Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Demo an App in Six Steps

Being asked to demonstrate an app or website, or whatever it might be, can be pretty unnerving.  Usually it's something you worked on, you care about it, and you have a galaxy of insights into each item and feature -and that microscopic familiarity can be the biggest problem when it comes to live or web meeting demonstrations.
It's so tempting to blast into the minutia or say what this-or-that doesn't do.  Just imagine you are the audience and ask yourself what the important chunks are -the plan -a bullet list of nuggets. Then narrate out loud every movement you make and why, and take your hand off that mouse any second you aren't following that plan.

Meow Wars by Kevin Dooley / Flickr

So here's a six-step cheat sheet for breezing through a demo...

Opening Housekeeping
  • Thank the viewers for watching/attending (even if they are regulars).  If they are co-workers, a simple "thanks everybody" is fine.  If they are customers (or would-be customers) maybe turn up the formal a bit, like, "thanks (person who introduced you) and thanks everybody for making it."
  • Introduce yourself, and give a less-than-one-sentence description of your role, even if you were introduced in the setup/hand-off.  They already forgot that; only now are they ready to jot your name down.
  • “Can everybody see my screen?  Is everybody seeing the (whatever)?”  This is the first hurdle.  Make sure they are seeing what you are seeing, otherwise, you know, what's the point?  And definitely provide a head’s-up to your viewers about the inevitable web-meeting lag, if applicable.
  • Invite them to interrupt you at any time with questions.  This is all about them.  "Of course feel free to jump in anytime if you have a question; please interrupt."

Overview Statement of Purpose
  • Provide a statement of context for the viewers.  Remind them why they are watching you demo.  Don’t dive into the guts (and don’t 'bury the lead').  If this were a newspaper article, what would the headline be?  Some examples, depending on what sort of demo it is:
    • A feature pitch: "So wouldn't it be nice to be able to quickly and easily roll up your manufacturing data by whatever geographic region you like? Here's how."
    • An iterative walk-through of an agile project: "We've been heads-down this week on our latest set of tasks and we've made some exciting progress."
    • An overview demonstration of a product: "Really, what VCC does, is give you a single picture of the people and places that you care about in the context of events that pose a risk to them so that you can get the jump on threats."

Tell them what you are about to show them
  • If it is an iterative demonstration of progress to a customer, like in an agile project, verbally list out the functionality that has been worked on before you demonstrate it.  It sounds crazily mundane, but it will give their expectations structure and prime them for an orderly demo.
  • If it’s the first time someone has seen the content, start painfully generically.  If I’m demoing VF to a first-timer I will make a statement about the importance of visualization to IDV, then note the three layout zones (map, timeline, list) say why those dimensions are important to us.
  • Always go general to specific.  For example, I'd first introduce the toolbox (where it is, what it is, what lives there), then the specific tool within -rather than getting to the tool as quickly as possible.

Show them
  • Slow movements and self-narration.
    • Each click has cost, be click-stingy.  Viewers want to understand and follow along; don’t inadvertently mislead them with nervous clicking and unrelated mouse movements.
    • Move slowly and deliberately.  Take your hand off the mouse when not actively demonstrating an action.
    • Narrate your movements aloud, describing where your attention is moving to, the UI parts involved in the action, each action you take as you take it, and the result.
    • Speak slowly.  Pause from time to time to see if someone is trying to chime in (conference calls pretty much mute everybody when you are talking -so give them windows to interrupt).
  • Move from demo topics very deliberately.
    • Introduce each topic before you demo it.  Always say what the feature is and why it exists.  If it is an enhancement to something they've seen previously, describe the difference.
    • Close each topic by asking viewers if they have any questions about what they just saw, “before we move on.”
  • If viewers interrupt with questions:
    • Sometimes they ask a question related to the item you are currently demonstrating, to get more context.  Thank them for the question –it is an opportunity to clarify and proof that they are engaged –then answer it. "Ah, that's actually a really good question, thanks for bringing that up."
    • Sometimes they ask questions that diverge from the current topic.  If it is a convenient segue over into that topic, thank them and go with it (but first ask if they are satisfied with the topic you are leaving).  "Ok, sure, no problem.  Quickly, before we move in that direction, is everybody satisfied with the (feature you are now leaving)?"
    • If answering the question does not require demonstration, answer it verbally and don’t touch that mouse.

