LiveScribe Pros and Cons

I’ve been using LiveScribe products since April ’09 and consider myself a heavy user (filled seven journals, ~100 interviews and conversations recorded). I’m still using the first generation pen, the Pulse 2GB which still works perfectly fine for me. The new one is the Echo, which is available in 4GB (~$150.00 USD) and 8GB (~$200.00 USD)

Overall assessment?

Buy one and try it out. It’s not a lot of money for how useful you’ll find it.

How does it work?

Photo of my LiveScribe pen and notebook


  • The Pulse is a souped-up voice-recording pen. It has a video camera at the business end which works with a special microdot paper to capture stroke order and tie it to what is being said at that time. There is additional info and video on their site if you want more details.
  • There’s a built in speaker, or you can use headphones for playback.
  • There’s an associated desktop sw package to backup and access the files.
  • Works with Mac or PC (I’ve tried both)
  • You can play back the recordings by tapping on the words in the notebook, or view an image of the page with strokes and sound using the LiveScribe desktop application

What’s it good for?

  • It’s helpful to be able to go back later and hear what people really said. Even though I’ve done hundreds of hours of interviews, sometimes I still get caught up in thinking about the next question and don’t focus on LISTENING. Now I’m able to record the interview while I take notes and have the option to listen to the whole thing later. Listening after the interview can result in an big increase in comprehension when you’re interviewing multiple people at once, or when the discussion is about something you’re not familiar with.
  • Not as intimidating as a recorder. I’ve never had anyone balk when I ask if I can “use my pen to record some of our conversation so I can concentrate on what they say.”
  • Great for capturing what people say in their own words. You can hand the pen and book to the person you’re talking to and have them draw you a diagram while talking.
  • With the attached mic/headphones, it does a pretty good job at capturing directional sound (good for group meetings)
  • You can share sound files, .pdfs and hybrid sound/stroke files with other people.


  • You have to buy the special notebooks and nibs. They are no more expensive than Moleskine supplies, but you have to remember to keep  them in stock (I’ve not used the print your own paper option).
  • I’m not thrilled with the archiving options. I’m up to journal 7 and it’s hard to access earlier materials.
  • You have to remember to keep it charged. I’ve been stranded once or twice when I forget to turn it off between sessions.

What do you think?

If you also use LiveScribe products, please leave a comment. I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences so I can learn more about what other people are doing.

Our LSM Sketchboard

I had a great time at Lean Startup Machine last weekend and learned a lot. I’d like to give a big shout-out to my collaborators, Gordon Agress, Joshua Haas, Miraya Yao, Ray Schmitz and Sebastian Park who were all enthusiastic, brilliant and cool under pressure. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that the organizers and mentors contributed to making the event so great. It was amazing to spend the weekend with so many thought leaders in the Lean Startup space.

Rather than one long blog post about the whole event, I’ll start by writing about something our group found really helpful and several people asked me about, our sketchboard (that big brown piece of paper with all the stuff stuck on it).

Picture of team at table, with sketchboard on wall
Our team workspace

The challenge

Lean Startup Machine weekend is intense and not for the faint of heart. In just 48 hours, you form a team, decide on an idea to pursue, and create a product using Lean Startup principles and activities. We needed to engage in customer discovery activities in an asynchronous, and yet coordinated way. How would we keep track of what we were doing and understand patterns as they emerged, without a lot of time for synthesis or reflection? Based on some good experiences I’ve had using sketchboards as part of the LUXr program, I decided to build a sketchboard to help us track our evolving understanding of the problem, the users and their needs.

What was on our sketchboard?

Our sketchboard evolved over the weekend.  We added new information and put revised information on top of older versions, but the structure I established at the beginning held up pretty well. I tried to set it up so it supported telling a story about the problem we were solving. The project name and objectives at the top, problem, ecology and competitive information on the left, user research, segmentation and personas on the right.

