Jesse James Garrett is co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Adaptive Path, a groundbreaking user experience design consultancy now part of Capital One. His contributions to the field of user experience include creating the seminal “Elements of User Experience” model; developing the Visual Vocabulary, a notation system for documenting user experience design; and defining Ajax, an approach to creating dynamic Web applications.
Christina Wodtke is an author, professor and speaker who teaches techniques to create high performing teams. She trains companies to move from insight to execution as principal of her firm, Wodtke Consulting, and teaches the next generation of entrepreneurs at California College of the Arts and Stanford Continuing Education. Her books include Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, Radical Focus, and Pencil Me In: The Business Drawing Book for People Who Can’t Draw.
IA Summit 2015
Topic(s): information architecture
This is a light-hearted (and ever-so-slightly contrarian) discussion of what has gone before and why IA is now more important than ever. Our scholarship, practice, community, and culture get the deep dig in an intelligent, informal, and invigorating chat.
Jesse James Garrett: Thank you guys so much for coming. To start things off, I thought that I would take a moment to introduce you guys to my friend, Christina. When I think about Christina Wodtke, the phrase that comes to mind for me is “unapologetically passionate.” When Christina is excited about something, you’re going to hear about it.
Christina Wodtke: Let me tell you about interactive fiction.
Jesse: We’ll get there. We’ll get there. Christina has had this really remarkably varied career. She’s just done a lot of different things, that really that enthusiasm, that passion both for the ideas and for creating communities around ideas, are the things that I think have really driven…from my point of view, have really driven Christina’s career.
It’s that passion that led her to be the first president, of the Information Architecture Institute. It’s that passion that led her to found Boxes and Arrows, the first publication online or off about information architecture.
It’s led her through running a startup, and working inside giant organizations, and now as an educator training the next generation of information architects, and user experience designers. Please welcome my friend, Christina Wodtke.
Christina: Thank you. That was embarrassing. Jesse told me two seconds ago, that we were going to introduce each other. I said, “I’m all ready.” I was just telling David…I never pronounce his last name right. David. I was saying it will be easy to introduce Jesse, because Jesse and I hang out a lot a lot in the early days, and that our lives went this way.
We connected back at the GDC. We’re a couple of the only UX people, who are regularly going to the game developers conference. We started hanging out. I was like, “Oh my god. I had forgotten what a complete freak Jesse is.” That’s why I love him. My god.
Jesse: How can you forget that?
Christina: I think there’s a weird methodology that’s grown around Jesse James Garret, as this very studied academic thoughtful planning precise person. While that’s true, it’s a very incomplete truth. Jesse likes weird stuff, and that keeps his knowledge growing. He goes to the game, to design a network.
He talks Ian Bogost, who’s a very serious game design critic, to speak at this conference. He gave Dan a stage for five lessons, from [inaudible 2:29] in. He knows what good is, and he doesn’t really care what box it came from. He’s going to put it in his box. That’s why he makes us all smarter all the time. Just dancing to “Happy” last night, made me really happy.
Christina: Let’s give a happy welcome to Jesse James Garret.
Jesse: Thank you.
Christina: Quiet, studious, and purple hair.
Jesse: Christina and I, as you mentioned, we’ve known each other for a very long time. I have a very distinct memory of the moment we met, which was at the very first Information Architecture Summit.
Even though we both lived in San Francisco, we had not met before. A bunch of us all went out to dinner the first night, as one does at the IA Summit, although we didn’t have any traditions yet. A bunch of us went out to dinner, and I ended up sitting across from Christina and we’re talking.
She’s really excited to tell me about this thing she’s just seen. It’s this document that breaks everything down into these layers, and I’m like, “Uh-huh.”
Jesse: She tells me about it for a while, and I say, “I made that.” She says, “Oh, you saw it.” I said, “No, I made that.”
Jesse: The thing about that is “Elements” was about a week old. The date on the document is March the 30th of 2000. Not too long ago, just turned 15.
Jesse: Thank you. The IA Summit was on April the 7th, or something. It was literally like a week old. I had made this thing, and I had shared it with my friend Peter Merholz.
Peter, unbeknownst to me, apparently shared it with everybody, because my experience with Christina was literally the first time a stranger talked to me about my work. That was pretty amazing. Then I got to have that experience over and over again, over the course of that summit, as “Elements” had gone viral by email up to that point.
Christina: See, you don’t need social networking for things to go viral.
Jesse: You don’t remember that?
Christina: Oh, no. There’s lots of things I don’t remember.
Christina: I will say I don’t remember that. I do remember we did these things in San Francisco, in the early days, which were IA cocktail hours. It was before all the meetups and the UX stuff and it would be Jesse and me, Peter and Jasmine, and a bunch of the WIRED folks, the WebMonkey folks.
We would just get together with some beer, because nobody was sharing of processes. Everybody was like a wireframe in some competitive secret that nobody must ever know about. I thought if I got people drunk, maybe they will explain how they make stuff.
