Vote in the SXSW PanelPicker and Help Send EchoUser to Austin

posted by: EchoUser

Over the past ten years, SXSW Interactive has brought together thousands of smart minds to share, learn and inspire. Last year, Boaz Gurdin traveled to the conference and presented a new framework to help designers capitalize on the most misused design medium: time. This year, we’re looking to head back to Austin with even more EchoUser sessions.

Our team has developed five compelling submissions in hopes of presenting at SXSW. Between Mick, Amelia, Aaron, Seiko, Yalu, Rally and Yi-Ying, we’ve got a great assortment of topics, ranging from exploring asteroids to designing smart homes.

To get to Austin, we need your help! SXSW speakers are decided partly through crowdsourcing, and that’s where you come in.

Public voting on the SXSW PanelPicker is now open. Check out our five submissions below and vote for the ones you think deserve to go all the way to Austin.

Next generation asteroids (the real ones) UX

By: Mick McGee & Amelia Altavena

In partnership with astronomers and maker enthusiasts, we are planning a series of design jams and hackathons around a “typical” big data visualization problem. NASA and others have become quite good at identifying new asteroids. However, there is now an overgrowing database of partial information, unwieldy APIs, and a lack of usable UIs and compelling visualizations. The citizen-scientist, the true end-user and driver of tremendous space-related interest, is left with visions of blasting pixelated rocks in archaic video games. We can now work on top of an actual asteroids database to help save the planet for real. By early 2015 we will have completed at least two rounds of asteroids jams/hackathons. At SXSW we plan to present the latest apps, API info, and UX concepts. We hope to inspire an ideation conversation with a wider audience that advances the concepts presented and further meets the challenge of asteroids UX. In essence, big data visualization meets crowdsourcing, meets planet-destroying asteroids.

Vote for Mick & Amelia!

Everyone wants UX, but what is it?

By: Aaron Rich

User Experience (UX) is on the brink of mainstream understanding. Iconic companies like Apple, Google and Zappos have shown us that a key measurement of a brand’s worth is customer experience. They have been so successful that they have turned UX into a buzzword that nearly everyone says they want and need. But most people still don’t know what UX is, or more importantly, how to create great user experiences. UX is more than just an esthetic design or a simple user interface feature. It is a process just as much as it is a science, philosophy, and art; and it is quickly becoming a critical differentiator tool in business — one that has the power to drive sales, change industry landscapes, and take startups, products or services to the next level. As the concept moves toward mainstream status, join EchoUser, the Any Experience design firm that’s contributed to the design and usability of Google, Salesforce, Threadflip and Cisco, to get an insiders perspective on UX design and how to use the buzz around UX to your advantage. EchoUser will dissect the UX landscape and offer tips on how the UX community can take advantage of the momentum and apply the process to your startup, service or product.

Vote for Aaron!

So you want to design smart homes

By: Yi-Ying Lin & Rally Pagulayan

A smart home is like an ecosystem, or a network of interactions among everyday objects, people, and their environment. This kind of connectivity, many people believe, will make our lives easier and more efficient. But what does the emergence of the smart home ecosystem mean for us, as user experience designers?

One challenge is with taking a more holistic approach to the smart home space. Although by definition “user experience” is any aspect of a person’s interaction with technology, we usually focus more on web/software interface. To design effective smart homes, we need to address different aspects of an experience.

For example, how do we design “preparing ingredients for cooking at home”? Instead of focusing on apps we could have on a fridge, we should focus on the relationship of people with their devices in the context of their activities, and design systems.

In this session, we will talk about what smart homes we can expect, and what design strategies we could lean on.

Vote for Yi-Ying & Rally!

Can UX design create timeless experience?

By: Yalu Ye

Wearable computing, connected devices, biometrics, pervasive computing – in the digital era, technology is changing every day and with a blink of the eye innovations that have been created to make our lives better soon fade into the background. As the digital world becomes more analog, and the boundary of the digital and non-digital worlds is dissolving, new challenges arise along with new opportunities. Think about living in a house, talking on the phone, and riding a car – the core of the experience has outlasted time, what’s changed is the form and mechanism. We will dissect examples both past and present, physical and digital, to understand what makes an experience timeless. This session will highlight best practices and uncover blind spots UX designers need to be aware of to create timeless experience in this new era.

Vote for Yalu!