Note: you can click on the image to see a larger version of the sketchboard


Sketchboard with annotations


A – Our project name “DomainMatcher”

B – Our hypothesis, Customer-Problem-Solution statement

C – Competitors in the space

D – Sketch of the ecosystem, with subject matter experts (SMEs) outside buyers and sellers

E/F – This section started out as just two groups domain “sellers” (E)  and domain “buyers” (F) but quickly evolved to visually represent our segmentation theory. Sellers were arranged by low # domains to high # domains held and buyers were arranged into buckets (founders, advertisers, blogger/vanity and flippers). The blue tape indicates we engaged with that person. The provisional personas (Sam the seller and Brenda the buyer) were added once we determined our early adopter targets and drew on elements we heard in our conversations with buyers and sellers.

G – Paper prototype of our buyer Minimum Viable Product v.1

H – A reminder of our goals for the weekend, “Question assumptions” “Iterate” and “Get out of the building.”

How it helped us

I expected that this would help our team keep track of the work to be done and help us create a shared understanding of emerging patterns. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly people jumped in, contributed their own elements to the board and used it as a focal point for conversation. I believe a healthy sketchboard is owned by the entire team, and isn’t the work of a single person.

Mariya uses the sketchboard to engage with Hiten
Mariya and Ray work with Hiten

An unexpected side-benefit was how it made it easier for us to engage with other people. Several mentors and LSM participants came by, looked at the board and said “OK, I get it, here’s something I can do to help.” It was great to have a visual artifact we could use to quickly orient other people to our project and where we stood, pretty much in real time.


More about sketchboards

If you want to see another example of a sketchboard used in a slightly different way (with a nifty video), check out this post from the Adaptive Path blog “Sketchboards: Discover Better + Faster UX Solutions.”

More about Lean Startup Machine

Lean Startup Machine is a weekend long boot-camp where entrepreneurs learn Lean Startup principles through real-world problem solving and coaching from mentors that get it. In 48 hrs, you’ll pitch an idea, form a team and attempt to build something customers actually want. The prize? Cash, mentorship and glory. This is a single weekend that will change how you think about building startups forever.


Getting ready for LSM

I’m attending Lean Startup Machine this weekend. Participants were selected via application. At the event we’ll pitch ideas and form small teams of people with business, tech and design skills. (Hooray for cross-functional and collaborative teams!) We’ll learn Lean Startup methods by doing customer discovery and making things together. The program runs Friday night through Sunday eve and there are prizes at the end for the best projects.

I want to get the most out of the experience so I am preparing for it. One aspect is establishing what I personally want to get out of the event. Here’s my objective.

I’m agnostic about the platform and idea I work on this weekend. What matters to me is:
– The team has a good mix of skills
– The team plays well together
– The idea we’re working with is relevant to people who are easily accessable this weekend

LSM participants have many different skill sets and personal objectives. I can’t assume they know me, or anything about what I do. Because of my own objectives, It matters to me that I attract compatible working partners. I created this brief bio and shared it with the group list before the event. It was hard to write because a) in this context, I’m a learner not an expert and b) I do have something to offer and don’t want to under-sell myself. This is what I shared with the group.

Here’s why you would be interested in working with me:
– I am a UXer with big experience and a small ego
– I am great at finding people to talk to and listening to them
– I make quick, lightweight concept sketches (pen/paper)
– I help teams quickly generate ideas and decide on a course of action

My other form of prep is research. I’m reading books and blogs and watching videos. I am trying to figure out “what is lean startup?” “how does it work? “who are the thought leaders?” “where are the examples of people’s experiences with it?”


  • The Lean Startup movement is young, decentralized and experiential/evolving.
  • Eric Ries identifies it as a movement, not a method or process, and acknowledges participation from prior art and other contributors. (Kent Beck/XP/agile, Steve Blank/Customer Development)
  • It draws on a large existing body of information that requires the learner to know “prior art” or be able to dig back to understand it (e.g. some knowledge of agile terms and practices is assumed).
  • There’s a LOT of amazing great stuff out there if you can find it.


