The Apple Watch and the human behavioral role of discreetness

Monday’s Apple Live event incited a slew of mixed impressions about the Apple Watch, which will be bringing us even closer to The Era of Robot come this April. While the tech world debates the device’s cost, capabilities and digital interactions, I find myself more curious about the human interactions in the context of using this technology in real life. I’m particularly wondering about the role of discreetness.

The metaphor of people with “phones glued to their hands” is distinctly different from the wearable nature of a smart watch. Have you ever noticed how people tend to demonstrate secretive body language when using their smart phones — especially for personal matters? Interactions generally take place with heads down, phones held close to the body, and screens tilted towards the user. “Hidden” placements of phones is so common it’s a cliche, like “texting under the dinner table.” Unlike a smart watch, a smart phone is frequently placed on a lap, grasped in a fist, turned screen-down, tucked in a pocket, stored away in a purse, or left out of sight completely.

Whether it’s calling an Uber car, checking into your hotel or answering a text, the watch will allow you to interact with the digital world at a glance, in a less outwardly antisocial way than you now do with your phone.

The New York Times

How might the attached, exposed nature of a smart watch — which for the Apple Watch is centralized around personal content and functionality — make users feel about the constant, open presence inherent in what’s essentially our personal cell phones adapted as extensions of our physical selves? Will this elevate self-awareness of what’s broadcasted on one’s wrist? Will this hurt real-life social interactions? Will this open innovative opportunities?

Push notifications at your wrist…

From a healthcare and pharma perspective, I immediately see value in having push notifications delivered to a device attached to the body. Information delivery systems generally don’t fail due to failed transmission of the message, but rather to the recipient’s idle placement of their phone or active choice to ignore it. With a smart watch, I see increased potential in habit-changing and adherence based apps more effectively reaching its users.

At the same time, I wonder how the exposed nature of a smart watch might affect the content design. Habit-changing and adherence goals are often private matters, particularly within medicine. An MS patient might not want an injection reminder overtly popping up on their wrist in front of others — especially when the medication and its app are aimed to help minimize the prevalence of the disease in one’s daily life. Will self-consciousness be worth taking into content strategy consideration? Are there contexts in which being discreet will be a necessary design principle?

Personal communication and cognition….

“Ungluing” our phones from our hands can be a conscious or subconscious decision. It happens all the time because we’re constantly switching our focus to prioritize something more important at hand. (Literally). In social situations, we’re prioritizing people in front of us. How will the constant “glued” state and exposed nature of receiving personal communication affect our social behavior? While any given text message, call or chat bubble does not require an immediate response, it will require an instant reaction. I wonder what cognitively will happen in these moments when the attention is divided between in-person and through-the-wrist social interactions.


After reading through the Apple Watch site’s section highlighting personal connections & communication, I found the next “Live a better day” point ironic: is the ongoing connection and constant interruption of data at one’s wrist really something that will help us live better?

More specifically, I wonder how the role of discreetness will impact these moments in social contexts. What will John do when Tinder notifications and texts from Molly and Sue keep outwardly lighting up on his wrist as he holds the menu atop the candlelit table of his dinner date? Will professors ban smart watches from classrooms? What will Jane tell dad when he catches a glance of the sexts that just popped up? How many of the 34 emails Susie received during a work meeting yielded glances down at her wrist? Did people notice? Did they capture her facial expressions briefly revealed at each glance?

Sure, there are gestures to ignore incoming content. But the interruption still intrudes upon the social situation because a reaction is still evoked. A split-second glance will be followed by cognitive information processing. Will the human microinteractions generated by these moments hurt real-world social interactions?

The wearable extension of ourselves…

As a UX designer in healthcare innovation, the ResearchKit is what I see as the most exciting and promising aspect of the Apple Watch. I personally believe that smart watches have very specific and limited functionality that legitimately adds value beyond the health & fitness apps we use on phones and larger devices. It’s why I’m less enthralled with HealthKit for the Apple Watch (as much as I’m probably not supposed to admit that). ResearchKit truly harnesses the wearable power of collecting data that can be significantly informative and progressive in the medical field.

I also envision possibly groundbreaking solutions to emergency situations. A means to immediate help is that much more accessible when attached to ourselves, and that much more informative when powered by great web software. Furthermore, the unique role of discreetness can be capitalized on in a very beneficial way. Imagine defense-based mechanism apps that secretly could be triggered to activate and assist in emergency situations like amber alerts, kidnappings, and sexual assault — situations in which overtly trying to communicate for help could be harmful, insufficient in data, or might not be accessible at all.

Final thoughts…

Releasing software is like releasing experiments on human beings. As the technology sphere critiques the Apple Watch’s cost, features, UI and physical design, I hope the conversation of human behavior is further engaged with as well. When it comes to wearables, we need to expand the schemas we use for evaluating general software and interfaces: we need to put greater emphasis on investigating how human behavioral qualities, like discreetness, might play more substantial roles.


