers lack. Additionally, writers avoid exploring different methods to improve their writing from time to time.

The Fieldstone Method
Writing is not as easy as it appears to be. It’s not as if, a writer sits in a beautiful apartment with a beach side view staring at palm trees and ideas start striking like stars. Writing is about serious thinking. It’s about choosing from ideas, facts, stories, plots, and characters accumulated over time. Gerald M Weinberg calls these nuggets as Fieldstones. This means that any writer would have a ‘Work in Progress Inventory’ that may include several books in different stages of completion, article drafts, a collection of quotes, bits and pieces of writing that amused the writer from his reading experiences and so forth. He may carry a pen and paper (tools) to collect his fieldstones all the time. Yeah, all the time! Note that the writer may not use all of these right away. He hopes to use them someday.

Aspiring writers all over the world are desperate to get an answer to the most dangerous question, “How does one overcome writer’s block”. Some of these writers expect a magical answer, “Oh! Writer’s block indeed exists and you need to do A,Band C to conquer it.” Getting stuck cannot be excused as Writer’s block. There’s one best way to beat your mind out of getting stuck – Start Writing!

Good Writing References
  • The Fieldstone Method by Gerald Weinberg
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr and E. B. White
I say this often to aspiring writers and I'll say it again, "Good Writers Read". Reading helps you improve your writing skills. So, if you aspire to get better, start reading.

How do I deal with Writer's Block?
I get stuck with writing very often, not because I lack ideas or the will to write, but because I do not find time. The truth is, I do not *make time* for writing. As Seth Godin points out, it's the commitment that matters and I try and keep that, to be able to write my articles.

How do you handle writer's block?


24 August, 2016

Labels on Mobile Forms

Labels describe the purpose of form controls, including text fields, check boxes, radio buttons, drop-down menus amongst others. On mobile apps, screen real estate is limited. This forces app developers to save space by placing labels in varying positions on tiny screens. Labels can be placed in many different ways. I cover five varied approaches in this article.
Positioning Labels – The Right Way
1. Inline Labels
Labels placed inside the form field are called Inline Labels. These continue to be a fad for many programmers after Apple introduced them in most of their apps.
Image Source: Dash Lane app
Pros
  • Simplistic look
  • Space efficiency and better use of mobile real estate
Cons
  • Loss of Context – When user begins typing or even upon entering the field, label is lost thereby taking away the memorability aspect of the field
On Dash lane app, text fields have an inline label. Tapping on the text field keeps the inline label intact, until user starts typing into it. If user deletes existing data, inline label re-appears, to remind the user about the context of the field, just in case, user forgot what the field means.
Inline labels suit best on forms with fewer fields. E.g., on login forms, , it’s hard to forget which field is for what kind of input(username, password), for most part as there are just fewer fields with a straightforward goal.
Inline label could be a great feature if it is used in the right way. A good approach is to use it as supporting text or short descriptions that provide cues to users.
Luke Wroblewski, writes simple guidelines for input labels in his book, Mobile First.
A label within an input field:
  • Should never become part of someone’s answer. This seems simple enough but still happens quite frequently when things haven’t been loaded or aren’t coded correctly. Ever try searching only to find the word “search” has become part of your query?
  • Should not be confused with an actual answer in an input field. If labels and inputs look too similar, people might (rightly) assume an answer has already been provided for them. I’ve seen this happen too often in usability testing.
  • Is usually absent when someone starts answering a question and when they finish answering a set of questions. This can make it harder to know which question is being answered or to go back and check answers after the labels are gone.
2. Floating Labels
Image Source: Google Material Design
Material Design guideline, introduced us to floating labels, i.e. the label appears as an Inline Label on the screen (Description field). As soon as user starts typing into the field, the label slowly floats upwards and places itself at the top of the field (Title field).
A downside to this approach is that, unless the features are coded for accessibility, visually impaired users might find it difficult to understand this behavior.
3. Top Aligned Labels
Labels are aligned above input fields, hence the name Top Aligned. I forgot the mobile app from where I picked this screenshot. That leads us to another problem. Shouldn't each screen have app logo on it, just in case, amnesia patients like me could recollect which app we are on? Well, I can only say, the world is tough out there.
Pros
  • Faster completion time from users as per Matteo Penzo’s findings
  • Works well for long labels
  • Labels that require localization might have good flexibility
Cons
  • They take up a lot of vertical real estate, leading to perennial vertical scrolling / swiping for long-ish mobile forms
4. Right Aligned Labels
Image Source: www.css-tricks.com
Labels are right-aligned while input fields follow them in left-alignment.
Pros
  • Slightly slower completion times compared to top aligned labels
  • Less vertical space
Cons
  • When labels change, this alignment leads to flexibility issues in the layout
5. Left Aligned Labels
Image Source: www.css-tricks.com
Labels are left-aligned while input fields follow them in left-alignment.
Pros
  • Best suited for forms where users need to slow down and scan the fields. For e.g., bank forms
Cons
  • Slowest completion time compared to top aligned and right aligned labels
  • Difficult to parse fields on long forms
Luke Wroblewski, has talked about top, right and left aligned labels in an elegant way, here that is almost impossible for me to beat. 
Image Source: Polar mobile app
As you notice in Polar mobile app above, inline labels can be used as placeholder texts inside input fields to complement labels with additional information. Notice that Polar has ensured that branding is intact on login screens with their 'Join Polar' title. There is little possibility that a user forgets which app this is. By the way, Polar app was designed by Luke Wroblewski, which was acquired by Google a while ago.
Labels appear to be the least important elements on mobile screens, yet play a major role in how these screens appear to users. We need to pay attention to not just their behavior, but also their placement.
How do you handle labels in your apps?

03 August, 2016

An Introduction to Visual Design and the Goals


Visual Design is the process of visual problem solving through the use of typography, space, images and color. Visual design is used interchangeably with Graphic Design and Communication Design due to overlapping skills involved.

Examples of visual design include creating logos, publication of books, magazines, newspapers, print media, website/mobile graphics and so forth. Key purpose of visual design is communication through the image, functional to the disclosure of a message or information.

User Experience Design != Visual Design
User Experience Diagram by Dan Saffer

Many colleagues and friends I work with think that Visual Design means User Experience Design and vice versa. They are surprised when I mention that User Experience Design is a superset of 13+ disciplines. Dan Saffer, world renowned author designed the User Experience Design diagram based on his several decades of experience. In short,

Visual Design is a subset of User Experience Design.

Three Goals of Visual Design
As per Scott Klemmer, Visual Design has three main goals:
  1. GUIDE: Guide people to convey structure, relative importance, relationships
  2. PACE: Set up the pace of the interaction to draw people in, help orient, provide hooks to dive deep
  3. MESSAGE: Use Visual Design to express the meaning of the interaction and style, breathe life into the content

Visual Design Tools

Google Website

Google website demonstrates simplicity at its best. With a search box in the middle of the screen, important tabs in the header and less important items in the header, it demonstrate what it takes to retain users.
NDTV Website

Check out an Indian News website above. Layout and Content organization are very different compared to what Google search did.

Fresh Menu Website

Things might change drastically for a Healthy Food Ordering app like Fresh Menu where people would like to know the variety of food offered on a daily basis. 

As you notice in above screenshots, visual design is very different. Visuals and Content have varied layouts, organization and hierarchy in each website. In general, three main tools accomplish good visual design. They are Typography, Layout and Color. In simpler terms, paying attention to these simple tools can help you accomplish good aesthetics.
What does good visual design mean to you?