Kevin Flores

Product Manager, UI/UX Consultant // working on mobile and connected products // info-fiend who strives to know a little something about everything

“Connecting” – A Film on the Future of Interaction Design

Connecting (Full Film) from Bassett & Partners on Vimeo.

What was once seen as a highly academic practice is now recognized as critical to designing products. And not just the latest in high tech consumer electronics (TVs, mobile phones, tablets) but everyday products, environments and information.

Interaction Design is also a key component driving accessibility of data, simplifying how we access and utilize it. Data that is live now – not days, months or years old.

This short film, “Connecting”, presents refreshing views by some of the industry’s thought leaders. It is a great reminder for us to continue working on the next paradigms for interacting with physical products, information, environments and people.

Also, it’s OK to acknowledge that proposed interfaces and behaviors need to evolve over time as people accept them, but we should still aim to ditch the ‘fake analog’ in our digital screens… now.

Reflections on The Lean Startup Conference

The Lean Startup Conference 2012While I’ve been following Eric Ries and the Lean Startup movement for a few years now, this past week was my first opportunity to attend the official Lean Startup Conference.

I have to admit: when I first saw the program and format, I had doubts about how much useful information could be shared in so many short presentations in one day. I was pleasantly surprised! The range of speakers, the breadth of their companies and experiences and even different interpretations of “lean” was all very inspiring.

For those of us fortunate to work on a lot of projects and with companies from the scrappy startup to a global enterprise – the anecdotes were great reminders to just:

  • Get products launched
  • Get feedback
  • Iterate

all the while eliminating roadblocks. This is one core principle referred to as “B-M-L” (Build, Measure, Learn).

It’s not an excuse to throw all process out the window, but to develop the simplest process that works for your project or product — to become more more fluid and agile. Remember to challenge yourself, your group or your company to whittle down a product to its core, define the MVP (minimal viable product) and execute.

Yes, these are a bunch of popular buzzwords, but what I learned from the whole bunch of experiences that I heard, and Eric Ries himself, is that the Lean movement is meant more as a guideline, not as strict doctrine.

No one sets out to have a failed or delayed product, but with a shift in perspective and a great deal of evangelism and agile experimentation, your development roadmap becomes much more fluid. For either a startup or a big company, it takes leadership being confident, having that willingness to accept risk and experiment. This can get uncomfortable and will take practice.

One common thread was to learn from experiments, improve upon what works and eliminate what doesn’t – to not write off failures. That being said, Marc Andreessen had something to add to the “Fail Fast” mentality. He stated that while everyone should learn from failures, he’s not quite as on-board with entrepreneurs giving up too fast and wearing them like badges of honor! When Ries asked him about his early thoughts on product / market fit [and the "pivot"], Andressen remarked,

“Yes, the ‘pivot’… that term took the stigma out of the ‘fuck-up’! Yes, we pivoted twice — back when they were called fuck-ups!”

Ev Williams says Medium aims to flip content publishing upside down

Like many in the tech startup space, I was anxious to see what Medium was all about. It debuted mysteriously with a very simple home page containing only a full screen background image and an email sign up box.  Now, you can read more on its lofty goals as a new publishing platform.

Many originally speculated that it would be an enhanced image service complementing Twitter.  No surprise given Medium is developed by the same team that brought us Twitter - Obvious Corporation, including Ev Williams and Biz Stone.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to hear Ev Williams speak about Medium at a ZURB. This is the most insight to-date that has been shared about the platform’s re-imagined publishing goals.

Here are a few of Williams’ key points about the current state of content publishing:

  • It’s great that everyone has a voice, but people can’t listen to everything – how do we help them listen to the right thing?
  • Social media has made everyone have to be clever and encourages quantity over quality
  • We’re getting shallower content because we are focused on the wrong metrics such as page views

Williams said that it was “the right time to re-apply what we [the content publishing industry] have learned about content creation: technology, infrastructure and distribution”.  He then shared thoughts on how Medium hopes to challenge the status quo:

  • We provide thematic context; people that arrive at a Collection on Medium will likely be more focused and engaged; (eventually), some Collections will be open to all contributors
  • Simplified process – both for writers and readers; clean interface  = focused experience
  • Emphasize quality over most everything else; feedback loops are good, but it’s important to let good quality really shine
  • De-emphasize authorship – help readers focus less on the “celebrity-ness” of an author and more on the quality of the content
  • Medium could be a good place for the casual writer or a current blogger who wants to share something that doesn’t quite fit on their professional blog

Medium has undergone what could arguably be misplaced criticism – that it’s among a crop of new platforms that cater to or are only open to the technology or pop culture elite.  In this case, it is because publishing on Medium is still closed to a network of “invited friends and family”.  However, anyone can log in with their Twitter credentials, browse and even vote on posts.

