I’m Joseph Dickerson and this is how I work

Inspired by the Lifehacker column, I’ve decided to write up how I work… since I think Lifehacker will probably never call and ask me directly.

Location: Dacula, GA
Current Gig: User Experience Lead, Microsoft
One word that best describes how you work: Restless.
Current mobile device: Nokia 920 Windows Phone
Current computer: Two – a first-generation wall-mounted 27″ iMac, and a newish ASUS ZenBook Touch laptop.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Why?

I use Microsoft Office all the time, and I can’t see using any other office tools – I tried, but when it comes to the depth and breadth of functionality, MS Office has everyone beat.

I also can’t live without Instapaper, OneNote, and Notational Velocity.

What’s your workspace setup like?

I have a big metal desk that has seen better days located in my man cave next to my wall-mounted 27″ iMac (which has also seen better days). On my desk is an inbox, a nice set of speakers connected to said iMac, and two tablets (a second-gen iPad and a Dell Venue 8 Pro). next to my desk is a wall with stickies and a whiteboard I can write notes on.

When I’m on the road I sometimes bring a USB-powered external monitor that I can connect to my laptop.

What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?

Scheduling time to do things so that I can “time-box” the work. If I know I need to spend time building out user personas or an information architecture, I set that time up in my calendar and try and focus on doing just that work in that time. There’s a project management saying that “the level of work required will explained to fill the time allocated to it” and I have definitely found that to be true.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I used to be a big Omnifocus guy, but now it’s in OneNote and an app called To Do Prime (though this app is a little buggy).

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without and why?

My Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. I use it to catch up on reading news, magazine and article on planes (I travel a lot) and it’s easier to use than a full laptop – especially when my 6 foot 4 frame is crammed into a coach seat.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

Meeting management and interviewing stakeholders. I try and keep things focused and also light – I try to have fun with every conversation while I get the information I need to design the most effective solution.

What do you listen to while you work?

I have SO much music – I used to be a radio DJ when I was in college and I got into every genre because of it. I listen to Pandora when I’m working in a hotel room, but when I’m at home or driving I listen to a little bit of everything – I have jazz, classic rock… My tastes go from Louie Armstrong to Laurie Anderson, and everyone in-between.

What are you currently reading?

This really great book called Ratio, which is about the core ratios used in cooking. If you learn these half-dozen ratios, you can do almost anything in the kitchen without any recipes. I’m an amateur cook, so I dig reading the science and the chemistry behind cooking. I blame Alton Brown.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’m an “omnivert” – I am very outgoing and friendly most of the time, but when I am preoccupied with a work project or problem I am very withdrawn. I don’t want to take any potential frustrations out on anyone else, so I withdraw a bit from society.

What’s your sleep routine like?

I sleep on a bed. I try to go to bed early if I have a big day ahead of me – I’m not as young as I used to be, and I need my rest. And where’s my medicine?!

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.

Isaac Asimov, but he’s dead so I doubt that will happen.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

You are not the work. Do your best, but finish and move on. Don’t take criticism personally – take the legitimate points made, then respond to them and make it better next time.

The best advice I GIVE people is three things: Show up on time, pay attention, and listen. Those are foundational things and will lead to success when consistently applied.

The death of attribution

This week one of the articles I wrote for UX Magazine was picked up my Mashable (they hoover up content from various sites and republish it). I was very happy to see the piece picked up, because it exposed my work to a lot more people (There’s been over 5200 “shares” of it so far). I was even happier to see that Mashable credited me for the work… Not every site that does this republishing does so.

We are in a very interesting place when it comes to content and authorship. There’s been an editorial shift over the past few years to shorter pieces, Top 10 lists, and articles that aren’t really articles at all but a list of animated gifs strung together with a common (usually pop culture-driven) theme. And a lot of these articles are plagiarized from other places and people.

Some of my favorite writers/creators are regularly “copied” from. James Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, had some of his work taken without attribution this week… again. Mark Evanier, a TV and comic book writer, has had several of his anecdotes (most notably his Mel Torme Christmas story) lifted and reposted by people as if the experiences had happened to them. To the people who rip off these creators, as long as the information is public… it’s fair game to reuse. These sites need eyeballs, they need content to lure the visitors in, and they’ll get it from wherever they can.

(Ironically, because I write so frequently, people on Twitter have often assumed that links I tweet are article I myself wrote… and they thank me for it. So I get “credit” for something I didn’t do, even when I’m not trying to).

Attribution, if it isn’t dead, is dying. And that’s a bad thing. Writing is a very personal thing, and many people do it because they are compelled to – they can’t NOT write (that’s how I am). Others do it for the attention, to see their “by-line” along with their work. If editors and publishers on the web stop caring about that, then there will be less interesting content on the Internet. People will take their ball and go home.

But that’s the risk, when you “give away” content. Hopefully, people will appreciate both the author and the work… but if both doesn’t occur, at least my stuff is getting read. Thankfully, I have seen the users of services like twitter usually take the time to credit authorship more often than not… and I appreciate every tweet. Thanks for giving me (and everyone else) proper credit.

