October 9, 2004
Preview the new IDJ
Ah, now how's this for interesting promotion. To launch the newly merged Information Design Journal with Document Design, the publisher has made issue 12.1 available online to the public.
In case you aren't aware, IDJ has a very long and prestigious history (the first issue was published in 1979 after the 1978 NATO Conference on Visual Presentation of Information, which was held in the Netherlands). Document Design is much more recent, but for reasons of journal publishing (read: business), merging the two at this time was the way to continue with the spirit of IDJ, if not the title.
If you'are at all interested in this field, do consider subscribing. Yes, the publisher has you jump thru a little hoop for a personal subscription, but I've found them to be very accommodating...just go ahead and email 'em!
Finally, the journal is always looking for good articles, whether they be research reports, case studies, or practical theories. Drop me a line if you have something to add. /p>
August 17, 2004
Dilbert does design Check out today's Dilbert. Looks to be a funny week, as yesterday's struck a funny chord too.
July 30, 2004
Design Studies Forum
Want more email? Then check out the Design Studies Forum list:
Design Studies Forum (DSF) is a College Art Association Affiliated Society. Founded as Design Forum in 1983 and renamed in 2004, Design Studies Forum seeks to nurture and encourage the study of design history, criticism, and theory and to foster better communication among the academic and design communities. DSF's 225 members include practicing designers, design historians/critics, and museum professionals.
Thanks to Ken Friedman (of PHD-DESIGN list fame) for the pointer.
June 28, 2004
Clement Mok revisited
Jess had a pointer to an interview with Clement Mok from last fall that I'd seen but not really read carefully. In some respects, it is a follow on to his Designers: Time for a Change article from May 2004.
What's interesting is that he makes reference to a new organization (in the formative stage) called the American Design Council. I'll certainly be interested to hear more, since I'm really interested in the concept. It's nice to see that Jeff was kind enough to also link to a post of mine on this subject from a year ago...interestingly, I think it holds up relatively well.
I can't wait to see how things shake out (if you know what I mean).
May 18, 2004
Best Buy does personas and more
Gosh, I love when design makes it into mainstream media. Recently there was IDEO in BusinessWeek (thanks Thom). Now, USA Today's covering it: Best Buy starts an overhaul, before its problems begin
Best Buy's plan is to revamp its stores according to the types of customers they serve, a strategy it calls customer centricity. The company came up with five prototypical customers, all of whom have been given names: "Jill," a busy suburban mom; "Buzz," a focused, active younger male; "Ray," a family man who likes his technology practical; "BB4B" (short for Best Buy for Business), a small employer; and "Barry," an affluent professional male who's likely to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a home theater system. ... Another part of the customer centricity project transforms the usual roles for employees they're now required to help analyze sales, overtime and other figures and suggest ways to improve them.
It's interesting in the context of diffusion of innovation/tipping point theory. Our UCD (the early adopters) turns into customer centricity (the early majority)? Keep bringing it on!
Here's the background for the issue:
While professionally, user-centred design can be a useful counter to ego-driven or aesthetically fetishised approaches to designing, and while it often focuses on important practical issues, much goes unquestioned. For example, needs are regarded as self-evident and inherent, while certain (very low) levels of ability or dexterity are taken as normal; likewise attributes like convenience and automatic operation are typically regarded as beneficial. But more significantly, positing users as the privileged source of design problems and solutions, obscures the bigger picture of how designed things actually design those who use them, inscribing needs, attachments, physical and mental habits, and, more generally, making up entire, and entirely familiar, worlds of dwelling and their accompanying capacities, competencies, expectations and much more.
The titles for the articles don't do them justice, and the framed site makes it hard to excerpt and link. So if you're into UCD, just take a peek and see if they might strike your fancy.
April 20, 2004
Connection between design and stock performance
The latest issue of Design Link (from Herman Miller) is out and among its snippets is this blurb for some interesting research from the Design Council in the UK: The Impact of Design on Stock Market Performance:
A recent study in Great Britain has shown a direct relation between design and business success. The Design Council, an organization funded by the UK Department of Trade and Industry, released research findings this month.
I need to explore the Design Council more. Unlike some of the folks on this side of the pond, the Design Council seems to have done a better job of putting the, shall we say non-traditional, design fields (like information design and interaction design) together with the traditional.
March 17, 2004
Andrei takes on Jakob
I don't usually like to blog things that are going to appear on every UX-related blog, but this is going to be worth checking out ... the comments are nearly as interesting as the post. It's an open letter to Jakob Nielsen by Andrei Herasimchuk of Design by Fire.
