Wise words from ‘the poet of the service economy’

Variations of Labor
Stories & Poems
Alex Gallo-Brown
Chin Music Press

On Twitter, Seattle poet Alex Gallo-Brown (@AlextheGB) modestly calls himself simply a “writer and labor organizer.” But he’s more than that. He has been hailed as “the poet of the service economy” by Valerie Trueblood, a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. And Washington State Poet Laureate Caudia Castro Luna has declared that “Alex Gallo-Brown’s first collection…reminds us of the myriad ways, beyond physical exertion, that work happens in our daily lives.”

Mike Elk, founder and senior labor reporter at PayDay Report, adds that he is “a big fan of Alex Gallo-Brown’s ‘Variations on Labor.’ It’s a mix of poetry, prose, and critical analysis. Really unique as far as labor books go.”

Indeed, it is a unique book, with stories, poems, critical analysis, and illustrations (by Seattle visual artist Devon Midori Hale) that seem startingly timed to speak to the loss, confusion, and desperation now felt by untold millions of people thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gallo-Brown also offers words that speak to the disruption and uncertainty felt by those laboring for free to take care of their children, meals, household cleaning, or aging or disable relatives. Even the efforts required to grow into adulthood or to mourn the loss of a loved one are among the many “variations” of labor in our world, he contends.

Some of the titles within the book are almost short poems in themselves, especially when contemplated against a backdrop of the Great Depression-level unemployment that’s still rising: “He Was a Worker”; “The Job at the Technology Company Cafe”; “Relief”; “The Union Organizer”; “In the Trader Joe’s Parking Lot.”

The opening stanza to one poem, “Before Charlottesville,” contains prescient words applicable to the unsettled way many of us might feel right now:

Days pass and the self
grows louder than before,
slumps, sinks, rises
again like a dog
irritated by an instinct
something has gone wrong.

Just three years ago, according to The Atlantic, “the services sector—a broad category of the economy that now includes financial services, media, transportation and technology—accounted for 67 percent of GDP in the United States.”

Today, only the consortiums of gods know exactly where America’s Gross Domestic Product currently stands. The service sector itself is in deep excrement, and much of its gains and positions likely have been flushed down the economic drain. The biggest question now likely is not “Will there be wage gains?” It’s “Will there be wages again–and when?”

Those who previously worked, or still work, in America’s and the world’s service sectors now need all of the voices they can gather on their side: economists, politicians, diplomats, social scientists, philanthropists–the list is long and grows distressingly longer with each job lost in the pandemic crisis.

To help add one more essential voice to the panel of experts lofting prayers and recommendations for recovery, I hereby second the nomination of Alex Gallo-Brown to be “Poet of the Service Economy.”

Si Dunn

Other Books to Consider

If you like humor with a heart and a message, check out The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey. I reviewed it here in April, 2020: https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/lone-star-review-big-finish

The tones and the messages are much different in Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town. This is an eye-opening, investigative look into the causes, effects, and aftermaths of one of America’s most devastating mass shootings. I reviewed Pulitizer Prize-nominee Joe Holley’s excellent book in a March, 2020, issue of Lone Star Literary Life.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, poet, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark SignalsJumpand Erwin’s LawSee also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

Killer UX Design – How to create compelling, user-centered interfaces – #bookreview

Killer UX Design
Jodie Moule
(SitePoint – paperback, Kindle)

The overused term “killer app” tends to kill my curiosity about books with “killer” in the title.

Still,  “killer” title aside, Killer UX Design deserves some attention, particularly if you are struggling to create a better user experience (UX) for products, websites, services, processes, or systems. The eight chapters in this 266-page book provide a well-written “introduction to user experience design.”

The focus, in UX design, is on “understanding the behavior of the eventual users of a product, service, or system. It then seeks to explore the optimal interaction of these elements, in order to design experiences that are memorable, enjoyable, and a little bit ‘wow’,” the author says.

She is a psychologist who co-founded and directs Symplicit, an “experience design consultancy” in Australia. “With the digital and physical worlds merging more than ever before,” she says, “it is vital to understand how technology can enhance the human experience, and not cause frustration or angst at every touchpoint.”

You won’t find JavaScript functions, HTML 5 code, or other programming examples in this book, even though software engineering increasingly is a key factor in UX design. Instead, the tools of choice during initial design phases are: Post-It Notes, index cards, sheets of paper, tape, glue, hand-drawn diagrams and sketches, plus clippings from newspapers, magazines and other materials.

And, you likely will spend time talking with other members of your UX design team, plus potential users of your product, service, or system.

Some of the chapters also deal with prototyping, testing, re-testing and tweaking, and how to modify a design based on what you learn after a product, service, or system has been launched.

A key strength of Killer UX Design is how it  illustrates and explains the real-life — and seldom simple — processes and steps necessary to design an app that is both useful and easy to use.

Si Dunn

Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web – #bookreview

Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web
By Lukas Mathis
(Pragmatic Bookshelf, $35.00 paperback)

There’s no code inside this well-written book for programmers and visual designers. Instead, the focus is on usability — how people use things — and how you can make big, modest or subtle improvements to their experiences with digital interfaces.

You may be designing a software product that you think will be user friendly. Yet how good, really, is your knowledge of efficient and effective design? And what do you really know about how users will respond to what you create? Are you relying on formal focus groups to tell you what your users supposedly will want?

If you are, you are not doing nearly enough research, insists the author, Lukas Mathis, a developer and user interface designer for Numcom Software. “[P]eople often aren’t able to tell us how we can solve their problems. Worse, people may not even be able to tell us what their problems are. And worst of all, people are pretty bad at predicting whether and how they would use a product if we proposed to build it for them,” he writes.

Instead of depending on focus groups, you should spend some time doing “job shadowing” and “contextual interviews” to help you shape a better interface.

“Since people don’t know what they want, a good approach is to simply observe what they do. The idea of [job] shadowing is to visit users in our target audience at the place where they will use our product. The goal is to find out how our product will help them achieve their goals.”

He adds: “With usability testing, the goal is to find issues with the user interface. When you are shadowing someone, the goal is to figure out what kind of product to create or how to change your product on a more fundamental level.”

In contextual interviews, you interview a user after doing some job shadowing. And: “What you see is more important than what people say. Still, by asking the right questions, you can often get some useful information out of people….The kinds of things you’re looking for are areas where improvements seem possible. Don’t ask for opinions, and avoid questions that force the person to play product designer.”

Mathis has structured his 322-page book into three parts – research, design and implementation – and 36 short, nicely focused chapters that deal with everything from “[c]reating documentation as soon as possible” to “learning from video games” to doing “guerilla usability testing,” overcoming common testing mistakes and dealing with bad user feedback.

Designed for Use has numerous illustrations that highlight common interface design mistakes. The book also shows major, minor and subtle ways to improve customers’ understanding, acceptance and appreciation of what happens when they use product interfaces on their computer screens or phones.

The author also emphasizes the importance of keeping in mind “that you don’t have to own 100 percent of your market. It’s true that adding more features to your product allows you to target more users, but doing so comes at a cost. Your product becomes more desirable to the people who would not be able to use it if it didn’t offer a specific feature. However, it also makes your product less desirable to the people who have no use for that specific feature.”

In his view: “It’s OK to let some people go to your competitors to get what they need; you can’t be everything to everybody.”

Si Dunn