2014 Mankind Moments to Remember

2014 was an ugly year around the world. Genocides ripped across populations. Airplanes peculiarly went missing or went down. Mother Nature unleashed wild fire, volcano, tsunami and Ebola. Beheadings joined school shootings as a norm. Violent protests erupted. Vengeful murders and hopeless suicides ended life where there used to be peace.

To me, the saddest part of these grievances is the amount of harm that was perpetrated by one anotherI’ve put together this video because I’m not sure how else to express it. Recognize that each of us cannot entirely imagine the raw struggles experienced in someone else’s shoes. But what we can all relate to is the common thread that every life is attached to people who love them, the capability to suffer, and potential to be filled. The photojournalism included in this video captures too many terrible stories that did not have to happen: Too many parents burying their children, too many young people being sent to kill or be killed, too many grown consciences inflicting pain and death around them…

…Can we please stop harming each other? While these images of 2014 don’t make the world feel like a very hopeful place, I do hope that we as individuals can use this reflection to take our own steps towards a 2015 where we strive to equip children with happy families, include the otherwise rejected, extend love to the lonely, care for the mentally ill, and treat one another with respect. Chaos that used to feel distant is getting closer and becoming more real: the way we perceive, speak to, and act towards others is going to affect how that tilts.

Learning, Education and Games (Book Series)

Learning, Education and Games book seriesIn the game-based learning (gbl) community, people from all different disciplines are always asking how they can actually make their gbl visions happen. Well, look no further for a consolidated, well-researched resource created by experts in the field!

The International Game Developers Association’s (IGDA) special interest group (SIG) for Learning, Education and Games (LEG) collaboratively wrote and edited a refreshing new book series called Learning, Education and Games. The first volume was released last month, in which I’m honored to have a case study featured in the language learning section. This volume focuses particularly on curricular and design considerations, ranging from general guidelines to specific topics like STEM.

I can honestly say, from my experience as a peer editor of this book, that the authors’ contributions are incredibly informed, insightful, and backed by years of fascinating experiences in the field. The well-synthesized and highly-applicable perspectives paired with compelling case studies will pull you right in. Definitely get your hands on a copy, which was published by ETC Press. You can order a paper book through or download the PDF book for free! Visit to get more information and your (free) copy of the book.

It was a privilege to host the book launch party & panel as my last Game-Based Learning NYC group event as a co-organizer, which featured special guest authors Elena Bertozzi, Ethan Hein, and Gabriela Richard along with the moderator and book author, Dr. Karen Schrier. I’m very proud of New York’s educational games community for generating such a monumental accomplishment! Bravissimo!

Learning, Education and Games - book launch & panel w/ IGDA NY LEG and GBLNYC

Learning, Education and Games – book launch & panel w/ IGDA NY LEG and GBLNYC

Confessions of a UX Designer: Habits that can’t be helped

It’s happened. My profession has infiltrated my daily life with creepy and odd habits that I’m hoping assuming most user experience designers can relate to…

1. I’m a nosy commuter.

While everyone on public transit is absorbed in their own worlds, I’m absolutely exploiting their oblivion. Every day and every mode is a fresh opportunity to observe others — some same and some new, some with heads tucked in books and some with fingers glued to phones — all with typical and not-so-typical behaviors that unleash fascinating realizations and ideas. It is a goldmine of ethnographic research!

I’ve mastered the art of lurking over shoulders to see how someone is using an interface. I’ve abused the use of reflections to see how someone is passing the time. I’ve adapted way too much aptitude in forming stories by tracking someone’s eye movements and expressions. And most importantly, I’ve practiced the imperative capability to conceal myself from looking like a totally creepy commuter while doing all this. Good thing that while I’m watching, there is always something shadier for the surveillance to be watching…

2. I check myself out in the mirror at work.

Hey, after countless experiences of unknowingly attending meetings with dry-erase marker ink smeared across your face, you learn to keep a mirror at your desk and use it damn well!

3. I’m irrationally infuriated by poorly-designed doors, elevators and buildings.

(Yep, that includes you, designer of former Microsoft headquarters building on Avenue of the Americas in NYC — unless your intent was to trap or lose your visitors). Seriously, I turn into the Hulk over this kind of stuff. I just can’t fathom the amount of money that goes into such terrible design decisions. Although, the fury actually is quite rational for anyone who appreciates what we learn from understanding The Design of Everyday Things.

4. I prep for projects the way actors prep for plays.

In the performing arts, dedicated actors are known to take on the personas of their characters all day err’day well before it’s actually time to play the part. It’s supposed to help them, well, get into character. And the same goes for the start of a user-centered design process.

