August 30, 2003
Priorities for the big picture
While I was off tailing after eight-year-old twins at the beach, Paula Thornton engaged a few folks behind the scenes for some more discussion about the "big picture." One of the resources she pointed folks to was a draft document Challis Hodge did in the spring called The Future of Design (PDF). In it, he makes some of the same great points that have appeared on his weblog and on a variety of lists, such as:
We talk about making things more usable, about creating brand loyalty, about making
the world a better place. We struggle with ROI models, case studies and methods to
communicate our value. Still we find ourselves in the same situation, having the same
discussion. We just don't get why business doesn't understand.
Designers can and should bring a strategic perspective and a set of unique skills capable of simplifying complexity, taming technology and yes making the world a better place. Before we can even begin we must recognize that the problem is not that business doesn't understand design. The problem is that businesses have no incentive to focus significant resources on the strategic benefits design can bring.
Quite simply, we need an umbrella organization for design advocacy. An organization that is capable of waging a serious and professional marketing and development campaign. An organization that is capable of driving political, social and cultural change.
I'm a bit bummed that someone who has such a great handle on the big picture (as Paula would say) has decided instead to focus on the roots of his elm tree instead of the canopy--as he's mentioned, he's focusing on a home for interaction designers these days.
I understand the attraction. I've often thought that had I started out as a user-interface programmer, I'd still be programming. Instead, I started out coding signal processing algorithms in Fortran for a subcontractor to the NSA. I came close again ten years later, when I was at MAYA, where I coded interface prototypes in Visual Basic. There is a lot that's interesting in interface/interaction development! But I had grown tired of Pittsburgh (again) just as the web became something one could make money working on. Anyways, I digress.
I get why interaction designers want their own space. Same reasons essentially that led to AIfIA. Ah well, I wish them luck! In the meantime, I'll continue to dabble in discussions about a potential "interfaith council" of sorts. For today, I want to explore a bit what this council/institute/association might actually do, given that I do not think that preaching to the choir is the big focus.
Here are some potential priorities that I "borrowed" from an existing association (it's usually easier to edit than create).
Do you have an idea which organization has these as its priorities? Did you guess this one?
My point isn't really that we should adopt their priorities or that our products are that similar. It's actually that we would be well served by doing a lot more looking outward to see how we can learn from others who have already solved similar problems, rather than our intensive navel-gazing about how our field is "the" answer or "the" umbrella discipline. Whitney Quesenbery (who really should write something on this subject for public consumption...hint hint) came up with the similarity of some of our discussions to that of the Kilkenny cats.
I continue to believe that none of the existing organizations (or the new interaction design organization) has the resources or the clout to do this on their own. I continue to hope that we'll see some kind of multi-disciplinary forum--our "interfaith council"--where we can find our common positions. Lyle's metaphor (described here) is the call: a rising tide raises all boats.
August 22, 2003
August 21, 2003
The other ID
IDEO's people and work practices are unique, but they are as much a result of IDEO's innovation strategies as they are a cornerstone of it. Underlying this creative cacophony is a singular advantage IDEO enjoys over its clients and many others. By virtue of having worked in so many different industries, the company is far more likely to see (or simply remember) new ways of solving longstanding problems in one industry by importing ideas from others.
Challis mentions the article to raise the point about IDEO's ability to position themselves well. I'm mentioning it here because a few folks have asked me in private conversations why so few of the UX/ED/ID/IA discussions include what we can learn from industrial designers. Good question! Worth a more serious response sometime soon, but in the meantime, I like the idea that our communities would be well served by importing more ideas from others--rather than staying in our own little silos.
A blog facelift
Ah, a quick lunchtime entry. I just noticed that City of Bits has gotten a facelift (and new face for author Louise Ferguson :). I'm undecided about the mouseover behaviors of her non-clickable right-nav heads, but otherwise really like the new clean look!
August 20, 2003
Kudos to both Adaptive Path and iapps for a great happy hour this evening. The iapps folks (I can see why they are one of DC's best places to work) have a beautiful office in DC's Woodley Park area...which is right next to the Lebanese Taverna, where a few of us went afterwards...yum.