  • As a person newly interested in the movement, I’ve needed to figure out who are the people who are relevant, then do a lot of research into their blogs/videos (and a little into tech press) to figure out what matters.
  • A lot of the conversation is happening on lists, and at conference proceedings (which aren’t always very well documented)
  • There’s a lot of cross-checking involved (e.g. watching a video, the speaker will reference something I need to go follow up)

What’s useful

  • I find Eric Ries’ “talking head” videos about “what is Lean Startup” “What is a MVP” etc, very helpful. Some of them are informal, some of them are a little more produced, but they’re great for linking/sending to people to say “see, this is what I mean…”
  • I’ve found SocratED helpful, because it pulls together some of these distributed resources in a curated way.
  • I’m finding delicious somewhat helpful, mostly to track my own progress, but somewhat to find other links tagged “lsm” and “lean startup.”
  • Quora hasn’t been very helpful to me yet. Still trying to figure out how to use it effectively.

I’ll post some more impressions after the event, watch this space!

Demystifying Mentoring

I just found the article “Demystifing Mentring” from Amy Gallo on the Harvard Business Review. She points out the following “myths” about mentoring and follows up with some useful do’s and don’ts. Here’s my thoughts on her Myths.

Myth #1: You have to find one perfect mentor

I agree, this one’s a myth! You will find that you many have different mentors as you progress through your career, or you many have one mentor who helps you with some aspect of your development and a different mentor for another aspect. For example, you might have one person who works with you advise you on how to navigate the personalities you work with. You might want to talk to someone outside your organization for advice about your next career move.

Myth #2: Mentoring is a formal long-term relationship

I have mixed feelings about this one. I agree that it doesn’t have to be formal (and I prefer both mentors and apprentice relationships to be casual and friendly) but I do feel that my most significant relationships have been over a long term. If your mentor does not know you well, they’re just providing advice. This isn’t a bad thing, I just see mentorship as going deeper.

Myth #3: Mentoring is for junior people

Yep, I agree it’s a myth.  I seek out mentors in areas where I need to grow, and I am happy to help people who are either older or more experienced than I am in areas where i have something to offer them.

Myth #4: Mentoring is something more experienced people do out of the goodness of their hearts

Again, this one is mixed. I am partly motivated to provide help to people because I believe in the value of Interaction Design and I want to see more people have success in their own practice. That’s a somewhat altruistic motivation. At the same time, my experience has been that I get as much as I give when I mentor people. It’s a huge source of satisfaction for me when someone acquires a new skill they wanted to gain, or when they land that dream job that they felt was out of reach. Pure gold!

And, what do you think?


Maturing a Practice

@jaremfan (Boon Yew Chew) referred me to this paper. I had a little trouble processing the information because of the dense academic language, however it seems that the authors recommend “practice led research” (PLR) to transform the “seemingly inherent and natural acts found in casual practice into the formal arrangement of accepted truths and regulated practices of a discipline for user experience design (UXD) and information architecture (IA) communities of practice.”

Hobbs, Fenn and Resmini would like to see more rigor applied to the disciplines of UXD and IA.“…this paper presents an examination of the field of user experience design (UXD) in general, and information architecture (IA) in particular. We note that although the field is comprised of numerous fields and communities of practice and that it benefits from the theoretical inheritance of related disciplines (it is multi-disciplinary in nature) collectively it lacks the benefits associated with an institutionalized discipline of its own. They are concerned that “... the present community of practice is characterized by an abundance of know-how and opinion, which is in fact a threat, and a disservice to the larger benefit experienced as a result of applying UXD.”

The author’s opinion is that in order to mature, the practice of UXD must become more formalized. “Through an exploration (and some definition) of practice and discipline we come to understand the benefits to be gained from maturing the community of practice of UXD to that of an institutionalized discipline. Scholarly research and the creation of scientifically validated knowledge is a key element in this process of maturation.”

To accomplish this, the authors recommend that designers take more responsibility for rigor in their work and adapt design methods to “identify and explicate knowledge, theories and practices.” They want us to bring our dialog within academic channels, instead of the Web (newsgroups, blogs, etc.) They believe there is an opportunity to create a structure of scientific validity around design practices that can benefit the both the design profession and the individual work of designers.

There were several aspects of the paper that I found helpful/interesting:

  • There’s a good overview of the UXD/IA space, including a diagram of Morville’s “Big Architect, Little Architect” view of information architecture and related fields and Boersma’s T-model of user experience.
  • There’s some good background on Communities of Practice (COP) and an interesting thought about how they evolve.

