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Notes from the Future of UX

| 11.13.2014

Last week I went to Rosenfeld Media’s UX Futures 2014 conference, a one-day remote conference with a star-studded (okay, star-studded in that dorky, fun UX way) lineup. I thought I’d share my notes from three of the conference sessions.

  • “User Experience: The First Fifty Years” by Jesse James Garrett. Jesse takes a look “back” at UX from the year 2048 and describes what’s happened to the field.
  • “Expanding our Expectations of Everybody” by Margot Bloomstein. Margot uses current events (nothing I hadn’t heard rehashed a million times) and historical examples (these got my attention! super interesting) to illustrate what designers can do to realize the promise of media everybody can participate in.
  • “What if Steve Jobs Wasn’t an Alien?” by Steve Krug. Steve goes through some of the greatest hits of historical UX and prognosticates about the future of usability.

The conference viewing was generously hosted by and organized by Julie Francis & Tony Santos.


“User Experience: The First Fifty Years” by Jesse James Garrett


“Expanding our Expectations of Everybody” by Margot Bloomstein



“What if Steve Jobs Wasn’t an Alien?” by Steve Krug


Watch Out for Wearables: Google I/O Recap

| 07.21.2014

Since 2008, Google I/O has been a developer’s conference, a venue for launching APIs, toolkits, and operating systems. 2014 was different: Google announced I/O’s first ever “design track,” and they invited Sliced Bread to come take a look.

So Mia, Julie, and Molly spent two days fiddling with multi-device interactions, squinting at watches, debating colors, fonts, and animations, and talking shop at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. Read on for their conference takeaways, their new favorite techniques, and one thing Google needs to do in order to keep attracting designers to I/O.

Mia O’Neill, Managing Design Director


Mia gets coaching on her putts from Google Glass. She almost makes Glass look cool…

What were your top takeaways from Google I/O?

  • I was initially disappointed to hear that I/O was focusing on wearables this year. I haven’t worn a watch in 10 years (isn’t that what my phone is for?). But, by the end of the conference, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the interesting possibilities for wearables. They’re not for everything: the really interesting use cases for smart watches have to do with specific activities like running (taking advantage of built-in motion sensors and heart rate monitors) or even cooking (I loved the AllTheCooks Recipes wearable app).
  • Learning about the motion patterns in Material Design renewed my excitement about the importance of animation. At Sliced Bread, we animate our prototypes using JavaScript, with help from libraries like jQuery and GSAP. Making motion and interaction a priority is certainly more challenging and time-consuming than building static pages, but it’s worth it; animation is integral to the product experience, not just the icing on the cake. It was gratifying to hear Google echo our convictions!

What did you add to your design toolkit?

  • Google designers demoed a few examples of how they use Adobe Edge Animate, After Effects, and Framer.js to prototype motion in their designs. Molly and I both heard a lot about Framer from designers outside Google. It’s not a Google tool, but it seems like a great way to prototype the complex motions and animations that the new Android platforms demand.
  • I’m going to subject all my mobile designs to a jiggle test. What’s a jiggle test? During the session on Designing for wearables, designer Hayes Raffle showed two watch screens side by side. Both interfaces looked tidy and clean to me. Then he jiggled the screens… and it became instantly clear that the UI on the right was much clearer.googleio-jiggle
    We all know that mobile apps need to deliver just enough information, but this is doubly true for wearables: extra information really gets in the way when the screen is small and possibly fast-moving. Interactions with tiny screens should be as short, simple, and streamlined as possible.  (I really wish Apple had performed this test when they redesigned their call waiting feature in the first version of iOS 7!)

Julie Stanford, Principal


Google Glass counts Julie’s squats – and keeps track of her form. Glass didn’t figure prominently in this year’s I/O, but it did make for the best photo ops.

What were your top takeaways from Google I/O?