If Adaptive Path comes to your town, be sure to stop by. They are just as friendly to the happy hour crashers as they are to the paid guests :). And they throw a mean bash! Of course, you may want to attend their educational sessions too...the folks I spoke with this evening had nothing but great things to say.
August 19, 2003
I shouldn't feel so pleased with myself (this wasn't exactly hard), but just a bit of URL hacking has yielded the second of Wired's two articles on PowerPoint (from their September issue).
The first, posted today, is by David Byrne: Learning to Love PowerPoint:
Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.
The second, which will be officially posted tomorrow, is by Edward Tufte: PowerPoint is Evil:
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.
I've gotten Byrne's book (see last week). I've still not played the DVD, but the book left me less than wowed. The Wired article shows a few of the better pieces. There are many in the book where Byrne seems to have been "making fun of the medium" ... or something.
Google ads and blogs
John Robb talks about being in the middle of the second web advertising boom and suggests that this one is likewise doomed to fail:
The first step is to put advertising on weblogs that are "qualified" as contextual content through an automated mechanism of keyword analysis (Google's Adsense). A flawed mechanism if there ever was one. The second step is to trust that visitors to weblogs are very likely to click-through on Adsense text ad in order to provide, at zero cost to themselves, a small stipend to the author of the weblog. This "click to contribute" impulse will grow until the system breaks down.
Besides that, they are ugly, aren't they? For example, check out typographica, which is experimenting with this blog "money grubbing." Maybe you can style 'em up a bit, but if you're going to hide 'em way below the fold to keep them less obvious, why bother at all? You're hardly going to get enough clicks to matter.
At least with Amazon Associates, you get to decide what gratuitous product advertising you do. With Google, you're at the mercy of their algorithm.
August 17, 2003
Conrad on literacy
Conrad Taylor has made available what looks to be an interesting read on "new" kinds of literacy: visual, media, and information. He wrote this as the backdrop for a forthcoming workshop in London called "Explanatory & Instructional Graphics and Visual Information Literacy." His 22-page paper, "New kinds of literacy, and the world of visual information" (PDF; 400K),
explains the history of these terms and asks whether these metaphorical extensions of ‘literacy’ are just a rhetorical device to inflate the importance of these fields of study, or if there really are literacy-like aspects to them. He concludes that there is at least a case for the concept of Visual Literacy when it applies to information graphics: we could call this Visual Information Literacy.
As an aside, I sure wish that more proceedings papers were as nicely designed as this one!
Brands and culture
Andrew Zolli has an interesting read about brands, commercialism, and culture in his weblog called No Logo vs. Pro Logo: How Both Sides Get It Wrong (sorry, you gotta scroll...no permalinks). He makes a fairly good case for why the "anti-corporate activist and corporate leader" need to meet in the middle:
For starters, brands aren't invading the culture, for many they are the culture. The marketplace has trumped other 'meaning making' institutions in people's lives, from political parties to religious institutions. Ask an average citizen to name their elected representatives and you'll get a disinterested stare, but everybody has a passionately held opinion about Walmart.
There's more good stuff there. But I must admit that every once in a while, I just get a kick out of checking out the activist stuff (like these spoof ads from the folks at Adbusters).
August 13, 2003
Dilbert does Tufte
Speaking of PowerPoint, here's an interesting link from Shane at co][nz: it's David Byrne and his "Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information." Talking Heads fans may appreciate the publisher's description, part of which includes:
[This] is a book of images and essays, plus a DVD which plays 5 of his PowerPoint presentations accompanied by original music. ... And you may ask yourself, what is the meaning of this? And you may ask yourself, what is this about? It is about taking subjective, even emotional, information and presenting it in a familiar audiovisual form--using a medium in a way that is different, and possibly better, than what was intended.
August 11, 2003
My left field idea
Nearly two years ago (November 2001), Lou Rosenfeld got a bunch of folks from a variety of disciplines together via email (and later at a number of conferences) to discuss organizations, infrastructure, and information architecture. Fairly early on, there were a handful of folks who were very interested in a new organization for IA (which subsequently became AIfIA) and another handful who were interested in what we referred to as the "interfaith council" -- a group meant to share what were clearly overlapping interests (DUX2003 came out of some of those discussions).
