This is the third interview in Chapter 4 in my new book, Designing Media

Jessie Scanlon, November 2009

I had often heard about Jessie Scanlon’s work and enjoyed her writings before meeting her in person, so I was thrilled when she suggested that we record an interview for a BusinessWeek podcast to talk about my recently published book Designing Interactions. We met in Boston in December 2006 at a restaurant where we could enjoy a lunchtime conversation before finding a quiet corner to record the interview. I was very impressed by her depth of knowledge and perceptive questions as well as her graceful manner. It was my pleasure to ask her to be interviewed for Designing Media. Jessie writes about design and innovation. In 2005, she joined Bruce Nussbaum at BusinessWeek.com, just as he was starting work on the online venture. She was the senior writer and editor for Innovation and Design, responsible for the site's day-to-day output. She wanted to create a strong, new offering that would be truly innovative and well designed, but found that the limitations of the preexisting Web site made it impossible to achieve many of her goals early on. The site's content has gradually evolved to represent the initiative more successfully.

Considering the basic question

Jessie points to a classic design lesson about understanding customers. She thinks that BusinessWeek should have done more thorough research in advance of designing the online offering, as the initial vision was to help designers and businesspeople connect and interact more productively. As time went by and they heard back from readers, they discovered that more and more businesspeople were interested in learning about design as they saw innovation and design operating together. The audience evolved to become mostly businesspeople who want to use design processes to help them solve difficult problems in new ways. I wonder, Would a design research effort at the beginning have revealed this, or was it necessary to dive in with an experiment and “live life in beta?” Design is usually most successful when the process includes an iterative cycle of understanding people and trying a prototype solution, so perhaps a combination could have been more productive.

iPhone – iTunes app

The need for well-designed templates also comes out of Jessie’s interview. An optimal balance between control and freedom is essential. Control is needed to give consistent visual identity and navigational behavior, but creative freedom is also necessary to make the design come alive and be responsive to the mood of individual content. The graphic designers, typographers, and art directors of print magazines have evolved a sophisticated balance between these priorities, but the early online equivalents tend to be mired down by their algorithmic controls, limiting creativity and flair. Jessie points to the design of the iPhone as a success story, with the tool kits provided to application developers giving the right balance between consistency and freedom, yielding good results even when the application developer has very little empathy for the design guidelines.

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