Jesse Taggert

communication :: user experience :: design

No one ever designed a phone just to turn it off

MicrointeractionsLast Tuesday June 12th, I attended a panel on Microinteractions held at Smart Design. It was also a sort of book launch party for Dan Saffer, Director of Interaction Design at Smart Design and author of the recent book, “Microinteractions.”

Here are some notes, thoughts, and questions I had from the experience.

The Incredible Story of Patron X:

Dan told us about of Patron X: a gentleman sitting front row at a prestigious NYC orchestra performance whose phone alarm went off. And off and off and off, so much so that the conductor stopped the show until it was turned, well, OFF. Patron X, the offending audience member, was named thus to protect his identity, the audience was that incensed.

It’s a key example of the value of effective microinteractios. As Dan said, “No one ever buys a phone because you can turn the ringer off.”

Faves and Failures

Dan asked each panelist to share microinteractions that have delighted and microinteractions that have disappointed:

Karen Kaushansky, Principal Device Interaction Designer at Jawbone/Jambox):

Postive: Recently as Karen was following step by step instructions on her smart phone to install a device in her car, the app offered a button to click to turn her phone into a flashlight—at the exact stage when peering into a dark space of her car.

Negative: “You have one unread messages.” Language that doesn’t cover obvious use cases.

Kristen Culp, VP Operations at Pebble Technology: 

Positive: Nest Thermostat and how “it” “greets you” with a glowing light upon approach and illuminates a leaf icon when changing the temperature. The leaf lets you know the most economic/environmentally friendly setting as you are making the choice of how high or low to turn the thermostat. It effects decision making right at the most effective point.

Negative: the entire self-checkout experience at the grocery store, especially the payment flow that includes two different screens and hardware devices replete with ambiguously competing checkout steps.

Bill DeRouchey, Principal Designer at GE Global Research:

Positive: Mac OSX dialogue box that just shakes if the password is wrong.

Negative: Facebook bobbly chat heads one’s news stream. (I offered up “It makes you throw your friends away to end a conversation.”) Also, the dialogue box with a bank he used to use only offered “Sure” and “No, thanks” as options when doing serious financial transactions. There is a time for casual tone and a time for total clarity.

Dan Saffer (moderator, author, Smart Design)

Positive: Waze asked him if the route he took a few days in a row was his commute and would he like the app to remember that?

Negative: Anything where the tone is off. Trying to be cute but coming off weird or snarky.

What’s micro about micro-interactions? And other thoughts

Some takeaways:

  • Microinteractions are not major features. Done well, they are unexpected ways to ease the experience, delight, and create an emotional connection between brand/product/user
  • Bad interactions result in bad product reviews. It hits a nerve in people.
  • Great interactions often just result in silence because people tend to act on the negative, not the positive. Or, if you are lucky it will generate major positive buzz.
  • Microinteractions sometimes sacrifice precision for ease of concept.(ie labels like “this morning, yesterday, etc” instead of “08:34 am”)
  • When seeking client/product buy in on time needed to develop, speak in terms of business value: they can increase conversions, speed up implementation, etc. Don’t just say “brand value.”
  • As products have the ability to learn more about your behavior, they can become predictive. There’s an opportunity here for microinteractions to draw on that intelligence.
  • There is a value of an interaction anticipating a your need before you even realize it. (I think of G-mail prompting me if I want to send an email that contains the word “attachment” when in fact there is no file attached.)
  • It’s not just about consumer facing products. There are huge opportunities in enterprise products where power uses are in a specific interactive ecosystem all day.
  • Large companies like Google and Apple can dedicate teams to developing these. Smaller groups need to just fit it in however they can. It’s worth it.
  • It often takes complexity to make simple experiences.

Lingering questions

At the end of the discussion the panelist mused on the future of microinteractions. What role will predictive intelligence play in interactions? I wonder about the creepiness factor. Do I want products “knowing” and inviting me to act or not act on behaviors that may or may not be positive or something I would share with people? How do we keep the balance of agency? Who is driving what here?

When using colloquial language for interactive copy, how can we be sure to not alienate those who are not the same socio-economic,racial, or age groups?

How much should one test microinteractions? Usability tests? A/B tests? Analyzing overall metrics? What about the discovery of microinteractive opportunities by talking either directly with the intended audience or those who have already done their design research?

Going back to my past career as a museum exhibit designer, I can’t help but wonder what the equivalent is for experiencing a museum exhibit. What are the small interactions that delight and help a museum goer? Sightlines, copy that acknowledges the viewer standing right there reading it, and possibly shifting light in relation to viewer activity are some that come to mind.

Lots of details to think about and looking forward to my next project.

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Typo SF Sketch notes 2013

It’s been a couple of months but wanted to share my sketch notes from TypoTalks SF.
It’s such an intimate experience to listen so intently and translate these designers’ and artists’ passion, intellect, and generosity into my synthesized drawings. You can also view them all on my Flickr page.


