January 27, 2004
Local buddy Thom Haller is doing a fun session at the upcoming IA Summit called "Stories from the field: Never consider yourself a failure, you can always serve as a bad example." First of all, this is perhaps one of the best session titles I've heard recently (the other is for a local event titled "Implementing User-Centric Design or 'How to make the customer king when your boss has an emperor complex' " ). Thom's an excellent speaker, so if you're in Austin, I'd stop by!
Second, here's an entry in the "bad examples" class--specifically bad maps--from Joshua Kaufman. At first glance, I would have made the same mistake Joshua did.
Finally, for not any good reason I can articulate, this example seems to me to be a counterpoint of sorts to this article on why you need to be wary of case studies (which hit the blog circuit a while back). Being cautious and understanding specific circumstances is good, but this struck me as being a bit too negative. Your mileage may vary!
Courtesy of the bad weather in DC, I'm home early and catching up on some blog entries that have been in the queue for a bit longer than normal. First, I want to offer an olive branch of sorts to Dan Saffer, who was the designer of a site I criticized last week for low contrast. In a comment to the entry, Dan offers the reasonable defense that he was designing for college students, not old farts like me. Like Dan, I really liked the warm blue, although I wonder if reverse type might have solved both problems--increasing contrast while also doing something different.
Which gets to the title of this entry (which was originally "unintended audiences"). It's a bit reminiscent of the designing for older browsers issue. How do you handle tiny--or unintended--audiences? Or other unintended consequences of design choices?
My personal philosophy is a spin off of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. Call me an optimist, but I think there is a space in which do good design but also keep those designs from breaking for your visitors. (Clearly I'm not a fan of sending people to "your browser is broken" pages.) Not necessarily an obvious (or easy) choice.
Anyways, I didn't mean to flippantly diss Dan's design, so mea culpa. BTW, I also meant to point to one of Dan's readings for his class. Some (most?) of them should be familiar to ID/IA/UX fans, but I don't remember coming across this article by Dick Buchanan, former director of the design school at CMU: Good Design in the Digital Age (pdf; an annoying Flash-based version is available by navigating here).
January 20, 2004
I interrupt this regularly scheduled discussion of information design topics to ask IDblog readers who are US-based (or not, I guess!) to consider supporting the MoveOn.org Voter Fund. If you're like me, you're probably a bit discouraged (if not frightened) by recent Bush administration moves. The right is working incredibly hard to discredit MoveOn.org, which tells me that this is exactly the group to support to avoid having four more years of W.
Thanks for your consideration. I now return you to your regularly scheduled IDblog.
Update: Even if you're not into MoveOn's politics, this site--FactCheck.org--from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania--may be well worth a bookmark. Their goal is to "reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics." Too bad they aren't looking for donations!
January 15, 2004
Funky web designs
First, I've finally updated the conference list on the right margin. I noticed that UPA was pointing here, so that counteracted my inertia to at least get reasonably current. For probably no good reason, I limit the conferences I list to those offered by professional associations and other non-profits. I figure Nielsen Norman rakes in enough dough to market their own events! But Tomalak and InfoDesign include those, as well as a few more hardcore technical conferences (XML anyone?) that I don't bother listing.
Anyways, while blog surfing and updating the conference lists, I came across a couple of "go figure" web designs that caught my eye.
On the right is a site for the 2004 participatory design conference. It doesn't look quite so bright on the Mac at home, but at work, it was bordering on retina-frying.
Of course, this site isn't exactly going to win any awards, so perhaps I'm th last to offer any criticism. Then again, what's the point of having a blog if you can't offer an opinion, eh?
January 09, 2004
Amazing images from NASA
The last few entries have been very text heavy, so I figured it was time to add some visual interest. What better than something that has really fascinated me: a shot of an aurora from space (which I'd love to see live).
The image is one from NASA's Earth Observatory. If you like this kind of thing at all, I recommend that you subscribe to their weekly email, where you'll get updated on new photos and other items added to the site.
Norman on PowerPoint
Am I the only one who is getting tired of seeing David Byrne in the press as the counterpoint to Tufte regarding PowerPoint?
Well, glory hallelujah! It's not mainstream media (yet), but Cliff Atkinson (who is making a career out of fixing organizations' problems with PowerPoint) has an interview with Don Norman on the subject. I like it because it says exactly what I think about PowerPoint.
Here are some extracts I like:
PowerPoint is NOT the problem. The problem is bad talks, and in part, this comes about because of so many pointless meetings, where people with - or without - a point to make - have to give pointless talks. ...
It's hard to keep up on all the PowerPoint mentions lately, but a good resource if you're so inclined is sooper.org's powerpointless?
