Hey, Products. Mind Your Manners.

Image is from the movie,  Marie Antoinette .

Image is from the movie, Marie Antoinette.

“Don’t put your elbows on the table.”
“Chew with your mouth closed.”
“Don’t interrupt someone when they’re speaking.”
“Say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’”

Ugh. Manners. Raise your hand if you remember being groomed through your adolescence to recognize and mimic the behaviors of the world, to blend in, and do away with the very notion of being free and unbound to authority. I’m raising my hand if you can’t see it.

As an adult, manners are such a fine-tuned concept and they creep up on us in subtle ways. They are the blueprint of how social groups move around and also how people identify themselves (and determine their comfort levels with others). We don’t like to admit it, but if someone actively does something counter to what you were taught not to do, we become confused… and then uncomfortable. We don’t like to feel uncomfortable.

While we all like to say things like, “Be yourself!” or “You do you,” there are overarching human behaviors that fall in the range of feeling wrong, disrespectful, and impolite. Small gestures help us determine pretty quickly upon meeting someone whether or not they grew up around the same social rules, care about the same values about people in general, and if s/he is someone they would like to continue having additional social encounters with in the future. These are the small ways we define what is rude, what is acceptable, and what are gestures of kindness. This is the fabric of how friendships begin, relationships spark, and even how businesses create partnerships.

So, what does this mean for the digital world? Why should I care about digital manners when working on your project?

When we look at how products are built, how website UX flows operate, and how interaction designs behave, users eventually recognize whether or not they are being manipulated for good or for evil. They then determine what your main objective as a business is, and even farther down the line, decide whether or not they feel it is ethical to keep engaging with us.

As designers, we are no strangers to business folks dropping in and giving an ultimatum that money must be generated above anything else. We are also used to then proceeding to discuss what kind of “design” would make a client comfortable about their deal. To be clear, this is not fun for us but we do know that it is a necessary discussion. Designers will argue because of the holistic experience of what is at stake but also because, most of the time, the changes requested feel really aggressive and rude to put in front of users.

Let’s think about the everyday stories we hear when people meet/get together. The minor casualties of behavior that turn us off from continuing to interact with others can be analyzed to find parallels in the digital world to help us define and understand digital manners.

1) Put effort into your look. You should at least show that you came to impress.

If you do this:


People feel this:


There’s a reason why the fashion industry exists. No one is asking for haute couture on every screen but show that you care. It may sound shallow, but in 2019, it’s the name of the game. Find a designer, pay to get groomed, and be the attractive content you know you are.

2) Take ownership over your mistakes and look at it as an opportunity to gain some trust

If you do this:


People feel this:


Hey – we’re not all perfect. We all make mistakes. But when you make a mistake, how will you respond? Will you be apologetic? Or defensive? Will you be honest and create dialogue while you work through your issue? From a relationship standpoint, this is foundational to future interactions so don’t avoid it. Set the stage and, hey, have fun with it.

3) Serve your customers the way you would want to be served

If you do this:


People feel this:


I mean really. It’s insulting to expect that responsibility falls on one side if the stars aren’t aligning quite nicely. For example, if you’re out on a date and it doesn’t seem to be panning out the way you’d like it to, you would expect the other person to at least offer to pay dutch, no? This is no different.

4) Hire a copy editor, check your content, and don’t gaslight people

If you do this:


People feel this:


The worst thing you could do to someone is make them feel crazy when they’re not. Coordinating promotions and timing advertisements will inevitably raise a lot of content alignment issues so make sure to tighten up what you want to say before you publish/deploy. When your content doesn’t align, it’s confusing and makes people question their sanity. Ultimately, you won’t achieve what you’re set out to achieve. QA QA QA.

5) Don’t be passive aggressive with your CTA’s

If you do this:


People feel this:


This is all over the internet right now. It’s so frustrating for people to have to click on a CTA that is passively insulting. If you have a product that has sustained a longer user base and are continuing to evolve your product as time goes by, remember that you still have to be respectful throughout the relationship. Just because you and your user have been together for over 5 years doesn’t mean you can take that relationship for granted. Don’t take jabs as small as they may be. If you do it too much, the forgiveness can wear off and you could be looking at a deactivation.

Old habits die hard, and there’s always room for improvement and change, but the reality of it is that these small ways in which we interact with one another are the ways we keep our relationships going. It’s hard to grasp the idea of what it really means to design for humans, but we have found that thinking about interactions between machine and human as manners is a good start.

What other digital manners, good or bad, have you seen out there?

To get your team to start thinking about digital manners, try starting a slack channel like this and see what comes up.

Dunne + Raby

Photo from  Dunne & Raby's   Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

Photo from Dunne & Raby's Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots, 2007

The pathway to becoming a UX designer and/or Service Designer is always a fascinating story. If you take the time to ask fellow professionals in the field of how they came to be, I guarantee that it will be time well spent. The beauty of this industry is the fact that people have diverse backgrounds from probably every field you can imagine. This is why I love the HCD world.

Another reason why I love the HCD world is because if you look for it, you can pretty much find it in any field that exists. And when you do, the people you meet have no idea that they are actually participating in a HCD-like manner. 

One of the places that I found Human Centered Design is in the conceptual design world. Take for instance the subject of 'Critical Design'.