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Understanding Design

FROM THE VAULT > Book Review originally published in 2006 for the Boston AIGA Journal of Design

Understanding Design: 150 Reflections on Being a Designer

by Kees Dorst, BIS Publishers, Amsterdam © 2003, 208 pages; reprinted by Ginko Press, 2004

It’s not a monograph, it’s not a “best of” anthology, its not an annual. There are no images. Few specific examples. The spine is too stiff. The ink is not black enough. The pages are printed on a slick Kinko’s-like paper that certainly makes “grasping the idea” a challenge as your hands slide off every page like baby powder on a plastic table top.

“When you design, you are actually creating two things in parallel: the design itself and the story behind it.”  -p.29

Book coverWhat does grab you are one hundred and fifty thoughtful one-page essays about D/design. Kees Dorst, a Dutch product designer, design researcher, and philosopher presents us with a collection of his observations about design. Dorst contends design is an activity with diverse outlets and outcomes (buildings, objects, posters) that shares certain intentions and processes, regardless of discipline. Rarely citing his own work, every essay is instead constructed as a general thought-inquiry that requires You the Reader to supply your own experiences in order to prove/disprove his statements. This is an engaging device. While reading these essays and assessing their validity, one begins to ask: “Have I experienced this?” “HOW have I experienced this?” “Should I be experiencing this?” “Should I blame myself or can I blame my job if I have/haven’t experienced this?”

Although Dorst claims his primary audience are young designers fresh out of school in need of some practical advice entering the design profession, he also suggests these essays can challenge or reinforce design beliefs for more established professionals.

It should be noted that even though most of what Dorst writes aptly supports or challenges the experience of graphic design, his specific observations when citing graphic design are shaky. He is more successful when he focuses on examples drawn from his own experiences with product design or keeps it general.

“…design options should not just be variations on a single idea. They should be based upon different interpretations of the design problem…”  (p. 53)

Overall, the one pages essay format is successful and approachable. They require little time to read and can be encountered in any order. Dorst’s essays often end juicily with statements like: “Design is highly addictive” or “It is strange to realize we are all sinners, some of the time” or my personal favorite “Designers are basically medieval in the way they think.”

The drawback to the one page format is that some ideas can’t be discussed in depth enough to convince the reader of the validity of the author’s opinion. In addition, some of the essays appear fatigued or just slightly more articulate than a rushed journal entry. That does not, however, take away from the overall affect of being challenged to define and expand what Your Experience with design is, theoretically and practically.

Dorst writes calmly and thoughtfully with a balanced voice between ideas and practice. Despite the slippery pages of the actual book, his words do take a hold and linger long after the one page reading experience passes. This book is a good “pick up anytime” volume to coach, challenge, and illuminate your profession.

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Instagram, Don’t Pimp Me Out

“…photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar, and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

Dear Instagram,

I knew when you sold us to Facebook for a billion dollars (at the time), things would change. But I didn’t want to believe it. I like you. You are one of the most amazing online experiences I’ve ever had. (Yes, Instagram, you’re that good). I remember first meeting you in the backseat of a taxi a few weeks before launch. Mike Krieger and I were sharing a ride across town when he told me about the new startup he was working on with a friend. When I first heard the words to the effect, “kind of like a Twitter but using images,” I knew we had to meet. And a few weeks later, sure enough, we started hanging out together. A lot. I’ve never fallen so hard for an app like you.

You nailed what so few Silly Valley products do: an engaging, simple experience that wowed my social, journalistic, emotional, and photographic needs. You had earnest cofounders dedicated to my experience. Instagram, you were a giver. And because of that we all fell in love with you. You brought out the best in us and fostered a beautiful family along the way.

But now? What has happened now? With the money making details of the Facebook model trickling out, you’ve pimped out your family. You want to open our apertures as wide as they will go and sell what you see to the highest bidder. Soon, every corporate Dick, Jane, and Harry can re-sample us for their profit.

I get it that advertising is often a “necessary evil” to obtain a free service. I am no stranger to Facebook. I figured you’d eventually start to serve me ads, but I never, never thought you would think to serve me and all my personal expression AS the ad. All my photos and online activity can be combined and re-packaged to advertise anything to anyone?

Instagram, you didn’t realize how great you are. You encouraged us to explore our world, find its beauty, document its pain, and meet amazing people along the way.

Without you, I wouldn’t have connected with an expat cat-lover living in France, who it turns out, went to the same art school as I. Are you going to sell that?

Without you, I wouldn’t have met the Australian musician who’s appreciation of my photos has cheered me on many a challenging day. Is that for sale?

Without you, I wouldn’t have had some fascinating conversations with the middle class Muslim mother of two in Indonesia. Is that for sale?