Some articles that haven't yet made it to that list but have appeared recently are:
Finally, while browsing the website of a design firm I worked at in the mid-1990's, I came across a real solution to the fundamental problem: designing PowerPoint presentations to serve only as a speaker's aid rather than to serve the audience. Evil Genius (The Good Side of PowerPoint) shows an option to take advantage of PowerPoint's notes capability to design slides that are visually interesting for audiences (and providing basic cues for speakers) and that have notes to support post-session use. The notes field can also be highlighted to support speakers who require more support than the basic outline provided by the visual slides.
How much information?
In response to a question on the ID-Cafe list, Loren Needles has pointed to a really interesting study from UC Berkeley called How much information? 2003. This study is part of an ongoing effort to estimate how much information is created each year.
Here are some highlights from this year's report:
The snippets don't do the report justice, in part because the report itself provides lots of useful ways to put the data in context. For example, "five exabytes of information is equivalent in size to the information contained in half a million new libraries the size of the Library of Congress print collections." Yowsa!
Speaking of which, it seems worthwhile to pull out a link to Roy Williams' data powers of ten. I couldn't find the live version on Roy's site, so am pointing to the UC Berkeley version instead. Keep it in mind when you want to know the difference between a petabyte and a yottabyte :)
January 06, 2004
Ouch! Everyone is coming back from the holidays and playing catch-up, so I'm resorting to a quick list o' links so I don't get behind. For your reading pleasure:
BTW, I must have had a senior moment or some glitch in weblog editing, but I meant to point to Dirk Knemeyer's interview with Richard Saul Wurman yesterday. I agree with Christina that folks who have followed Wurman won't be surprised by this interview. I'm also sympathetic that Dirk decided to treat information design and information architecture as "synonymous" ... years ago, when asked about the difference between the two, Wurman shared that he found this kind of discussion "academic and pointless." Boy, I've gotten some mileage out of that quote :).
January 05, 2004
I hadn't really meant to take a holiday break, but my short vacation from blogging meant a lot of catch up (see below). But I saved the best for last: the metamorphosis of Peter Bogaard's wonderful weblog into a international home for the information design community: InfoDesign: Understanding By Design.
This website is closely allied with a number of other ID-related initiatives, such as the Information Design Journal, the InfoD and InfoD-Cafe email lists, and a number of organizations, particularly the IIID.
Bookmark it ASAP! And if you're an RSS fan, there's a feed for you too.
Fun with linguistics and rhetoric
Want to know the difference between metonymy and metaphor? Then you might enjoy this glossary of linguistics and rhetoric.
Interestingly enough, this glossary is brought to you from the folks at RinkWorks, who provide an "expansive collection of entertainment-related features" that include Don't Throw a Brick Straight Up and Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul.
There are some other glossaries for the word oriented. There's this one of fun words (who knew 'anthropophagy' meant cannibalism?) and this one of commonly looked up words. Thanks to Ken and Matthew for the pointers.
Cool color wheel
Rich Gold on PowerPoint
Christina points to UW's David Farkas' course readings in information design as a source of "fine reading". His syllabus is also worth checking out to see how he's chunked them into a semester's worth of work.
Since I've lately been very interested in the "controversy" related to PowerPoint, I wanted to find out more about one of Farkas' readings for week 4: Rich Gold's "Reading PowerPoint" (available in Nancy Allen's Working with Words and Images). Alas, it isn't online, but a bit of Googling turned up this panel transcript from a 1999 Seybold conference on web publishing. Here's a snippet from Gold:
Presenting Powerpoint slides is much like playing a sax in a jazz band. The slides provide the bass, rhythm, and chord changes over which the melody is improvised. When a presenter is really cooking, he or she enters that intuitional state in which each moment follows naturally from the previous in a highly intelligent manner. In flow, the presenter locks into the audience, locks into the slides, locks into the ideas, and produces a gloss that makes whole the obscure and fragmented wall writings.
Alas, Rich Gold, most recently a researcher at Xerox PARC, died early in 2003. Based on a website dedicated to him, I wish I'd come across him earlier. A quick glance through his talks yielded this gem: PowerPoint as a Toy for Thought. It's annotated, so I think it's well worth reading unless you're a committed Tufte zealot :).
Marriage of technology and policy
The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy. It's about realizing that all the really hard problems -- free expression, copyright, due process, social networking -- may have technical dimensions, but they aren't technical problems. ... [A]ll the grandiose visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and (God help us all) the Semantic Web, are dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky, non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can't solve them with technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable the human interaction that will solve them.
Kevin Werbach doesn't agree, but I'm sympathetic to Kottke's point that "technology is definitely playing the horse to policy's cart."
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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