Category Archives: Product Design

Not Just Unicorns: A Designer Bestiary

Illustration of a unicorn hunt; detail of a miniature from the Rochester Bestiary, BL Royal 12 F xiii, f. 10v. Held and digitised by the British Library.

Let’s talk unicorns.

And I’m not thinking of Twilight Sparkle. Legends about the unicorn differ, as is typical with mythical beasts. Some tales describe interaction designers who are also talented visual designers. Others carry news of the rare designer who can also code. And the wildest tales of all describe a designer who is supernaturally capable of anything. These conflicting tales confuse those seeking to hire designers. And of course designers may be asking themselves: “Am I a unicorn, or not?” And since all designers consider themselves magical, if not actually sparkly, the potential for an identity crisis is acute.

A Designer Bestiary

But fret not! Found in a dusty library in a long-forgotten corner of the Bay Area, a tome once thought lost to the centuries has now been found. (It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of The Leopard”.) Within it’s pages lie descriptions of a vast assortment of legendary creatures. In a Medieval Bestiary, each entry would describe the characteristics, habits, and nature of a type of creature. Creatures were understood to be both real (if you sailed far enough you might meet one) and allegorical (the story of the Pelican echoes the Bible). Whether the descriptions within A Designer Bestiary are similarly allegorical is disputed by historians and Human Resources professionals alike.

Continue reading Not Just Unicorns: A Designer Bestiary

Corporate apologies: An appreciation


I have a small collection of corporate apologies.

I think software companies in particular are getting quite good at apologies. (Whether they're getting better at not doing things they should apologize for is another matter). Modern software companies generally expect to move quickly and to have relatively transparent communication with their users (at least compared to pre-Internet corporations). Both of these expectation mesh well with good apologizing.

I'm interested in corporate apologies for three reasons.

First, many of the apologies I've collected come from companies whose products I use, like Netflix, EVE Online, Flickr, and Airbnb.

Second, I work for very similar companies, and so while I hope to avoid it by never screwing up, it is entirely possible I'll be in the position of having to write such an apology one day. If that happens, I'd like to do a good job.

Finally, I love looking at different genres of writing. I think of corporate apologies as a very specialized genre, one that is usually written under a great deal of stress (because it usually follows something unpleasant happening), to an unusually critical audience (the apology is happening because some people are very unhappy), in a short period of time (an apology is best delivered as soon as possible). 

Here's a few of my favorites:

1. Path apologizes for mishandling user data.

We are sorry.We made a mistake. Over the last couple of days users brought to light an issue concerning how we handle your personal information on Path, specifically the transmission and storage of your phone contacts…. 

2. EVE online apologizes for not listening to the community

Dear Followers of EVE Online,

The past few months have been very humbling for me. I’ve done much soul searching, and what follows is my sincere effort to clear the air with all of you. Please bear with me as I find my way through. 

The estrangement from CCP that many of you have been feeling of late is my fault, and for that I am truly sorry. There are many contributing factors, but in the end it is I who must shoulder the responsibility for much of what has happened…. 

3. Netflix apologizes for a price hike and announces a plan to split the company in two, and then backtracks and apologizes for that.

I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation. 

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming, and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology. I’ll try to explain how this happened…. 

Followed by:

DVDs will be staying at It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs….

4. Airbnb apologizes for a truly horrific rental experience and their handling of the aftermath

Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down. When we learned of this our hearts sank. We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go….

5. Livejournal apologizes for overzealous enforcement of policy violations

Well we really screwed this one up…

For reasons we are still trying to figure out what was supposed to be a well planned attempt to clean up a few journals that were violating LiveJournal's policies that protect minors turned into a total mess. I can only say I’m sorry, explain what we did wrong and what we are doing to correct these problems and explain what we were trying to do but messed up so completely….

6. Flickr apologizes for the mistaken removal of a photograph

I have to be a little quicker than I'd like because I'm writing this on a Treo in a car in the desert, coming back from a vacation (I'm not driving – no worries). I've gotten the whole back story from the team and have read the forums, various Flickr groups topics and blog posts on this topic (as of a few hours ago), so I have a pretty good idea that we screwed up — and for that I take full responsibility (actually, several team members are fighting to take responsibility)….