“A community of practice (COP) is usually a group of people who are united by their interest in a particular field of knowledge. …COP’s are natural and powerful resources for learning and knowledge (Verna, 2000:4) and take place in reference to the “real execution of work” (Brown, in Verna, 2000:4). According to Etienne Wenger, communities of practice:

  • are nodes for the exchange and interpretation of information (2008: 5);
  • are fundamentally self- organizing systems. (2008: 3);
  • reflect the member’s own understanding of what is important and what their practice is about. They are organised around what matters to members as opposed to business interests. (2008: 4);
  • are mostly informal (2008: 3);
  • exist within businesses, across business units and across organisational boundaries. (2008: 4);
  • are areas of knowledge as opposed to particular tasks; they have an identity and facilitate a shared practice and collective learning. (2008: 3);
  • can retain knowledge tacitly and explicitly and steward competencies, (2008: 6);
  • exist in a number of stages. (2008: 3).

The authors believe that the current state of UXD practice is on the verge of moving from casual (practice-led) to a more formal professional discipline, although I feel they are somewhat disparaging about the activities they mention.

“In UXD, a move from casual practice towards institutionalization has emerged in recent years. Examples of this shift include the establishment of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the Interaction Design Association (IxDA). Published thought leaders exist, although remarkably a number of them do not self-identify as either information architects or user experience designers. Specialist publishers like O’Reilly and Rosenfeld Media are printing for the practice but their offer does not qualify as either academic or scientific. Similarly, a vast body of content, largely available on the World Wide Web and the Internet, provides the practitioner with a literally endless body of know-how for use in design practice, but little of this is of scientific interest, and often dispersed. Perhaps the most significant development of late has been the creation of the peer-reviewed Journal of Information Architecture.”

So, how can this be remedied? The authors suggest that we develop processes by which the intermediate artifacts of the design process can be validated (it’s unclear to me who they are suggesting do this, perhaps by academic researchers?)

“Within newer fields of design practice such as UXD and IA a high proportion of the knowledge is embedded in the artifacts which are the result of the design process. This differs from established fields of practice that contain a strong sense of disciplinary identity such as Law, where a large quantity of the knowledge resides in textual accounts. The codification of the knowledge contained in a field guides practitioners in terms of the expectations and limits of the field.”

Next, the authors discuss how practitioners could partner with researchers (e.g. “practice led research”) to communicate their hypothesis as well as their results.

“In practice-led research (PLR), the artifact has a central position in the academic research process. In PLR, ‘articulation and dissemination of the research findings take place both through the product of making [the artifact] and established means: these are seen as dialogical, interrelated and iterative (Faber, 2009). Practice informs knowledge which reciprocally informs practice.”

“PLR, although variously defined, can be considered to be a ‘self-reflexive’ form of research where:

  • the artist / designer / creative practitioner provides a rigorous critical analysis of their work, positioning it within broader contextual / theoretical / historical / discursive research paradigms;
  • articulation of the processes involved in making the product of research form an important part of the research findings;
  • articulation and dissemination of the research findings takes place both through the product of making and established academic means. These are seen as dialogical and interrelated (Faber, 2009:7).”

As a practical matter, this concept of using PLR to advance the formalization of our practice would require us to overcome some pretty significant obstacles:

  • UXD combines elements of graphic design, architecture, anthropology, industrial design, library science, ergonomics and marketing. That’s a pretty big collection of topics to gather into one practice or framework.
  • Most UXD and IA practitioners are not used to writing or scholarly articles, or interacting with the academic community.
  • There are issues of confidentiality and intellectual property (IP) in much of a designer’s work.
  • The objectives of design research and particular design process chosen for a given project (which are now often informal at best) would need to be re-framed to include new objectives to support the academic research element.

The authors have a certain realism about this issue, stating “The kind of self reflective documenting of process as recommended by PLR may very well not extend beyond a project post mortem or case study, if they are created at all, and often these kinds of documents are not part of the act of making but rather after-thoughts queued onto the end of a project.” But they also rather wistfully add, “The space of documenting-while-designing, recording learning’s, feelings, meanings, decisions, measuring effectiveness and documenting contextual factors while on a project could provide a wealth of knowledge for the practicing community and could provide greater validation for the methods, tools and techniques of the field.”

