September 27, 2011Comments are off for this post.

Dropping Focus

  

Over the past few days I've been struggling with the decision of whether or not to drop my Finance class. While the class was interesting, informative, and definitely helpful for my future, it was adding a lot of work to my limited amount of time that is already divided among four other classes, work study, my position at 1minute40seconds, and multiple clubs on campus. Then there's also the issue of having "Will" time to write things like this, take photographs, play music, and generally take part in the world around me. But at what point does it become necessary to consider dropping a class instead of plowing ahead and making things work? I always have a hard time quitting things that I've signed up for, feeling as though it's shirking my responsibility. Dropping a class always feels the same way and ultimately figuring out the decision causes a lot of stress.

As I was reaching a relative state of anxiety trying to figure out what the best decision for my future self would be, I came to the important realization that my future self will be able to handle whatever gets thrown at him just as I am able to today. The biggest difference between the unknowns of the future and the knowns of the present is that I am currently able to have a modicum control over the stressors in my life. Once I leave college behind me in May this opportunity will likely be less available to me. As a senior who has always taken more classes than necessary and has taken required classes as soon as possible I have a bit of leeway in determining how I spend my senior year. I realized that I could spend the year taking as many classes as possible while filling my schedule with classes and work so that 12 hour days sans breaks became the norm (as it had been so far this semester), or I could lighten my credit load a bit and participate more in some of the incredible opportunities only offered while in school.

Being at college offers you the incredible opportunity to participate in clubs and organizations of any kind imaginable, which I've done over the past three years. I've played in the Tufts Pep Band and the Wind Ensemble, danced on the ballroom team, and become president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), but these activities have always come second to classes and been second class citizens. Now with the newfound responsibilities of holding office in HFES, I've opened my mind to the simple thought that college is more than learning in classes and networking, it's a place to explore and play around with different clubs, responsibilities, and roles. While this is something I've always held to be true, I don't think now that I ever truly believed it before. Now I do.

My generation has been taught to do as many things as possible as well as we can. This has been great for me because I'm interested in so many different subject areas, but it keeps us from learning one of the most important aspects of success: focus. As the Twitter and Facebook generation, we've become used to constant interruption from notifications and being a pinball bumped around from track practice to the after class meeting, saxophone lessons, checking out the latest episode of Archer, and doing homework from five different classes. We don't know how to focus. When I'm in class I'm constantly responding to emails for other classes or groups, and while at group meetings I'm figuring out how to tackle my first set of homework problems. Maybe this is only a problem for me, but I find it hard to agree.

So what's the solution? Sacrifice. But not personal sacrifice. We don't have to sacrifice ourselves, our interests, our unique beliefs that mark us as individuals, but we have to sacrifice the idea of being able to do everything for everyone. Decisions have to be made and sometimes we have to trim the fat out of our lives. This could be choosing classes over activities as I have done in the past, letting a harmful friendship fade, or dropping a class that can be taken again the following semester. The key is to understand where you are and what is valuable to you. I made my decision and while the future me might have to struggle through some financial documents while starting a company, the present me is making sure he'll have a senior year to look back on and remember with happy recollection of activities and events that hopefully helped make him into the man he is.

September 23, 2011Comments are off for this post.

Delivering Good Design

I’ve just finished reading Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.  It’s a fantastic book that anyone interested in entrepreneurship, management or just the pursuit of happiness should read.  Focused on providing a great customer experience from the outset, Zappos eventually evolved the policy of “Delivering Happiness”.  The notion that Hsieh describes in the book, delivering happiness through the best customer service, reflects what has attracted me to human factors and user focused design.  We are finally at a crossroads in technology where computers, even mobile phones and tablets, have enough computing power to easily accomplish almost every task a typical user could wish to complete.  This hardware transformation that has occured over the past decade is incredible, yet technology still baffles and frustrates a large portion of the population.