Medium does have a user rating system that’s slightly less generic than “like”.  They hope users will click based on the quality or relevance and that it will help the best content rise to the top.

On the topic of when the publishing tools will be rolled out to the full public, Williams says that Medium is still finding its way, growing slowly and reacting to how people are using it.  They don’t want to have too many users [content creators] that may be jostled if Medium makes any big changes. He also recently expanded upon this on a Branch thread.

I, for one, will be excitedly keeping up with how Medium evolves.  We’ll see something soon, I suspect – given more feature hints can be found on the simple Profile Settings screen…

If you are interested in learning more about Medium, I suggest that you read the Welcome to Medium post or listen to the Ev Williams lecture from the ZURBsoapbox.

Thanks again to ZURB for their ZURBsoapbox series, where they bring amazing industry speakers down to the non-San Francisco end of Silicon Valley!

LEGO Turing Machine – A working computer made from Mindstorms

Two things I love – computers and LEGOs.  If only I had the time on my hands that Dutch researchers Jeroen van den Bosand and Davy landman did.  Their creation of a Turing Machine – a working computer, built from a single LEGO Mindstorms NXT set  is just plain cool.

Alan Turing was an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst and computer scientist whose Turing Machine was a theoretical mechanical computation machine.

When I think of Turing, I just as often recall the Turing Test which he introduced in his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” which opens with the words: “I propose to consider the question, ‘Can machines think?’”  Yep, the guy was also an early theoretician on artificial intelligence.

The robots ARE COMING, people.

LEGO Turing Machine from ecalpemos on Vimeo.

via Engaget and PSFK.

Innovate or be Disrupted

I’ve never shopped around for thermostats, nor do I know anyone else who has. However it sure seems that if there was previously a “must-have” thermostat out there, it would have made news before Nest Labs launched their product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, a few months ago.

If you didn’t know, the Co-Founders of Nest Labs previously worked at Apple on the iPod and iPhone. They’ve stated that their experience has shown that every detail matters – physical design, user interface, usability, packaging and marketing.

Their product is elegant, functional and has a purpose to help people save money.

Over a week ago, I read that Honeywell International is suing Nest Labs for infringement of seven thermostat tech patents. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.

Now, of course, I think companies have a right to defend their patents. But all of the infringement lawsuits going on between big companies are just sad (Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, Google… the list goes on). It’s a patent arms race to see who can stockpile the most.

The situation between Honeywell and Nest Labs is slightly different. Honeywell International has been around since 1906 and Nest Labs is a startup. It’s probably very difficult to consider oneself an “inventor” these days, but that is kind of what startups are.

Invention today is often tackling new problems or re-inventing the products and industries that are stagnant. That is what Nest Labs has done. They identified a stale product and completely re-defined it. Except for the most discerning, I suspect homeowners could care less about thermostats, or in the least only think about how distracting they look on their walls.

Although the latest Honeywell model does have some modern technology, it just doesn’t have the elegance of the Nest Thermostat. Honeywell had plenty of time to innovate, but didn’t. They didn’t design from a fresh perspective, only an incremental one.

Nest Labs has provided an option to have an eye-catching piece of gadgetry that supports an “eco-friendy” lifestyle and just might save some cash on the energy bill. Even with the question of “Did we need a new thermostat?” the Nest Learning Thermostat is the type of product that the gadget-minded wants to have.

Similarly, the Apple iPod wasn’t the first portable digital music player when it was released in 2001. I had previously owned a Diamond Rio PMP300 MP3 player around 1998. It was a piece of plastic junk that held about 12 MP3s. It and every other portable music player was left behind after the iPod launch. Everyone just wanted one, including me, even if it had less features.

The catchy term in Silicon Valley for re-invention is “disruption“. Startups often aim to disrupt a product or service that is tired. Bonus points if the objective is to do one thing and do it well.

What Nest Labs has done should be seen as an inspiration – not just for independent inventors, but all companies and industries that are complacent with their products and services, those that take no risks. This is your wake up call to innovate.

Nest Lab’s position that Honeywell’s lawsuit is simply a strategy to stifle competition comes as no surprise and I hope that they prevail. I know I’ve been jonesing for their product since its introduction — now I just have to order one.

Update 04.12.12: Nice! Nest Labs Hires Apple’s Former Patent Chief for Honeywell Lawsuit.