@andrewchen

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What I’m reading: Interaction design, Riddles, and more


Happy new year! I’ve been reading a ton of great books over the last month, and particularly the holiday break, and wanted to share them below with a couple comments.

Interaction design and rapid prototyping
Recently, I’ve been on a big kick to develop a much stronger opinion about design, particularly interaction design, and to build products prioritizing desirability over a business/metrics/optimization point of view. I’ve recently wrote about this perspective here.

Here are some of the books that have helped me in my thinking:

Inmates are Running the Asylum
This is probably my favorite book that I read all year. Alan Cooper‘s classic book that builds a business case on creating products from a user-centered view rather than business or technology. Introduces the definition of “interaction design” versus other design disciplines, the creation and use of personas, how engineers design software experiences, etc. Really needs to be updated for the agile programming movement, but still a very solid book.

IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit (PDF)
World-famous design firm IDEO published a toolkit documenting their human-centered design process. It’s longer than it could be because it lists all the methodologies inline, but it’s the deepest look inside IDEO’s design process that I’ve found. The important part is reading about how they go from user research to an insights framework to their “How Might We” questions that drive the creation of many low-fidelity prototypes. I’ve read a ton of books about personas but it wasn’t until I understood this process that I connected the dots on how to go from user research to prototypes to a final product – otherwise, it’s tempting for personas to become a useless artifact that doesn’t drive the product creation process. Read this, but my tip would be to skip through the methodologies on the first read – it’ll make more sense. Also, here’s a related PDF from the Stanford d.school here.

The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage
Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know About How Artists Work
Both of the above books cover similar ground, on how to relate innovation to the broader framework of ideating, designing, deploying, and growing successful products. In Artful Making, the discussion is around “artful” versus “industrial” processes, the former which emphasizes learning by doing and rapid prototyping, versus the factory floor process which emphasizes reliability and efficiency. The Design of Business looks at new product design as the process of moving from “mysteries” (new markets, new ideas) to “heuristics” to “algorithms” to “code” (efficiency-oriented, repeatable processes). The common idea from both books is that new product innovation is very different than metrics-focused efficiency processes, and shouldn’t be treated in the same way. That’s not to say you can’t have a strong, deterministic process around design innovation, but it just requires a different way of thinking.

Serious Play
This book deserves a much longer writeup, since I found it incredibly fascinating. Serious Play is about the notion that spreadsheets are to finance what mockups are to product, and what rehearsals are to theater. They are all models (or, if you prefer, prototypes) that allow people to simulate the future without incurring the full cost of actually doing it. The book touches on many of the first and second degrees of using spreadsheets, clay models, and other artifacts to drive decision-making, including politics, imperfections of models, and what kinds of industries excel at rapid prototyping versus others. Before reading this book, I never really saw the connection between spreadsheets and design mockups, but the author makes a compelling case linking the two as simulation tools.

About Face
Alan Cooper (see above) wrote a more tactical book about the actual “How To” around his Goal-Driven Design process, as mentioned in Inmates are Running the Asylum.

Just for fun
The below books are not necessarily related to startups, but I found them fun and compelling to read.

The Monk and the Riddle
Randy Komisar, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, wrote a philosophical book on life and startups a few years back that I would highly recommend. The core of the book is the idea that too many people try to live what he calls the “Deferred Life Plan,” where you do something you don’t love with the plan to eventually get to your real goals.

Coders at Work
Different profiles of engineers who have worked on important software projects.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art
An economist dissects the world of contemporary art, the different players, what drives the economics, etc. I found this interesting from the perspective of art as a virtual good – his view of what causes high prices very much confirms this viewpoint.

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science
Atul Gawande provides a deeper perspective on what medicine is really like – the mistakes, the uncertainty – all the things you don’t really want to hear as a patient :-)

I also have an older book list here.

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Top posts for 2009: Freemium, Design, and Metrics

Here’s a quickie roundup of the top posts from my blog over the last year, sorted by pageview. They are heavily skewed towards articles passed on to first time readers since most of my readership is via RSS.

A large number of them related to freemium, which tells you how much interest there was in making money in 2009 :-) Perhaps with the economy returning, there will be a shift of interest towards growth again.

Enjoy.

