Tag Archives: Development

Creativity and Ambiguity

DressAgainstTreesCongratulations to the City of Frisco for supporting the Arts and infrastructure to ensure a great community continues amid all the growth.

For those who opposed the commitment toward a performing arts center because in their words, “There was no plan” I will tell you what I tell my colleagues in the IT business – And it is this:

“You can be included in the creative process to shape a plan or you can have only finished plans presented to you for approval, but you cannot have both”. – belveal

Everything starts with an idea and a sketch.  A sketch is a representation of an idea, but not everything in detail.  A sketch by its nature contains immense ambiguity.  That ambiguity inspires creative minds to fill in the rest with possibilities.

It is often the same people who complain about being left out of the process that,  when you include them, choke on the unanswered questions. Design is about  solving problems and working hard over a period of time to find and develop answers to all those questions.

Anyone who has ever been successful at creating anything fully understands that there is ambiguity in the early stages. If you cannot handle that, you cannot be successful yourself and you will be in the way of others. The creative process is what converts great ideas filled with questions into finished viable plans with every detail worked out. I suppose this explains why some people perceive new innovations as magic. They just really have no idea what creativity is or how to do it.

For those creatives that do get it, thank you for your vision. There is a lot of work to do to do to make this dream a reality.  Let’s build something awesome!

– roger


It is time for a World Class Performing Arts Center in Frisco, Texas

Many residents are still embarrassed about the great Frisco fumble at the goal line of the North Texas Arts Center project.  Many more would be if they realized what a massive fumble it was.  After leading a four city effort with millions in donations, including a spectacular piece of property, Frisco voted ‘no’ on its future.
See the  Collin County Arts story.  http://www.wfaa.com/story/news/2014/08/13/13745708/

That was nearly five years ago.  Many things have changed.  Frisco continues to be the second fastest growing city in the country.  Now a new group of citizens is raising the issue again.

In joining the conversation, I have three points I would like to make.

Point One – Timing can be everything
In the early 1990s I lived in Seattle and attended many Mariners ball games in the old King Dome Stadium.

I recall when the Mariners weren’t doing all that well and wanted a new stadium.  The King Dome was functional but not very spectacular; it was plain on the inside and downright ugly on the outside.  In fact, I used to drive past the King Dome every day and contemplate what could be done to make it less ugly.  I imagined all sorts of covering or additions.  Finally, I just decided that there was really no way to fix it other than to tear it down and build something better in its place.  I thought, ‘That will never happen!’

There was a lot of debate about public funding for the new stadium. Eventually, it was put to a statewide vote.  Voters decisively voted it down.

Then a funny thing happened.  The mariners started winning ball games.  Those were the days of Ken Griffey Jr, and Randy Johnson.  As the team won more and more games, public opinion suddenly began to change about the stadium.  In a short while, the pervasive sentiment became overwhelming that they should have a new stadium.  There was massive pressure on the state legislature to approve a plan that would provide some public funding.  Lawmakers found themselves in an odd predicament being pressured to approve a plan that had just been rejected by voters a short time before.  After some debate, they did and everyone was happy.   Call it fickle if you wish, but that is how it happened.

Kingdome replacement https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdome
Safeco Field https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safeco_Field

My point is that timing is everything.  In that case, the public sentiment changed due to the excitement of having a winning ball team with some star players.

In our case, here and now, it is the fact that Frisco is booming.  This is really different from how things were five years ago when the Collin County Arts Commission failed.

Five years ago, the economy was in a holding pattern at best.  Enthusiasm for spending money on anything was weak.  The Tea Party had a point.  Well, that was then.  Today, we have the Cowboys facility and the Six Billion (with a B) dollar mile.

Five billion dollar mile
http://friscoedc.com/5-billion-mile http://cheneygroup.com/6-billion-frisco-developments-shabby/

Development is accelerating all around us. The time is right to ask again about an arts center. This time the answer should be easy.  Really, the question should not be ‘If’, but the details of exactly ‘What, Where, and How’.

Point 2 – Appeal to a broader Audience
The Collin County Arts Commission seemed to be only about traditional performing arts, such as symphony and ballet.  I think that’s where they missed the boat.  Appealing to the wider citizenry means heralding a broader spectrum of genres.  Voters need to feel like there would be performances that they would want to attend.  Symphonies and ballet are fine but what about jazz, blues, and rock?  Many classic rock performers are touring these days, gathering large crowds.  The Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie is one example of a great venue for such events.

