Radio Johnny: Eric Reiss Predictions for UX in 2010

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In this show Eric Reiss, from FatDUX in Copenhagen, has a spirited conversation with Jeff Parks about his predictions for the future of those within the User Experience field in 2010.


Finally after all these years of preaching that “content is king”…companies are going to understand that what is going to drive the business model is creating the shared reference with their customers, making sure that everyone is on the same page and you do that, by and large, through content.

They [traditional marketers] still talk about SMM (Social Media Marketing) and I don’t think there is a such an animal. Traditional marketing builds on demographics. Social Media builds on behaviour and following the conversation between people…

There is going to be an app that’s going to replace Twitter this year…Twitter has spent too long trying to figure out what their business model is going to be.


Partner of FatDUX in Copenhagen Eric Reiss has a spirited conversation with Jeff Parks about predictions for the future of those within the User Experience field in 2010.

Eric believes content strategy will become the hottest topic for businesses; that titles will continue to become less important; how a new application with a tighter business model will likely replace twitter, and how those who have been made famous by the web alone will begin to take on the real life persona of Icarus.

Show Notes

Eric discusses his post about calculating an Internet Year.


A special thanks to Jeff’s sister Suzanne Lowry for providing transcripts for Radio Johnny! More on the way soon…

Jeff Parks: So today on radio Johnny I’m having the pleasure of talking to Eric Reiss from Denmark who’s the principal of FatDUX and Eric you sent me a list of interesting ideas looking at; predictions in the User Experience discipline for 2010. The first one that you sent me and maybe we’ll just do this…..

Eric Reiss: Wait a minute Jeff. I’ve got to interrupt you right now. You promised me that you wouldn’t tell anyone that I actually have written these down because my partners here at FatDUX said the worst thing that you can do with predictions is to actually put them some place where people can find them again because a year or two later the whole world can see how stupid you were. So that was also the reason I was doing this in interview form, because I figure it’s harder for people to find them in a podcast, than if there on a blog. So don’t tell anyone you have the list o.k? 🙂

Jeff Parks: Well I’m afraid you’re screwed, because there’s this thing called show notes in podcast where we write this stuff down.

Eric Reiss: Oh damn!

Jeff Parks: Okay, (Laughing) So working from the premise that you’re going to share some ideas and recognizing the fact that it’s December 2009, so if someone does hear this podcast six months from now or a year from now, they can put these predictions in context. Right?

Eric Reiss: Right, absolutely!

Jeff Parks: Alright, so the whole point of this conversation is not to be a “as matter of fact” idea it’s to try to look towards the future, and how we can make things better for the people in UX regardless of what you call your self. We’ll see at the end of 2010; you and I will have another show and we’ll see how close we got to these idea’s that you are sharing with everybody.

Eric Reiss: Great, sounds fun!

Jeff Parks: Alright, so the first idea, and we’ve talked about this in the past about how content strategy is going to be the hot topic as companies start to seriously build the web into their businesses plans. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that idea and why you think that’s true.

Eric Reiss:Well absolutely. For years now we’ve been talking about “Content is King” and in the Information Architecture community we’ve talked about the “Context is King” and the business analysts understand the boxes but we also understand the arrows, and all of this is really good stuff!

But the truth is that most web sights have a tendency to look alike and we’ve spent years now trying to build usable, findable web sites. There are all kinds of best practices you can go to dotster, you can download skins that work perfectly well from a usability point of view, for like $62.00 a pop! People are talking about emotion, talking about personality, all this kind of good stuff that we need to build into our web sites. To be perfectly frank, for me, the personality had always been part of the content!

I think the fact that Karen McGrane who is one of the founders who is the official race official founders of Razor Fish in New York calls herself a “Content Strategist; the fact that Christina Halverson has had so much success preaching the gospel of content strategy; I have Content Strategists on my card and have for many,many years now. I think that people are going to realize that it’s not about flash, it’s not about the lay out, it’s not about usability, it’s about what you put on the site. Just think of how many really awful sites we go to. Hobby sites for example, that has something that interests us personally. Could be gardening, cooking, or collecting tin soldiers, you know, what do I know. But you can spend a lot of time on really,really bad designs sites and enjoy yourself because you finally find something that’s actually worth reading. And you don’t think about the fact that it’s a really boring gray background and the text are centered and there are fifteen different fonts and there are three blinking GIF files. You ignore these things, and I think finally, finally after all these years about preaching the content that “Content is King”, that this is really going to come about, and companies are going to understand that what is going to drives the business models is creating the share references with their costumers making sure that everyone in fact is on the same page and you do that by in large through content. It’s not just written content but it’s also images, sounds, if we could figure out how to do SMEL’s that would also help create the shared references necessary.

