December 28, 2002
TSI has announced the winners in their 2002 Worst Manual Contest. Yikes! I think the directions for solving what looked to be a Rubik's Cube are my fave.
December 26, 2002
Design and emotion
How cool...maybe I'll make it into Don Norman's next book on design and emotion. I'd forgotten he'd asked for people's love/hate relationships with products back in May. After a more recent request on the CHI-WEB list, he's posted a summary of responses. My May contribution:
After plunking down $400 for an iPod, I almost wouldn't have cared about the product after having unwrapped the packaging, it was that nice. What I've said before is that this affect/engaging/enjoyment quality is above all else a market differentiator. If you're the only one selling a widget, then yeah, it can be unusable and unenjoyable. But once there gets to be competition, preference (rather than performance) becomes very important.
December 23, 2002
Pearls and literacy
The following made an appearance in my inbox as a result of one of my many list subscriptions. It's titled "A Holiday Greeting - The Pearls of Adult Literacy Education." Here's just a tiny highlight from the full version:
When you send your Holiday Greeting cards, do you use cards with your name printed on them, or do you sign them personally? It is easy to skip this personal touch, and so much more efficient to just have the cards printed. But when we do this, we run the risk of forgetting the deep meaning that being able to sign one’s name has had in the history of adult literacy and the struggle for civil rights. Like a chain of pearls, a major part of this history of adult illiterates and their passion for learning to write their names can be traced by following the teaching methods of three great women leaders of adult literacy education in the United States.
I don't get printed holiday cards, nor am I sure that the use of printed cards is the biggest issue around forgetting the importance of literacy. What really irks me is that I was just reading a great weblog entry on the subject of literacy and how the ability to move from an oral society to a written one was a paradigm shift equivalent to making use of fire. Do you think I could find this either via Google or Daypop? Noooooo. What a bummer. I remember the author mentioned Walter Ong, who wrote "Orality and Literacy" and he/she talked about a documentary where an indigenous people were shown the "magic" of the written word via a pseudo-game of telephone.
In any case, this just reminds me that there are two things I'm interested in regarding information design. The first is access and the second is access. I tend to focus on the readability/legibility/usability version of access, but every once in a while the literacy/digital divide/disease of familiarity version demands some attention.
Jakob's top ten
Jakob's gone ahead and posted his top ten web design mistakes of 2002. There are no big surprises on the list. That said, is anyone else astonished that Jakob would post a page that weighs well over 220K? No complaints here (I like the cartoons), but it just seems so un-Jakob-like :).
December 22, 2002
It's clear that the studios' motivation in designing MovieLink is fear of piracy. But they forgot to make the service usable, appealing, or compelling. So MovieLink will fail, people will argue that you can't sell digital content on the Internet--and the studios will have proved nothing.
I had to check this out, though after being warned by Alsop about nearly gigabyte downloads that took five hours over DSL, I hadn't expected to actually try out the service. Good thing, for here's my experience with MovieLink:
User experience ... not.
IDJ is on the way!
Well, mine hasn't made it across the pond yet, but vol 10, num 3 of the Information Design Journal is apparently on its way. The issue's theme is "about the conquest of space ... the artificial
space of information displays, embodied on a screen or on
I've gone ahead and posted the list of information design conferences in 2003 to the STC ID SIG website. The list was compiled by the moderators of the InfoDesign mailing list. It's fairly comprehensive, though you should probably keep an eye on the list that Peter maintains (see right nav).
December 19, 2002
Mouseovers...the devil's spawn?
Maybe it's me (or my advancing age), but I just don't get the whole mouseover thing. I suspect that the real problem is not the mouseovers per se, but 1) that browsers are incapable of distinguishing between "hey, I wonder what this object does" and "hey, I'm trying to reach the other side of the page, so please stop winking and blinking at me" and 2) that sometimes potentially useful mouseovers (hey, cues are good) are just so damn annoying.