We would get everybody together, have beers, and we would talk about stuff. We started to build these relationships. I remember one that was at your company’s office where three of the walls were whiteboard, one wasn’t.
Christina: Guess which one I wrote on? [laughs]
Christina: I’m just going to tell you, that’s about user error.
Jesse: No, that was bad design, absolutely.
Christina: What I remember is Starbucks had this little funny café they were trying out in San Francisco. We found out we were both writing a book about IA, with new writers, at the same time. We thought we’d sit down and discuss how could we make them both unique and supportive of each other. I ended up going deep and really write my IA book, and Jesse decided to do the framework…
Jesse: “Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web,” by the way.
Christina: Yes, out of print. It’s either $100 or you could steal it online. Go for it.
Christina: It’s a funny thing, because I think they were good companions, but I learned to always go broad and never go deep.
Jesse: I don’t know about that. There’s a place for both.
Christina: There’s a place for both. I think being deep is really hard because you’re in motion all the time. Right now, you guys are probably going to work on your craft and get really deep on taxonomies or really deep on ontologies and the world’s going to shift.
I remember one period that was really hard. I think it was the year of tagging or right around that.
Jesse: There was only one year?
Christina: I remember Peter Morville, by the way, and those who think there’s a good Peter and a bad Peter, there’s a bad Peter and a naughty Peter.
Christina: Peter Morville did…
Jesse: You guys get to figure out which one is which.
Christina: [laughs] Peter Morville took apart tagging completely and ripped it a new one. I noticed there was a lot of anxiety, because what had happened is, with the rise of Google and with the rise of algorithms, the sort of bespoke IA that we used to do, where we would create a control vocabulary and we had big Excel sheets, was under attack.
It was threatened and a lot of people were scared and anxious. They were not ready to change from making nice little lists of synonym rings to going over to the idea of rules-based design. Dan Brown gave one of the most brilliant talks I’ve ever seen here, which actually the other brilliant ones might also be Dan Brown, fairly often, that we must learn to design rules.
It’s like being a furniture maker in the age of Ikea. There’s a point where, “OK, I can either make perfect, beautiful things for the three people who are willing to pay for it, or I can make things that everybody has be better. I think it’s a hard choice for us, even to this day, to make that choice.
Going deep has a richness, but the world may move and you may not. That may have consequences that you may not like so it’s a consideration.
Jesse: It’s was an ongoing challenge when I was writing the book to figure out how deep was right for what I was trying to do, especially, trying to divorce the practice at that moment from, to your point, the technological context of the moment.
I wrote the second edition of the book in 2010, and the publishers had written the copy for the back of the book. They’d said, “In this completely revised and expanded edition, blah, blah, blah.” I had to break it to them the new edition is actually 16 pages shorter than the old edition, because there was a lot of context setting that I did in the first edition of the book that was very specific to where we were at that moment.
I hadn’t even realized it, but I was doing the rewrite, and going through it, and I was like, “I’ve got these huge chunks of things that are completely irrelevant now.” That is the tension with getting into the details of practice, because the details of practice are always changing.
Christina: As well, when I did my second edition, I had a whole chapter about gurus and rules and why you have to watch out for gurus. It’s like that ship had sailed. It wasn’t even a point. I had written about usability. By then Steve Krug had written about usability. I was like, “I could take that entire chapter out.” The field was much richer, and I could focus a lot more.
It’s always going to be hard and books don’t move. I was just talking to Peter, and Lou, and Jorge about the fourth edition. The reality is the principles don’t change but people won’t buy an old book, so you have to go through and you have to update all the examples. The ideas move slowly and focusing on the core, and the heart of it, is the part that will allow you to be flexible as all the bitsy pieces move around.
Jesse: I hope people still buy old books.
Christina: “War and Peace,” yes.
Christina: My first edition, not so much.
Christina: Which, by the way, is a good idea.
Jesse: You mentioned the IA cocktail hour. I think that was a really interesting, catalyzing thing for the community, in that a lot of us had a real frustration with what you described this culture of secrecy around practice.
I remember, I think it was at the second summit, a very nice person, whom I will not name here, was on the stage declaring that the giant consultancy they were a part of had figured it all out and they had this master bible of process they kept under wraps. They had figured out exactly how to do all of it.
You got up there and you were like, “You need to bring us what you know. You need to bring that back to the community, because that’s how we’re going to grow as a field and that’s how we’re going to learn.”
I remember the cocktail hour that we did in San Francisco, when you were working at Hot Studio, it was deliverable show and tell. It was scary. It was scary to go, “OK, here’s how I do it. [laughs] What do you guys think?”
It was out of the response to people seeing my deliverables, at the cocktail hour, I decided to sit down and codify the visual vocabulary, which at that point was just all in my head, and I had to explain it to people every time I used it. I think that there’s this interesting interrelationship between the culture of the community and the way that ideas develop.