So I think that 2010 is really going to see a change. And some of this had to do with the fact that we’re simply in an economic crises. So there are limiits to how many hot shot flash designers a company wants to hire in. There’s a greater chance that you’re are actually going to be able to move some market share if you were to give people a good reason to buy your product.

Jeff Parks: Well I think too at the end of the day a lot of what your saying holds true from my prospective and my experiences as well. I think companies are finally starting to realize after a decade of throwing everything on the web and saying it’s online and there for we’re good to go! We’re starting to realize that the web is good for certain things but we’re also coming to the realization that the web is really kinda bad for a number of things, and if you take 90% of what you might have online and you throw it away, and not throw it away in the context of getting rid of it because it’s business value add then you don’t want to chuck it, but maybe technology isn’t the best solution for that particular problem or the best way to communicate those ideas.

Eric Reiss: You’re absolutely right! As a matter of fact it’s so funny that you mentioned this about technology because I had an opinion piece, or a “op-ed” piece published in the Danish business newspaper Burson this morning. And my message was basically, “The solution to technological problems isn’t always more technology. Sometimes it’s just common sense.”

Jeff Parks: And we need to get back to that again. It’s almost like we’ve come full circle in a lot of ways. In a lot of ways twenty, thirty years ago when there was no computers, I think we actually did a better job at communicating. I think we understood to create great products and services it involved discussion and face to face interactions, that it took time to get to that point where the design is exactly what our customers wanted and there was a higher level of patience as well. People didn’t expect it to be done yesterday because the web provides us access to those things so it’s changing the way we work. I agree with you, I think the companies that are the most successful are going to be really focusing on content in the broader scope of what it means, and how to apply that appropriately.

Eric Reiss: Absolutely!

Jeff Parks: The other point you were making was User Experience folks will finally figure out that the UX is not a job tittle. (Jeff and Eric: laughing) which
I’ve been debating with people for the last few years. You’re title is irrelevant in my mind. It’s the value you can add to the ideas. You’re title doesn’t matter as much has your ideas that you can bring to the table. Now that leads into a whole other conversation about the importance of corporate culture to allow those ideas to foster and to flourish. But can you talk to me a little about you’re ideas around that notion about how UX isn’t necessarily a job title.

Eric Reiss: Oh, sure! Well see my education, or one of my educations, like a zillion years ago, was as a Stage Director. My first job when I came to Denmark was to direct at the local theater in Copenhagen. And this was all User Experience. I never seen User Experience as being anything that was somehow linked to online. I saw online as being just another medium. And basically, I see the whole world as being User Experience! Any kind of an interaction is something that contributes to User Experience and I think there is different kinds of interactions. Some of which we have control over. So you say in theory “Well, if I can control in interaction in some way, that makes me a User Experience designer.” and I would have to say “ya” But truth is I think there is so many different discipline’s involved that for any one who would have the hubris and say ” Well, I’m a User Experience……’whatever'”, is wrong.

I don’t think that there are that many “Jack’s of all trades” out there. I know that, for example..oh Jesus, five years ago,must have been.. let’s see, I was in Amsterdam November 2004 or there about. And Peter Boersma and I got very,very, drunk at a restaurant and drew all kinds of things on the back of beer mats. This is where Peters T-diagram came from. He had this idea that “big IA” which is a term I loath. I think that Big IA’S are strategic IA’s. I think Big and little, little is a demeaning term. I like tactical and I like strategic.

Anyway, Peter says “Well there is no such thing as big IA anymore, it’s User Experience.” and I said “Well no it’s not because User Experience is often the visual designer. It’s not just the Information Architect, it’s the content providers, it’s… my goodness, it’s the people who set up the servers who make sure that you get a decent response time on the individual server calls. All this contributes to the User Experience. So to say that Information Architecture, strategic Information Architecture is User Experience, I think is wrong.

That said, clearly people are moving in this direction. When we had the closing plenary that Andrew Hinton did a couple years ago in, I guess It was Miami. Which is one of the most brilliant, brilliant plenaries that I have ever heard. Andrew you’re so smart. I’m mean uhh, I’m just in awe. It was very good and he pointed out that Information Architecture, you know it was just one piece of a fairly complicated puzzle. And last year in Memphis, I certainly got into this in my talk about “A House Divided. Which had to do with the split between IA in the IXD community, which I’ve never really understood. And Jesse James talked about this in his closing plenary. So, we know there is something out there called UX. I don’t think any of us are served by sort of jumping on the band wagon saying ” woo I no longer do, what ever I do. I now do User Experience.” You probably do a part of User Experience but I don’t think there is anything that you call ” well, I have a User Experience designer” I think there are just too many different elements to go into that. I mean you can in the broader sense and you can tell that to your grandmother if she understands it. But I think that in terms of tittles on business cards it’s not the best thing to call yourself.

