Today was a first for me. I conducted my first Skype interview. I've been recruiting for an interaction designer for House Party (the company I've been leading the IxD effort what now seems like eons!) and I've interviewed a few candidates face to face already.

One applicant emailed me while traveling in Australia and requested an interview via Skype. I had to think about it for a bit before agreeing. I thought about what it might have been like decades earlier when the telephone was just becoming popular, but the analog face-to-face method of interviewing and doing pretty much everything was the status quo.

(I am now envisioning a black and white scene in which I am sitting at a desk sans computer, but with a gigantic telephone off to the corner with a thick cord running out of it into the wall.)

An intern enters my office with a memo reading "Interested in position, requesting a phone-based interview. Please confirm."

"Hmm." I think as I light a cigarette indoors because back in the past, I am (was) permitted to—no better yet—encouraged to.

"This just might work." I mutter to myself bemusedly.

So I write note on the memo: "Request accepted. Please call {number ext.} at 8:00 am EST," and put it in my outbox, which is later picked up by the intern (go-fer) and routed to its destination.

(exit daydream sequence, return to present moment.)

So there I was, conducting an interview with a total stranger on the other side of the planet, almost face to face (though with video chat, I end up watching myself in the little thumbnail because it's one of the rare moments in life when you can truly observe yourself without looking yourself in the eyes.) Now, in face-to-face interviews, both parties do their best to be composed, the candidate usually trying his or her best to mask their nervousness. One can be confident that she is in almost total control of their body and the non-verbal signals being sent to the other party. Video chat interviews are a different animal altogether. Quite similar to a well structured web site. Your content and your presentation are no longer married to eachother. For a website, this is a good thing. For a human being interviewing for a job, this could be bad.

During the course of the skype interview with the candidate, there were moments during which the screen froze, and what I saw was this person whom I had not know until that moment, stuck inbetween facial expressions and I found it very amusing. Then it occurred to me that she was probably seeing me in a similar state. This would never happen during a live face-to-face interview. You just would never freeze in the middle of a sentence with your mouth gaping open and your eyes closed. But, we humans adapt to technology, and like banner ads, we learn to ignore the glitches and focus on the content that this other person is conveying. And it works. It really works. If anything, it really breaks the ice. Both parties entering into an agreement that what is about to transpire is going to be a bit funny at times, possiblly embarrasing, but it's ok. It's all about the content anyway.



The role of design.

To start this post off, I'm going to quote someone who knows exactly how design can affect the success of a business:

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. To design something really well, you have to 'get it.' You have to really grok [understand] what it's all about.

—Steve Jobs

Okay, let's have a show of hands. How many of you out there think that the main purpose of design is to make things look good. Hmm. Kind of what I expected. Unfortunately, there's still a major lack of awareness of the true role—and power—of visual design.

Now let's get some terminology out of the way. There are two words that should never be confused for the other. Decoration and design are not one and the same.

Decoration = the application or adornment of the surface of a thing.

Design = the intelligent construction of the underlying supporting structure and the behavior of a thing, upon which the decorative layer (or visual presentation) can be applied.

So, now that we've got that out of the way, how do we think about design as it applies to what we're doing at House Party? Glad you asked!

Let's take an actual project that we're working on now as an example, the Client Dashboard. We've decided to create a web-based dashboard that our clients can visit to check on the progress of their events at any time, as well as export useful reports to show their colleagues in their organization. (hopefully to show their bosses how the money they spent on a House Party campaign was well worth the investment!)

In my book, there are two ways to go about this:

1) Create a massive page with all the information piled and stacked every which way and hope it's not so overwhelming that our clients don't go into a seizure when the page loads


2) Spend some solid time considering what it is that would be most relevant to a client at any given moment, and then decide what we should show them up front in the topmost level, and what can be relegated to other sub pages (deeper levels)

We live in an age of information overload. According to Jeffrey Veen (author of the book Art & Science of Web Design and design team lead for Google Analytics) we process almost as much data in one day as our great grandparents did in their entire lives! An exaggeration of course, but it's probably not such a stretch. He continued to quote that every ten minutes, ten hours worth of videos are uploaded. Wow!

So what does this mean for us designers? It means that we have to make that over abundant data intelligible to the human eye and mind. To boil raw data into interfaces that are relevant to the user, that communicate clearly, and consistently. To simply make a page of text and data pretty by choosing font colors, background colors and border colors is not enough. Have you ever seen (or heard) those Ferrari body kits that can be installed over a generic, low performance vehicle chassis? That's essentially what simply "decorating" a website, or a banking application, or a client dashboard will get you.


Should it be pretty or useful?

The answer is both of course. Welcome to Pretty/Useful folks. A place where I'll be talking about the design of things—mainly web sites, web applications and iPhone apps—but often I'll go off on a tangent about other topics like architecture, industrial design, and songwriting. There are many parallels that can be drawn and by gum, I plan to draw them (or at least quote people much smarter than me who can draw those parallels).

Here is the first parallel I will draw for you:  | |

I hope you enjoyed that.

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