As an example of mouseovers that I think the world could do without, consider Adventis and their DHTML flyouts (a site Zeldman reamed back on December 3rd) or Eye Magazine and their annoying sound effects on top of their annoying navigation.
Like I said, consider it one of my character flaws, 'cause I just don't get it. I think what I really want is to be able to customize the mouseover setting the way that you can the click speed in Windows. Turning 'em off entirely would be kinda nice too!
December 18, 2002
Computers and common sense
Courtesy of my day job, I got a chance to talk with Walter Bender today. He's the executive director of the MIT Media Lab, and one of the projects he talked to us about was something called OpenMind, which is:
an attempt to make computers smarter by making it easy and fun for people all over the world to work together to give computers the millions of pieces of ordinary knowledge that constitute "common-sense", all those aspects of the world that we all understand so well we take them for granted.
All I want to know is how did it know how to ask such a relevant question when I gave it so little information :). My first teaching opportunity:
Hammers and nails
Lucian Millis (of LucDesk fame) is thousands of miles way across the pond. But he seems to hold a similar interest for Abraham Maslow's "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" and blogs this brief bio of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. If you're a psychology fan, don't miss That's My Theory where you can pick Sigmund Freud out of a "What's My Line" lineup with Maslow and B. F. Skinner.
I'm not quite sure whether it is Maslow's quote or "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" that describes my life more accurately these days!
WTC design concepts
An article in the Washington Post pointed me to renewnyc.org, a website of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. This apparently is the group responsible for what happens on the site of the World Trade Center.
What's relevant to IDblog readers is the content that (apparently) went up on the site after the announcement of the new designs today. It describes all nine design concepts in a very cool way. It seems clear that each team must have been required to submit content that could be plugged into this site in order to facilitate community review. I'm only a very modest architecture buff, but this way of presenting the designs makes it very accessible.
They claim they'll pick a design by the end of January. Should be interesting to see...some of the designs are a bit, umm, challenging.
December 16, 2002
The sub-titles for this entry are "Why Auntie Beth isn't getting Chris and Lexi a sled for Christmas" and "Why you shouldn't shop online at Amazon.com if you were at the office happy hour too long." I know that you have to pay a premium for shopping late for Christmas, but this is a bit much:
Emphasis mine! You'd think if the shipping was three times as much as the product, maybe Amazon could alert you? Yikes!
BTW, it's not like I have any major grudge against Amazon. I just spent $50 in their apparel store (the nieces are getting nice Lands End mittens and I'm getting a gift or two too) in order to get the $30 to spend later on the site (which is a much better way to promo their new apparel offering than saying that people who bought some book like clean underwear from some store) . But I just couldn't pass up the chance to blog a $50 shipping charge for a plastic toboggan!
December 14, 2002
I'm guessing that the architect list that Ken refers to is not the SIGIA list. I'd think we'd see a better librarian showing!
December 13, 2002
Users as designers
I wanna try and get in another quick entry before lunch is over. I've recently come across three papers that all touch on a seemingly serendipitous thread related to user-centered design.
First, Mike Lee just emailed me about an entry he just did on naked objects, which are:
core business objects, such as Customer, Product, and Order, that show directly through to the user, rather than being hidden behind the menus, forms, process-scripts and dialogue boxes that make up most user interfaces. ... naked objects give you less control over the detailed layout, typography and visual style of the presentation. However, this can be surprisingly liberating. (from here)
Mike wonders if these signal the impending death of visual and interaction design. Which brings us to paper #2: Usability and Open Source Software, which points out (among other things) that:
The OSS approach fails for end user usability because there are 'the wrong kind of eyeballs' looking at, but failing to see, usability issues. In some ways the relatively new problem with OSS usability reflects the earlier problem with commercial systems development ... The key difference between the two approaches is this: commercial software development has recognised these problems and can employ specific HCI experts to 're-balance' their processes in favour of users. However, volunteer-led software development does not have the ability to hire in missing skill sets to ensure that user-centred design expertise is present in the development team.
