March 30, 2003
Oskar provides a pointer to what are apparently images (and English translations) of the leaflets the US has been dropping on Iraq. I don't know if these are real, but if so, they are far more depressing than the images from the ready.gov site. I can't even fathom the kinds of planning that went into these. I don't know why I had imagined that the leaflets would be more text-based and more explanatory. If one had the stomach for it, these would make very useful fodder for a master's thesis.
More monster downloads
I'm in the process of researching the issue of online branding and non-profits (have any good resources? drop a note below or email me). While surfing, I came across this PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation called Information design: a map to meaning. (1.3M) If you're current with your Wurman and Tufte, you won't find anything really new; this is a summary of their main points. That said, I did like this quote from the presentation:
Think of an expression of an idea as a map to its meaning.
I like to think that I'm reasonably proficient at communication. But every once in a while, I get a response back from someone (often when I've communicated via email) that suggests that we just didn't connect. The metaphor of the map is an interesting one, as it brings to mind the challenges inherent in navigating using one...and that some people are better than others at it. This reminds me of David Dobrin's Writing & Technique, which starts off with a story about the communication challenges inherent in giving directions.
The other download is a master's thesis on the subject of decoding visual language elements in news content (link goes to a main page). Here's part of the abstract:
News delivery in this country is increasingly comprised of carefully crafted displays of visual information. As consumers of information, however, most of us have never been taught to critically read or decode images and other graphic displays of information in the same ways that we have been taught to analyze verbal communication. ... This thesis builds on elements from [related] disciplines in order to create a prototype for the critical analysis of visual news content utilizing the tools of interactive visual design.
The thesis is 3.4M. Hat tip to Al Wasco for sharing this item on the citizendesign list.
March 29, 2003
I thought this was funny!
"I pahk my blohg at Hahavahd Yahd." Okay, I lived in Boston for nearly 20 years.
I meant to log this one a while back, but Jenny at the Creative Tech Writer had this link to The Importance Of Interface Text. There aren't many tech writing weblogs (Jenny, Fred, and Guy are the ones I know about), so it's great to see these links that are appropriate. This one bridges the tech writing/interaction design area. How nice to read this:
The only thing that can bridge the gap between what they know and what they see is familiarity, and the easiest medium to make them familiar with the application is via the words they see on the application's user interface. Interface text, in other words.
I'm somewhat embarassed to admit it, but I've goofed twice in the last week because I've (go figure) misread the label "payee" to mean me when setting up online bill paying with my bank. When asked for the payee zip, I've entered mine (this is a screen after I've selected the vendor who'll get the check). Yeah. I know I selected Verizon as a payee, but when I'm asked for payee zip right after *my* account number, excuse me for being confused!!!
Luc provides a pointer to part one of an interview with Mike Davidson of ESPN regarding standards-compliant web design. This is a subject near and dear to my heart. On the one hand, I look with longing at pages that are lighter because much of the decision to avoid accommodating 1990s browsers. On the other hand, I worry about the math...even 2% of a large number is a healthy number of visitors.
For example, the article provides page view numbers rather than visitor sessions, but if you guestimate that ESPN visitors average 4 pages per visit, then they are looking at something like 10 million visitors per day. So that means that they have intentionally chosen to shut out a quarter-million visitors from their site. Ballsy! Their somewhat compelling argument:
"This is not a hospital, we are not doctors here... people aren't dying. The worst thing that is going to happen is that people won't get their sports."
I wonder if their position will change if the advertiser base drys up for them as it has for so many others? This quote is also interesting:
[T]he success of our site depends largely on the presentation of our content. We'd rather assertively tell you why your browser needs to be updated than show you an ugly shadow of our front page and have you assume we did something wrong.
I'm don't think that I agree with this position. I believe that the majority of web visitors have very little appreciation for the amount of pixel-pushing that your average web designer goes through during the development stage. And I'd bet money that this is definitely true for those folks who haven't upgraded from NS4!
So...I don't disagree with the premise that folks haven't upgraded because they don't know that they should or could. I guess I disagree with the idea that you should strong-arm folks into upgrading. If you are going to dump folks to an upgrade page, why not dump folks to a less-sophisticated page with a notice (even a pop-up one) that says their experience would be improved by a new browser version?
I don't want to be held hostage by site visitors, but I'm not sure that I want to think so little of my visitors or my content that the ESPN route would be my first choice. Then again, I really would like those lite pages! Sigh.
Trends in information formats
A work colleague sent the pointer to this one: Five-Year Information Format Trends , a report from the Online Computer Learning Center. At nearly a meg, it's a hefty PDF download, and it's also geared towards libraries, but I suspect that many IAs, IDs, etc., might find some of their stats and analysis interesting. The report is chunked into four sections: popular materials, scholarly materials, digitization projects, and web resources.
