September 30, 2002
Mark and Gesture
George Whale writes on the PhD-Design list:
Tracey, the online journal dedicated to contemporary drawing issues, is pleased to announce the publication of 'Syntax of Mark and Gesture', a collection of fascinating articles examining gestural aspects of drawing. Contributors include John Willats (author of 'Art and Representation'), design researcher Gabriela Goldschmidt and artist James Faure Walker.
September 29, 2002
Parrish Hanna has a great article in Boxes and Arrows titled From Satisfaction to Delight (thanks UXblog). There's very likely a connection to be made between Parrish's delight and Whitney Quesenbery's engaging.
Sigh...signs of old age
If you read my BU reminisces, you may have gleaned that I'm an old fart who is over 40. Often I don't really notice this, but every now and again, it comes home to me. Today, it was when I was surfing and came across a different Beth (who is 26) and her comment that she surfed this entire site. They lost me at "turn your sound up." Makes me realize that my typography prof is right on when she notes the importance of appropriateness, audience, and purpose.
Jumping the shark?
It's been disappointing to me that there are so few weblogs that focus on content as a meta subject. One of the few that did exist is now wondering whether online content has jumped the shark. (If you've not come across the term before, see jump the shark.)
Is it just me, or is content the George Bailey of the whole user experience space? You know, the hard-working, underappreciated, taken-for-granted part of a whole lot of disciplines?
Find a font
Shades of grey
I love these optical illusions. This one is one of the best. If you follow the citation trail I did, from antenna to kotke to waxy.org, you can see one or two alternate versions. Or, if you're like me and lots of folks who see this, you can just open it in Photoshop and verify that they are the same.
Goodies from Lou!
In return for a very reasonable level of self-PR, Lou has made his presentations available on his website.
BTW, I went in search of a pithy Edward Tufte comment on Powerpoint, and instead found yet another example of why there is a future in information architecture. What a less-than-useful sort for that list of questions!
September 27, 2002
We're on press!
Well, it seems like it's been forever, but I'm happy to be joining the ranks of those who have or will be publishing in the ID/IA space! Mike Albers and I are the happy co-editors of a volume that is titled Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication, which will be coming out by Erlbaum, hopefully by the end of the year. The book was a project of the members of the STC ID SIG, which I founded in 1997.
Unlike the recent spate of IA books (from Lou and Peter, Christina, and Jesse), this is more of an academic volume than a consumer how-to. Other ID books have looked either at the more "traditional" information design in the print world (such as the Zwaga books) or took a broader look at the subject (such as the Jacobson book). In our case, the bulk of the volume focuses on aspects of information design as interpreted by those who practice in the technical communication space ... on applications such as reference manuals, online help, and interface design.
We're privileged to have had Karen Schriver (author of Dynamics in Document Design) write our foreword. Here are the other chapters in the book and their authors:
Information Design in Motion - Beth Mazur
My apologies, in advance, to all my friends and family members who will be getting a little square-wrapped package for Christmas this year :). As we get closer, I'll be sharing more. Stay tuned!
September 26, 2002
UPA2003 Call for Papers
"The annual UPA conference will be held June 23-27, 2003, at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona. We invite you to share your ideas and experiences with fellow practitioners in the field of usability by submitting proposals for program topics, and by attending the conference." For more info, see the call for papers.
Peter Storkerson and Communication Design
Now here's an interesting site (and individual) found on the PhD-Design list. Peter Storkerson has built a site well worth exploring if you're into information design or communication design. In particular, look at the program design for a 5-year Master's degree in information design! How I wish I'd found a program like that years ago.
In the small world department, it turns out that Peter and I were both at BU in the late 70's. I doubt our paths crossed...it seems he was teaching sociology and I was spending all my time at what we affectionately called Le Café Dugout. And while I'm reminiscing, I was at the Beanpot when the Blizzard of '78 struck. I was also there, as manager and statistician, the only year that BU won the women's Beanpot. I played for the BU women's team from '76 thru '80 and it is bordering on obscene that BU hasn't elevated them from a club to varsity sport. Oh alright, I digress. I'll save it for the next weblog :).
September 20, 2002
Six degrees of weblogs
Ah, it's a Friday evening, so my apologies in advance for a bit of a digression. I hadn't been to Doc Searls in a while, so I was scrolling and came across an entry pointing to RageBoy (who has the most fabulous tagline, "where we write at night when we should be sleeping. and it shows."), who pointed to something called BlogTree.
BlogTree is sorta the web equivalent of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Visitors can register their weblogs and say who inspired them. This creates weblog parents, siblings (blogs with shared parents), and children. Just for fun, I went ahead and registered IDblog. Dave Winer's Scripting News has 180 children, so it may be the grandaddy of all weblogs!
