November 24, 2003
usability versus innovation
I'm off tomorrow for some family turkey day festivities, so the pickings here will be slim for the next several days. But in the spirit, let's leave you with this "meaty" question...are usability and innovation diammetrically opposed?
On one hand, we have Nico Macdonald, who asks whether design is for or by the people? He notes:
Usability and the cautious thinking it embodies has come to dominate thinking about the design process. ... If usability becomes the focus too early in the development of a product it is likely that a more ingenious and ambitious way of solving the problem will be missed, and a less useful and desirable solution will be polished to perfection.
Contrast this thinking with the latest from Jakob Nielsen, regarding the rather poor usability of current web applications:
A key lesson from many other fields is that continuous quality improvement is the way to true excellence. That's a lucky break: Web usability is so far behind that there's no hope of reaching acceptable quality in a single leap. Continuous improvement is our only chance.
Maybe it is my philosophical bent, but I continue to believe that there is a useful middle ground between user-centered design and designer-centered design. Thus the question shouldn't really be usability versus innovation, but more "given this specific project, what is ideal?" There are people in the UCD camp (like Whitney Quesenbery) who espouse this balanced view, but alas, it doesn't seem common yet.
November 23, 2003
You may want to file this one away as an example of how graphs can mislead. Dave Weinberger notes that in "an otherwise balanced article on Linux's challenge to Windows," InfoWeek illustrates its points with some questionable graphics. Such as:
The casual reader may miss an important point...the scale on the two graphs. The Windows graph scale goes up to 80%; the Linux graph that appears very similar goes up only to 40%.
I don't know how the graphs were laid out in the print version of the article, though since they aren't on the same page in the online version at InfoWeek (except on the printable version), I suspect the print version is the one that caused Dave to cry foul.
The text of the article is less misleading, clearly noting that:
With Windows, 79% worry about software vulnerabilities and overall quality and 64% about high cost of ownership. With Linux, 40% cite concern about the lack of a complete and fully integrated software environment and 37% about accountability if problems arise.
Thanks to vanderwal.net for the pointer.
November 21, 2003
Happy birthday xblog!
One of my very regular reads, xblog, turned 4 earlier this month, and celebrated by re-tooling the back end :). I'm very flattered to have been included in their list of recommended reads while they were offline.
Right back at ya, Bill!
Hargadon on innovation
Yesterday's search mining also yielded the term hargadon, which apparently refers to professor and author Andrew Hargadon. He's an Associate Professor of Technology Management at the Graduate School of Management at UCDavis and author of How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate.
A Google search turned up this recent interview in ACM's Ubiquity magazine. The interview discusses why "out-of-the-box thinking" may not be so great, the myth of the "Great Man" theory of invention, and how artists approach innovation and what we can learn.
The main focus of his research/book:
The book recognizes the importance of continuity and its critical role in the innovation process. By focusing on recombining existing ideas -- rather than inventing new ones -- we can better exploit the sources of innovation and, at the same time, increase the likelihood of their impact. It's much easier to think of things that have already been done and, when you introduce those ideas into new markets, they are already well developed. The trick is putting yourself or your firm into position to be the first to see these opportunities.
I wonder if this view of innovation might be more palatable those who despair innovation fetishization.
November 20, 2003
NCI's usability guidelines
So, if you're a Movable Type blogger, I hope you have the search capability enabled! I find it fascinating to check and see what folks are searching for on IDblog (usually after my weblogs.com ping has failed).
With this last entry, I was embarassed to see that someone had come looking for the National Cancer Institute's Research-based Web Design & Usability Guidelines (hosted on usability.gov) and I didn't have the pointer. Mea culpa!! I hope you come back :)
But this is well worth the download (if you aren't on dialup). The team who produced this collected web design guidelines and then rated them based on their importance and evidence. There are some plans to review printing additional hard copies (the guidelines are full of examples, which makes black and white laser printing less than satisfactory); more as they develop.
Digital industrial design?
Wow! On Tuesday, I created just a tiny bit of controversy on the interaction design list by suggesting that interaction design was essentially "digital industrial design" (this in response to some discussion about this new uber organization of industrial and graphic designers).
The responses have been incrediblly interesting and thoughtful, and from some heavyweights in the field (like Robert Reimann, who co-authored About Face 2.0).
One very interesting pointer to come out of it was to a seminar on HCI that Stanford's been holding this fall. All of the lectures are available as video on demand; some of this fall's speakers included Bill Moggridge (designer of the first laptop computer) and Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs).
Well worth checking out if you have the bandwidth!
UPDATE, 11/21: Molly Steenson of Interaction-Ivrea pointed out that Bill Moggridge was a speaker at their recent symposium and that the abstract for his talk contains quite a bit of detail related to how he sees the relationship between interaction design and industrial design.
November 19, 2003
CFP: AoIR 2004
I'd really like to add this one to my conference calendar for 2004! It's Internet Research 5.0: Ubiquity? in Sussex, UK, September 19-22, 2004.