BTW, kudos to OCLC for giving visitors the option to register or not. Nice choice!
March 26, 2003
I've gone ahead and added some conference links at the bottom of the right-nav column. Enjoy!
March 25, 2003
Duh, duh, duh. For months now, I've been wanting to create a Washington/Baltimore weblog for the ID/IA/ED/UX space a la Exploit Boston. But I have so much on my plate now, the thought of having to customize MT to work this way was just not something I was ready to sign up to do. But in surfing my list of weblogs, I accidentally selected peterme.com and found out two things. One, he's back online as of today.
More importantly (and this is the duh thing), he's launched Beast Blog, a weblog for San Fran's East Bay area. Well, duh. Why not set up the weblog I want as a vanilla MT weblog and then worry about adding the custom features later?
So the real question is whether to do this as a regional (Washington and Baltimore) weblog or individual ones. If they were separate, I could do CapitolBlog (or maybe that should be CapitalBlog). And the folks up I95 could have HonBlog or some such.
I guess I'd rather do a joint one. Ay, but there's the rub. What the heck would you call it? Hmmm, BWUXblog. (Yikes, sounds like a disease.) BWblog? BashWaltBlog? I considered Chesapeake for a while, but that's actually an incredibly broad area that includes parts of Ohio and West Virginia.
I welcome your suggestions! Drop a comment below, or send me an email. Thanks!
For the infographics fans
Since infographics are such a staple of information design (and in fact, for some folks infographics==info design), I can't pass this one up. See the dangers of infographics over on iaslash.
I don't know that I understand the author's contention that:
Infographics are somewhat expensive and time-consuming to produce, and are therefore in their nature providing context to whatever is going on on the ground. It is, however, _not_ in their nature to provide afterthought and analysis.
This seems to me to be in the class of "all generalizations are false" kind of statements. Are we just talking the kind of infographics that one has time to do when trying to beat one's colleagues to the press in war-time? Or in general? Maybe I'm just overthinking this, but aren't some infographics a visual illustration of someone's afterthought and analysis? A way to call attention to some attribute of the data in a visual way?
E-publish and perish?
Ouch! That's what you can get for being nice. A free PDF download and if you're not so lucky, a bandwidth bill from your WSP for $15K :(. See "Publish (Electronically) and Perish?" from TidBITS.
More importantly, if you are doing PDF publishing, you may want to check out PDF Enhancer, which apparently does for PDFs what DeBabelizer does for graphics.
Thanks to Gordon Meyer of Usable Help for the pointer (and nice weblog).
UCD in sound bites
Back in 1994, I interviewed for a job with an amazing design firm in Pittsburgh, MAYA Design. I still remember being asked by one of its principals, Pete Lucas, what I knew about MAYA. When I said that I understood it to be a design firm that helped make things easy to use, he was quick to straighten me out and clarify that this type of usability was only one part of it, and that MAYA was just as much about understanding (and accommodating) business and technical constraints as it was making things easier to use.
I spent three great years there, before I got really itchy to leave Pittsburgh (again). Apprenticing there, just before the WWW really took off, was really one of my luckier career breaks.
So reading this excellent post from Whitney Quesenbery on the AIGA Experience Design list made me nostalgic for life in a design firm. It also says in just a few words the strength of the UCD approach, which has occasionally been a target in recent months, as various disciplines try and find meaning and work in a challenging time. Yes, there are some folks who seem to want to correct years worth of ignoring the user by over-swinging the pendulum and making it only about the user. But we'd all be well served by avoiding the tendency to over-swing it back again. There's a moderate position that seems to me to be something we could all agree on, and IMO, Whitney has nailed it here. I recommend reading her entire post, but just have to include my favorite sound bites here:
The point of UCD is that the user is placed at the center of the design
process, and other needs or constraints balanced against them. So, in a
Venn diagram or a triangle, we would see: user needs/usability goals,
business goals, technology constraints. A good design has the goal of
optimizing all three.
<self-serving mode on> For more from Whitney, I recommend her chapter "Dimensions of Usability" in Mike Albers' and my edited volume Content & Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication. Check out an overview of the chapters or order the book. <self-serving mode off>
Now if only I could talk MAYA into opening the DC office!
March 23, 2003
IA Summit: the international perspective
Only 12 European visitors and more than 225 American and Canadian visitors join the conference. This really amazes me. Of course, ASIS&T is an American organization, but shouldn't these conferences be places to talk to and learn from people all over the world? If Europeans don't join, the focus will automatically stay on American trends and situations.
Look for her detailed report on InfoDesign shortly.
BTW, I hope we'll see more folks from across the ponds at DUX2003, which I am hearing is going to be this year's hot conference ticket.
