Off the Top: Design Entries


July 15, 2016

Breaking Radio Silence Again

It has been a while since I’ve posted here. I’m thinking I may go back to a daily update for a stretch to keep the blogging muscle limber and trained.

Personal InfoCloud Backlog too

Over on other blog, [http://www.personalinfocloud.com](Personal InfoCloud) I have had a few more recent posts, but I have a very long backlog of content for that space as well. I need to rewrite the intro to the latest post there, [http://www.personalinfocloud.com/blog/2016/6/20/team-roles-needed-for-social-software-projects](Team Roles Needed for Social Software Projects).

I also have a series there called [http://www.personalinfocloud.com/?category=Shift+Happened](Shift Happened) that I have at least 12 most posts that need to get written (edited, or more likely rewritten). The next two in the Shift Happened series are related to UX in enterprise software and services and the subject of Adaption. Both of these subjects could likely have more than one post each. The UX in enterprise needs a grounding / framing piece as many still think of UX as visual design and not things being designed for use (nor all the various roles and domains that make up successful UX design). The Adaption pieces need the framing of complexity and complex adaptive systems to get set as a footing, but also needs to frame how adaption works and enables being comfortable in an ever changing environment that we live in today. As well a focus on Adaptive Road Maps is needed as how one plans in an ever shifting and complex environment is needed when today’s road maps for the next 2 to 5 years are shot to pieces after a quarter or two. Having and maintaining a long focus on where a company or product is headed is really helpful, particularly when needing to understand foundation priorities needed for a long haul in a world were agile practices drive the day-to-day, but those agile practices are incredibly nearsighted and often discourage the long view (I’ve had a lot of work related discussions about this in the last 6 months or so as it is a common deep pain point for many).

Health

A common question is about health after the eColi issue in 2014 to early 2015. My health seems to be good. Getting through last winter’s holiday season had me on edge as I was partially expecting to fall ill again. Thankfully, I stayed healthy.



February 16, 2015

Design and Business Leadership Snippets

There have been quite a few pieces lately on the importance of design and design leadership. The importance of design is getting to the true understanding of what the problems are and thinking about solving out from there without preconceptions of solutions, but letting solutions evolve form the need. Different and well fitting solutions often result from this approach, which is real innovtion and not copying someone else’s solutions for your use as innovation approach.

Matt Milan’s “It’s never been more important for design firms to think differently” is the cornerstone for this thinking differently approach and its deep value. I’d add to this is knowing not only the current state of where the various mediums, systems, and devices are sitting, but where they are headed in the next year or two, so to openly plan for adaption and keep the potential integrations as open possibilities.

Brian Zmijewski’s The Design Leadership Gap and Lead by Design are two really good pieces that take a look at the need for strong design leadership.

Kai Brunner’s Is DevOps Driving the Future of UX Design? is a great look at how to mix and have success with design and DevOps. The two prodominant models don’t really work well and how to work to get to a more optimal model.



December 14, 2014

Link Like Bin 13 December 2014

Another week of cleaning up, organizing, and working out partly broken identity and still working to get that resolved. Just the second time in 14 years with a Mac that I have had something this bothersome, which is much better than the nearly monthly with prior OS and same “corporate” OS when working on client sites.



December 3, 2014

24 Ways: A Web Holiday Favorite

Nothing makes me happier than to see the winter holiday begin and 24 Ways start its annual release of web development and design goodness. Drew McLellan and the 24 Ways crew have done another great job and I look forward eagerly for every day’s gem that is released.

To make all of this better, 24 Ways is in its 10th year. Congratulations for all the great content and work, from the very first to the current offering of the day.



November 15, 2014

Khoi Turns Infocards into Wildcard

This past week one of my favorite designers, Khoi Vinh released a product for iOS that is a great play on information card UI called Wildcard. Khoi has a really good write-up of the journey launching Wildcard.

Wildcard is Best When Used

The real joy is in using Wildcard. Khoi created a wonderfully usable and quite intuitive UI and interaction model all based on information cards, which work wonderfully on mobile and other constrained UI devices. Wildcard is a mix of news summary and scrolling service and product finding service.

Information cards are often mis-used and misunderstood. Both Google and Twitter started in with adding infocards to their design and information structuring a few years back. Both did this as a means to surface well chunked and structured content into small chunks for mobile and other UI constrained interfaces, but also for information scanning and lite representation interfaces and interaction models, like Google Now and the Twitter stream. The model does not work as well on fuller information and content sites, as it constrains in ways that are not moving things forwards, but instead setting false arbitrary constraints.

An Interconnected Service

One of the great pleasures in Wildcard is it not only has its own hold onto for later interaction and service, but it has fully integrated sharing with others and into your own services where you track, store, and manage your information nuggets. It does a really good job of integrating into one’s own personal knowledge flows and capture services.

Far too many services (see (unfortunately) Medium as example of current balkanization from other services) have been shifting to make it difficult for the reader and user of their content to work with the content as they wish and need in their information flows. This fracturing means it is more difficult to share and attribute content (and send people to the site) when blogging or other write-ups.

Khoi has long understood the value of information relationships and information flows for use and reuse, which shows brightly here in Wildcard.

Moved Wildcard to the Front Row

After spending about 15 minutes with Wildcard in my first use of it, it moved to the front row of my “News” folder in my iOS devices. It may become one of my first go to apps to see what is happening in the world around me.

A Model Interaction App

One of the things that struck me in my first use was the intuitive interaction model and information model for moving into a collection and around and deeper in the collection and then back out. Wildcard is really well done on this front. It is one of those things where when I am done using it the ease of use (for the most part - there are one or so “wha?” moment, but for a just launched product that is great) really stands out and I start working through how it works and functions. I’m likely going to have a sit down with it not to use it, but to map out what it is doing, because for me its interaction design is really good and fluid.

It is always a joy to find an app or service that not only does its job well and seems to get out of the way, but works to augment your workflows and existing resources for use and reuse. But, when it stands out as a really easy to use service on first use and good for discovery and exploring, it is worth sitting and better understanding the how and why it does that so I can better think through options and paths for things I am working on or advising.

Kudos Khoi!



November 1, 2014

Zeldman and Jason Sanata Maria Hit on Design Truth

I have a small set of podcasts I really enjoy, but a couple weeks back Jeffrey Zeldman’s The Big Web Show, On Web Typography with Jason Santa Maria was a stand out. It was not only great on the subject of typography and reflected a lot of early web design, but got into the reputation of design.

Design doesn’t have a great reputation in the business world and it is seen as superficial, which is a reason I stay away from using design or user experience as a label. Jason and Jeffrey did a great job talking through this. This got huge head nods in agreement and wanted to shout to the world around (that I was driving through) “this is IT”. It was a real moment of truth and best explained by listening to their conversation.

Deep thanks Jeffrey for not only this podcast, but all your work. Keep it rocking!



Being Makers

Oh, there is so much great fodder in Dan Hon’s most recent Tiny Letter, but today’s dosage meted out Episode One Hundred and Eighty One: It’s Too Hot; Monitor This is a gem. The piece that really got me going is midway through section “2.0 Monitor This”, as follows:

I’ve been in meetings like this.

I don’t know what the brief would've been. But given that it went to Jam in the first place, I’m sure it was something to do with “let’s do something on social or mobile”. And it's exciting to think, as a creative team, that you've come up with an “app” that can “solve a problem”.

Well, part of the f*cking problem is this: those creative teams have most commonly *never shipped* an “app” or a “service” before. And the skills required in actually making a good application or service are vastly different from those involved in creating compelling creative communications. Because, you know, one of these things is used and the other one isn’t. That’s not to say that good apps and services *can’t* be informed by the kind of taste and direction that informs well-performing advertising creative communications work. But the two things are different!

This is why, for example, good producers try to find people who’ve actually done something in the relevant area before, so you’re not playing a f*cking crap shoot.

Pants on Fire

This scenario is not only creative agencies, but most any non-serious product organization. I see this a ton where people are just guessing the way forward. It doesn’t matter if they are in UX and don’t understand the medium they are working in with any depth (they don’t prototype and can’t build), they are analysts who have never built nor managed a scaled environment and been responsible for it, or are a consultant that never stuck around to be responsible for what they delivered so never learn how to do anything close to properly.

Largely it comes down to depth and experience dealing with things for a long haul. The best experience is not only doing, but being with it long term and responsible for things after they are delivered. The best experience in this set is being the person, or one of the people, whose pants catch on fire when things don’t go well.

These “pants catch on fire” folks are most often gems, particularly if they are keep building and working to innovate and iterate (with all the research and digging for more depth) so to understand it better and get it right. These people are also the ones who can break things down to the “it depends” elements and walk through the questions needed and know what to do with the answers. Far too many want the answers without knowing how to think it through or go through the questions but not understand what the answers mean.

SXSW Started with Makers

A lot of this reminds me of the progressions of South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. I first went in 2001 to not only listen and learn, but to meet and thank some of the people who helped me deeply by the lessons they learned and shared themselves and by others on shared in the service they offered. I learned much of what I knew in the early web years (1994 to 2001) from people sharing what worked, but also what didnt work (and what they did that didn≱t work in a situation) [I also had relied heavily on my formal learning as a communication major undergrad and public policy (econ and social quant) from grad school]. I wanted to say hello to Jeffrey Zeldman for A List Apart, Jeffrey Veen for Webmonkey and HotWire, and Nathan Shedroff for sharing all they did at Vivid Studio (one of the first web design shops that predated UX, but took all the methods I learned in designing communications and applied it to the web and digital matter and connected the long used methods to new terms for the same things).

That 2001 SXSW was a lot of people who were building, making, and working deeply to understand what worked, what didn≱t work, to improve what they were making so it could be used by others who needed it to work. It was a sea of design and developer hybrid explorers.

By 2005 SXSW had shifted from purely makers to include those talking about things made and how to use what has been made, while not really understanding what goes into making it. These were the “Clickers”.

In 2006 and 2007, we had shifted from the Makers, to the Clickers, to many talking about the Clickers, but not really understanding the Clickers as they weren’t really using things, but talking at an abstraction layer about what the Clickers said. There was some nascent value in these “Talking about Clickers” folks, but a lot of it was off target as they didn’t understand the underlying elements that were being used, not the mindset and the needs of the Clickers all that deeply - the exceptions to these are deep researchers who actually could and did make and spent time in with the Makers and Clickers.

By 2008 the abstraction at SXSW got really crazy. It had a huge number of talks by people “Talking about those Talking about Clickers” otherwise known as social media gurus. It was an utter mess. There was a severe lack of depth and nobody had a clue about much of what they were talking about. Their understandings were based on mis-understandings. There was a small contingent of Makers still speaking and some Clickers who had good depth of understanding by this point, but most of what was on the program was horrid blather. Much of the draw that had makers drop into Austin to see friends and colleagues and share and work through understandings to hone the way forward stopped going. At 2008 I had enough of it and stopped going as the value derived is next to nothing.

SXSW in about eight years went from being Makers, to Clickers, to Talking about Clickers, and to Talking about those Talking about Clickers. It became a gathering of nothingness. It became a conference of what Dan is talking about, people trying to do something without having any interest in understanding what they are doing. They want answers without understanding the question.

For the Love of Makers

I love the Makers and making. The mindset and drive to understand how to build things better for the Clickers and to make things more usable and needed. Working with other Makers and people with Makers’ mindset in the development, design, and product side is fantastic. There is a whole lot of “we don’t understand this well enough” mindset. As nothing is perfect and everything has gaps (products and humans) we need Makers to understand and build a way forward.



April 29, 2013

Broken Decade Precedes It Works Decade

I had long forgotten this Carl Steadman response to Michael Sippy’s “Just One Question - What do you want for Christmas”, but the response from 1997 is fantastic and frames the 1990s as the broken decade. (I’ll wait for you to go read it)

I’m not so sure that Carl’s broken decade got better in the first half of the 2000 decade, but it really started to. We are much farther along now. Our consumer world started to improve quite a bit and slowly business systems and services are slowly improving. The initial part of Carl’s rant focusses on the number of steps to get something going. Once it is working the steps are still clunky.

Carl gets in a great rant about time and how broken it was in the 90s within technology (calendaring and syncing is still a beast and likely to for a bit longer - you understand the problem sets and pain points if you have ever tried to build syncing). With calendaring and its related activities we now have Tempo, which is freakishly close to the next step scenario I used in many of the Come to Me Web presentations and Personal InfoCloud presentations from 2003 through 2007 (I’ve been getting requests to represent them as this is what more and more developers and designers are dealing with today and need to have a better foundation to think through them). There was an internal Yahoo presentation (and follow on day of deep discussions and conversations) with a version of the Personal InfoCloud and Come to me Web flow that is nearly identical to the Tempo app video scenario and ones spelled out in Robert Scoble’s interview with Tempo CEO, which is utterly awesome that it is getting built out some 10 years later (we had the technology and tools to do this in 2004 and beyond).

Carl’s rant gets worn away over time though consumer devices, services, and applications. The refocus on ease of use and particularly the use through mobile, which requires a very different way of thinking and considering things. It thinking through design, the dependancies, and real user needs (all while keeping in mind the attention issues, screen size, networking, and device limitations). The past couple years mobile finally caught on with mainstream users and people doing real work on the mobile and tablets - Box 40% mobile access of files stored there over the last couple years. Many other business vendors have had mobile use rates of their services from mobile over the past two years. When talking to users they opt for mobile solutions over their full enterprise tools as they are much easier to use, which quickly translates into getting more work done. As Bernd Christiansen of Citrix stated in an onstage interview the employee’s most productive part of the day is often the walk from their car to the front door of the office working on their mobile devices.

This world is not fully better and fully easy to use from the days of Carl’s rant, but it is getting better. We still have quite a ways to go.



May 7, 2012

Baseball and Sports Open One's Eyes to the Exceptional

Tonight (Sunday the 6th of May) was a good evening if you are a baseball fan. There were some great games that are out of the norm. It seems that there are quite a few extra inning games this year, but two of my favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Baltimore Orioles both took their games into extra innings. The Giants game started 3 hours after the Orioles game and yet they ended within a minute or so of each other. With the Giants going into the 11th inning to get a walk off single to win and the Orioles won in the 17th after a 3 run home by Adam Jones put them ahead in the top of the inning.

Looking for the Exceptions

One of the announcers for the Boston Red Sox and Orioles game that went to 17 innings had said he met a friend of his who brought his kid to the game and the announcer said to the kid, “I hope you get to see something special today”. That is a big part of the fun of baseball, and sport in general from a spectator’s vantage, it is the exceptions and the things that are special. It is also a great way to pick up the norms and customs in a culture (Gunther Barth’s “City People” is a great book on human social interactions and how the the social norms are found and set in cities includes the baseball stadium as one of the core elements for enculturation and social interaction with others). But, the understanding of norms and exceptions while watching a game being played with skill is where one learns to see the world. Sports fans stick out in the workplace, whether they are male or female as they often see things differently. They look for the exceptional and often look to see hints of things that stand out.

It is that seeing a world for the norms and the exception to appreciate them, but also to look to emulate them. This really is the standout out trait quite often for the deep fans. It is also the weaving of the story before your eyes and the potential for a great ending. But, it is also watching the unexpected player, or even the expected player, do something far from the norm and maybe even spectacular.

Tonight’s Orioles and Red Sox 17 inning gem had two unusual pitchers as the winning and losing pitchers, in that neither was a pitcher. The winning pitcher, Chris Davis is the Orioles designated hitter and occasional first baseman. He went to bat eight times tonight and didn’t get one hit. But he was called on to pitch in the 16th inning and stayed on in the 17th as there were no more relief pitchers available and Buck Showalter the Orioles Manager put him on the mound to pitch. This is exceptionally rare. What was rarer was Davis did rather well and in the two innings he struck out two batters. Really amazing.