Jeff Parks: Well I mean the information age is creativeness right? I mean even in this medium and the social media sphere there’s the social media douche bags that are out there. All the people that claim to be experts in the field it’s the same thing. I’ve even seen people that have delivered here in Canada they call them “The Jack of all trades” issues, like you were saying. They were delivering IA deliverables and I mean what they call wire frames are persona’s are just… well let’s just say really bad! Providing no context, no details. And it’s this idea that you can know about anything now. And so there fore you can see the basic stuff and create the deliverable. But the actual quality of that deliverable and your complete understanding of it; anyone can give themselves any title.

I think if we focus less on the title, and I know that’s really hard in this community, whether you call yourself an information designer or a information architect. I think we could accomplish a lot more. You’re point to Andrew Hinton and Jesse James Garrett, as well as having great respect for their work, I think the one thing that puts them heads and shoulders against a lot of people is that their great story tellers.They can get in front of a group, their relaxed and they have this way of communicating idea’s without getting caught up into a lot of semantics, and a lot of technical details where quit frankly, even people within our industry don’t even have a firm grasp of. So I think that’s great and I think that moving the conversation away from the title can potentially create even greater ideas.

Eric Reiss: Ya, basically the job title is unimportant. Throughout my long career know one has ever once asked to see my university degree.

Jeff Parks: Me neither!

Eric Reiss: And I figure, Isn’t that important? My goodness I even have a teaching position at a business school teaching in Madrid. You would think that somebody would actually want to see my credentials at one point. Well they don’t. And the truth is I think the job title kind of falls into the same category. It’s important that we know what were doing, but we don’t necessarily have to give it any particular name. And in terms of Information Architecture which is certainly something that has been fought about for years and years and years now, at least a decade. My point had always been “Hey, it’s whatever you happen to be doing.” I think if you find a hundred Information Architects you’ll find a hundred people doing a hundred things slightly differently. And so great! if it works. And if that’s what you’re doing and someone is willing to pay you to do that, then terrific! I mean what do you care what somebody write on their dam blog is the definition of Information Architecture. I think that’s absolutely ludicrous.

Jeff Parks: Yes, well I think that the whole point here is if we spend more time valuing and understanding the ideas that are being presented and spending less time focusing on the titles we give ourselves, we could all accomplish a lot more for the people whom were designing.

Eric Reiss: Okay, let me say something snarky here. I think there people who are really,really worried about job titles are the ones that are sufficiently insecure in their own work that they needed a job title to fall back on.

Jeff Parks: Sure, absolutely! And then that actually leads us right into your next idea that (I love the analogy that you use) “Icarus will fly too close to the sun”. So the folks who are merrily famous because they are famous are going to…well, in a sense crash and burn. So do you maybe want to elaborate on that idea a bit! (laughing)

Eric Reiss: (laughing) Well I elaborate on this too much, but a very funny thing happened a couple weeks ago. My wife and I were in Florida visiting my mother and as usual my wife buys all the junk magazines at the airport so that we have lots of reading material. So it’s People, Okay, and Hello. I can’t even remember all the names of them. Half of them are British and half of them are American, National Enquirer. It’s always interesting to see what those aliens of Roswell were doing. (Jeff parks: laughs) Anyway in one of these there was interview with Nicole Richie and she says ” I don’t know why I’m famous” and I thought “Well darling, I don’t know why your famous either.” And at that point I took a copy of people magazine which is probably one of the better publications and I went threw and marked all the people who’s name I recognized. I didn’t necessarily have to know what they did but I at least had to be able to recognize their name.

And there was probably less than 10% of the people that I knew, like Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolee, Brad Pitt and George Cloney and so on. And then the rest of them are all reality t.v stars and other people that are certainly unknown. In Europe where I’ve lived for the past thirty five years, I mean my goodness, In Europe I can even pick up a similar magazine in Germany, in Sweden or in England, or in Norway, or in France, or in Italy and I won’t know the manes either because these people are so incredibly local!

Well we got a lot of rock stars right now who have made themselves famous threw social media. And social media is some how is like reality shows with monitors instead of t.v’s. I think that 2010, and again partly because of the economic crisis, it’s going to see a weeding out. People are going to have to actually put their money where their mouth is. It’s not enough just to say I’m great, you’re actually going to have to go out and show people what the hell you’ve done.

Jeff Parks: Ya you’re right, and if you get a large following, but if you can’t back it up what’s the point? And that actually speaks to your very next point how the individual practitioners will do better than the big shops, and the good net workers and networking organizations will probably prosper the most, and that actually speaks to the thing that I keep reaching about which is this tool, which is social media, I mean the real power behind it is the ability to connect with other people in anywhere in the world.

It’s what you do with those relationships after you establish that connection that are going to determine your successes, not sitting behind a computer and try to capture context at a hundred and forty characters.

