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Steven Webster
Design Inspired Technologist. Leading Technology Innovation through Design-thinking for Adobe's most strategic customers.
Design Inspired Technologist. Leading Technology Innovation through Design-thinking for Adobe's most strategic customers.

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Yesterday - Innovation on Both sides of the Glass. Today - Innovation in the Glass. Outstanding.

When I think about opportunities to deliver best imaginable user-experiences, a filter to apply is where there are a myriad of variations that the search algorithm is more attached to than I am. Inevitably, the importance of preciseness to the machine, leads to a breakdown in experience to the human...and it needn't be so. Let me give an example - booking a flight and upgrading with frequent flyer miles to the next class of travel.

Here's the day in the life scenario; I live in San Francisco and want to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland. I'm quite happy to fly through New York, London or Amsterdam for my connecting flight...and if it's significantly cheaper, I'll happily do a stopover in either of those cities for one or even 2 nights. I know I want to be home in California by the 30th January, but I'm really pretty flexible about when I leave - any time after the 12th of January, and I want to be in Edinburgh for maybe 4 nights, but I'm happy if it's 5 or even 6. I'm that flexible. What options are there for me ?

And here begins the problem. If you were to break out the set of possible flight options I could look at, taking into account the variations of start date, end date, stopover or no stopover, stopover city if there's a stopover, and how long the stopover is for - then there's an almost infinite number of possible queries that I would have to make to a precise search engine that starts by asking me questions in a much more linear fashion. The search engine assumes I want to start by giving you my start date. My departing airport (because actually, if you can give me a flight I want from Oakland or San Jose rather than San Francisco, 20 minutes in the car, I'll take it). And so's really impossible for me to enumerate the permutations, to search for them, and to rank them in any sort of order of preference.

And then for each search, there's a combinatorial explosion of results. For any single search, I have price options depending on which flights I take and where I fly through - London City, Gatwick, Stanstead or Heathrow. For any particular flight, some are available for me to use my frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business, some I can pay for business class, some I can only pay for premium economy. Depending on the dates and routes, one option may be more desriable than the other, where in reality here's where I stand -- "I'll pay up to $2500 a person, and I don't mind using up to 100,000 of my frequent flyer miles, and I'd strongly prefer to fly business class if I can".

So how did I solve this....I called the customer service desk, and I had them endure this process on my behalf. I sat on hold for 45 minutes, the time it took an experience British Airways operator to sift through all of these options (and I'll bet she missed some, trying to give me a decent call hold time) and present the options back to me. And even then, I'm frantically typing what she tells me into a Text Editor window, so I have something I can look at to try and make decisions.

And then I couldn't book there; because now I've got my options, I had to go check whether someone could look after the now I'm going online and booking my preferred flights myself.

It's a really horrific user-experience; I have the luxury of this opportunity because I've travelled so much and spent so much with this airline, yet the experience of redeeming these flights is near impossible unless I'm looking for a binary yes/no to a very specific route, date and time.

As I think about this, the experience needn't even by real-time; let me express my parameters, and then GO AND DO SOME WORK FOR ME. I don't care if you email me back an hour later, if an hour later, what you present to me is some meaningful options, that I can compare and book right there, making the few remaining trade offs that exist for me ("You can leave on Tuesday and fly business direct, or you can lay over for 2 days in New York and spend 50,000 miles and fly business").

It's time to digitise the mechanical turk, and bring some algorithm to the man behind the curtain.

I could have told this same story about buying a mobile phone. What examples do you have, where query complexity and result complexity typically lead to a user-experience breakdown, and where some design thinking, some asynchronicity and some understanding of boundaries within which you are willing to work, could provide the freedom for an altogether more delightful user-experience ?

Let's put some algorithms behind the curtains, and the best imaginable experience up front on the stage.

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I just picked up this article on "Reactive Documents", and love the opportunity behind this simplicity.

In short, Bret Victor has created a JavaScript library called Tangle ( , that empowers page designers to build in interactivity into the data within a document. It's truly a "seeing is believing" experience...instead of data in a document being static, it's explorable...and there are so many incredibly simple applications for this kind of document that can be interacted with.

As I engage with customers are immersed and submerged in data, one of the tenets we often pitch is to "create meaning from data" or to "turn data into insights, and insights into actions". Having a "calculation model" underlying a document brings so much more meaning to the document, and a much more meaningful way of engaging with it.

Truly, seeing is believing. Check out the article, check out some of the examples, and then I'd love to hear what it makes you think of....

