Blog: UX Matters & Design Thinking

What are we working toward? AI with Autonomy, or HI with Blockchain?

What are we working toward? AI (Artificial Intelligence) with Autonomy, or HI (Human Intelligence) with Blockchain?

In my humble opinion, Gilder is merely challenging the current media mindset and focus on Autonomous AI as our future by introducing a new alternative mental model to the “singularity” frame held in the minds of the masses and technophiles alike. Over the past 20+ years, we have had lots of news and entertainment that have hyped AI as our medium/near-term technology future. The problem is, the picture painted by this future is not all that positive. Sure it’s convenient when GoogleVoice understands what we say and offers coherent replies. But, what happens when someday GoogleVoice decides that what we ask for is not important? Or worse, it wants to give us incorrect information - for whatever reason.

Real or not, that’s the fear. Consider a few AI related movies like iRobot, AI and West World, etc. Or worse, we all fear the HAL9000, yet these are billed as now achievable in the near/mid-term - no matter how scary. What if like in 2001, they turn out to be dangerous, how can we be sure once we let these thinking machines go off on their own. Some of our tech “leaders” (i.e., Musk and others) and the masses don’t seem to think it’s safe. And if pushed much further, without strict oversight and too quickly, might some of the masses pick up pitchforks? Does fear of AI ease or fan the flames within the current political environment?

In my opinion, AI is surrounded by fear and lots of questions like 1) how does AI make money for the masses - when it takes away everyone’s job? 2) current autonomous vehicle technologies like Tesla’s self-driving cars (whether AI or not - it feels like AI) have a poor crash record, sometimes killing the passengers in all-consuming fires. 3) sprinting Boston Dynamics AI robot-dogs (and humanoid “Terminators”) look like they could run down and kill everyone, 4) AI-powered micro-drones that fly explosive shape-charges into human skulls and blow brains out!!? That’s uber scary.

All these AI future-technologies represent the terrifying, out of control, technology future. Technology in the past was always sold as utopian and improving the lives of people, not imprisoning them. A future of killer cars, terminators, and undetectable flying micro-assassins is not hopeful. That’s insane, infringes on human rights, and it brings me back to my initial question - what are we working toward? Given these thoughts - AI is not capturing the hearts and minds of the masses to the extent that any negatives are far outweighed by the positives.

So until the singularity becomes (safely) viable, the tech industry needs a new near-term technology target. It needs to be something achievable, something maybe already here, and just in need of investment capital. The tech industry does not invest in basic science without a near-term return to justify the investment?

So why not divert some of the investment capital now flowing into a readily viable investment - that solves real-world problems and is highly accountable - kind of the opposite of AI. What Gilder may be doing is challenging our greatest thinkers (writers, entertainers, and intellectuals) to consider alternative mental models to the scary AI future, and create a future technology vision the public can embrace and emotionally invest in. Something that investors will want to invest in.

The idea of promoting Blockchain, a highly accountable, single source of truth public database could, even if only in the minds of the masses, be used to keep AI in check. Who knows if it can or if it will, but that’s a better vision than AI going forward wholly out of control. So it begs the question, can a single source of truth, as promised in blockchain technology, Make AI, safer and more accountable to its human creators? Who knows if it can prevent deathtrap cars, killer robots, and assassin drones. Autonomous AI just feels like a wrong next step. HI - Human Intelligence with Blockchain “feels” safer - at least for now.

Excellent Survey Example - Keep It Simple

CT Shirts Update: A recent follow-up survey that I received is on brand, and very easy to complete (except the text was not easy to read.). The survey stayed on-brand in many ways: 1) visually, and 2) trademark ease of use - it was easier to complete than ordering a shirt. If only other companies understood their customers enough to understand the 2-3 questions to ask a specific customer regarding one particular recent transaction. 

Unfortunately many large companies often ask a customer to take a 7-15-page generic survey - which negatively affects the customer’s perception of the company. CT’s ONE-PAGE survey, on the other hand, captures the most critical metrics required to assure the success of the company, based on that single most recent interaction. I would not mind taking another survey from them in the future. Would you? Companies who understood what metrics they need know how to keep it simple probably.

More Micro, Less Animation

Interaction Design and Micro Animation

In my experience designing for both television and interactive applications, the animation needs to have depth, complexity, and simplicity that allows for discovery upon multiple views over time. In web and application design, desktop and mobile, the less animation the better. Especially so in apps where the user sees the animation over and over again. In fact, if the user does not acknowledge the animations existence the first time, or even for a month, I believe that’s a great animation. Then upon discovering the animation if the user appreciates the simplicity and nuances that can be the furthering of a relationship. 

Think Paul Rand and how he designed logos; there was often a “hidden smile” for the user to discover and appreciate, even after having experienced the service for a long time. The “seeing” of something previously overlooked takes the relationship further, personalizing it. Then if perhaps the user forgets about that animation, and takes it for granted, even better. Remember, the micro-animation can subliminally enhance the experience, not dominate our shout out it’s existence. The less noticed, and the more more imperceptible it enhances the experience and the more it’s appreciated.

Less is more.