There's so much I agree with in this letter, it's hard to pick just one snippet, but this one gets at the heart of it:
Mr. Nielsen, I respectfully request you stop posting articles like this. You do yourself and the usability field a disservice by speaking in terms that are vague, not backed up with research data, and filled with hyperbole. Further, until you learn more about what it takes to be a designer, and what it means to design a product with your own two hands, I respectfully request you stop trying to dictate any design agenda as some subset of what you view as the usability agenda.
Those of us in the design and usability biz need leaders to help us demand more from those who develop products and services. But while Jakob's spin may get him the press he clearly desires, I'm not sure it's our best choice for effecting real change in business.
Thanks to InfoDesign for the pointer.
February 20, 2004
Kitchen Stories--a UCD comedy
NPR had a review of Kitchen Stories this morning. It's an independent movie from Norway that's currently only showing in NY and LA, but it sounds like a movie any user-centered designer or ethnographer might find especially interesting.
Here's a detailed synopsis from MovieWeb:
In post-World War II Scandinavia, home science is a booming industry and Sweden's Home Research Institute is conducting studies aimed at standardizing the average household kitchen along the lines of an ultra-efficient assembly-line model. Over time, the researchers discover that simply by organizing the kitchens workstations properly, based on the layout of factories, the benefits (in terms of time, money and physical exertion) for a household could be enormous. Or, as a Swedish ad for the new ideal kitchen of the time put it: "Instead of a housewife having to walk what is the equivalent of Sweden to the Congo during a year of cooking, she now only needs to walk to northern Italy in order to get food on the table."
After thoroughly mapping the Swedish housewifes behavior in the kitchen, scientists at the Institute feel ready to venture beyond their own geographic and gender-based limitations. So, in the early 50s they send 18 observers to the rural farming district of Landstad, Norway, with its surplus of bachelors, to study the kitchen routines of single men.
In order to be on 24-hour call, the observers live in egg-shaped pea-green campers outside each subjects house. From custom-made observation chairs strategically placed high above each kitchen, they study and take notes. The observers must be allowed to come and go as they please, and under no circumstances must they be spoken to or included in kitchen activities. Immediately regretful of having signed up to be observed, Isak (who thought that by doing so he would be given a horse) makes it ridiculously difficult for Folke to analyze him. But small kindnesses whittle away at the wall between them, and they embark on a tentative friendship, much to the chagrin of Folke's by-the-book supervisor, who has zero tolerance for any deviations in this "scientific" inquiry.
DC's not exactly Podunk, Iowa, so perhaps it will show up here. (As an aside, I did not know that there are five Podunk's in the US. None are in Iowa.)
December 11, 2003
One hot design book
Here's a new book that's making the rounds: Universal Principles of Design. Mike dropped by my office a couple days ago to show it to me, after having heard about it from Victor (who heard about it from Adam).
The buzz may well be justified. Here's a blurb from Amazon:
Universal Principles of Design is the first comprehensive, cross-disciplinary encyclopedia of design. Richly illustrated and easy to navigate, it pairs clear explanations of every design concept with visual examples of the concepts applied in practice. From the "80/20 rule to chunking, from baby-face bias to Occam's razor, and from self-similarity to storytelling, every major design concept is defined and illustrated for readers to expand their knowledge.
Courtesy of one-click ordering, it's on its way to my mailbox!
December 9, 2003
Fortune: From drab to fab
Is it just me, or is design getting some fab press? In late October, there was a design issue of Newsweek. Then at the end of November, there was a design issue of the New York Times Magazine. This Fortune article is a nice complement. Some highlights from this piece:
How do the savviest companies come up with designs that excite consumers and spur sales? For starters, they don't make the design department a product's last stop after it has already passed through the engineering and manufacturing departments. ...
December 8, 2003
Over on the interaction design list, Hans Samuelson offered up two interesting resources in a discussion on beauty and transparency.
One was Alexander Nehamas' An essay on beauty and judgement, which Hans describes as "one of the best discussions I have found on the philosophical concept of beauty [which is] anchored in enough pop-culture references to make the Kant palatable."
The other, which I'm looking forward to exploring, is Caroline Hummels' doctoral dissertation on Gestural design tools: prototypes, experiments and scenarios (scroll down to 2000). Her abstract:
Digital products are generally controlled by buttons and icons, which emphasises the user's cognitive skills. I propose to take respect for the user as a whole as my starting point, including his perceptual-motor and emotional skills. Designers should create a context for experience rather than a product. Aesthetic interaction becomes the central theme. As a consequence, I believe that design tools should change, too. To create a context for experience, the designer needs tools which allow him to explore beautiful and engaging interactions. In this thesis, I have documented this experiental design framework and my search for such tools, especially gestural design tools.
I've only looked at the intro, but it looks like she has carried through the idea of beauty and design into her published dissertation. Thanks to Hans for the pointer...it may be a useful counterpoint to Don Norman's Emotional Design.