Two Summer’s back when my dad was on in his last weeks another amazing game took place. It was the ninth inning and two outs with Armando Galarraga pitching a perfect game up to that point. All Galarraga needed was one last out. he pitched and the ball was hit and thrown to first base ahead of the runner and the umpire called the runner safe, a hit. The perfect game gone, but it was the wrong call. The manager argued his case and the replays clearly showed the runner was out and Galarraga should have the perfect game (there have only been 21 perfect game pitched in all of recorded major league baseball). The umpire Jim Joyce stuck to his call as that is what he saw as the runner safe. The game was over minutes later with the final out with Galarraga getting the win, but not the perfect game.

Following the game the Jim Joyce went off field and looked at the replay and realized he made the wrong call. He went to find Galarraga and apologize and admit he made the wrong call. This was gut wrenching for Joyce, who is known for getting the hard calls right so often. But, the humility and deep showing of humanity in Joyce reaching out admitting he was wrong and feeling horrible as his call stood between perfection and it incredible rarity. Hearing this story choked me up (I had watched the end of the game and was in awe). I called my dad and told him about it, but he was medicated and not really able to share in it. The thought of the game and story of it is something I still get choked up with, because it is utterly amazing.

With an eye to the exceptional I hear designers talk with the same alertness, as well as others in various other professions. Quite often the best of any field have this same focus and often they see the world much the same way. Often when you sit and get to know them the stories of games watched come out where something amazing happened or something out of the ordinary. They have learned to look for that and keep their eyes and mind open and attentive to just that the seeds of exceptions starting and the desire to see it this time, the one time will they see the exceptional happen, as it happens.



April 26, 2012

Skitch Update Includes Evernote Posting

Skitch updated its Mac OS software today and now include a direct posting (or sync in their terminology) to Evernote. This past year Evernote purchased Skitch and its team and brought them into the Evernote fold.

I have been waiting for this posting to Evernote since they were purchased. While I like the Skitch hosted web dashboard and its hosting of one’s own Skitch images it didn’t fully fit into my workflow as easily as Evernote has. Skitch dashboard works well to share images and drafts out with others and provides a nice interface for seeing what is private/secret and what is public.



October 7, 2011

A World without Steve Jobs

The news of the passing of Steve Jobs came as I turned on my iPad arriving at the BWI airport. It caused a gasp from me. Much of the prior 90 minutes were filled talking with my seat mate about the future of technology and our finding ease in using the tools we have today and their near future incarnations and beyond. The conversation kicked off with a question about iPad and differences between iPad and iPad2.

Today, what really struck as I woke today was not as much on what Steve Jobs inspired and shipped, but what didn't ship. I have had some long discussions with folks from Apple about things that got stuck in the Steve Jobs review and how to potentially get a feature or product beyond that hurdle. The attention to detail was stunning as to what the CEO focussed on and how each thing fit in not only the whole stretch of Apple products, but also all the touch points where people experience Apple. On rare occasion something that has been a bit of a clunker shipped from Apple, but mostly it is shipping great products that are well designed, well engineered, and very well built.

Having a leader understand this whole of the ecosystem of experience and making decisions to remove things that could dent that whole of the experience is essential Steve Jobs. One thing in particular sticks out is Apple not shipping is Flash in the iPhone. At the time many other smartphones included a Flash player in their devices, but it was never a good or passable experience, even when it wasn't locking up the device or crashing it. Jobs and Apple took a lot of heat for this decision, but it was geeks that cared about Flash in phone and those who only understand checkboxes when making device selection that were having the lack of understanding. The lack of Flash in iPhone and other iOS based products is one key to their ease of use and uptime, which lead to high user satisfaction of the devices.

American companies in recent years have been competing on price not quality, and therefore have largely been shipping mediocre products. The financial success of WallMart is founded on getting brands to make a cheaper more mediocre product so people own a brand that once mattered, but the product is deeply lacking in the quality they bought for a low price. The Steve Jobs Apple did not give in to shipping junk, their products may cost more than other devices, but once you add similar components to what Apple didn't cut corners on the price is rather close if not much more for the competing products. Jobs turned Apple around from a company that had become focussed on price and mediocrity and returned it to a company that focussed on "Boom" and quality with forward thinking products. Jobs shifted the focus from following to bringing the future to today with quality.

When we consider Pixar, Tim Berners-Lee inventing the web on Steve Jobs' Next Cube computer, changing the music industry with iTunes and iPod, disruptively moving the mobile phone marketplace, and countless other drastic changes one man and his companies made it is tough not to stop for a moment and be thankful and know we have been blessed with one who dreamed of greatness for the world around him and delivered it though passion and flair.

Now it is our turn not to give into mediocrity and accept the merely acceptable, but measure what we do and bring into our world and lives the greatness that should be there.



August 26, 2011

The Steve Jobs Difference

Yesterday's news that Steve Jobs resigned from is position as CEO of Apple hit hard. I, like everybody, knew this day would come but Jobs had many times cheated reality by creating a whole new one out of thin air (apparently thin air is made of hard work, insane attention to detail, knowing what the future looks like, hiring great people who can execute from that vision and have equal attention to detail along with knowing the deep underpinnings of everything they touch to to make something great, and not compromising on the way to making something great) and I had selfishly hoped his health and longevity would dance on some of that magic as well.

I was a fan of Apple products in the mid through late 80s when the Mac and MacBooks were the new and inventive darlings and also options I had to use at work. But, it was not until Jobs returned to Apple and the release of Mac OSX that I paid attention closely nor personally cared. In 2001 I was losing my laptop when I left a work project that loaned me one and was a web project built on UNIX that I went looking for a replacement as a personal computer for me. I went with a Titanium PowerBook from Apple because of Mac OSX as it gave me not only the new Mac OS and classic Mac OS to test with, but OSX is built on UNIX (Darwin, which Jobs' created at Next based on BSD) including access to the command line, and it could have a Windows emulator running to use the tools required when dealing with large organizations. All of this was in a less than one inch Titanium encased laptop, with a lovely screen, and battery that could last a flight across the US.

But, something happened I did not see coming, after a few months I was only using Mac OSX. My purchase choice was based on the capability and need to use all the various operating systems, but my use showed I only used one. Mac OSX was a giant change and revelation for me, I no longer was battling the operating system it just worked, I was able to do my job (that does not include keeping my personal computer functioning properly) and things were much easier to use. I noticed the attention to detail and careful design not only in the operating system and Apple software, but also the hardware. My hardware was lasting like no other manufacturer (my last laptop was 4.5 years old before replacing).

It was after purchasing my PowerBook that I started closely paying attention to Steve Jobs keynote presentations. The keynotes were a blast as Jobs seemed as giddy as we were about the newest things (iPod, iMac with extendable screen, iPhone, iPad, etc.) and at the same time deeply proud that Apple (his baby) was shipping yet another product that dared at greatness and changing the way things are done and the way we live our lives. (Josh Bernoff of Forrester counts 5 game changing innovations in technology as well as how these innovations deeply changed the music, film, telephone, internet, and other related industries). There has been no other single person nor company that has had that much impact.

There is No Other Like Jobs

I have long been accused of being an Apple fan boy, but I'm not so sure that I am that as much as I am a fan of nearly perfect execution of ideas that truly lead and are driven by a goal to ship things that are great. This is very much at the heart of what Steve Jobs has done for Apple. It is not only the vision, but he is the one that pays attention to the details and things that are insanely small and even things that can not be seen, but need to be there.

I have had the fortune of chatting with people at Apple in the cafe, being invited to speak to them, and pulled aside at events by a couple groups at Apple to "chat about some things" that lasted a few hours. These glimpses inside left me in greater awe of not only Apple and its very different and secret way of doing things, but of Jobs himself. I heard stories of Jobs product reviews and the level of detail of things he gets to (wire color inside a laptop, the symmetry of left and right invisible to sight laser drilled holes next to the laptop cameras in MacBook Pros - the right for an on light to show through and the left for balance, yes of something you can not see). But, I also had somebody recount a review he was responsible for the product and it didn't meet Jobs's standards and I watched the person physically recount the pain of that dressing down I imagine he got as he asked for suggestions for alternate paths to get it approved. The explanation and constraints around the feature and functionality were really well reasoned and I could see why it didn't ship. But also I was more in awe of Jobs and the realization of the breadth and depth he not only pays attention to, but the detail and quality that he demands. Not only did Jobs lead a company he checked it line by line as it was part of the vision and passion, but also he has the serious depth of understanding to have a company make things that are great.

The Measure of Things

Yes, not everything Apple ships has been perfect nor great and it would be foolish to say that. But, those teams and people do not last long who do not ship greatness. Apple will and has shipped things that are iterations on their way to something else as well as blown up products for a rebuild from square one (Final Cut Pro is in the midst of this) as well as things that are experiments (Apple TV). But, where Apple has and does stand apart is the expectation of greatness of product and having products that ship.

I have had senior executives of many tech companies as well as non-tech companies sit and ask about what I think is the difference between their company and Apple (I find this odd as I never publicly mentioned any interaction with Apple other than customer until this post).

This questioning has repeatedly come from senior management at Microsoft, whom I really like, but hasn't shipped anything great (perhaps other than Xbox) even though they have always had great things in R&D for years. The answer to Microsoft about the difference comes down to expectations and rewards. At Microsoft employees are reviewed on a sales and marketing model where the top third get really good salary increases and good bonuses, the middle third based on reviews get moderate increases and most years some bonus, and the bottom third has to reapply for their job or find another one. What this model of reward does is have nearly every employee game the system to be the white knight at the end of the day (just before review) sweep in with a great solution. The problem with this approach is the systems are so complicated and complex that they are not integrated nor tested well enough (often this needs many months of planning, if not years) to make a seamless solid product. Then I get asked what the Apple model is, which is really simple: All teams are given the task of making a great product and if the product meets expectations and review of the one with the insanely careful eye as well as does well in the marketplace the whole team is rewarded well, if not the team is reconfigured to better meet expectations (rumors of whole teams being dismissed have not publicly confirmed, but that would never surprise me).

Apple works and is set up as a whole to work together in clusters of people focussed with one driving mission. There is an also a culture of "what would Jobs do" that is more than myth and that matching of vision and expectations really extend broadly and deeply. But, the one thing I fear and have seen in the past year or two in Apple products is a slipping of quality and attention to detail in tiny ways. Not having the Steve Jobs with final insane attention to detail and vision review doesn't catch the things that make a deep difference. There is a lot of magic in Steve Jobs that can not be replaced (I strongly believe everybody has a gift that make them special and the world a much better place for having their gift in it, but Jobs has had this in volume like no other).

More Than Product

In 2005 I was moved by one rather short presentation like I had been at no other time and moved to make change. This was Steve Jobs' commencement address at Stanford given after his return to Apple after stepping away to battle cancer. The Jobs 2005 Commencement Address - Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. was and still is amazing. It was amazing in the craft of it in writing and delivery, but also the message. I grabbed a copy of this a day or two after I heard about it and listened to it nearly every time I travelled (which was a fair amount then). I continued listening to this about once a month for years and need to return to it.

For all of this and more I wish Steve Jobs deep thanks and wish him peace and comfort moving forward. Steve is the embodiment of of the Apple Think Different mindset and we are all better off for it.



March 30, 2011

Designing Advanced Deisgn - Julian Bleeker notes from Kruzeniski Workshop

Every now and then I run into a post that brings back that passion and understanding at what is at my core. A post that I wish I wrote or had been able to express what is there at the core. A post with so many great bits that if I high lighted the great parts the whole thing would be yellow (not that I highlight much in yellow (more of orange, pink, and blue sort of guy).

Julian’s Notes from the Workshop on Designing Advanced Design

But enough expounding, what tickled my interest is Julian Bleeker's IxD 2011 Designing Advanced Design Workshop blog post which are notes from Micke Kruzeniski's IxDA workshop (you know, like the title says). The workshop exercise is interesting, but there this post really is enjoyable for me are the insights and everything that follows.

The focus on optimization and efficiency at a set size for certain processes and outcomes is critical. Once you scale beyond that efficiency decreases and costs rise. This lesson is one I see many small and smallish companies run up against. This can be really interesting to watch with internet-based products as it takes many people to keep something up and running and optimized, even when the design, functionality, purpose, and interactions with the service really haven't changed with the only change being there are many more people hitting and using the service than there were prior. In theory you are not producing any more of anything as it is all a copy of digital internet thing “X”, which sole ingredient is energy to appear as an interactive (or even static) internet object or interface elsewhere.

I also like this illustrative piece in the workshop as it brings to the forefront something I continually ponder as a differentiation crack between the US and Europe (possibly elsewhere in the world, but I don't have those examples) on production of things. In the US the common push is to get big and dominate, but in Europe, there are so many people who produce at a scale that gives them optimal quality and they do not move beyond that scale. As long as the crafts people can create a product at a scale that they can make a living and have the product be the best it can be without sacrificing quality they know their production threshold and where to stop. They have perfection in their mind and they have no or little interest in moving beyond that strict measure. (This European sense of quality is surfacing in locally grown food and artisan food circles in the US and other crafts.)

Krizeniski's 3 Approaches to Advanced Design

The Kruzeniski's workshop put a focus on 3 approaches to advanced design, which really require skilled designers who deeply understand their specialization, depths knowledge of materials, and the process of creation in that field. (A theme that surfaces in the BBC's Genius of Design, which I reviewed).

The three approaches are: 1) the Outlier, which works in “what if?” scenarios; 2) The Pantry that builds and iterates and tucks all of these steps and creations away to have on hand at some later point; 3) The Northstar, which takes a long view at the potential in the future and works toward that over time (see the Audi incremental iterations from future concept car to real product in the R8 that is used as an example).

There is so much more in Julian's collection of notes and insights found and shared in the workshop, that the whole piece is well worth a read.



February 22, 2011

The Genius of Design - BBC Series Overview

This past Summer (2010) the BBC (BBC 2) showed a five part documentary series on design, called The Genius of Design (TGoD). This series is similar to Gary Hustwit's Objectified, but TGoD goes much broader and deeper offering a better reflection of the reality of design only seen through that depth. Think of Objectified as a taste sampler of TGoD. There are some people in common between the two whom are interviewed and focussed upon, but life is breathed into architecture, process, visual, industrial, and many more slices of the design world that bring design to life in TGoD. It is a wonderful look at the real nature of design.

The Five Episodes of The Genius of Design

The five episodes are: 1) Ghosts in the Machine; 2) Designs for Living; 3) Blueprints for War; 4) Better Living Through Chemistry; 5) Objects of Desire. The core focus is on the deep consideration and understanding that goes into design. It is this rigor of understanding and working through to final product all based on a core objective. Throughout the five series the focus on a deep understanding the materials deeply, use, impact on the people interacting with what has been designed, and development processes (as well as optimizing them).

Standout Themes

The obsession to understand the materials used and objects being design with depth and breadth is not the only standout theme. Many other themes and take away ideas stood out not only when watching, but also now many months later.

Focus on End Use and People Using Product of Design

One major reoccurring theme throughout is the focus on end use. The the products not only should be pleasing nearly (possibly to the point of being emotive), but they must also be usable, and do what it is intended to do very well. A continual focus on the person using what is designed is one of the central tenets of design and with out this it is something other than design.

Breadth of Design Disciplines and Roles

To the point of design having a focus on the person using what is designed, the breath of roles within design was brought up. Wonderfully, Peter Boersma's T-Model was directly mentioned in when discussing the breadth of expertise with required depth and roles in design that are required to all come together to optimally create a final product that is please and usable for the person who engages with the final product. While watching the whole series the focus on various disciplines and roles is very evident and when listening to the designers talk about their own focus and discipline (all largely falling under the moniker of design) as it relates to final crafting of the final object) it is they all have depth in their own discipline, but understand the materials deeply and the class and required needs for the final product very well.