In the end, I had a positive CX experience ordering shirts online from Tyrwhitt First time order. The only issue I had was getting the extra discount using the code printed on the back of the brochure they sent me in the mail. They also provided a unique custom printed customer code next to the discount code. The prices looked unbelievably low for the offer, and I figured they wanted to earn me as a first time customer, so I went online shopping and found some quality shirts.
But the offer seemed like it included a CX test. When I went to check out, the offer code was not accepted online, but the online prices were already severely discounted, so good in fact that I ordered anyhow. Then I needed to confirm that I ordered the correct fit, which I had not, and they fixed the order over the phone very quickly. They understand their product. Then when I asked, customer service about it, they happily fulfilled on the discount code and provided the discount online. There was no hesitation, they almost expected it.
Then I agreed to take their survey (I had also allowed them to track my online experience) and completed both, online and on the phone. In the online version, it asked whether I had trouble getting the discount code at checkout. That’s was when the light went on and set me to thinking that this could be a CX test. Discount codes tend to get circulated and abused online, so pinpointing them to specific customers might be the ultimate goal. Confirming on the phone might be a way to weed out online code abuse until it can online. Phone reps smoothed out the issue in stride.
I think when it comes to UX/CX in the future if the retailer sends out a flyer with a Discount code, customer number, and address, an online match of all three could confirm the discount to the pinpointed customer. Otherwise, the experience at Charles Tyrwhitt was good (enough for me to bother writing about it); customer service reps are sharp and helpful, I ordered four quality shirts, received the additional discount, all with a pleasant English accent. Expecting delivery via well-done follow-up email with my order details.
Waiting to see how their online order followup goes as my order is shipped. Then, of course, the email drip campaign. Ahhh, the simple pleasures of modern customer experiences.

Color Psychology & Product Design

Color psychology in product design, and design, in general, is a no-brainer that should be part of what you do as a designer - especially if you’ve been to design school. What gets interesting is when we explore the nuances of subtle color differences, like browns for instance (think Hershey’s brown), and other colors that have to be spot-on or else they end up being oh-so-wrong. Getting the color right on screens is also more critical because today they are remarkably color accurate. 

Back in the old NTSC TV and early mac/windows days color was difficult to reproduce across devices — lots of manufacturers tried, and rarely succeeded. As a result, design color choices were often “stark” by comparison (i.e., Windows Blue). To differentiate was challenging. Some rose to the challenge and created styles, such as crunched backs, experimentation in silver nitrate film effects and more. Today color reproduction is more accurate across the board. From printed posters to billboards that project light at us from across the highway. 

It’s a whole new world for designers working with color. They say that having limiting factors is a good thing. So now that there are fewer color limiting factors, what will we do with all these color choices?

Check out this related article by Muditha Batagoda:


Elaine Lee provides an excellent introduction for designers who are thinking how they might work with AI (link below). Honestly, I wish I were working more in this realm. It makes so much more sense to be working with logic already infused with Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI). User-flows and experiences can be much more efficient. Users can be much happier and apps stickier. But to be on this cutting edge requires we work for large companies with ANI resources, like eBay, Amazon or Google, Microsoft, IBM, and others. ANI-capable user-flows will be available to all businesses and to their design teams in the coming years. There will be lots of trial and error in the mean time. Definitely, it’s something to think about and why not check out this excellent primer from Elaine Lee:

Ok, Here’s the Skinny on the Hamburger Menu. Don’t use it.

It’s not User-centric. My (skinny) reasons:

1) It’s generally found in the top left corner of the screen. That’s just hard to reach.

2) It’s generic and non-descriptive.

Note: If you are considering a Hamburger-type menu feature, then:

- design a custom navigation-access icon, something other than a hamburger, unless you are McDonald’s. Make it relevant to your app. 

- put it at the bottom of the page, maybe centered above the tab navigation bar.

The rest is up to you, that's why they pay you the big bucks, right? Go get ‘em!

Notable visual design trend

Nice to see color blends coming back into vogue for visual design. Admittedly color blends and overlays are one of my favorite design styles, many memorable corporate designs from the 1960′s and 1970′s have exploited this approach, and it translates well from print to screen. Enjoy the following article, and accompanying images.

Lorem ipsum, placeholder content and dummy text

I just read a great article on dummy text. As user experience designers, we work with today’s lightning-fast tools that allow us to design with “real” content. So why not?! Especially when doing so can save time and lead to better decision making. Real content requires more effort up front, and a willingness on the part of the design team to throw away “real” looking designs on a regular basis. But it leads to better decision making. if an element is undefined, no matter how small, try and define it. This can be cathartic. It lets all team members know their contributions are important. Engineers care about date formats, field content character limits, table sorting headers, and more. Real content has real benefits to the design thinking UX process. It brings stakeholders together in more meaningful ways. Designing is more meaningful. Context is clearer, and so much more. Check out this great article on the topic.

Are personas ruining your product?

What Makes a Designer Good at What They Do?

Great article on using the right jargon in your app.

24 Ways to Look Like an Awesome UX Designer. Not!

All product team members have stereotypes. OK. That’s expected - and cliché. If you are a UX designer and start to exhibit any fo the following behaviors, stop it. Product Teams, if your UX designer is starting to behave like this, it may be time for an intervention. 