December 2, 2003
Patrick Whitney on HCD
Another failed weblogs.com ping sent me browsing MT's activity log again. Today's failed search term from the log is Patrick Whitney, who is Director of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
I've just printed out an interview he did with the Danish Design Center last spring on Why Human-Centered Design is the Design of the Future (pdf).
This page from IIT is probably full of lots of other interesting fodder as well, but I'm off to one of my last classes for the semester.
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 21, 2003
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
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.
October 31, 2003
UCD meets XP/Agile
And here's another list pointer. William Hudson alerted folks to a draft of an article he's done for the Cutter IT Journal. It's a simulated conversation between a UCD consultant and an XP team leader: Adopting User-centered Design within an Agile Process (PDF). It starts:
eXtreme Programming and other Agile processes provide a middle ground between chaos and over-elaborate processes sometimes referred to as "death by documentation." A particularly attractive aspect of the Agile approach for many teams is its willingness to accommodate change no matter how advanced development might be. However, this very flexibility can cause user interface design issues and ensuing usability problems.
I'm assuming that XP/Agile are primarily relevant in software applications development. Are people using it for web sites or web applications? Inquiring minds and all that!
Skills Framework for the Information Age
Here's another email list tidbit. Whitney Quesenbery pointed to an interesting initiative across the pond: it's the UK-based Skills Framework for the Information Age Foundation (SFIA). From the what is SFIA? page:
The Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) provides a common reference model for the identification of the skills needed to develop effective Information Systems (IS) making use of Information Communications Technologies (ICT). It is a simple and logical two-dimensional framework consisting of areas of work on one axis and levels of responsibility on the other.
There's a section that describes the structure of the SFIA framework, which describes "what ICT practitioners and users do."
When I get a few moments, I'm looking forward to exploring this in more detail. There may well be some useful concepts for the whole "big picture" UX/ED issue.
October 28, 2003
Design conference borgashmord
I meant to get to this earlier, but peterme has written volumes on his weblog about some recent UX/ED conferences. First, he writes four entries about the HITS 2003 conference (one, two, three, and a postscript). If you're so inclined, you can get HITS slides and posters.
Next, he waxed poetic about About, With and For in two parts (one and two). This conference was a 1+ day event at IIT immediately after HITS2003 and seemingly geared towards a student audience (IIT students attend free).
He was less happy with a conference he didn't attend: AIGA's Power of Design. Peter was not impressed with the seeming "circle jerk" supposedly described by Dirk Kneymeyer's notes from the conference. Not sure I agree with him there, but his view seems widely shared among the non-AIGA UX/ED folks. Perhaps a challenge for DUX2005?
October 16, 2003
More from Clement Mok
Oy, I've had to change the channel...the Yankees have tied it up :(. Courtesy of TiVo, I can watch the rest of the game later if it doesn't go even more downhill. In the meantime, here's a quickie post to take my mind off the game (and the MLB.com score card in the background).
The latest issue of NextD journal has come out with an interview with Clement Mok [ framed | unframed ]. This follows up on his recent Time for a Change call to design professionals, which has also appeared in Communication Arts.
Over on Contact Sheet, Scott provides an interesting take on this call. He also points out that you can get the snazzy version of of this pitch here. I don't mind the Flash presentation, but think it might not have been the best design to assume the reading speed they did. Making folks click next would be bad, but a small speed and/or rewind control wouldn't have hurt!
October 12, 2003
Kids and design
Sugata ... Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."
Too bad this effect doesn't carry over as one ages!
October 6, 2003
Zen and UX
Peter blogged this interesting piece by Adam Greenfield on compassion and the crafting of user experience. As a card-carrying UU and dabbler in Buddhism (or at least the Western version), I appreciated the essence of Adam's piece. For example:
How I, at least, ensure that my work meets my criteria for right livelihood is by practicing it with compassion. This may, at first blush, appear to be a strange word to stumble across in this context. But to my mind, this is the crucial insight at the heart of the discipline: a good user-experience practitioner has to be able to imagine, and share the frustrations of, the human users of the artifact in question, in the hope that these frustrations can be reduced or eliminated. This primary understanding is something that I'd like to see explicitly incorporated into the professional education of user-experience professionals, at all levels: not because we should all be Buddhists, not because we should all be concerned with the ethics of our livelihood, but simply because it would make for better design.
Adam wasn't the first to explore the issue of Zen and design; the CSS Zen garden pre-dated him, though their emphases are a bit different!
September 22, 2003
We had a school reception yesterday, and one of my classmates (Yoram, who has neglected his weblog or I'd link to it) and I were talking about the issue of IT and the diffusion of innovation. He recommended two books that look very promising if you're into this space: The Innovator's Dilemma and Weird Ideas That Work.