Every Designer Has A Chair In Them

Another reoccurring thread, that gets depth of focus a few times, is the idea that every designer has a chair in them (this has become a meme in the broad design community from the near instant this was uttered mid-Summer). The chair is emblematic of the need for utility (purpose, comfort, durability, etc.) as well as providing style. A chair that collapses is not well designed. The chair also often has requirements beyond basic sitting, which can include long term comfort, ability to stack and store it, be environmentally friendly, and many more possible variations. This intersection of use, style, material, and production around the chair leads to a lot of the depth of understanding required to get to a final product prototyped, tested, and into production. This depth and breadth that designers put in is often not considered by people outside the design community, but also the depth and rigor involved in design is missed in some disciplines that are tangential to design, but do not consider themselves purely in the design profession.

Process Design and Optimization

Within the Blueprints for War episode the focus of designing the process was often repeated. The episode focussed on Britain in World War II and the need to have mass production of goods needed for the war that worked for their purposes, but there were limitations of materials and time needed to get mass amounts of goods in military personnel’s hands. Streamlining production and simplifying the goods became essential, but as well thinking of solutions seemed like their was expansive production (dummy planes, etc.) and alternate facilities (fake factories) were included in the design mix.

Wishing for More

In all this was a fantastic series for those in and around the design profession, those who intersect with design, and just fans of design.



June 27, 2009

Social Design for the Enterprise Workshop in Washington, DC Area

I am finally bringing workshop to my home base, the Washington, DC area. I am putting on a my “Social Design for the Enterprise” half-day workshop on the afternoon of July 17th at Viget Labs (register from this prior link).

Yes, it is a Friday in the Summer in Washington, DC area. This is the filter to sort out who really wants to improve what they offer and how successful they want their products and solutions to be.

Past Attendees have Said...

“A few hours and a few hundred dollar saved us tens of thousands, if not well into six figures dollars of value through improving our understanding” (Global insurance company intranet director)

From an in-house workshop…
“We are only an hour in, can we stop? We need to get many more people here to hear this as we have been on the wrong path as an organization” (National consumer service provider)

“Can you let us know when you give this again as we need our [big consulting firm] here, they need to hear that this is the path and focus we need” (Fortune 100 company senior manager for collaboration platforms)

“In the last 15 minutes what you walked us through helped us understand a problem we have had for 2 years and a provided manner to think about it in a way we can finally move forward and solve it” (CEO social tool product company)

Is the Workshop Only for Designers?

No, the workshop is aimed at a broad audience. The focus of the workshop gets beyond the tools’ features and functionality to provide understanding of the other elements that make a giant difference in adoption, use, and value derived by people using and the system owners.

The workshop is for user experience designers (information architects, interaction designers, social interaction designers, etc.), developers, product managers, buyers, implementers, and those with social tools running already running.

Not Only for Enterprise

This workshop with address problems for designing social tools for much better adoption in the enterprise (in-house use in business, government, & non-profit), but web facing social tools.

The Workshop will Address…

Designing for social comfort requires understanding how people interact in a non-mediated environment and what realities that we know from that understanding must we include in our design and development for use and adoption of our digital social tools if we want optimal adoption and use.

  • Tools do not need to be constrained by accepting the 1-9-90 myth.
  • Understanding the social build order and how to use that to identify gaps that need design solutions
  • Social comfort as a key component
  • Matrix of Perception to better understanding who the use types are and how deeply the use the tool so to build to their needs and delivering much greater value for them, which leads to improved use and adoption
  • Using the for elements for enterprise social tool success (as well as web facing) to better understand where and how to focus understanding gaps and needs for improvement.
  • Ways user experience design can be implemented to increase adoption, use, and value
  • How social design needs are different from Web 2.0 and what Web 2.0 could improve with this understanding

More info...

For more information and registration to to Viget Lab's Social Design for the Enterprise page.

I look forward to seeing you there.

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February 25, 2008

Paparazzi on Mac Fix-up

Since I upgraded to Apple's Mac Leopard I have had intermittent issues with Paparazzi for Mac, a webpage screen grab tool that will make an image of the full page. I am not sure what version I had, but am fairly sure it was still version 0.4.3 from my Tiger build. My issue was it would not render pages and would just stay blank.

In search of a remedy I went to the Paparazzi page and grabbed the 0.5 beta. When I loaded this on my MacBook Pro with Leopard 10.5.2 it the application would just crash. This was a step in the wrong direction.

One thing to keep in mind is I am a huge fan of Skitch, which I use for capturing sub-page elements. The ease of use, beauty in the interaction would make it really difficult for another tool to supplant the viewable screen grabs and sub-page screen grabs of Skitch. The freakishly ease of moving grabs and images out of Skitch into the apps and places I need to use the images and places I want and need to share them is unparalleled in any other application on any platform. So, I am looking for a full webpage screen grab tool

Call for Help on Twitter

I put a call out to friends on Twitter for an alternate resource. As is normal with Twitter I had a response with in minutes and many responses in 30 minutes. Jorge Arango made the great suggestion of using FireFox Extension - ScreenGrab, which I loaded and does a good job. Occasionally, I want to grab images of variances across many browsers, so I kept listening.

Another FireFox and Mozilla offering was surfaced by Joshua Porter of Page Saver by Pearl Crescent. The full paid version offers sub-page screen grabs, but it whole of the tool looks decent.

Nate Koechley stated his Paparazzi 0.4.3 was running just fine on his Leopard 10.5 and 10.5.2 installs. I went back to Paparazzi and grabbed the 0.4.3 install and used it to replace the 0.5 beta install. I started up Paparazzi and it ran just fine, just like it used to. The bugginess with my old install may have been that I had not recompiled Paparazzi to run under Leopard, which is what reloading essentially performed.

I am not one to always stop looking once I found what I was looking for (things are not always in the last place you look), so I listened to The Ronin and his suggestion for WebSnapper from Tasty Apps, which looks to be the next step up from Paparazzi with the breadth of output it offers. But, the downside is WebSnapper does not offer a preview of the output page as Paparazzi does.

The Result

It looks like Paparazzi (repaired) 0.4.3 will be my replacement for Paparazzi for pages it will deal with and WebSnapper will be its likely back-up. I hope that one day Skitch offers a full-page screen grab of web pages, but that day is not today. I am deeply appreciative of all those that offered their responses on Twitter.



June 16, 2007

New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery

A week or more ago I ran across the incredible video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation of Photosynth and Seadragon at TEDTalks 2007. The video is stunning work of Seadragon and Photosynth bringing a collection of images to life from one or more resources.

While the video and ideas behind the tools are incredible displays of where we are today with technology and where we are heading, this caused some ideas I have been trying to get to gel to finally come together. In this video Blaise states (my own transcription):

So what the point here really is, is we can do things with the social environment taking data from everybody, from the entire collective memory of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts. You have a model that emerges of the entire earth, think of it as the long tail to Stephen Lawlers Virtual Earth work. This is something that grows in complexity as people use it and whose benefits become greater to the users as they use it. Their own photos are getting tagged with metadata that somebody else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints and say who they all are, then my photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all of that data. I can use it as an entry point to dive into that space in that metaverse, using everybody else's photos, and do a cross-modal and cross-user social experience that way. Of course a by product of all of that is an immensely rich virtual models of every interesting part of the earth, collected not just from overhead flight and satellite images, but from the collective memory.

Torrent of Human Contributed Digital Content

What this brought together was the incredible amount of human contributed digital content we are sitting on top of at this moment in time. This is not a new concept, but what is different is the skills, tools, and understanding to make use and sense of all this content are having to change incredibly. The Photosynth team is making use of Flickr content that has been annotated by humans (tags, titles, and descriptions), as well as by devices (date, time, location, etc.). This meta information provides hooks put pull disparate information back from its sole beauty and make an even greater beauty and deeper understanding. The collective is better than the pieces, but pulling to collective together in a manner that is coherent, adds value, and brings deeper appreciation is where get hard.

Much of information understanding and sense making to date has relied on human understanding and we have used tools to augment our understanding. But, we now need to rely on deeper analytics in quantitative methods and advanced algorithms to make sense and beauty out of the bits and bytes. The models of understanding are changing to requiring visualizations methods (much like those of Stamen Design) to begin to grasp and see what is happening in our torrent of information at our finger tips and well as make sense of the social interactions of our digitally networked and digitally augmented lives.

Amalgamation of Designer and Quant Geek

What gelled in my mind watching the Blaise demonstration is there is a skill set missing in the next generation comprised of amalgamated design, information use, analytical foundation, and strong quantitative skills. I have clients in start-up businesses and in enterprise that are confronting these floods of information they need to make sense of from folksonomies and customer generated content (including annotations and regular feedback). The skills needed for building taxonomies are not translating well when the volume of information the information managers are dealing with is orders of magnitude higher than what they dealt with previously. The designer, information architect, and taxonomist who have traditionally have dealt with building the systems of information order, access, and use are missing the quantitative skills to analyze and make sense out of a torrent of loosely structured information and digital objects. Those with the quantitative and strong analytical skills have lacked the design and art skills to bring the understanding into frame for regular people grasp and understand.

This class of designer and quant geek is much like the renaissance men, but today the field of those forging new ground is open to men and women. The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding is the realm of few, unfortunately as there is a need for many.

I know of limited pockets of people with the skills to do the hard work of querying the vast array of information, objects, and raw data then make something of value of it. But, there needs to be more of these people getting trained as designers with solid quantitative and analytical skills (or the converse). Design shops are missing the quant geeks and engineering shops are missing the visualization geeks that bring this digital world rich in opportunity into something that makes sense and beauty.

If you know people like this that are bored, please let me know as I am finding opportunities flowing.



March 22, 2007

Las Vegas is First Life's Attempt at Second Life

I arrived in Las Vegas last night feeling slightly out of sync with the world around me. I realized that Las Vegas is the First Life's version of Second Life. When I mentioned this to a friend in a chat they stated, "but the people are real". This was after I had just come through the Las Vegas Airport, which was filled with people who looked as if they just stepped out of Second Life.

Las Vegas seems to have taken the User Experience and turned it up to eleven. Everything is synthetic, which is horribly disconcerting. When manufacturing user experience we must have a foundation on the real to build upon and shape things from. Las Vegas has no foundation in the real as it uses manufactured experiences as its foundation for building upon, there is no firm ground to use as context as it is all manufactured.

When I go to New York, London, or Amsterdam there is a flood of real experiences to use a frameworks for building a user experience. These places have a firm ground to build augmented or shaped experiences on top of, but Las Vegas has only a foundation in the plastic and manufactured. In Second Life there is the option to close that world and rejoin the grounded experience, but Las Vegas that button is a car, plane, or bus out.

This morning I went in search of the 24 hour breakfast in the massive hotel, only to find it served at a restaurant that did not open until 6am (0600). In this purely synthesized world their is no irony in this as it only a play on reality, which uses the unreal as a foundation. The only options for breakfast at 5:30am were Technicolor gelato and alcohol.

I was sure Las Vegas was based on Second Life (or the converse) when a dear friend stated he was trying to get a tour of Hoover Dam and other local sights by helicopter. He seeming had found the fly button in Las Vegas.



October 10, 2006

Mach Aram has Moved On

While browsing through my feeds this morning, I saw a very familiar face staring back at me. I looked at the words around it, which included, "You see, the best creative director I've ever met has died." The next line confirmed it was Mach Arom that was being discussed. I knew him through friends while I lived in San Francisco and he was incredibly giving, kind, friendly, creative, and a great cook. The first time I met Mach he showed me his business card that unfolded into a resume and portfolio. This was the most incredible card I have ever seen and I have tried to describe it many times, but it just had to be seen. It unfolded chronologically and was easy to follow what panel to read in what order.

I was always very happy when Mach was involved with a party or any outing. I ran into him last a few years ago (perhaps eight years ago) in Kramer Books on DuPont Circle in Washington, DC. He was in town for an interview and looking at moving back. He has been on my mind since and is part of my web friend searches that I do on occasion to catch-up with people.

The Mach Aram Memorial Site is a testament to his great spirit and gifts that he shared openly. He could warm a heart on a grey day and find the beauty in everything. He left this world giving, as one would imagine people like him doing.

Peace



October 2, 2006

A Product Whose Time has Come

I found my current favorite shoe maker (at least for my typing shoes - thanks to Merlin for the term) Terra Plana has a new product whose day has come. They are selling the TripClip that saves the back of your trouser legs from getting caught under your shoes. This malady has been striking me as my shoes do not have the heal that my older ones did, meaning I am always pulling at my trousers to get the bottom of the leg out from under the heal of my shoe.



September 26, 2006

Personal Disconnectedness of Travel and Gerneric Architecture

Um, what does one do at 2am in the morning (after sleeping four hours and waking at 1am)? Blog.

Unfocussed Curor Bliking

I am finding that this long distance traveling has been really increasing my personal disconnectedness time this year, where the mind, body, and soul are not joined. Some call it jetlag, but it seems deeper. There were times yesterday where my motor skills just were shot (as they normally are with long travel on the first day). Other times my mind would just freeze mid-thought or sentence. It is not a bad thing, but more of a just "is" thing. It feels like the unfocussed blinking cursor syndrome, where a window on the desktop has a blinking cursor and you believe that if you type your text will show up there (the password box on a web form), but in reality it is some completely different window (like chat session) that has focus and displays the text as you hit enter to submit.

The SimCity Model for Urban Redevelopment

At a meal yesterday (brunch at Darling Harbor or dinner at Bondi Beach) I began to think that many cities are just replications of SimCity with similar architecture, where the cities are rather modern and/or developed in the mid-1800s. You can plop down a new structure that is similar to one from another city. Much like the new buildings in Darling Harbor look strikingly like the new Baltimore, Maryland Inner Harbor. Much of Sydney yesterday felt like something on the North America West Coast, as they were built and grew up about the same times in the mid-1800s and had similar cycles of growth over time. On Pitt street in Sydney, where it is a pedestrian mall, it really felt like there were some Commonwealth flourishes, like shopping arcades, put in San Francisco's Financial District.

Architecture as Cultural and Location Grounding

This quasi-generic western culture Pacific Rim architecture washing tended to compound the personal disconnectedness I was experiencing. Not only was my being disconnected, but the physical markers of my surroundings were off kilter as well. I somewhat experienced that in Berlin last Fall with the new modern architecture around Potsdam Platz. I felt far more grounded and connected in Friedrichshain as it was not modern and had native architectural elements that were not pan-global.

When I travel to Europe I like doing my time correction to resolve the personal disconnectedness is Amsterdam as it is distinctly Amsterdam. I know internally that I am in a different city, different country, and different culture. But, in Amsterdam they speak English very well and are technically adept (often leading to better understanding of mobile usage and other technosocial interactions that are missing in America as it lags Europe with technical adoption on many many fronts.

Similarly, I found Innsbruck to be similar to Amsterdam in its distinctive architectural elements, but even its modern architecture was very germanic. Growing-up I was a model railroad fan, but many of the buildings were not similar to the architecture I knew growing up on the West Coast of the United States as the larger makers of pre-built buildings and models for model railroads was from Germany, the Netherlands, or Belgium (I really do not remember the name of the company), but when taking a train from Schiphol to Amsterdam many of the post-war-modern (World War II) buildings looked straight out of the scene set catalogs for modern railroads. But, there were many buildings in Innsbruck that had the same architecture mixed in to the Tyrolean architecture.



September 1, 2006

Domain of Digital Design Includes Strings

Many of us around the digital design profession consider visual pixels our domain, information as content and its structure is our in our domain, and the ease of use as part of our domain (all of this depending on what label or design community we align with). Strings do not fall into the design camp. By strings I mean data strings, which include date stamps, URLs, identity strings, etc. These often fall through the cracks.

In the last year or so these have become quite important to me as I look at the URLs on this site (vanderwal.net) and they are not as friendly, readable, or guessable as they should be. There is no understanding what http://www.vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog62 will lead to. Do people actually care about this?

Attention to Strings

I find not everybody cares about data strings, but some people do and many devices and services do too. We know many people do not pay attention to their address bar when surfing the web, but when they copy a link to send to a friend or IM a friend, they often look at the URL as a double-check. This is where confusion comes in, they have no idea that blog62 is the post they are wanting to share and it takes them out of a simple flow if they want to make sure it is the right thing.

