Great Climate for UX in Cincinnati

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I have been ready to graduate for some time, but I must say that these last couple semesters in undergrad have been a great experience for me to begin setting my sights on what I want to shoot for in the future.  After visiting a UX job market panel at UpTech in greater Cincinnati, I have received one more inspiration towards integrating my skills together into a value-creating profession.

Why UX in the Midwest?

This panel discussed what UX is, how people usually define it, and then finally what the UX market is like in the region.  The four panelists had a wide variety of backgrounds, from startups to corporations, from designers to financiers.  Their experience supporting their claims showed that they clearly got around, from working in The Valley to Boston to Chicago, they ultimately had ended up in Cincinnati and love the environment it provides.

  1. The coasts are looking to the Midwest for reasonably priced services.  An affect of minute specialization is higher cost.  As skills become more and more niche, premiums on that experience jump to astronomical proportions, and for many companies these rates are simply unrealistic (one panelist quoted $70/hr).
  2. Midwest UX professionals are well rounded.  Once you start heading to bigger cities, specialization occurs to the nth degree, and while that may lead to greater efficiencies, it doesn’t make for a better team player.  The panelists agreed that most professionals fall to either the engineering-heavy side, or the design-heavy side of the skill spectrum, and that this dichotomy is difficult to make a great UX professional.  UX requires prudence and diplomacy between performance requirements and realistic technical constraints, and these qualities are much more likely to be found among those with wide experiences.
  3. The Midwest favors meritocracy (in a practical way).  One of the more encouraging statements made that evening was from a panelist of an agency: “We’re not looking for the graduate two years out, but five or more years out.  We want to see the mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve learned from their experience.”  This theme found itself played out in a general demand they all shared for professionals who can take charge in bridging the design/engineering gap.  “There’s no one approaching it as a product manager.”  Only with years of experience in various industries will this blend of knowledge be able to synthesize into something new and original.

Why is Cincinnati Well-Suited For UX?Cincinnatus

On a personal note, I also had a pleasant chortle upon seeing a parallel between the required traits of UX and the symbolic character of Cincinnati.  From a history course (hooray for liberal arts education), I remembered learning about Roman virtues being exemplified through the nearly mythological tale of Cincinnatus, who performed his high duties of office without any assumptions of power or privilege beyond his minimal service.  For a little bonus history lesson, here are 7 Roman Values (mirroring the 7 hills of both Rome and Cincinnati):

  1. Auctoritas: possessing authority, and being able to lead
  2. Dignitas: having prestige and charisma
  3. Gravitas: not being flippant, but having an intentional focus
  4. Hospitium: being welcoming of new people [and new ideas]
  5. Otium: understanding the power of leisure, and pursuit of personal interests
  6. Pietas: being rooted in religiosity
  7. Virtus: having boldness and valor

With the exception for some recent irreverent marketing campaigns for felines, you don’t have to look farther than what you can see from the Carew Tower to find examples of these values: from a world-class museum, to a refreshing Eden Park, historic (and active) Catholic parishes, and a well-programmed Fountain Square, Cincinnati has all of the necessary elements to support a culture of UX.

Open-Sourcing Big Data is Rebuilding Detroit

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Last week, I attended Ann Arbor New Tech‘s monthly gathering, where five presenters shared the projects they were working on (in the form of startups for three of the groups).  As a sociology minor, I was particularly struck by one group called WhyDontWeOwnThis who partnered with the City of Detroit to crowdsource mapping out all vacant or abandoned property parcels in the city.  For each property, WDWOT has meticulously imported countless CSVs of tax records and registered owner information–all of which is already available to the public–and has created filters and navigation for venturers to the city to peruse.

At first glance, my gut reaction was of disgust that this may be just yet another iteration of ruin porn in Detroit.  But then with some time (and demoing of the site, with its various functionality) I realized that while the greatest value provided may be for flippers, with all the negative connotations it has for me, I came around to the idea that this site ultimately assists the regrowth of the city.  The best realization that this was also a synergistic solution, like I had seen in a previous prediction concerning big data: that the city had all of this data available previously but it was stored away in electronic public records, and giving companies like WDWOT an opportunity to have easier access to it has allowed this data to be transformed into something productive and useful.

From the description of the founders, it sounded like this was unfortunately much more of a manual process than ideal.  However, they have begun this same process with many other cities in the United States, and are well on their way to helping transform these cities as well.