September 21, 2003
I've just ordered this based on an email recommendation. It's Henry Petroski's Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design. Publishers Weekly writes:
"Design can be easy and difficult at the same time, but in the end, it is mostly difficult." So writes engineering professor Petroski (The Evolution of Useful Things, etc.) in his latest effort, a wide-ranging exploration of the history and design of the everyday technologies like supermarket aisles and telephone keypads that are practically invisible in their ubiquity. Petroski emphasizes that these "small things" aren't in fact the results of a smooth and simple design process, but are rather the products of a constellation of oft-conflicting constraints, frequently with unintended consequences (consider the recently redesigned, fat-handled toothbrushes that, while more ergonomic, have rendered millions of traditional toothbrush holders useless).
Petroski is faculty at Duke University in North Carolina. Looks like a promising read.
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 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 8, 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!
July 29, 2003
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.
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.
July 14, 2003
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 9, 2003
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?
June 24, 2003
What's in a name? The sequel
Tired of semantic arguments? Don't care what things are called? Quick! Bail out now...I recommend Dave Barry on synergy.
Still with me? Okay, but you've been warned :).
Not sure if you happened to notice it, but a week or so ago, peterme posted an entry to his weblog about that tricky word, design. In it he comments:
What's wrong with "design"? Well, there's nothing wrong with the practice, but plenty wrong with the word's associations. Right now, particularly in the field of web user experience, the word "design", without a modifier, means visual design. ... "Design" is what happens after the strategy has been settled, the specifications determined, the raison d'etre developed.
That said, he noted that "I see no need to be a champion for the cause of design." Peter isn't the first (nor probably the last) to comment on design's poor connotation. As I mentioned in the most recent what's in a name discussion here, Richard Saul Wurman intentionally chose the phrase information architecture rather than information design:
I selected the term information 'architect' rather than information
'designer' as the term 'designer' continues to be interpreted by the
public as an individual who is hired to come in after the fact to
make some project 'look beter' - as opposed to a professional part
of the initial team creatively solving a problem.
Well, I'm too much of a middle-of-the-roader to be the champion of design, although I must admit to a personal preference to change perceptions rather than create new terminology. But that's not something individual people are well suited to do (though every time someone bails, it certainly makes it harder).
All of this makes this article/response on the domain of design from Dirk Knemeyer to be an interesting read. He writes:
Design is in crisis for a variety of reasons, including:
However, unlike peterme or RSW, Dirk does see the value in championing design, in particular because he sees no real long-term value in terms like user experience, which he suggests are just as prone to being commodified. Given my preference for finding middle ground, I really resonated with this line:
What we need is focus and an acknowledgement that our consensus and collaboration will take us much further than being clever or doing our own thing.
This isn't just about Wurman coming up with a new term or Adaptive Path dropping 'design' from its marketing literature. IMO, the various niche groups (the IAs, the IDs, the usability folk, and so on) are to some extent all trying to create a market so that they can make a living doing interesting work that they tend to be good at.
Here's my question though. Wouldn't we all have an easier time of it if we worked together to create a paradigm shift in terms of how corporations work? Or what they value? If we did that, maybe the resulting shift would create more work than we all could actually do!
I see at least a tiny parallel to this idea when I read that Don Norman thinks that usability advocates don't understand business:
Until they understand it and how products get made, we will have little progress. In the field of design, people come from three very different backgrounds. They come from art and architecture schools and they know how to make attractive things. Or they trained in computer science and psychology and they know how to make usable things but they don't know how to build anything, they're just good at finding flaws. Or they come from ethnography, and they are superb at understanding what people really need, but don't know how to translate that into products. So all this has to come together, otherwise no decent products will result.
For me, I'd include the others who are also playing in a similar UX/user-centered design space. But there's another issue, which I think Dirk points out as well. Just because it is new media doesn't mean we need to reinvent the wheel. Okay, maybe there are some issues with the stereotype of the snooty, award-seeking graphic designer that is hurting us currently in our efforts to seek respect (and work) in the field of online design. But IMO, getting rid of 'design' is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is a rich tradition in the study of design. Just because the web is new or young doesn't mean that no one has ever solved the problems we're now facing. I see considerable value in aligning ourselves with that tradition.
And maybe it is a grass is greener thing, but from my perspective, the fields of product design (or industrial design) do not seem to be having problems with the term, or the process, of design. (Okay, I grant you that maybe some, the computer manufacturers in particular, still need some work on getting the process down :). There are also a number of design-oriented groups, like the Design Management Institute (US), Corporate Design Foundation (US) and the Design Council (UK) that are among many who are looking at the issue of a better integration with business and design, some of which have government support (see the resource list from DMI for more).