When new projects kick off, I “get into character” by absorbing myself in anything and everything about the project’s industry, background, competitors and users. Obsession is necessary and unstoppable. It might involve plowing through a pile of related books, attending related events, joining blogs and online communities with the users, trying out competitor services, reconnecting with old acquaintances who represent the userbase — anything to surround myself in the project. Sure, I won’t need to act out a scene as our users (thank GOODNESS), but I will need to embody their perspectives and behaviors in relation to the product.

5. I invent creative stalking opportunities.

As mentioned in the nosy commuter point, researching people in their natural environments and behaving in their natural ways can unlock some amazing discoveries. Especially at the start of a new project, I seize any opportunity I can get to secretly observe the project’s target audience. And if there are no opportunities, I make them. That might mean scheduling a doctor’s appointment (that I don’t need) and “mistakenly” arriving way early so that I can loiter in the waiting room to see how patients and staff are all behaving. It might mean “reading a book” outside a playground at lunch time so I can see how kids play in groups on their own. It might mean “shopping” in Home Depot to see how customers seek information about products and navigating the store.

In the case study of, it literally meant creating a stalking opportunity….I once read an article about how in the early phases of Meetup, they’d research their user experience by creating Meetup events (with different key variables) and essentially hiding in a coffee shop across the street instead of actually attending so that they could observe how real users would approach the physical space, analyzing what kinds of online features could minimize any inhibitions. The craziness is for your own good!

6. I ask too many questions.

Sometimes I feel like a kindergartner persistently asking “why?” the way that little kids pester their parents about everything. Other times I feel like Dr. Phil, asking people odd questions in order to figure out  the root of their feelings in relation to their experiences. And sometimes I just feel like an aggressive lawyer demanding a rational, evidence-based explanation why decisions were made as they were. My mind turns everything into the Spanish Inquisition.

7. I save useless stuff.

Call me a hoarder or call be resourceful, but you never know when all those paper clips and beer caps will make the perfect playing pieces for the game you need to paper protoype approximately right this second right now you have 5 minutes go.

8. I have a fear of finality.

“Norman’s Law: The day the product team is announced, it is behind schedule and over its budget.” -Donald A. Norman

Paradoxically, a perfectly seamless experience is attempted to be created by someone who will never stop finding things to improve. “Is it finished?” is one of my least favorite questions in the world. Sure, a product might be built and a checklist of requirements might be all checked off and the feedback coming in might be amazing so far, but “finished” really rests more like “version 1.0” in my mind. The learning process never ends. In fact, the more we put out their, the more opportunities to recreate are created.

Help build my summer reading list


This weekend I treated myself to a Barnes & Noble shopping spree and officially kicked off a mind-kindling summer reading list! It keeps me going. Here’s my list so far:


Do you have any recommendations to add? As you can probably conjure from my list, there are a few topics and themes I’m especially looking for great reads on (but I’m open to suggestions on anything you think I’d find inspiring, informational or simply enjoyable):


  • hospital transparency & policy change
  • “big pharma” & detailing
  • FDA regulations in life science industries
  • insight into the lives of doctors
  • ePharma & mHealth


  • gamification
  • behavior modification
  • content strategy in UX design
  • improving design documentation
  • eLearning (non-fiction)


  • net neutrality (non-fiction / current events)
  • work-life balance (fiction)
  • inspiring stories of people telling amazing accounts or doing remarkable work for social good (non-fiction)
  • solo travel adventures (fiction & memoirs)

And it wouldn’t be fair to ask for suggestions without offering some myself. If you’re interested in some of these similar topics, these are a few reads I would definitely recommend:

“Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science” by Atul Gawande

“Design for Care: Innovating Healthcare Experience” by Peter Jones

“Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things” by Don Norman

“Mobile Usability” by Jakob Nielsen and Raluca Budiu

“A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier” by Ishmael Beah

Games For Change 2014…in tweets.

Five days ago my mind was blown at the Games For Change 2014 Festival. And in five more days, my mind will be blown again when I arrive in Italy! This weekend was supposed to be when I get all obsessed about my trip, but somehow my mind is still enthralled with everything from G4C! I’m still soaking it in…

This was my second G4C Festival to attend, and this year I had the privilege of attending as a volunteer. It was an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many intelligent, innovative and inspiring individuals. Among the many thought-leaders present this year were Jenova Chen of ThatGameCompany (makers of Journey), Jesse Schell of Carnegie Mellon University, Dr. Michael Levine of Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Noah Falstein of Google, Eric Zimmerman of NYU Game Center, Jane McGonical (author of Reality is Broken)Paolo Pedercini of Carnegie Mellon University, Erin Hoffman of Institute of Play’s GlassLab GamesTom Giardino of Valve, and so many more! 