Now it's August 2003, and Tog wants to create a new title and a new organization: the Interaction Architects Association. I'm not sure that the title change will be worth the hassle, and I think that creating a new organization is not for lightweights. But I wish Tog luck, and if this new org's dues are as reasonable as AIfIA's, I'll join. But Tog's new organization is unlikely to solve what I see as the bigger problem...how to get business to make more (and better) use of these kinds of skills.
I've participated in both the early IA discussion and this more recent discussion for one real reason: I'm far more interested in the effort that will raise the visibility (and value) of all of these related skills, whether you call them UX, ED, ID, IA, usability, or whatever. I like the way that Lyle Kantrovich put it:
A rising tide raises all boats.
But up to this point, most of the "big picture" discussions have generated more quibbling than results (and I'll cop to being a grade-A quibbler myself). No single group has been able to position itself as the "umbrella" for these activities. Most often, terminology (whether it is experience design, user experience, information design, information architecture, usability, interaction whatever) carries some baggage with it that others are unwilling to carry.
So that's one problem. The other is I suspect that none of the individual organizations have sufficient resources to "raise the tide." I agree with Challis Hodge when he says:
What we need to be talking about is an organization that can wage a serious and professional marketing and development campaign--in the context of business.
What we don't really need (though I wouldn't mind them) are more conferences, lists, journals, etc., where we are primarily preaching to the choir. And my apologies to Mark Hurst, but as I wrote earlier, I'm not sure we want a field (or an organization) to "disappear" either. In short, I think we need to raise our visibility (and our perceived value) among the people who hold the purse strings.
So here is my left-field idea to do that.
That's it so far. My fundamental premise is that we'll have more success working together on a common goal than we will with a dozen different organizations focusing more on our differences. The original "interfaith council" used the religious symbolism intentionally...it's not about creating a single religion (or user experience field), but rather finding what we agree on, working to advance that, and then helping to educate about the differences. The rising tide and all that!
So now, it's your turn. I think there's a pony in this rhetorical BS, so I'm posting this to see if I can get some bright folk out there to help dig it out :). What do you think?
August 09, 2003
I'm not sure if this is really necessary (what with this being a weblog rather than a website), but I've finally spruced up IDblog's 404 page. What's kinda creepy is that in reviewing the logfiles, I don't see 404 errors for old files that are no longer around or links that someone coded wrong...instead I see searches for FORMMAIL.PL. I wonder how many sites still have that vulnerability in place?
August 08, 2003
So Mark Hurst has jumped into the fray with the latest issue of his Good Experience newsletter. He writes:
Somehow "user experience practitioner" doesn't roll off the tongue so
easily. Hence the inevitable effort for UX-types to name what it is
they do: at conferences and in newsletters, for years, I've seen the
endless discussions. Should it be "usability professional"?
"Information designer"? "Interaction architect"? Some other
No surprise here...I care! That said, Mark makes a great point that the name may not really matter by noting all the different labels applied to the information technology field.
The highlight of his essay (and his title) is actually:
This brings me to my own highfalutin solution to the *real* issue
usability professionals are trying to address - namely, that they're
not taken seriously enough in the organization:
Actually, I couldn't disagree more. And perhaps I'm just picking apart words, but I think just the opposite is true. Mark describes the UX as facilitator role and notes:
As facilitators, truly caring about the organization and how it can best serve its customers, practitioners will then be more valued.
Business leaders are challenged with 90 day reporting cycles, growth as a primary business objective, limited resources, regulator scrutiny, competition, media, shareholder demands, political pressures, socio-cultural forces and more. ...
Now this may be arguing a bit strongly, as making products useful, usable, and satisfying can help business leaders. We just aren't yet making the case to them to hit critical mass.
One option is to increase the visibility of the case study. In the most recent issue of interactions, Microsoft's Dennis Wixon addresses this in "Evaluating Usabilty Methods." He suggests that all the energies directed at the "how many users are enough?" question re usability testing miss a bigger point: that the premises inherent in the current usability research "render most of the literature irrelevant to applied usabilty work." (Yikes...how's that for a position!) Instead, he suggests that:
If our discipline is serious about public discussion of usability methods as they are applied in industry, we will move beyond these lines of inquiry and take a broad-based case study approach, examining outcomes that are relevant to both practice and business. Our relevance as a discipline and our career success as practitioners depend on such a change.