  • I’m not the sort of person who likes sitting in a dark room discussing the philosophy of drop shadows, so the initial presentation of Material Design was a little too frou-frou for me. However, I’m impressed that Google finally got its act together around design. They gave both developers and designers a concrete, cohesive, and beautiful point of view about the look and feel of Android apps. I like the common sense approach behind their system: all background surfaces are made of “paper.” Each piece of “paper” is 1 dip thick, and it stacks, slides, and resizes. But paper on a screen can’t flip – it just doesn’t make visual sense. Consistently applying this logic is key to keeping the multi-screen experience from getting too crazy.
  • Everyone at Google thinks user research is just as important as we do. This was clear in session after session. Finally, we can get to the business of designing stuff that actually works and stop arguing about the right methodology!
  • If they’re done right, voice UIs can be so much more than phone trees. Companies like Tellme tried to implement voice UIs for consumers back in 2008, before the market was ready. Now, Google (and Apple) have a chance to pull off voice control – particularly in cars and on your watch. (Note that I’m only going to talk to my watch when I’m alone, thank you.)
  • I was not excited about watches before this conference. Now, I can’t get them out of my head – the possibilities seem boundless. The really interesting use cases are contextual and ambient. My watch can alert me when I am at the zoo and it’s penguin-feeding time! Now that’s importantBounce House Party!

What did you add to your design toolkit?

  • I love using How Might We (HMW) questions, but I never used them as a form of note-taking while listening to user interviews, like the Google Ventures team did during the design sprint we attended. I’m still not excited about writing HMW’s while listening to users, but I asked my clients to write HMWs while sharing user stories with them from a needfinding study. It really helped clients think creatively and was a great adaptation of the Google Ventures technique.googleio-hmw2
    How Might We questions transcribed during a user interview during the Google Ventures design sprint.

Molly Wilson, UX Designer


Molly tests out her new Samsung Gear Live watch. Her verdict: much more fun to design for than to wear.

What were your top takeaways from Google I/O?

  • In the geek classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes human society as “so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Digital watches were dorky in 1979 (the year Hitchhiker’s Guide hit the shelves), and they haven’t exactly gotten cooler. The I/O giveaway this year was a pair of smart watches that feel way too clunky and chunky for daily wear. However, despite the fashion drawbacks, I came away from I/O feeling that design for simultaneous screens is a tough, exciting problem I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. If you’re using the same navigation app on both your watch and your mobile, what information do you need to see where, and how does interacting with each device change the display on the other one?
  • Both Julie and I teach at the Stanford, so we’re not exactly rookies when it comes to design facilitation. Nevertheless, I learned some fabulous techniques from the Google Ventures design teams. I loved their two-phase heat map voting (I’d always done just one round of voting). And I’m absolutely going to use crazy eights with my colleagues at Sliced Bread when we need fresh insight into a tough interaction problem.googleio-howmightweThe small red dots create a “heat map” during the first round of voting on ideas; the larger circles (not colored) are from the second round.

What did you add to your design toolkit?

  • Jenny Gove did a huge (119 people!) qualitative usability study of mobile websites. She extracted a bunch of principles about mobile website design and published an easy-to-digest whitepaper. Many of these principles are things we intuitively know, but Gove backs it up with hard data; it’ll be great to have in my back pocket when defending best practices.


Since this is Google’s first year of the design track, here’s our one big request: remember that designers’ workflows are different from developers’, and create prototyping tools for designers, too. In order to prototype on the watches we received, we’d need to bust out the full SDK. That’s just too much overhead given the quick, iterative way we work. Looks like we’ll be taping phones to our wrists until wearables allow for the rapid, janky interactive prototyping that will let us get lightweight feedback.

Overall, we were impressed with what we saw. Given that this was only the first year of Google’s Design Track, we’re looking forward to seeing how Google will continue to expand and develop it further in the future.


Enjoying the afterparty at Yerba Buena. Not shown: Sliced Bread doing the silent disco really, really hard.

Healthbeat 2013: IT + UX = :-)

| 09.24.2013

Cellscope’s otoscope mobile phone attachment.