These are all worth reading, take a little time to check each of them out.

Each of these apologies get the basics right. They're from a specific person (usually the CEO or similar figure) and written in plain, direct language with an admiral minimum of corporate-ese. All of them contain some variation of  "We screwed up."

The EVE online apology and the Flickr apology are probably the most personal (which makes sense given the history of those two companies), but none have that strangled sound we've come to expect from a canned, PR-approved response. Which is not to say PR people weren't involved — only that good ones were.

All of them contain some variation of "I take full responsibility," so there's no pushing of blame onto another party. Most include explanations of what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what the company intended to do about it. On the other hand, the first Netflix apology contained a remedy (splitting the company in two) that was arguably worse than the initial problem (essentially a price hike). The lesson here is probably: don't get too fancy with your remedy, and don't let it get hijacked by some other corporate priority.

Context is also interesting. All of these were posted in the company blog, rather than a separate press release. Flickr's is a little different since the initial apology from Stewart came in an active community thread, and then was reposted in the official blog.

I've talked mostly about the apologies themselves, but, as most of the apologies themselves point out, actions subsequent to the apology also matter. 

Do you have a favorite corporate apology? I'll add it to the list.

Added 4/16/2012

Here's one found by Andrew Sandler, from RunKeeper, a fitness tracking app:

With all of this good stuff happening, we wanted to write this post because we feel like we owe you an apology.  You see, we have always prided ourselves on being a user-driven company.  A company that cares about your feedback.  A company that makes decisions with you, our users, in mind. We feel like recently we started to stray from those values.  We spread ourselves too thin.  We had too many initiatives going on at once.  And most importantly, we stopped listening to our users as much as we should be. 


I'm sorry photo CC by shandopics

What I’m thinking about this week


  1. Boots! In January 1996, I was in London briefly, following a semester at Glasgow University. I bought a pair of Dr. Marten’s boots from the flagship store in . They were a sort of wingtip half boot, and I loved them. That’s them up on the right there. I’ve owned various boots over the years, and these were worn more and over a longer period of time than any others. Only a pair of boots acquired from Stompers in the 90s came close. The latter have been relegated to “garden use only” for a while now, and the Docs are just thrashed. Neither model is still made (though there are some things that come close). So last week, we went over to the Haight St. and I picked up a pair of Langstons in burgundy. And I’m in love all over again …
  2. Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix. Despite being married to someone who knows a great deal about art history, I basically knew nothing about this painting or the painter (though I knew the image). I listen to the wonderful In Our Time BBC podcasts, so I got a thorough introduction from Melvyn Bragg’s usual group of slightly dotty British academics. 
  3. The history of finance, and investment theory. Not my usual area, but I’m being guided by Adam Nash’s personal finance reading list and working my way through one by one. 
  4. Visual (and to some extent audio) design in classic science-fiction movies. (And one newer one.) The ones with the white palettes, san serif typefaces and shininess.  Think 2001 and Saturn 3.  Also Tron Legacy, but the shiny white bits rather than the glowy black bits. Plus sinister computer voices like Hal and GladOS from Portal. The fun part is this relates to the previous item (at least in my head).
  5. How most of the important developments & conflicts in online identity & authentication were predicted (sort of ) by Max Headroom
  6. Occupy Wall Street. There’s a lot to think about, but this post pointing out how strangely some of the OWS dynamic echoes Bruce Sterling’s 1998 book Distractions I had to reread it. Sterling has a knack for predicting future socio-political events in ways SF doesn’t usually quite do (see: drone assassinations in Islands in the Net). Distractions isn’t nearly as good a book as Islands in the Net, but it has it’s moments, and it certainly resonates today:

    “Why are there millions of nomads now? They don’t have jobs, man! You don’t care about ‘em! You don’t have any use for ‘em! You can’tmake any use for them! They’re just not necessary to you. Not at all. Okay? So, you’re not necessary to them, either. Okay? They got real tired of waiting for you to give them a life. So now, they just make their own life by themselves, out of stuff they find lying around. You think the government cares? The government can’t even pay their own Air Force.”

