Appearance on The Dirt Podcast

by Joe Havelick 11. May 2013 00:17

Today, I had the privilege of being a guest on The Dirt podcast. The Dirt is a UX/UI focused weekly podcast hosted by a few of the talented people at Fresh Tilled Soil. Ethan (the cofounder of Hubster) and I were invided to participate in a discussion on the UX and future of TV. We had a really good time and want to thank Tim, Marc, Steve and Sean and all of FTS for just being awesome.

All and all, the cast of this podcast is really, really smart and have a great dynamic. You can listen and subscribe at:



Usablility and Seduction

by Joe Havelick 21. October 2012 14:36

In our company book club, we have read a few books with focuses on usability. These include Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, and Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences. They are both excellent books and have slightly different focuses. Don't Make Me Think includes a lot of simple principles that can help developers understand the fundamentals of web usability. While there is nothing groundbreaking there, it's a great starting point for those that have never thought too hard about usability in their own apps or websites. Seductive Interaction Design discusses techniques by which you can "seduce" users to achieve certain goals using techniques that map to psychological principals. While there is a usability component to this, it's actually a much higher level function. However, it's a lot more fun to use. Implementations include elements of gamification and aesthetics, which are just plain fun for a developer to design. But therein lies the rub:

Building a seductive interface is meaningless, unless basic usability issues have been addressed.

Back in the 90's, there was a sketch comedy troupe on MTV called The State. And they had a sketch called Taco Man. The crux of the dialog is that the postal customer is upset that he is not getting his mail, despite getting fabulous tacos in his mailbox. It's not that he doesn't want the tacos, but that he needs his mail. Without the mail, he can't pay his bills, and would lose his house, making the tacos irrelevant.

Just like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which theorizes that higher level psychological needs (love, self-actualization) cannot be met before basic ones (physical needs, safety), I propose that there is a similar hiearchy for features and usability in apps:

  1. Works as designed - The app is able to perform as advertised
  2. Works as expected - The app has basic usability and a user doesn't need to refer to a manual.
  3. Flow - The app has advanced usability and a user is able to "autopilot" through tasks efficiently.
  4. Seduction - The user desires to use the application. They use it, even when not necessary.
Now, the hierarchy could be broken down differently, so I'm not going to contend that I have the best model. The point of this is that there are levels that must be achieved, and you are not able to skip over a level. You cannot build a seductive app out of one that is fundamentally unusable. It's not that the tacos (seduction) are not important, it's just that the mail (usability) is a higher priority. So while it may seem like fun to invest in designing and implementing seductive interfaces, developers and product managers should be conscious of the basic needs that preceded it.



Using the new iPad as a Mobile/Personal Hotspot

by Joe Havelick 16. March 2012 15:31

Since it took me a bit of shuffling to figure it out, I figured I'd write some instructions for hot to enable your new iPad as a mobile hotspot.

  1. You need an iPad with Verizon 4G. (AT&T plans do not support mobile hotspot at this time).
  2. You need to sign up for a data plan. You can do this through Settings > Cellular Data. Currently, all Verizon data plans support mobile hotspot.
  3. Finally, and this was the part I had to find, you can enable the Personal Hotspot feature through Settings > General > Network.


It seems like after enabling the Personal Hotspot for the first time, or after a reboot (I'm not sure), the Personal Hotspot menu item appeared off the root of the settings menu. I'm not sure why this is, but I hope this helps anyway.

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Tech Tips

The purpose of this meeting is...

by Joe Havelick 14. March 2012 15:58

If you're like me, then you find yourself in too many meetings which you need to ask "what is the purpose of this meeting?" partway through it.

Every meeting should start with the phrase "The purpose of this meeting is...". Even better, every meeting invitation should include that statment.

To be clear, a good description doesn't fit in a meeting title field, like "Customer Issues". It's a full sentence that says something like "The purpose of this meeting is to review the list of active customer issues, assign relative priorities, and use the remaining time to discuss solutions to the highest prioritiy issues." The same goes for periodic meetings. Instead of just "Monthly staff meeting", include a description like "The purpose of this meeting is to discuss progress on long term priorities, review the schedule, and present the latest prototype of the product."