March 21, 2003
IA Summit envy
Rats. I'm here in DC, and all sorts of fun folks are in Portland. Well, at least they were nice enough to set up the IA Summit Blog so that I can live vicariously through them!
March 18, 2003
InfoDesign and the NCAA
Hey boys and girls, it's info design and current events! (And no, it's not Iraq!)
Check out this great review of web-based NCAA brackets. This is also a fab interaction design example, but the presentation of the brackets themselves make it a very interesting ID application.
Now if only I cared about NCAA basketball :).
Fun with CSS
Over on webgraphics, Nate has found some great pointers to ways to use CSS to do (reasonably) compliant techniques related to background images and text for things like headers and drop caps.
March 17, 2003
Damned if we do, damned if we don't?
My apologies for straying way off topic (especially since I just said I didn't want to see war mail on the ID-Cafe list). But as someone who works in Washington DC (and lives in the county that houses the Pentagon), I just cannot not say anything at this point in time. But I'll avoid making a habit of it.
I'm not a peacenik per se (though my religious affiliation--UU--would suggest otherwise). As a resident of this metro area, there is a certain comfort in the idea (however implausible) that efforts such as this one may make it safer...in the near term at least.
However, there are two things that trouble me. First, the administration that is launching this attack is the same one who (depending on who you talk to) mis-handled information that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Pardon me for not being all warm and fuzzy with confidence that W and friends will be doing the right thing this time.
The other fear I have is that we're playing right into Saddam's hands. Is it absurd to think that he might sacrifice Iraq as almost a marketing ploy? Are we like the military in the goofy movie Evolution (with David Duchovny) who fight the enemy with tactics that will grow the enemy rather than defeat it? And I'm so happy that our military thinks that our technological superiority is such a great asset. Why do I worry that this effort will deplete our military, threaten our economy, and leave us unprepared to deal with the onslaught that may be waiting for us?
I don't know that I wanted them to do nothing. But I just am not sure they are doing the right thing. And now that I have a nephew and three nieces (ages 4-8), this isn't a philosophical discussion for me. Damned if we do, damned if we don't?
Update, 3/20. The president's real goal in Iraq
Update, 3/21. Senate Remarks by Robert C. Byrd
Update, 3/22. Paul Berman in Salon: "Bush is an idiot, but he was right about Saddam"
The notion that we, the high-minded people of the left, ought to confine ourselves to marching against Bush is a very foolish idea. There's much that we can do. ... Even people who think that Bush is making a blunder with his military approach can try to undo that blunder themselves in some way by going ahead and doing the things that ought to be done -- promoting liberal ideas. Promoting liberal ideas, finally, is the only real way to oppose the totalitarian movements that threaten us and threaten people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether they're Baathist or Islamist.
Nelson on categorizations
There is nothing wrong with categorization. It is, however, by its nature transient: category systems have a half-life, and categorizations beging to look fairly stupid after a few years. ... The army designation of "Pong Balls, Ping" has a certain universal character to it.
Interesting to read this text (and not just the above snippet) 20 years later.
March 16, 2003
I was just surfing LucDesk and saw his pointer to a USA Today article titled "Technology eroding the wall between disabled, non-disabled." Amy (Mike's wife) had highlighted the article over here, but seeing it again reminds me that I really should give my STC homie Bill Gribbons some props. He's quoted in the article as follows:
Too many Web sites use fine print and light blue colors, which become more difficult to see as people age, and layouts that can trip up screen-reading software, said Bill Gribbons, a design expert at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
Note to self: email Bill and tell him he must create an "About Bill" page on Bentley's webserver. Heck, if you're going to be in USA Today (or the Washington Times!), you should have a nice place for folks to link to that talks about all your fab accomplishments!
I'm a hippie?
I logged on this AM to get the map to Jeepers (gotta love the web), and found out from Gerry McGovern's latest that not only am I a hippie, but that "the hippie period of the web is over." That's one thing. But this is another:
Consultants try to make content and information architecture
complicated. That helps them feel special and charge more. I
hear talk that because information architecture is so difficult,
it's almost an art form. There is a view that no two information
architects can have the same opinion on any given problem.
Ouch! This one ought to get folks going on the SIGIA list. Or perhaps maybe they'll disregard it as an example of the (in)famous Nielsen-style hyperbole that seems to have inspired it. (Hey, it worked for Nielsen.)
As a programmer turned tech writer turned web developer, I'm certainly happy that there is someone out there who is raising some visibility about the importance of content. This is not something that is top-of-mind for my IA or graphic design friends. But there are some of us content folks who have been around since the mid-90s who actually want to work with our IA and graphic design peers. Criticizing their efforts (while acknowledging the immaturity of the discipline) wouldn't be my choice for how to do this.
