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Design Sprint: Fast is better than Good

A majority of the projects at 8ninths are not the typical production work where answers are clear, solutions are known, and execution exercises are relatively straightforward.  Folks come to us with problems that are fuzzy. Whether they’re seeking answers for product strategy, have questions about specific design conundrums or need direction as to what back-end code system to use, we hear it all. The 8ninths team in turn thrives on the challenging ambiguity, and is quite good at providing guidance, recommendations, design or completed products back to our clients.

And while Adam and I are habitual perfectionists, we have learned that just focusing on perfection is often the wrong approach in these types of exercises. In the real world of products and businesses, the competitions are shifting rapidly and continuously and the user behaviors are always changing. Perfect, such as it is, doesn’t exist for very long. Perfect also takes a long time, and by extension, a high cost to achieve.  Certain things are worth the strive for perfection, but many aren’t.  And thus we have had to learn to suppress our instinctual predilection for perfection and develop another skill: Speed.

Recently we read a great article about the rapid design process by Jake Knapp, a design maven at Google that led many of its most successful products. He created a process called Design Sprint that he’s been using in Google Ventures, which is a mix of VC fund as well as an incubator lab for up and coming technology companies that Google invested in.  Each sprint takes a design issue and methodically creates a team understanding of the design, brainstorming and ideation for a number of solutions. Next during the sprint the you build a team consensus and decide on an approach, rapidly prototype the UX, and validate results.  All within five days.

What I found impressive about this method is that the focuses are very well thought out.  For example, spending the entire first day of the five days on building a group understanding of the issues at first seems wasteful, but I’ve found in my experience that achieving that common understanding makes the rest of the way much easier.  The design person will come out of the first day with a much better understanding of the CEO’s motivation for the change, and the CEO has a better understanding of the design constraints for the problem.  Done correctly, this allows the team to focus on solutions for the rest of the sprint, rather than constantly re-engaging on the same arguments.

Another area I was very impressed with is focusing the team on objective facts and data, and placing limits on the usefulness of one single person’s subjective thoughts and intuition.  For example on the first day during the Understanding phase, the process emphasizes on reviewing existing relevant research and data, focusing the team on the tangibles rather than opinions. While on the last day the Validation phase is used to test the prototype on real user subjects and collect important data and insights to gather feedback for the design.  At the same time each sprint participant, whether a CEO or a User Expert, is given opportunities to critique, but are only allowed a limited amount of time as to focus their feedback to those that are most important, preventing any single individual from taking over the design.

I also like his criticism on the traditional brainstorm, which can sometimes turn into a “everybody is shouting” kind of meeting. (Here I do have to humbly brag that at 8ninths we never have this problem :-) )  His twist to make it an individual brainstorm is an interesting one, though I do wonder if it defeats the purpose of a group “jam” that successful brainstorms can brain.

All in all, we at 8ninths will be definitely giving this process an honest try, and will report back in a future post.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

EveryPlay’s FaceCam brings built-in video sharing to mobile games

EveryPlay FaceCam

WHAT IS IT?

Just out of beta, Applifier’s EveryPlay Replay has put out a new social-gaming feature called FaceCam. This product uses your smartphone’s speakers and front-facing camera to record your facial reactions if you’re playing one of the 85 mobile games that have this integrated feature. These videos can easily be styled within the app and shared out to friends via Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

WHY IS IT RELEVANT?

When users record videos with FaceCam it brings a personal touch to the replay since others can simultaneously see the user’s facial expressions, hear their commentary and watch the game unfold. So by bringing the human element to these videos, it may make mobile gamers more likely to share replays of their highest scoring games, funniest moments or best tactics with friends and could therefore boost the download rate of the game recorded.

There is an SDK available for games developers to integrate the EveryPlay FaceCam feature directly within their mobile games. This could be a great way for smaller game developers to boost the download rate of their lesser-known titles and gain more traction in the app store.

Let us know if you think this is a good way to boost mobile game sales in the comments.

Microsoft Adds Bootstrap to Visual Studio

bootstrap on devices

While Microsoft nerds have been swooning over Windows 8.1 the Redmond based giant quietly debuted a very cool new feature for developers. Visual Studio 2013 is now going to be bundled with Bootstrap, Twitter’s uber popular framework for building beautiful responsive websites. In fact, Microsoft isn’t just bundling it, they are making it default when you choose to build a web project.

Personally, I am very happy Microsoft is taking this approach. They take a stance by supporting a well backed project which ultimately  helps strengthen there developer ecosystem. Further, it may bring some ‘old school’ Microsoft devs out of the dark ages and into the shiny new bootstrap framework.

Hats off to Microsoft.