  • Meetings are expensive. Rather, gathering a group of resources together in a forum that really only allows one of them to actively particpate at a time is a hell of a way to spend salaries.
  • If someone has nothing to do with the purpose, it gives them the chance to opt out. It's like getting on a plane and the pilot saying "This flight goes to Dallas." If you're not sure why you're there, then ask the organizer why you were invited.
  • It keeps the meeting on task. Again, these things are expensive. If you have a bunch of people in a room for one purpose and you tangent, you're potentially wasting the time of a fraction of that group. Being able to suggest that the tangental discussion be noted and brought "offline" to focus on the purpose is a valuable tool.
  • It helps people focus on the most important thing. Going into a meeting where people just start talking and eventually indicate their question or problem causes people to have to go back and rethink about what they heard. Being able to state the purpose upfront allows people to take in all information in the correct context.
  • By stating it ahead of time, it lets people collect their thoughts and resources to be prepared for the discussion.
  • It's a courtesy. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to opt out of certain meetings. If you are, woudn't it be nice to have the information about whether you can contribute before you book the time? If you can't wouldn't you expect that the organizer at least takes the time to clue you in on the purpose, rather than just demanding that you appear?
  • It forces the organizer to... organize. Why am I having this meeting? Do all invitiees need to be there? Can I achieve the same results asyncronously, like over email?

This is something that I try to practice regularly and hope that other people catch on. It's a small habit that can make a major impact.



Five Hows and Barriers to Implementing Change

by Joe Havelick 21. November 2011 12:43

Envisioning change, whether it is in our personal or business plans, is often the first step to making it happen. But what I find is that many changes don't materialize because we fail to go beyond that. Many significant changes, whether tangible, like banking $4 mil., or intangible, like changing a company culture, need to be broken down into smaller discrete steps. This seems totally obvious when we talk about it outside the context of a problem, but how many times have you tried to implement change simply by building a vision, possibly sharing it, and then "working hard" at it without direct and measurable plans?

The concept of Five Whys has been popularized as a problem solving technique used by lean processes. If you have not heard of this, it essentially involves asking why a problem exists, which derives a new problem, and repeating that process 5 times. The theoretical advantage of this is that it helps persons determine the root cause of an issue, so that it can be dealt with, rather than just the symptom.

But what if we were to use this for planning? What if we made it the Five Hows? Let's take an example from above. How am I going to make $4 mil.? Well, I might decide that I am going to make it through investing. How? Well, I need to learn a whole lot about investing. How? Well, you get the idea.

Now, this brings to light a couple issues. First, do I even have a good plan here, since I don't even know enough about investing to know whether my plan is reasonable. Well great. it's better to acknowledge and address these issues before you spend time going down a path with no map. Second, there is a major problem with the Five Whys that also applies to the Five Hows. It doesn't address the complex nature of the problem at hand. Just as you cannot predictably cause a tsunami by flapping a butterfly wing, an effect rarely boils down to a single cause.

There is a solution. Instead of looking at the Five Whys or the Five Hows as a chain relationship (one-to-one), look at them as a tree (one to many). There is one trunk (the problem), that leads up to many branches (hows), and each branch has many sub branches, etc. The same is true with the roots (whys). Again, this seems obvious, but how many times, when problem solving, do you just take the first solution and run with it. So, the technique I use is to simply say "Okay, we have one solution, but what if that wasn't an option. What would we do then?" For each Why or How, expect to come up with three to five answers before moving on. Don't discount options that seem less valuable at that point in time, because you may find out, further down the chain, that your preferred option may not be as feasible as you think.



Having Fun with the Netduino

by Joe Havelick 29. October 2011 09:48

Thanks to those that came to see our presentation Having Fun with the Netduino at New England Code Camp 16.

There were a number of requests for additional resources which I will attempt to fulfill here.

Again, thanks, and please leave a comment with any feedback, questions, comments, or concerns.


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