So, I am in favor of seeking opportunities for collaboration and consensus that adds to an existing tradition -- design. I suppose that it is possible that I'm somehow caught up in horseless-carriage thinking. But I guess that's why I participate in all these discussions (and why I have comments turned on on my weblog :)
June 11, 2003
Designs & Destinations
Boy, I wish this conference was a car- or train-ride away (a two-day conference and an across-the-pond venue aren't exactly complementary). But folks near London may want to check out Designs & Destinations, which is being held July 3rd and 4th. Here are the themes:
Can better communication and well-designed information have
an impact on the bottom line?
Their website is a bit curious (no web conventions for them), but the sessions look worthwhile. If you're nearby and can afford 500 pounds, it might be worthwhile to go and rub elbows with Erik Spiekermann :)
June 9, 2003
Today's design reader
David Durling has come out with the June issue of the Design Research News. If you haven't already, you may want to subscribe, but if the last thing you need is another subscription, here are a few highlights I found interesting.
Interdisciplines. I'm not sure what this site is really about, as explanation "a website for interdisciplinary research in the humanities" leaves a bit to be desired. But I liked the looks of some of the offerings on their page of links, which you may be into if you care about the overlap of technology, art, and the social sciences.
NextDesign Leadership Institute. This is a new initiative which is building their offerings. Here is their mission:
Part 1: To help raise awareness regarding how the challenges of design leadership have radically changed at the leading edge of the marketplace.
They do have a preliminary online journal going, so you may want to start with that if design leadership is an interest area.
June 8, 2003
Design process and standards
The fine folks at Digital Web Magazine have pointed to a great article by Doug Bowman at stopdesign titled In the Garden: A Design Process Revealed, where he uses his entry for the CSS Zen Garden as fodder for a design process case study. A very nice read for designers and non-designers alike.
Afterwards, you'd be well served by taking a stroll thru the CSS Zen Garden:
The css Zen Garden invites you to relax and meditate on the important lessons of the masters. Begin to see with clarity. Learn to use the (yet to be) timehonored techniques in new and invigorating fashion. Become one with the web.
Once done with that, do check out web guru Zeldman's silver lining in the depressing news about AOL's surrender to Microsoft:
If you cant see the good, here it is: what IE6 is capable of makes a far better platform for standards-based design than what Netscape 4 can do, which was where many of us were trapped the last time the browser space froze.
I see his point, but pardon me for thinking, "hmm, that's damning with faint praise."
June 5, 2003
How Designers Work
I haven't had a chance to check this out, what with travel and training recently, but it seems worth passing along! It is Henryk Gedenryd's doctoral dissertation How Designers Work.
Ken Friedman, who alerted folks on the PhD-Design list, had this to say:
As mentioned in earlier notes, this dissertation is interesting and worth reading. The bibliography is especially helpful to those who are exploring the area of design practice and the situated thinking that designers use as they design.
If you're into design dissertations, you may also like this resource that Ken shared with the list: doctoral dissertations from the Center for Design Research at Stanford University.
June 2, 2003
Usability vs market research
A post by Whitney Quesenbery on the experience design list pointed me to a (newish?) article on her website where she provides a nice overview of the difference between usability and market research. Quoting from her email:
Market research helps a company find out what its customers or users want. Usability evaluation helps you determine whether you have meet those needs and wants.
She's got some other great articles as well, including one which paints a much broader picture of usability--the 5 E's of usability. (Now if only we could get her to do a weblog :)
May 15, 2003
Journals in mass communication
Here's an interesting resource that appeared on the air-l list (internet research) yesterday. It's the THE IOWA GUIDE: Scholarly Journals in Mass Communication and Related Fields. Use this link for their splash page (nice photo, no useful content) or this one for their index page.
The Iowa Guide:
catalogs the manuscript requirements and review processes of more than 125 English-language scholarly journals published in the United States and countries spanning the globe. Some of the journals focus on journalism, mass communication or communication as their primary concerns. Others address communication in the context of another discipline, such as law or sociology, or they include communication under an interdisciplinary umbrella such as popular culture or womens studies.
There's also a guide for those new to scholarly publishing. Look like it's worth a bookmark if you're at all into communication research, whether reading or writing!
May 2, 2003
Clement Mok on design
Well duh. I stopped this morning at a bricks and mortar bookstore to pick up the May/June Communication Arts after reading this entry from Mark Bernstein. The link to the magazine site in Mark's blog goes to the magazine TOC, which provides no links. Yesterday I assumed that meant the column wasn't online. You know what they say about assuming :)
Anyways, after a little lunchtime URL hacking, I've found that Mok's Designers: Time for Change is indeed online.
