Event notes: Study group “Lean UX Redux”

I went to Mixi’s office to attend “Lean UX Redux” [ja], organized by ShibuyaUX.

Inspired by Lean and Agile development theories, Lean UX is the practice of bringing the true nature of our work to light faster, with less emphasis on deliverables and greater focus on the actual experience being designed. Learn more.

ShibuyaUX is a study group consisting of UX people from the big domestic web service providers – Mixi, Rakuten, Gree, GMO etc. The group manages to cross the hurdle of being competitors by being a study group focusing on improving practitioner skills. They’re pretty active and have some kind of event every month or so, which is really great, since there’s no centralized hangout for digital agencies in Tokyo, online or offline.

After the after party
After the after party

In the first hour, four people presented their impressions and findings from Janice Fraser’s Lean UX workshop at ONLab a few months ago.

Presentation material here (all Japanese):

We split up into groups in the second hour and discussed how we could use Lean UX in our work, and then wrapped up with a quick presentation from each team. Long answer short, no one is quite sure!

How do you apply Lean UX in large organizations?

The main focus of our discussions turned out to be how everyone’s company is basically too big, too political or non-agile for Lean UX. And/or, our understanding of it is too shallow to be able to apply the approach in an effective way.

Is Lean UX possible within a waterfall dev culture? Okay, this wasn’t the way the question was asked, but it sums up the situation that many of the participants are in. Or maybe the question was really, what do you do when the UX team is struggling to attain influence within the organization?

“User centered design? We do CEO centered design!” It’s funny, but just for a second. Well, not even.

How to share the success stories of Lean UX with your boss, who has no UX experience This is related to the first topic and obviously not just a matter if Lean UX.

How to align existing user needs with long-term business strategy Someone asked, if management has ideas on business strategy that don’t align with spending a certain amount of resources on fixing the obviously-broken existing product, what’s a UX person to do?

We talked about how to show results and whatnot. I didn’t think my career management advice would be appreciated, so I bit my tongue. (Get on a team that’s working on a product that management gives a sh*t about :P)

How to apply Lean UX when there is already a backlog of development This one is quite interesting, since the question came from a small startup team that’s in the best position to try Lean UX, organization-wise. Not quite sure what the answer should be.

Lean UX Redux
Lean UX Redux

At the event, I got caught up in the whirlwind of organizational issues (because I certainly understand the bothersome constraints!) and then went home grumbling to Chris that it was the exact same conversation we had about agile development a few years ago.

Now that I’ve written up a lot of the discussion points, I think a majority of these concerns can be addressed fairly easily, by agreeing on KPIs with management. KPIs are the common language of the entire company – that’s the whole point! How you reach those KPIs is up to the UX team and then you sell, sell, sell internally.

Let’s put aside Lean UX for a moment, since whether there’s anything new here is up for debate… UX people should be focusing on KPIs more, period.

Update: Here’s a good reference! In Lean UX is not just for lean startups, Jeff Gothelf explains how large companies and agencies can benefit from the lean approach.

All in all

This was my first real foray into the “local” discussions about user experience and I’m very curious to see what else is out there.

I think the scene could really use more hands-on events! Talking is good and all, but I’d be down for rolling up my sleeves and tacking real/fake problems with people from different companies to swap tricks and share best practices. Something to think about for AQ

New Context Conference 2011 Fall
New Context Conference 2011 Fall

Speaking of AQ, our very own Chris Palmieri will be speaking at the next New Context Conference, which has been titled “Lean Startup Camp Tokyo”. It’s on November 3rd and he’s joining a panel with Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab), Brian Flanagan (HyperTiny), and CJ Kihlborn (Elab).

I’ll probably be conked out at home since I’m returning from Berlin that day, but please do say hi to the AQ team if you’re going to be there!

Event notes: Fundraising for cultural organizations

Some quick notes from Miho Ito‘s talk on fundraising for cultural organizations, the 7th study group organized by the Museum Career Development Network [ja]. We heard some fascinating war stories from Ms Ito’s time as a campaign manager at the LA Philharmonic. They operate at a level that’s just unthinkable for a scrappy team like the Gadago NPO. Learning about fundraising from the POV of an established profession was really interesting, and obviously, there are many takeaways for an organization that’s more “f*ck, we’re running out of money”.

Additionally, the landscape is constantly changing and one needs to keep up on things such as law revisions on the loosened requirements for becoming eligible for NPO tax deduction status, and how that’s affecting NPOs in reality. (Ms Ito is a board member for the Japan Fundraising Association.)

Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
Fundraising talk event with Ito Miho
  • Fundraising is dialing the intensity dial of your organization’s fans (This sentence works better in Japanese because “fund” and “fan degree” are homonyms.)
  • Four steps to fundraising: plan, plan, plan, ASK! There’s even a phrase called “The Ask”. I got the feeling that this was the fundraising equivalent of the Elevator Pitch.
  • Always talk about how your activities are changing society, not just about the activities themselves. Because we do great work, Because we run so-and-so program are NOT the ways you want to answer the question, “Why should I donate to your organization?”.
  • Strategize with the donor management cycle Moves Management [pdf].
  • Read more about cultivating individual donors in the Fundraising handbook for cultural organizations [ja, pdf], a research project funded by Toyota
  • Never forget to thank people for contributing something, and from multiple staffers if appropriate. A weekly administrative batch process is fine for paperwork but sending out thank you’s need to be done within 24-48hrs of the action.
  • Categorize your potential donors according to financial capability, distance with the organization, and interest. Keep an eye on celebrities, corporations, executives that might be interested in your cause.
  • Develop tiered programs for your donors, so anyone can participate in a way that’s comfortable to bo their financial capability and interests.
  • Privileges in donor programs such as newsletters, parties, face time with directors etc. are ways to communicate future activities, find out more about donor interets and in turn, can be the first step in asking for the next donation.
  • The best timing to ask for donations is when you are at least 80% that they will say yes. Not before.

All in all, it’s familiar theories applied in a slightly different context.

You and I would recognize most of the philosphy as

“normal” business development, sales, and CRM

methodologies and techniques.

Sure, it’s an over simplification but since we’re not going to get a professional fundraiser anytime soon – as with most small to mid sized NPOs in Japan, I would guess – it’s a bit reassuring for that fact to be highlighted, and perhaps the push I need to be more business-like about these things.

Note: I’d say that staff recruitment, workplace culture and community management have characteristics that are more unique to non-profits, but those topics didn’t come up in the talk.

I asked about volunteering and fundraising, and how it’s a bit difficult to ask for money from someone who already contributes time, especially if they’re students. Her answer was that everyone should get into the habit of asking (or rather, get people into the habit of donating), period. Here’s why:

  • Volunteers are already on board with your mission and are most likely to make a financial contribution.
  • Your organization should be creating on-ramps for different levels of financial contribution anyway.
  • People won’t be students forever! Financial capability usually goes up as time passes, so best start asking now, than have people expect things for free.
  • Consider developing programs where volunteer power can be channeled into fundraising efforts.

One last thing. Most of the audience was Hosei University students – I don’t know what their majors were but it was disappointing to see many of them nodding off and even leaving early. On the way out, I overheard several remarks that the talk was “really difficult”. Was it? Not quite sure, but then I don’t remember anymore…

What NOT to do on your tourism-related website

Into the mist
Into the mist

Keep old transportation schedules

Old bus schedules, old train schedules…. these are really confusing. Get rid of them.

How many times have we been fooled by an old PDF upload of a bus schedule? Trains are better because there are third party services that aren’t dependent on the original source.

Have multiple campaigns for the same discount

The early bird rate, the couples rate, the Internet reservation rate… Hotels, please stop promoting multiple campaigns for the same room.

Yes, we can tell by the automated vacancy count.

Announce events as they’re decided

Don’t get me excited about an event, only to discover that it’s happening one day before we arrive. Or worse, that the article was for the last year.

The blog format for announcing events doesn’t work. We’re only going to be there for a few days, give us an event calendar.

Assume that everybody can drive

As a non-driver, this is a pet peeve of mine. Sometimes, it requires lots of digging to find out if there is public transportation available. I’ve combed through dozens of old blog posts, trying to find evidence of people who reached the entrance of a particular hiking trail by bus.

Inconvenience can be overcome by certainty. If I can confirm that there’s a twice-a-day bus (plus a 25 minute walk, most likely!), I’ll head over.

Ignore other online presences

Does the local tourism board have a good introduction to your area? Don’t be shy, link to it! Is your facility easily influenced by the weather? Nudge the user to check a weather site. Does the major attraction in town have a regularly updated blog? Read it, because your visitors are probably reading it, too.

Just Blue
Just Blue

Is it Instagram-izing or not?

On Rebun Island
On Rebun Island

Taking these photos was a lot of fun, and I like them quite a bit as standalone visuals.

View from Mount Moere
View from Mount Moere
Black and white
Black and white
Dynamic flying
Dynamic flying

Still, I’m very ambivalent about them.

You see, these photos were taken with the art filter functionality of the Olympus PEN E-PL3. Trying not to be an Instagram photo while applying a built-in part of my camera? It seems so silly.

On one hand, if Instagram-ish photos was what I wanted, my iPhone is in my jacket pocket. On the other hand, maybe the over-saturation (ha!) of Instagram photos in everyday life has numbed my ability to appreciate the texture of these images.

I’m fairly certain that the instant gratification of “special” digital effects can and will, in the long run, become a roadblock to becoming better at taking photos.

Am I over-thinking it?

Producing bilingual content for the AQ blog

People ask me all the time how AQ handles having an English blog and Japanese blog. Oh wait, they don’t… they just read articles in their language. Last year, we decided that the two language versions of the AQ site do not need to be mirrored. There can be content that exists only in one language. There can be content that’s similiar but is introduced from a different angle. And of course, there can be content that’s more or less a word for word translation.