This interest that I think has always been deep in the culture of this community, this desire to share, and this desire to connect our practices with other practices and learn from each other that I think is something that started in this really small way with half a dozen people around a conference table on an afternoon with beer in San Francisco, and now I feel like is now really part of the DNA of the field.
Christina: When you said you were scared it reminded me like last night at karaoke. All these people kept saying, “I don’t do karaoke, but I do it here.” I think the reason people do karaoke here is because enthusiasm is valued over skill.
Christina: It doesn’t matter what you do. If you get up there and you start to struggle a little bit all of sudden you’ve got five backup singers. People will pile on the stage, and they will support you, and they will dance for you, and if you’re struggling they’ll be there for you.
That’s not about karaoke. That’s about us. I think that when I showed my documents I already knew I had the ugliest worst wireframes of anybody, because Jim Luttrell and Kim Laden were so much better than better me, and they used Illustrator and mine were crude.
I always knew my ideas got across, and I think this has always been a community that values very much getting the idea across, getting the feeling across, but if you’re struggling they’ll just hop in and help you. They won’t judge or they won’t say you’re invaluable, which is something I love.
To be honest, when I say this community I don’t mean just IA, actually. I think that the birth of digital design outside of graphic is mostly hat way. I got to interactions every year, and while I think this is a deeper community conference, and they’re definitely more polished and shiny, the heart and the love of making good stuff it runs across all of us, very much so.
Jesse: I think your point about valuing enthusiasm over skill is probably just good career advice.
Christina: [laughs] Good career advice? It’s gotten me pretty far.
Jesse: I think people who do this work I believe are called to this work. There’s something inside of us, something deep in our wiring that makes us want to make the world better for other people, and to use all of our capabilities, all of our ability to reason, and to imagine, and to empathize, and bring all of that to the world.
That’s a special kind of person, and that’s why I love coming here.
Christina: Actually, I think it’s interesting. I know that some of us who don’t practice information architecture and haven’t done it for a while, I know me myself I wrote a blog post a long time about pants, which was basically saying sometimes you have a pair of jeans that you really love and they’re so awesome.
Then they don’t fit and you really struggle and eventually you have to walk away from it. That doesn’t mean you don’t love the pants, and you really want to give the pants to somebody else who it’ll make them happy even though you have to get new pants.
Yes, Jesse is giving me the, “Christina, the metaphor is not working for me.” Let bring it home. There was a point where practicing information architecture just wasn’t how I wanted to spend my days anymore. I loved it, but it did not fit, and I got awkward and unhappy, and I was like, “Who am I? If I’m not an information architect I will die.”
Then I realized I love information architecture. I think it’s incredibly important for the practice, and I moved upwards, up the stream to design director and eventually project manager, general manager, but I always made sure it was done. I became the champion of it.
I think that there’s often a lot of struggle with identity and practice. I wanted to say that I think everybody here the early folks were mostly entrepreneurs. We’re the information architects? Maybe.
They definitely believed that information architecture was a clue to making the Web better and that was important or worthwhile doing. I think we have to be careful about the things we love and the people we are and knowing where those boundaries end.
Jesse: That’s, I think, a really excellent point, and I think really defines my current relationship to information architecture in that I did identify as an information architect for a long time, and as my practice evolved I became interested in placing information architecture in a larger context which is what brought me to Experience Design.
But I came to information architecture as a writer. I was trained as a journalist and got into IA by way of I called myself a content strategist in the year 1999. No one knew what the hell that was…
Jesse: …so I picked information architect. That was way better.
Jesse: Yes, because of my background and content, I see everything through the lens of narrative and storytelling. As has been pointed out numerous times over the years at this event, including this year, narrative and storytelling have a lot to teach us about how to structure information, and about how humans create meaning from information.
Although I don’t identify as an information architect anymore, I think information architecture is in a lot of ways the heart of my practice, and I frequently complain about people saying that if something is not an information architecture problem that information architecture therefore doesn’t have anything to say about it.
That I think is not true. I think that there is a lot of IA that happens in the context of other problems that doesn’t get its due because it can be hard to tease out, “Oh, here’s this thread of IA that’s happening through this experience that I need to pay attention to.”
Christina: It reminds me the way we started hanging out again was I ran into you at GDC.
Jesse: GDC is the game developers’ conference. It takes place in San Francisco every year. It is huge. It takes over all three wings of Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. It is gigantic.
It is their big place where the people who…it’s called the Game Developers’ Conference and it’s definitely got a technical side to it, but the design practice that is happening there, this is the place where their community comes together and talks about how they create experiences through the work that they do.
Christina: Yes, and it’s one of my favorite conferences, because it’s one of the few conferences where you have business design and tech all in the same place and learning from each other and intertwingling…also games. It’s basically bigger than the town in Iowa I grew up in. It’s just massive. It’s pretty amazing.
Jesse: We ran into each other in the hallways there, and it was like, “What are you doing here?” “What are you doing here?” It was an odd moment, because I had been going to the conference for a number of years and I’m used to not ever seeing a familiar face there ever, so it was a strange thing.