Making the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Great article check it out. Think UX!

Time to Fix Mobile Video Advertising.

Innovation: Interactive Interrupt

A company asked me to review some IP they had recently submitted for international patent protection. They wanted me to evaluate their current product plan for what they called an Interactive Interrupt for Mobile Video advertising with the goal of finding better and more practical applications. 

As their IP was originally conceived, a video clip playing on a mobile device is paused, or “interrupted”, and the viewer presented with continuance options, e.g., video-A, video-B or the original path. Optional paths allowed users to receive additional relevant information. For example, interrupting an automobile video to ask if the user prefers highway or off-road driving. Either response allowed the viewer to continue with a highway or off-road video clip of the vehicle. 

Having had rich media advertising and video production experience myself, my biggest concerns with this approach were 1) costs and 2) complexities associated with having to produce related or seamless complex video sequences. To address these shortcomings I searched for other ways in which the IP could be used more freely and less expensively.

Check out the solution now. Better yet, read on and see it in the end where it may make more sense. (Solution: Click Through:

1) Advertising Solution

First I researched mobile video apps including Vimeo and YouTube to see if there was anything like it being used. The only interrupts I could find were actual video ads. Upon further research I discovered there was actually very little innovation the area of advertising in the YouTube app. The traditional :10, :20, :30 and even :60-second TV-type commercial was still being used. Even worse, preloading these ads on mobile devices increased the interrupt time up to :10 seconds in many cases prior to the ad even starting. This was frustrating, and in many cases while observing users when receiving preroll mobile ads it lead to abandonment. YouTube’s biggest visible innovation in the area of video advertising was to offer a :05-second countdown timer tab that morphs into a “Skip Ad” button. 

The “Skip Ad” button seems to alleviate the issue of abandonment but has a negative effect for the advertiser and viewer. The :05-second countdown to a “Skip Ad” button suddenly becomes the primary focus of the user - not the ad. Viewers tend to disengage from the ad completely while waiting for the skip button to appear. Most ads hardly start in the first :05 seconds, giving no chance for the advertiser to engage the viewer, while at the same time annoying the viewer, effectively wasting everyone’s time.  

This discovery presented the opportunity I was looking for. We could use this “wasted time” to engage the viewer by asking for their input and in responding would effectively “skip” the traditional preroll ad altogether. I hypothesized that if viewers are willing to wait :05 seconds to skip a video ad, we can use that time to ask a :02-second question only requesting a :01-second click, flowing the viewer back to their preferred video, but not before providing a valued engagement for the advertiser. 

As long as the user can quickly clicks through to the next video there is no reason to abandon the app. This solution also solved the issue of costly and complex video production, increased potential ad iteration, reduced preload time, and might positively “engage” ad viewers. Now advertisers have a captive audience from which to gain valuable input in many ways. It could result in a new video ad unit. 

Example: Question appears at the top of the screen with two tap-able photos of cars. Question: “Do you like the blue or red 2017 Camaro?”. The user taps either car image button to continue.
Format: Question along top. Two buttons (left and right) with different colored cars displayed on either side of the screen.

2) Education 

Further research led to a solution for professional certification and educational videos. Because is ready, the cost of transferring into an Interactive Interrupt system would be small. The added value benefit could be large by helping to enforce compliance. Acceptable error thresholds can also be set to force users to re-watch video segments and re-take questions until correct. Also multiple questions could be asked within the context of a single long video clip or “chapter”.

Example: a 10-minute narrated training video with ten questions showing a loud, and clearly drunk, customer demands to be served alcohol. At interactive interrupt question 1: “What would you do here? Answers: A) Give him the drinks so he will quiet down, B) Explain that you can not serve intoxicated customers, C) Ask to see his photo ID, or D) Sing his favorite song.”

Format: A responsive grid of two to six text answers can be presented inside round rectangle buttons stacked or side by side depending on content.

3) Polling Solution

Further research showed that we might also use this same technology for political polling advertising to gauge user comprehension or agreement with issues.
Example: Question: “Due to the drought, is it fair for water fees to increase?” Answers: A) Definitely, B) Maybe, C) A little, D) No.

Format: A responsive grid of two to six text answers can be presented inside round rectangle buttons stacked or side by side depending on content.

4) Cumulative Questions Solution

Answers to a question can lead to different future questions creating a potential loop that creates a better and holistic response from the viewer, like a survey, but more entertaining.


My initial advertising proposal was very well received. I named the service and acquired the domain, designed wireframes, created user flows, mocked up UI and created final user interface elements for handoff to the development team. I worked with the product manager to the point of delivering an advanced MVP for market testing in overseas markets. 

Soon after education-related opportunities appeared, the company decided to pivot, and I was asked to create new UX designs for this targeted market with a product we called TappnED. TappnED borrows and extends TappnGO’s underlying technology for the education market. TappnED has already been successfully tested with teachers working with primary school students. Compliance testing examples are also in active testing with government agencies.

Solution click through - my argument for TappnGO. End Dinosaur Video Advertising in Mobile Apps:

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