Tell them what you just showed them
  • When the demo is complete, re-state the items you just walked through in the demo (to fully embed those memories).  This sounds really redundant because it is -but don't worry it's good redundant!
    • “Ok, so you just saw improvements to the Excel Export functionality, the new color-categorization of buildings by business unit, and the new formatting of the buildings’ details panel.”
  • Read out loud any list of homework items you may have collected during the demo.  Some people say “action items” but I think “homework” is more personable.
    • “I have on my list of homework items the misspelled button in the export dialog, an answer to the question about census data, and ideas for optimizing the large number of employee locations in the United States.  Does that sound right?”

Closing Housekeeping
  • Check for any follow-up or final questions.
    • “Does anybody have any questions about what you just saw?” Oftentimes this will invite a segue and the audience might jump over to questions of cost or timing to the Project Manager or Sales Rep (if they are in the meeting) and your demo is effectively done.  Good job!  If not…
  • Hand-off back to the Project Manager or the Sales Rep (if a hand-off is applicable) and thank them for their time.  If it is just you, thank the audience for their time.
    • “Well thanks for taking the time to check this out.  If any questions come up in the meantime, of course feel free to reach out .  I’ll kick it back over to (PM or Sales Rep).”
  • Next steps and/or closure.  Generally, a PM or Sales Rep will the handle next-steps discussion, but it could be you. Either way, make sure that you and the audience is clear on whose court the ball is now in.  Sometimes it takes the form of people sorting the next meeting time -but at that point the demo demo is definitely done and you can lean back and bathe in that feeling.  If it is just you demonstrating in the form of a pitch, you might talk about opportunities for improvement but pretty much wrap it up at this point.  Woop woop, time to exhale!

Anyway, those are six steps to consider if you have a demo bearing down on you.  Now go rock it.
Relatedly, I've taken much comfort and utility from the excellent advice of Matt Haughey on public speaking.  He does know where all the bananas are.  So if you are all, "I don't do demos, I talk at conferences" then head over to his tremendous article, but first get ready to live.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Six Californias

There is a proposal to divide the behemoth state of California into six separate states, called the Six Californias Initiative.  You can read the initiative here.
I've heard of previous initiatives to divide the state into three parts, but the six parts approach is new, and interesting, and the brainchild of Tim Draper, a venture capital investor.
It is an intriguing idea and one that would allocate the outlier of California (geographic size and population) into entities that are more cohesive and maybe find benefits of state representation that isn't stretched so broadly and among many interests and economies.
Sure sure, all that.  But it just sounds fun, right?  I wondered what the new six states would look like among a cast of 55 and also how they might have voted in the impossible time-bending scenario of future-states performing in a past election.  So here is my abomination, which is equal parts 'oh, that's good to know' and 'this is far too complex a topic to handle this simplistically':

Three sources of data for this:

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Blind Spots, Blue Lights, and Campus Security

One of the coolest parts of being a thesis adviser is watching the ingenuity and thoughtfulness around a really cool project, and a sharp student.

Central Michigan University geography student Sam Lipscomb has been building an analysis model of perceived personal safety that considers terrain, obstructions, lighting, and emergency call boxes to provide pictures of blind-spot risk across a campus.  Thoughtful, practical, and important.

The college campus is a fine example of a landscape that is both constantly evolving and stuffed with occupants whose personal well-being is at the heart of its purpose.  Other domains, like office parks, public spaces, and hospital campuses share similar considerations –but colleges are special.  Some of the things designers and security personnel ask themselves of their campus are...
How can we accommodate our visitors while doing our best to ensure their safety?
Where should we put lights for best effect?Where do we currently have troublesome areas?
Where should we position Blue Lights (emergency call boxes with blue lights sprinkled around campus)?
Where should security patrols be located?
That sort of thing.

These questions are inherently geographic.  But to some degree the notion of place is considered only inadvertently (and less desirably) as a pull-through of where utilities, easements, and landscaping are already conveniently situated.  That, and well-meaning hunches.  This path-dependent mode of planning can really miss out on some key insights made possible by intentional spatial thinking.

Parking lots pose a substantial blind-spot risk.  Though generally well-lit, a crowded parking lot dramatically reduces a person's overall eye-level visibility.

A campus-wide analysis of visibility, incorporating a local line-of sight rating for every pixel.  Brighter areas are more open while red areas mark potential blind spots.

A general viewshed of the constellation of emergency call boxes (blue lights with emergency two-way communications).  Red areas can see no call boxes.  White areas can see at least one.

Here is that emergency call box visibility layer weighted by how accessible a call box is, given distance, terrain, and obstructions.  Black areas can't see any call boxes; red areas can see a call box but it's less accessible (or nearby but blocked from view).  White areas show where call boxes are readily accessible.

