Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fake News Is Bad User Experience - Solutions for Combatting Fake News

I was only a little surprised to read yesterday during my commute about fake news. About a month ago I saw an advertisement online titled "Bigger Than Snowden" someone actually paid money towards an online ad campaign to purport that electromagnetic weapons are being used by the government to covertly target, monitor, and torture victims. Seriously. The link above goes to  google search results and you can see how this nonsense has been smeared around the internet as if it's true. Which it's not.

Did fake news catapult It (I'm not saying It's name) into the White House? NYTimes seems to think so. And you know what, I think so too. As a User Experience designer I know how to pull the same exact tricks that creators of fake news pulled. Any of us web professionals could easily fool a lot of people with fake stories.

Then I was a little surprised to read today about a group of college students who already solved the fake news problem in a hackathon.

It took only 36 hours for these students to solve Facebook's fake-news problem

Good for them.

For months leading up to the election I was flagging content on Facebook. Content that was offensive but not technically abusive by Facebook's terms. There were a lot of mean, belittling, inaccurate posts that are designed to stoke people's anger (or fear) that are OK to post on Facebook. I saw people being really mean with an image composed of 2 photos, one of Michelle Obama and the other of Beyonce. This wasn't fake news. It's perfectly fine to put this on Facebook.  A lot of meanness and vitriol was cultivated about the Obama's on social media, and I didn't see the point of cultivating all this anger, until November 9th.

Facebook Needs to Make an Effort

Frankly, it diminishes the User Experience of Facebook to visit the site and see a litany of angry memes. I like that Facebook let's me unfollow friends that are bothering me, but the flagging could be a lot more robust.

  • Bring the humans back. Just re-hire human moderators. You can afford it.
  • There should be an "inappropriate" flag that aligns with standard etiquette. Maybe "inappropriate" content should persist but with an overlay of a scarlet letter. like this: I . So people can continue to share it but they know that they are sharing something that's deemed rude. 
  • There should be a "false information" flag. 
  • Would love it if originators of content are revealed. There should be origination information about a post including the publishing website, country of origin, and other meta data. 
  • Display suspected fake content in front of people NOT tuned to like it. Let people vet news posts that they normally would not see because these posts live outside of their personalized experience. And then allow these users to apply the "false information" flag. 
  • Remove the fake news content from Facebook. The only way to stop fake news from being circulated to begin with, is to discourage it entirely by making the effort to post it too tedious. 

Google Needs to Make an Effort Too

The problem I am seeing in Google Search is pretty simple but still bad. Some of the more outrageous lies are spread via Google, sortof like it's algorithms have run amok and nobody's paying any attention to what they're doing. Here's what I saw and I brushed it off at the time. I'm trying to search for a popular news story, and the top result is something completely different.  The #1 result was coming back with some scandalous political YouTube post completely unrelated to my search.

Google started including comments on YouTube videos in their search results. So this enabled people to game google's search and get a piece of content like a YouTube video to appear on an unrelated search term.

It's against Google's terms of use to trick web pages into ranking higher in search. But it still works. Google is going to have a serious problem of scale on their hands if they allow this ecosystem of misinformation persist. I remember the ad-farms that used to pollute my search results in 2006, before Google tamped down on websites that were really only a collection of ads.  My search results are becoming polluted now, and again, this is bad User Experience and makes me want to use Google less.

I know Google has the capabilities to apply an extra layer of information to their search results to make it obviously clear that the content on that website is deemed fake. After all, here is the Denver Guardian, A fake news site. The way this site is presented in Google's search results makes it appear as if it's completely legitimate. This screenshot was taken today, November 16th, a day after the NY Times article called it out as a fake site. Here is Google giving the impression that this "FBI agent..." story is legit.



If Google is "Organizing the World's Information" I would have to give it a D grade. Does Google expect newspapers to fight back with stories??? If these tech companies don't fix these loopholes of misinformation, then rational normal content creators with suffer and we will all be poorer as a result.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Managing to JIRA is Not Agile

How do you know if your JIRA/Agile project has a problem?

  • You are constantly talking about “improving the process”
  • There’s a blurry line between design and development indicating design is not being managed. 
  • Work is getting done for the ticket, and not for the project. 
  • Burn down rates are more important than deliverables. 
  • People are working slower, not faster. 
  • JIRA drives the project management. 