Christina: I bounced up to you, like I do, and I said, “Jesse, I’m worried about information architecture.” Do you remember that?
Jesse: I do remember that.
Christina: You remember that. I thought you would. I just remember you saying, “I think we’re losing something.” I don’t remember everything you said, but I remember that one phrase which is, “I think we’re losing something.”
You talked about your practice, your younger kids who don’t get exactly what you’re saying, which is they think they don’t need it. Interaction design is sufficient. I remember feeling so much like, “How could you possibly think that in this day and age where everything’s got data in it now?”
Everything has information. There’s no longer this tool over here that’s interaction design and this thing over here that’s information architecture. I think I began the conversation about how the hell are we going to get people to realize that, if information architecture goes away, it gets eaten by UX, that we are going to make bad things?
Jesse: I think that one big thing that we all need to be doing, is talking about information architecture to non-information architects. Talking, really kind of actively trying to get talks at other conferences, where you might not think an information architecture talk would be welcome. Maybe do that as a Trojan Horse kind of thing, where it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a talk about IA but surprise! It’s an IA talk.
Christina: I had, actually, got to the place where I didn’t think the label’s important. I was like, “As long as people are organizing information and making it viable and understandable, it’ll be fine.” I was wrong. We have to call it.
At Interactions in Amsterdam, if you want to know a masterpiece of IA, I would say “Food Spotting” by Bernhard Larousse, is a masterpiece of IA. He’s a molecular chemist who took food ingredients, and took them to the molecular level.
Then worked with chefs to understand what flavors work together, and then compared that molecular composition with other molecular composition in order to create new food combinations, which are being used by four-star chefs and mixologists. It’s just extraordinary. It is turning the world into data, in order to create new understandings, insights, and findings. It was brilliant.
I said, “That’s the best talk on information architecture I’ve seen in years. One of the IxD people is, “Why is it about IA?” There was no taxonomy. There were no wireframes, and I was like, “Ow. I give up. Let’s name it. Let’s call it. Let’s talk about it, and let’s advocate for it.”
Jesse: Absolutely. I think that in a lot of ways, it’s our own damn fault.
Christina: Oh, yeah.
Jesse: I think that to your earlier point, when you were talking about the year of tagging, I think that we spent a few years in the mid-late 2000s, kind of, running in circles, chasing down small things that were very important to us, that were not vital to moving the field forward.
What we’ve seen in the last few years, is a lot of wonderful, new, intellectual work going on, that is reframing the practice, and reshaping the way that we talk about it, so that we can talk to other people about it more effectively. That is an exciting thing to see happen.
Christina: Definitely. By the way, I want to make sure we have time for Q&A. Can you tell me when we hit about the 12:40 mark?
Jesse: I don’t care.
Christina: We’re past it?
Jesse: Does anyone know what time it is?
Christina: Does anyone know what time it is?
Christina: You know what, because I know there’s a couple burning questions, so why don’t we just get our volunteer to start floating around.
Jesse: That’s an excellent idea.
Christina: I would like to start with the question that was asked on the Twitter. Are you ready?
Jesse: No. OK, bring it.
Christina: OK, ready? A young gentleman, who might be the chair of this conference, one of them, asked, “So, you gave this talk in Memphis, and you said, “We are now all user experienced designers.” Did the consequences of that talk work out the way you thought they would?
Jesse: Did you see me speak in Memphis?
Jesse: Thanks, guys. Thanks for coming back.
Jesse: I am not here to tear you a new one this time.
Jesse: I didn’t really have expectations for that talk, so much as it was a desire to kick the hornet’s nest, and see what happened. It was a reaction to what I felt were these years of stagnation, where the dialogue was not really progressing and not advancing the larger goals of the field. I said some deliberately provocative things.
Christina: We happened to be videoing, which we never do.
Jesse: Yeah. What has happened, since then, has been really remarkable. The way that people in this community, I think particularly our friends at the understanding group, have taken up the challenge that I outlined for the community. How do we start talking about this practice in a way that is going to achieve what we all know to be the potential for it?
To be a force in human society, in culture that can be really transformative, and let’s make that happen. The way that a few people have said, “Fuck you. I am an information architect.”
Christina: That’s a word.
Jesse: Great. That’s great. I am so happy to hear it, because it means, that it means something to you.
Christina: Fair enough. We have another question? There we go, there’s an Abby. We also crosstalk about our game signs.
Abby: I don’t actually have a question. I just wanted to say, Jesse I would like to thank you for kicking the hornet’s nest. The year you did that, was the year before I came to my first summit.
Walking into the first summit that I was at, which was the year after that happened, it was obvious that there was a lot of work to be done. As a young person who was looking to do work, that gave me purpose. Thank you for five years’ worth of purpose.
Jesse: Abby, thank you for the remarkable work that you’ve done in fulfilling that purpose.
Christina: Oh my gosh, yes.
Christina: Shall we ramble?
