July 31, 2003
July 30, 2003
Last call for STC proposals
Proposals for STC's 51st annual conference need to be postmarked by August 1st (Friday). If you're the procrastinating sort (guilty), and were thinking about submitting something, now's the time!
July 29, 2003
Dirk on ID
In case you were wondering, no, I hadn't missed Dirk's Information Design: The Understanding Discipline over on Boxes and Arrows. I'd been holding off because it raises a bunch of issues for me that I'm hoping to mull over and write up, perhaps a bit more formally than a blog entry. There's another, somewhat related concept I've also been bouncing back and forth in my brain, and that's looking at how diffusion of innovation theory (the framework for my master's thesis) applies to this issue of having UCD-related work "valued" by business. More later (she hopes).
But two quick comments about Dirk's article. First, I'm less inclined than Dirk to see information design as THE overarching discipline. I like that he argues it (it creates some opposition to others who would claim it :), but I think that it is hard not to tar ID with the same brush that others have been: when something has such a strong tactical component (the "little" piece), it is (IMO) a Sisyphean task to create real consensus among disparate groups that it is "the" overarching discipline (yet to be contrary, I'm not sure that creating new titles works either).
The other comment is related to the ID as director analogy. Dirk no longer believes in that, preferring instead to say that "information design is the integrator that brings other disciplines together to create excellent information solutions."
Hmmm...isn't a director an integrator who brings disciplines together to create an excellent information solution? Anyways, I don't want to beat this into the ground. But that said, I'm annoyed that I didn't write down what Sydney Pollack said in the commercial for the Alfred Hitchcock episode of his "Essentials" series on TMC. It was something to the effect that one of the things that made Hitchcock stand out as a director was his use of the medium to add to the story. It struck me as an interesting possibility for the ID as director concept.
Educating the Citizen Designer
Local bud Thom Haller emailed me this one from the most recent issue of Metropolis: Educating the Citizen Designer, the mag's Aug/Sep editorial. In this curious parallel universe, Editor In Chief Susan S. Szenasy writes:
If interior designers and architects continue to engage in their ongoing turf war, the rest of the world will pass them by. This thought was voiced, often and in many ways, at a discussion on a recent Sunday. We were a small group of interior design and architecture educators, plus one editor, called to the University of Cincinnati by Hank Hildebrandt, associate director for undergraduate studies in architecture and interior design at the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP). Hank asked us to discuss the often heated relationship between the two professions, what this legacy of conflict is passing on to our future space/place makers and form-givers, and where the possible escape routes from this quagmire might be located. He prodded us with questions like: What is it that interior designers do better than architects? Should the next generation learn to be interior architects rather than interior designers? Are interior designers trying to grab architecture's sex appeal, just as "information architects" are doing?
While such queries proliferated throughout that day, one throwaway comment captured it all for me. Someone mentioned that among the interior design and architecture firms bidding for a recent corporate job, there was an unexpected entrant, a major accounting firm. The accountants sold themselves on the merits of their financial analysis, plus their ability to put teams together, and sure, they would hire interior designers and architects. Did the world just pass by the design professions, again, in favor of more easily understood skills? The accountants seem to be winning.
If you skimmed, be sure to re-read the end of that first paragraph...ouch! She closed the editorial with a familiar refrain:
What if fledgling designers of every discipline were given more time in school and given the same solid foundation of humanities and sciences, in addition to an understanding of structure, materials, ergonomics, space, and technology? Armed with these fundamentals, students could choose to be technicians, colorists, decorators, interior designers, architects, product or communications designers, or even invent their own focus, each and every one an essential contributor to a complex society. Why quibble over titles when there's so much to learn and so much to do?
I don't know. Where have I heard this before? Still not sure I'm buying it.
Eventually we may end up with a situation like the one in fig. 4 (at right). The digital hardware and the network behind it will form a platform for a seamless digital dimension. The various devices form the interface to the objects of our interest, the digital environment formed by software and information content, which can appear to us through any of our devices. This development will be driven by the simple fact that the software and the digital information are so much more important to us than the hardware. We change mobile telephones and computers, but we want to move the old information to the new machine.
