Social Patterns II: The Social Interfacening…

· Activity Streams, Best Practices, Business, Design, Games, Information Architecture, Mobile, Patterns, Product, Social Design, User Experience


It’s starting to feel like time to update ye old Designing Social Interfaces, so Erin Malone and I are talking to the kind editors at O’Reilly about doing a second edition.

Because user experience, we are doing some research, including a survey. If you work with social interfaces, apps, websites, or experiences, please consider taking this survey to help inform the next edition of the book. Thanks!

Here’s that link again for taking our survey toward the second edition of the social design patterns book.

It’s the users who are mobile

· Best Practices, Design, Information Architecture, Mobile, Product, User Experience

Still playing catch-up. I wrote this guest blog post for the Hightail blog about eleven months ago, before some of my pals, um… hightailed it to greener pastures. It’s the clearest statement I’ve made yet about both the “tablet first” and “holistic ubiquitous user experience” approach we’ve been taking at CloudOn, so I am going to reprint the whole thing here in my own space:


As smartphones have taken over the world, many product designers have embraced or experimented with a philosophy called “mobile first”. This approach involves embracing the constraints of small handheld devices to design a core, minimally valuable product that enables the user to accomplish the most important tasks. This mobile interface can then be selectively extended or scaled for traditional desk and laptop (or “desklap” as I like to call them) devices.

At CloudOn, where I’m Director of Product, we make an app that connects to cloud storage providers and enables users to access and edit Microsoft Office files on mobile devices and in web browsers. Our philosophy is a variation of the mobile-first concept that we call “tablet first”. Unlike the vast majority of digital products that started life in a web browser before taking tentative steps into the domain of mobile apps, CloudOn was born on a tablet. We saw an opportunity to take these newfangled tablet devices into the realm of productivity and ran with it.

In truth, our philosophy is more holistic than simply about starting with the tablet first. We approach user experience from a device-agnostic perspective, preferring to think conceptually about the user’s needs and the journey they take to get something done. We aim to understand people’s workflows, to see how and when they communicate with other people, before figuring out where and how we fit in. Only then do we apply our conceptual thinking to real-life devices.

The tablet-first approach fits with our holistic philosophy because tablets are blended devices. They are mobile but they have (relatively) big screens. They have the consumable qualities of a smartphone, but with the productivity potential of a desklap.

We have found that it can be a good idea to do your first device-specific design for the tablet, because solving the user’s problems on an iPad or a Nexus 7 lays a good foundation for extending the experience out across the full spectrum. As Google’s SVP of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy says about tablet-first design:

“[It] brings into account things like swipe that are quite unique about how you think about an experience. Then if you start from there, then the mobile experience becomes a relatively simple space-constrained version of the design, while the desktop experience nicely generalizes this is what you do with the mouse. But the devil’s in the details.”

Indeed it is. When we first created the smartphone version of CloudOn (our second form factor), some aspects of the translation were easy(ish). Because of our initial attention to the overall concept design, most of our product flows crossed over well. But interpreting a holistic experience across multiple devices forced us to think more carefully about which aspects needed to be common to all devices and which were more tuned to a specific form factor.

For example, we decided to optimize the phone app for reading or consuming content, rather than working on it. After all, who wants to fiddle around with an Excel spreadsheet on their phone’s 3.3-inch display? Well, it turns out quite a lot of people do. New mobile apps give a possibility to obtain a consulting service in any sphere of your interest.

Once we launched the phone version of the CloudOn app, we were surprised to find many users were editing spreadsheets, slideshows and documents on those tiny screens. Sure, it’s nobody’s idea of the perfect experience, but sometimes it’s the only tool available and as photographers like to say: the best camera is the one you have on you. This century’s major shift in how we work means we’re all more willing to engage in tasks when we’re in a café, at the airport, watching TV or in a meeting.

The tablet will have an increasingly big part to play in this. When the iPad was released it was initially regarded as a consumer device, best suited for browsing content and not particularly useful for creative or generative work. Indeed most reports show peak tablet use in evenings and on weekends. At CloudOn, however, our analytics show usage peaks that follow the contours of the workday and the workweek. Clearly people are using our app on their tablets as one of their main work devices and not just as a convenient option for the train or sofa.