Since this is a quick lunchtime blog, I don't have time to comment extensively, but as you might imagine, I certainly found this interesting given last week's discussion on IA and ID:
Currently, we spend way too much time as professionals explaining—often in contradictory terms—what it is that we do. The value of design is defined in thousands of different conversations in as many different individual vocabularies. While these views are doubtless sincere, they would be much more valuable if they were expressed in the context of a shared professional vocabulary and ethos. If every physician made up his own set of definitions and beliefs about anatomy and disease on an improvised basis, the medical profession would still be in the Dark Ages. Yet the design profession functions as if each individual designer is selling his or her services in some sort of terminological vacuum, with nothing more substantial than his or her personal charisma and taste to serve as the foundation for vast edifices of public influence.
I'm not sure what Mok is up to next. He's finishing up his term as prez of AIGA next month, and I see from the magazine that he's no longer with Sapient. I look forward to his next adventures!
April 15, 2003
Design for future needs
If the idea of design as a bigger concept appeals to you, you may be interested in the resources on the design for future needs site. As is not untypical of one of these global design initiatives, there is an emphasis on environmental/industrial/product design that may not seem too useful to your average information or document designer. But in my brief skim (when is the semester over?) of the overview, I found the following interesting:
A plethora of Foresight-based design visualizations of the future is better than one. This encourages all to treat the visions casually, to add to them, reject some, pick and mix and so on, because not too much is riding on any one future concept.
This is equivalent to the idea that paper prototypes are deemed more subject to criticism and change than are mocks done in HTML or Visual Basic or other realistic tool. But maybe if your environment is like mine, it is so much easier to present one design concept, even if you have all the intention in the world to get useful feedback. There are difficult deadlines and not-so-savvy clients and so on. And maybe there's not really a need to be redefining anyways.
I just wish I was always sure that the decision to present one design was from a good place rather than a convenient place.
April 8, 2003
Gee, if it wasn't hard enough to choose from the many great conferences (see right column, below the fold), now there's the option of summer school. The three I've come across recently are Oxford Internet Institute's Summer Doctoral Programme, UMaryland's Graduate Webshop, and the IIID's Information Design Summer Academies (one in Austria, one in Japan).
March 25, 2003
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 15, 2003
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.
February 12, 2003
How designers work
I haven't looked at lots of dissertations, but this one is a beaut. It's Henrik Gedenryd's How designers work: Making sense of authentic cognitive activities. Here's the abstract:
In recent years, the growing scientific interest in design has led to great advances in our knowledge of authentic design processes. However, as these findings go counter to the existing theories in both design research and cognitive science, they pose a serious challenge for both disciplines: there is a wide gap between what the existing theories predict and what designers actually do.
February 2, 2003
Learning about customers
When I mentioned a week ago that part of my grade for one of my classes will be based on my ability to do a regular weblog, I may not have mentioned that the fodder for the class would likely become fodder for IDblog. But there are obvious places where the interests overlap.
For instance, consider this reading (PDF) for my class on 2/3. This could have come out of the ID/IA/usability community, but instead, it comes out of the world of business:
Many B2B exchanges were launched because they were possible, not because there was a compelling customer problem they could solve. Thus, the first step is to shift the orientation to continuously learning about customers. It was once estimated that fewer than 15 percent of all web start-ups tested their sites with customers by living with them and observing their behavior. Winners will not make that mistake.
(Emphasis mine.) From my read of this paper, the authors can't really have meant this to apply only on B2Bs, particularly as they hold Amazon up as an example of a company with Bezos' vision of being the "most customer-centric company." How interesting that I'm taking this class together with one that is essentially all about user-centered design.
Finally, an unrelated postscript. I was watching Letterman recently and was blown away by one of his musical guests, Vienna Teng. I just got her album from Amazon, and if you like lyrical voice and piano along with songs with lots of relationship angst (think Tori Amos without the edge), you'll want to check Vienna out. What's even more amazing to me is that she almost wasn't a performer, having started out on the path to being a geeky computer nerd.
January 30, 2003
Master of Design Methods
Here's something that's showed up on a few lists today. It's a new program from the Illinois Institute of Technology:
The Master of Design Methods (MDM) is a professional Master's degree for exceptional design professionals who seek to add to their competency a deeper knowledge of methods and frameworks. It concentrates on the design theories and methods developed and taught at the Institute of Design, in areas like user observation and research, prototyping, interaction design, visualization and strategic design planning.
January 21, 2003
Kiss bad ads goodbye
Gunnar Swanson seems to be saying useful things on nearly every list I'm on (and that's a lot of lists). Today on the citizendesign list, he pointed out Andy Goodman's Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes:
Whether your work involves creating print ads from scratch or reviewing finished products, Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes can help you work smarter. Based on an unprecedented 10-year study of public interest advertising, and incorporating interviews with leading practitioners in the field, this book will help you understand once and for all what readers are looking for and whether or not your ad is giving it to them.
I haven't had a chance to give this a really solid look-through, but I won't be surprised if some of this is valuable to designers of information products other than ads. There's a free download, so I'd be sure to take a look!