WhyDontWeOwnThis is rebuilding Detroit and other cities

In choosing to go to a university in Metro Detroit during the Great Recession and auto bailouts, I wondered what the ending would look like for the once-great post industrial giant city that is Detroit.  But I am glad to say that piece by piece, ingenuity and innovation is still rebuilding Detroit, and is even being exported from Detroit.

Testing: Twitter Cards for Analytics (and Google Tag Manager)

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Now that I am taking website analytics for granted, my appetite for data is whetted.  I knew of YouTube analytics, so I thought surely Twitter would have some sort of analytics API.

Apparently the way Twitter measures inbound traffic is through Twitter Cards, which are activated every time someone clicks a tweet button and that pop-up-compose-tweet window appears.  As I thought about it, I’d seen this type of information graph before, and it was time to start learning more of these tools and uses of data APIs.

Also, I have implemented Google Tag Manager on this property, so don’t mind me tracking your external link clicks. :]

The Luxury Segment Demands Value-Add

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luxury tax, you must pay for what you getFinishing up my BBA, after many class presentations for various entrepreneurial projects, “capturing the high-end luxury market” is often the elusive El Dorado to making it big in business. Sure, the 1% demographic is pretty visible, they probably do indeed have a high purchasing power parity, and they want the best, right?  Just appeal to their senses of luxury, and let the inflated margins start pouring in!

But seriously, no one in the world thinks about luxury like that, right?

I recently attended a marketing workshop in Ann Arbor, less than an hours drive from the headquarters of a near half-dozen American auto manufacturer’s headquarters in the Motor City [metropolitan area].  The guest speaker was a marketing executive for one of these companies, and in response to other foreign auto makers capturing this lucrative market, he disclosed their rebranding strategy to our intimate gathering:

  1. Emphasize Quality
  2. Lead in Design
  3. Deliver Great Personal Service

I added a couple words to cloak their identity, so Google-researching would be more difficult, but honestly I didn’t find this blanket strategy particularly original.  Whether or not all of the detailed nuances of their strategy were fully encapsulated here, are not each of these attributes important for any product, regardless of demographic?  How is this any different for a luxury demographic?

It seems as though the googly-eyes for this segment are not restricted to this company, or even to just American companies.  Case in point, as I was looking up “purchasing power parity” to ensure that I was using that term correctly, on the financial investment page I was on, this familiar ad of a different auto manufacturer popped up:

The coincidence was uncanny.  No longer surrounded by friends with good food and drink in a good mood for commercials, while watching this ad again I had a similar feeling to that I had in that Ann Arbor room: this executive was revealing his company’s multi-billion dollar strategy to crank out a new line of luxury cars, with the value proposition all hinging on “this is what luxury looks like.”

I don’t believe I was the only one concerned about more sizzle than steak.  During the Q&A, one of the first questions was something along these lines:

Sir, you say that your target is for a younger generation that is open to trying new experiences and brands. But what about sustainability? My nephew recently decided to purchase a new car, and because of those qualities, he went with a hybrid. What is [manufacturer’s] strategy for this green-conscious generation?

The response was that “this was a long-term consideration, as part of their 5-year roll out of their new product line.”  I’m not the expert, but if the whole goal of this company is to redefine their brand, would not a totally new model be a great addition to their existing line than simply giving modern facelifts?

So how should we think about luxury?

I’m going to cop out and share a general observation: from my studies in my Sociology minor, what I have read and seen is that the world is headed towards diverse segmentation and specific activity-centered cultures.  Within each of these subsets of cultures, specific, unique products will be needed to satisfy segments (or even create activity), and in many arenas a sharp knife will outperform a Swiss army knife.  Of course everyone likes to feel special by using a “luxury” item, but what gives luxury its true value is the craftsmanship for those who are able to discern it.  And that is high class.

: “Specific, unique products will be needed to satisfy segments.”

I would like to make a prediction: as the Internet continues to shape our cultures and the way and where we interact, I think that the emphasis on “luxury” will shift to “quality.”  Just look at the profusion of Patagonia jackets, name-brand shoes, and Macbook Pros in the world, divisions of labor are making themselves all the more evident in our world.

In summary, here is my four-fold strategy to not luxury goods, but quality goods in meeting a market:

  1. Be specific
  2. Be unique (differentiated)
  3. Understand the usage culture around the product
  4. Ensure the value created matches value pursued

How to Make a Weekly Heatmap From Time Data

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Do YOU have timestamps of some series of events?  Are you looking for a better way to view them than A-Z sorting, glazing over a stack of hundreds of numbers all bleary-eyed? Well, why don’t you try a heatmap!