September 19, 2002
A history of type
Charles Foster, of Plenty of Taste fame, has found a very nice little history of type. Charles notes that it is "written from a French perspective it has different insights from those which us Brits (and our American friends) often share."
This is making the blog rounds and is so relevant that I find the need to be redundant:
"The Fontscape font directory is designed to help you find the ideal typeface for your application, whether it's a publishing project, graphic design, logo, or simply a font for your document."
New list: Citizen Design
From Joseph Coates on the AIGA-ED list:
"This is a forum for designers, design educators, design students and
those from affiliated fields and areas of interest too numerous to
This appeared today on the DCWW list: a tool called SpamNet that lets you filter out spam based on community votes! From the folks who brought you Napster and Razor, this currently works only with Outlook 2000/XP (tho they claim it will soon be available for Outlook Express). It may be enough to make me convert from Eudora!
September 17, 2002
Oh, how cool ... more cross-over :). Check out this article by Saul Carliner, ID SIG member, an author in Mike Albers' and my forthcoming edited volume, Content and Complexity (more in October), and a former president of STC.
In this article, he makes some interesting suggestions based on comparing web surfing to retail shopping. Saul has always had an interest in performance (compared to preference), so his insights here consider both usability from the user's perspective as well as business needs from a client's perspective. I'm looking forward to part two.
Names and labels
One of the projects I'm involved with now is to integrate our email subscriptions with our member database. Just yesterday we were going over the requirements and talking about the business rules that we'd need to follow when sending out email. Dear $first_name$ sounds like a great idea, but we know that we have records with missing first names or people who use their middle names. Thus we're working on rules that will substitute when the first name field is not suitable for email personalization.
So, I had a bit of a laugh today when I received the following message from Consumer Reports (I'm one of their online subscribers). Here's an excerpt of the email:
Subject: Mazur, Help us write a story
Ummm, Daviet? I think I'll take a pass!
One of my pet projects is to keep up the IA conferences list on the IAwiki. This fabulous wiki, lovingly maintained by Eric Scheid, is now a year old. It's a great complement to the other major IA web activities. If you haven't been in a while, go take a peek. If you know about a conference or seminar that should be on the list, by all means please add it!
September 15, 2002
The importance of labels
Depending on the context (print or web), how we label things could be as much of a traditional ID task as it is an IA task. However, once you move over to full-blown web sites (particularly in the e-commerce world), this is really the strong suit of the information architect.
Consider my recent experience. As mentioned yesterday, my old boom box is not doing so well pulling in my regular radio station in my new inside office. So I'm now on the lookout for a radio that can. After doing sneakernet to both Radio Shack and Best Buy today, I decided to see what I could find on the Internet. After being less than successful at Sharper Image and Brookstone, I decided to surf buy.com.
Since the search "FM radio digital tuner" returned results in buy.com's categories of computers, software, and books (beside electronics), I decided to browse instead, and clicked on electronics in their pseudo-tab interface. I figured that the ideal candidate for a work radio would be a clock radio ... I didn't need an expensive boombox that would walk away from my office, nor did I need a Walkman-like portable. I wanted something with a decent digital tuner and amp that could pick up the desired station. Let me cut to the chase. Portable Audio was not my first choice, Home Audio was. Good thing I'm a patient surfer, for of course, clock radios are considered to be portable by the folks at buy.com. (Yes Virginia, I know they are portable ... but the only time my clock radio moves is when I pack up my entire apartment!). It seems to me that redundancy would be an asset here ... why not list clock radios under both home and portable audio? Alas, the real bummer is that even after I found the right category, I didn't find a suitable radio.
All of this is why Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville should do amazingly well with the 2nd edition of the Polar Bear book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. I've got my copy, and once I can devote some time to it, will share more soon. In the meantime, if you have more free time than me and think that Polar Bear IA is for you, then by all means, get yours and then use Peter's amazing syllabus as a tool for working thru the volume.
September 14, 2002
I'm here at work on Saturday because Amy Lee is moving into my office on Monday. Big yay! She's moving into a position that will manage both the design function (which was currently open) and the production function (which I used to manage). I'm getting out of the mgmt biz to have enough mental energy to go back to school. BTW, Mike (Amy's hubby) was close. AARP used to stand for American Association of Retired Persons. Now it is just AARP (think IBM or KFC). And it pronounced A-A-R-P. None of those canine-sounding single syllables for us!