Right now, tablet productivity is different to sitting in front of your desklap. For me, it’s when I’m in a meeting room or sitting on a couch. I’m working but often not as intently: maybe reviewing or making small edits to an existing doc. But, my tablet is definitely not just for consuming and with tools like CloudOn and Hightail I have the means to do a lot of the same type of work that I would do on my laptop.

Even these usage patterns may be changing. On average, 55% of CloudOn users just read files without changing them, 35% edit files and 10% create new files. These figures hold for both tablet and smartphone users, even though we expected a smaller percentage of users to edit on the latter devices. While the vast majority of our users are working in a business context, one exception to this pattern is our student users, who often use tablets to create and work on longer projects.

It’s unclear yet if this is because students are true digital natives – a new generation with new work habits who are comfortable creating on touchscreen devices. Or perhaps their usage is more circumstantial: students are naturally more mobile, as they don’t have a set desk but move from class to class. Either way, this is a sign that the next cohort to hit the workforce might view tablets as one of their primary productivity devices.

Designing for tablet-first is therefore not just a good way to create a product for a medium-scale device before extending to other platforms. It also means you’re designing with the future in mind and creating a user experience with a longer lifespan.

Of course, technology changes so fast that it’s often hard to predict what the next groundbreaking new device will be or even how people will change how they use existing tools. By starting with a holistic approach to creating elegant solutions to real user problems, regardless of device, you’re prepared for whatever digital revolution lies ahead.

(Photo by Josh Luna / WebVisions)

Tune In, Cloud On, Rock Out!

· Applications, CloudOn, Design, Development, Gigs, Information Architecture, long story short, Mobile, Product, Teamwork, User Experience

One thing about working real hard is that a lot of things I’d love to post about never seem to make it to the top of the queue, and then the blog turns into “here are my slides, here is a video of my talk, here is a weird song by the band, here is another conference I attended,” etc.

A lot of the best stuff stays in draft form or as brain crack, or gets hinted at in tweets and not much more.

And then I miss even the important stuff, like where’s my book-ending “hey, I left AOL, or should I say AOL left me” post? Maybe I’ll still post it, or maybe this is going in my book, as I like to threaten people from time to time.

So I’m way past overdue mentioning to my surviving blog audience that I have taken a new job, director of product at CloudOn. I started this month and am neck deep in it already, hence the lack of extended “enjoying my severance” essays and photo journals.

Our product right now is a free app for iPad and Android tablets that enables you to edit and work with Microsoft Office files “in the cloud.” That’s the logline. There’s more to it (Dropbox and Google Drive and Box support! Acrobat Reader and image files! etc.), and there’s lots more to come, but that’s the gist of it today. Personal productivity across platforms, helping people get things done with the most convenient device available, seamless experiences across context.

This is the kind of user experience and product management work I love to do. Hard problems with vast theoretical underpinnings and thousands of difficult decisions required to actually ship something real, early and often.

I’m recruiting a UX team, currently looking for a visual design maven to anchor our in-house design practice, and ultimately building a more well rounded product and UX operation as we grow.

We hit 1,000,000 iPad downloads yesterday, I think, so there’s not a minute to lose!

Video of ‘Playful Design’ from UX Lisbon

· Design, Games, Information Architecture, Satellite of Love, Social Design, User Experience

Back in May I posted my slides from my talk at UX Lisbon this spring, on the topic of Playful Design.

Recently, the UX LX organizers released a free version of the video of my talk (including a very brief little ukulele demo at the end), so here it is for y’all:

UXLx 2011 video passes available

· Design, Events, Games, Information Architecture, Social Design, User Experience

If you missed UX Lisbon this year, you can now a buy a pass that gets you access to more than six hours of video from the presenters, as excerpted in this UXLx 2011 highlights reel:

At just under €50, that sounds like a bargain to me. Check it out!