Designing wearables for success using prototyping

By: Seiko Itakura

How could the current crop of wearables have avoided languishing on the sidelines? For example, Google Glass is great at capturing that special moment conveniently and quickly with its front facing camera, but it has irked non-users who consider Glass a threat to privacy. Did Google realize the pitfalls before releasing Glass? We all know that making products available to end-consumers can be quite expensive. Wouldn’t it be useful to identify and avoid such potential problems before releasing a product? I spent the last seven months designing a new Pebble Smartwatch app, as well as new wearable devices for the Consumer and Enterprise spaces. From the experience, I learned that prototyping and user testing helped identify and address problem areas early. My prototyping was done fast and inexpensive. In my session, I would like to share my experience and talk about using prototyping for other real-life applications for wearables.

Vote for Seiko!

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Hack Space. Save Planet Earth.

posted by: Mick McGee

At EchoUser we thrive on making the complex simple, and what is more complex than space? Space comprises many wonders, but unsuspecting danger can be hidden just beyond our sights, and one such hidden wonder is asteroids.

For most of us we go about our daily business probably not giving asteroids much thought. However, asteroids represent a real threat to humankind. If a stray asteroid slams into Earth, it can alter the geological history of our planet and evolution of life. In fact, 66 million years ago one did just that, when a single asteroid caused three-quarters of all living things to perish on Earth.

So, what’s being done to make sure we don’t meet a similar fate?

Well, organizations such as the Minor Planet Center and NASA are working on incredible projects to increase our knowledge of how asteroids move and act, continuously collecting massive amounts of data. However, asteroid data is necessarily complex. One of the greatest obstacles facing folks working to make sure we are not surprised by asteroids is actually understanding the vast amounts of data being collected.

To help solve this challenge, EchoUser has teamed up with representatives from the Minor Planet Center, Maui Maker, SpaceGAMBIT, FURTHER by Design and New Relic to organize the Asteroids Hackathon. The event is part of NASA’s larger Asteroid Grand Challenge project, and it is set to take place October 25 at the NASA Ames Exploration Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Calling all enthusiasts and data junkies: This is your chance to hack space.

The Asteroids Hackathon invites the brilliant minds of Silicon Valley and beyond to save our planet by hacking asteroid data and turning it into digestible information for citizen scientists. The hackathon aims to give citizen scientists, engineers, designers and amateur astronomers access to an asteroid data set so they can bring new insight to data patterns, and encourage additional observations and characterization.

The best ideas come from collaboration, so we are calling for teams of three people covering UX, engineering and astronomy skill sets to participate. The winning team will be awarded a cash prize to further develop its idea.

A word from our sponsors…

Recently, we had an opportunity to sit down with a couple of our co-hosts, Jerry Isdale, a long time software engineer and founder of Maui Makers, and Jose Luis Galache, an astronomer at the Minor Planet Center, to discuss space hacking and the Asteroid Grand Challenge, the inspiration behind the upcoming hackathon.

EchoUser: The Asteroids Hackathon event is tied to NASA’s larger Asteroid Grand Challenge. Before we dive into the upcoming event, let’s talk about the goal of NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge.

Jerry: The Asteroid Grand Challenge is one of NASA’s programs to get an open call for technologies for the space program. The basic goal is to find all asteroid threats and know what to do about them. There are over 600,000 asteroids currently known, with more being discovered every day. A percentage of these asteroids are “near-earth” asteroids, and a percentage of these near-earth asteroids can actually hit the earth. In the past, there have been large and small ones that have hit the earth in the form of asteroid strikes or large meteor-asteroid strikes. In fact, two years ago an asteroid hit Russia, with no warning. It blew up in the sky over Chelyabinsk causing significant damage.

The goal of the project is to find these-types of asteroids in space before they blow up, and figure out what we can do about them. The Asteroid Grand Challenge was in the planning process for quite a while prior to the explosion in Russia, but the incident validates why we need this program.

EchoUser: Sometimes all the stars line up in your favor, literally! How important are these types of events for our understanding of asteroids?

Jerry: They are very important. The damages and costs of the asteroid explosions always catch people’s attention.

EchoUser: What are you looking to accomplish with the upcoming Asteroids Hackathon?

Jose Luis: The event is not particularly about astronomy. We want to bridge the gap between scientists and the public, and have the opportunity to educate both sides on what is going on in space. The Minor Planet Center, in particular, wants to be able to share information, not just data, to educate the public and anyone that visits our websites. We want there to be more opportunities for people to come across our website and learn something – this can happen if the information is more clear.

Jerry: We want people to be able to hunt for asteroids and find information about asteroids with ease. The event is a great way to push that forward. The Minor Planet Center has created a much more easily accessible database, but they are in need of a user interface. The idea behind the hackathon and other events we have planned this year is to help make it easier for people to access the database and information.