The top 10 innovation sites

As a technologist and UX Lead for one of the world’s biggest software companies, I spend a lot of time reading about the latest trends in innovation and tech. How do I do it? I have a short list of sites I visit on a regular basis, and I thought you would like to see that list as well. Here it is (with a bonus link at the end I particularly like, for reasons you’ll soon note):


The TED conference features a lot of very smart people talking about a range of different topics, but innovation is always consistently represented (and presented). http://www.Ted.com

Innovation Excellence

A great site with lots of posts on how many of the top companies in the world focus on innovation. http://www.innovationexcellence.com


TechCrunch is a news site plugged into silicon valley, and covers startups and established companies. http://www.techcrunch.com

Patently Apple

Not everything Apple patents will ever be released, but it doesn’t hurt to see what they are thinking about. Everything the innovative company files and is granted a patent for is listed here: http://www.patentlyapple.com

Popular Mechanics

The magazine focuses mostly on hardware, but there’s lots of innovation present in every issue. The website features all the content from past issues as well as news and videos. http://www.popularmechanics.com


Wired has lots of great online-only content about technology and culture – a good place to look to see some of the moral and ethical issues involving the latest innovations (such as Google Glass). http://www.wired.com


Where can you find a lot of today’s most innovative thinkers? Look to Kickstarter: There you will find new products in the formative stage – these kickstarted campaigns can provide insight into where things are going. http://www.kickstarter.com

Tech News Daily

“Tech news written for non-technical people” is this site’s slogan, and they live up to it: A lot of helpful insights that will not make your eyes glaze over due to technobabble. http://www.technewsdaily.com

Forbes’ Innovation and Science section

Forbes covers innovation with a focus on business and process, and I like reading the science content they provide as well. http://www.forbes.com/innovation-science


Grant McCracken is a very smart man, and he’s written a lot about innovation design and culture. His site has got a lot of random thoughts (like mine) but there’s some great ideas here. http://cultureby.com

This Week in Innovation

This list goes to 11, because I’m also listing my newest website, This Week in Innovation. This Week in Innovation aggregates stories from many of the above websites, giving you a snapshot of what is “top of mind” in the innovation space. It comes out every week (naturally) and can be read here: http://www.thisweekininnovation.com

Disney’s new Fastpass+ system damages the Disney Parks experience

The Walt Disney Corporation recently completed the rollout of their Fastpass+ system at their Walt Disney World park. The system uses RFID technology to allow park visitors to scan wristbands (called “MagicBands”) and walk on rides they had scheduled in advance. The new system replaces the previous ticket-based system, which allowed people to walk up, enter their park pass in standing kiosks at attractions, and get a ticket listing a return time for the attraction. Disney has invested over one billion dollars in the new system.

And it kinda sucks.

As a long-time Disney fan, I’ve visited Walt Disney World almost ten times over the past two decades. I have always been impressed by the service and experiences I’ve received. Until now. Visiting Walt Disney World and using the new Fastpass+ system made it a frustrating experience that made me think twice about making a return visit anytime soon.

(I am also someone who specializes in user and customer experience design, so I am particularly attentive and sensitive to such matters… so please keep that in mind as you read on.)

Here’s the problems, as I see them:

Sorry, only three Fastpasses per customer.

In the previous ticket system you could grab a Fastpass, per person, every hour and a half. If you got to the park at opening, you could potentially snag six or seven through the course of the (very long) day. The alternate to having Fastpasses is (of course) standing in lines. With only three fast passes per person, this means a lot more waiting for return visitors who are used to (and expecting) otherwise.

Here’s a couple of quotes, from long-time Disney park visitors posting at disboards.com, that should give the management at Disney pause:

“We have been giving Disney our vacation dollars for 3+ decades. In those 30+ years and I would say about 35 visits we have NEVER done a single rope drop. We are not rope drop people. Vacation to us is not getting up and running to a park at 6/7 am so we can do what we paid for. Now with this horrible FP+ system, we will be lucky to do one headliner attraction a day. Stand by lines as I predicted are growing and slowing to highest average levels ever. Disney only wants you in their parks to spend money on food and souvenirs(and soon FP’s), not to see their attractions. I’m sorry Disney, it was a good run, thanks for the memories.”

“Very disappointing to see the unfortunate regression from “Magic Your Way” to “Magic Our Way (like it or not)” by WDW execs.”

Protip: When you change the ways things work for customers, never make them worse. Always make them better.

Hitting two different parks in a day? Sorry, still only three Fastpasses allowed.

If you pay Disney extra money, you can get a “Park Hopper” pass as part of your vacation package. A Park Hopper allows you to go to more than one park a day. You would think that the new Fastpass+ system would accommodate these customers (who paid more) and give them extra Fastpasses, right? Nope. There’s actually some thoughts online that Disney HATES park hoppers, because it screws up thier predictive analytics about their crowd levels. So… not only can you not gt any more Fastpasses, but you can’t “split” the three between two parks. Not a great experience to provide customers who are paying EXTRA money to the company.