    “A country that was better organized would have a decent role for all its citizens.”

    “Man, that’s the creepy part — they’re a lot better organized than the government is. Organization is the only thing they’ve got! They don’t have money or jobs or a place to live, but organization, they sure got plenty of that stuff.”

Tired of mediated online commerce?


A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that I was “tiring of mediated online commerce.” It was a bit of a flip comment, probably in response to seeing too many headlines about the Groupon IPO, Google Deals, Facebook Deals, etc. I wasn’t entirely sure what I meant, so I had to go back and think about why I responded that way.

INtrospection time! I think serious introspection (deeper than “I like X but not Y”) has become an underused tool for designers & researchers. Yes, we are not always representative of other users — but who is? We are all unique snowflakes! But I know myself really well. And I can ask myself no end of nosy questions without being too intrusive. So, with the obvious & tedious caveat that I may not be representative of other unique snowflakes out of the way, I can forge on.

First point: I can’t be too tired of mediated online commerce, because I buy stuff online, all of which is mediated in some way or other, and often I enjoy it. Accentuate the positive: what online purchases have I made recently that have made me really happy? Turns out there’s a bunch.


Kickstarter. But wait, you say–kickstarter isn’t e-commerce! Well, it isn’t. It’s a way of funding projects you believe in. And yet … I’ve given money to a bunch of projects. In one case, Syzygryd, I was just helping a bunch of awesome people put together a crazy interactive sound-fire-light-sculpture thing, but I did get a bunch of stickers & a tag. Which I treasure! And in another case my wife beta-tested a custom dress service. Beta-testing was the main point. But in the end we paid money for a nice dress! So in at least some cases, Kickstarter feels like commerce, if of a very particular kind. It is mediated (they handle the money & facilitate communication between funders & the project), but what it feels like is a direct connection between you and a project you believe in. Plus sometimes you get stuff. I love funding Kickstarter projects, and usually feel a great deal of attachment to the ongoing project long after the initial project has finished.


Bandcamp. Definitely commerce. You pays your money, you gets some music. But the experience is pretty similar to Kickstarter — it fosters a very close connection between fan and musician. Often musicians offer different levels of purchase for an album — a cheap download, a CD with packaging for a little more, a deluxe set with a bunch of schwag for even more. Bandcamp also encourages musicians to sell in a “name your price” style — set a minimum price but allow fans to pay more if they like. Which they often do — I usually put in at least a few bucks extra, sometimes more.

Another thing Bandcamp and Kickstarter have in common is fee transparency. It’s very easy for a buyer to figure out what the seller is being charged. If part of your goal is to support an artist or project, not just get a good deal, it’s helpful to know they aren’t getting ripped off.


AirBnB. Mediated commerce! Really, it feels like the early days of eBay, when buying stuff from a stranger was new & exciting. Maybe a little risky. In this case you’re renting someone’s room or house — they could be anybody! So making a personal connection with them (as well as looking at reviews & etc.) is a big deal. And, in my case, you find you start reacting to the people you’re thinking of renting from as well as the space. Which is that personal connection thing again.


Individual storefronts. I like paying with PayPal for individual merchant storefrontswhen I can so as to avoid creating new accounts or entering credit card numbers. One of my favorites is Betabrand — they have site with a lot of personality. And they make great pants. I’ve been pretty obsessive about unsubscribing from commercial emails lately, but these guys I make an exception for. I’m excited to get an email about new pants. Interestingly, they’re the only case I can think of where display advertising played a psoitive role in a buying decision–I’m not sure I ever clicked on one, but their Facebook ads did keep them in my mind when I decided to go shopping for pants.

A few more:

  • Buying things on eBay old style: vintage auctions! Here I don’t form a personal connection with the maker, but I might form one with the seller. And after all these years it’s still nice to open up a hand-addressed package from a faraway place to find an old Traveller module from 1982.
  • Square. Not online, in person! But really, they’re so dang slick they make getting a receipt fun. And the card case app is intended to make a closer connection with regular in-person haunts.

These are the online (ish) commercial transactions that have made me happy over the last few months. The merchants I’ve done business with these ways are also some of the few for which I haven’t unsubscribed from all emails. (Although in some cases I have unsubbed from the mediating services email — e.g. Airbnb’s.) What do they have in common?