Not only do people care by devices and services care about what is in strings. When a site is scraped by a search engine one of the important components in weighing the validity is the words in the string. If "blog62" were some thing that I wanted to ensure had optimal opportunity to surface in any of the major search engines I would want to ensure some key terms were in the URL that was being scraped and used. To the search engines 1862 means very little.

Human Readable

The goal is to have these data strings human readable, which leads to text that machines can read and used in algorithmic and automated filters and optimization tools. Not only do URLs need help, but so do date strings. Date strings should be easily understood and they should be labeled with relevant time zone if time is displayed as well.

Ground Control to Major Thomas - Where Are You

Again I turn to my own blog and its less than optimal state of being for my fodder. Since Fall of last year my vanderwal.net site has been hosted in Australia (a wonderful hosting company Segment Publishing (SegPub)). Part of this means that my time stamp for posting my blog entries grabs the local date and time. Since last Fall I have been blogging from the future, or so readers have been thinking. In a couple weeks I may actually be blogging from a the local timezone for my blog, but it is something I need to change.

One complication I have is I post content from various timezones. I could make all dates local to where I post, or choose the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a default and label it properly as such. One of the things that the date and time stamp for posts does get mostly right is it is understandable. Many times we see sites with the tech generic "2006-7-23T2:44:03Z" rather than a more easily human readable "7 July 2006 2:44:03AM GMT".

Data Strings Design Worthy Too

I hope these examples from my own site (a self-built blogging tool that I have not touched much since 2001 or 2002, which I use but not fix or move away from) help illustrate the confusion unattended to date strings play. If we care about the experience for people coming to our sites we build and design we need to care about the little things, the details, like URLs and date strings.

[Yes, I will fix my site eventually. I have been waiting for that magical downtime to sort through porting all my posts and related metadata into a real blogging tool, as I really do not see me finding the time or desire to start tackling all that I want and need to fix in my own dear little tool.]



August 21, 2006

Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time

This past week Boeing cancelled its in plane internet connection services, called Connexion. The service has been in development for six years, but only in limited service for about 18 months. Boeing stated it did not get the acceptance and use of the service it expected. While Boeing was using satellites, which produce solid quality, its competitors are using less expansive and more fickle cellular approaches.

Acceptance Takes Consistency and Ubiquity

If I remember right it was only two or three airline carriers (Luftunsa) that had this service only on some of their planes. The people who I knew who used Boeing's services on airlines loved it, but they were never sure if the plane they were flying on would have access. This lack of consistency lowered the expectations of those who loved the service. These early adopters were reluctant to encourage others as the service may not be available. There are many people that want this type of service and to the level of bullet-proof service Boeing provided.

Air travel (like many others in the service industry) is an industry that is build around habits. Heavy travelers all have very set patterns and even well patterned alternate habits. They have certain airlines they fly (affinity programs encourage this), what airlines they use, hotels, and rental car they depend upon. The big mantra is no surprises and consistency. Packing their travel bags and gear with expectations of that they will need, with a big nod to what will not be needed so it is not packed (lighter travel is better than heavy travel). Depending on internet connection on the plane for many was not consistent and could not planned around.

Be Patient

How would Boeing get to the expected customer base? As a start they should take a lesson from Amazon, which puts innovative ideas in place all the time, but then lets the users catch-up to the tools. With Amazon their early adopters will use and play with their innovations (around which Amazon uses the feedback and iterates the products). Did Amazon announce their gold box? No, they put it out there and tested it and over a couple years it has become a staple that many people use as part of their regular Amazon experience. Amazon is doing similar things with tagging on their product pages and it is growing slowly.

Tagging is another area that is a slow growth. Currently there is less than .5 percent (half of one percent - comprised from Nielsen estimate of 750 Million people on the web and a compiles number of 2 to 4 million people using tagging services, not including blog categories as tagging) of people on the web tagging. Even with all of the hype tagging is still out in the long tail, and is an edge activity. Will tagging hit the next phase of innovation growth and spike in usage, the hockey stick curve, in the near future? It will take patience, consistency, iteration, and much better light bulb moments (quick a ha moments for those not using tagging).

Broadband In Planes Doomed?

It sounds like there are other technologies that are doing similar things to what Boeing was trying, but not as solid. These technologies are less expensive to implement and lower costs for those that fly. Can a poorer technology take off? The VHS (a greatly inferior product to Betamax) took the market.

It seems there is a future for broadband for those companies that can stay for the long run and help build demand and wait for demand to catch-up to innovation.



August 2, 2006

Terra Plana Pleasure

My Terra Plana Boi shoes arrived today. They not only fit, but they are very comfortable out of the box. I had tried a pair at Imelda & Louies in Portland, Oregon but they did not fit and I needed the next size up, which they did not have. I enjoyed shopping directly at the Terra Plana site and even though they are a UK firm they have local U.S. shipping. Brilliant that!

The true test will be walking around in them in the upcoming weeks and months. These are replacing my 18 month old Born (semi-racing/driving) shoes that I really liked, but they no longer make. One of the things that interested me was Terra Plana shoes are environmentally friendly, which is really rare in the shoe making business (at least from what I have read) with the toxic glues and plastics. The only important thing is how they fit and how comfortable they are for a day of walking, as well as how well they hold up. If these are still in regular use in 18 months I will be a huge fan (I am well on my way to being that now).



July 15, 2006

Is the U.S. Behind in Design?

Kathy Sierra posts about Does the US suck at design? The Difference Between the US and Switzerland on her Creating Passionate Users site. Kathy has great examples and the comments (like many many sites) hold many great gems (I posted there, but take time to read the other comments).

This subject is one that I have been thinking about a lot over the past couple years as I have been traveling for work and conference to Europe, Canada, and around the U.S. There are distinct differences between the countries and cultures. I have not been sure if the U.S. is just too familiar to me, which makes those things that are different more attractive, or if it is just much better design that is really making a difference.

The breadth of design understanding in the U.S. seems narrower than in Europe. I normally have great conversations about design and developing products for use by people while I am in Europe, but in the U.S. the discussion is more on the process or tools than the end result.

Yes, I understand this is largely generalizations and there are some great designers in the U.S. and some great products. I have been trying to sort through the seeming proportion of well designed products and environments between the different cultures. The general understanding of design in the role it plays in business and product success broader in Europe (or it could be an extremely skewed population that I interact with in Europe at conferences, on transportation, in cafes, etc. The experience really has my deeply enjoying the work I do in Europe, I enjoy the work in the U.S. as well, but in the U.S. I am more selective.



June 30, 2006

Technosocial Architect

Those of you that know me well know I am not a fan of being labeled, yes it is rather ironic. A large part of this is a breadth of focus in the lens, from which I view the world. I am deeply interested in how people interact, how people use technology, and the role of information in this equation. My main interest is information and information use, when to people want it and need it, how people acquire it. I am utter fascinated by how technology plays in this mix and how important design is. I look at technology as any mediated form of communication, other than face-to-face communication. The quest began in the technology "quot;paper age" looking at layout and design of text and images on the printed page and the actual and latent messages that were portrayed in this medium. I also dove into television and video as well as computer aided visualizations of data (Tufte was required reading in quantitative methods class (stats) in the early '90s in grad school).

Well, this life long interest only continued when I started digging into the web and online services in the early 90s. But, as my interest turned professional from hobby and grad student my training in quantitative and qualitative (ethnographic) research were used not for public policy, but for understanding what people wanted to do with technology or wished it would work, but more importantly how people wanted to use information in their life.

Basis for Digital Design and Development

As I have waded through web development and design (and its various labels). Most everything I have done is still based on the undergrad training in communication theory and organizational communication. Understanding semantics, rhetoric, layout, design, cogsci, media studies, cultural anthropology, etc. all pay a very important part in how I approach everything. It is a multi-disciplinary approach. In the mid-80s I had figured everybody would be using computers and very adept by the time I finished undergrad, that I thought it was a waste to study computer science as it was going to be like typing and it programming was going to be just like typing, in that everybody was going to be doing (um, a wee bit off on that, but what did I know I was just 18).

People Using Information in Their Life

The one thing that was of deep interest then as it is now, is how people use information in their life and want and need to use information in their life. To many people technology gets in the way of their desired ease of use of information. Those of us who design and build in the digital space spend much of our time looking at how to make our sites and applications easier for people to use.

Do you see the gap?

The gap is huge!

We (as designers and developers) focus on making our technology easy to use and providing a good experience in the domain we control.

People want to use the information when they need it, which is quite often outside the domains we as designers and developers control.

Designing for Information Use and Reuse

Part of what I have been doing in the past few years is looking at the interaction between people and information. With technology we have focussed on findability. Great and good. But, we are failing users on what they do with that information and what they want to do with that information. One question I continually ask people (particularly ones I do not know) is how are you going to use that information. When they are reading or scanning information (paper or digital it does not matter) I ask what is important to them in what is before them. Most often they point to a few things on the page that have different uses (an article referenced in the text, an advertisement for a sale, a quote they really like, etc.). But, the thing that nearly everything that they find important is it has a use beyond what they are reading. They want to read the article that is referenced, they want the date and location for the sale (online address or physical address and date and times), they want to put the quote in a presentation or paper they are writing.

End-to-end is Not the Solution

Many companies try to focus on the end-to-end solution. Think Microsoft or Google and their aim to solve the finding, retaining, using, and reusing of that information all within their products. Currently, the companies are working toward the web as the common interface, but regular people do not live their life on the web, they live it in the physical world. They may have a need for an end-to-end solution, but those have yet to become fully usable. People want to use the tools and technologies that work best for them in various contexts. As designers and developers we can not control that use, but we can make our information more usable and reusable. We have to think of the information as the focal point. We have to think of people actually connecting with other people (that is individuals not crowds) and start to value that person to person interaction and sharing on a massive scale.

Our information and its wrappers must be agnostic, but structured and prepared in a manner that is usable in the forms and applications that people actually use. The information (content to some) is the queen and the people are the king and the marriage of the two of them will continue the reign of informed people. This puts technology and the medium as the serf and workers in that kingdom. Technology and the medium is only the platform for information use and reuse of the information that is in people's lives. That platform, like the foundation of a house or any building must not be noticed and must serve its purpose. It must be simple to get the information and reuse it.

Technology and Design are Secondary

Those of us that live and breathe design and development have to realize what we build is only secondary to what people want. It is the information that is important to regular people. We are only building the system and medium. We are the car and the road that take people to Yosemite where they take pictures, build memories, bond with their travel companions, etc. What is created from this trip to Yosemite will last much longer than the car or road they used to get them to the destination. We only build the conduit. We have to understand that relationship. What we build is transient and will be gone, but what people find and discover in the information they find in what we build must last and live beyond what we control and can build or design. We must focus on what people find and want to use and reuse while they are using what we are designing and building for them.

Information as Building Blocks

All of what is being described is people finding and using information that an other person created and use it in their life. This is communication. It is a social activity. This focus is on building social interactions where information is gathered and used in other contexts. Information use and reuse is part of the human social interaction. This social component with two people or more interacting to communicate must be the focus. We must focus on how that interaction shapes other human interactions or reuses of that information garnered in the communication with an other and ease that interaction. If you are still reading (hello) you probably have something to do with design or development of technology that mediates this communication. We are building social tools in which what is communicated will most likely have a desired use for the people interacting outside of what we have built or designed.

Technosocial Architects

People who understand the social interactions between people and the technologies they use to mediate the interactions need to understand the focus is on the social interactions between people and the relationship that technology plays. It is in a sense being a technosocial architect. I ran across the word technosocial in the writings of Mimi Ito, Howard Rheingold, and Bruce Sterling. It always resonates when I hear technosocial. Social beings communicate and inherent in the term communication is information.

Focus on People, Medium, and Use

Just above you see that I referenced three people (Mimi, Howard, and Bruce) as people who used a term that seems to express how I believe I look at the work I do. It is people, more importantly, it is individuals that I can point to that I trust and listen to and are my social interpreters of the world around me. These people are filters for understanding one facet of the world around me. People have many facets to their life and they have various people (sometimes a collective of people, as in a magazine or newspaper) who are their filters for that facet of their life. There are people we listen to for food recommendations, most likely are different from those that provide entertainment, technology, clothing, auto, child care, house maintenance, finance, etc. We have distinct people we learn to trust over time to provide or reinforce the information we have found or created out of use and reuse of what we have interacted with in our life.

Looking at many of the tools available today there is a focus on the crowd in most social tools on the web. Many regular people I talk to do not find value in that crowd. They want to be able to find individual voices easily that they can learn to trust. Just like I have three people I can point to people in social software environments look at the identity (screen name many times) as their touch point. I really like Ask MetaFilter as a social group "question and answer" tool. Why? Mostly because there are screen names that I have grown to know and trust from years of reading MetaFilter. The medium is an environment that exposes identity (identity is cloaked with a screen name and can be exposed if the person so decides in their profile). People are important to people. In digitally mediated social environments the identity is that point of reference that is a surrogate for name in physical space. In print the name of the writer is important as a means to find or avoid other pieces or works. We do the same in movies, television news, television shows, online videos, podcasts, blogs, etc. the list does not end.

Our social mediums need to keep this identity and surface the identity to build trust. People use identity as gatekeepers in a world of information overload. When I look at Yahoo! Answers and Yahoo! MyWeb (my absolute favorite social bookmarking tool) I get dumped into the ocean of identities that I do not recognize. People are looking for familiarity, particularly familiarity of people (or their surrogate identity). In MyWeb I have a community (unfortunately not one that is faceted) where I trust identities (through a series of past experience) as filters for information in the digital world around us, but I am not placed in this friendly environment, but put in an environment where I find almost nothing I value presented to me. This is the way Yahoo! Answers works as well, but it does not seem like there is the ability to track people who ask or answer questions that a person would find value in.

The tools we use (as well as design and build) must understand the value of person and identity as information filters. The use of information in our lives is one explicit expression of our interest in that subject, the person who created the information, or the source what housed that information. Use and reuse of information is something we need to be able to track to better serve people (this gets in to the area of digital rights management, which usually harms information use more than it enables it, but that is another long essay). The medium needs to understand people and their social interaction people have with the information and the people who create the information and the desired use. This use goes well beyond what we create and develop. Use requires us understanding we need to let go of control of the information so it may be used as people need.

Need for Technosocial Architects

Looking at the digital tools we have around us: websites, social computing services and tools (social networking sites, wikis, blogs, mobile interaction, etc.), portals, intranets, mobile information access, search, recommendation services, personals, shopping, commerce, etc. and each of these is a social communication tool that is based on technology. Each of these has uses for the information beyond the digital walls of their service. Each of these has people who are interacting with other people through digital technology mediation. This goes beyond information architecture, user experience design, interaction design, application development, engineering, etc. It has needs that are more holistic (man I have been trying to avoid that word) and broad as well as deep. It is a need for understanding what is central to human social interactions. It is a need for understanding the technical and digital impact our tools and services have in mediating the social interaction between people. It is a need for understanding how to tie all of this together to best serve people and their need for information that matters to them when they want it and need it.



June 26, 2006

Prefab and the Blog Template

I have been fascinated by prefabricated (prefab) homes for the past few years. It first started with "why"? Why would somebody want to live in a prefab home. But, that turned into, "Hmmm, there is something to this prefab stuff". Part was the Dwell magazine interest in prefab, which played out into a prefab competition and prefab competition winners.

Prefab Blogs

I had the same feelings toward the standard blog styles, templates, and themes. Quickly, the standard designs became the norm. Where we had personally designed pages that had their own distinct flavor and style we had beautiful generic designs adopted by growing masses. The level to entry to beauty was lowered. In doing so I began to have many friends with the same blog design (this personally caused me cognitive difficulty as I remember blogs by color and distinct design and the wonderful design of the generics made my methods of distinguishing one blog from the other null and void). This sameness may say something about my friends and their similar taste and my apparent lack of diversity in choice in those whose company I enjoy all through the lens of visual design.