He loses me a bit with the "features" at the same level as the "gadgets" but it's an interesting read (no matter what your perspective of the c-word) and the illustrations are nicely done.
Funding challenge for US e-gov
Yesterday's Edupage had the news that the US House Appropriations Committee has slashed the Electronic Government (E-Gov) Act budget for 2004 from $45M to just $1M. I realize this is a Republican administration (read: smaller government), but it was after all, the White House that had requested this funding. According to the quoted article, "the Bush Administration had not justified the $45 million funding request."
The article reports that the E-Gov Act:
proposes to make it easier for citizens and businesses to interact with the government, save taxpayer dollars, and streamline citizen-to-government transactions [and] establishes an Office of Electronic Government, headed by a Bush-appointed administrator within the Office of Management and Budget.
Another interesting tidbit from the article is that the legislation also:
Authorizes funding for improvement of the federal Internet portal, Firstgov.gov, so that on-line government information and services are organized "according to citizen needs, not agency jurisdiction."
Interesting! As an aside, I attended FedWeb this spring, where Jared Spool did one of their keynotes. During some Q&A, he suggested that portals in general (and Firstgov in particular) were going to have a really tough time of it if their primary activity was pointing to interfaces they had no control over.
Apparently the House and Senate will come up with some compromise that will increase the funding somewhat. I'm certainly supportive of the premise (better access for citizens), just a tad skeptical about the implementation!
July 28, 2003
The economics of wi-fi
Here's the irony in Wi-Fi public access pricing: retailers can be profitable by offering free Wi-Fi as a customer acquisition tool. But when they charge for Wi-Fi access, these retailers, and the WISPs serving them, almost certainly lose money. ... The fully loaded cost of offering free Wi-Fi access is less than $6/day. Operating a billable hotspot costs over $30/day.
Webmonkey's browser chart
For music fans
I just received my first Paste magazine. I'm not that much into the magazine itself (I've never been one to read about music). I subscribed because each issue comes with a compilation CD of non-mainstream artists (not just independents). My taste in music might be best described as "soft" alternative, with interests from folk to blues...with a preference for the lyrical. Paste (which I learned about via Utne magazine) has this and more.
For example, the latest issue includes some old and some new, like Natalie Merchant, Bruce Cockburn, and Eastmountainsouth. I see from the back issues that they had Vienna Teng (previously mentioned here) on an earlier compilation. And they get extra points; I got the CD today, and all the titles were in the CD database that iTunes uses.
Check it out...the price sure seems right to get exposed to some new music; and I'm planning to get the collection for long road trips. But beware...I noticed that in the letter to the editors, a couple complain that they are going broke buying so many new albums :).
Update, 10:23PM: Well, now I know this is a good fit for me. Here in the radio wasteland known as Washington DC, I thank g*d regularly for the Internet. My station of choice is WYEP, a public radio station I first listened to when I was living in Pittsburgh. A number of the tracks off this compilation are on WYEP's current playlist. Very cool!
July 25, 2003
Another refreshed blog!
Teens do more web than TV
Teens and young adults now spend more time online than watching television, according to a new study released by Yahoo Inc. and Carat North America. According to the report, in an average week, teens and young adults ages 13-24 spend 16.7 hours online (excluding e-mail); 13.6 hours watching television; 12 hours listening to the radio; 7.7 hours talking on the phone; and six hours reading non-school related books and magazines.
July 24, 2003
This 'n that
In the spirit of Kottke's remaindered links, here are a few that struck my fancy recently.
Lou updates too!
InfoDesign goes MT!
July 22, 2003
Veen on web design
Nick (of Digital Web Magazine fame) pointed out that Jeffrey Veen had posted his presentation from WebVisions 2003: Beyond Usability (PDF; 6.1M). I don't know if that title does it justice, but I'm certainly adding it to my list of interesting slide-based presentations.
There are a few slides that obviously need the related commentary (like the kitchen slide at the end--perhaps an example of great experience design?), but the bulk of it works quite nicely as a standalone. And I really enjoyed the example of the USDA's HayNet with it's simple "Need Hay" / "Have Hay" links on the home page.