EchoUser: Let’s talk data. Is working with the large amount of data slowing down the process of understanding what is going on in space?

Jose Luis: We are always looking for new and better ways to get the data we have here at Minor Planet Center out to people who are browsing the web. While we have lots of data, we need more information. We need to create tools that can transform data into useful information so someone who is not an astronomer can look at the data and learn something from it.

Our data is already public. That is one of our missions – all of our observations and predictions for asteroid flybys are always public. But we don’t have that much information that someone who is not an astronomer is going to understand. We want to give the public an opportunity to really understand the data we have.

EchoUser: What are your expectations surrounding the hackathon?

Jose Luis: We are hoping to get a good number of creative people who have hacking skills and know how to turn data into information. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect with these computer programmers. I think one good thing that comes out of these large scale events is grouping together a big number of smart, creative people — they are bound to come up with something.

EchoUser: What do you think the UX perspective is going to bring?

Jose Luis: We are a very small group without anyone specifically specializing in UX. Our goal for UX is to present things more clearly so people can digest a lot of data, but we do not know how to do this effectively.

Ready to join us in hacking space and saving Earth?

If you are interested in helping to save our planet by tackling complex asteroid data and making it digestible for the broader community with unique data mashups, mind-blowing UI visualizations, or something even better, please email and we will get you more information on how to submit a team for the Asteroids Hackathon. We will also continue to share details here on our blog, so check back regularly.

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Spotlight on Experience: July Edition

posted by: EchoUser

Can you believe it’s the last month of summer? Time flies when you’re having fun — or when you’re tracking the latest trends in designs and UX! From Apple and IBM’s new partnerships to Airbnb’s new design to continued discussions about wearable tech, July brought a lot of interesting stories for us to talk about. Here’s a list of what caught our attention in July.

Why Airbnb’s Redesign Is All About People, Not Places by Cliff Kuang, Wired – Airbnb’s new redesign got a lot of flak and some notoriety, mainly for its interesting choice in logo. (We’ll let you form your own opinions on that one — but we can’t deny that it inspired some genius riffs, including the puppy here!) With so much press about the logo, the changes to Airbnb’s web and mobile experiences were somewhat overlooked. This article argues that many of the changes, from deemphasizing rental homes to highlighting the Airbnb community by adding additional avenues to discover places to visit, emphasize people (not properties) and attempt to deliver exactly the information that will match user expectations.

Apple’s Partnership With IBM Is About The Victory Of Design Over Data by Anthony Wing Kosner, Forbes – The deal of the year between Apple and IBM made big waves as the two came together in a deal targeting enterprise customers. As Kosner points out, the deal seems more important to IBM than to Apple — and that signifies a win for design. IBM has the data analytics capabilities and Apple, at least for now, is still the reigning king of technology design and UX. IBM has realized it needs Apple’s understanding of user experience and design solutions to continue competing in the evolving enterprise space.

Is wearable tech wearing thin in the enterprise? by Mike Wheatley, Silicon Angle –  We continue to be enthralled by the discussion around wearable tech, especially as it relates to enterprise. So, we were quite intrigued by this article that questions whether this untapped trend has already seen its last day. We’re not so sure about that — but there’s a lot we do agree with. For a wearable device to succeed, designers and developers must get past the “if we build it, they will come” mentality. Wearables need to consider user needs and expectations, and they need to have a distinct purpose — especially in the workplace. We still think we’ll get there.

Why Design, Not Technology, Inspires the Future by Adam Levene, Wired Innovation Insights - Levene argues that design, not technology, is the true leader of innovation. He points out that design isn’t just a buzzword but a robust business differentiator, with “design-centric” companies growing more over the past decade than those that are not. Despite that, technology still gets most of the accolades for driving companies forward. We like Levene’s point that design deserves more credit than it gets.

How UX impacts a company’s financial performance [study], AGBeat – Speaking of the importance of UX to business, here’s an article about the financial impact UX can have on a company. The article starts with a statistic — from a book first published in 1988! — that showed that every $1 a company invests in UX will yield $2 to $100 in return. It then focuses on a 2006 experiment that involved investing in UX-driven companies — and seeing returns more impressive than the major stock indices. We’d love to see a more current study that could provide even better ammunition to those urging their companies to invest in UX.

What made your list this month? Let us know in the comments below, or @EchoUser on Twitter, to keep the conversations going!

Want to see what’s been making our list all year long? Check out all of our Spotlight on Experience posts.

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