You encouraged me to share. Among the many things I offered up, are photos of my very old and sweet cat. Will these photos be used in cat food ads that I see after he passes away?

What about my friend who shared photos of her brother who almost died this year? What will you do with the touching image of her grandmother crouched over his wheelchair holding him so tight. Sell it to the highest bidder?

Instagram you have been such a good, honest communicator; I can’t fault you for that. Your transparency illuminates me and hurts you. Yesterday I read your new Terms of Service. I read them all and that was a first. They were so well organized and well written; you didn’t hold back letting me know changes were happening. I thank you for that.

Because I like you so much, I want to trust that it will be okay. That the section that says all my activity can be used for ads without my knowledge and consent won’t be so bad. Surely in practice it will be less malignant than it appears? Is the intention to use my work to get more Instagram users or is it to sell anything for a profit? Will my Instagram photos appear on the web sites my friends visit and follow them around from page to page? Why do you want to trick us with ads disguised as posts? Is a “trick-click” worth it?

Instagram, is it too late to go back to how things were? This whole new relationship we’re embarking on in early January worries me and I might need to end it. Maybe if we had talked more about our feelings for each other, we would have realized just how serious it was. I would have easily “joined” you for $20 a year. Evernote and I have a similar arrangement and just last week Pandora and I took it to the next level.

You are hanging out with a new crowd now. I know Facebook. I have a good time with Facebook too, although I behave differently there. But to you, I gave my whole heart. We dallied in art, color, composition, light, life. You elevated the art of the caption to poetry, comedy, pathos, and pop.

André Kertész said, “The camera is my tool. Through it I give a a reason to everything around me.”

Please don’t use everything I’ve given you to make a buck. Serve me ads if you must, but don’t serve me as the ad.

with love,

“Anything an be separated, can be made discontinuous, from anything else; all that is necessary is to frame the subject differently….Conversely, anything can be made adjacent to anything else.” —Susan Sontag, On Photography

This is cross-posted on Medium.

UPDATE: Instagram posted an apology and response later in the day asserting that they have no intention of selling use of our photos to advertise products. This whole debacle has certainly brought up the brittle sense of trust we have these days with online services that rely on us, the community to “be the product.”


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Who’s watching your assets?


It is morning. I am at the airport and have just boarded the plane. The man I climb over to reach my window seat looks crazy to my sleepy eyes. The kind of crazy that might lead to some type of psychiatric episode halfway through the flight from Boston to San Francisco. He is a hard little man sitting in the middle seat. Long gray-streaked brown hair hangs equally over each shoulder. Crusty patches of something dot the thighs and cuffs of his pants. His eyes dart around. He mumbles something I don’t understand, and when asked to repeat it, he stops talking altogether.

Meet Peter Cassidy, international expert fighting identity theft. Despite an alarming first impression, this is the man you want protecting your assets: tough, knowledgeable, unconventional, slightly paranoid, and — as I learn sitting next to him for six hours — talkative.

An hour after take-off and a can Amstel Light beer later, Peter Cassidy stops muttering to himself and instead starts talking to me. I learn he co-founded the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG), an international association of banking, computer, and law enforcement officials. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “phishing” is one of five ways thieves can get information about your identity. It is (at the time of this writing) the main way to do so electronically.

What does phishing look like? Pop-up windows in your web browser and email that ask for your username and password to “verify your account” are just two ways experience a phishing attack. Ironically, many phishing scams pretend to be protecting you from what, in fact, they are actually doing.

We are flying over Ohio. I am drinking a Diet Coke. Cassidy’s hand wrests on the flap of a tray open in front of him, cupping his second beer. “Eventually someone starts a database on you.” He leans towards me. I smell beer. “From one source they get access to your social security number, from another they get your bank accounts and credit card numbers and then they bundle it together. Your data in that form would be sold on the market for about $25.”

That’s right. There are identity theft middlemen out there who collect your data and upsell it to professional thieves who are even better at abusing your personal information.

The APWG exists to stop this. They track phishing scams, publicize crime trends, create guidelines and organize conferences that strategize how to fight this type of crime. That last point is interesting. APWG is not affiliated with any specific industry, so they can bring together people working in bank security, credit card companies, software developers, prosecutors, social scientists, and police officers to pool their knowledge. They break down silos to put up barriers, in a sense.

Cassidy develops these guidelines and organizes face to face conferences and lectures all over the world. The morning we met, he was flying to the west coast to present to the U.S. government and argue with Microsoft about its role and responsibilities to reduce identity theft. A few months before, while he presented the latest findings to the EU, another colleague from APWG was on the floor of the UN. Last week he traveled to Japan to organize yet another upcoming conference. Data knows no boundaries.