With the exception of some merchants who use Square, they are not regular, day-to-day necessities. These are fun purchases. Not necessarily luxuries (those vintage auctions are cheap if you stay cool), but definitely fun stuff. But I do feel happier about them than, say, buying a few MP3 albums on Amazon.

Why? What do all these transactions have in common?

  • They all represent a real connection with an individual or small company. Whatever services are mediating the transaction, they’re not interfering with that connection.
  • More specifically, my communications are with the individual / project / company, rather than any mediating service. (This is fuzzy, as some services do a bit of “I am sending you an email on behalf of X”. It really comes down to feel.
  • I feel like money is going to the individual or small company I have connected with. I don’t feel like I’m getting a deal at their expense 9this is where fee transparency is helpful).
  • In many cases I feel like I have a stake in the success of the individual / project / company beyond the specific transaction. Even if I never make another purchase, I might want to keep up with what’s going on. I’d feel bad if the company went down or the project was a failure. I’m invested in their success!
  • Individuality. All mediating services place some limits on a merchant’s ability to have a unique experience, but these all do so in fairly limited ways. The more restrictive services (Airbnb, eBay) still let some personality through. PayPal and Square only really limit the payment experience, which is not where most merchants want to show their character anyway. Bandcamp in particular lets musicians customize their pages very heavily, and in fact is happy to have their brand fade into the background and make it entirely about the musician / fan connection.

So, after all that introspection, I guess what I really meant was:

I’m not at all tired of mediated online commerce that helps me make personal connections with vendors, that allows the personality of individual vendors to come through, that allows me to support vendors in monetary and non-monetary ways,  that allows me to communicate directly with vendors, and that helps give me a personal stake in the vendor’s success.

Bits and pieces from Reality is Broken

Another book finished: Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and How they can Change the World by Jane McGonigal. I've seen Jane speak at SXSW — she's phenomenal. The core ideas are not new to me (because I've seen her speak), but she fleshes them out in more detail & adds some nuance and research. Which is nice, and increasingly rare for a Current Thinky Book — I'm getting frustrated by books that don't have anything more to say than what the author's 20 minute TED talk said.

Anyway, these are the bits that caught my eye. More definitional & pragmatic, so more from the front of the book–the back of the book is more the world-changing ARG stuff, which is fine but not what I'm looking for right now.

First, an examination of two related concepts: hard fun and fun failure. (Funnily enough a Berenstein Bears book I was reading with my daughter also covered hard fun.)

Hard fun is what happens when we experience positive stress, or eustress (a combination of the Greek eu, for "well-being," and stress.) From a physiological and neurological standpoint, eustress is virtually identical to negative stress: we produce adrenaline, our reward circuitry is activated, and blood flow increases to the attention control centers of the brain.  (p 32)

But without positive failure feedback, this belief is easily undermined. If failure feels random or passive, we lose our sense of agency—and optimism goes down the drain. As technology journalist Clive Thompson reminds us, “It’s only fun to fail if the game is fair—and you had every chance of success.”
That’s why Nicole Lazzaro spends so much time consulting with game developers about how, exactly, to design failure sequences that are spectacular and engaging. The trick is simple, but the effect is powerful: you have to show players their own power in the game world, and if possible elicit a smile or a laugh. As long as our failure is interesting, we will keep trying—and remain hopeful that we will succeed eventually. (p. 67)

Next, some detail around Your MP's Expenses, a crowdsourced investigation by the Guardian after the UK expenses scandal (you may remember the floating duck island incident):