When you hear the terms big data and technology  when you try to figure out how your best modular helmet was done, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t necessarily bedside manner, but attending HealthBeat 2013 back in May opened my eyes to the numbers of problems facing the healthcare industry, the unique opportunity for new advances in IT and Big Data to solve a LOT of them,  and the unique role for UX design in meeting them. I came away from the conference firmly believing that so many of our healthcare cost and service delivery dilemmas are going to be resolved by using data and technology to understand the efficacy of health procedures to impact outcomes, pricing inequities and doctor selection, among other issues. In fact, there are numerous companies out there that are already tackling these challenges head-on with creative and innovative products, a few of which caught my eye at HealthBeat.

Companies to check out

From all the companies on the agenda, I’ve put together a list of the ones that I thought were the most interesting. The big thing was solving discrete problems and not trying to boil the ocean. Throw a rock in a hospital and you’ll hit 20 unresolved IT or process issues. If you choose one to fix and do a good job, you’re golden:

  • Cellscope: attachment that turns your iPhone into an otoscoope (that thingie doctors use to look into your ear) so you can transmit inside of ear pix to your doctor when your kid has an ear infection. WOW! the most exciting new invention I’ve heard about in a long time that is going to save HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of hours in trips to the doctor for ear infection follow-ups
  • Ringadoc: allows physicians to listen and respond to after-hours patient messages via landline, mobile device or the web.
  • MEDIVIEW Mobile from Beyond Lucid Technologies: permits emergency responders to capture, complete and transmit critical patient and incident data via tablet
  • Liviam : “personal sharing site” that lets patients and caregivers communicate with and mobilize their support networks during times of illness
  • Medigram: provides a group messaging platform to coordinate communication and sharing of patient data among all healthcare team members – a logical answer to the fact that even hospital staff aren’t immune to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon
  • Pregnancy Companion: Smart phone app that’s rainchild of two practicing OB-GYNs and provides a wealth of pregnancy and particularly post-birth info resources (which pregnancy apps typically don’t have)

The increasing role of UX in healthcare

A recurrent theme  from numerous speakers (to my delight) was the important role for UX in increasing the efficiency of the healthcare industry.  Mary Kate Foley, VP of User Experience at athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based electronic health records, practice management and care coordination services, spoke at length about the value of UX (I was just excited Athena even had a VP UX). The company recently hired Abbe Don for their Epocrates division, which was created after athenahealth bought medical reference mobile app maker Epocrates Inc. earlier this year. Abbe is a brilliant designer and strategist and I’m certainly excited to see what she does in this space.

Darren Dworkin of Cedars Sinai Health Systems and Kaiser Permanente’s Julie Vilardi offered up a cautionary tale – their organizations are frequently approached with promising products, but the UI is so lacking that they can’t be piloted effectively. Their message was good functionality is not enough to win over large hospital systems; you need top-notch UI to have uptake.

Recently we were actually contacted by a company referred by a hospital exec I meat at Healthbeat – the hospital was interested in piloting their product but couldn’t move forward with out a better UI. It’s happening people.

An Epic exception?

An exception to this UI trend is Epic. The premier vendor for electronic medical records (EMR) is known for having a terrible UI, but with an implementation waiting list of two and a half years, there isn’t much impetus for Epic to make upgrades. But…Practice Fusion, which bills itself as the fastest-growing free EMR platform, is looking to put pressure on Epic. Practice Fusion is focused on strong UX, including an amazing UI they demoed for pulling analytics out of their EMR and empowering more effective pharmaceutical decisions. Being smaller and newer to the market, Practice Fusion is currently the underdog in this fight. It will be interesting to see whether their superior UX leads to a competitive advantage in the long run.

Very excited about what’s up next

Changing current inefficient but ingrained habits within the healthcare industry won’t necessarily be easy, but there are so many problems and so many new ideas about solving them that I am very confident that there are REALLY exciting changes ahead that are going to help us beat the giant increases in costing dragging everyone down. Based on the companies and technologies, such as best motorcycle helmet, I saw at HealthBeat 2013 and I’m confident that this is what the future of health IT holds.