But why is this?  Products are designed around hardware and existing software, not around the user.  Interfaces are designed by engineers concerned with optimization and matching input to a well-designed backend, but this mode of interface design has become outdated with our increasingly powerful hardware. If we can use the extra speed of today’s computers to create more elegant designs that may be slightly slower in developer terms, but make more sense to the user, why shouldn’t we?

Design is not about form or function alone, but about the interaction each of these two components share with the user.  Any technology, from a door handle to the latest smartphone is nothing more than dead weight unless someone is able to use it effectively.  This need is what made me fall in love with user centered design.  By creating with the user in mind, we are able to deliver happiness to the user through an intuitive interface, a rewarding interaction, and a sense of ease and comfort when using the product. I may be going against the basic principles of human factors design when saying this, but this does’t necessarily mean that hours of research, consumer studies, focus groups, just ask Microsoft’s Windows team whose research about Windows Explorer led them to the wrong conclusion and resulted in an ugly and unusable design. Assuming that users don’t use a feature because it isn’t accessible, the design team added every option back into the menu, creating a very functional design that will confuse most users and leave the rest searching the sea of buttons for the correct one.

So what is the key to creating interfaces and designs that users will love? Understanding. Engineers nor designers are the end users of the system. While we may all think we understand how others think it’s not often the case. To understand the user we have to leave behind our own experiences and ideas and take on those of others. This can be done through research and usability testing, but can also be done by acting the role of our target user. Start a design as the end user, not the designer, and you will ultimately meet yourself halfway with an elegant, beautiful design that users will flock to.

September 22, 2011Comments are off for this post.

.me

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to figure out how to present myself on the web. It began with AIM,then poorly written geocities sites, followed by MySpace, and ultimately Facebook. None of these established a public presence and didn’t help me establish my personal brand online.

This changed when my first website became www.willvaughanphotography.com, where I showcased my current photographs and set up a basic pricing scheme. While poorly built by simply slicing images in Photoshop, it was my first online site I could truly be proud. It was difficult to update, however, and hasn’t been updated in years. I moved to my first site at williamhvaughan.com, which I used to establish a portfolio and a blog. This was created in Rapidweaver and updating was easier, but still required uploading new html and assets every time I wanted to make a post.

I was hoping to launch a site entirely written by me, but it quickly became clear that maintaining the site and uploading content would be time-consuming and I'd rather be putting that time into creating the content and enjoying my last year at Tufts! So today I'm launching willvaughan.me, my portal to the web. This site will likely change as I continue to play around with my online presence. I'd love any feedback on posts, projects, or the site in general. Thanks for visiting!

Stay tuned for updates and feel free to follow me on twitter, or Google+.

March 26, 2010No Comments

Tablua Rasa

I’ve always loved the phrase tabula rasa. Ever since I discovered the phrase (when trying to name the coffee and tea shop I hoped to open over the summer one year in my younger days), I’ve used it for concept companies and ideas. Not only does the phrase have a clean sound and look to it, but it also carries a beautiful history. Dating back to the philosophy of Aristotle and being used to describe the idea that the mind is a blank slate upon which to build knowledge through experience, tablua rasa speaks of new beginnings, new opportunities, and the ability to take chances and learn.

Just as our minds may be blank slates at birth, everyday is a tabula rasa, a brand new opportunity to right the wrongs of yesterday, reach out towards our goals, and live as if each day were a canvas to be painted. In design and engineering psychology I link tabula rasa with the principle of starting from the ground up, removing conventions and standards to create a truly unique idea which can then be incorporated into the current standards if necessary. Too often designs simply add features to existing ideas, creating products and systems that are bloated and burdensome. By beginning each new project with an open mind, a tabula rasa, we are able to reach beyond the perceived limits and realize our unlimited potential. To break the status quo and innovate, designers must begin with an open mind.

This is the first post of my new portfolio and personal website. The topic could not be fitting enough as the opening of this site marks a new chapter in both my professional and personal life. This website begins as a tabula rasa, an open book that will tell the story of my thoughts, my ideas, my designs, and allow me to share myself with those who are interested.