And, of course, the games for change nominees really showcased the effort for moving the games for change initiative forward! (Go play ’em!)



ANYWAY, the energy that surged through these three amazing days is still wildly pumping through my veins. I’m still reflecting on everything I’ve learned, still feeling warm & fuzzy about the great people I met, and still overcome with the drive to do more.

My job as a volunteer was to help front the social media effort for G4C. So I was working with a small team to tweet our hearts out with the 800+ attendees and 10k+ online streamers (according to an article by USA Today — nice job, G4C!) (Shoutouts to my awesome social media crew: @DanButchko @LegendaryHylian @garrettfuselier @emmalarkins @catherineskwak @justin_snyder and the lovely G4C social media leader, @meghanventura)!

It was really cool to be in a designated role where we’re completely inserted into the online conversation along with live-tweeting the event highlights as they occurred. And it was kind of funny (or creepy?) to meet festival attendees and feel like we already knew them from their tweets 😛 …On a side note, I also learned to accomplish the impossible when it comes to using an iPad for typing & multitasking under pressure, and seem to have morphed into one of those crazy Twitter addicts overnight.

In light of this live-tweeting extravaganza, I thought a recap of my favorite #G4C14 tweets would be a solid way to share my own personal highlights of Games For Change 2014. They’re snippets of the moments that had me sitting at the edge of my seat, feeling my soul throb, or cleaning up the pieces of my brain exploding all over the Skirball Center auditorium… BTW, keep an eye out for the recordings on the G4C YouTube channel — everything will be posted there within the next week for your binge-viewing pleasure 🙂

What’s a UX Designer to you?

I expect the usual “What does a user experience designer do?” question when talking  with people outside of design & technology industries.

What’s scary is the vast discrepancies over the answer to that question  according to people within the most relevant industries to UX.

Part of the problem is simply the large spectrum of various specializations which all fall under UX design. OnwardSearch’s “A Guide to UX Careers” infographic helps examine some of these differences. (Although, I would add a “UI Developer” role to pinpoint UX developers who are more equipped with the technical skills to code foundations of front-end designs).

Part of OnwardSearch's infographic of "A Guide to UX Careers" segments some of the various roles that fall under UX/Interaction Design/Development.

Part of OnwardSearch’s infographic of “A Guide to UX Careers” segments some of the various roles that fall under UX/Interaction Design/Development.

While OnwardSearch’s resource does a great job identifying differences between job titles, the titles still don’t quite align with job descriptions posted by HR managers or tasks requested by co-workers. This infographic conveys these roles as separate jobs which fall under the UX umbrella.

Instead, I see a spectrum of UX disciplines which range across four core anchor points:

Spectrum of UX Designer Roles

Of course, this a spectrum. So there are aspects of each point which may overlap or fall between others. And that’s part of what complicates the identity of a UX designer’s capabilities, responsibilities, purpose and title. I think it might help to start associating these titles not only with task-based skills, but goal-based verbs. We need to think about who is strategizing, who  is designing, who is producing, who is executing. (You might even classify the latter two disciplines as separate — Graphic Artists and Front-End Developers, for example. But these skills are often coupled under “UX Designer” today).

For example, a UX designer might be designing the functionality of an interface, and may play an influential part in the strategic, visual and technical decisions — but the responsibility to actually produce the visuals or to execute the product may or may not be part of that person’s job. This is where that gray area exists, and where we need to be more specific about identifying the core purpose of each UX role. After all, as Jakob Nielson and Don Norman define it:

“‘User experience’ encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

UX Magazine highlights IBM’s balanced approach to fundamentally incorporating content strategy and its related roles in the UX design process.

Another major part of the problem pertains to UX designers in that first of four categories — the one which primrily revolves around the conceptualization, strategy and user-centered design. This problem, which I frequently face, is the misunderstanding of the UX design process. For this role, tasks should never begin with “make a wireframe that shows this” or “put this button here.” UX processes begin with the problem and the users — not with the solution. Instead, assignments should start with “familiarize yourself with this company’s product, audience and needs.”

Similarly, UX designers should not be called upon to immediately provide the “expert” decisions for flows, interfaces, visual designs and technical specs without understanding the context first. Whitney Hess wrote an excellent blog post about this subject matter, emphasizing the importance of intel over instinct and intent over matter. Yes, we are constantly researching and testing usability, and we are knowledgeable of the general best practices. But this usability knowledge can only be as valuable as understanding the context and goal to which it is applied. Good UX designers should be depended upon for their attention to details — but always in the frame of the big picture as a whole.

We need to stop expecting UX designers to always know the answer; we need to focus more on the UX designer’s ability to know how to find the answer and convey it through thoughtful solutions.

Please. Don’t ask a UX designer to blindly make decisions. You will devalue their role and miss out on their positive contributions.