Domains and brands
A too funny entry from David over at High Context:
The Italian subsidiary of Powergen has a very unfortunate domain name. Yikes! Probably not the connotation they had in mind.
July 21, 2003
Search engine for global poor
How cool. From the July 16 Edupage:
MIT DEVELOPING SEARCH ENGINE FOR GLOBAL POOR
User-friendly email systems
Ah, last Friday's NYTimes article about the White House email system (here on CNN) is making the rounds. It quotes Jakob, so it's getting a big pickup particularly in the web usability space. Bummer.
I don't disagree that nine screens might be a bit much in order to send an email. However, any organization that gets 15K email a day has to do something in order to manage that effectively. Things like pre-selected subjects help filter the mail so that they get to the right person sooner--and they also can provide for auto-replies which may well contain the answer the person is looking for.
I'm not arguing that some of the problems in the White House system shouldn't be fixed (in particular, I am surprised to have gotten a security certificate warning going to the system). And maybe I'm over-sensitive (we've moved to something similar, though I hardly think as problematic).
But the tone of the article strikes me as being illustrative of the issue that Don Norman was talking about in Business 2.0 (found here via Google's cache):
Maybe the problem is that usability professionals don't know how to make their pitch. ... They don't know the language of business. They preach usability as if it's a virtuous thing, not a business-critical thing, so the executive listening simply says, "Yes, it's a wonderful thing, but I have to get back to work."
Anyways, it struck me that an assault on the White House's email system without consideration of the business needs is in the "not knowing how to make a pitch" category. We can shame business into it, or we can make a better case for it. I wish the NYTimes article were more of the latter than the former.
July 18, 2003
Into information design? Consider getting involved
From the call from Dirk Knemeyer:
A variety of people and groups around the world are coming together to build and promote the discipline of Information Design. We would love to have you involved! As an initial step we are asking everyone who may be interested to fill out a simple online survey.
Please respond to the online survey no later than Friday August 1.
This independent endeavor is supported by:
Thank you in advance for your participation, and kindly forward or post this message to any other people or groups that might be interested in these activities.
Reissue of Orality & Literacy
I've been working like a bunny on a project that goes live Monday, so I've gotten a bit behind on IDblog. I hope to catch up on a few tonight. For example, Roy Johnson of Mantex Information Design just sent out his July newsletter, and in it, he mentioned that Walter Ong's classic, Orality & Literacy, has been reissued. Looks like it was really reissued nearly a year ago, but that is some 4 years after I read it for my masters program. I definitely recommend it; here's a review from Roy that may help you decide if it's for you.
July 15, 2003
Boy, there's been a dry spell here lately as far as visual imagery goes. So here's a recent photo from my digital camera that I really enjoy:
Yes, my camera, but I wasn't the photographer. At a recent family get-together, when we were all assembled in this old 1818 tavern somewhere in western Maryland, my niece Beverly asked if she could take some pictures.
Beverly is 8. And one of the wonderful things about digital cameras (with decently sized memory cards :) is that no one is going to get hot and bothered if someone is snapping away. Well, she started at my left and worked her way around the room. We were a big group (about 20 of us), but this room wasn't that large. By the time she was done, she had taken over 30 pictures, mostly of the walls, pictures on the walls, flags in the room, and so on.
When she got back to where I was, she snapped this picture of the thermostat on the wall (and look...she's already figured out the rule of thirds :).
I got a real kick out of seeing her take this picture. So now when I look at this not exactly interesting photo, it reminds me of that good time. May have to get it framed...could be a real conversation starter!
Fun with MT
Boy, if I ever really want traffic, all I need to do is write an incredibly useful article like Beyond the Blog, by Matthew Haughey. In it he describes very cool ways to extend Movable Type's basic functionality. Thanks to Nick over at Digital-Web for the pointer.
Oh, and speaking of them, in pulling up the page again, I noticed the entry about Netscape's official death. It may be tilting at windmills (I like to do that), but this seems like an organization I'll want to support: the Mozilaa Foundation. Sure like their browser!