This is beyond a simple graph.  A heatmap allows for three dimensions of data to be viewed, and the coloring of a heatmap will allow for quick identification of trends and clusters in points of time.

Most likely, your data will be retrieved from some type of streaming feed.  In this case, our registration database returned the timestamps that the “Submit” button was clicked for a completed (and verified) registration for a conference.  In this use case, the three dimensions will be:

  • Day of the week
  • Hour of the day
  • Site visits per hour

You can put them on timestamps, days of the week, frequencies of the digits of pi, or any other time-based metric you can think of.

I have broken this down into 5 steps:

  1. Prep data into desired units of granularity
  2. Stage data for counting in an array
  3. Create the display fields with bins
  4. Add counting “=frequency” formulas
  5. Add conditional formatting to display heatmap zones

1) Prep data into desired units of granularity.

We’ll need to break up the time and date in order to sort them into their desired bins of “day of the week” and “hour of the day.”  Like a Riemann Sum (remember those?), we will break up an otherwise continuous stream into chunks that we can identify.  These formulas are based on 24 periods in a day, but you could modify these into any size that you desire.

Days of the week

For days of the week

Hours of the day formula

For hours of the day:

2) Stage data for counting in an array

Don’t worry, we’re not going to count these ourselves.  We just need to arrange the data into organized columns that we can point a formula to count for us!

Arrange data into columns by days of the week:

Column into array

3) Create the display fields with bins

Now, create a graphical representation of a week, plotting ‘days of the week’ and ‘hours of the day.’  I just made the table a couple columns over from the data, but you could plan wherever you’d like to put this and link it as desired.

We have already sorted our data by one dimension (or axis) already, days of the week.  Now, the counting and sorting criteria (or “bins”) that we will select will be the vertical axis, ‘hour of the day.’

Days and hours array

4) Add counting “=frequency” formulas

Now comes the fun part, adding the formulas to do the work.  The goal here is to look back at the data array of the timestamps, count how many of each hour there are, and then report that number back for each unit that we have in our table.  This can be a little tricky, and I got a lot of help for this method from Eugene O’Loughlin’s video on YouTube.

The syntax for this formula is as follows:

=frequency(array, bins)

  • array: the column of data we will reference, in this case ‘day of the week’
  • bins: the counting and sorting criteria, in the case ‘hour of the day’

We will A. add this formula in the top cell of each day of the week, and then B. apply this formula to the rest of the column.

A. Add “=frequency” formula to first cell (click the image for a larger view)

Click for a larger view





B. Apply to the whole column: select whole row, click into formula bar, then type Cmd + Enter (or Ctl + Shift + Enter for PC).  Watch here if you would like the visual.

Then rinse and repeat for each day of the week.

5) Add conditional formatting to display heatmap zones

You will probably have something like this so far.  I included Sums rows on each side to ensure validity of data adding correctly.

You will probably have something like this so far.

So now you have a lovely table of numbers, but wouldn’t it be nice if all that black and white actually meant something?  Conditional formatting allows for you to quickly identify outliers to your data.

Before I got started, I included rows of Sums on each side for quick data validity to ensure adding was done correctly.

Select the data array, then select a Conditional Formatting ‘Color Scale’ option you like.  With my 2011 version of Excel (Version 14.3.8, from Office 365), there were several templates available.  No need to reinvent the wheel here, we just need some color to highlight our data.

Heatmap - conditional formatting






Conclusions and Applications

Heatmap - final


So there you have it!  From this heatmap, we now have solid data to suggest when the best times to convert are (in our case, obtaining registrations for our conferences and events).  I applied this same technique to our pageviews, and the results ended up being vastly different from when people actually decided to finalize their registrations.

Like any tool, you must understand what limitations the data have.  Ask your own application question before building this… or if you are a —P type personality, just make it and see what conclusions you might come up with.  After all, you’re the creative analysis guru!

Time Management is Like a Coding Project

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I was reading another time-management article recently, and sure enough they usually say the same types of things… but this time around I had a new realization: when working on any project with coding, the process shifts back and forth between mapping out the form and then going back in and creating the content. This seems to be one school of thought for coding processes, the other beginning with the eventual form in mind and linearly plowing through the project.  Both are pretty similar in principle, just differing in method. For managing time, the typically-recommended process has to do with breaking down projects into individual tasks, and laying out a time-bound schedule of when they should be completed. This is project management on a small scale, and this process is even more critical the larger the scope and more people involved in a project.

