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Best way to learn new things? Talk with your smart friends!

I am a very lucky person. I have managed to seek out and surround myself with some incredibly smart people. Different type of smarts too: culinary, scientific, farming, emotional, technology, design, craft, gardening, parenting, card playing, fashion, historical, and a myriad of topics I’m sure I haven’t even tapped into.

It is also well known that I am a knowledge sponge: If I can learn something new, you can bet I want to and most likely I want to learn it from a person! I use the internet just like everyone else to get a base foundation, but the connection I feel when I converse about knowledge is something pretty special. Not only do I better my life for the skills I’m learning, but I tie it to my connection to that person. It makes for a pretty great mental library of knowledge/skills and exceptional people.

Photo Credit: Scott Ichikawa, 2015

Recently I was talking to one of these exceptional people, a Mr. Josh Klekamp, a Visual and Interaction Designer based in Seattle. To me, he is the guru to all things websites and apps. This is partially due to how we met each other, which was in grad school, and then as he attempted to instill some website knowledge into a bunch of VCD students. Josh always did like a challenge…haha Since that occasion, he has been a wealth of knowledge and a Website Fairy Godfather on numerous occasions.

Recently we were remedying a website situation over a few beers (I was distracted petting his dog Rue) and Josh asked if I had heard of Marvel? I of course first thought of superheroes, but was shortly enlightened that it is actually a new (and free!) mobile and web prototyping tool. As we all know, the best tools are those that leverage existing user technologies, not requiring us to learn yet another approach to trying to prototype user interactions in a more realistic way for testing and review.

Marvel connects with your Dropbox account (woohoo!), allowing you to easily make your user interface mockup files, add your hotspots, and if you end up wanting to make a quick visual change, make it and your prototype syncs with the updated file! While seemingly simple, that is what makes it awesome! The simpler the better. Every company will have their prototyping apps they use the most, but it never hurts to know what’s new and how people are approaching the same issues as you. Could be something to bring up at that next weekly design meeting!

Take a look at their demo video and let me know what you think. Have a prototyping tool you like better? Tell me all about it in the comments section!

Spotify: Quietly Introducing Listening Data for Our Pleasure.

I always knew that data was important, but had I ever really stopped to consider its use more deeply? No, not really. To be completely honest, I think my closest interaction with data was when I was a child and received my monthly subscription of National Geographic (example below). They made these beautiful figures and graphics trying to explain a data set, a supporting process, mapping, etc. I was always amazed at how they packed all that data in there, but then usually immediately turned the page to see the baby seals. (Who doesn’t love baby seals? I was 9 years old.)

National Geographic: Superstorm of 2100

When I went back to school for the second time, that is when I finally realized how interesting data can be when it is corralled to tell a compelling story. Between taking an information design class with Professor Karen Cheng (truly the Information Design Queen), and co-founding Science by Design with Gregory Quetin that brought together scientists and designers to discuss communication methods, I quickly learned how kick-ass data can be.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I accidentally ran across Spotify using their listener’s data on which artists they listen to, how often, and what cities listen to an artist the most. Spotify is a Swedish music-streaming company that started in 2008. As of 2015 they had over 75 million active listeners. 75 MILLION PEOPLE. Now privacy issues aside for a moment (I signed the agreement. I knew what I was getting into for $4.99), that is an amazing amount of potential data collection! Especially about a topic that is brought up on every dating website, is a go-to for small talk at parties, and the cause for many a breakup after a road trip.

If you saunter over to your Spotify application, you can follow along at home. Type in your favorite artist (Yes, I like John Mayer. Moving it right along…) Then click on “About.” Instead of the usual glib drivel that sounds like it came from Perez Hilton’s celebrity blog, I saw stats and was instantly drawn in.

Spotify

Yes, I could still read about John Mayer and view pictures of his bizarre outfits (I seriously remember him being cooler back in the day), but more importantly I could see how many people were listening to him today, monthly, and how he ranked in the world compared to other artists. Apparently his listening stock was up that day. When I had checked the day before only 7, 624 people had listened to him and his little triangle was down.

Spotify

Then Spotify took it a step further and let you know which cities in the world listened to him the most. In other words, if Seattle didn’t work out for me, I have 5 other cities that would accept me with open, John Mayer-loving arms.

Now in my head, I am certainly asking a few questions about how this could be presented better. I wanted to be able to click on the stats and cities or perhaps have hover states that would garner me additional information. But no such luck. From a more data accuracy standpoint, I’m sure I could show this to any one of my data savvy friends and they would have questions about how Spotify arrived at their findings.

But what Spotify did do, is as a user, I instantly felt like I was part of a community; A 12,490 person community and each of them knew just how much John Mayer spoke to my soul that day. Seems perhaps small and insignificant at first, but stop and think about it: I believe that a lot of people think that data is cold and unfeeling, perhaps incomprehensible, doesn’t apply to them, and the myths continue. But in a very simple way, Spotify took their data relating to something almost every person in the world loves, and used it to make a tighter community of their users. Simple, and very effective.

I have a feeling this feature is relatively new and that Spotify is just coming around to the idea of displaying their fascinating data and will continue to bring that to their users in diverse and interesting ways. Their enhanced UX definitely had this designer spending more time checking out her favorite artists to see how they ranked, rather than just clicking on a playlist and getting on with her day. Well played Spotify. Well played.