The game interface made it easy to take action and see your impact right away. When you examined a document, you had a panel of bright, shiny buttons to press depending on what you’d found. First, you’d decide what kind of document you were looking at: a claim form, proof (a receipt, invoice, or purchase order), a blank page, or “something we haven’t thought of.” Then you’d determine the level of interest of the document: “Interesting,” “Not interesting,” or “Investigate this! I want to know more.” When you’d made your selection, the button lit up, giving you a satisfying feeling of productivity, even if all you’d found was a blank page that wasn’t very interesting. And there was always a real hope of success: the promise of finding the next “duck pond” to keep you working quickly through the flow of documents.
A real-time activity feed showed the names of players logged in recently and the actions they’d taken in the game. This feed made the site feel social. Even though you were not directly interacting with other players, you were copresent with them on the site and sharing the same experience. There was also a series of top contributor lists, for the previous forty-eight hours as well as for all time, to motivate both short-term and long-term participation. And to celebrate successful participation, as well as sheer volume of participation, there was also a “best individual discoveries” page that identified key findings from individual players. Some of these discoveries were over-the-top luxuries offensive to one’s sense of propriety: a £240 giraffe print or a £225 fountain pen, for example. Others were mathematical errors or inconsistencies suggesting individuals were reimbursed more than they were owed. As one player noted, “Bad math on page 29 of an invoice from MP Denis MacShane, who claimed £1,730 worth of reimbursement, when the sum of those items listed was only £1,480.”
But perhaps most importantly, the website also featured a section labeled “Data: What we’ve learned from your work so far.” This page put the individual players’ efforts into a much bigger context—and guaranteed that contributors would see the real results of their efforts. (p. 222-223)
What I like about that is how easily you can imagine applying some of these things to non-investigative crowd-sourcing situations.
Also on crowdsourcing, a warning against building in compensation schemes:

The logic behind these practices is that if people are willing to contribute for free, they'll be even happier to contribute when they're compensated. But compensating people for their contributions is not a good way to increase global participation bandwidth, for two key reasons.

First, as numerous scientific studies have shown, compensation typically decreases motivation to engage in activities we would otherwise freely enjoy. If we are paid to do something we would otherwise have done out of interest–such as reading, drawing, participating in a survey, or solving puzzles–we are less likely to do so in the future without getting paid. Compensation increases participation only among groups who would never engage otherwise–and as soon as you stop paying them, they stop participating.

Second, there are natural limits on the monetary resources we can provide in a community of participants. Any given project will have only so much financial capital to give away; even a successful business will eventually hit an upper limit of what it can afford to pay for contributions. Scarce rewards like money and prizes artificially limit the amount of participation a network can inspire and support. (p. 242-3)

Finally, an explicit crowd-sourcing=MMORPG analogy with Wikipedia:

Second, Wikipedia has good game mechanics. Player action has a direct and clear result: edits appear instantly on the site, giving users a powerful sense of control over the environment. This instant impact creates optimism and a strong sense of self-efficacy. It features unlimited work opportunities, of escalating difficulty. As the Wikipedians describe it, "Players can take on quests (WikiProjects, efforts to organize many articles into a single larger article), fight boss-level battles (featured articles that are held to higher standards than ordinary articles), and enter battle arenas (interventions against article vandalism)." It also has a personal feedback system that helps Wikipedians feel like they are improving and making personal progress as they contribute. "Players can accumulate experience points (edit count), allowing them to advance to higher levels (lists of Wikipedians by number of edits)." (p. 230 -1)

Thief, thief, thief! Baggins!

I'm slowly reading "The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion" by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull. It's a dense exegesis of LOTR and clearly for pretty obsessive Tolkien fans only.

It's a lot of fun, though. My favorite so far is finding out that baggins is, among other things, English country speak for afternoon tea.There's also layers of bag related language play: Bag-end is Anglicized cul-de-sac (which is in turn faux French), Baggins vs. Sackville Baggins, etc.

I like dense naming. See also Warren Ellis's explanation of how he names characters, in part:

For instance: I’m working on something right now where I think I’ve nailed the character name finally. Birch. Birch = wood = connotes a degree of strength and basic groundedness. But also birching = flagellation. Also, “John Birch Society,” skeevy and untrustworthy. And it’s a hard, sharp word. There’s a lot about the character that unpacks out of the name.

I'm working with some folks on a product name right now. It's hard. And I think the good ones have dense (and sometimes non-obvious) layers of meaning, just like in fiction.

Some pretty random thoughts about Internet stuff

These are unorganized thoughts that are bouncing through my head right now.