Point 3 – Make it something unique, something special
Great performers like to play in unique venues.  A few years ago, I went to see Leon Russell at Gruene Hall near New Braunfels, in the Texas Hill Country.  That old place is really just an old barn that is practically falling down.  But people love it. Artists love it.
Gruene Hall

Frisco has a unique mix of old and new.  We have technology companies relocating here and Frisco will soon be the home of a video game history museum.  The impact of technology on our culture is huge.  Frisco also has a very rich history.  Integrating visual art that portrays such a mixture of local history with contemporary tech culture imagery is just one of the ways that this venue might be unique.

My point is that there are other cities with performing arts venues. Let’s make ours special.

Thank you



Fishbone-to-Wishbone: A Recipe for BrainstormChasers

BrainStorming or just Storming?

Somehow, brainstorming has gotten a bad rap. I was actively brainstorming at the white board with a product manager one day. As we were having excellent success at nailing the key elements of the design, he looked at me and said, “My business professor told me this wouldn’t work”.  Hmmm. I wasn’t sure what to say other than I’ve heard that theoretically, bumble bees cannot fly, yet somehow they do.

By the way, rigorous usability testing later on confirmed that the concepts we came up with in that brainstorming session were dead on target. So, I am still a little confused about who is saying brainstorming doesn’t work and why. Perhaps they’re just doing it wrong?? Or maybe I am just using the term too loosely to describe using your brain to analyze and solve problems. ??
Brainstorming  Recipes
As with all recipes, ingredients are important.  So first of all, before you begin, make sure to have an ample supply of good quality brains on hand.  This will make things go better as the process gets messy. Having these ingredients will enable you to improvise in case something doesn’t work as expected or you spot a new opportunity  that  was not anticipated.
Fishbone2Wishbone Recipe

Having been trained in Six Sigma, my tendency is to look for root causes of pain points following the five whys to begin forming hypotheses. Of course, Six Sigma was invented for manufacturing where a given product or process was already defined and typically the tools were used for trouble shooting to reduce defect rates, hence the name.  That has always made it a weird fit for design, where the purpose is the define the not yet defined product or process.

But wait.  Here’s the deal, Flipping this method on its head, one can use the same cause & effect logic to trace the root causes of a good effect, such as customer delight.  Brainstorming potential causes of customer delight based on things you know about the audience (personas), their tasks, the context, the business domain, etc. can produce some very good hypotheses for taking into design.  This can feed the lean methodology.  I have named this my “fish bone to wishbone” method. i.e., Fish bone (Ishikawa diagram) leading to an A B test (wishbone).  Get it?

Maybe my point here is to not simply open the table to ideas, but to have some cause  & effect rationale for forming hypotheses that can then be explored and tested.  Testing hypotheses need not always require a design exercise.  In fact whether you do proceed with a design to test or not, you should attempt to prove or disprove each hypothesis with existing available data.  Sometimes this along is enough. Or it may direct you to a more focused design exercise. 

Typically, there maybe multiple ideas swirling as to what is the way forward.  Simply gathering up everyone’s assumptions and ideas is constructive IF you restate all of them as testable hypotheses. This can be a great way to cut through folk lore, eliminate churn and move the team forward. Of course (here comes the disclaimer) group dynamics are still at work and your mileage may vary. Cheers.

– roger

or Fishbone2wishbone
copyright 2013 Roger Belveal  😉

On Hammers & Nails

A visionary is someone who understands the problem at a level of abstraction such that when a potential solution appears, he can spot how it might fit the need, even though it isn’t packaged in a box with a label that says, “Solution to the problem”.

Back when the web happened along, I happened to be studying ways to deliver large amounts of maintenance data to airlines online. The problem was complex. Airlines wanted updates immediately; an updated CDROM every 90 days was not sufficient. Large data transmissions were tedious and error prone. All the client reader solutions required that customers buy and install certain hardware and software.

When http and the Mosaic browser appeared, I instantly saw in it solutions to many of these problems. What’s more, the more I looked at the potential capabilities, the more I saw of possibilities for solving other problems that I had familiarity with. The list seemed to be endless.