In this article, I’ll explain the implications of this approach, at different levels of blogging.

Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night
Chris, power blogging in the darkness of the night

At system level

This philosophy was baked in at the system level when we re-factored our website in Spring 2011. The two blogs are actually two different installations of WordPress, connected by a nifty PHP script that maps different bits of content.

If the page exists in the other language, it will show up. If not, the user will be redirected to the top page of that section, with an unobtrusive dropdown message. The mappings are added manually through a custom browser interface.

When we abandoned the idea that the two languages were two halves of a coin, we also changed the system on a fundamental level.

No longer does the site feel broken when one clicks the language switcher and is given an error page that says the page “is missing or hasn’t been translated yet”. The influence on our mindset as content producers is bigger than you would expect.

At content planning level

When someone has the idea for a blog article, we will ask “does this article work in the other language?”

If it’s a heavy duty article that takes more than a few days to draft, we definitely want it in both languages. An article that’s meant to spark the interest of our Japanese audience might become Japanese only, if it requires extensive re-writing to make it work as an English article. If we know that there will be a bigger impact if published at a certain time, we will prioritize that language.

The potential impact of the article and the availability of resources at that moment will define the how and when of content creation.

Is that the ideal approach to the planning of content creation? Of course not, but for a small company with very limited resources for blogging, it’s the realistic way. Roll with the punches, but smartly so.

At content production level

It’s usually pretty easy to tell if what you’re reading is a translation or not. For an article to feel “translated” is acceptable for a web-related opinion piece, since so much of the ideas and terminology stems from the English speaking world. For a report about one of our events to feel “foreign” is less okay.

As the one responsible for coordinating, editing and WordPressing translated content, I can tell you one thing:

It’s a much smoother process when the “translation editor” is invested in the content production.

Don’t take a conveyer belt approach to translation. It’s not the last step of content production but another beginning, and for both the writer and the translation editor to feel that way influences the quality of the article in the second language.

At content promotion level

This is an easy one. We definitely talk about the articles differently.

Different language, different audience, completely different context!

It’s only recently that we’ve begun to operate Twitter accounts in both languages, so that’s been quite the lesson in different messaging for the very different audiences.

Going back to my opening remark about people reading only reading articles in their language: That’s the way it should be, and if they never give a second thought about the other language, I’ve done my job.

Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha
Tokyo Art Beat at Pecha Kucha

Three very different collaborative spaces in Tokyo

It feels like there’s a new co-working space opening up in Tokyo every week! It’s quite an exciting trend and even though I didn’t purposely seek it out, I happened to visit three collaborative spaces, all in the space of a week.

  • Terminal
  • Tokyo Hacker Space
  • co-lab Nishiazabu


Terminal in Harajuku is the new, cool kid on the block. It’s basically a very nice 24hr Internet cafe with no stalls, with the same type of loose membership system that requires a physical card. You can get wifi, comfortable seats, free refills for great coffee and soft drinks, electricity outlets at every table, and hot paninis (600JPY).


Its launch was brilliantly executed:

  • a teaser site that got a lot of Twitter love from the Tokyo creative community
  • a great opening party
  • masterful copywriting that piggybacks on the nomad working boom
  • pre-mentions and reviews on the right sites

There’s an event space on the first floor. It just was a stripped down, skeleton space when I was there, but I can imagine some exciting events being held there.

Tokyo Hacker Space

I’ve been curious about this space ever since hearing about it at Bar Camp last year. Paul and I hopped over to join the weekly Open Meeting.

Interestingly enough, it’s a “real” house in a quiet, residential neighborhood. There was no signage and we spent a good five minutes peering into houses and glaring at Google Maps.

Tokyo Hacker Space
Tokyo Hacker Space

I say this with the upmost respect – this was the geekiest place I’ve ever been in! It’s a fabulous example of community building; a dynamic atmosphere that’s filled with mutual respect and joy in helping to bring each other’s projects to life.

The focus of the Space fluxes depending on its residents. Currently, there’s a strong hardware focus because Safecast is camped out there, building radiation sensors for deployment around Fukushima prefecture.

co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab Nishi Azabu
co-lab Nishi Azabu

co-lab is a series of collaborative spaces around Tokyo. It’s probably the largest and most established of creative, co-working spaces in Tokyo, and one that’s dear to my heart since Tokyo Art Beat used to be headquartered at the Sanbancho office for a few years.

Purely by chance, the Nishi Azabu building is a 60 second walk from the current AQ/TAB office.

The Nishi Azabu space also hosts furniture giant Kokuyo‘s incubation center for their inhouse designers, called “KREI open source studio”. This brings a much stronger corporate flavor to the space, although there doesn’t seem to be a natural mixing of the KREI people and co-lab residents.

The underground salon area, which is where the non-permanent residents can work, turns into a wonderful event space. We dropped by a talk event organized by the ticketing service Peatix, in co-lab’s underground event space.

Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu
Underground space for co-lab Nishi Azabu