July 14, 2003
Tick tick tick
Just a quick reminder. Proposals for next year's STC conference, May 9-12, in Baltimore are due to the STC office in a bit over two weeks (Friday, August 1st). Caroline Jarrett, who was on the initial Nielsen/Norman World Tour, is the manager for the Usability & Information Design stem. If some of the folks who've emailed me actually submit a proposal, I think we'll have some very interesting sessions. And Baltimore is a very cool city for a conference. (Just ask Mike Lee :)
If you're interested, please see the call for proposals!
Four truths from Southwest Airlines
Over the four-day weekend I just had, I did some late spring cleaning. One of the items I discovered in a pile was a handout from Southwest Airline's session at the STC conference this past May. First of all, I have to say that theirs was one of the best sessions from an experience design standpoint. Because of the location (in Dallas), they were able to have their entire "Technology Information Design" team there. Not everyone was speaking, so those that weren't greeted session attendees (who, in typical conference fashion entered at the back of the room and walked up to the front via a long center aisle). And when I say greeted attendees, I meant they were at the front of the room with baskets, handing out goodies, the very impressive (and bound) handouts, and of course, airline peanuts!
Very nice! Alas, I had other conference duties, so I couldn't stay for the session, but I made sure to grab one of their handouts. So just about two months later, I got a chance to review it. Alas, while you can't get the pen or the peanuts, you can get the handout: it's on STC's conference site: Meeting User Information Needs.
What's nice about this is that they included a copy of their proceedings paper in this handout, which describes a case study describing their efforts to revise the online help for one of their cargo tracking systems. In it, the authors describe four truths that helped them get to the point where they could know that their information products made a difference to the people who used them. They are:
Success is the result of achieving a measurable goal--before we begin, we must have a goal in mind, and we must have a way to measure if we've achieved that goal.
How very UCD! And of course, not exactly new truths. But what's nice is to read about these in the context of a real project. I suspect this is what motivated the AIGA Advance folks to focus so strongly on case studies at the recent DUX conference. Speaking of which, their case studies archive is launched! Looks like there's some great docs there.
July 12, 2003
Information anxiety or data addiction?
Earlier this week, Doc Searls had a pointer to a NYTimes article titled The Lure of Data: Is It Addictive? (free, but registration required). The article essentially talked about how new tech products, particularly wireless ones, enables folks to be "on" all the time, and how for some, this can lead to something bordering on a 12-step problem.
Doc's initial reaction was to call it a "red herring issue" as he interpreted the piece to be about "our need to know ... trivialized and dismissed as yet another addiction."
Well, I wasn't the only one to wonder where he was coming from, as Doc shared later. One of the comments he had received really struck my fancy. It was:
And, although [NYTimes author Richtel] doesn't explicitly make the distinction, I personally find it interesting that he refers to "The Lure of Data" rather than, say, "The Lure of Information." I suspect that he realizes and distinguishes, whether analytically or intuitively, that "information" is the net result of effective processing of "data," and that the rush of collecting increasing amounts of data (I'm reminded of the little robot, Number Five, in the movie "Short Circuit" imploring, "more input... need more input...!!") may ironically decrease the real information one obtains from an onslaught of data, like trying to fill a bucket with a fire hose.
This is so similar to a quote I've held onto since 1996, when I did the proposal to form the STC Information Design SIG. The quote was by Paul Sagan, an editor of Time, who said:
No one wants to sit at the bottom of Niagara Falls with a bucket, saying "I can't keep up with all this."
This whole concept of data overload--and the compelling solutions that some designers have come up with to deal with it--has been what has kept me interested in information design since the mid-80s.
But is it real? I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have a bias, as evidenced in a brief little position paper (Information overload: Myth or menace?) I did for my digital economy class last semester.
At this point, I believe that information overload is real, which is one of the reasons I feel optimistic about the prospects of doing information design (or document design or whatever) as a career. But I must admit that I hadn't thought of the addiction to data issue (Richtel hints at a new OCD--online compulsive disorder) as another variable for the equation.
However, I don't see data addiction as a problem that information designers are well-equipped to handle, so I may leave that one for others to handle!
July 11, 2003
Are people still worrying about browser-safe palettes? Maybe I'm out of touch, but to some extent, it's hard to believe. I did an article back in 1997 for STC's magazine Intercom ("Coming to Grips with WWW Color") , and at that time, I provided a long explanation about the hardware and software issues related to web color. My advice at the time was to relax your expectations about web color...trying to match some specific PMS color was enough to drive anyone insane.