Interesting timing. Just this summer, AIGA-ED created a case study archive as an outcome of DUX2003. Perhaps it's a start!
August 07, 2003
BloggerPro still unavailable
I guess I'm not done questioning weblog hosting services for the night. It appears that BloggerPro is still "offline while we retool. Sorry for the inconvenience. Please check back next week. " I got that message a month ago. Curious.
Here's an interesting "feature" of the new TypePad weblog hosting service. If you decide to set up a "typelist" of books or music and you didn't specify an Amazon Associate's ID when you set up your user profile, TypePad will use theirs (actually Six Apart's; see example).
If you aren't familiar with Amazon's Associate program, the program pays people based on purchases made at Amazon via links on Associates' websites. It's not a bad program...sites can make a little money (or more if they have great traffic) and Amazon gets great referral traffic.
I use an Associate ID for the links on IDblog, though I don't get the dough. What little revenue is generated goes to STC (a non-profit organization), where I founded the ID SIG.
That doesn't mean that I think it's bad for bloggers to try and make a personal profit. But what you may not know is that the Associate gets credit for anything someone buys at Amazon during the visit after they follow the link. Well, almost anything. I think I tried buying my Treo after clicking on one of my Amazon links and didn't get credit for that. But STC did get credit for the "Rough and Tumble Ball Pit" that someone purchased... makes you wonder what series of clicks that person made :)
So if you have moved to TypePad or you plan to, you might want to go ahead and sign up as an Associate...it's free, and why shouldn't you get the perks of sending traffic to Amazon!
I just signed up to go to BloggerCon, which will be October 4th in Cambridge MA. You have to be "invited" to the conference, but all you have to do to get it invited is to sign up for their email list or email firstname.lastname@example.org. It'll be fab to be in the old neighborhood again...I miss it terribly.
August 06, 2003
On design and business
Over on InfoDesign, Peter points to what Clement Mok has been up to since finishing his term as president of AIGA: re-energizing his Visual Symbols Library as a business. I enjoyed re-loading the home page to see the same image zoomed or cropped differently.
So I followed some links to Clement's home page and found a link to an article in Inc magazine from last fall titled "Driven by Design." It's an interesting read given the current discussions going on about new organizations and terms for umbrella disciplines.
I'd pointed earlier to his CommArts article back in May, but if you missed it then, it's also worth a check!
CFP: Participatory Design 2004
From the call:
PDC 2004 - Participatory Design Conference
August 04, 2003
Yet another UX/ED organization?
Well, well, well. So what is one to think of the Nielsen/Norman Group's Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini's column Why We Get No Respect? In it, he notes that:
We've been complaining bitterly, these last 25 years, that we get no respect, that we are thought of as nothing more than decorators, if we are thought of at all. Guess what? We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have sat on the sidelines, perpetually powerless, whining, instead of changing up the game so we can win.
Who, pray tell, could he be talking about? Graphic designers? Information designers? IAs? Usability specialists? Tech writers? The list of folks who feel undervalued and invisible (and nervous in this economic climate) is not a short one, and according to Tog, we need to add interaction designers to the list too.
His solution? We need a new title for the role of the "software designers, or interaction engineers, or human interface folks, or whatever we who create the interaction model for our products." Tog suggests interaction architect for the title, and he also suggests a new association to promote this new brand, the Interaction Architect's Association.
All I can say is, anyone remember the story of the Tower of Babel :).
Hmmm, perhaps it is time for the Order of the Elephant, whose logo can be based on the diagram that Lou Rosenfeld and Jess McMullin created a while back (see right, here for a large version). What's nice about this as an overarching organization is that it acknowleges the majority of those who have been making claims to either small or large parts of the UX/ED/IA/ID/etc space over the last few years.
Of course, since it is based on the fable, we're currently limited to only six distinct disciplines, which will likely be a problem down the road.