January 9, 2003
For some lighter reading, check out some pithy quotes on usability, design, and assorted other topics.
January 8, 2003
I continue to be fascinated by the US Mint's state quarters. So I followed the pointer peterme provided to a site that encourages California residents to vote for their favorite out of 20 semi-finalists. Kudos to Governor Davis who "believes that it is important to have commentary from the public to help realize this vision." They don't actually get to choose, but at least they get to provide some feedback.
Both peterme (and later Christina) wondered about some of the designs, noting that one or more were, ahem, not exactly the standard you'd expect for this stage of the process. The one in the upper right is my choice (here's the large version of it).
My rationale? First, only one of the first 20 states has used an image on their state's design that was specific to a single city within that state--New York, which used the Statue of Liberty. Oh, perhaps the race car on Indiana's is city-specific. And I see that the Illinois quarter (not in circulation yet?) has a tiny Chicago skyline on theirs. I just wonder if I was a California resident of San Diego, LA, or Sacramento (or any other city other than San Fran) whether I'd be happy if the Golden Gate Bridge was the primary symbol on the quarter. And I think those that tried to fit in multiple symbols (like film or trees or animals along with the bridge) were too cluttered...not elegant.
In addition, I don't know if I penalized the ones that didn't render their design in realistic fashion and/or give points to the ones that did. I appreciated the coin-like rendering, but I particularly liked those that incorporated the state-specific copy (California - 1850 on top, 2005, E PLURIBUS UNUM on the bottom). It's not a penalty if they weren't instructed to deliver their designs this way (and thus something the state should have thought of, perhaps). But I think it's that same lesson I learned years ago at the Four Seasons in Austin. Not eveyone will notice attention paid to little details. But if they do notice, they will likely think better of you (and your product). Either way, an interesting lesson, methinks.
Finally, I think that some of the designs had details that looked okay in their large versions but would get lost actual size...or as the Mint says, wouldn't be "coinable." But I love the idea of a quarter with the sequoia's rings radiating out from the center of the quarter; if they could coin the branches of that awesome charter oak for Connecticut, the rings should be easy). California's decision-makers may well decide that some other symbols (state border? gold rush? Hollywood?) need to be there. But for my money, I'll take #17!
Design Research News
From Ken Friedman:
DRN is now the largest design research publication in the world -- and one of the most successful electronic newsletters in any field. Despite the success of DRN, circulation is below critical mass for our field. Given the number of scholars, teachers, and research students active in design research around the world, we must grow several times more to approach critical mass.
January 4, 2003
Loop Number 6, Archiving ED
One of the highlights is a virtual roundtable (i.e., all participants via email in traditional roundtable format) that included Challis, Nathan Shedroff, Brenda Laurel, and Peter Morville among the participants. The subject for the roundtable was the "critical question" of how those in the field could preserve (or archive) the field's artifacts.
I've not had the time to give this the thorough attention it deserves, but a few things caught my eye. One was that Loop's publishers built in the ability for readers to add their own comments. While this mechanism doesn't always lend itself to a necessarily high signal-to-noise ratio, I think that the ability for readers to interact with (and provide feedback to) authors in such a direct form is one of the reasons that the web contributes to what peterme called the inexorable march away from rigid, high cost journals and towards a wider, less costly distribution. It takes some courage for a journal to put out its prose and invite something between literary response and graffiti, so kudos to AIGA.
I did think it was curious that question one paired experience design and interaction design together in a way that suggested the terms were interchangeable ("Do you see value in explicitly addressing the history of Experience/Interaction Design?"). Nathan addressed this in his response to question 1:
When I use the term, Experience Design, Im not just using it as a euphemism for Digital Design. I mean the deliberate approach to building objects, services, environments, events and experiences with a focus (or, at least, an acknowledgement) of the experience that people have with these things (as opposed to focusing only on the traditional aspects of these solutions).
The panelists spend a good deal of time talking about the challenges of dealing with the issues of the user and context. For example, Brenda Laurel writes:
I would be surprised if anyone felt it were possible to record experience design without recording some of the experiences themselves with participation and responses from their contemporary audiences ...
That's a serious challenge. Another one seems to be the technological challenge. As the participants note, how do you archive an interactive experience without the hardware and software needed to enable the design?
December 26, 2002
Design and emotion
How cool...maybe I'll make it into Don Norman's next book on design and emotion. I'd forgotten he'd asked for people's love/hate relationships with products back in May. After a more recent request on the CHI-WEB list, he's posted a summary of responses. My May contribution:
After plunking down $400 for an iPod, I almost wouldn't have cared about the product after having unwrapped the packaging, it was that nice. What I've said before is that this affect/engaging/enjoyment quality is above all else a market differentiator. If you're the only one selling a widget, then yeah, it can be unusable and unenjoyable. But once there gets to be competition, preference (rather than performance) becomes very important.