Critical Design uses critical theory to approach designed objects in order to challenge designers and audiences to think differently and critically about objects, their everyday use, and the environments that surround them. Many design professors teach this way of thinking with their design students who are producing highly conceptual artwork within the design realm. Are you still interested? I'll keep going.

I'd like to introduce you to a duo who teach as design professors in London and Vienna and make projects stemmed from Critical Design. Their names are Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.

Another photo from the same series.

Another photo from the same series.

'Their work has been exhibited at MoMA, NYC, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Design Museum in London, and is in the permanent collections of MoMA, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Frac Ile-de-France, Fnac and the MAK as well as several private collections. [...] In 2015, Dunne & Raby received the first MIT Media Lab Award.' I don't think that I have to justify their impact within the design world - they are well respected and consistently referred to when new work is presented to the world.

Techies - listen up.

Although the list of work they have produced is quite long, I'd like to bring attention to one of their projects called, "Technological Dreams Series: No. 1, Robots," created in 2007, which is a great example of Critical Design. It provokes the idea that ‘one day, in the future, robots will do everything for us’ and the question of how we will interact with them comes to the surface. In this project, designed robots are shown to project the ‘new interdependencies and relationships [that] might emerge in relation to different levels of robot intelligence and capability.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info)

I am a firm believer that it is though works like Technological Dream Series: No. 1, Critical Design ultimately takes on the role of questioning ‘the limited range of emotional and psychological experiences offered through [existing] designed products.’ (Dunne & Raby, Project Info) It emphasizes the condition of today's design culture as it ‘limits and prevents [designers] from fully engaging with and designing for the complexities of human nature.’ Although this can be seen as a negative way to view designed objects, Critical Design ‘is more about the positive use of negativity’ as it confronts designers to think critically about people they are designing for. This theory supports HCD through this confrontation and many designers have, since then, turned to HCD for guidance.

How wonderful, right? And very appropriate for our HCD/UX/Service Design field.

If you have time, watch and read about the robots. Think about what a world would be like in the future if robots and technology actually behaved in this way. I challenge you to consider why we are in partaking in this industry and to think about what ways you can use this fictional narrative to make what you are currently making more human and healthy for today's world while keeping the future in mind. If we don't start now, we could very well be living in a world where technology dictates our behaviors and way of life rather than allowing our human culture to grow organically while technology serves and evolves with us.

Thoughts on Clothing + Shops in Copenhagen

I haven't written much about shopping in Copenhagen but if you meet anyone who knows me, I am pretty infatuated with clothes. Having sewn some clothes for myself, I have learned to appreciate fabric, patterns, stitching, and just pure craftsmanship from designers who specialize in this field. I'm always looking for interesting cuts and I love finding material that consists of thoughtful quality while backed with intention.

I work in the technology field and there are moments where I think about digital product design as clothes making/design. Let me explain.

Parallels to clothes-making and technology:

1) Pattern makers are your back-end architects and developers. 
"What are you talking about?" you might ask. But have you ever met a pattern maker? These people are geniuses. Material is their data and they think about multiple things as they architect their plan to create various sizing for one style of clothing. Our human body is their ultimate goal but the production process is really what they are designing for and if they do it right, everyone else has what they need to finish the product. "Will this die cut be durable for the amount of production requested?" That question is not so different from, "Will this system be able to handle multiple queries and modular data flow?"

2) Sewers are your front-end developers. 
Sewing can get really technical. The type of stitch needed can make or break how something drapes onto your body (a component of interaction design). Some clothing designers have a fit over whether or not they should start on a half-stitch or a whole stitch - no joke. You pixel perfect people out there are not alone and your tribe extends far beyond the digital community. Our body sizes are the devices you code responsive design for and it matters how you organize your bootstrap logic in order to get the product to surface correctly. Coincidence? I think not. 

3) Clothing designers are your UX/UI folks. 
I have a fundamental belief that UX should not be separated from UI but I won't have enough space here to comment on that. I'll save that for later. Regardless, here is where the questions and design decisions get really tricky and again, not at all different from the fashion world. Is this relevant to what is currently out there on the market? Has this already been made? If not, what is out there that we can benchmark off of to make this product/dress better? Tell me more about how your foot feels while walking in this shoe. Do you feel confident that wearing this will keep you warm when walking outside during winter? Is this color palette configured to your personality/industry? And the list goes on.

I could keep going with this but an important point to make here is that it is imperative that clothing designers work with pattern makers and sewers constantly so that the end design is actually what was intended. This helps production flow to meet its potential and sewers know why starting at a half-stitch will actually change the product as well as influence how people interact with it when they put it on. So, the real question is, why do we separate these people in tech? Ideal teams all work together but I have seen many a time where back-end architects and developers don't even get to talk to UX/UI folks when assigned to a product. Or, front-end developers get left in the dark when handed screens to produce and have no idea how the product is suppose to behave and why.

I challenge technology teams to really explore other mediums to see how craftsmen are working to produce whatever thing that they are tasked with. There is much to learn from physical product making and I think that more teams should learn collaborative processes in other mediums. I'm pretty confident that if they do experience this, our digital products will be that much better. 

Enough of this though - take a look at some shops I visited. 

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