So...that said, I came in to finish moving out of my old digs and into a new office around the corner that was just vacated by a colleague off to Florida. It's a nice space, tho I miss my windows :). Worse, my old (very) boombox is not picking up WJFK. What, no Don and Mike in the afternoons? Yikes. I gotta work on that.
Anyways, here's the payoff if you're still reading after all this. So, in between moving boxes and dumping drawers, I found wellvetted.com (courtesy of URLwire). Instead of finishing the last remnants of packing, I have been sitting here clicking back and forth among some really cool sites. Don't go if you're violently anti-Flash, but if you're the type who likes looking at design annuals for the inspiration, you're sure to get sucked in too.
Of the ones I checked, my fave so far is Yulia Nau. Contrary to my normal "where's the skip intro link" reaction, I found myself mesmerized by the amazingly crafted dragon. (Hint, pay attention to your mouse cursor.)
ID in the sky
I like Salon's Ask the pilot column because I have a fascination with flying, and particularly with large airplanes. How interesting that this week, columnist Patrick Smith turns out a treatise on usable design:
"With a pair of shears and common sense, a typical [preflight safety] briefing can be trimmed to about half its length with no sacrifice of information. The result is a cleaner oration that people will actually listen to."
I like the concept ... now if only the airlines would apply the same concept to their seats!
September 13, 2002
Be quick like bunny
William Hudson, of CHI-WEB fame, is expanding his empire. He's recently announced the creation of another list, UCD, which will also be moderated and will be concerned with "user-centred design, user interface design, web design, HCI and usability with no geographical or organizational boundaries."
He advises that some high-profile CHI-WEBers (Don Norman, Jared Spool) have already joined, and that membership is limited to 500 members. So hurry if you want to get in. Because I can't get enough (and since I'm now back in the biz of looking for IDblog fodder), I've signed up.
That said, it's a bit odd this limiting the membership business. It's great that it is a moderated list...keeps the noise to a minimum. But I think if you really wanted to keep the list small, advertising it in more public domain space (like the AIGA Experience Design list I saw it on) seems counter-productive. Contrast this tactic with the one of that other U-list which goes to some lengths to be invisible except by word-of-mouth.
Or maybe the "limited to 500" is a PR ploy? As a CHI-WEB member, I get the sense that moderating a high-traffic (due to higher membership) list requires the involvement of multiple volunteers (or one really insane one with no life :). So perhaps this is a way of being able to keep this a labor of love and not have to decentralize. Well, we'll see. Certainly any items to the list of interest to IDblog fans will appear here, and perchance UCD will be archived on the web like the CHI-WEB archives are.
September 11, 2002
More on the banner
In response to my comment earlier about my wide banner, Andy Edmonds suggested I simply make the width of the image 100%. I thought the resulting browsing scaling would be horrible, but after testing it out, I wonder if this isn't a better solution.
September 09, 2002
Back to School
It's September, which is back-to-school month, and I am no exception. Perhaps because I am a serious glutton for punishment, I am going back! I finished my MA a year ago August at Georgetown's Communication, Culture, and Technology program (my master's thesis was titled "The Role of Place on Older Adult Interest Towards Computer Classes" ... all lovely diffusion of innovation stuff). But as an info design fan, my fascination with the visual aspect of things is driving me to do more. So, last week, I started my first classes with the University of Baltimore's Doctor of Communications Design program. Now, for all intents and purposes, the DCD is really an MFA. However, given the MFA's fine arts connotations, the UB folks decided to position this degree as a professional degree similar to the MD or JD. All I know is it is 48 more credits and no dissertation! (I'm too old for a dissertation :).
This semester, I'm taking typography and a class called "Imaging Information and Ideas." The former is what you'd expect, and the latter is an interesting look at what happens when you explore semiotics in the visual design space. I hope you are all looking forward to tidbits gleaned from these classes! BTW, UB is also home to a new IA program called the masters in interaction design and information architecture.
There are some great perks to being a student. Big yeah, time to upgrade the software at home at a discount. (Hard to believe, but I still have Photoshop 3 on my Mac at home!).
Other cool perks include being able to join relevant professional societies at a discount. So I'd like to give STC, ACM, and ASIST big kudos for their liberal membership policies. A bit of a raspberry to AIGA and UPA for their more rigid policies (both require full-time status for student memberships).
I know that the groups are starting to work together (e.g., the joint conference with the AIGA Experience Design folks and the SIGCHI folks). But as they've heard before, there really is a paradigm shift. Just as people no longer spend their entire careers at one company until they retire with the gold watch, people are no longer desire to get by with a single professional membership. But not all the associations are getting this. I realize that some of the folks in this profession are well paid, but I'm not sure how many would choose to be members at the current level of dues. I'm probably not alone in suspecting that associations would benefit from having different tiers of membership ... particularly if the only alternative to a $65 full-time student membership was a $275 professional membership (hint hint).