Internet Research 5.0 will feature a variety of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives on the Internet. Examining and challenging the visibility and prevalence of the Internet and Internet discourses, the conference will bring together a wide range of researchers, practitioners and scholars for the exchange of formal and informal ideas. As with previous AoIR conferences, the aim is to promote a deep, coherent and situated understanding of the Internet and connected networks.
Deadline for submissions is February 2nd.
November 18, 2003
Moms and blogs
I don't normally read the Onion, but this entry caught my eye: Mom Finds Out About Blog. An amusing read if you're so inclined.
The demented Mr. Lee :)
I put water in the bag, sealed the doll inside with the tie, and jammed its head into the ketchup cup. This only begins to illustrate the load that is in my wife's pelvis right now.
The next six months here at work--where our Mr. Lee will be filling in for his (very patient :) wife Amy--should be very interesting indeed!
November 17, 2003
The DSL comes back tomorrow...yeah! Only two weeks after the move...guess it could be worse. I'll be back to more traditional blogging then. In the meantime, here are a few more interesting links for your blog surfin' pleasure:
November 13, 2003
Here's another collection of (I think) interesting links. As they say, your mileage may vary! What struck my fancy:
November 12, 2003
Three cheers for the W3C!
In what could be good news for the Web, the Director of the US Patent and Trademark Office has ordered a re-examination of the '906 patent, which was the subject of a patent infringement lawsuit this summer brought by Eolas against Microsoft.
Here's more on this from the W3C itself. What a shame they don't have individual memberships!
November 11, 2003
CFP: IPCC 2004
November 10, 2003
Future of information visualization
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGIA list about information visualization. It was originally about the relationship about IA to infovis, which I thought a really cool topic, but it has morphed into a discussion about the general usefulness of information visualization, period.
I've always viewed information visualization as a technology-supported kind of information graphics. Where the latter tend to be two-dimensional and static (think USAToday), the former is typically software intensive, database-driven, and often representing attribute/value pairs that can be viewed in user-selected ways. I've been exposed to how cool infovis can be thru peripheral experience on a infovis prototype for DARPA.
Ah, but there's the rub. Can infovis be commercially successful? That's the gist of the recent discussion. Here are two interesting links that appeared on the list today. First, on the pessimistic side is this interview peterme did with Marti Hearst from UCBerkeley:
Marti forecasts a significant change in how visualizations are approached. In the past, they've been treated as standalone applications ... Where as the key for the future will be incorporating it as a small part in a larger system, integrating it with the rest of the interface. In doing so, this will require visualizations to seriously take the problem that users want to solve into account, a motivation currently lacking from many visualizations.
On the optimistic side, Ramana Rao looks forward to 2007, when he hopes we'll have overcome some past distractions:
We were willing to drop back considerably in interface quality for many years because of the rich sources of information and knowledge, new services, connections to other people available through the Internet. Only now are we getting back to considering simpler and richer ways of interacting with content, services, people.
Mo's design luv
I came across Moluv's Picks today. I'm on dialup for another week until Verizon gets my DSL moved, so I'm not going to surf this site too much for now. But design fans may want to check it out. Too bad there is no obvious RSS feed.
November 08, 2003
Here are a few links that caught my eye recently:
November 05, 2003
Helfand on Tufte
Over on the ID-Cafe list today, there was quite a bit of discussion about Jessica Helfand's recent weblog entry about Edward Tufte re his appearance with David Byrne in Wired (which I mentioned a while back).
It's an interesting read, but I'm not sure I get what seems to be her actual criticism:
Both Byrne and Tufte are self-proclaimed experts. Yet in spite of what they might have you believe, neither are artists -- in that formally attuned, conceptually rigorous way, for instance, that one might look at Jasper Johns or Andy Warhol ...
Huh? That's the criticism that can be leveled by one of the talents of the graphic design field? It's not that I disagree with another of her criticisms:
Tufte's expertise is not only self-proclaimed -- it is also deeply and irrevocably self-serving.
In this area, I think Tufte has much in common with Jakob Nielsen...both are as adept at media spin as they are in their field of expertise. That said, I would far rather see a criticism based on the merit of some of Tufte's actual work (much like this one at Boxes and Arrows re Nielsen) than to point out that Tufte isn't Andy Warhol.
November 03, 2003
Tech writer resources
I was poking around IDblog's activity log, and noticed someone searching first for medical examiner wages (seriously?) and then tech writers wages. So, while the person searching may not come back, I figured it couldn't hurt to point to STC (the Society for Technical Communication) for all things related to technical writers and technical communication and their salary surveys (sorry, members only) in particular.
Skiing? I think not...
If I were HCI queen, here are a few things I would change:
They do provide me with a link that shows snow quality (hey, let's hop on a plane...there's poweder in North Dakota!). But still...I think that dropping the "and ski" from the subject might make sense when it's only the Rockefellers or the Vanderbilts who may be jetting off thousands of miles to find off-season snow.
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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