Here, Sam has defined areas that are candidates for enbrightening.  Here's the recommendation for parking lots.

And recommendations for enhanced lighting of pedestrian areas.

Applying spatial brains and tools provides a quantifiable component to an informed and proactive design strategy for the arrangement of things that impact a person’s safety.  Like lighting, emergency call boxes, fences, sidewalks, plantings, signage, patrols, safety education –pretty much everything.  Sam's doing thoughtful and useful work and I anticipate its eager adoption.  Find a recent draft of Sam's research here.


Monday, January 27, 2014

A Meta Portrait of Earth's Surface

The chart and data is certainly not new, but I find myself focusing on it in presentations and since it had previously been embedded in a graphic with ten other charts,  its meta coolness got diluted.  But I think about this map, like, alot, and I wanted to tell you why.  And why I call it a map.

Non-geographic data that can't help but arrange itself into a pixelated portrait of our planet.  What it is: Months on the left, time on top, roll-ups of pedestrian risk in the cells. What it really is: an emergent picture of the Earth's silhouette.

Geography Finds a Way
The data you see in this cell chart (or "heatmap", but since I'm a cartographer that term is sort-of taken) is non-geographic.  It shows the proportion of American traffic fatalities that involved pedestrians by time (left-to right is the time of day and night while the up-and-down splits up the months of the year).
Do you notice how strongly the band of elevated pedestrian risk bows the way it does?  That's because it is especially dangerous to walk at twilight (sun in your face, difficult lighting for object perception, more people walking about, all that).  But twilight is relative depending on the season, so you see the arc of sunset pushing out through summer months and back in for the winter months.  All because we live on a round thing flying through space.  The nature of that roundness is unintentionally revealed in this data.

An Echoed Silhouette of Earth
As we whiz around the sun, once a year, the tilt of our round Earth means that there is a lot of change in the amount and timing of sunlight each day (increasing as you move away from the poles) throughout each trip around.  Amazingly, or not so amazingly to the tougher nuts out there, is that the very roundness of Earth is echoed in the shape of the curve you see in this chart.  It's like what I would expect to see from a rough radio telescope signal of some distant planet, only it's our planet.  And the signal we see is an emergent reflection of our movements on its curved surface.
These traffic events happened in the United States.  But the curve would be the same for other Northern Hemisphere places, and it would bend the other way for places in the Southern Hemisphere.
Because we live on something that is dynamic, data of our lives often reveals the signal of that dynamic process -a roundabout meta image of Earth.  That's a map.

Life and Death
To lump data together and visualize it through different dimensions and isolate different rates can seem to dull the acuity of the very real tragedies that it represents.  While I know this is the data of death, the pixels that paint in this simple chart are sourced from pain and loss in aggregate volumes I can't comprehend.  However, one of the ironies of studying the data of death is that it is often almost perfectly correlated with the data of life and the distinction between the acts of living and the act of death dissolves.
Then, I start down the path of trying to illustrate the thread of life through ups and downs in geography to paint another, maybe more direct, portrait of Earth, which is our vaporous time on it.  And so it goes, the nature of our home to spring up in unexpected places, revealed by proxy in the data we collect about ourselves, nudging us into more questions with the benefit of perspective.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Maps You Can Use For Your Desktop If You Feel Like It

Here are some maps that you can set as your desktop image if you want to.  They are high-resolution photographs of the etched slate and sandstone pool installations I have in my backyard, carved to show the earth's varying ocean depths and filled to sea level.  It's a real sonofagun keeping them topped off to the exact right amount of water, especially when it's hot, but totally worth it.
Anyway, they make fun desktop images if you are map-nerd inclined.  An eye-grabber that will help you determine which co-workers are glancing at your screen when they walk by.  Not cool.
I added an optional version that has a 2014 calendar (showing week-starts on Monday, which is sort of how I think about Mondays).  Can you spot the lizard?

Sandstone Earths, with or without 2014 calendar:

Slate Earths, with or without 2014 calendar:

Also, you can browse the 2013 lot of maps that make alright desktop images for nerds.

I almost forgot!  A rock marks each of the 30 most populous cities in the world.  You can quiz those looky-loos who don't know it's rude to peek at screens.  Put them in their wandering-eyes place!

P.S. I don't really have these slate and sandstone pools in my yard, but you knew that.  However, they are totally real digital images of this data.  Here's pretty much how I made them just mentally swap 'wood' for 'stone.'  Also, before you point fingers, these maps use the Times projection and are not equirectangular or Mercator.  Why?  Refer to #14.

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