March 15, 2003
New blog friends
I've just spent some time visiting my blogroll (over on the right there, probably under the fold). Pruned out some lifeless links and those that I haven't really been reading, but added a bunch of new ones that I found via my BlogStreet neighborhood. A special welcome to Oskar at LOGos and Chad at Zen Haiku, both of whom recently dropped a nice note in my inbox!
A meta-theoretical basis for design theory
I'm a bit fried, having just come back from a day-long date with one of my 8-year old nieces, who may have set a speed record for spending $20 at Chuck E. Cheese :). Tomorrow I'm taking the other 8-year-old niece to a place called Jeepers, which I understand is Chuck E. Cheese with rollercoasters for those aged 4-8. Am I a good aunt or what?
Anyways, this is just a bit of story to explain why I'm just listing this link here. I'm going to have to read it later, after clarity returns! It's an email reprint of "A meta-theoretical basis for design theory" on the PHD-DESIGN list. This is one of the more substantial posts in a long discussion on the list about the usefulness (or not) of design research to practice.
March 13, 2003
You want me to click where?
Can I tell you how, umm, excited I was to go to a class that was advertised as covering:
I may not be a usability professional, but I didn't just fall off the turnip truck either.
Fortunately, Kath was an extremely entertaining speaker, and it appears that the presentation she gave, while targeted at a novice group, had been well polished with all sorts of old examples (the horrible old IRS page) and new. Alas, I can't find an online version, so this will just have to serve as a heads up to keep your eyes open in case she comes to a conference near you. A PhD in cognitive psych *and* a sense of humor?!? Go figure!
Mike brings new meaning to "I surf as much as I eat."
March 12, 2003
This one is at least marginally related to information design :). They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in the hands of some, a picture and a dozen or so words make for some very funny ready.gov satire:
The fun thing is that these pictures are so ambiguous they could mean anything!
For example, the government's caption for the image at right is:
More fodder for the "words can't describe" category. There's this entry from Scylla regarding the horror of blimps. I don't know if it is really funny or it's just the power of suggestion at play, but this one did have me tearing up. For example:
Somewhere in the control room of my mind a fat little dwarf in a security outfit was paging through a Penthouse while smoking a cigar with his feet up on the table, watching the security monitors of my brain with his peripheral vision.
March 10, 2003
Jess McMullin has done a great job of summarizing recent discussions on the SIGIA list. This reminds me that I had had chatted with George Olsen at last year's IA Summit in Baltimore about how it would be cool for Boxes and Arrows to provide summaries of the various lists (like CHI-WEB, SIGIA, InfoDesign-Cafe, AIGA-Experience Design and so on). I can't make this year's summit in Portland, so maybe I'll bump into him at DUX2003 and chat about it some more. I subscribe to all these lists, but I'd sure love to know that someone was reading 'em carefully enough to alert me to the interesting discussions!
Usability of infants
Need a quick yuck? Did you love the great Dave Barry article about babies? Then you'll probably enjoy Scott McDaniel's "A Heuristic Evaluation of the Usability of Infants" which is now available on STC's Usability SIG website. Scott uses Jakob's ten usability heuristics to rate his experience of parenthood.
March 07, 2003
Cool color tools
Here's a website with some cool color tools. It's EasyRGB, and my faves are the color harmonies and color calculator tools. But if you care about color matching for print or monitor calibration, you'll want to check out the rest of the site.
This'll be a long hat tip...thanks to Jenny, who got it from Zeldman, who saw it originally from Jeff. BTW, if you're into web design, you should check out Jeff's page, as he's got quite the list of links to browse.
You'd think I'd point to the Cluetrain boys' latest on the world of ends. But heck, you'll be seeing that one all over the place. So instead, I'd rather chat about how I've always enjoyed the way Google plays with their logo. Yesterday's version of Google a la Michelangelo's David struck me as a bit odd, as I think this was the first time that they deviated so far from the traditional primary color scheme.
But I wasn't the only one who thought the logo odd! Over on kottke.org, Jason asked "where's David's doodle?" and provided an anatomically correct version:
Surely a small, pixelated phallus isn't going to offend anyone or corrupt the young. ... The change is small (sorry Mrs. David), but the man's wang deserves to be shown in all its glory.
Gosh...I hope I didn't get anyone fired at work. Flush those image caches :)
March 04, 2003
Ode to John Tukey
Tukey is an important figure for information designers (particularly those who are interested in information graphics). In fact, Tufte credits Tukey as the inspiration for what later became his first book (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).
March 03, 2003
Car seats and ID
Here's one off today's wires: Child car seat instructions too difficult. According to the study, instructions for using child car seats are written at a level that is higher than the reading level for half of those who use them. And then there's this:
For liability reasons, lawyers usually are involved in writing installation instructions, and legal jargon might make instructions sound confusing ...
Where have we heard this before?
An org for the font folks
Jason announces the formation of the International Font Technology Association (IFTA), whose roles are:
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