Eric Reiss: Hm, well actually the idea of capturing context at one hundred and forty characters I think is kind of interesting. One of my favorite quotes is from a french philosopher and mathematician Blais Pascal who said “Pardon the length of this letter, I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” If you really want to convey something at one hundred and forty characters, you’ve got to think about it, so it may be that SMS and Twitter and other short messaging services are actually teaching people to form their thoughts more carefully. So it may not be such a bad thing.

Jeff Parks: Okay, but at the same time too, it’s not like you can provide great detail or context. I’ve seen a lot of arguments on Twitter and I kind of laugh at it after the fact. I’m like ” Come on, come one really? You’re really going to get upset over a misunderstanding on Twitter?” I mean it’s Twitter!! I think that’s the thing that we fail to recognize, is that these things are tools to connect to other people. You have to understand the purpose of the tool, and you have to know the people whom you are communicating with to know whether or not if it’s the most effective tool for the job.

Eric Reiss: Well that’s right, we’re going to get back to Twittering in a little while. (Jeff:laughing) I’ve got some more things to say about that. I like Twitter, I think I have the reputation for “Oh well, Eric he doesn’t understand social media and he doesn’t like it.” Well, that’s…. well of course there is some truth in that. I’m quietly bemused by social media, because I see it misused by a lot of people. I think the metrics that are used to judge success are not always the best metrics. I can start writing porn in Denmark and I can assure you I’ll get a lot of followers. I don’t choose to write about porn in Denmark and I don’t use key works that are guaranteed to get me called by the marketers and who ever else is out there.

Jeff Parks: Ya, you know how I measure success on someone on social media? I measure the success’s on social media whether threw podcast or Twitter or blogging or whatever. I measure it by the feed back I’ve gotten from other people about the efforts that I put in to share ideas with others. So when I meet people at conferences or connect with other people threw those tools in the real world, I measure my success by the feed back that I get from other people. I don’t look at stats to see.. well I do look a web analytics of course, but I don’t focus on the quantitative data to prove that. The relationships that I form with other people and the friendships that I make over time are or is the measure that I used to determine my success in that particular area.

Eric Reiss: You know Louis B. Mayer and the other moguls in Hollywood use to tell there stars “Listen, don’t believe your own PR!” It was kind of a problem because you get these young actors and actresses who would read the fan magazines and really start to believe this nonsense that was being turn up by the PR offices at the MGM, Paramount, Columbia and so on. And we all do ego searches. It’s great fun to go onto Google and search you’re own name and see how many places I’ve been quoted, or how have I done, or how many links are there or whatever. And the truth is, don’t take it for anything more than entertainment. Don’t think just because there is a lot of hits that it’s necessarily a good thing. If you say something really really stupid, you can get that quoted too.

Jeff Parks: Getting back to this original point, I kinda pulled us off track here, sorry about that. You were talking about how the fact that….

Eric Reiss: (Interrupts Jeff) You’re such a crap interviewer! (sarcasm…laughter)

Jeff Parks: Ya I know, I’ve got to get my shit together Eric, it’s been a long day, I’m sorry. (laughing) You were talking about our individual practitioner are going to better than the big shops. why do you think that is?

Eric Reiss: Yes. Well you know it’s interesting. And the big shop this is irrelevant to the Untied States, a big shop is like really big. In Denmark a big shop is maybe thirty,forty,fifty people. We’ve had some shops that are like a hundred and seventy, a hundred and eighty, that suddenly halved their staffs because they don’t have enough new biz coming in the door that can justifying paying a monthly salary to all these many people.

I think that the big shops are going to down size and their going to give people fixed term contracts, and this will ultimately be in the interest of the individual practitioners. This is certainly the way FatDUX has built up a fairly sizable organization now by bringing people in by associates who aren’t necessarily on staff. And it’s turned out very well, people have made a lot of money and we haven’t had to fire anyone this past year and were able to move resources where we need to do that.

The big shops have trouble doing that. The people who net work, the people who understand how to read the blogs to look for talent and not just piffy articles are going to do well. Now, it’s not to say that being a big shop is a bad thing, on the contrary being a big shop can be a really, really good thing, but I still think that 2010 is going to be a tough year. I think 2011 is going to be a tough year for that matter. We’re in trouble here and it ain’t over and if anybody who says “Oh well, the economy has turned around” I’m sorry, I just don’t believe that yet. And I don’t think you can say that about all markets across the board. The market is very individual, if you look at the UX practitioner in London right now, you’ll be hard pressed to find one. If you’re looking for Drupal programmers in London right now, very difficult to find. If you look for senior people in San Fransisco you’re going to have a hard time finding them. On the other hand you can go to other markets, you can go to Hamburg, you can go to Munich, Paris, you can go to Brussels, so on and so forth, and you’ll find that their are people available.