At that time, the official word on the web from all of my management was that it was just a fad and would never be a company standard. Somewhere in the archives of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company is a request form with my name listed as the petitioner recommending that http and the web browser (Mosaic was the only one at that time) be adopted as an architectural standard. Attached to it is a copy of my long list of potential applications / problems we could solve using it. That list had been forwarded around the company so much that today, it would certinly be caught by a spam filter for all to fwds in the subject line.

Resistance to such a vision seems like nonsense now, but at the time, I was speaking heresy. And i was speaking it anyone and everyone that would listen.

A colleague chided me saying “To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. He was right. And now, after nearly two decades of the World Wide Web, it is plainly evident that everything was in fact, a nail.

I saw the future corectly; even my outlandish vision was a gross underestimation.  My only regret is that I was in an ill position to capitalize on it properly. I didn’t start or join a dot.com and I struggled to find a niche among others who shared the same vision.  As the sci-fi stories often conclude, seeing the future and being able to do something about are two different things. I have, however, gotten a little better at it than before.

These days, I have a large box of hammers and like collecting news ones. Some I discover, others I make. Nails come in all shapes and sizes. I still spend a lot of time studying them. And I when it comes to solving problems effectively, I hit the nail on the head on a routine basis. It’s what I do.

If you have a good hammer, don’t be shy. But do study about nails.

– roger, a self-proclaimed visionary and nail hammerer

Yes Virginia, about Unicorns…

I received the following question from a recruiter friend:

Hello Roger,
I need to pick your brain about a position I have for a Experience Architect that requires that person to be a real cody, digital design, technical person. I’m finding that very rare and difficult to come by. I chatted with a Experience Architect of over 30 years and she didn’t know any real languages, because that wasn’t a part of her job. Am I looking for a unicorn?


The short answer is yes and yes.  Yes you are looking for a unicorn.  However, such unicorns do exist, but not very many. There are also cars that float in water and some that have wings that attach to become airplanes. But they are usually mediocre at something. Like any combination of specialized skills, a wise person will realize that something has to give. There are sure to be gaps in either or both categories. You might get lucky and find someone with the exact match you need and you also might win at cards in Vegas.

For the number of job descriptions looking for this unicorn, you’d think they were everywhere. This is a common discussion in tech and UX discussion groups.

What you have is an uninformed client. You are right to try to educate them.

Each profession has its own changing dynamics. Staying current in even one of these professions is a challenge with the rapidity of change. Two is too much. How many languages must one learn to be competent? Which ones? The new ones of course!

Flash & Flex? (oh that is so thrree to five years ago) Now its html5 and CSS,right?  What about IOS?  Responsive design? Photoshop? Fireworks? InDesign? Iconography and graphic design? IA? A/B testing? Object oeriented programming? Agile? What about design patterns for specialized audiences in ecomerce, call centers, CRM, BI, data visualization, dashboards, B2B, B2C, B2E BPE and SixSgma DMAIC? etc. etc. etc.???

What is reasonable is that a good UX person will possess enough knowledge of the technology to design properly for it and coordinate well with the developers. They may even be able to write some code, create pretty good mockups, and assets that a skilled developer can turn into great code.

Similarly, a great developer will understand the basics of a great UI to be able to make the detailed technical decisions that will maintain the spirit and intention of the designer.  Intense collaboration is a virtue that cannot be heralded enough.

Having said all of that, the current trend is that these two fields are converging more than ever before.  The code world is more friendly to UX-minded people than ever before and the awareness of the importance and basic principles of UX are more pervasive among developers than ever before.  So, in effect, the number of unicorns is increasing.

Still, keep in mind that there are also musicians who play multiple instruments well, but not at the same time. There are baseball pitchers who can also play catcher, first base, second base, shortstop and outfield too. A team owner could certainly save some money on salaries!

I think you get my point. Even if someone can do both categories, it becomes a matter of perspective and focus. UX is complex, so is code. The reason for different roles is not skills alone but to track the code and the user perspective in parallel throughout the design process and be able to weigh each carefully at every decision point. If one person is trying to focus on everything at once and keep up a rapid pace on a complex project, something is going to get missed.

But if that’s what the client wants, they may eventually find someone who professes to possess it all. Beware; such people may not know what they don’t know.

It is rumored that the early tales of unicorns were actually based on poor descriptions by first hand witnesses having seen rhinoceroses in the wild. Well, we both know that, aside from having a horn in the middle of its head, a rhinoceros bears a poor liking to the graceful unicorn we typically imagine. But your naive client may not know the difference.

Good luck unicorn hunting!

– roger