Seriously, I don't begrudge Tog and the interaction designers their need to find their own space--though it now looks like we may need a round-robin match in order to determine the owner of the overarching discipline :). I'm also amused that some IAs (that's information architects, not interaction architects), are seemingly unhappy with Tog's effort, when it was only a couple years ago that they rebuffed welcomes from organizations like AIGA and ASIS&T for the apparently desirous environment of their own organization.
BTW, the one point that I do fault (albeit in a friendly sort of way) in Tog's call is his distate for the label design. I think this is a red herring. Brands are re-positioned all the time, and buying the argument that design is undervalued or disrespected need not imply that it always needs to be that way, or that a new term is needed. This is what marketing is good at. And there are groups like the Corporate Design Foundation, the Design Management Institute, and the Design Council whose are doing the work of selling design to business through education and outreach and, if supported, might lead to the elimination of the "wimp" connotation of design in our field(s).
But that's just a disgression to the real issue, which is a potential new organization that will be added to the fold. Heck, what's one more :). Assuming Tog deals with AIfIA the same way he has with HFES and CHI (and given his emphasis on labels and brand, I suspect the answer will be "thanks, but no thanks"), it will be most interesting to see this play out. The IAs are so strong online, with their lists, and weblogs, and raw volunteer power. But while the IAs have their share of best-selling luminaries, Tog would seem to have more access to corporate America (and their attention and their dollars).
Several months ago, I (like many others) complained about Amazon's cute little marketing trick to promote their entry into selling clothing. Okay, well that was cute. I'm perhaps more annoyed with Amazon, who seems to be going for out and out deception.
So, I was looking up someone by name, trying to find if they had a web page or weblog. I put their name into quotes, and the resulting search listed this as the sponsor link at the top of the page:
Google congratulates John Doe!
Out of curiousity and an expectation that Google's ads are in fact related to search terms, I clicked on the link, which redirected me to this Google page, which asked:
I know a little about Internet branding, and a key part of it is that if brand fulfillment isn't equal to brand promise, your brand will suffer. Given that estimates are that Google is or will be a billion dollar advertising company, I am surprised they'd try a trick like this to increase the coffers.
August 03, 2003
The emergence of New Media has stimulated debate about the power of the visual to dethrone the cultural prominence of textuality and print. Some scholars celebrate the proliferation of digital images, arguing that it suggests a return to a pictorial age when knowledge was communicated through images as well as through words. Others argue that the inherent conflict between texts and images creates a battleground between the feminized, seductive power of images and the masculine rationality of the printed word. Eloquent Images suggests that these debates misunderstand the dynamic interplay that has always existed between word and image.
Thanks to MGK for the pointer.
Interesting call re universal design
From the PHD-DESIGN list, a call for proposals for the National Endowment for the Arts:
Program Solicitation: Universal Design Leadership Project
Hmmm, perhaps this is the silver lining to the dark cloud that is the right-wing bashing of the NEA.
August 01, 2003
Producer or director? Or both?
I probably should reply via comment, but I think it'd look cheesy to pile up the "recent comments" area on the right with my added noise, so heck, why not a new entry? Warning: if you hate quibbling about titles, stop reading now!
In response to one of yesterday's entries, Eric Scheid (who maintains the most excellent IAwiki) wrote:
"an integrator who brings disciplines together to create an excellent [..] solution?"
Okay, first of all, I'd admit that my understanding of film is definitely not sophisticated. But when you talk about great films, which comes to mind first? Who the producer is? Or who the director is? The two may work very closely together, but when I think about major artistic contributions (read experience), I think director.
You're certainly right that a producer is ultimately responsible for solutions. And the Producers Guild agrees that this includes creative responsibility. But I've always presumed that producers tended to be more business focused (controlling the money), while directors were the more creative focused (controlling the vision).
[Producers] often act in a supervisory capacity (see next paragraph), but on most projects will maintain a low profile, ceding major artistic decisions to the director. Instead, the producer is there as a technical and logistical problem-solver, making practical and procedural decisions so the director is free to focus on the creative work of actually making the film.
So maybe the real answer is that both producers and directors bring together disciplines to create excellent movies (or information products). The question then is: which of these two roles would you rather have? Being the logistical problem-solver? Or the creative? Seems very yin/yang.
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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