Jesse: Yeah. Let’s talk about games.
Christina: Let’s talk about games. Y’all need to go to the game developers. You have to play games. You’ve been going forever, and you’ve been a gamer forever?
Christina: I came to it late, because instead of New Year’s resolutions, I have a New Year’s project. I pick a topic that I think is essentially human, that I don’t understand. Beauty or fighting, I learned to box. One year, it was games. I didn’t like games. My mom and my sister were a little too competitive. It kind of freaked me out, and I stopped playing games.
That year, I was like, “Well, people like to play.” I studied the psychology, I started playing with it, and I just fell in love so hard. I fell in love so hard, I went to work for Zynga. I still like games, anyway.
Christina: The thing was, I’m going to a lot of conferences, and I wasn’t really learning. I went to GDC, and I was learning like crazy. Sometimes I see talks like [inaudible 25:49] where it’s like, but that’s the stuff we know. They don’t know some stuff that we really know.
Jesse: I think that, intellectually, we are on a collision course with those guys…
Christina: Yeah, they are becoming us.
Jesse: They have been developing in their own little, sort of, isolated ecosystem, a way of thinking about and talking about the moment-to-moment experience. As it unfolds in the mind of the player, sculpting that, and shaping that to more particular outcomes. They have a whole language about it, and a whole way of thinking about it.
There’s a lot that they don’t know, that we do know that is completely complimentary, which is why I’ve been trying for years to have game designers speak at my conference UX week. I want to see that cross-pollination happen.
Experience is my bag, and I believe that we have the potential to be a part of something very large, that is multi-disciplinary, multi-platform, multi-channel. Doing human experience design as a way of understanding how we affect people through the things that we make in the world, and that can apply anywhere.
Jesse: It’s just a matter of assembling all of these isolated models that have been developed in these pockets, and bringing them together, seeing how they, together, tell a more complete picture about how we create experience. That conversation is the conversation that I really want to try to drive.
Christina: It’s incredibly hard. We tried to put together a panel of two game designers who love UX and are like, “Oh my God, we’ve got to learn about UX.” The GDC just like, “No, you’re going to design and do them. You’re not interesting. I don’t know who the hell this Garrett person is?”
Jesse: It was year after year. The first several years that I went to GDC, hunting for speakers, I got these blank looks like, “Why would I ever want to come talk to you people?”
Christina: Why would I talk at a UX conference?
Jesse: That’s changing. They are starting to see us. That’s exciting.
Christina: This year, everybody’s talking about design of everyday things, a new edition. It’s lit a fire. This is a moment of opportunity to create cross. I’m going to bet that a lot of people in this room, are like, “Why should I bother with games?” I think that’s also a huge mistake.
This year, I’ve been spending a lot of time with story, and I found all those childish things, that we’re supposed to put away, are things that we should spend more time with. They make us fundamentally human. They help us understand human experiences. Play is vital. Story is vital. Drawing is vital. The work of Jesse’s, I love, that everybody forgets about, maybe not everybody, is IA / Recon.
Christina: I love the piece where you talk about, “We put on our little lab coat. We pretend to be scientists,” remember?
Christina: We’re not scientists, come on. Maybe some of us are doctors, but mostly we’re just like artists. We’re making things up. We just happen to be chair makers rather than painters. Our art is used. We’re not scientists, and go ahead, explore play. Be goofy. Open up your creativity.
Jesse: In my thinking about it, most recently, when we talk about user experience, there is this implicit context, which is the context of utility. There is a whole other class of experiences, for which, the context is that the value comes from the experience itself, not something outside the experience that you get as a result of the experience.
I’m reminded of, in thinking about why should a UX designer go to a game conference or just investigate the world of game design, a quote from a talker that I saw at GDC about the Telltale Walking Dead game. Have you played that game?
Christina: Oh my God. Are you kidding me? That thing is insane on so many levels. It’s on the iPad, so you have no excuse. You don’t have to buy a console.
Jesse: Very briefly, The Walking Dead game is not an action game where you kill zombies. It’s a game where you make a series of incredibly, difficult moral choices over and over and over again.
Christina: Those choices shape your character, and how people react to you.
Jesse: It affects all of your relationships with the other characters in the game. It’s absolutely fascinating. What the designer said about it in his talk, he said, “Players don’t play games. Games play players. Games are systems that are designed to create dynamic immersion experiences for the players in the moment.
That system is a construct. It’s an artificial thing that, basically, pushes buttons in your psychology to create an experience for you.” That’s a superpower. I want to know what they know.
Christina: That segued into interactive fiction for me. [laughs] That was another realization I made. This is the year, just like here, we have this [inaudible 30:49] at GDC every year. Sort of like [inaudible 30:51], there’s a thing that emerges.
One of them, this year, has been interactive fiction. Interactive fiction, in the old days, it was the Zork games, where you would like type, “Walk north,” “Take object,” and “Examine object.” They were, actually, really hard to play.