Prefab as an Old Cultural Trend

The more I thought, and still think, about prefab homes the more I realize our modern post-industrial lives are prefab. The suburbs (even urban settings) are all based on a limited selection of "floorplans" and exterior designs. I have spent a fair amount of time traveling the past year or two in the northern and western hemisphere in urban settings. There is a sameness to the city center architecture in Amsterdam, Oxford (England), San Francisco, Berlin, London, etc. The homes, commercial, and public buildings have their set patterns that distinguish time, use, and taste.

I think about my home, which was built in 1951 and was part of a small sub-division, which had a limited number of options that included our "cape cod" floor plan and style. Our neighborhood is changing like many others around the country that have homes more than 20 years old the older homes are being vastly modified and expanded or are being torn down and new larger homes are taking their place. These newer homes are too quite similar in style and floor plan to each other.

Is Prefab Bad?

As my initial dislike of prefab has faded, I still keep wondering about good or decent design being mass marketed and becoming too familiar and creating a backlash. One purveyor or good design for everybody is IKEA, which everybody I know owns at least one or two pieces of furniture from, no matter their financial or social status. Prefab homes are not quite in the same category, but they are heading in a similar direction. In our post-industrial life familiarity and similarity breeds comfort for many. We see similar patterns of similarity even in those cultures of differentiation (punk, MySpace, alternative, etc.) where the rebellion against the "beautiful" and commonly accepted "good design" is subverted. Tattoos, piercing, mohawks (again, which is comforting and ironic to me), illegible text in designs, low contrast design of bold color choices, etc. all are part of the counter culture, but are all a blending and a culture of familiarity and comfort.

There are set patterns in our cultures. When personal websites started (this one is a variant of one I started more than 10 years ago) there was a handful of them, a few hundred or a few thousand handfuls. Personal sites were personal reflections. They were our playgrounds and our means to be different, as much a part of being divergent as they were emergent. In MySpace we see much of the same attempt to separate one's self from the crowd. But, at the same time with 51 million (give or take 10 or 20 million more) differentiation is only part of a much larger pattern.

Finding a Home

Prefab is not bad, but just a means to inexpensively and easily get a home. It is not the exterior, but the interior space that is the place for personalization. Just as templates in blogs are a means to get a good design as a starting point to personalize, but the personalization is minor edits to the design as one component. The real personalization is the content that fills the once blank spaces. It is what is put in the blank text box. It is the voice and the expression of our views and ideas that make the space its ours and theirs. Much like what activities, what we make of the places we occupy, and who we interact with that shape our physical prefab spaces it is much the same same in the digital prefab spaces.

We are all out to find and build our home. It is something that is ours. It is something that is a reflection of who we are, who we want others to believe we are, and/or who we want to be.



May 16, 2006

Nick Finck on XHTML Wireframes

Nick does a killer job in a post on XHML wireframing and use and reuse of deliverables. This is something I had been doing for years and found it really made the conception to inception process really quick. It also gives the means to keep your documentation up to date. The time savings with XHTML wireframes has been about a quarter to a third of the development time saved.

Those who don't like giving clients clickable wireframes, the pages can be printed/saved out in PDF and annotated.

The other knock is IAs not knowing XHTML or CSS. Somebody working in the practice of web development and web design that does not have an understanding of the handful of elements in XHTML needs to learn it quickly. Go look at CSS Zen Garden to get an idea of what design can be done on top of properly structured XHTML. Lift the hood and look at the mark-up. It is not that difficult.

In short go read Nick's wonderful piece and give XHTML wireframes a shot.



May 7, 2006

Final Cut Pro Site is Stunning

I am not sure when this started, but Apple has started showing its product stories for Final Cut Pro in stunning video. I have been watching and saving down the movies. They are so much better than text for getting me sucked into the story and the pitch. They are each so stunning. So very Apple. Finally!

Apple Pro tools are some of the best on the market and not only put others to shame, they are much less expensive. I have been playing with the movie capabilities in iMovie HD this past week. In 10 minutes I can shoot a movie of my son, edit, and publish to a web page that I can mail those I want to see the page. That to me was hands down incredible. I am not dealing with HD quality video, but the capability is fully there. I just wanted to share a clip with friends and family quickly and get back to work.

Yes, 10 minutes. I have had iMovie for a few years and never played with it much. When I moved to a faster PowerBook this last year I started realizing the potential that was in my hands.

I am continually in awe of Apple for its simplicity, power, beauty, and potential it puts in my hands.



January 1, 2006

For Many AJAX is Not Degrading, But it Must

A little over two months ago Chad Dickerson posted one of the most insightful things on his site, Web 0.1 head-to-head: 37Signals' Backpackit vs. Gmail in Lynx. You are saying Lynx? Yes! The point is what 37Signals turns out degrades wonderfully and it is still usable. It could work on your mobile device or on a six year old low end computer in Eritrea in a coffee house or internet cafe (I have known two people who have just done that in the last year and found Gmail did not work nor did MSN, but Yahoo did beautifully).

Degrading is a Good Thing

Part of my problem with much of the push towards AJAX (it is a good, no great thing that XMLHTTPRequest is finally catching on). But, it must degrade well. It must still be accessible. It must be usable. If not, it is a cool useless piece of rubbish for some or many people. I have been living through this with airline sites (Continental), commerce sites (Amazon - now slightly improved), actually you name it and they adopted some where in this past year. In most cases it did not work in all browsers (many times only in my browser of last resort, which by that time I am completely peeved).

When Amazon had its wish list break on my mobile device (I (and I have found a relatively large amount of others this past couple years doing the same thing) use it to remember what books I want when I am in brick bookstores and I will check book prices as well as often add books to my wish list directly) I went nuts. The page had a ghastly sized JavaScript, which did some nice things on desktops and laptops but made the page far too large to download on a mobile device (well over 250 kb). In the past few weeks things seemed to have reversed themselves as the page degrades much better.

Is There Hope?

Chad's write-up was a nice place to start pointing, as well as pointing out the millions of dollars lost over the course of time (Continental admitted they had a problem and had waived the additional phone booking fee as well as said their calls were up considerably since the web redesign that broke things for many). Besides Chad and 37Signals I have found Donna Mauer's Designing usable rich internet applications as a starting point. I also finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith, which focusses on getting JavaScript (and that means AJAX too) to degrade. It is a great book for designers, developers, and those managing these people.

I have an awful lot of hope, but it pains me as most of us learned these lessons five to seven years ago. Things are much better now with web standards in browsers, but one last hurdle is DOM standardization and that deeply impacts JavaScript/DOMScripting.



December 31, 2005

My Book Highlights from 2005

I had been hoping to do a longer post on things I enjoyed in 2005, but the year end has been a little busier than planned (it is a good thing). There are lot of books that I picked up in 2005 (possibly in the 30 to 50 range). Two from earlier in the year I really enjoyed, John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World was a huge favorite. It has brought to mind many changes that we need to address as people who design and build things. The second was Personal, Portable, Pedestrian : Mobile Phones in Japanese Life by Ito, Okabe, Matsuda (editors), which provided insight into the Japanese mobile culture. Some of the cultural aspects to dot translate to the United States, but it does a wonderful job of raising awareness for introspection into one's own culture. The book also does a fantastic job of providing history and technological change and differentiation in use based on product types.

The couple months I have picked up some books that I will really have an impact on me. Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling my be my favorite book of the year (with the Thackera a close second). Shaping things gets to where we are going with design in an innovative way. The design of the book is playful and makes for a quick read (unless it gets your mind wondering in wonderful ways, as it did mine). It is a book I could not more highly recommend.

I finally picked up DOM Scripting: Web Design with JavaScript and the Document Object Model by Jeremy Keith and was pleasantly impressed with the coverage of pages that degrade properly. This book is required reading for anybody doing JavaScript or AJAX so to stop the madness with sites that do not work across browsers or mobile devices. There are far too many sites that have developers that did not learn anything from the mid to late 90s and using JavaScript that are making unusable sites, pages, and applications today. If you are a manager of interface developers this is written in a manner that it should be easy to read and make sure the developers working for you are following these guidelines.

My favorite fun book was recently released book in Britain, Against the Wall by and about Banksy. This is a collections of Banksy's street art and wonderful sense of play. I personally find it a great book to break through conventional thinking and get to the other side. This book is not currently available in America, which is an utter shame.

I may do a posting on music from 2005 I really enjoyed in the next day or so. But on this note, I wish you a wonderful new year and great things.



November 17, 2005

Design Engaged and Symposium on Social Architecture

I got back home late Tuesday night from Design Engaged in Berlin and Symposium on Social Architecture in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Harvard. I had a deadline to meet by midnight Tuesday. Much of Wednesday was spent unbolding e-mail and getting essential replies out (more of this to do today) and unbolding my feed aggregator (1500+ things). I also spent time posting photos of the trip to Berlin (currently at 216 photos, possibly a few untagged).

Design Engaged

Design Engaged was somewhat different from last year's event in Amsterdam. It was still interacting with many of my favorite people, but it was a little larger, in a new space, in a new city (one I was not familiar with), and had a larger representation of women. All of these turned out good, but I felt a little more disconnected. The disconnection I think was attributable to an unfamiliar city, staying at a hotel away from where the sessions were, and not having most of the people staying at the same hotel. I tended to stick with those staying at my hotel, which was good for those relationships. But, part of this was tied to my unfamiliarity with the city.

This unfamiliarity changed for the better and I have learned something about myself, and that is all good. The unfamiliarity shifted to familiarity. I got to know some incredible people and spend time with people I knew, but now know much better. I got to know Berlin. I have not been to a completely new city that I had time alone in quite a while (Brussels last month was new to me, but I was with a large group I had become familiar with, I all were staying in the same hotel, and I had very little interaction with the city itself). My first impression of Berlin was good, nothing more and nothing less. This was formed on an outing to Potsdamerplaz and walking back through Mitte.

Part of the Design Engaged experience is interacting with the city. A group of us headed out to Friedrichshain, which was part of East Berlin and is not being torn up and made western to the degree that Mitte or Alexanderplaz have been and are going through. This was the perfect outing for me as I really wanted to understand East Berlin or get a flavor of what pre-unified Berlin was like. I was interested in the Soviet style architecture and the working neighborhoods. Why? They are something I do not understand and had not experienced. I was utterly thrilled with our exploration of the area, both on our own and with a local who life is in that neighborhood.

I also learned a fair amount about myself on the Berlin part of the trip. I use various supports to explore that which is new. I use friends to guide in new surroundings and meet new people. Familiar surroundings to best embrace new people and expand my knowledge of the surroundings. I learned that having much new causes me to fall into an observation mode and a little less interactive. There are people I really wanted to get to know better and spend more time with. I tended to spend time with the people I already know well, in part to catch-up and get to know better. I also spent a lot of transit time trying to take in as much of my surroundings as possible. Understanding the lay of the land, the flavor of the neighborhood, trying to glimpse what the neighborhood was, what that neighborhood is becoming, and the expression of the people who live in and move through that area. The architecture, design layers (planned and emergent layers -- painted and overlayed), traffic patterns, lines of sight, etc. are all important components to understanding the people, their interests, and indicators of importance. Digging through the international layers (Starbucks (particularly behind the Brandenburg Gates is problematic), Duncan Doughnuts, American brand advertising, and global mass produced products), which in my opinion are disruptive to the local culture.

After returning home I know I have a much better understanding of Berlin and it is a city I would love to return to so to spend more time and explore. Now that I have a foundation of understanding I am ready to drink in more. I also realized that observation limited my getting to know others better than I would have liked. Ever single person at Design Engaged this year was utterly fantastic. It is a very special group of people. There are no egos. There are no agendas. There are people who love sharing, learning, embracing, and exploring. This is something very special and something very different from most any other gathering. Part of it is the event is not about certainty, but exploration, asking questions, listening, and growing all in a shared experience. Unfortunately I am more ready to engage others and interact now that I am home, but hopefully there will be more time.

Symposium on Social Architecture

Counter to the Design Engaged the Symposium on Social Architecture was in a somewhat familiar place, but I only knew a few people prior. I knew many from digital interaction, but personal "in place" interactions were limited. There were more people who knew of me, than I knew of prior. I was continually having to put people in context of digital and idea spaces (some of this is now connecting). I had somewhat slept much of the journey from Berlin to Boston (transferring in Washington, DC) so I was not really dealing with jet lag. On the first night there was a reception at the Harvard Faculty Club and I met many fantastic people. I noticed there was a fair amount of clustering by gender, which was bothersome as there were a few women I wanted to chat with, but I found some very good discussions in the men's clusters and did not break free. There are many women whose work I find insanely helpful and wanted to say thanks and engage in some longer conversations.

The symposium was utterly fantastic. Every session had something I really enjoyed and there was a lot of reassurance of my own understandings and directions. I am not as fully engaged in the social software realm as I would like as it is an insanely important component of how we do things on the internet and it is growing ever more important. Much of my work discusses the Local InfoCloud as an intersection with the Personal Infocloud.

I have a lot of notes from the day (but more complete notes will be expressed in a later posting). I heard a lot of mention of local (closeness drawn through interconnection in social contexts), which was a reinforcement of my understanding as well as the language (or problems with the language) I have been dealing with at times. I heard a lot of discussion of all current social software is simple software, as it is easy to understand what the value is and the barrier to entry is a relatively painless in comparison to the reward received in the perceived value. Many also discussed building tools that got out of the way, they just let people interact. This was explicitly stated by Tina Sharkey of AOL, which made me very happy as it was a large social portal that expressed they understood what to do and have done it. It is not the tool that is important, so much as it is the social interactions that are the key. The tools should be a platform for connecting and communicating not for controlling.

I also met one of the people responsible for Steve, The Art Museum Community Cataloging Project, which could be the most important folksonomy and tagging endeavor that is ongoing. The importance is in part their work, but the research into tagging and folksonomy is insanely helpful and seems to be the best work out there at the moment. The work proves the strong positive significance that tagging and folksonomy plays in connecting people to objects and information. Having the world framed in a language or vocabulary is incredibly helpful and that is not often a result of formal taxonomies as they tend to optimize toward the norms and not embrace the edges. I will be writing about Steve more in the future, but I was so excited to meet somebody tied to the project so I could have more conversations and learn what they have found to be helpful and not so helpful.

The panel on politics and social software, particularly in relation to Katrina, was great. It highlighted the problems with politicians and their lack of understanding technology that could better connect them to their constituents, but also technology that could better enable solutions and resolution for their constituencies. I was completely moved by this panel.

The piece I had disappointment in was the closing. Er, the closing was Stowe Boyd interviewing me about what I found of interest from the day and what I would take home. Stowe asked the perfect questions, but I learned something about myself, I framed my responses literally and too personally. I let myself down in the responses as they were too general and did not capture the whole of what I got from the day nor the strong themes I noted. I was still taking in the politics panel and re-digesting the day based on that context. When I get a new perspective or new information I run the world I perceive through that lens and adjust accordingly and then emerge with a slightly reshaped or more inclusive framework. I think my closing remarks were poor, because I was integrating the last panel into my understandings. The rest of the day went largely as I expected, but the wonderful politics panel disrupted me in a positive manner. I apologize for the poor closing observations. For me it was the poorest part of a great event.



October 31, 2005

BBC Knocks Audio Annotating Out of the Park

Tom Coates shows off the BBC's Annotatable Audio Project. Tom gave me a preview early on Saturday and I was ecstatic. You see, what the tool does is provide an interface to annotate and segment audio on the web. Yes, podcasts can be easily segmented and annotated. This has been my biggest complaint with podcasts over the past year, okay since they started getting big (that is big for an early early adopter). I complained to people I knew at Odeo about the problem and they said they were working on it. I mentioned this to podcast enthusiasts at Yahoo! about nine months to a year ago and they said if they did podcasting that would be one of the first things in it as it was a big complaint. Did they? No, they made a product not too indistinguishable from every other product out there? Where is the innovation?.

Why is this Huge

The reason I am so excited about this is voice/audio is not easily scannable, like type. I can not easily skip ahead in a 30 or 45 minute podcasts to find that which I am interested in. Many friends will forward me links to a podcasts stating I have to hear what somebody says. Finding that segment usually means listening to much of the whole podcast.