Now, this should help out the traffic! Although, I must admit it was with major trepidation that I clicked on the link for his I'm happier than a coondog on a bare leg. C'mon, admit it...you thought there'd be some really frightening photo too, right?
Thanks to an email from Allan Kempson, I've resized the IDblog's banner to be 950 pixels wide. When I was doing banner math, I neglected to include either the margins that the style sheet defined, nor the amount of room for the non-usable space (like the vertical scroll bar) that the browser imposes.
Alas, this means that folks (like myself) who don't browse in screens that are 1024+ pixels wide are stuck with the horizontal scroll bar. But I'm reluctant to size the image to assume 800 pixels wide. Note that experiments to make the image a background for an element in the style sheet turned out to be less than satisfactory cross-browser, so if anyone has another suggestion, please let me know!
September 06, 2002
Choose your font size
Well, that was bordering on ridiculously easy! I'm tempted to add the "from the mouth of babes" category to IDblog, but will settle for "web technology" (categories will appear once there's a critical mass of entries).
Now, if IDblog's default font size looks monstrous to you, feel free to choose the sleeker style of the 20% off version: just click the smaller font link over on the top of the right column.
Finally, this works peachy in both my IE5 and NS6 on the Mac. Feel free to add a comment if it creates a problem for you!
September 05, 2002
Back at last!
Yes Virginia, there is an IDblog. After much pain and gnashing of teeth, I have the new pieces back together. Things that are new: first, there's the new, shorter, more memorable URL (thanks to the MadMan for the idea). Second, there's the new platform. I've moved on from Blogger (which served me well) to the fabulous Movable Type.
After much procrastinating, I paid the paltry sum of $20 to Ben to actually install MT for me. Hey, I put a premium on my time, so even though I've been known to wrestle some Perl code, I just had not gotten up the energy for what is known to be a fairly simple process. But that money was well spent. It got me to the point where the new IDblog was no longer ether, but a real site that just needed some simple tweaks to the template, and I'd be up and running.
Ummm, well, not exactly! Time for confessions. I'm not a designer, and I actually stopped doing serious coding around the time that CSS became something to pay attention to. But I was possessed. This site would be all CSS, and I'd imagined the title for this first entry to be "Look Ma, no tables!" But then I started trying to actually do this site totally in CSS. I had the fish book (are those salmon or what?) and apparently a lot of patience, as I spent an amazing number of hours tweaking. And tweaking. And after I got things just where I wanted them, I headed down for a nice visit with my nieces, and went to show my sister my site. What had looked beautiful in IE5 on the Mac looked like sh*&%t on IE6 on Windows 2000. Argh!!
Well, many visits to the nice W3C validation pages for HTML and CSS later, I had some pages that actually validated. Alas, I was close, but not exactly there. My nice grey right column was apparently quite happily wrapping to the left under my blog entries. Not at all what I had planned.
At that point, I went off to the site of the guru of web standards, thinking I'd find the answer to my CSS woes. Instead, what did I find? An entry that said that, perhaps, just a small amount of table code may be what the doctor ordered.
I was sold. So...there's no "Look Ma, no tables!" but at least I can say "Look Ma, only one table that keeps the d*mn columns intact and makes this much more readable in crappy, non-compliant browsers." Yee-ha!
So, my apologies for this long diatribe when what you were really looking for were the good links to all things information design. I'll try to deliver in forthcoming days and weeks.
As before, I'm eager to hear comments, suggestions for links, why my design sucks (hey, I'm a math major!). Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The spammers have already found this email address (sigh), so I'd love some real mail to make me feel good. Or maybe I really should assume that the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce gave my email address to them to help them buy arms to overthrow some military force in Zaire. But gee, 25% of $35 million...just think how many months of web hosting I could buy!
Oh, and one other thing. Does this type look large to you? Well, guess what, this is your default font size. Did you really want me to fix the font size at something that would look "slick" (albeit tiny)? Or by default reduce your font size by 20%? Sorry... to paraphrase Dana Carvey doing George Bush (the elder) ... "not gonna do it."
In my copious spare time, I may go ahead and figure out a way so that you can reduce this type so that it doesn't feel like a site for those with vision problems. In the meantime, think of it as a break for your eyes!
IDblog is Beth Mazur tilting at power law windmills. A little bit Internet, a little bit technology, a little bit society, and a lot about designing useful information products. Send your cards and letters to email@example.com.
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