It's a fun site and extremely well done, so if you like to play with colors, by all means check it out. But are there really folks who still worry about browser safe? I find it hard to worry about that given the wall of TVs at Best Buy or Circuit City. All those different hues for the same programming? I think that giving up any ideas about color consistency online is the way one can enjoy life more :).
July 10, 2003
Origins of 'weblog' and 'blog'
This one's more for me (want to log it for the record), but some of you may be interested too. Responses to a question on the air list (for internet research) about the origins of the terms "weblog" and "blog" have pointed to Jorn Barger and Peter Merholz, respectively as the source for each.
While declining to provide precise numbers, Jorn Barger, who publishes Robot Wisdom, one of the oldest and most popular weblogs, and who coined the term weblog, said his daily traffic has grown to tens of thousands from the mere hundreds when he started in 1998.
PeterMe does take credit for "blog" on his own weblog here:
As such, it's weird to experience how my love of words and wordplay has actually made an impact. Sometime in April or May of 1999 (I can't say for sure when I exactly did it), I posted, in the sidebar of my homepage:
In this same post, Peter credits the Blogger folks with keeping "blog" from dying "a forgotten death," but I bet it would have succeeded regardless.
Anyways, just wanted to file this...bet it might come in handy when I take Nancy Kaplan's class on information culture in the fall!
July 09, 2003
Over on today's Daily Report from Zeldman, he announced the availability of royalty-free stock icons for web developers (they're nice). But in his praise of them, he notes that at "US $350 per collection, they cost less than two hours of a graphic designers time."
I don't know about you folks, but we're not paying $175 per hour for graphic design. So...typo? Or something I'm just completely missing? (Is NYC that expensive?)
Ken Friedman on design
The folks at the NextDesign Leadership Institute have publically announced their new journal, which "has been created to explore how the concept of design leadership is being rethought and reinvented as a response to the massive changes underway in the marketplace."
An article of interest, especially given the recent discussion here about the term design, is an interview with Ken Friedman (a research/academic who is quite active on the PhD-Design list) on design research. For this audience, issues with design are at a different level than semantics, and focus more on philosophy, theory, and application of research to practice (a biggie in many fields).
It's a good read, though a bit wordy (as interviews handled by email can easily be). In particular, I found this bit at the end interesting:
As a professional field, design faces ten major challenges today. There are three performance challenges, four substantive challenges, and three contextual challenges. The performance challenges of design are to:
Maybe it is just wishful thinking, but there sure seems to be room for some level of collaboration and compromise between those that would do design and those that would do user experience.
Or perhaps this will be like the seemingly unsolvable problem in the RSS space...and really is about the name?
July 07, 2003
Getting spoiled by RSS
Alas, it is powered by blogger. I almost titled this post "blog snobbery" for there is a bit of snootiness that can be associated with which blog software you use, but here's my real issue. If a weblog doesn't have an RSS feed, it's kinda like, "hey, that's great...see ya in a year."
Alas, poor blogger folks. It is just fab that they have access to a free tool. I started IDblog on blogger. But it sucks that an RSS feed is (apparently) only accessible via the for-fee blogger pro interface. I say apparently because if you go check out blogger pro, you get:
Ouch! Blogger Pro ordering is currently offline while we retool. Is it just me, or would you have figured that the folks at Google would have thought of a way to let folks sign up while they retool? Good thing for them that Ben and Mena still have TypePad in limited beta!
After a visit today to Zen Haiku, I was inspired to update IDblog's most recent comments area (see top, right) to preview comments rather than simply list number of comments per topic. Let me know how you like it.
BTW, I think Movable Type is simply wonderful, but I'm not sure I can honestly say the same about their documentation. In particular, important attributes for tags (like the "trim_to" attribute for the "MTCommentBody" tag) aren't listed where the tag is. Bizarre. So instead you wind up having to search and find source code you can modify (thanks to scriptygoddess.com and fembat.net for their help).