“There will be two newsworthy items discussed at the Japanese conference” Cassidy tells me. He scratches his scalp, beard or mustache as he speaks. What I now perceive as alert brown eyes peer out from under all that hair. One of the newsworthy topics is the growing shift from consumer phishing to corporate phishing. Instead of pop-up screens interfering with personal web browsing, criminals target corporate personnel by phone to obtain even more valuable information.

I look confused. Cassidy responds by enacting a hypothetical phish, his voice loud on the quiet plane:

“Ted, this is Chris from IT. The server went down and I need the serial number on your computer.”

“Sure Chris, anything else?”

“Yes, actually how about reading me the number on the FOB just to make sure you’re connected again when we bring the system back up.”

“Will do.”

By asking for information not normally associated with account security (and therefore not raising any red flags), the thief can still hack his way into the hardware of the company’s main servers—accessing its bank account and stealing millions of dollars instead of just thousands.

What about consumer phishing? How does someone steal your money? Cassidy is happy to tell me how. Once enough personal information has been collected from one or many sources, a false document is filed stating your mortgage has been paid in full. This seems counter intuitive; why would a thief pay off your debt? By doing this, however, he has created a debt-free equity line with complete access. To complete the the plan, he will bring a document stating your house is paid off to your town’s mortgage registry—often a small town department using photocopied records not much more advanced than the older handwritten ledgers stored in the basement. They accept the document and enter it as government record. With this information, the thief goes to the bank, takes out an equity loan on your newly paid off house and walks out with a treasury check for $100,000 or more.

Our plane is over the Grand Canyon by now. Most of the people are asleep or watching the movie playing on the few screens suspended from the cabin ceiling. Peter Cassidy is into his third and final beer. He begins to share how he became involved with all this. I relax some more and lean my head lightly against the window. Cassidy graduated journalism school in the 80s when computers were just about to enter the consumer market after already transforming business. After graduating, Cassidy wrote opinion pieces and forensic technology articles for Infoweek, The Economist, ForbesASAP, Wired, Boston Business Journal, and USA Today. During this time, he also helped start a technology magazine in Australia. Cassidy lived overseas for 15 months and recounts sleeping on the beaches of New Zealand for four of those months. Something about clearing up a visa problem with the Australian government and being broke. “Most of the beaches were free, but sometimes you had to pay a $1 to spend the night.” Eventually, he returned to Boston to be closer to his family. Since then his work has been based out of Cambridge, MA.

As we near San Francisco, Cassidy puts away the book he had not opened (another interest of his: hedge fund vulnerabilities). He fishes out a business card from a worn leather wallet (he looks like a serial killer in his driver’s license photo, although I now know better). He laughs, opens his wallet as wide as it will go and shows me the only bills inside—30,000 Japanese yen. “I will need to cash these so I can get a cab from the airport.”

We exit the plane. We smile politely when we see each other again at baggage claim as we go forward into our separate days. Peter Cassidy may be scary looking, but he’s the man who keeps the real bogey men at bay.

This is an essay I wrote in March, 2008 and is a true story. This was originally posted on Medium under “Airport Stories.”

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Sketch notes from the first TYPO SF 2012


I’m looking forward to the 2013 TYPO San Francisco this April. I had a blast drawing sketch notes from the 2012 event. It’s a delightful challenge to watch, listen, synthesize, and draw at the same time. Here are the sketch notes from last  year. Often, I would sketch the main shapes and words in black and round out with color and texture right after the talk.


  Sketch notes from 2012, TYPO San Francisco are also on my Flickr page



Stumbling on some old photos today. This from when I was an exhibit designer in Cambridge, MA. My desk had a decent amount of pin up space around it. This photo shows some of my sketches and a printout image of a “Life Journal” an artist in London had made. A page a day journal that would accommodate 85 years. I wonder what kind of work she’s done since?

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Connecting ourselves

There are no lack of “connections” these days. Weak or strong, in your face, or trolling Facebook at 1 am, you can connect with family, friends, brands, your bank, your fitness behavior, and at least a hundred tentacles of email newsletters unread in your Inbox that you enthusiastically subscribed to at some point.

Immersed in this connection glut, you try to gain control by defining and refining lists—whom you spend your time with online, whom you see in person—while still placing yourself in situations to have chance connections that might enrich your life. (Have you ever stayed that extra half hour at a boring party just to see what might happen after “giving up”?)

When I think about connecting and I think about design, I am aware of two things. The first is obvious: good design makes connecting with the people and things you already know easier and the people and things youought to know easier. Secondly: experiencing something that is well designed connects you to the people who crafted the experience. The designed object or experience becomes its own conduit—reminding us that whoever designed this interface, book, movie, coffeepot and pair of glasses has offered to us, an artifact of their internal creative connections that created this in the first place. It is a quieter, often faceless connection that is everywhere.

If only we are not too connected to notice.

This is a modified version of an essay I wrote to win a pass to attend TYPO San Francisco 2012 earlier this year.


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