Jesse: “Get lamp,” anyone? “Get lamp.”
Christina: Zork? Yeah, we got some people.
Christina: It kind of went away for a while. People really got the glossy shooters. This is Christina’s version of the universe, the AAA games got expensive, but they also got very white male.
Jesse: AAA refers to the really huge, big budget games that dominate the market.
Christina: Can you come to all my talks, and translate me?
Christina: I could use that. Not kidding.
Christina: These big budget shooters and stuff became the paradigm. It became very white, very male, and I’m sure you’ve seen stuff about GamerGate and all the horrible stuff. What happened over in this little corner over here is they started making little platforms for doing interactive fiction like Twine, which lets you choose your own adventure games.
Inform spin around game that lets you build the room games. All these people who are locked out of gamings, but love games, started building them, and they got smart. They got good as a community, and then they start having a few breakout hits that influence the big games. Now, if you’ve ever played Gone Home or Walking Dead, Gone Home is Zork with an awesome…
Jesse: Try it at home. It’s fantastic you guys.
Christina: …graphic interface and an incredible moral story, right?
Christina: Walking Dead is basically a choose your own adventure, except characters grow depending on the choices you make. They’re extraordinary. I think a little bit about what was lost when the diversity went away, but then somehow sticking with it came back. God, there’s so much here.
I want to first say I’m so happy that this community decided to make a space for lesbian, gay, bi, transgendered. I sat next to the keynote and it was fantastic. We talked about hard issues and it was amazing. I’m going to demand another clap for Dawn and David.
Christina: Because once again, when we lose our viewpoints and our different people, we lose creativity, and brilliance, and insight. Gaming almost lost it, and thank God for funny little platforms like Twine that let them express themselves and made the industry smarter.
Although, the industry still refuse to get very smart. We don’t have to make that mistake. I think that’s an interesting side lesson from game design.
Jesse: Do we have any other questions?
Christina: That’s a good question. Oh, there’s one, Peter, Mia and Joe. Where’s our mic milady? Mic milady? The other thing about interactive fiction is it actually has controlled vocabularies.
Jesse: Oh, yeah.
Christina: Dude, it’s crazy.
Audience Member: You guys have been mentioning GDC, and the different communities that coalesce there and interact. One of the themes over the last 15 years of user experience events is that rarely has there been an effort to really bring all of the component communities together.
There was briefly with the designing user experience conference that AIGA ran, but the AIGA ran it and it had its own baggage.
Christina: We’re such…
Audience Member: Ted Nelson actually talked about that on his keynote. These are seen as the people who should be your friends are seen as your enemies because you’re competing for the same mind space, but really everyone has something to bring.
There is some overlap, but then there’s the distinct emphasis that each of those practices brings. I don’t know if this is a question or a provocation. Not to you but to the audience as a whole.
What would it take a GDC UX-ish experience that accommodated a massive community to come together who are all trying to experience at large, and we’re not threatened by one another, but instead figuring out how we work together to deliver?
Jesse: I think that to what we were saying earlier about the challenges that I’ve had in getting game designers to come speak at UX week, there’s a challenge in simply getting them to understand why we should be having the conversation in the first place.
Designers tend to get tunnel vision around their medium, and they think that their practices are unique to their medium, and they lose sight of the fact that they have the potential to be part of a larger creative community. I’ve been making progress on that one speaker at a time at UX week.
Get a museum exhibit designer, get an architect, get people who are doing these kinds of different things in arenas to come talk. Thankfully they get it, but that’s one person at a time. I’m not sure how to build it faster than that though.
Christina: It’s so insanely hard. The last time we had anything that was even vaguely like that was Web 2.0, and when the title aged out, the concept sort of disintegrated. I don’t know if it wasn’t financially viable for O’Reilly, but now they do things like solid.
They’re back to topic based conferences and I haven’t seen a multidisciplinary conference around designing digital things. I don’t even know what you’d call it. When I say game designer wide like mundane design? I don’t think anybody wants to call themselves a mundane designer.
Christina: There’s that problem, but also a factionalism is deadly. I got really excited at interaction…
Jesse: You don’t say? [laughs]
Christina: Yeah. I was talking to Samuel, I don’t know if Samuel is in the room or not, from Mutually Human, and I’m like, “What if we put the two conferences back to back so you could attend both, and there’d be a big joint summit in the middle.” We’re like, “Oh yeah! Let’s do that! Let’s do that! Let’s do that!”
Then we got this look from some senior members of that community like, “Uh, why would we do that? That might mean rescheduling. We really don’t want to with a new organization because it’s a hassle.” I liked the whole not understanding why going out of your little happy place might make you more happy. It just doesn’t seem to register very often, and I keep trying and I keep failing, so I don’t know.
Jesse: I share your frustration.
Jesse: However, I would point out that it is the older, more senior members of these communities, who tend to be the factionalists.
Christina: He went there.
Christina: Thank you. Like Republicans. We wait for them to die?