A Bad Pattern Has Emerged - JIRA Does Not Compliment Design

For years I’ve worked on more than a half dozen Federal websites for various agencies, from the US Patent Office to USAID and a couple more places. I’ve participated in a very diverse set of projects with even more diverse teams and working styles. But two things have remained consistent throughout, the Agile development process and JIRA. All projects have been, or tried to be, Agile. Most projects use JIRA, a web-based project management and tracking tool made by Atlasssian Software.  Here’s the thing, ALL the projects heavily invested in the use of JIRA have been bad. And those few projects that have not relied on JIRA software, have been great. After a recent bad experience on another JIRA driven Federal project I see the pattern, and the problem is in part, with JIRA.

As a Designer I want to create a holistic end-to-end design for my website project. This is a best practice that JIRA disrupts. There’s a balancing act that needs happen between interaction design, web development, and usability and this balance is tenuous, and needs to be managed. Decisions that get made regarding how a page looks, will affect how a page is built, and how much it costs to build. How design work gets managed is as important as the beauty of the design work itself.

If there’s a disconnect between these three areas, projects start to churn. But here’s the thing about JIRA, it was made specifically for development and then later on adapted to be used for design and other project disciplines. Because JIRA started as a tool for programmers, it’s not so natural for requirements and design. And then, because it’s so heavily promoted as part of the Agile process, which is a big deal on Federal Contracts, Managers “manage to JIRA” and not to the project. Everyone is slightly confused. I’ve seen senior managers struggle on their own projects because of JIRA. They think work is getting accomplished because tickets are being closed and sprints numbers keep climbing, but then stakeholders are frustrated by not seeing real progress. There’s a very blurry line between design and development where production aspects of design work are taken for granted and not managed. It’s undefined what work should go to developers and which work is for designers, and hand-offs between the two are messy. And, this is a big one, if you are a good senior developer (or designer) you work four times faster than a recent grad. The kind of rockstar talent we really want building our government websites for us have a different style of working that is MORE Agile and a lot faster and thorough. This type of talent gets really bogged down when they work in a “managing to JIRA” situation. Why would you want a $200/hour person (this is the rate the government pays their vendors) spending time on JIRA (or Confluence) and not doing actual work?

JIRA is Bad for Usability and User Testing 

Ask any JIRA coach how to incorporate usability testing, and you will get a blank stare. QA testing, OK, usability no. Usability testing is vague in the Agile process so people make their own decisions about how to (or not to) do usability work depending on how they feel about it.

On a few Federal projects that did NOT USE JIRA here’s what I observed. Everything went great, work was completed quickly, the client was happy. These were mainly design projects (because I am a designer), development was going to be done separately after the design. Because these were design projects the work of design was being managed better than on the bigger combined discipline projects. In other words, design was not taking a back seat to development, and consequently planning for each area, including development was easier. How do you know what resources you actually need until you have a picture of what you are actually making? I’ve found that when development drives the design, spending on developers will go way up. Your project can be “in development” forever. It can be a lot more cost effective to separate design from development and create clear boundaries between the two.

How Can We Make our Federal Agile Projects Better? 

Maybe the design process needs to be a different separate process from development? Maybe managers should interact with JIRA and let team members focus on dong what they do best. Good senior designers should get more client exposure and can manage aspects of design work, especially if project managers and clients aren't as experienced with design. I think Agile is better for maintenance on websites and software, and doesn’t work when you are trying to create a brand new site. Too many different processes for something brand new vs. evolving something already running. And then there's planning. The projects that went very smoothly for me were very well planned before anything was started. What this tells me is that management needs to BE Agile too (not just close tickets), in order to maintain balance, costs and sanity.

Work With Professionals Who Already Do Agile Well 

There are lots of companies who understand design as well as technology and development.  A little research can connect you with these folks. But these companies are not "Fed-Ready" and that's a real problem that needs to change.

For comparison, here's a company that develops apps, and this is a great informative read.

HOW TO BUILD AN APP USING AGILE DEVELOPMENT
- By Fueled - 10/04/2016

The Agile Development Process
"Again, it’s important to keep in mind that agile development encompasses many different methodologies. No business needs to use all of them, nor could any one business possibly use all of them. As such, the process varies depending on the project. "...





Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dear FontShop (and Adobe) your Usability Sucks

Dear FontShop

First your Adobe plugin does not work - at all - this is probably because of Adobe though and not you. They seem to have major problems with their extensions / add-on manager in Creative Cloud. I already complained to Adobe and am trying to work with them to resolve this. This is just an FYI. 

Second, your new website design is awful! You threw usability under the bus for??? For responsive design??? Who shops for fonts on their cell phone??? AGGG!
You didn't even need to update your site it was great a few years ago, I could search very quickly - now it takes me FOREVER to do a search

I used to be able to save or favorite a font very quickly - now I have to go through several clicks to save or favorite a font. Why can't I do this right off of search like I could before?

