Why I started Bokardo Design

While I’m hurriedly working on building out a corporate site for Bokardo Design, I thought I would take a minute and share a little background which led me to starting the company and what services I’m offering.

Many of you know that I worked at User Interface Engineering for 5 years. It was definitely the best and most exciting job I’ve ever had; Jared and the team are fantastic. While I am super excited about what I’m doing now, I am sorry to leave such a unique and wonderful place. Even so, I won’t be leaving UIE completely…we’re still collaborating on several projects and will continue to do so where appropriate.

When I was at UIE I did a mix of usability consulting and web design. Usability consulting for UIE clients and in-house web design and development for UIE itself. So I basically alternated between consulting and designing. In hindsight this afforded me an excellent opportunity to understand the design problem from both sides of the fence: from the view of an objective 3rd party consultant as well as from the standpoint of an in-the-trenches designer. These worlds are incredibly different, and both are unique in their own way.

While I’m hurriedly working on building out a corporate site for Bokardo Design, I thought I would take a minute and share a little background which led me to starting the company and what services I’m offering.

Many of you know that I worked at User Interface Engineering for 5 years. It was definitely the best and most exciting job I’ve ever had; Jared and the team are fantastic. While I am super excited about what I’m doing now, I am sorry to leave such a unique and wonderful place. Even so, I won’t be leaving UIE completely…we’re still collaborating on several projects and will continue to do so where appropriate.

When I was at UIE I did a mix of usability consulting and web design. Usability consulting for UIE clients and in-house web design and development for UIE itself. So I basically alternated between consulting and designing. In hindsight this afforded me an excellent opportunity to understand the design problem from both sides of the fence: from the view of an objective 3rd party consultant as well as from the standpoint of an in-the-trenches designer. These worlds are incredibly different, and both are unique in their own way.

But I kept running into the same problem. We would talk to people who have these grand visions for their business, and then you would investigate how people were using their site and there was this huge disconnect. Either their strategy wasn’t clear, it wasn’t being communicated to the designers, or the designers weren’t able to take that strategy and embed it into an actual interface. The chain of communication from business strategy to interface to user was tenuous at best. In many cases there was no direct conversation between these parties at all.

The problem I kept seeing over and over was one of translation. Interfaces were not communicating what their creators wanted them to communicate. It’s kind of like a beginning writer who has a grand fantasy of a story in their head but the words on the paper give you no sense of it. But their interfaces were definitely communicating something, though…unfortunately it was something other than what was intended.

At around this same time there was an explosion of social software, or software that is built around the social lives of users. In testing at UIE we saw the extreme power of this social influence…we would run user tests and find out why people were making the decisions they were making. In many cases they were making decisions based on their social network.

For example, we did a huge user testing study where we tested over a dozen e-commerce web sites. We had 70 or so people actually buy products from these web sites and part of our research was to find out how they made purchasing decisions. In more cases than I can count people said things like “Well, I knew I wanted a digital camera but I didn’t know what kind. My friend really likes Canon cameras and recommended them to me”. People who don’t know something rely on their social network to find it out.

After we heard stuff like this this over and over again, it became clear to me that the future of software is social. And while social networking was taking off like a rocket it was also clear that it wasn’t just about networking with others, it was about finding out what others knew and using that information to help make decisions. That’s why I write about Amazon, Netflix and other sites that aren’t about connecting to new people, but are leveraging our social networks to help us find out what we need to know. The latent information in our social networks is still mostly untapped. If we only knew what the people we know, know.

So I wrote two pieces on my blog, one called The Del.icio.us Lesson and the other called Digg’s Design Dilemma that together outline two important principles of what is going on.

The first (from the Del.icio.us Lesson) is that most people are acting in their own self-interest first: personal value precedes network value. This simple formulation has a huge effect on how to design, what features to focus on, and how to elicit participation and desired behavior.

Second (from Digg’s Design Dilemma) was that the interface is the medium through which this all occurs, and thus acts as an arbiter to behavior. In other words, all that happens happens because the interface either encourages it through positive design or discourages it through negative design. Therefore, the value and importance of the interface cannot be understated.

So these are the factors that drove me to start Bokardo Design. The services that I offer are a direct offshoot of these problems, observations, and principles.

So this is what I’m offering: Interface design and strategy for social web applications.

Interface Design

For some folks coming up with a strategy is the part they’re good at, while interface design is inscrutable. But on the Web, interface design is the execution of strategy. So I’m offering a service to create interfaces that execute on strategy. I’ll work closely with you to figure out the best way to expose a strategy through an interface, and how best to elicit the correct activities from your audience.

For example, I’m currently working with someone whose strategy is to help people find out the best local events to attend (there are many people doing things in this area right now). To do this, we need to figure out how people plan their time in and around events and how they make decisions about which events to attend. Not only that, but the way that people communicate events to each other is also important…and building a tool to help them do could be extremely valuable. Coming up with an interface that actually allows people to find and share events in the way they already are is the goal.

There are two levels of details to consider. One is the screen-level, where we build buttons and layouts that draw people’s attention to the right things in the right order. But there is also the activity-level, where we create flows that support the right activities in the right order. These two levels combine to make up interface design.

My interface design service is about creating an interface that executes an underlying strategy for success.

Interface Strategy

For many folks who aren’t native to the Web executing a coherent Web-based strategy is a challenge. There are a lot of questions to consider. When do you announce your idea? When do you launch? Should you do a complete redesign? How do you know if the interface is working or not? What if we launch and nobody uses it? The questions go on and on.

For example, I’m currently working with a client who has amazing ideas about where to take their service. But right now they need to focus their strategy on personal value because they haven’t articulated that in their interface yet. They’ve focused on the social value so far, essentially putting them into a chicken/egg problem thats promises users “our service will be valuable once a lot of people start using it”. This might be OK if we all had limitless attention span and could try out services like we try on clothes. But the Web environment is brutal, and so this is not a desirable place to be, yet countless people I’ve talked to are in this exact spot.

My interface strategy service is about working with folks who are having trouble formalizing a plan to build and release a focused, Web-based application.

Why I’m Excited

I’m extremely excited by the early interest in Bokardo Design. I’ve heard from entrepreneurs doing social start-ups, established companies looking to add social features to existing applications, and even some visionaries thinking about huge-scale services that could change the way we all look at the Web.

All of my conversations so far have reinforced the idea that building social features into software is really the sweet spot at the moment, as we have collectively realized that software is just an extension of what we already do: it’s not this fantasy land we visit only once in a while. To this end we must keep our software humane, to borrow a word from Jeff Raskin. And on that note, here’s something else that he said so well:

“As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product.”

Amen. If there is one statement that defines what I do at Bokardo Design, that is it. So if you’re interested in building an amazing interface, head on over to my contact page and say Hi.

Published: August 9th, 2007

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