While we were working on this issue, I came across a website that features a variety of different animal species. Each species’ photograph was accompanied by a short video clip about what made that particular animal special. The presenter—presumably an expert on the species—introduced the animal, pointed out its natural efficiencies and the evolutionary benefits of the unique aspects of its design, and proposed ways in which people could study the natural design to inspire innovation of better man-made products and processes.
Not surprisingly, ants were featured for their ability to work together in a highly efficient and effective way. I learned from watching the video that fire ants can survive floods by joining themselves together to form a large round and flat mass that can float. A sticky substance on their body lets them trap air in the hairs on their legs, which enables them to float for extended periods of time. Fascinating.
Perhaps even more interesting is the way in which ants work together to architect and maintain some of nature’s most complex nesting structures. Each member of an ant colony fills a specific role that contributes to the collective, greater good of the colony. All of this is made possibly by ants’ elaborate methods of communication.
After all of this, I wasn’t surprised to learn that ants and their collaborative, complex behavior have been studied with admiration from an organizational perspective.
The theme of this issue of the User Experience magazine is “Collaboration.” While we do not feature any additional information on ants, we do have a great mix of articles covering a broad range of techniques and tools that can help UXers work together.
Sometimes the challenge is the need to work across disciplines. Anne Kostick shares tips for finding (or being) a knowledge bridge.
Working across disciplines requires understanding others. Seung Chan Lim explores just what we mean by “empathy,” and Teresa Mak’s case study shows the result of opening the door to new perspectives.
Distributed teams often face challenges. Whitney Taylor looks at the ways in which setting up good communication routines can bridge distance and culture. Demetrios Karis and his colleagues Daniel Wildman and Amir Mané report on their research into videoconferencing.
Many of our UX activities rely on close working relationships. Benjamin Biörnstad and Gary and Judy Olson describe tools that can foster collaboration, in person or across time and distance.
Games require other forms of collaboration even if they are competitive. A team of designers from Bridgeable created an immersive environment to teach biomedical topics, but their guidelines are useful for any learning games.
In a playful mood, Duncan Ray compares the relationships on a UX project to the roles in a courtroom, with the product as the plaintiff, stakeholders as the jury, and usability participants as witnesses. Like those ants building their colonies, everyone involved in creating a new product has a role to play.
I hope you will enjoy the diverse experiences and insights this group of authors has to share.
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