And I used to be able to preview fonts quickly and precisely - now I am still struggling trying to figure out how to preview fonts. 

In the past I would have been able to do all this on FontShop in an hour or so and this has literally taken me days. Days. And I'm on a deadline and it sucks. 

I am not happy. Can you PLEASE REVERT BACK to your old non-responsive website?

I don't expect you to do this, revert your site back, but PLEASE PLEASE PLASE fix these problems. I don't think I'll be able to purchase or even recommend FontShop to anyone in it's current state. And please don't get all hipster with your next redesign. Nevlle Brody was only awesome back in 1999

Thank you

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A User Experience Designer And Her New Phone

Happy New Years! One of my resolutions this year is to be more creative. And since it is now officially the New Year I thought, why not get off to a good start and write a post on the blog? I know, right? It's been too long.

Last year, 2015, my resolution was to save money. Nothing like buying a fixer upper to put that resolution at the top of your list every year! It came time for a phone upgrade but as I was in frugal-mode (still am, frankly) I waited, patiently for Black Friday to get me a deal.  I used to have an iPhone 5c. A sleek little number with a candy like green plastic shell. It served me well on commutes to and from DC. I would see other 5cs on the commute and smile at complete strangers. Like, "yeah, I see you and your cool affordable iPhone. You know it. I know it. We're in the club." Mostly these people just ignored me.

At last, Black Friday came, but the internet said there were no deals! How could that be? Maybe I had too much turkey? Saturday I get in my car and drive to the store, and in fact, there were deals. (By the way, bad UX Target.com). I waited a few hours, and asked myself,  "Self, am I really ready for this commitment?" I replied, "email, tax deduction, you need it." So I did! But when I got up in the line to buy a new phone, all they had left were iPhone 6s PLUSes. The big one. Which I didn't really want. "Two hundred and fifty dollar credit" I thought. It's the only size left, so I bought a big ole 6 plus.

This thing is so big I thought right away I could use it as a snowboard.  I kept the plastic on it for over a week thinking I might exchange it, when they had more inventory. Every time I'd whip it out of my pocket, I thought about how big it is. I dared not to put a cover on it lest it look even larger than it already is. I hate phone covers anyway. It's so big. On Metro I felt like I was wagging around a wad of $900 cash. Come rob me!  And then, after about a week, I used the camera the first time. And the clouds parted and the sun shown down. Or was that the gloriously large display shining my photos, just taken, right back in my face. Wow this camera is good, and this enormous screen is great for taking photos. I get it now. The plastic film was finally removed.

It's still big, but I'm getting used to it. I wonder if I like it so large? When I glance around, I see that my phone is larger than most other people's phone. I wonder if this is how SUV drivers feel. I can always downsize. It's just a phone. It's not a marriage. Size isn't everything.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I'm Federal Contracting

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT

I am a Federal Contractor. I have been contracting to the US Federal Government since the beginning of 2014. And its a good place to work, a lucrative place for tech and developers to be. And it's completely fucked up at the same time.

So here I am contracting for the blank-blank-blank. (I'm not allowed to tell you) It was a hard road just to get to this point. Just to do some strait forward (and much needed) usability work for - - - . If it's this difficult, to get hired as a senior user experience (usability) consultant then imagine how completely backwards all government websites will be for the foreseeable future!

I don't want to be negative. Yes this is a sarcastic blog post. There are a few silver linings in Government contracting. I'm actually kicking butt improving web software at the blank-blank-blank. I haven't been happier since when I worked at Kick.com. But overall it's a mess, and a grossly expensive taxpayer funded mess that needs to change. The good guys working here get shafted by bigger firms that know how to play the contracting game better. Taxpayers loose left and right. Businesses too. It's generally a loose-loose environment which I'd like to see improve.

I don't understand why Google doesn't have a big fat office right in downtown DC? It might actually lift the culture in Washington out of the Mad Men era.

So the next time you do your taxes or fill out a Government form (like jury duty) remember, good Customer Experience is not an accident. Good experiences are planned. Period. Seems like a good role for government would be to plan ahead and create good experiences for folks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

An Array of Solar Powered Desalination Stills

So in reading about the drought in California I was inspired to try to design some kind of solution. I guess I was frustrated after reading the plethora of news about the drought and seeing little to no solutions mentioned. Just NYTimes naggery and finger pointing and stuff about how California's agricultural industry simply does not manage water well. How California has never implemented drought measures that other parts of world has. And then, maybe it's because I'm a gardener and I recycle water that I actually see this drought problem easily solvable.

So here's my little Temple Grandin moment! An "array" of solar stills floating like enormous doughnuts on the sea.


It would make me really happy if some people in California would try this out.