Thanks to everyone for ideas around how Design, Design-thinking and technology can be enabling platforms for driving social change. Very much looking forward to talking on the subject. I've settled on a title and abstract for the presentation below...what do you think ? What would you talk about if this were your talk, or what would you want to hear about if you were in the audience ? What do you think are some considerations when designing the best imaginable social user-experiences ?

Inciting Social Change with the Design of Social User Experiences

Social platforms have become the enabling technology for fundamental change in society; governments have been overthrown, corporations held accountable for their performance. Designing a best-imaginable experience is an exercise in truly understanding end-users – their needs, their goals, their aspirations – and then exceeding these expectations with useful, usable and incredibly desirable user-experiences across screens and devices.

In this presentation, Steven Webster, Senior Director of Technology, Experience Design and Innovation at Adobe, will present his point of view that the enabling technology for social change, are social experiences. Harnessing the wisdom and the will of a crowd, is a Design problem, enabled by emerging technology platforms and capabilities.

Steven will present considerations for the design of best-imaginable social user-experiences, illustrating these considerations with a number of case-studies and examples of social user-experience design.

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On November 10th, I'm flying to Memphis to take part in "World Usability Day", at an event being hosted and sponsored by FedEx. The theme of the event, which comprises a number of events being held worldwide, is "Designing for Social Change".

Broadly, I'm thinking about approaching my talk from the standpoint of what are the traits of a great social experience, and how does design-thinking allow us to create the best imaginable digital and social experience. In turn, I believe that truly goal-centered and user-centered social platforms, are the enabling technology for social change.

In reaching out to my own user-experience design team within Adobe, they have cited many examples of social experiences with a social intention ... such at, to elegantly simply ideas like

However, I think these ideas are the tip of the iceberg; and that if we look at many of the most compelling social experiences that focus on not just building community, but creating identity, offering accomplishment, providing reward for accomplishment and the opportunity to build reputation, encouraging real-time collaboration and embracing ideas of gamification. Furthermore, as I advocate their to be an art and science to the design of a great experience - equal parts designer instinct and measurement and optimization through analytics - I believe there is an art and a science to the design of a social experience, leveraging social analytics to more effectively target influencers and trace outcomes back to "social moments of truth". The Internet is the biggest focus group in the world.

What do you think ? How do you think design and design-thinking can be a catalyst for social change, and do you support my point of view and assertion, that designing for social change, can be an outcome of emrbacing the artistry and the science of designing best imaginable social experiences ?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and to share with you how I condense them on World Usability Day.

In technology, we over-think in verticals. We are asked, "what are the trends in healthcare" (let's call them Health 2.0), "what are the trends in electronic government" (let's call them Gov 2.0), what are the trends in retail, in media and entertainment, in financial services.

However, there's a point missing here...the thread that binds these verticals, are the humans who, like ghosts, move effortlessly between the walls of these vertical silos. Observe your online ethereal self during your next break, and likely you will read some news, pay your credit card bill and hold a flight for next weekend, that you'll aim to confirm when you get home this evening, and check that you can get good hotel rates if you travel on those days. Or if that's not what you do, you'll float between other vertical silos, in ten short minutes presenting yourself as a "business news reader", "dual-income credit card holder" and "an affluent traveler". 3 different verticals will personify you as 3 different types of consumer, where in reality, you are one.

I make this observation, not to once again rage against the silo machine, but to make the more fundamental observation that when we think about our digital experiences, we cannot think about user-needs, but user-expectations. How I read my news, is how I want to hold my flight, is how I want to pay my credit card bill.

Today, Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, by all accounts a simple and beautiful consumer device, at mass market pricing, that is seamlessly blending all of the content that Amazon can offer us in the cloud - music, books, magazines, movies - with the same ubiquitous and context-aware access. A much talked about feature is "WhisperSync", the ability to pick up on one device at exactly the point you were on the last one. This is the killer feature of the Kindle for me...I will typically read digital books on my sofa, on my iPad, but I now find myself reading more, because when I'm in a line, or hanging around, I'll pull out my phone, tap the Kindle app, and be at the very word I was when I was on my sofa a few hours earlier. It is now an EXPECTATION I have for consumption of content across devices...and Amazon have brought this to music, and to videos, on their new kindles.

But think about this from my perspective as a digital ghost. When I go home to confirm on those flights, I want that experience to be RIGHT THERE where I was...I don't expect to have to login, manage my flight details, choose the 6 digit record locator, and then navigate to the screen where I can ticket my flight. 2 hours ago, I was in the middle of booking a flight, and I'm picking it up, albeit on a different device, where I left off. Know me. Know my context. And pick up where I left off.