Jeff Parks: Yup, again I think idea draws back to what we were saying earlier about how anyone can give themselves a title. So it’s not only difficult trying to find them but it’s also difficult trying to find people with the experiences who are qualified that can actually keep these conversations going forward and to be able to sell people in the value of User Experience. Would it not?

Eric Reiss: That’s very true because I think User Experience community has not been very good at understanding the needs of the business community or even speaking the language of the business community. I mean they pay it lip service and every once in a while they’ll use a term like “ROI” as though that proves that they have really gotten underneath the skin of the MBA crowd, and the truth is there is probably not one in twenty in the UX community that uses “ROI” correctly!

This is a backward looking metric you can not use to predict the future you can only use it to copulate that you actually got something out of whatever you did. And this is a problem, because when people are talking to business men people who have their MBA’s and understand this stuff, I mean if you can’t use the terms correctly and you don’t understand the the math behind it then don’t use the words!

And besides Dan Saffer said this at Interaction ’09 at Vancouver last year, it was very piffy, he said “Look if you wanted to hire an MBA they would have hired an MBA, Well they didn’t they hired us, ok?” So we don’t have to pretend that we’re MBA’s. But with that said it certainly moves us to understand the business analytic that are behind it because anybody who tells you Information Architecture, User Experience, all these nice things that we go and do are not strategic decisions doesn’t know what their talking about. You can take a whole bunch of letters in Scrabble and you can take the letters in the word “information”. I have a slide that I’ve been using for years now, I love it. I can get all these Scrabble pieces and move it around the power point have people say “How did Eric do that?” So it can spell “information” or it can spell “tin”, “iron” and “foam” or it can spell a bunch of other things.

So the boxes is not where the strategy lies, the arrows is where the strategy lies. And this is what we can do and this is what we need to sell to the business community. But there are far too many people preaching to the choir, I mean we love to go to each others conferences and so you know we’ll all show up in Phoenix and we’ll talk about business issues. Why are we not going to business conferences?

Jeff Parks: I think what you’re describing too with the arrow’s, to me that analogy is sounds like what you were ultimately talking about is ultimately process. You’re talking about how business function and how they work and I think that contributes to the divide as well as you were pointing out with Dan Saffer “…they didn’t hire a MBA, they hired us.!” But it’s trying to understand how to communicate the value in a different process that… especially in the older businesses at least my experience here in North America have sort of clung too, that no longer work. And they don’t work because the people in charge are incompetent. They don’t work because the way that people are communicating and sharing ideas now has radically changed over the last decade, and the business leaders are not in the right position to making the change and aren’t flexible enough in order to adopt these new ideas and if they aren’t, they are going to fail. Am I following your line of thought appropriately?

Eric Reiss: Absolutely, the business community is being sucked in by buzz words like Web 2.0 and social media without actually understand the costs as well. We sent a budget into a client of ours. We have talked about how we could use social media to drive traffic to their site, and it was not a big budget. I mean social media is not free but for the stuff that we needed to do we were talking about a minor budget. And they said well this is great, put it in the works. We said “Well wait a minute, we’d love to take your money… but… you are going to have to hire two full time positions if you are actually going to follow up on these things.”

And so where is the two hundred thousand dollars a year that you need to drive this forward? That’s not in your budget, so don’t start it. Social media is not free, social media is incredibly expensive! And I don’t think that the business community understands this.

Jeff Parks: And relate to that is your next point which is…..

Eric Reiss: And it’s our fault because were not explaining it very well.

Jeff Parks: Right, and I mean I think that the future in this industry isn’t going to be about telling people what to do, but to facilitate a better value behind these things, because as you pointed out we’ve done a pretty poor job of doing that up to this point. We’ve done great at communicating within our own communities about approaches and things but we don’t do enough. It’s like Jesse James Garrett said at the closing preliminary this year. You know it’s great that iRise and Morae are here but where are the Microsofts? Where are the Adobes, why aren’t they at the Summit? Why aren’t those people at these larger conferences?

And to that point following up on the social media idea that you shared with me is that you believe that business will realize that the user generator content is not the pencea that they thought it was, which I find really interesting. So I’m wondering what you mean by this.

Eric Reiss: I met a group of business students recently, who have recently who have this idea for a product. And the whole thing sort of realize on user generator content. And well this is all well and good but the idea isn’t strong enough to actually get people to want to use your product. You’re relying on something that not really there. It’s chicken and egg. Just because you build it there is no guarantee that people are going to come or use it. So it’s not the pencea that people think.

When you talk to business leaders or many different business leaders, they think it’s web 2.0 and it’s generated content and this is just going to be great because then we don’t have to worry about content anymore. And I point out, well look you do have to worry about the content, probably figure out a third of the content in what you are calling generator content is something your organization is going to have to generate in order to drive the machine. You’re going to have to write the blog posts, you’re going to have to write the Tweets, you’re going to have to go out and respond to other people’s blog posts. This all takes time and there is a lot of content that needs to be generated. This isn’t something that will just come in out of the blue because somebody has wondered into your blog and said “Oh I think I will write something piffy to increase the value this site.” That just doesn’t happen very often.