  • Facebook and Twitter could become less ephemeral. I first said should not could, but there's a trade-off there. The reason for becoming less ephemeral is to allow users to collect and re-assess their fleeting thoughts and links and conversations for later consideration. The reason not to, of course, is that sometimes you don't want that.
  • On balance, though, I'd rather have it than not. After all, I'm pretty sure that (in some abstracted sense at least), it's being done about my data for other reasons. Why don't I get to play?
  • I'm hearing more about Livejournal from outside the circle of people-who-have-been-using-it-all-along. I doubt it is going to have a renaissance in a business or growth sense, it's more that folks are figuring out some of what was right about  it all along. I tend to think about this in terms of UI details (like putting the "who this post will be exposed to" option very clearly under every post) that emphasize its flexibility on the public / friends / private axes. This person seems to think somehting similar. But it's not just about that axis, there's also something about navigating the line between intimacy (Facebook, at it's best) and publicity (regular blogs).
  • I'm pretty sure that last is at least one reason why Tumblr is taking off as it is. It has really nailed the feeling of connecting intimate communities while also constantly running into new things.
  • I wish it had a "friends-only" post feature, though. That's Livejournal talking again.
  • On a third axis (personal control), I was and am pretty skeptical of the chances of Diaspora's success. But this post on why gender is a text field on Diaspora is one of the finest things I've seen in a long time and pleases me muchly.

When OAuth Fails: A Visual Guide

If you rely on 3rd party authentication (like OAuth, Facebook Connect, or similar) for your site, or you are planning to, you should spend a little time thinking about what happens if those 3rd parties are unavailable.

Facebook has very good uptime (Twitter somewhat less so, though improving), but very good is not the same as perfect, as a lot of people found out on September 23rd, when they had their worst outage in 4 years. (It’s to their credit that their worst outage was only 2.5 hours long!)

While they were down, I grabbed some screenshots of what happened at sites that relied on facebook Connect for login. The results were interesting.

When you log in to Typepad, this is what you’re supposed to see. You can use your Typepad account (if you have one) on the left, or one of many alternatives on the right. The default alternative is Facebook, so Facebook Connect’s button appears:


Except, of course, if it doesn’t:


(Note: I actually still get this on Typepad sometimes, so it’s possible it’s an unrelated issue.)

On Hunch, the button was not an issue (probably because it wasn’t stored on a Facebook server):



TheFacebook Connect screen the button led to, however, was down completely.



Finally, Plaxo’s Facebook Connect screen gave me this fun warning, which I suspect means I caught it while facebook was in the process of coming back up.

What to do?

Well, relying on 3rd parties isn’t new, as anyone who’s worked on a payment flow with a 3rd-party payment processor can tell you. (And this is easier, because you probably aren’t in the middle of a financial transaction.)

You should think through what happens if the service is unavailable (including things like visual assets) and make sure your screen still makes sense to the user.To te extent possible you should try to avoid simply loading blank pages — if you can, detect the outage and give a message to the user. It’s nice if you have alternative means of logging in, but in most cases a simple “wait and try again” would be sufficient.


Identity Providers and 3rd -Party Authentication, Some Data

Inspired by Luke Wroblewski's Data Monday blog posts, I rounded up some numbers on identity and authentication on the web.

I'm particularly interested in the growth of third-party authentication, OAuth, OpenID, and Facebook Connect.

Here are some numbers from Gigya (a "social optimization" service), from May 2010:

  • Facebook is by far the most frequently used identity provider, with 46% of logins across the web, compared to 17% from Google, 14% from Twitter, 12% from Yahoo, 7% from MySpace, 2% from LinkedIn, and 1% from AOL.
  • Twitter does far better when looking at commenting on or sharing news stories, with 45% of the total compared to Facebook's 25% and Google's 16%.

Data from JanRain's RPX service, published in April 2010, shows a slightly different picture:

  • Google was picked for 39% of logins, compared to Facebook at 23%, Yahoo at 12%, Twitter at 6%, Windows Live at 3%, and all others totalling 15%.
  • JanRain had slightly different numbers for some verticals, with Facebook logins making up 45% of both logins at media company sites and on technology platforms.
  • When measuring publishing activites back to social networks using a sample set of sites, users shared to Facebook 54% of the time, Twitter 38& of the time, Yahoo 9%, and MySpace 8%.