Evolve your own car

http://rednuht.org/genetic_cars_2/

In one of the first few Shep Reports I wrote about SodaPlay, an interesting site that allowed people to experiment in creating lifelike geometric creatures that could walk, climb and race. People were able to share their creatures and watch them interact with one another and it was interesting to see creativity at work. I’ve always been fascinated with evolution and today I found something that reminded me of Soda Play with the ‘Genetic Algorithm 2D Thingy‘. A simple but elegant web toy that randomly (or based upon a string like your name) creates a set of simple 2 wheeled vehicles and has them race along a virtual 2D landscape. The winning car after each run is then selected as the fittest and used as the base for the next race with subtle mutations in size and shape of the wheels and chassis. It’s surprisingly fascinating to watch the little guys race across the landscape, occasionally getting stuck on a pointy mountain or other obstacle and watching how a simple change can have a dramatic improvement. Something that’s fun for everyone and what better way to get kids interested in the topic of evolution in such an illustrative and easy to understand way.

Breather Brings App Accessible Secret Rooms to NYC

Breather App

Soon to be launched in New York City, the new Breather app is hoping to help commuting or traveling workers to get a bit of peace and quiet by allowing them access to secret rooms spread across the city. Whether you’re looking to take a nap, find a temporary office space or just need a place to think, Breather will rent you a nicely furnished room with Wi-Fi at any time of day for a small fee.

Rooms are booked through the Breather app and are then unlocked using Lockitron technology via your smartphone. Watch Breather’s product video below to learn more about the app:

8ninths has recently moved down to the SODO district of Seattle with our offices looking directly out at Century Link Field and SafeCo Field where the Mariners, Seahawks and Seattle Sounders frequently play. As cool as it is to be this close to all of our city’s professional sports action, it can become quite difficult to host meetings, or even come in to the office in general, because of the expensive parking situation. A service like Breather would be perfect for the days that our office gets displaced by baseball games and would be much more convenient that working at a coffee shop or on my living room table. I’m sure other businesses feel the same way so I for one hope that this service expands out to Seattle soon.

WiFi Enabled Smart Film Turns Clear Windows Opaque With Your Smartphone

sonte clear

sonte opaque

WHAT IS IT?

Ever wanted to have affordable on demand window privacy without the hassle of drawing dusty old curtains or lowering bulky window blinds? With SONTE Film you’ll be able to make clear windows look instantly opaque right from your smartphone.

This easily applicable WiFi enabled smart film pairs with a smartphone app to turn “on” see-through windows when you’re looking for a view and turn them “off” if you’re in need of a bit of privacy. The user is also able to tailor their level of privacy by dialing each window’s amount of opacity up or down to achieve a custom frosted affect.

Currently SONTE Film is undergoing a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first round of this product. Watch their campaign video below to learn more about the product:

 WHY IS IT RELEVANT?

Since SONTE Film is promoting themselves to developers (with an available SDK on Kickstarter) as well as consumers they are opening the door to new innovations in home automation. In addition to the formal uses of the app it may one day be possible to customize the experience by enabling all of the windows in your house to turn “on” or “off” depending on which room you’re in. Maybe you could automate your windows so that they turn opaque when certain sounds, such as turning on a sink tap or shower, are made.

WWDC 2013 – iOS 7

 


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As we head into next week the world is gearing up for Apple’s WWDC keynote address. Apple plans on showcasing updates to their software and services offerings and according to some reports, some hardware as well. Here at 8ninths we are hopeful to see some incredible advancements of Apple’s product line.

It’s been quite a while since Apple has released something new to its users, seven months to be exact. Monday is the day to watch where Tim Cook, Phil Schiller and even possibly Jony Ive will take the stage to surprise and delight, enrich lives, and whatever other Apple lingo you might want to use to describe the day. Apple has promised updates to iOS (7) and OS X (Sea Lion?). We are very eager to see the design direction Apple has taken with its OS’s since its re-org last summer. Tim Cook let Scott Forestall go, ushering in a new era in software design by putting Jony Ive at the helm. Forestall was always a strong advocate for Skeumorphic design. Ive was knighted in honor of his contributions to the hardware design world. So will we see a dump of all the fake paper, linen backgrounds, and cardboard UI elements? Will it be so sleek and simple the software will be just as beautiful as the hardware? We are really curious about iOS 7. Here is our take.