Reflecting on this paper, I am left with a few thoughts:

  • I agree that we can learn from more “real world” stories and case studies. I’ve participated in the call to create them, and made my own work available in this format. I think that boiling down our learnings into patterns and proofs is actually counterproductive. We need context to be able to understand and determine the appropriateness of a particular solution to our situation. I’ve yet to find a design pattern library or process diagram that could be used for more than just a starting point for ideas.
  • As a person who coaches interaction designers and has taught interaction design practices for many years, I realize that there are many methods to produce good work, different methods work for different people and different situations require different approaches. I am skeptical that we are able to produce a system anything like the legal or scientific system which can be governed by rules, guidelines and absolutes.
  • I am more conscious and self-reflective about my process than most designers I know. The times I’ve tried to share what works for me in a professional or academic environment I’ve been stymied by the formality of the process. If the academic community is interested in hearing our voices, how are they reaching out to our communities to create these partnerships for publication?

Let’s talk about apprenticeship at IxDA’11

If you’re going to the Interaction Design Association conference, Interactions ’11, I’d love to meet you!

[posted to the event board]

I’d like to talk to people interested in the subject of apprenticeship and the craft of Interaction Design. Our field is both wide and deep. Even after you gain enough skills to get started, it’s a lifelong journey to explore new areas and become better at what you do.

I believe that we can help each other be better practitioners by providing supportive work situations and by developing professional relationships with more advanced practitioners in the field.

I consider myself both a teacher and a student. I’ve been a mentor to several interaction designers over the past year. I just started a program of study in graphic design. I started a blog on the subject to write about my experiences

Please let me know if you’d like to get together and share stories!

Why do we have a shortage of designers?

@theory143 pointed out an interesting post on Quora titled “Why is there such a stunningly short supply of designers in Silicon Valley right now? The article summary is below.

  1. Design talent is valued more now than it was 5-10 years ago, especially the interaction and user experience design specializations.
  2. Engineering has increased in agility, creating an upturn in the quantity of products requiring design talent.
  3. Design is hard, and the expectations of designers now are much higher than they were in years past.
  4. Design education is lacking in its ability to put out designers of quality that can meet the demands of our current industry.
  5. Downturns in the 2000s left a shortage of mid-career designers.

I don’t disagree with the points above, but I think there are some more forces at work that aren’t mentioned.

Design talent is valued more now
Engineering has increased in agility

I believe that the availability of Web frameworks (e.g. Rails) and lightweight development practices (e.g. Scrum) have made application development easier, and brought interface design into the forefront of product creation. When a developer sits down to make a product now, more of the effort, earlier in the process, is focused on the user experience. The development of mobile products is very UI intensive also. This has increased both the awareness of the need for design, as well as the desire for more people on the team to have competency in design.

Design is hard
Design education is lacking

The creation of digital products is a cross-disciplinary activity that involves groups of people. A successful interaction designer has deep skills in some areas and a general understanding of the entire process. Interaction design is a profession that requires good people skills and facilitation experience. It’s difficult to gain this sort of breadth without the experience that comes over time, working on a variety of projects.

People who focus on the craft of interaction design as a career require time and practice to develop mastery of the techniques. This process can be improved by regular exposure to more experienced practitioners who can provide advice and support.

Downturns in the 2000s left a shortage of mid-career designers.

This may be true, but there’s also an over-emphasis on having the right job titles to be considered appropriate for the job. Many potential interaction designers are currently working as product managers and front end Web developers.

I’ve also observed that the way we hire and place designers isn’t a good fit for the work we want done. It’s a complex skill set, and not all designers have the same strengths. Many hiring managers and HR departments don’t have the first-hand experience with these roles to recruit, screen, place and manage the right people.

Sometimes, the way design jobs are structured aren’t attractive to senior designers. When interaction design work is broken into research, construction and usability, it’s more difficult to have an impact on the product because each individuals’ work is structured as a series of handoffs, rather than as an overall objective for a collaborative team.