  1. How to create a profitable Freemium startup (spreadsheet model included!)
  2. Built to Fail: How companies like Google, IDEO, and 37signals build failure-tolerant systems for anything!
  3. Free to Freemium: 5 lessons learned from YouSendIt.com
  4. Product design debt versus Technical debt
  5. Friends versus Followers: Twitter’s elegant design for grouping contacts
  6. 5 warning signs: Does A/B testing lead to crappy products?
  7. Freemium business model case study: AdultFriendFinder ARPU, churn, and conversion rates
  8. Which startup’s collapse will end the Web 2.0 era?
  9. 2009 conference schedule for the digital media industry
  10. Does every startup need a Steve Jobs?
  11. Why low-fidelity prototyping kicks butt for customer-driven design
  12. What if interviews poorly predict job performance? What if dating poorly predicts marital happiness?
  13. How to calculate cost-per-acquisition for startups relying on freemium, subscription, or virtual items biz models
  14. 5 crucial stages in designing your viral loop
  15. Age (and ARPPU) ain’t nothing but a number: Data on how age impacts social gaming monetization

To all my subscribers, thank you for reading!

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

A newer, bluer, real-time Google

Happy holidays everyone! I just wanted to make a brief return from a blogging vacation to show you a new Google search test where I’ve been randomly been assigned to the A/B test.

To summarize the main differences:

  • Big blue buttons for everything
  • Drill-down sidebar after a search
  • Emphasis on filtering by time – so you can get the “latest”
  • Search across their properties, including News, Blogs, Books, Forums, Shopping, etc.
  • Features I haven’t seen (except in labs?) such as Timeline, Related Searches, Wonder wheel, etc.

Really a ton of changes!

Here are the photos: First, the homepage…

And here’s a search results page after an egosurf:

Here’s the expanded sidebar:

There are lots of changes, you can check out all the screencaps below:

UPDATE: Interesting – I’m noticing that the sidebar is switching between all text vs icons + large text, on a page-by-page basis. Plus they are changing the content around by quite a bit. Seems like they are still testing the exact nature of the sidebar.

Want more?
If you liked this post, please subscribe or follow me on Twitter. You can also find more essays here.

PS. Get new updates/analysis on tech and startups

I write a high-quality, weekly newsletter covering what's happening in Silicon Valley, focused on startups, marketing, and mobile.

My quickie review of the Fitbit

Minimum Desirable Product

Why the iPod Touch is more strategic than the iPhone for Apple

Update on the Steve Jobs post from an Apple alum (Updated again!)

Does every startup need a Steve Jobs?

Checking out new mailing list on Lean Startups

Product design debt versus Technical debt

Adding design to an agile development process

The question that got me to leave Seattle for greener startup pastures

Why my blogging has sucked lately :)

What I’m reading: Viral Loop by Adam Penenberg

Are social gaming offers scamming users? A detailed analysis of Techcrunch’s Scamville article

How Facebook could clean up the offers industry

How social gaming offers create value for everyone (not just Facebook, Zynga, and Offerpal)

Building lifestyle companies versus VC-backable startups: Is it walk before you run?

How helpful is venture capital experience to building startups?

Ignore Cougars, Follow the Money: 3 social gaming tips for monetizing younger users

5 crucial stages in designing your viral loop

Age (and ARPPU) ain’t nothing but a number: Data on how age impacts social gaming monetization

Whenever ad networks talk about their “targeting” remember the Netflix prize

How to keep visual design consistent while A/B testing like crazy

Netflix on their Freedom and Responsibility culture

Why low-fidelity prototyping kicks butt for customer-driven design

Building the initial team for seed stage startups

BBS door games: Social Gaming innovation from the 1980s

How desktop apps beat websites at building large active userbases

iLike, Lookery, Google Voice: Recent platform lessons from app developers

To my first 10,000 blog subscribers: Thank you!

What if interviews poorly predict job performance? What if dating poorly predicts marital happiness?

Does Silicon Valley noise detract from long-term value creation?

Social design explosion: Polls, quizzes, reviews, forums, chat, blogs, videos, comments, oh my!

Built to Fail: How companies like Google, IDEO, and 37signals build failure-tolerant systems for anything!

Dear readers, should I keep the automatic weekly Twitter links?

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-06-22

Why metrics-driven startups overlook brand value

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-06-15

Why you should make it easy for users to quit your product