Jeff Parks: Ya, well it speaks back to Andrew Hinton’s closing plenary talk that we were talking about before, he basically said is “Conversation is King” what you’re talking about and at least what I hear from you saying is.. or at least from what I think that you are saying is, you need to have people engaged with others from around the world threw the web in order to make these tools valuable.

Eric Reiss: Oh absolutely, see that’s the paradigm change that I think the markers still haven’t realized. They still talk about SMM (Social Media Marketing) and I say (laughing) I don’t think there is such an animal. I think that traditional marketing builds on demographics and social media builds on behaviour and following conversations, it’s a conversation between people, between people and a brand. It’s certainly not the traditional tools of marketing which we are very one way communication. Marketers aren’t really geared for this.

And that kind of brings us to the last two points on my sort of predictions. The one is, there is going to be an app that’s going to replace Twitter next year. I think that the Twitter people, lovely as they are, have spent too long on what their business models are going to be. Either roll something out really, really quick that’s going to generate income for Twitter or somebody else is going to come along and just blow them away about something that’s really really well thought out but is also part of the business model.

I wrote on our blog a couple months ago that I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how long an Internet year was because I wanted to relate Internet years to business cycles to see if there’s some way that we can judge the maturity of an online product. So my answer (and there is a really long calculation that leads up to this) but my answer was, I think an Internet year is 4.7 years. (And you can all go to the FatDUX blog and read about it if you’re really interested.) But the point is, if you look at Twitter, well it’s well into the second business cycle and that’s far too long for any business to have existed without a viable business model. So I think that they are eventually going to go Friendster which again it was out there for a couple years, didn’t have a business model and got taken over by MySpace and my space got kicked out by Facebook, which for the time being is doing okay.

The idea just because you have a lot of users and you got a lot of user generated content and that’s not enough to drive the business. And the final thing, and this is ties everything back to everything that we’ve talked about has to do with our love of wire frames. It’s like if you do a really good wire frame then you’ve just solved all the worlds problems.

Jeff Parks: Well you have, haven’t ya?

Eric Reiss: (laughing)

Jeff Parks: (laughing) What’s wrong with that? What the hell? No? (sarcasm…laughing)

Eric Reiss: oh well, I ‘ll send ya to crowd vine for the IA summit in Phoenix because I have something to say about wire frames on my profile.

Jeff Parks:Carry on, I’m sorry. (laughing)

Eric Reiss: No,no,no (laughing ) that’s all right! Thomas Vander Wal and I have a long conversation last night because we’ve been thinking very much in the same vein that the wire frames are fine in terms of web sites but the truth is, that we’ve got to learn how to map messages across multiple communication plant channels. This is what the marketing community hasn’t quite figured out. Every once in a while a question will turn up on in some forum,”Well can I use Twitter as my main marketing vehicle; or as my only marketing vehicle?” The same can be said of Facebook groups or whatever you’re using.

The advertising community, these people who are not stupid, and they haven’t figured out how to do web sites yet; for a variety of reasons that all relate to their concept of concept. Which is look and feel and and visual and metaphorical pictures that play off a clever headline. Where as online it’s all about functionality. It’s what it can do. That’s what your concept is.

Now when the advertising people figures this out, the strategic information architects are very apt to be replaced by the business annalists, because the business annalists understand the boxes, as soon as they figure out the arrows the so called “big IA’s” can pack it in because they have lost that territory, and the advertising agencies will try very, very hard next year to try to figure out how to do this, because they know how to talk the language of business, they know how to talk to the clients, they get decent size budgets for the work they do and they have in fact have the talent in house to do a lot of the things that we’re doing in the UX community. They just don’t know it yet.

I mean they’re trying but their trying to use old tools, and what they need to do is use old skills, but with some new tools and and they haven’t figured this out again. As soon as they start to work in terms of marketing mix and well this is what we want to be doing on Twitter and this is going to tie into something else that we are going to be doing on Facebook. It’s a very complicated jig saw puzzle. And we need to learn how do you wire frame that? How do you wire frame a communication message that moves from the analog world to the digital world to something quite different. There’s all kinds of channels that are contributing to your business message and I don’t think that anybody has really worked out a model for this. But someone should.

Jeff Parks: I’ve got one. Ready for it? It’s really complicated. You get everyone in a room together and you throw some paper up on the wall and hand the markers and say “Start communicating with each other, let’s talk about how to do this.” You know there’s an app for that for everything. I’m wondering whether or not if we need another app. If I’m talking to a business person that doesn’t know anything but tech, what’s wrong with wire frame? He can grab a pencil and start scratching on it and start communicating. I mean the whole idea is to communicate. But I guess what you’re saying is, (and maybe I’ve missed the point which is not out of the range of possibilities) is the fact that we need something that allows us to pull all these messages together, so you’re looking at a app that pulls in the context of Twitter messages into an understanding of how to wire frame better?