In particular, I was intrigued with these common themes:

  1. Direction: you need to know where the ship is pointed before you set the engine to full-steam ahead. Is this currently a priority? Is this the most urgent task at hand, or is there something needing to have time invested now?
  2. Structure: once you know the direction (i.e. specifications/requirements or goals), then the method must be laid out for how it will be accomplished. Will we take a great-circle arc?  Or would we value a scenic route along the coast?
  3. Details: once we know the general outline, then this is the stuff that actually makes it.  What route exactly will we take to get there? Between what rocks and cliffs will we traverse? What will the specific wording be? Which of the “if?then:other” statements will be “>=” or “>“? These must be decided in the moment.

My favorite approach to learning has been to dissect a concept, and learn what the pieces are for and how they function. This way, when put back together again, it is much easier to identify each piece in how they all fit, and appreciate how they work together. Time management for me still largely remains “do this, try that,” but the more musing done on a topic, the more able we will be in understanding how to best manage it.

Communication Cures Confusion (Celebrate Collaboration!)

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We’re all different.  We all have different perspectives.  How do you coordinate this variety to actually do something useful?

I was talking with a friend who is reading a book about methods of gaining and acquiring power. One of them includes being aloof, and withholding information. This leaves the other party in the dark to a degree, and creates a reliance on you–the beholder of knowledge–to bequeath to them what they desire when you see the time is fit. Ok, not the most ethical, or maybe not even the most mature, but I can see it.

In practice however, at my current internship and in my numerous group projects in business school, I’ve been frustrated with not being in the communication loop, but not for the reason of this method of acquiring power. I have also found myself on the side of unintentionally siloing information from group members, and feeling anxiety of them inevitably lashing out in distress… or just falling off the boat completely.

My experience both at my job and in group projects has been misdirected efforts, and frustration from incompatibility with pieces constructed in isolation. I’m sure this isn’t much of an off-beat observation. So while we don’t always have to disclose every detail, I am resolving to communicate intent and direction at every opportunity to ensure we’re going the same direction.

A quick caveat: I’m a middle child, I’m all about trying to blaze a new path and be original, be it in rhythms for a music setting or finding a new PowerPoint template that everyone hasn’t already used. Moreover, I firmly believe in diversity, where different elements coming together creates an amalgamation that is greater than the sum of the parts. So my approach to being different isn’t just to successfully find my ecological niche for survival, but because I’ve experienced that this posture of contributing something original is better for all.  This is the ideal I’m holding onto, at least.

From Juggling to Handling

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I’m currently in a class sponsored by Google, where my group is managing $10,000 (real USD) in an AdWords budget and working with a real-world non-profit organization with their awareness campaigns. I also just started a job at our university’s convocation center, helping with events and developing social media campaigns. And I’m taking the standard 15 credit hours of class and am involved in two student orgs.

I was about to lament on Facebook about how it’s so difficult to juggle all of these simultaneous responsibilities, and how it will be so cool to live and breath a single thing in a job some day. However, in a way, I think that’s the direction my classes and activities are moving… and it’s exhilarating. And I should be so blessed to be able to say that.

Honestly, I wish I could say something inspirational for anyone, like “just work where your heart leads you” or something, but I really think all of this has lined up once I told God “You created me and designed me, why don’t You show me where You’d like to see me get to work?” So while not entirely secular, I will say that I believe we’re all created to fill certain niches, and while I can’t say I know mine 100% yet, it’s gotten a lot easier since I’ve trusted that role to my Father.

Built-In Intent Through Design


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I hate to sound super utilitarian, but if we’re interested in changing our world, why shouldn’t every aspect of our lives be intentionally lived out?  Having said that, here’s a great thought to keep in mind while carrying out plans and ideas:

“Great design supplies intent.”

Problem Solving Model: A Tool

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In my Management Skills class today, we went over problem solving. As basic as it sounds, it was amazing how easily we get off topic from solving the problem effectively, but are stuck in old habits of approaching things or are stuck using the lenses that we are most recently familiar with (i.e. Availability Bias, Self-Serving Bias, Escalation of Commitment, etc.).

When it comes down to it, solving a problem deals with changing behaviors leading to different outcomes. This model is a very robust way to plow through all the smoke screens that our own creativity can put up sometimes:

1) Identify Problem
2) Determine Source
3) Establish Criteria
4) Implement
5) Evaluate on Criteria

Being involved in several student organizations, I firmly believe that steps 3 and 5 are critical to creating any kind of lasting effect, and have been the downfall for many well-intentioned efforts put forth on my campus. With many sources of opposition to actually getting productive work accomplished, I hope this is a firm support to helping push great ideas through the crowded pipeline.