Monthly Archives: June 2008

Ira Glass, Killer

You may have seen this video on the 37 Signals blog, but it was so evocative for me that I wanted to add a few additional thoughts. First of all, I’m a big Ira Glass fan. If you’ve never listened to This American Life on the radio (or the podcast on iTunes) or seen it on Showtime (or bought the shows on iTunes), I highly recommend it. It is modern documentary story telling at its finest.

In this interview excerpt, Ira Glass is talking about finding and developing the stories that will eventually make it to the show. Watch it. It’s short, ~4mins.

In their post, 37 Signals author Matt focused on the ‘less is more’ theme, how we have to be relentless ‘killers’ in order to maintain focus in our design. This is one of the reasons I started this blog. An efficient process should lead to a focused design. 37 Signals already addressed this, so I wanted to talk about some of the other points in the video.

Glass says that his team spends most of their time not in production or editing, but in looking for the story. In user experience, that is our focus as well, finding the meaningful story that dramatically improves the product for our users and justifies the development efforts. We talk to people, understand them, and figure out the plot of our users’ experience and design how we will bring it to resolution.

He talks about interviewing people constantly so that you will eventually find that one person with the really evocative story that will be meaningful. If you’ve done usability testing, ethnographic research or some related activity, I’m sure you’ve had this experience. You see a trend developing and there is one person who expresses the need in such a succinct and memorable way that it solidifies your understanding of the problem. Sometimes it’s the opposite, where there is not a trend, but you hear a story from one user that you may not have heard from anyone else, but based on what you know, it feels true and universal.

We only have these insights when we continually engage with the community.

One of the aspects of agile that I was drawn to immediately, was the emphasis on involving the users. It was exciting to read about an ‘engineering’ process that was embracing user centricity. Finally, UE and development could work together with a shared understanding of the importance of user engagement.

Unfortunately, the reality can be much more challenging. As the drive for new features increases, the time and resources available for user engagement diminish.

So what can we kill so that something better will live?