Some of my most skilled IxD colleagues have accepted positions as product managers, to have more of impact on the whole product, having felt marginalized by the design related roles available on the team.

How do we grow the next generation of UX talent?

The Shillington School offers learning through theory and hands-on experience working from briefs under real-world timelines. The founder, Andrew Shillington, observed that it was hard to hire people with all skills necessary to be productive in an ad agency.

“As an employer, Andrew sought to hire talented young graphic design graduates but found it increasingly difficult to find those with high-end computer skills, a practical knowledge of design theory and could meet challenging deadlines. It soon became apparent that students leaving schools and universities were not adequately trained in today’s world of computers and design software. And so Shillington School was born.”

I’ve observed the same situation in the UX field. There’s often a mismatch between academic programs and the demands of employment. As an employer of interaction designers, I’ve had difficulty finding people who have a work-ready skill set right out of school. Most often, it takes a couple years working in a professional environment before someone picks up the necessary combination of design thinking skills, tools use, collaboration and facilitation skills, client interaction and project management, and general knowledge of how the business world works. When evaluating an applicant, I want to see their process and approach as well as finished work. Most junior level jobs only expose someone to pieces of a project, and don’t provide opportunities to experience the end-to-end process of finding insight, creating a concept, constructing a prototype or other artifact and validating that with actual users. It’s even less common that someone’s had that chance to do that work as part of a collaborative balanced team.

How can we create work that’s appropriate for a new interaction designer as they gain the full compliment of skills? In an agency setting, it’s possible to partner a less-experienced designer with a more experienced design partner. I’ve seen this work well, however an agency can only take on a limited number of new people in this way. It doesn’t help the individual practitioner who wants to work in-house, or start his or her own company.

What if we could treat apprenticeship as a form of entrepreneurial exercise? The apprentice creates a portfolio piece that follows an idea from research and concept identification to visualization and validation. With that as a basis, we’d just have to figure out how to extend that individual practice into an ability to participate as a part of cross-functional team. Ideally, we could create cross-functional teams and mentor THEM, but would that still be considered apprenticeship, or an incubator?

Advertising and brief-based training

@ifenn pointed me towards the School of Communication Arts, a fee-based mentorship program for the advertising field.

“The style of learning at the school is andragogical – our students take on a huge part of the responsibility for the learning experience. They behave as if employed in a studio. They pitch for business. They work on real briefs. In many ways, we simulate the culture and patterns of their working future.”

The Shillington School also offers learning through theory and hands-on experience working from briefs under real-world timelines. The focus of the program is to help students produce a portfolio.

I believe that learning through real work is more effective (and more enjoyable), however I’m on the fence about how much it matters that the work be self-originated. I’ve created and delivered a brief-based materials for teaching design studio sessions. This was appropriate for teaching skills in a workshop format to a group of people because it fit in a workshop format of a few hours. It was also helpful for the group to share and learn from each others’ results.

When working one-on-one over a longer term mentoring relationship, I’ve found that it’s better to have the person I’m working with find a domain of interest that they felt passion for, and build the program of activities that help them gain the skills they need related to that space. I think that this leads to more engagement in the problems, because it’s more real, and it also leads to ideas that can tie into meaningful work as they pursue employment.

Boon Chew on “why we need UX apprenticeships”

While I was in London a few weeks ago, I had an excellent chat (in an excellent pub) with Ian Fenn @ifenn and Boon Yew Chew @jaremfan about the importance of mentor/apprentice relationships. We’re all exploring these issues in our own practice, so it was a real pleasure to talk to other people who are thinking along the same lines. That conversation was really the genesis of this blog (thanks guys!)

I scribbled a bunch of notes on a napkin which I have not written up yet, but I do want to add a link to an excellent article Boon wrote on the subject, “Why we need UX apprenticeships.I think he’s spot on when he says…

Broadly speaking, there are three main issues that practitioners and the industry is experiencing right now:

  • The huge gap between research and practice
  • Challenges faced by junior and non-UX practitioners seeking to gain employment in UX
  • Difficulty for employers to find UX candidates who can articulate and present good design thinking”