Eric Reiss: Well I’m not even thinking about wire frames. I’m thinking about how to get your message across, in whatever form you choose. What the advertising community has been very, very good at is mapping effort to effect. So if you’re going to book tv advertisements then you talk about OTS (Opportunities To See) you know, what is your penetration going to be in different markets and hopefully if you run so and so tv spots on prime time and all these spots have waited. Some are worth more than others because it’s in a very popular television show, or it’s just after the news or whatever. There are very, very sophisticated algorithm’s for working all of this out in television and less sophisticated algorithms, although there are algorithms, for figuring out how to figure out the viability of print advertising and other things. When somebody figures out how to work out the mix with traditional media and social media and sort of direct customer contact and pull in some customer service offerings because basically that’s what it’s all about is doing your customer service.

When somebody figures out how to map that out and you can certainly do that in a room with a lot of stickies but I don’t think that people have quite figured out the math behind this yet. How do you sell it? How do you figure out we’re spending too much time tweeting and not enough time on facebook or whatever. In the same way they say “Right, we’ve got too many print adds running right now, we got to do more cinema advertising, we’ve got to be in flight magazines, where ever this is. And the media planners and the advertising agencies have been really, really good at offline and they have no clue, as how to do this online, but I don’t know why they shouldn’t be good at it if they just learn to understand the medium, or the media.

Jeff Parks Right, and my idea about the whiteboard only works of course if you can get everybody into a room on a global scale which for doing business now, that’s almost never possible. So I appreciate what you are saying, and you are absolutely right, we need something a little more… I don’t know, I guess what you’re describing is how do we get people to blend with the old school with the new school. How do we divide that bridge to bring that value it of both perspectives?

Eric Reiss: Right, well as you can hear I’m slightly paranoid about the advertising industry right now because I’ve worked in advertising for twenty years. I know perfectly well what they’re capable of and I’m sort of amazed that they are still as clueless as they are!

Somebody wrote a blog post I think he was at Avenue A / Razor Fish well you know we should only have one agency. And the hell of it is he’s right. It doesn’t make sense to divide it up except people who are creative in advertising agencies that is to say art directors and copy writers are used to this look and feel kind of thinking. And it’s a very schizophrenic existence to have to switch from offline to online. I did this the first seven years of the web and it drove me crazy! And it was very,very difficult to communicate to some of my colleagues who were very old school, who only looked at look and feel and didn’t understand the idea of function. Now trying to be an Information Architect / Content Strategist on one side of things and to work out online concepts, I mean this is like in 1994 and 95 for goodness sakes. Very primitive stuff. Then writing advertisements, this is all business to business stuff. The rest of the day was incredibly difficult to and very schizophrenic experience. But my point is, once the advertising agencies figure out how to use their in house talents in different ways; I mean being creative is not what you do it’s how you think. So we just got to get them to do something else, and they haven’t quite figured it out…but they will. And this is what’s going to blow the socks of what they so call interactive agencies. Because the advertising agencies are going to do a lot of the stuff that we need. They’re going to understand how to do marketing mix that includes different flavors of social media, they’re going to start to understand how to connect the dots. The Business Analyst understand business, they understand strategy, and to some extent they understand the content but if they understand the strategic relationships between the content, the way the information architects do, well the web houses are going to go back to doing code and the Information Architects are going to go back doing thesauri and I think that’s sort of a sad state of affairs.

So, I would like those of us in the UX community to become involved. I don’t know for some reason the song “The farmer and the cow man” should be friends from “Oklahoma” is running threw my mind right now. Anyway, I think the IA community has lost some key battles the last couple of years. But I’m hoping that they’re not going to lose the war entirely.

Jeff Parks: I don’t think they will. Any new discipline, “You know were only ten years old” from Jesse James Garrett talk at the preliminary this year as an example, you know,I sort of in the past have upset some people because I’ve said “For a ten year old profession it sounds like a lot of the discussions that have been going on in their community sound like a bunch of ten year old’s fighting over the same shovel and sand box.” And ultimately any new community that forms people are going to try to figure out where they fit within the community and the value you can bring to it. But over the next three-five years I agree with you. The global economy is going to create some necessary changes within all business and very much including User Experience discipline.

But I also think their are huge opportunities for our discipline to start to move this forward by educating people about things without forcing our own perception, our own mental model onto people, but working harder to understand all of these other agencies like you’ve described, marketing, the advertising, the executives, the managers. And to work more to facilitate a better understand of how to approach things rather than pushing our frame work on top of other’s saying that “Well, yours is wrong and mine is right.”