It would be very difficult for Apple to completely abandon its current look. Millions upon millions of users have grown comfortable with the existing format so expect Apple to subtly, take it easy. They will probably learn from Microsoft, countless users still gripe and complain about the Windows 8 start menu. Those users are now coming around, but it was a painful adjustment for many. Apple will also never forget Mapsgate 2012. We expect them to make small adjustments to “flatten” the design but if there is a long term vision, or complete re-design, expect a slow change over a couple of iterations of iOS 7. Say by iOS 8-9 we will see what Sir Ive really wants users to be experiencing. Earlier this week a screenshot popped up that looks like it might show off some new iOS icons. I doubt that is all we will see but it may be a good example of Apple slowly making adjustments.

iOS-7-Home-screen-leak_wm_270x377

Digging into each proprietary app we hope to see some stronger design direction in usability and flat ascetics. More and more apps these days are pushing the limits of usability and design. Apple will probably take note and improve the experience overall. Much of it may not be noticeable up front but given the time they have spent and resources they have committed, expect big things. Recently Apple released the WWDC app for conference attendee’s. Its doubtful that they pulled the curtain back on the look and feel of their new design direction however it is a great example of Apple taking baby steps to move towards something new. Imagine that app, but pushed much further.

By far the most anticipated update to iOS is the interface. However, there are a few other updates we might see. Specifically keep an eye out for more gesture control. Probably on iPad devices. They have slowly introduced 4 and 5 finger gestures over the past couple of years, this round they may roll out similar control that a trackpad does on a mac.

Until Monday we won’t know for sure. We will be watching the Keynote live so follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates and reviews on Apple’s latest releases.

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The Buccaneer, A Cheap, Simple & Beautiful 3D Printer for everyone.

So 3D Printing….Everyone’s talking about it, but in many ways it feels a little like the early days of ‘Virtual Reality’ where there was a lot of hype but the promise of it never quite fulfilled (at least in the short term) in the impactful, mass market way that everyone thought it would. It’s clear however that you’ve got to start somewhere and even in just a few short years there’s been some massive strides.

If you’re not familiar it’s basically exactly what it says. Using software you design, or download a 3D model and feed it to the printer. The printer will use a material (often extruded plastic) in order to output a physical object layer by layer. The resolution of these printers is becoming increasingly detailed allowing for highly complex, beautiful and practical shapes to be printed on demand. Prices for the printers have until recently been in the ~$1000-$2000 range such as the ‘Makerbot’.

Still a fair amount of money for the average hobbyist, but with the advent of The Buccaneer, things have gotten very interesting. At a price point of ~$350 you get everything you need to start creating and printing plastic objects of quite impressive detail from your computer or mobile device. The printer itself is very Apple-esque and futuristic looking with an emphasis on simple to use software vs. the more professional and flexible higher end solutions.

While the true practicality of such a device is probably still a little questionable, I think there’s a lot to be said for experimentation and play, whether you’re an adult or a child. Creating your own puzzles, models, or caricatures of your friends should be a breeze and I can imagine that in the hands of a creative kid, there’s a lot of both knowledge and fun to be had. As the technology improves and becomes more pervasive, the same skills will be relevant and what better way to get someone involved in the intersection of craft, technology and engineering. Maybe a few years from now kids will be printing their own custom lego blocks or even trading them amongst each other.

From a marketing perspective, if you have a ubiquity of devices you can imagine starting to offer custom figurines of sports players or musicians, Episodic content in the form of pieces of a new model car that you might construct over time or even clothing, jewelry, cellphone cases, accessories, etc. A space to watch and we plan on getting one to play with at the lab here soon.

3dprint

Digital Animations Interact With the Real World Via Dekko

dekko

 

The physical and digital worlds will converge with the advent of Dekko’s “real-world operating system” that will bring the next generation of augmented reality apps to life. The Dekko software allows users to create a 3D reconstruction of any physical environment by simply looking through the lens of a smartphone or tablet. Once a space is mapped, this software allows you to digitally interact with the new environment.

The way that Dekko is currently showing off its capabilities is through a yet to be released game where you map a space and then drop in animated digital characters that can play and interact with.

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of how Dekko works and what it could be used for in the future.

 

Turn Your Smartphone into a Laptop with Casetop

casetop

WHAT IS IT?

If Livi Design has their way every smartphone will be able to double as a laptop with the help of the Casetop. Currently seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaign, the Casetop consists of 11.1-inch glass-covered LCD display and a full-sized keyboard that attaches to your smartphone creating a fully functional laptop. All it requires to function is a smartphone with a video out option and Bluetooth capability, which most every model out there has including the iPhone, Blackberry 10 and Samsung Galaxy S4.

Watch their Kickstarter video below for more information.

WHY IS IT RELEVANT?

As users increasingly adopt mobile solutions in favor of traditional computers and laptops, products like the Casetop are signaling that the wave of the future is definitely going mobile. Will products like the Casetop make traditional computers as well know them obsolete? Let us know what you think in the comments.