The other downside is if I hear something stellar in a podcast my mind will mull over that item for a little bit. This means the minute to five minutes that follow in the podcast are lost on me. This is not a problem with written materials as I can skim back through the content and pick-up where my mind drifted (it is usually in these moments of drifting that I find the best solutions to things that have bugging me - the Model of Attraction came out of one of these).

A couple other items of note about this product. It is great interface design as it is interactive helps the person using the product know exactly what they are doing. The second is the segmentation is a great asset. With segmentation I can easily see writing a script to grab items of interest (27 seconds for here and 36 seconds from there, etc.) and having an automated audio stream built for me. Not only do I have a personalized audio stream, but since the originals are annotated and I can keep track of where the information is extracted from I can easily point others to the spot so they (or I) at some later point can go back and listen to more so to get better context (personally I don't think people are against attribution, it is just that we have made it so hard to do so in the past).

Voice and Audio is a Common Problem

The last couple time I have travelled in the USA I have run across people quite similar to me. None of us like voice. We are not particularly fond of the phone, for much the same reasons as I have problems with podcasts. Too much information gets lost. In phone conversations I am often saying, "I am sorry can you repeat that", in part because I did not hear, but the something that was stated just triggered a good though process for me and I missed what came after that moment. (What would be a great application is Tivo for the phone.) I continually am running new ideas and thoughts through what I believe and see how they may change it. It is the examined life - I enjoy living.

So what Tom and his cohorts did was make podcasts and audio more usable. It makes it searchable. One thing that would be a very nice addition is to have those annotating the information each have their own distinct layer. Just like with folksonomies, the broad folksonomy where each individual and each annotation on a distinct element provides a richer understanding and richer layer. (Such things would be really nice in Wikipedia so that I could remove the people who I do not think add any value to entries (in not polite terms - those who I know are wrong and are polluting the value of Wikipedia, which is far too much noise for me on the entries I would love to point to), or conversely to use a "white hat" approach and subscribe to the annotations of people and the distinct tags or terms they use in annotations. I have many people whose opinions and view I value, but on rare occasions it is everything a person has to say.

Filtering information in a world of too much information to keep track of is a necessity. Filtering is a must. It is about time we got here.

Thank you Tom. I hope your new team can innovate as much as you were allowed at the BBC, which has been the most innovative large enterprise going.



October 25, 2005

Europe Presentations

I am late in posting the links to my two presentations given in Europe. I presented the Personal Digital Convergence as the opening keynote to the SIGCHI.NL - HCI Close to You conference. I have also posted the final presentation, IA for the Personal InfoCloud, at the Euro IA Summit 2005.



October 16, 2005

Closing of the First Phase of the Fall European Tour 2005

I am back in Amsterdam tonight after a wonderful trip to Brussels for the Euro IA Summit. It was quite refreshing to talk to people that have a different perspective from Americans on IA, mobile, technology, privacy, and the possibilities for social interaction with digital devices. Last year after Design Engaged in Amsterdam I believed Europe to be farther ahead on internet and mobile (including mobile internet) than America. I now firmly believe Americans have a lot to learn from the Europeans.

I wanted to come and present the InfoCloud information in Europe because I thought they would be more ready for it. They would be able to provide criticism and questions that I do not get in America, mostly because the Europeans have been implementing mobile and trying to work through a means to access information in the environment and context where the information makes sense. Boy, was I right. The InfoClouds are more than mobile, as they are a means to think about information access, personally managing that information (or providing people the ability to manage, use, and reuse the information intelligently) and reusing it as that information is needed and framing the information in ways that make sense (web 2.0 fit this bill). I ran into smart thinking about web 2.0 here, not the just go do it, just open your information up, but working to think about if it made sense to do the cool and how they would do it intelligently.

The Europeans also really get cross-cultural sensitivity and are smart about how to approach working with other cultures. I was delighted to find what American's call internationalization is referred to as localization. How brilliant. How understanding. How unalienating. There is a distinct understanding that people are different and we need to understand that and embrace that. Hmm, there is a very strong reason why it is called the Personal InfoCloud and not the User InfoCloud. If you are not thinking in a local sense you will not get to the personal sense. You can get from localization to personalization, or from the Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud and also back. We all deal with more than one Local InfoCloud and I received some of the best questions about the interaction between the various Local InfoClouds and the Personal InfoClouds. Interaction be between the social part of personal it of immediate interest here. People are very tied to their communities here, it is a strong part of their identity.

I found myself surrounded this weekend by insanely smart people, who love what they do, and are doing things to help others. Everybody was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in learning everything they could and sharing what they knew. I could not have asked for a better way to have spent any of this time. I would do all of this again in a heartbeat.

Thank you to all of those that I had the pleasure of sharing time with. Who were incredible hosts in their countries. Who asked and listened and from whom I learned to do the same, as when you listen you can learn. I learned an incredible amount. Thank you again. I am ever so much looking forward to my next two trips.

Peace!



September 21, 2005

Great Travel Bag

One very good thing I found out on this trip to the Bay Area. I love my new travel bag it is a Victornox carry on that is the same size as my (er my wife's) bag I had been using. This bag not only has more room in it (I fit three days of clothes (did not know what I wanted to wear), an extra pair of shoes, too damn many beauty products (but not toothpaste), and a bottle of Vitamin Water), it wheels around wonderfully (it did not tip over or tip on one wheel), and it is the first towing handle that I love. The handle curves so the bag is not only easy to pull, but it never hit my foot. This is a huge pet peeve with luggage with wheels (not that I want to go back to the days with only carrying luggage) they always clip the back of my foot when towing it behind, well until now. The wheels on this are very well placed and large, which mitigates many bag problems I have normally had.

When I get a product that is well designed, particularly one in a class of products that are abysmal or never design quite right, it is a great moment. The difference between this wonderful bag and others are rather small, but details are what separates commodities from great products (this is why I love Apple products and German cars).

Looking around the airport and plane yesterday I saw people battling their bags and I just wanted to tap them on the shoulder and say "just get one of these".



June 18, 2005

Personal InfoCloud at WebVisions 2005

The last few years I have kicked myself for not going to WebVisions, well I finally am attending, actually I am presenting my Personal InfoCloud at 1pm. This is the latest refinement of the Personal InfoCloud that I have been working on for four years and sharing with those that are finding it quite useful.

The essential information you need is that you should be at WebVisions 2005 in Portland, Oregon. It is being held July 15th at the Oregon Convention Center.

What do you say? "Join the giants of the Web world to explore the future of design, content creation, technology and business strategy. From podcasting to universal usability, you'll discover how the Web is interacting with digital devices to change the way we communicate, access information and do business."



June 14, 2005

Design Issue for Non-Designers

After reading more than 4 paragraphs of the June 2005 Fast Comany issue I have found I like the whole issue. I have not really learned much new, but it is one issue that I could just hand to so many folks to help bring their understanding of design and design process up to functional use. The issue discusses subjects like iterating and "T-shaped" people and offers up many lists, which are scattered through out the magazine.



June 12, 2005

Designing with a Solution is the Problem

I finally put my finger on it. There has been growing frustration within me with where I work and as well with some of the leaders in the web design community of late. The problem and the solution has been known to me, but scattered in pieces and I did not pull all the pieces together until today. Why today? Well, it took a little doing, but I finally got my hands on this month's issue of Fast Company - June 2005, which I had been subscribed to until the May issue. It took a little bit of time to track down the issue as it was to the point in the month when the next months issues are getting put out. But, having that issue in hand (having read some on-line) I stumbled across my tipping point in the Be Cooler by Design column. I did not make it past the fouth paragraph when it hit.

It Begins with a Canyon

The paragraph has a header, "Show Them the Canyon" and discusses a designer at Ford, Giuseppe Delena, who would say, "Don't tell me you need a bridge, show me the canyon!" This was aimed at marketing people who would ask for specific design solutions, but not explain the problem.

That is my tipping point. Having to start with somebody's solution to design problems (most often solutions to the wrong problem). Not having the problems put forward, but an answer. An answer without anybody showing their work to how their arrived at the solution. For nearly four years I have been working, for the most part, with the end results of the work of others who started with a solution and worked that as a starting point, while never considering the problem (or in nearly all cases the multitude of problems they needed to solve). They did not understand the problems nor do they understand or know the standards and requirements that their end result must meet. Lastly they do not understand the medium in which they are working. In short it is a string of considerable messes that our team deals with continually. The sad complication is this is taxpayer money being spent (often quite nice sums) for end products that require incredible fixing to meet minimum standards and be usable on the web.

It is not my direct customer, who is in the same boat I am in as we support him (and he is one of the very few that really get what they are doing), but the "customer service" management and the management signing off on these projects that have become the problem. With the web, the business customer is not always right, the user is, as without the user their is no business customer. In our situation, by-and-large, the web being built is using what works for print and for multi-media, neither of which are solutions for text on the web. The business customer requires solutions for the wrong medium, which (as those who have sat through usability test find out) the tan text on brown background and all of the animated bits make using the information as is it is intended, nearly impossible.

Designers Must Explain Design Better

In part the design world is to blame as we have done a very poor job of educating the rest of the world as to what we do. We solve problems. We have spent an inordinate amount of time on learning everything we can about our medium, how people think, how people interact with our medium, how people interact with their devices (desktop, laptop, PDA, mobile, etc.) as they are all different, how to organize and structure for people interacting with what we design, how to build for people to give them freedom to choose the solution that is best for them, how to build for ease of use by people, and how to build for people to easily reuse what we provide (the list goes on). Yes, it is not a short list and I do not know a good designer who will truly claim they are done learning all of these aspects. We know what works best with everything we do know for the problems before us and we test everything we do and we iterate through our designs while always striving to make things better. Every designer I know loves to show how they got to their solution and document it for others to do, as their joy in designing is not repeating, but problem solving and innovating to better solutions. As designers we are always trying to learn what others do, so the good designers share in as much detail so others may learn what to follow and what to modify for even better solutions down the road.

In my current situation the lack of time to document and show our work is a major problem. The lack of documentation (or deliverables) is part of where the problem lies with the problems up the food chain (not that there are skilled designers or people that would understand up the food chain). If we had the time to show our work we could hand it to those at the beginning of the process so we could get better products with fewer problems when we receive them (although it is a very rare occasion that any of what we have produced for these purposes is ever followed). Many of the places up the food chain have sold a bridge with out ever seeing the canyon it is just a cookie cutter. It is rare when we get to solve the problems, either at the beginning or the end, we just get to fix it so it will just pass the minimum requirements, which are horribly low.

Understand and Explain the Problem First

This frustration has also flowed over to the web design community of late as there is excitement in the web community again. The excitement is not bad, actually it is great. But some of the new solutions are being framed as new wonder solutions without framing the problem they are solving. In the world of design (as it is with many other things) it is a realm where the answer to most every question is, "it depends". What is the solution? It all depends on many factors in the problem. Teaching how to understand problems and to walk through the decision process to get to the solution (or more correctly, one of many possible right solutions) is what raises the profession.

What has been happening of late in the web design/development community is looking at solutions that may be terrific implementations for a certain problem in a set environment, but proclaiming what is new is "the new way". For those that are not good designers or even designers at all, this approach reaches a problem point very quickly. It was not long after XMLHTTPRequest was coined AJAX that customers, and those I advise from farther away, started asking for their solutions to be AJAX. There are right places for AJAX, as it is just one of many solutions for problems where it may be one of the solutions. It is quite similar to aura around Flash as a solution, but AJAX has its benefits and detractors when compared to Flash.

Where the problem around the AJAX solution got tough was when AJAX was tied to a whole new exitement around the web. It was at this point the AJAX solution was being demanded from customers. I was hearing if from many corners, this great solution touted, was for customers the only way they would accept their final products. AJAX had quickly become the cure-all in customer's eyes, much like Flash had years before.

Our Responsibility

What we have to realize as designers, is people do listen and people want to believe there is one simple solution for all of their web problems, all of the information problems, etc. We know there is not a simple solution as of yet. In fact the digital information world is far more complex than it ever was, as Europe and Asia will attest, with the influx of mobile handheld use. (Europe and Asia have things a little better than the U.S. right now, as they have much less of a population that believes build for desktop (including laptop) solutions is the one way all design is heading.) Europe and Asia understand the world is far more complex and information far more useful when it can be used in context on a mobile device. The expanding of the devices and the realm of possibile solutions with their benefits and detractors across the many variables we monitor componded the problems we are solving. Simplicity is many designer's goal, but getting there is ever harder today and we must embrace the complexity (thank you Mike for turning that light on for me) and work through it. We also need to communicate the complexity to our customers so everybody understands it is not as simple as it seems.

It is this complexity of convergence around devices is also compounded by the flood of information people are experiencing, which is what has me loving the work I get to do around the Personal InfoCloud (and the Model of Attraction and folksonomy that are intertwined with it). This work is satisfying as it is not only defining the problems and working through possible solutions, but more importantly laying out frameworks to design and build solutions that others can use. There are increasingly people (who may become customers) that are coming and asking the right questions from the right perspective around the Personal InfoCloud, which may be another reason I really like working on it (we all love people asking smart questions). People are asking how to cross their canyon while describing the canyon and many times showing me the canyon they would like a solution designed for.

I think we all know what the next step is. It will not be happening tomorrow, but every day that passes makes the frustration that much worse. Knowing there is one point around which much of my frustration revolves may help me deal with it better.



May 29, 2005

Response to Usability of Feeds

Jeffrey Veen has a wonderful post about the usability of RSS/Atom/feeds on his site. I posted a response that I really want to keep track of here, so it follows...

I think Tom's pointer to the BBC is a fairly good transition to where we are heading. It will take the desktop OS or browser to make it easier. Neither of these are very innovative or quickly adaptive on the Windows side of the world.

Firefox was the first browser (at least that I know of) to handle RSS outside the browser window, but it was still done handled in a side-window of the browser. Safari has taken this to the next step, which is to use a mime-type to connect the RSS feed to the desktop device of preference. But, we are still not where we should be, which is to click on the RSS button on a web page and dump that link into ones preferred reader, which may be an application on the desktop or a web/internet based solution such as Bloglines.

All of this depends on who we test as users. Many times as developers we test in the communities that surround us, which is a skewed sample of the population. If one is in the Bay Area it may be best to go out to Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, or up to the foothills to get a sample of the population that is representative of those less technically adept, who will have very different usage patterns from those we normally test.

When we test with these lesser adept populations it is the one-click solutions that make the most sense. Reading a pop-up takes them beyond their comfort zone or capability. Many have really borked things on their devices/machines by trying to follow directions (be they well or poorly written). Most only trust easy solutions. Many do not update their OS as it is beyond their trust or understanding.

When trends start happening out in the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond the centers of technical adeptness (often major cities) that is when they have tipped. Most often they tip because the solutions are easy and integrated to their technical environment. Take the Apple iPod, it tipped because it is so easy to set up and use. Granted the lack of reading is, at least, an American problem (Japanese are known to sit down with their manuals and read them cover to cover before using their device).

We will get to the point of ease of use for RSS and other feeds in America, but it will take more than just a text pop-up to get us there.



May 26, 2005

One Less Wonderful Merchant

Ismail Merchant has died. He and James Ivory's creations on films were magic. I clearly remember seeing A Room With A View at the Elmwood Theater in Berkeley, California when it came out. I later saw the film in Oxford, England at the Penultimate Picture Palace as well as on video tape there. The experience watching the film in two different cultures drew me to the film even more. In the U.S. the film was a period piece, but in Britain it was more of a romantic comedy. The film holds up to many watchings revealing details that may have been missed prior (opposed to the book, which has one good reading in it at best). It was this film that not only made me a fan of the Merchant Ivory productions, but made me a better fan or critic of the medium itself.

I have always enjoyed the interviews with Ismail as he adds depth and care to his creations. I believe that it is this care that should be poured into all of our creations and craft of our hands, mind, and soul.