As we think about delivering the best imaginable digital experiences, across screens and devices, we must fulfil user needs within the framework of user-expectations. How often have you, in the last 6 months, touched a screen that can't be touched, or tried to pinch/zoom with your fingers on a screen that doesn't honor the gesture. You've brought your expectations with you, and when the experience didn't respond, it failed to delight, it failed your expectations.

Know the customer. Know their needs. Meet their expectations.

Content with context is the new king.

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Experience First. Technology Last. If you have been so busy slinging arrows at the heretics who hold this belief then I have news for you. You are becoming the heretic.
+Ben Watson - start from the experience and work back to the technology. 14 years ago and he's still one of the few that truly operate from that vantage point.

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Excited to download "Escape Velocity" by Geoffrey Moore. Had the great privilege of working with Geoff as he was writing this book, and being part of the Adobe team that features in many of the case studies.

"...Adobe is taking its crown jewels in user experience design, rich Internet Applications and enterprise workflows, and putting them all in service to a new trajectory, one designed to helps its enterprise customers delight their customers rather than confound them.."

Working with Geoff and his team was one of the most methodical and constructive approaches I have ever been engaged in, that framed the challenges and the opportunity, and helped us chart a course from what is, to what could be.

Escape Velocity: Free your comany's future from the pull of the past"

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Web met World. World meets Imagination. Now there's a Play.

It's some time since Tim O'Reilly coined the phrase, "Web meets World", which was really used in the context of what I used to call "Sensor Oriented Architecture". Web meets World reflected an expectation that we could feed information from the world around us into the digital world, to create more integrated experiences.

I would cite Nike+ as one of the first useful, usable and desirable examples of web meets world, and more recently the explosion in the movement dubbed "The Quantified Self" exemplifies what's possible when sensors feed the real world into the digital world.

An announcement today by Disney has gained much less press than I would have expected; for it is transformational. Watch the video below; because see it and you will get it. I think this is a huge untapped market, a collision of three intersecting worlds - Play, Digital & Toys.

The first is Play. Play is a world of infinite dimension and variance. Play requires only imagination, and imagination is unbounded. As a child, my mothers garden could be a whole planet for plastic star wars figures, a garden shed could be a spaceship, or a patch of concrete in the school yard, elevated only a few inches about the ground, a gladitorial arena for 2 metal cars to take turns trying to smash each other into the world below. Surfaces, and environments, were the intersection of our childlike imaginations (the very best kind of imagination) and the world around us. Web meets world of endless possibilities.

The second is Digital. We have a tremendous ability to augment the world around us with technology. While augmented reality satisifies our adult sense of augmentation, Disney have laid the problem out flat. When you lose yourself in your imagination, it spreads out right beneath your feet. Placing a tablet flat on the table, gives a 7" view on a world of infinite edges. Watch the video, and see how the tablet is no longer a window onto the world, but the very world itself.

The third, is Toys. There is something in us, that means when we pick up a stick as a child, we hold it like a wand, or a sword, or (you can debate this one amongst yourselves) a gun. Physical objects are the connection between our imagination and the world around us. The mind leads, and the body follows.

By creating toys that provide that connection between imagination and play, and a playscape, a digital world, we allow the child to step into the digital world as if it is the very world around them. The world is their playground.

Nintendo, I think, should be first credited with looking once again to the very soul of the experience, and realising that immersiveness was a product not of a faster graphics processor or 3-dimensional sound, but of pulling the soul of the game playing experience out of the screen, out of the digital world, and into the living room, into the real-world. Disney are tapping further into that, and I think it's no exaggeration to say, that this is the start of a whole new way of thinking about delivering the best imaginable, playful, social, gaming experiences.

"If you can dream it, you can do it" - Walt Disney

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Tomorrow, I have the great pleasure of presenting at the NASA 2011 IT Summit, that is taking place all week in San Francisco. I plan on leveraging a presentation I have used at a number of strategic customers in the past, called "Considerations for Design in the Enterprise".

Recognizing that design-thinking is a critical way of asking the question, "who are we creating a product for, and what do THEY need", and that designers are a critical element in crafting the best imaginable software experience to meet these needs, I've broken down the problem into some key considerations for "Finding Innovation", "Realizing Innovation" and "Measuring Innovation".

Several years ago, I was given an access-all areas tour of Jet Propulsion Labs, because NASA had just adopted Rich Internet Applications as a means to rapidly build richer web-delivered solutions, and were leveraging my open-source architectural framework (Cairngorm). It's exciting to think that several years on, there is the opportunity to impact the experience on the glass, much more than the infrastructure behind it.

Delivering software that is useful, usable and desirable, isn't rocket science.
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