The Disney Experience site/app is buggy as hell

The site users use to schedule their Fastpass+ passes is still in “beta”, and it’s quite buggy. When my family traveled there in December, I ended up “having” six Fastpasses in one day because it hadn’t removed the ones I had originally selected and later removed. Even worse, the list on the website was different on the mobile app on my wife’s iPhone… So we had no idea what passes were real and which ones weren’t. And I won’t even bring up the UI design of the site and app… it’s fairly complicated and not very intuitive. Still some kinks to be worked out, but it’s clear the system is not ready for primetime.

“Tiered” Fastpasses and longer lines

If you want to schedule a Fastpass for the two most popular attractions at Epcot or Disney Hollywood Studios, well… sorry. The Fastpass+ system has set up “tiers”, so you can’t select two “tier 1″ passes at the same time (reminds me of the old ticket books Disneyland had when they first opened… You could only ride one “E Ticket” ride). You could get Fastpasses for both rides under the old ticket-based system… not anymore. Critics have called this “ride rationing.” The result of this? Longer lines and wait times for the most popular attractions.

Staying off-site, or a Florida local? Tough luck

If you live in Florida, or are not staying at a Disney resort, you have to schedule your Fastpasses after you enter the park… and odds are you are going to have less options and less flexibility with your Fastpass selections, because visitors staying at the resorts have already booked the best ride times. So budget-minded customers and locals don’t get the same “Disney magic” as people who are staying onsite.

In the old ticket-based system, everyone was equal. Now, like in Animal Farm, some guests are more equal than others.


The Fastpass+ system takes away flexibility, reduces choice, and makes a Disney vacation as spontaneous as making a doctor’s appointment. Many of you reading this may be going, “So? First world problems, dude.” My point is that Fastpass+ was not designed or implemented for users – it was created solely to benefit Disney, a company that are getting paid a lot of money by customers to even enter the park.

What benefits? Well, since every park attendee is carrying a tracking device with them, it will be lots of Big Data for the Disney company to crunch and analyze. It (supposedly) reduces wait times for popular rides (though according to some Disney representatives, in practice the opposite has occurred). If customers spend less time in lines they will spend more time in the shops, which means more impulse purchases of all those wonderful Disney souvenirs. And Disney is selling a lot of pins and accessories that customers can put on their MagicBand wristbands, another potential revenue source. Unfortunately, the benefits appear to not be happening as the planners foreseen and the hard (sunk) costs of the new systems is putting some cool projects on hold.

Critics of the new system say Disney should have invested the billion dollars in new attractions, instead of changing a system that (to them) wasn’t broken. With a slow economy and increased competition from other local attracts, only time will tell if these critics are right.

Fastpass+ is not a complete user experience failure – there are many people who like the idea of planning out their vacations to the nth degree. These people will undoubtedly love the ability to plan what attractions they want to do months in advance. But anyone who is spontaneous, who liked flexibility in their choices and activities and want to maximize their vacation… well, they will need to look elsewhere for that.

Maybe Universal Studios…

Happy 30th Birthday Mac!

I join my many tech and design brothers and sisters today in wishing a happy birthday to the Macintosh computer. Yes, I know inanimate objects don’t really have birthdays, but with the Mac it feels appropriate to use the word “birthday.”

The Mac was the first real PERSONAL computer, a machine that aligned with what users needed to do and empowered people to do things that was in the realm of complete fantasy just months before.

I learned how to do graphic design and layout by using a Mac, and while I am a user of both Windows and OS X, I still have a fondness for the Mac.

Here’s the video of Steve Jobs revealing the Mac to the world for the first time:

Will big data be used increasingly in the UX field to answer user experience questions?

Yes and no.

Big Data provides… well, big data. Lots of data. This data needs to be parsed, analyzed and understood. It is (potentially) a source for user insights and understanding that is unparalleled. It can provide a lot of answers into what users are doing, where they are doing it, and how they are doing it. So yes, Big Data will increasingly be used by companies to understand user behavior (many tech companies like Google have been doing it long before the term “Big Data” even existed).

But Big Data cannot tell us WHY users do things with real certainty. What motivates users, what their psychographic and emotional landscape is… it can be inferred from Big Data but not (in my opinion) to any degree of certainty. It will still take ethnographic research and usability testing to gain those particular insights (or at least identify them with any real confidence).

And I don’t state this because I love user research – though I do. I state it because I have worked with Big Data and I have seen its limitations. And Big Data is only as “good” as the data points that are captured. If you do not have the specific data you need to inform design decisions, it’s useless.

Finally, there is the question of access. Big Data tends to be mostly used in Enterprises, and even then access to the data is very limited. Until Big Data becomes available to access by design teams at mid-level companies and agencies, Big Data will not replace or supplement good old fashioned user research.

See question on Quora