We’re big fans of Erika Hall — author of the fantastic Just Enough Research — and her scathing takedown of the use of focus groups made the rounds internally this week with good reason.  In the piece, Hall aims squarely at the use of focus groups to inform the design of products and services:

User research should be ethnography. That is something that tells you how people actually behave in a particular context and why. Sometimes there is a relationship between expressed opinions and actual behaviors (I like swimming. I go swimming. I buy swimming gear online.). Often, there is not. Many of what I might tell myself are my favorite activities are things I don’t actually do. I don’t think I’ve been hiking in years.

So, why don’t more organizations get usability?” asks Gerry McGovern. He’s referring not to product or service design, but rather to the experience of being one’s customer. This is at the heart of a great deal of the work we’re doing at the moment.

Further reading: check out the results of the L2 survey on drivers of positive e-commerce recommendations. Hunt down friction in your delivery, and be ruthless in eliminating it.

David Sherwin posted a smart piece on software engineering principles worth integrating into the vocabulary of UX and interface design teams — from DRY to GIGO, with rather thoughtful practical examples of implementing each in one’s work. Bookmark and implement, folks.

It appears that mobile app use is subject to power law distributions. Keep that in mind while you build your 2015 digital plans, folks.

If you’ve not read Heidi Hackemer’s piece for Medium on living a great life in order to do great work, you’re missing out. Big time.

Nicole Fenton has a wonderful post on writing copy for global audiences. A lot of her guidelines would represent a step forward for even those tasked with writing only for English-speaking audiences.

Two weeks in a row for Mike Monteiro, but his post on things you need to do and understand before hiring a designer is essential reading — and central to understanding the challenges of building out in-house creative teams.

If you don’t get why Minecraft is an enormous deal, this visualization may help give you some context.

‘As we create robots, they recreate us.’ — Suzanne Livingston has a short, fantastic read on the Wolff Olins blog on the relationships between humans and automatons, and what it portends for our future(s).

Somewhere at the intersection of 3D-printed tissue, robots and Monsters Inc is the Soft Robotics Toolkit from the Harvard Biodesign Lab. For the curious (and this is fascinating):

The use of compliant materials to embed intelligence in the mechanics of the body enables designers to simplify the more complex mechanisms and software control systems used in traditional, rigid robotics.

Public data can be used to do some rather private snooping — stalking Bradley Cooper’s cab rides through New York City, for example. The value of public data sets, even those gleaned through FOI requests, represents a real tradeoff in social contracts — one that probably hasn’t yet generated the conversation it merits.

Slightly-less personally-identifiable: using public sewage to spot trends in cocaine and methamphetamine use. This is novel, but also a great reminder that when we make something, we also generate byproducts that come with their own data layers.

We love to ramble on about maps in this space, but this week we’ll let someone else do it for us. Adam Greenfield’s brilliant history of what London maps tell us about Londoners is one of the best things you’ll read this year. If you can’t read it now, bookmark it for later.

Havas and Universal Music Group are inserting new display advertising into old music videos, in a move that Universal claims will “allow artists additional opportunities to generate revenue from their music videos.” Your authors see only more cultural spam.

Zwift looks incredible: an immersive multiplayer online game that networks bicycle trainers from around the world into a bike racing environment that reflects the performance of each individual rider — somewhere in between Wii and the jetpacks we were promised.