Jesse: Their time is coming to an end. There is a strong, and vibrant, and energetic new generation of people coming into the field who do not share those views. Those people are the ones who are now starting to program their events. Those are the people who are really starting to lead the dialogue. Those are the people that I’m looking to bring about change.
Christina: We need a summit of silence.
Jesse: That would be awesome.
Christina: To be honest, and it doesn’t even have to be as far field as architecture. Let’s just get the contents read, just the information out to make sure…
Jesse: Yeah. Let’s start with the people we know.
Christina: Yeah, we eat dinner with them. They could come over to our conference.
Jesse: Yes. I completely agree.
Christina: It’s ridiculous. It’s stupid. Sorry.
Jesse: Joe. Has no microphone.
Christina: Andrew has a question and a mic.
Christina: Joe has a question and a mic.
Jesse: Andrew, stand up and ask your question.
Andrew: Joe told me to go, so I’m going to do it. Joe said, “Go” and I’m going to go because Joe said, “Go.”
Andrew: This idea of experience, and that that’s where your focus land in. I totally get that because again, it’s a broader view. Within which all these other things fit. Over the last few years, I’ve started glomming in my head onto this idea that really we’re all designing human environment.
If environment is the vase, then the fluid is experience. Like you were saying, in game designs, the game plays the player. Personally, I don’t think it’s that different from the stuff we do. It’s just under less controlled circumstances.
OK, I guess what I’m saying is, what would you think of the idea of some kind of meta-conversation about human environments have gotten fucking complicated. We’ve got all these disciplines that need to get together to make them better because none of them on their own can.
I’ve heard game designers talk about things like, “We’re going to change the role of games.” It’s a nice thought, but you’re not going to until you can take your hothouse flowers, and actually put them out in the middle of Detroit and help the world actually be better. That’s going to take a lot of different things. Anyway, does that make sense? Maybe we try that?
Jesse: Uh, yeah.
Christina: They’re playing Walking Dead in Detroit.
Jesse: I think that what you need is an ally. An advocate within each of those disciplines who believes in a larger goal. If we can cultivate those allies…like I was saying about inviting these people to come speak at my conference, I’m trying to cultivate allies across these different fields.
Educate them about where we are and what we’re doing, and make our presence known to them. Say, “Hey, there’s a larger conversation to be had, and we want you to be part of it because we think you have something valuable to contribute.”
Christina: I think there’s personal action as well. Last year at “Five Minute” I said, “Go find a conference that isn’t this one and go to a two.” You have to say, “I am going to go to the interaction design conference, not because they’re those guys, but because they’re those guys.”
Go to GDC or go to a visualization conference, and then meet friends and drag them here. The more we’re in each other’s houses the more likely we’re going to connect and build something new. There’s personal action, there’s advocacy, but maybe that’s a challenge.
There’s a bunch of you in this audience right now who probably could get together and form a committee, and start something. It might even be profitable. Weirder things have happened.
Christina: It’s a good season for events. Can we just do it? Maybe? I don’t know. It’s frustrating, but to speak about Meta stuff, no that’s why I come here. I just drink a lot of bourbon and talk Meta the whole time.
Christina: Just teasing you. Joe?
Joe: There’s nothing wrong with drinking a lot of bourbon.
Christina: And talking Meta.
Joe: I think you guys are right. With some conferences I’ve seen, like Agile conference, which for now at least six or seven years has focused on…one of the things they have focused on is a UX track.
You know Adrian Howard, and Andrew Ramsey, and others have really been pushing that in a conference of thousands of people? Very few of whom identify themselves in a greater UX community, much less an IA or IxD basis.
What I’m interested in though, is on an even more practical level. Let’s talk about rice bowls. At the end of the day we’re all looking in our own rice bowl. You know, thinking of the movie “The Sand Pebbles.” Anyway, the idea that this is our great game design or agilist, agilista, whatever, but how does that matter to the work that I’m doing?
Of course a lot of design firms as we know, there’s been a lot of churning the past 12 to 18 months as greater business entities seem to be glomming on, or catching it, or understanding, we use your term, but how do you guys see our rice bowls being affected? Our work. Our entity. The things that we control from a business and work standpoint?
Not just from a philosophic and more esoteric, but really the direction that we’re going in. Both from your guys’ standpoint, from individuals in some of the ways that we’re working?
Jesse: At Adaptive Path, we’ve spent the last several years actively pushing the practice beyond digital. We felt that that was a really important step to take and to declare that to be our territory, and say that we are engaged in a larger practice than simply a digital product design practice.
As Adaptive Path is now a part of Capital One. My company Adaptive Path was a consultancy in the UX field for 13 years. Last year we were acquired by a large American bank called Capital One. We now function as a single client consultancy. We are the same team, in the same space, doing our work our way. We just do it for them.
They presented us will an exciting opportunity to help them drive experiential thinking throughout the organization. Their goal is to be the most human-centered company in the world. We are super jazzed to help them do that. Part of that means declaring that our mandate is brought in the digital.