Eric Reiss: Absolutely!!

Jeff Parks: I think the future is bright and I think you’re predictions for 2010, I honestly hope they all come true. I do. I do hope that companies will start looking at content in a context of the value for there business. I hope we do stop focusing on titles that we start to recognize the values in peoples ideas, for the ideas themselves and not the title that they hold. I think all these things are positive, but as you pointed out it’s with a guarded enthusiasm that we going into the future and we work well together.

Eric Reiss: I just don’t want us to lose a possible shot at sitting at the board room table and these are the battles that I see that have been lost because we have insisted that people see the world threw our eyes, instead of perhaps showing a little more empathy for the people we should be working with. That’s the battle I don’t want to lose!

Jeff Parks: Well, if we carry on and continue conversations like these and I’ve said this many times in the past and I’m going to keep repeating it for what it’s worth. If we ensure the bigger names in the UX discipline and the corporations, even the smaller companies that have gotten a lot of recognition as of late. If they continue a foster sense of learning and understanding of a belonging to the people that are new to the field and really interested in this I really believe that we can get the seat at the table. I believe we need to do a lot better job of educating people of the value of what we’re doing and a lot better job at involving the people of the community itself.

Eric Reiss: Absolutely, absolutely!

Jeff Parks: Well it looks like it’s going to be an interesting and exciting year in 2010. Eric Reiss from FatDUX in Denmark, thank you so much for joining me today on Radio Johnny, and look forward to talking to you more in 2010.

Eric Reiss: Well thank you very much Jeff, it’s been a pleasure being here and all the best to you and the other “Johnnies” in 2010 and I look forward to seeing you at a conference some place soon.

Jeff Parks: Thanks again, Eric!

Eric Reiss: Bye. Bye.

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

7 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: uberVU - social comments

  2. New independent statistics regarding Twitter usage. Biz Stone, it’s time to circle the wagons!

  3. Thanks for the great conversation Jeff and Eric.

    Talk about a tons of great content in this interview, and I surprisingly found myself agree with certain things that I didn’t think I would.

    The key point that is the true gem of this interview is the continued conversation about people in the UX ‘world’ learning to better interact with the business side of things. The stuff we care about, and fight with each other over, doesn’t mean squat to many of the business folks out there. And we when misuse terms and concepts that have concrete meaning in the business world closes more doors than opens.

    Thanks for taking the time do this.

  4. Thanks, Brad. We really appreciate your support and understanding for our rather rambling conversation.

    I’d love to hear more about what you found yourself unexpectedly agreeing with – and why.

    Thanks, too, for supporting the onward growth of UX through conversation with the business community. This is absolutely critical. I don’t know if you’ve seen the FatDUX blogpost about “10 dos and don’ts of website development for CEOs” but I think you’d enjoy it ( I’ll even be presenting on this at the IA Summit in Phoenix (and if you’re in Savannah next week, I’ll be glad to give you a sneak preview). I also have a talk on Slideshare about the myth of ROI as a business argument. But I digress.

    Thanks again for your thoughts – and I (well Jeff, too, I know) look forward to hearing more from you.

  5. Brad, I agree that our focus needs to be more about how we communicate and interact with the business community.

    I think there is incredible opportunity to both learn from business leaders and in a reciprocal fashion, facilitate a better understanding of the value our processes can bring to the board room.

    It starts with us. It starts with a genuine desire to listen to understand, and then to share from our experience / perspective; not the other way around.

    We are seeking respect and an opportunity to help businesses innovate and grow. We can only earn such respect if we show others outside our discipline that their ideas are of value and will continue to be valued within our own processes.

  6. Some bold predictions here.
    The expressed ideas exchanged in this conversation reflect cutting-edge thought-leadership.
    Based on the voiced reason and logical points from Eric, I believe I can confidently declare that win or fail, these predictions will be a win-win situation.
    If Eric is right, well then he’s right.
    If he’s wrong in a specific point, the fact remains that the collaborated thoughts and behaviour patterns that he has drawn these conclusions from indeed point to what lies beneath. Like the saying goes, \where there’s smoke there’s fire\, I believe Eric is addressing the issues at hand.
    Business process’ combined with intimate people interactions will pave the way for new media (I prefer \new media\ instead of \social media\ because new media is already an understood term, social media in it’s truest form is new media, and new media should always be the vanguard for change by capturing the latest social trends in media 🙂
    I am very thankful that I had a mentor in my earlier years that constantly hammered the idea of business practices into my craft of intelligent design.
    My frames are not limited to boxes, arrows and lorem ipsum, but rather the intimate connection of an individual engaging a system that was explicitly made to serve them while pushing business objectives based on needs, desires and emotions.
    This done correctly will develop deliverables that create brand loyalty and the connection of people regardless of demographics.

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