So in case this might help some other MT blogger, here's what I've added to my template to get the results you see:
<MTComments lastn="6" sort_order="descend">
July 06, 2003
About Carol Barnum
Ah, as I mentioned on July 1st, I keep getting pointed at my activity log (where I see what folks are searching for) when my pings to weblog.com don't work. Apparentlly I had someone in search of Carol Barnum, so I'm bummed I didn't have an entry to point them to. Carol did a great session at STC's conference in Nashville last May on "the magic number 5" and usability. She was also referenced in this article about a similar session at CHI this year. Mea culpa!
User-centered ID workbook
I've not yet figured out how Google's alert system picks things (some of which appear relatively dated), but I don't recall being familiar with this one. Some folks from the University of Washington created a user-centered information design workbook back in 2001.
I'm not sure it's the greatest example of document design (having some in HTML, some in Word, and asking folks to print the TOC before downloading the big Word version seems awkward), but it may be worth poking around in.
July 02, 2003
Please, G*d, let it be true!
Microsoft may have unwittingly started a revolt against its Internet Explorer (IE) browser by discontinuing it as a standalone product and blurring the future of the current version, IE 6.
How great would it be that after dealing with the feds and AOL that M$ shot themselves in the foot? Given this decision of theirs, it's nice to continue hearing great things about Safari, Opera (who are "committed to Mac" -- yay!), and Firebird.
July 01, 2003
Anyways, the result of this is that I keep getting pointed to MT's activity log when this timeout happens. This wouldn't be newsworthy, except that as I posted awhile back, I added search to IDblog when I upgraded to the latest version of MT.
Besides timed-out pings, the activity log also shows what folks are searching for on IDblog, and that turns out to be really, really curious. For example:
Well, I can guess the last one (most likely they were looking for the Honda cog ad). But I can't guess why someone would search for the first three on an information design weblog. Maybe they thought it was really a Google search?
Shirky on groups
Well, this one's destined to be the blog post of the week (I saw it as an email entry by Peter Morville on an IA list). It's a slightly revised keynote by Clay Shirky, titled A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy . It's an extremely interesting read, particularly if you're interested in "social software that supports large and long-lived groups." My apologies for pulling a quote that may be somewhat out of context, but I found it interesting and amusing:
I can't tell you why it took as long for weblogs to happen as it did, except to say it had absolutely nothing to do with technology. We had every bit of technology we needed to do weblogs the day Mosaic launched the first forms-capable browser. Every single piece of it was right there. Instead, we got Geocities. Why did we get Geocities and not weblogs? We didn't know what we were doing.
In the article, Shirky notes that it is impossible in these situations to separate technical and social issues, that 'members' are different from 'users,' and that sometimes the group rights need priority over individual rights. He also describes four factors that contribute to successful groups, including useful 'handles' that aren't too lightweight, ways of having members of good standing, barriers to participation (this isn't unrelated to the previous factor), and a way to handle scale.
Shirky suggests that the lack of barriers killed Usenet. I'm not sure I agree. It is certainly the case that as the masses poured in (FidoNet was a huge problem), previously manageable groups became much less useful. But the other thing that "killed" Usenet (which isn't really dead anyways) was that the popularity of the WWW took off at nearly the same time. Lots of folks who spent all their time in foo.bar now were experimenting with this new toy. But what Shirky doesn't really mention is that web-based discussion groups still suffer greatly in comparison to client-server Usenet groups. Usenet readers are still preferable in terms of their user experience (in part because they can maintain state between sessions; cookies buy you some, but not all of the functionality in newsreaders).
Or to state the point a different way, who isn't depressed about the state of spam? Yet most folks I know aren't dumping email because they are getting bushels of crap in their inboxes...they are learning to cope because there is no useful alternative to email...nor is there another type of software (even IM) which is causing folks to keep email in the back burner.
My subscription list on Usenet is much smaller than it was in the mid-80s. But I still have 8 subscriptions. I might have had more, but email lists (if which I'm subscribed to a scary number) have supplemented this. When you add the web-based archive capability and the ease of setup (a la Yahoo Groups) to the direct in-your-inbox interaction, email lists are great applications of social software. But Shirky's right...they can be their own worst enemy!
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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