That obviously digital is super critical, and is only getting more so with all the crazy technologies that are coming along. Certainly, that’s the area where there’s still a lot to be discovered about what’s possible experientially.
There’s a lot that we have to get right across everything else that the organization does in order to really deliver on that vision of a holistic and fully integrated delivery of experience. That’s a big job. It’s going to take a long time, but that’s what we’re doing. That’s what ultimately we should all be doing.
Audience Member: There are people like GE, people like IBM, with Phil Gilbert’s work, and there seems to be a trend…
Jesse: Momentum in the larger organizations.
Audience Member: …in-house focuses on digital oriented design to solve product problems.
Christina: Actually, I wanted to go back. You talked about Agile and agilista, and I can feel eyes rolling in the room. There are a lot of people who hate Agile, and I hear people say similar things about Lean.
I spoke at the Lean start-up conference this year, and let me tell you, whatever you’re imagining about it, that’s not the conference it is. It’s a really different conference than you think it is. Unless you were there, and then you probably are thinking the right thought.
Christina: I feel like there’s this weird wave of hostility to things that aren’t us. Like, “Oh, Agile and it’s wrong, or Lean…” A couple people do it badly and therefore all the ideas might be bad. I had a similar relationship with Design Thinking. When Design Thinking first came out, I was like, “Oh, it’s [inaudible 45:00] marketing machine. It’s just UCD re-branded for more money.”
Then I spoke at Lean. They wrote the description for me and they timed my talk. They’re very control freaky. They re-titled my talk, “Design Thinking for Product Market Fit.” I was like, “Oh, God. If I’m going to give a talk under that, I have to believe in it.”
I thought, “Well, what if design was thinking?” and I started talking to Carl Fast, our dear friend, and I realized that design thinking is a kind of thinking. It’s a type of cognition. It’s distributed cognition. The things we do as designers actually changes the way we use the world to help us understand the world.
Then I was able to do a talk. I do believe in product market fit. I didn’t have to be convinced on that. Then I got into it. I’ve given up, in the best way, I do Design Thinking for innovation. I’m going to use all the buzz words, but I’m going to make them into words again.
I think there’s this weird tension that the world is changing, but what if we don’t worry about our rice bowl? What if there’s just one giant rice field, and anybody who wants to make really great rice, and can figure out how to pick it, and step into that world, we’ll be OK?
I think that there’s always going to be in-house people, and there’s always going to be consultants. You don’t always want to hire somebody full time. Sometimes you need special information, and you can’t hire a full-time person because you’re only going to use them some of the time.
I believe it’s going to be fine as long as we all remember that we just want to make awesome products, and we’re all seeking some way to do it. We trust that the other person, who’s got their favorite methodology, also wants to make awesome projects. What if Lean was OK? What if Agile was OK?
Jesse: Yeah. No. I think it’s possible that Agile is OK. For me, I’m always looking at other people’s methodologies through the lens of human-centeredness.
Christina: Lean’s very human centered.
Jesse: Yes, Lean is very human-centered. That’s the question I ask myself it’s like, “What are they optimizing for here? What are the priorities that are implicit in this as a methodology?” Agile is optimized for developers. Period. It is designed to make developers’ lives easier and to help them make better software.
I feel like the touches of human-centeredness in Agile, it’s a bit of a head fake. It doesn’t feel true to me. It doesn’t feel real. For me, I think I’ve come to realize, that for me personally, human-centeredness is a moral imperative, and it should drive everything that we do. If I don’t see that in the heart of how you’re doing what you’re doing, then I’m not going to trust it.
Christina: First we clap.
Christina: Because, hell yeah. Come on. Then I say, “Jesse, you ignorant fuck.” No, Jesse, what if the touches were hooks? I feel sometimes in this…
Jesse: Are we out of time?
Christina: I’m going to say this anyway and then we’re going to clap, again.
Christina: Because goddammit. I saw this happen in the [inaudible 47:52] which is like, “Is it ever going to be easy to describe the value of our discipline? Like, dude, we’re shoving watermelons down people’s throats. Don’t try to explain the entire history and everything about it all at once.”
Agile has touches of human-centeredness which is a hook ,and if you like that, have a little more. If you like that, have a little more.
Jesse: It’s a gateway drug.
Christina: Not every methodology has to do with everything. People say, “How can I use…?” OK, I’m not going to explain it because we’re out of time, but, “How do I use this goal setting methodology to do performance reviews?” I’m like, “You don’t. It’s not for that.”
In a world where we have Lean, and we have information architecture ,and we have Agile, we could live in a world of ands instead of ors. I would like to live in a world of ands.
Jesse: Here’s for ands instead of ors.
Jesse: Hell yeah.
Host: That sounds like a good note to end it on.
Christina: More bourbon!
Host: Will you give it up for Christina Wodtke and Jesse James Garrett.
Jesse: Thank you. Amazing.
Host: Oh I know, I know.