Peace



April 27, 2005

Opening Old Zips and Finding Missing Passion

Tonight I finally got my old USB Zip drive to work with my laptop (I have not tried in a couple years) and it worked like a charm. I decided to pull most of the contents of my old Zips into my hard drive, as it is backed-up.

I started opening old documents from a project from four and five years ago and the documentation is so much better and detailed that what I have these days. The difference? Focus and resources. On that project I was researching, defining, iterating, and testing one project full-time. I was working with some fantastic developers that were building their parts and a designer that could pulled everything together visually. We each had our areas of expertise and were allowed to do what we enjoyed and excelled at to the fullest. Our passions could just flow. The project was torn apart by budgets and politics with the real meat of it never going live. A small piece of it went live, but nothing like we had up and running. But, this is the story of so many killer projects and such is life.

What is different between now and then? Today there is no focus and no resources to develop and design. I am in an environment overseeing 2,000 projects a year across 15 funding areas (most of the work done centrally is done on 5 funding areas), it is project traffic management, not design, not research design, not iterating, just balancing high priority projects (mostly it is 9 of us cleaning up others poor work). The team I work with is fantastic, but we have few resources (mostly time is missing) to do incredible work.

The looking back at the volumes of documents I wrote laying out steps, outlines of design elements, content assessments, schematics, data flows, wireframes, and Flash animations demonstrating how the finished tools would function I realize I miss that, deeply. I miss the passion and drive to make something great. I miss being permitted to dream big and solve problems that were untouchable, and best of all, go execute on those dreams. When I see members that made up that old team we reminisce, much like guys do about high school sports champion teams they were on. We had a great team with each of us doing what we loved and changing our part of the world, the digital world.

It was in that project that the seeds were planted for everything I love working on now. Looking at old diagrams I see hints of the Model of Attraction. I was using scenarios around people using and reusing information, which became the Personal InfoCloud. These elements were used to let others in on our dreams for that project and it was not until my time on the project was winding down (or there was no desire to move more of the whole product live and therefore no need for my skills) that I could pull out what worked well on project that made it special. Now others are getting to understand the Personal InfoCloud and other frameworks and models I have been sharing.



April 18, 2005

Adobe Buys Macromedia

Adobe buys Macromedia was not the news I wanted to wake up to this morning. My sole issue is competition, as with out these two competing there is little push to advance. This is not a huge surprise, as many rumors the last few years that Macromedia was on the block (most were expecting Microsoft to buy it and then spin out ColdFusion and the application tools to an outside buyer).

If this goes through, we have Dreamweaver/HomeSite as the dominant web development tool (it is making great strides towards standards compliant development and GoLive needs much more work), desktop publishing is Adobe only, market share of image editing and creation (Photoshop and Illustrator) go to Adobe, application development goes to Macromedia with ColdFusion, then we have the tough call with Flash and SVG. Flash is dominant, but SVG is open and Flash lite (for mobile) has really upset many developers as the player is up to the carrier and phone maker to deploy, not the content creator. This last step has really pushed many Flash developers away from Macromedia as they work to focus on mobile. Rumors that Adobe was working on a SVG mobile tool with open deployment had many developers for mobile really excited.

My hope would be for Macromedia customer service and pricing and Adobe Premium Suite with Dreamweaver and Flash thrown in for a well rounded package.



April 12, 2005

Entering the Bubble

Today my copy of John Thackara's In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World arrived. I have read through 10 pages so far and it seems like it may live up to what I had hoped it would, my next book I obsess over. The last book was Digital Ground. Digital Ground took rough edges off many of the ideas I had been working through for a few years. It also extended me limited view to a much broader horizon. It is with this expectation that I read In the Bubble.

I will keep you apprised of my adventure through the pages.



April 10, 2005

Simplicity Through Granular Complexity

We must understand and embrace the granular and complex to make things simple for the person.



Crunch Time, as Usual

We are quite busy with articles, summaries, presentations, and e-mail these days. We have ideas and projects that need to get out of our heads on in to some functional space. Again we are looking for about 6 more hours in each day, that would do it. The other option would be to rearrange things we already have to put better focus on the stuff that will help the people who get it design and build for those that don't get it and shouldn't need to get it. What are we talking about time spent on the wrong things and working to spend time on the right things. What are the right things? We will tell you once we have time to knock some of them out.

Cryptic? It will not be once we have the key to set all of this free.



March 14, 2005

SXSW and Solipsism Presentation

I am having a great time at SXSW Interactive. I am heading back home this evening and will truly miss the remainder of the festival (it truly is a celebration of the web and digital design).

Yesterday I spoke on the panel, How to Leverage Solopsism. My slides for the session focussing on Personal Information Management (1.14MB PDF) is available.

I have has so many wonderful conversations. Please keep in touch and lets keep the conversations going.



February 28, 2005

Jef Raskin has Passed Away

In sadness and condolence to his family, Jef Raskin passed away. Jef was an inspiration to nearly every designer and developer, by helping us to aim to make products that were intuitive and extremely useful. It is my hope that is vision lives on in the lives and minds of all those he inspired and still inspires.

Peace.



February 16, 2005

Nietzsche on Design?

From Nietzsche (found in Dwell Magazine March 2005)

When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way -- before one began

This quote was really heartening as it applies to architecture and construction, which are far older than web design or any of the elements that are components of getting to that end. A relatively young profession, such as web design or even digital design or software development hits this exact spot in nearly every project. This could be why we love the iterative process and capturing and building upon lessons learned. We also read incessantly about everybody else's endeavors so we can learn before we design and then build.

Jason Fried posted Getting Real, Step 1: No Functional Spec, which makes a lot of sense in this iterative design perspective. I have done a few projects (not in a few years) that worked in this direction and we got into a prototype rather quickly, which we learned from as we went a long. We built things in a modular method, so that we could throw out small pieces or everything (we never had to throw it all out).



December 28, 2004

Information Waste is Rampant

Fast Company published costs facing business. The top four relate to poor design and information use: Poor knowledge harnessing ($1.4 Trillion); Digital publishing inefficiencies ($750 billion); Data quality problems ($600 billion); and Paper-based trade processes ($400 billion). That is 3.15 Trillion U.S. dollars down the tubes with no benefit.

The solutions are not that difficult, but everybody seems happy to use the rear view mirror to view the future.

Christina stated, "What me worry" about design and business. The whole CIO is a sham as the CIO is a technology driven person, which is tangentially related to information and technology still hinders information flow if not planned for properly (more on this is coming in the near future here on this site). There needs to be a chief level position that cares about the information, the people using it, and the people who create the information. To Christina's post I responded with the following on her site (posted here so I can better keep track of it):

It seems like the 80s all over again. The focus on design in the to late 80s, mostly with unified branding and creative practices formally brought in-house. There was a lot of push around design, mostly labelled branding (nearly the exact same discussions, but slightly different terms). Much of this was around the brandhouses like Landor. The business community embraced the results and tried to incorporate the creative culture as part of their own.
What happened? The innovators were bought by large advertising or public relation firms and the firms changed their industry term to communication companies. Companies created corporate communication divisions (comprised of adversising, PR, branding, and other creative endevors) and had high level management visability.
By the early 90s the corporate environment had largely subsumed the communication into marketing and business schools that has embraced the creative mindset followed suit. Today marketing is often what trumps design and there is no creative in marketing. The creative departments by the late 90s had been gutted by the web craze. This left business types with little creative craft understanding as those driving what was once good.
It is not suprising that currently named "design" is taking off, as what was good about the creative was gutted and most companies lack central design plans. There is tremendous waste in cross medium design, as few sites are built with an understanding of the digital medium, let alone cross platform design or true cross media design. Part of the problem is far too few designers actually understand cross-platform and/or cross-media design. There is millions wasted in bandwidth on poor web design that is using best practices from the late 90s not those from today. There is no integration of mobile, with a few exceptions in the travel industry. There is still heavy focus on print, but very little smart integration of design in the digital medium. This even applies to AIGA, which is a great offender of applying print design techniques on the web. How can we expect business design to get better if one of the pillars of the design profession has not seemed to catch on?

There are large problems today and we need to break some of our solutions were have been trying to get to solutions that work. Not only do today's solutions not work today, they will not work tomorrow as they are only stop gaps. Cross-platform, cross-device, and cross-medium design solutions are needed, but technology is not here to deliver and few that I have run across in the design world are ready for that change as they have not made the change to today's world.

Today's designer focusses on getting the information in front of the user and stops there. They do not consider how this person or machine may reuse the information. There is so much yet to improve and yet the world is progressing much faster than people can or want to change to keep up. There are designers and developers who will not build for mobile (it is not that hard to do) because they do not see them in the user logs. They fail to see the correlation that their sites suck for mobile and mobile users may test once and go somewhere else for their information. The people that are seeing mobile users in their logs are the ones that have figured out how to design and develop for them properly (most have found that it is relatively inexpensive to do this). This is not rocket science, it is using something other than the rear view mirror to design for now and the future.



November 21, 2004

Incredibles as the Designables

We went and saw The Incredibles yesterday morning. It was not only wonderful entertainment, but the detail is getting even better. I really want to see it again so I can just take in the background and details. Design Observer calls it the Designables, which is quite fitting.



Tying Things Together from Design Engaged

Design Engaged is still interfering with the regularly scheduled thinking, which makes it one of the best gatherings I have been to in the last few years. It has been a positively disruptive experience. I have posted my notes on other's presentations, which are sketchy at best. The gaps can be filled in to some degree using Andrews links to Design Engaged posted presentation. Andrew also has wrangled the Design Engaged favorite book list.

I have two or three pieces that I am building essays or some other format from some of the ideas that bubbled up. Some are reworkings of some of my own ideas that have been changed by other's idea infusions and some are pure mashings of other's ideas. Now it is just finding time (as usual).



November 16, 2004

That Syncing Feeling Pages Updated

The links to That Syncing Feeling have been corrected as I now have steady connectivity again. I have also posted the PDF version, for whomever finds that helpful.



November 15, 2004

Back to Telecommuting to My Personal Life

I am back home from a fantastic conference, Design Engaged. An incredibly deep thanks is owed to Andrew for putting this conference on. I am so tired, but so amazingly still on the conference high that comes from spending time with people (some new to me and some already friends) who are bright, witty, and have similar view on the world and where it can be going. Having the conference in Amsterdam was wonderful and that really added to the uplifting nature of the conference.

Amsterdam is such a fantastic place for me, not only because some of my family comes from there, but the pace, the bikes, the freedom of expression, fantastic architecture, incredible public transportation that is truly world class, color and light built into the fabric of the city in ways that are permanent.

One question came up a lot in conversations, "do you telecommute?" My answer is no, I commute to work, but I often telecommute to my personal life. This conference allowed me to put actual people to the weblogs, comment names, IMs, and e-mails to a large portion of those I find to be holding a conversation that really helps frame my mindset. The conference was a synchronous time-place that collapsed hours, days, and weeks of asynchronous on-line conversations through weblogs and digital meta-trails as well as comment posts. Not only was the mind energized and engaged this weekend, but so was the heart as I got to know many much more deeply and still found wonderful warmth, which is a mark of fantastic people to me.

I am ready to go back, but that moment in time is gone. I can hope for future workings with each of these folks again. My life has been greatly enriched and I am deeply thankful.



November 12, 2004


November 10, 2004

Off to Amsterdam and Design Engaged

I am off to Design Engaged today, which is in Amsterdam. I will try to keep up with things here, but you can hopefully follow along with photos at vanderwal on Flickr.

I will be posting the That Syncing Feeling presentation after it is presented on Friday, which may be Saturday.

Could somebody please remind folks in the Netherlands they are a loving and accepting people. Being of Dutch heritage is something I take great pride and I would like to keep it that way.



September 26, 2004

Preview of Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World

I went on a little book buying spree this past week as I am finishing reading the last binge buy or two. I picked up a couple O'Reilly reference books (will review them later) and a few books from the interaction design, cogsci, and information design arena. The one that is standing out in as I preview them is the Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World : A Critical Sourcebook by Carolyn Handa. This book is a collection of essays and articles from various well quoted and referred to designers, writers, and academics. Looking through the references and end-notes the heros of communication research are used for the foundations of those chosen to write. Visual Rhetoric is focussed on the academic world, but if we are not learning every day we will never get better, and this book could fill in the gaps.

The book is broken into five sections: Toward a Pedagogy of the Visual, The Rhetoric of the Image, The Rhetoric of Design, Visual Rhetoric and Argument, and Visual Rhetoric and Culture. The names of the writers that jump out are Gunter Kress, Catherine L. Hobbes, J.L. Lemke, Rudolph Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Scott McCloud, Jeffery Keedy, Jessica Helfand, Keith Kenney, Michele S. Shauf, Richard A. Lanham, Robert Horn, and Bell Hooks drew my attention. I have a very strong feeling this will be a great resource. I don't think it will bump Digital Ground by Malcolm McCullough from my vote for the best book I have read this year, but it is proving 2004 is a very strong year for books.



September 1, 2004

Gordon Rugg and the Verifier Method

In the current Wired Magazine an article on Gordon Rugg - Scientific Method Man (yes, it is the same Gordon Rugg of card sorting notoriety). The article focuses on his solving the Voynich manuscript, actually deciphering it as a hoax. How he goes about solving the manuscript is what really has me intrigued.

Rugg uses a method he has been developing, called the verifier approach, which develops a means critical examination using:

The verifier method boils down to seven steps: 1) amass knowledge of a discipline through interviews and reading; 2) determine whether critical expertise has yet to be applied in the field; 3) look for bias and mistakenly held assumptions in the research; 4) analyze jargon to uncover differing definitions of key terms; 5) check for classic mistakes using human-error tools; 6) follow the errors as they ripple through underlying assumptions; 7) suggest new avenues for research that emerge from steps one through six.

One area that Rugg has used this has been solving cross-discipline terminology problems leading to communication difficulties. He also found that pattern-matching is often used to solve problems or diagnose illness, but a more thorough inquiry may have found a more exact cause, which leads to a better solution and better cure.

Can the verifier method be applied to web development? Information Architecture? Maybe, but the depth of knowledge and experience is still rather shallow, but getting better every day. Much of the confounding issues in getting to optimal solutions is the cross discipline backgrounds as well as the splintered communities that "focus" on claimed distinct areas that have no definite boundaries and even have extensive cross over. Where does HCI end and Usability Engineering begin? Information Architecture, Information Design, Interaction Design, etc. begin and end. There is a lot of "big umbrella" talk from all the groups as well as those that desire smaller distinct roles for their niche. There is a lot of cross-pollination across these roles and fields as they all are needed in part to get to a good solution for the products they work on.

One thing seems sure, I want to know much more about the verifier method. It seems like understanding the criteria better for the verifier method will help frame a language of criticism and cross-boundary peer review for development and design.



August 25, 2004

A Wonderful Redesign

I need to give a pointer to one of the wonderful redesigns of late, Jeff Gates' Life Outtacontext is something I find wonderful. I have been enjoying it for a couple weeks now. I particularly like when I scroll to the bottom of the page. Jeff does not update his wonderful content frequently, but the design has me going back often.



August 13, 2004

Design Engaged Announced

A new design forum has been announced, Design Engaged has been organized by Andrew Otwell and will be held in Amsterdam, Netherlands November 12 to 14, 2004. The format sounds very tempting.



August 1, 2004

Profiled at InfoDesign

I am the current InfoDesign Profile - Thomas Vander Wal. This was harder than I thought it would be an many alternate answers ran through my mind, but I finally narrowed it down as much as I could. Peter has many other wonderful profiles and interviews at InfoDesign Special. I have been inspired and found new resources from these glimpses into other designers lives.



July 16, 2004

Gmail Simplifies Email

Since I have been playing with Gmail I have been greatly enjoying the greatly improved means of labeling and archiving of e-mail as opposed to throwing them in folders. Many e-mails are hard to singularly classify with one label that folders force us to use. The ability to drive the sorting of e-mail by label that allows the e-mail to sit accessibly under a filter named with the label make things much easier. An e-mail discussing CSS, XHTML, and IA for two different projects now can be easily accessed under a filter for each of these five attributes.

