Archive for May, 2008

Use of Metaphors

May 13, 2008

Consciously or sub-consciously – I personally think that I have always been extremely liberal in the use of metaphors (or similes or personifications) in my day-to-day communication. I have always felt that most of the times it has always helped me in communicating my thoughts across.

This weekend I came across this blog by Dave Pollard which I thought summarizes the advantages and risks associated with using metaphors in regular communication quite well. According to Dave, the advantages of using Metaphors as a technique/device in communication has its plus -

“Use of these devices is a very human tendency: They make things easier to understand. When used properly they can bring clarity the way no amount of detailed explanation or information can, and do so very quickly. They can also trigger the imagination, and produce brilliant creative insight. “

However, according to Dave overuse of such techniques in communication can lead to over-simplification of the point which needs to be communicated. Interestingly, Dave also feels that this is a representation of the kind of society we are staying in today – where there is an increasing demand on simplifying things because of the over-whelming feeling that information seekers do not have enough time.

The blog is an interesting read and I would encourage all of you to read the same. While I think I will continue with my use of metaphors in my conversation, however I will certainly keep Dave’s parting advice in mind -

The only practical answer is to learn (and to teach young people) to recognize them, and to recognize them for what they are: Useful, incomplete, imprecise shorthand representations of reality.

Thanks for the great advice, Dave!!

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8 reasons why this is the dumbest generation

May 10, 2008

Before anyone gets offended by this, let me say I am not saying this.

Boston Globe carries an interesting photo essay on author Mark Bauerlein’s new book “The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future“. It looks like Mark’s definition of current generation is the current age-group of thirty years and less. Pooof, that leaves me out!

Needless to say, Mark was keen in trying to create some flutters (possibly for his self-interest) and looks like it certainly evoked that (refer to the message board associated with the article).

So what is my opinion? I certainly don’t see the current generation the way Mark is seeing. Ofcourse, I do have a big wish list that the current generation should be doing certain things different and better, however I personally have a very positive opinion of this generation compared to the times when I was possibly in their category. The current generation’s spelling skills may have taken a beating, however they are now communicating to more number of people than what I did in my time. Mark assumes that they are reading less books. That may or may not be true. Even if it is true, this generation is now interacting with so many other channels of information broadcast (Web, TV, Podcasts, etc.). Probably I can point to many other similar points. But then I may be given too much value to Mark’s viewpoints.

Read the essay for the fun of it. If any of you belonging to the so-called ‘dumbest generation’ pointed by Mark feel offended – I would just say to chill out and relax. You guys are doing good!

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Designing a Product for ‘Repeat’ User

May 10, 2008

Let me first describe what I mean by ‘repeat‘ user. I think there might be a better term to describe this kind of a user, but the term is escaping me right now. By repeat user I mean the user of the product who has already used or checked out the product once and now is returning back to use it one more time. Hope you are able to relate to the category of product user I am referring to here. Almost all of us have been in this category one time or the other.

For the sake of this post, let me refer to the repeat user as Mr. X.

In my opinion and experience (both from the experience of engineering a product and also from being an end-user of the product), the perspectives of X towards his needs for the product are quite different as compared to what it could have been when he would have seen/used the same product for the first time. It is also well known and well understood that the success of a product – both from usage and commercial angle – is measured more from the repeat user perspective (and not from the first-time user perspective). I am not saying that the first-time user’s needs are not important. The requirements of first-time user needs to be understood well also because they are the ones who would translate into repeat users if things go well.

So what is so different from a product design perspective between the ‘first-time user’ and ‘repeat user’? First-time users are more keen on exploration. Repeat users are more keen on focusing on the regular functionality. A sophisticated design can certainly impress the first time user, however simplicity and ease is the key for a repeat user. As a repeat user for many products, if I were to quantify my usage, more than 75% of my interaction with the product is of a repeat type. Something which I have already done once and I am just repeating the same tasks again. My requirements from the product are now as to how it enhances my activity needs based on my usual usage patterns.

In my experience, I have noticed many product designers failing to think about the product from Mr. X’s perspective. Best products are those which keeps in mind the needs of this user. It is my strong opinion that in the end it is users like Mr. X who finally decide the fate of the product.

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