Leah Culver measured logins and signups on TypePad's platform in September 2009 and found the following:

  • 73% were using Typepad accounts, but 27% were using another identity provider. The largest percentage were from Facebook (13%), followed by Google (5%), Twitter (4%), and Yahoo (2%).
  • When looking at signups (rather than logins), however, Typepad saw growth of 775% in non-Typepad identity providers from June to September. This growth is linked to redesigns that promoted use of alternative identity providers.

Facebook's own data contains a few tidbits about Facebook Connect:

  • A case study with SimplyHired showed that "users who log in with Facebook are twice as engaged as non-Facebook
  • They also state that "More than 150 million people engage with Facebook on external websites
    every month."


Design and managing risk

Ever thought about hanging out your own shingle? If so, you’d better think about how you’ll handle health insurance. If you’d be covered through a spouse’s insurance, you’re probably set, but otherwise you might have to buy individual health insurance, which typically costs more. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get individual health insurance, since it could be denied to you for all sorts of reasons — from serious prior conditions to minor ones like allergies, ear infections, or joint sprains. Or because you’d been a lumberjack or carnival worker. (Here’s a list of over 50 reasons health insurers may reject you. It’s scary stuff.)

Jacob Hacker talks about healthcare as one type of increasing risk for folks in the US in his book The Great Risk Shift, along with retirement and jobs. It’s a great book, full of meaty policy goodness (if you like that sort of thing), but the basic point is simple: in some important ways, Americans are at greater risk of dramatic swings in income, prolonged job loss, massive healthcare costs, and other forms of economic insecurity than in the past. For example, he states that "The chance that a person with average demographic characteristics will
experience a 50 percent or larger drop in income over a two-year period
has risen from 7 percent in the early 1970s to 17 percent in 2002." So it’s not just healthcare risks we have to worry about. He goes on to talk about both the causes of this shift and some possible policy solutions, and I hope we’ll hear more about some of those solutions as the various presidential campaigns start heating up.

So, what does this have to do with design (other than discouraging design entrepreneurs starting their own consultancies)? Well, while actually fixing the problems probably requires national policy changes, those can take a while. In the meantime, we can think about designing products and services that can help folks at least manage these risks.

I first started thinking about this when Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, came to talk to the product team at eBay a while ago. He’s a pretty engaging speaker, and frames the history of the company as a series of products inspired by deep customer insights — insights which he cheerfully admits they came to very late in some cases. One such case was the origin of Quickbooks — for many years Intuit researchers noticed that a significant number of Quicken users seemed to be small businesses. This didn’t make any sense, as it was designed for home financial use, not accounting — until they eventually realized that there was a need for small business accounting software designed for non-accountants.

I was intrigued by his mentioning, as a similar case, a new software product created specifically to manage health insurance paperwork Quicken Medical Expense Manager. It turns out that the inspiration for this came from even closer to home, as this story (PDF) relates:

Dan Robinson’s life changed forever in the winter of 2000. His newborn son entered the world with a rare illness that required a life-saving heart surgery — the first of many, it would turn out — when he was just two months old …

At the time of his son’s birth, Dan was an engineering manager with the Quicken team and Intuit Inc. As the parent of a child with a serious medical condition, he experienced firsthand how stressful managing medical expenses can be.

By 2001, the Robinson’s medical bills exceeded $1.2 million. "I felt overwhelmed by the number of bills and statements — I was unable to make sense of it all, Robinson said …

Robinson developed his own basic medical expense management  software program and proposed a more formal software solution to the Quicken organization for development.  At first his ideas was met with skepticism, but eventually he was given the go ahead to pursue it.  The premise was simple: develop a product that could help track  healthcare expenses and insurance for individuals and families.

I think this is an amazing example of product design targeting a real and scary risk (the risk of bankruptcy due to overwhelming healthcare costs) and helping empower individuals to manage that risk. Product designers have a tendency to talk about what good things using their product will do for their customers — but sometimes the  best path is to help  manage risks, i.e. reduce the likelihood of bad things happening.

Edit: My friend Karen posted about this subject (and dictators and complex systems) a little while ago.