Dan Brown has written a wonderful article The Information Architecture of Email that dig a little deeper. Dan ponders if users will adopt the changed interface. Hearing many user frustrations with e-mail buried in their Outlook or other e-mail application, I think the improved interface may draw quite a bit of interest. As Apple is going this way for its file structure in Tiger (the next OS upgrade) with Spotlight it seems Gmail is a peak at the future and a good means to start thinking about easier to find information that the use can actually manage.



May 23, 2004

Bethesda Design Within Reach

While getting coffee this morning I saw that Design within Reach is opening in Bethesda near the Woodmont Triangle (North of Old Georgetown Road). They have gone into the old Johnny Rocket diner. The site is a good match. The Woodmont Triangle is turning into a furniture and interior design section with small wonderful restaurants mixed in. This section of Bethesda is not as hectic as the area around the Bethesda Row Cinema (Landmark Theater) and the larger best of DC restaurants.



April 17, 2004

Wiggles Rocks Zen Garden

I am a huge fan of CSS Zen Garden and have been impressed for many months by the contributions, but Wiggles the Wonder Worm just floored me. I was and still am in awe. Joseph Pearson did a fantastic job and explains Wiggles and CSS on his site.



December 3, 2003

Tog explains good design on bad products

Bruce 'Tog' Tognozzini writes When Good Design is => a Bad Product.

You take a mediocre product and rework the design to make it better. Your design is a success, by any reasonable measure, but the resulting new release is actually worse. You redouble your efforts and matters become untenable. It doesnĂ­t matter how brilliant and effective your designs, the more they improve the product, the less usable the product becomes.

The article is filled with wonderful illustrations that will help us better understand how to make better products.



November 13, 2003

Ivrea Interaction Design resource

Molly Wright Steensen and the folks at Ivrea have launched Hub: Intersections of Interaction Design in conjunction with the Foundations of Interaction Design Symposium. The Hub will be a long term resource and community maintained by the students and faculty of Ivrea. The site currently offers an interaction design "intersections" weblog (which desparately needs an RSS feed) and a great design resources section. Congratulations!



November 6, 2003

Interdependance of structure, information, and presentation

Peter J. Bogaards explains The Document Triangle: The interdependence of the structure, information and presentation dimensions. This troika is very important clear information consumption, but also information reuse. Structure is extremely important to transmitting information, but also important to information reuse. Information lacking structure nearly as reusable as a newspaper article printed on paper.

One great location to explore the ease of information reuse and the affect the presentation layer has should look no farther than, CSS Zen Garden, where nearly all the content is identical in the various layouts and designs. The structure of the content provides a solid framework to rework the presentation layer. The presentation layer can add to or detract from the clarity of the message as well as the attraction a user may have to the message.



October 2, 2003

Compassion and the crafting of user experience

Adam provides a good form versus function essay in his Compassion and the crafting of user experience post. Make the time to read. Once again design without function is an unusable product, but function with good design is very enjoyable. Top designers understand the balance of form and function and make decisions on how the design will impact use. Those that are not to this point yet, do not have command of their craft, which should be a goal.



September 30, 2003

Kryptonite G5 case mod

I wandered over to MacUpgrades to pickup a firewire cable and a miniDV tape. I could not help but notice the kryptonite G5 case mod. I stood and gawked for about five minutes. The details of the inside of the case really showed up nicely.



September 22, 2003


September 16, 2003

Design graduation speech to wake the artist

Communication Arts this month offers their Interactive Awards, but also opens with a great graduation speech to artists and designers from Sean Kernan. This speech really hit home as similar topics have been on my mind of late as I have been trying to work through some long writing pieces related to the Model of Attraction, but also have not been able to do what I truly enjoy and usually get paid for. In this time I have been helping Joy get ready for junior's arrival and running incessant errands. This piece really has struck a strong chord as at the heart of things I have a strong creative spirit that has been a musician and writer. This is balanced with an extremely logic driven side, that eases its way into programming and other highly structured pattern making and pattern discernment.

I wish to come back to this article over and over through time. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.



July 24, 2003

Typeface indicates nice weather

The New York TImes Circuits section covers weather sensitive typefaces. The Dutch designers Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum of LettError developed a malleable typeface that changes the form based on weather conditions. This would enable a person to perceive changes in the weather as they were reading their news or other information, all this done to changes in the typeface, which is being read for other content.

Samples of this work can be seen at the University of Minnesota Design School where a twin typeface demo is available as well as the temperature sensitive typeface.

These tools are not innately learned but would take time and instruction to get the user to the sensing ability. This type of secondary communication (the primary channel of information expression is the information being communicated in the content that the typeface is spelling out. Those of us that use and are attuned to our computer's audible cues do not have to think there is an error in the system, but it is conveyed in an audible tone that we recognize and associate with some state of being or in condition. Changing typefaces would be another cue to the world around us.



June 8, 2003

Good Logo design review

In my Web travels this weekend I came across GoodLogo, a design review of product logos. The site states about itself:

In the era of multimedia like television and internet and the ever smaller getting competitive gap between companies, image is everything. On the internet for instance a company is almost completely presented by graphics and texts. No longer not only the performance of a product or service is the most important thing. The look&feel and the image of using and being seen with this product or service is just as important. For this and for some people a lot more reasons, the logo of a company and its overall branding is very much important.

By buying for example a car you're not just buying the car and its performance and luxurious interior, you also buy yourself an image created by good branding of marketeers and of course designers. These days a company without clear and clean branding won't last as long as it did posess these elements.

Visitors to the site can vote on their favorites. The site is based in the Netherlands so there is a good mix of European and American centric brands. The American brands seem to have higher rankings than the Euro-brands, which could mean more Americans are voting and are familiar with their home brands, or Europeans prefer American brands. The site offers "design cases" on some brands, but the reviews are rather sparse and left me wanting more. I'll be back.



June 5, 2003

Inside the design process with Doug Bowman

Doug Bowman provides an insanely excellent essay on the design process behind his Zen Garden offering. This is an insanely wonderful description of the thought process that goes into wonderful design. Doug has all the proper steps, which is wonderful to see. If you want to become a graphic Web designer, it takes more than knowing PhotoShop, (X)HTML, CSS, Flash, etc. it takes understanding the process and how to approach each need to solve a problem or fill a need. This really illustrates the information design profession on for the Web.



June 1, 2003

What is up with edesign mag

It is looking like edesign mag is dead. The last two issues have not materialized, on-line or in print. Their calendar is stuck with March events upcoming. This all leads to a big bummer. I hope they are working out bugs or some other issues, as I really enjoy the publication. There are other graphic design magazines that I have read for years, but none that captures the electronic or digital media as well. The other options still treat electronic media as a new thing (which it is in relative years) rather than a fully integrated and stand alone industry. It would be a big bummer if edesign is lost is the dust.



May 2, 2003


February 11, 2003

Build your ideal creative team and other articles

Boxes and Arrows serves up three great articles right now. George Olsen shares his R&D (Relevant & Desirable article discussing the need for vision driven design in user-centered design. Scott McDaniel offers up What's Your Idea of a Mental Model?. My favorite of this current bunch is Erin Malone's Modeling the Creative Organization in which Erin walks through how to put together her idea of an ideal creative team. Her discussion is provides insight into a great approach.



February 5, 2003

Animatrix first episode available online

You have bandwidth? You like Matrix? The Animatrix is out (animated Matrix) and the graphics are fantastic in spots.



January 20, 2003

InformeDesign launches a research design repository

There is a new design research repository on the Web, InformeDesign. This contains research for the Interior Design field. At times it is good to break out of one's normal shell and see what other fields are doing and researching.



December 23, 2002

Building a logo tips

My airplane reading included Inc magazine, which provided Guidelines to designing a logo which includes great advice for Web design also. Keep it simple, use it everywhere, and consult professionals are some of the bits from this overview. This is a good approachable quick read with solid suggestions that should be followed.


November 29, 2002

Understanding the environment at work

Reimagining work provides insight from workplace designers on how the work environment influences work. It is a good read with a lot of wonderful insights. [hat tip Challis]


November 10, 2002

Tablet Hotels gets Experience Design and IA right

The November 2002 edition of ID Magazine reviews Tablet Hotels. For those that are not familiar, Tablet Hotels is a Web site that focusses on well designed hotels that are not from the cookie cutter molds of the large chains. These boutique hotels presented are from around the world. The site allows users the ability to select by location, amenities, and the traveler's agenda.

The response to "What was the biggest design challenge in creating the site?" points to the success:

The booking path was the greatest design challenge. We built our own proprietary real-time reservation engine, and when we began, we really wanted to create something outstanding and above and beyond the sterile process that's out there now. However, as we got into it, we found ourselves handcuffed by the antiquated systems that the engine had to connect to (GDS and hotel inventory systems). Throw in the fact that our site caters to an international audience and that the language terms and general policies of hotels vary greatly throughout the world, and we had our work cut out for us in our information architecture.

The small site of Tablet Hotels had not only their own information architecture (micro IA) to work through be the semantic variations of an industry so to digitally interact with various players (macro IA). The pairing of these two extremes seems to be wonderfully executed. The visual design of the site attracts the international customers searching for design and customer focussed hotels. Each hotel has a well written snippet and are photographed from design friendly perspectives. The reviews also offer a "citysense", which is a, self described, sensory guide to region covering: look, listen, taste, touch, and smell. The interactive components are also executed very well with allowing the user a the ability to select the elements/facets that are important to them when making the selection for their hotel.

The Tablet Hotel site is very well thought through and has spent much time and consideration walking through the whole array of Experience Design/User-Centered Design roles, including information architecture, to make a site that raises the bar for other hotel sites.



November 1, 2002

Shooting crickets in the dark

My favorite analogy used this week was "it is like shooting crickets in the dark". Used to describe a plethora of things that are not documented. A sudden change in direction that is accompanied with no certifiable requirements. These situations have cropped up in the past where a photo was used along with stories in a CMS and now the client wants to please a new boss by CIO has not arrived so there is no understaning taste or likes. Many quick options are put together each getting a no and with no more direction than that. This my friends is shooting crickets in the dark, which is akin to "I know it when I see it" school of design management. The cricket keeps chirping you keep shooting.


September 3, 2002

Chad's reading lists

Chad Thornton has a great list of others reading lists. Such reading lists are great ways to find new resources. Chad adds Stanford's Joint Program in Design to his list.


May 23, 2002


May 10, 2002

CommArts discusses 37FedEx

CommArts picks up the 37signals mock redesign of the FedEx site. Read the CommArts write-up of 37FedEx. Those of you unfamiliar with 37signals work, they are a Web/Internet development firm that focusses on simplicity of design and ease of use. Their work is clean, fast, and seemingly intuitive.


May 5, 2002

Functional and design documentation

Functional vs. design in documentation explained in one article. This article explains why these two thoughts should be in two different documents. The article also explains what should be in each of the documents. Do discuss, or I suppose folks are somewhere...


April 2, 2002

Stephen Voss on digital photography magic

Digital Web has a fantastic article by Stephen Voss On Digital Photography and making digital photographs come to life. This is of great help for scanned or original digital form.


March 19, 2002

There are Quicktime clips of SXSW sessions and interviews, which includes one from the Josh Davis session. It is rough and not in context, but it does offer a good snippet of Josh and the magnetic dots.


March 12, 2002

The mind is functioning and also completely blown from watching and listening to Josh Davis. The world of visual, digital, mathematical, and relational information has broken more synapses than I new were functioning today and seemed to have spawned new channels for information to flow and be processed. In other words, my mind and concept of the world has just been altered again. Not only do I know have an understanding of what somebody means when they say the words that comprise the name Josh Davis, but I have a whole new way to look at information and human responses.

One of the items presented was a visual and audio presentation of network activity. Not only could one visually watch the activity and interaction of those on the network and watching what activities the users on the network were performing and showing their IP address. This visual presentation was augmented with audio that dynamically corresponded to the actions. A sys admin could sit and monitor a network aurally and not watch a monitor. Like a mother and a child, a sys admin could emotively interact with the sounds of the network. A user on the network has saturated the bandwidth the downloads, and the sounds emitted could trigger and emotive response from the sys admin to nurse the network back to a healthy state for all users. As many of us hear our cars and listen to the pitch the subway train makes pulling into the station, which indicates how full the train is so we know where to position our selves on the platform (usually lower tone>es indicate fuller trains and the lowest rumble on a seemingly empty train is the money car on the money train).



February 27, 2002

Decisionmaking about design is critical and demonstrated. This walk through of how design influences impressions of a product. Communicating a message is important in the words and visual design. Each of these samples builds an experience and expectation for the product.


February 26, 2002

Personally I think I would extend the Hillman Curtis quote, "Web designer has to think of every pixel and the role it plays in brand" and extend it to the code behind the design. Every choice in the code impacts the display of the information or the way users, particularly with disabilities use the information. Sites that are well crafted have more usable information than poorly coded sites. Unfortunately, I have run across a lot of poor code of late, which the developers of the code believe everything is fine as long as it displays properly in their browser. The problem is not everybody has their browser. The poor coding not only adversely affects the display of every pixel on the page of other browsers, but provides poor usability of the information for the sight impared. The best step is to learn the standard code, learn to code my hand, learn what every tag and element does, learn to write a page efficiently, and most of all learn how to code for everybody in your user base. Lacking this we are just blindly coding in the dark and wasting our own time, the time those that thought they could use our information, and those who have to recode the information to make it usable.

Having watched the desktop publishing (DTP) trend "empower" people to design their own newsletters and brochures, I thought the Web would have followed in a similar growth path. DTP came to popular being in the late '80s with the advent of Adobe's PageMaker. Having formal training in communication design I realized the tool was powerful, but also dangerous. Moving into the workforce I watched the folly of the DTP trend. This powerful application when in untrained hands, could create output that was as far from what anybody would want being put out by a professional organization. I heard more than my share of executives screaming down corridors, "What is this cr*p". The DTP in the hands of the admin staff or the intern with out design backgrounds or training created about what was expected, garbage. DTP was quickly relegated to the hands of trained graphic artists, who turned out great products from the same application and often same machine.

What took four or five years with DTP is not being realized with Web development. Part of this may be Web development is more accessible and children can do it from home. The novelty of Web development has not reached the ends of the earth. Another driver that sets the Web apart is the embarrassment of people's children being able to build pages, which leads some folks logic patterns to the belief Web development/design is not difficult. Much like DTP, it is not difficult to build "something", but is does take a lot of work to build something good that is usable and maintainable. I still hear some executive yelling down the hall about the poor quality of a Web page, but the conversion of those developing sites to knowledgeable developers or turning the site over to experienced expert staff is still a slow transition. The glamour of the Web has worn thin, which is helping move the development to the hands of craftspeople and those with the passion to learn all the details.

I still have hope, actually I work in an environment that gives me great hope as the people with the power to say no do so for all the right reasons. The reasons are development that does not meet the minimum standards of a professional organization. The Web reaches far more people with the messages of our organization that the world prior. The Web imprints user's minds with the impression of a solid organization that cares about the information it handles, or it can do the opposite with equal ease. The experience and impression is in the hands of the professionals to see that these standards are met and adhered to. I am happy to work with not only professionals, but people with the passion to understand what is right to get the information to the people and get it there properly.



This evening I went to a jam packed AIGA DC event, Good Design is Smart Business 6, which included a panel discussing design and experience design as it relates to building a businnes' brand. The panel included Hillman Curtis, Neal Boulton, and Brian Jacobs of Pentagram. Hillman discussed the redesign of Adobe and pointed to the Web environment offering a double barrel of visual and functional design. Hillman had one of the best quotes that a "Web designer has to think of every pixel and the role it plays in brand". Brian Jacobs was another favorite of mine on this panel discussing his role in redesigning the Muzak brand. The brand now encompasses the organization, which was amazing. If you have the opportunity to see Hillman or Brian speak it is well worth the effort to see them.

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