This brings us to paper #3 from the folks at First Monday: Beyond "Couch Potatoes": From Consumers to Designers and Active Contributors, which lays a case for users to be able to act as designers and not just consumers in personally meaningful activities. The author makes some interesting comparisons to architecture and open-source software regarding the designer/comsumer spectrum.
As Mike suggests, definitely fodder for a long train ride and not leisure online reading!
I'm flattered to be labeled a "respected colleague" of Paula Thornton, who recently launched her new weblog iknovate. Paula has been vocal in the IA community, and one of the things I appreciate is that she's particularly interested in how business fits into all this. I'm glad she's joined the crowd!
December 11, 2002
There are a couple points that struck me about the EU version. First, I liked their tabs. I think the jury is still out on whether a tabbed metaphor is the best choice on the web (much has been said about Amazon's real-estate-grabbing version). But UsabilityNet is at the right size that their tab does double-duty, providing both primary and secondary level navigation, complete with "where am I" and "where am I mousing" cues. Here's a snippet:
Another really interesting component to their site is the section called Usability for Managers. This kind of effort suggests to me that, while it's cool that the CHI folks are working with the AIGA folks (see DUX2003), it might be even more productive if we could get the AIGA ED folks working more closely with the "big" usability crowd (the ones who focus on UCD, the process, rather than "little" activities, such as testing). More about this later!
December 10, 2002
December 07, 2002
New direction for AIGA
Back before there was an AIfIA, there were a number of associations who wanted to convince the IA crowd that they'd be a good home. One of these was AIGA ED, who reasonably felt that experience design was a great umbrella for what the IA crowd were doing. However, this was not an obvious fit, particularly for the polar bear IAs. For them, AIGA was about graphic design, a presentation layer field, while IA was more about things not quite so visible...a structural layer field. (Yes, I oversimplify, and I certainly don't speak for any particular IA.) I bet that it didn't help that there was also the high cost of entry for AIGA.
But one thing is true...AIGA has apparently made good on its plans to become more than an association for graphic design. From the recent issue of Communique, AIGA's monthly email newsletter:
At its fall meeting, the AIGA national board ratified a new direction for the organization. AIGAs highest priority will be to communicate the value of designingas a way of problem solvingto the business community.
Indeed. This is apparently reflected in the fact that the latest issue of GAIN, AIGA's Journal of Design and Business, has as its feature an article on the Airstream trailer. Not exactly a graphic design subject!
I think this is an interesting move. On the one hand, I wish they'd simply moved to focusing more on communication design...Lord knows there are still horrible information/communication products out there. On the other hand, an association that helps shine a spotlight on design, the useful business process, can only be a good thing.
I am curious about how much the new AIGA's mission overlaps that of the IDSA, the Industrial Designers Society of America. Of course, having somewhat overlapping missions doesn't seem to have hurt IEEE and ACM.
Finally, one last note about IDSA. I made a similar observation over a year ago, but this continues to amaze me. The IDSA site is essentially the same today as it was when it was designed by MAYA Design in 1996. I was there, though I didn't make any contributions to the design (but I comfort myself thinking I may have done just a little in the production!). Of course, had I contributed to the design, I would never have let them do a framed site :). But nonetheless, wherever Nick Sabadosh and Noah Guyot are today, they should be very pleased!
December 05, 2002
Usability and profitability
First design (see below) and now usability makes the mainstream press this week. Find out why BusinessWeek thinks that Usability Is Next to Profitability. Usability devotees will not learn anything particularly new, except for interesting factoids like Jared Spool is a "lecturer" (is that a euphemism for adjunct?) at Tufts University. I used to live just up the street from Tufts. Who knew they were doing such cool stuff?
Here's hoping we'll see more like this. Maybe they could be helpful for those who have had little success with Nielsen-like ROI calculations in terms of convincing their managers to do usability. "Ah, it's in BusinessWeek so it must be credible. Dilbert, let's do usability today!" Ok, I'm being just a little facetious (or cynical). Just a little.
December 04, 2002
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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