December 13, 2002
Users as designers
I wanna try and get in another quick entry before lunch is over. I've recently come across three papers that all touch on a seemingly serendipitous thread related to user-centered design.
First, Mike Lee just emailed me about an entry he just did on naked objects, which are:
core business objects, such as Customer, Product, and Order, that show directly through to the user, rather than being hidden behind the menus, forms, process-scripts and dialogue boxes that make up most user interfaces. ... naked objects give you less control over the detailed layout, typography and visual style of the presentation. However, this can be surprisingly liberating. (from here)
Mike wonders if these signal the impending death of visual and interaction design. Which brings us to paper #2: Usability and Open Source Software, which points out (among other things) that:
The OSS approach fails for end user usability because there are 'the wrong kind of eyeballs' looking at, but failing to see, usability issues. In some ways the relatively new problem with OSS usability reflects the earlier problem with commercial systems development ... The key difference between the two approaches is this: commercial software development has recognised these problems and can employ specific HCI experts to 're-balance' their processes in favour of users. However, volunteer-led software development does not have the ability to hire in missing skill sets to ensure that user-centred design expertise is present in the development team.
This brings us to paper #3 from the folks at First Monday: Beyond "Couch Potatoes": From Consumers to Designers and Active Contributors, which lays a case for users to be able to act as designers and not just consumers in personally meaningful activities. The author makes some interesting comparisons to architecture and open-source software regarding the designer/comsumer spectrum.
As Mike suggests, definitely fodder for a long train ride and not leisure online reading!
December 10, 2002
December 7, 2002
New direction for AIGA
Back before there was an AIfIA, there were a number of associations who wanted to convince the IA crowd that they'd be a good home. One of these was AIGA ED, who reasonably felt that experience design was a great umbrella for what the IA crowd were doing. However, this was not an obvious fit, particularly for the polar bear IAs. For them, AIGA was about graphic design, a presentation layer field, while IA was more about things not quite so visible...a structural layer field. (Yes, I oversimplify, and I certainly don't speak for any particular IA.) I bet that it didn't help that there was also the high cost of entry for AIGA.
But one thing is true...AIGA has apparently made good on its plans to become more than an association for graphic design. From the recent issue of Communique, AIGA's monthly email newsletter:
At its fall meeting, the AIGA national board ratified a new direction for the organization. AIGAs highest priority will be to communicate the value of designingas a way of problem solvingto the business community.
Indeed. This is apparently reflected in the fact that the latest issue of GAIN, AIGA's Journal of Design and Business, has as its feature an article on the Airstream trailer. Not exactly a graphic design subject!
I think this is an interesting move. On the one hand, I wish they'd simply moved to focusing more on communication design...Lord knows there are still horrible information/communication products out there. On the other hand, an association that helps shine a spotlight on design, the useful business process, can only be a good thing.
I am curious about how much the new AIGA's mission overlaps that of the IDSA, the Industrial Designers Society of America. Of course, having somewhat overlapping missions doesn't seem to have hurt IEEE and ACM.
Finally, one last note about IDSA. I made a similar observation over a year ago, but this continues to amaze me. The IDSA site is essentially the same today as it was when it was designed by MAYA Design in 1996. I was there, though I didn't make any contributions to the design (but I comfort myself thinking I may have done just a little in the production!). Of course, had I contributed to the design, I would never have let them do a framed site :). But nonetheless, wherever Nick Sabadosh and Noah Guyot are today, they should be very pleased!
December 4, 2002
NYTimes on design
This past weekend, the New York Times magazine featured a variety of articles on design (free, registration required). Much of it focuses on the other ID (industrial design), but nonetheless, it's great to see design get such a high profile!
November 25, 2002
Big versus little
Christina asks is big IA dead? Of course, I can't resist the opportunity to comment, using the opportunity to once again bring up the film director metaphor. I do resist pointing out that the AIfIA has a Sisyphean task ahead of them trying to claim this "big" space.
October 31, 2002
When I first began dabbling in design, I went and picked up a copy of Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book. If you are a snooty designer, you may hold up your nose, but I did and still do like the way that Williams approaches the subject. But I don't mean to debate that here. What I am more interested in is just a bit of personal whimsy in extending an acronym that comes out of Williams' book.
If you aren't familiar with her work, Williams distills design theory into four basic principles: contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. She points out that this creates a "memorable--but very inappropriate" acronym. Well, hell. One person's inappropriate is another person's "ya gotta love it." (grin)
Anyways, one day I was doodling in class, and noticed that the two principles that my typography professor was constantly reinforcing--audience and purpose--happened to be the last two letters of CRAP. I started thinking about what the other letters could stand for that might complement these, and as of right now, have come up with constraints and requirements.
I comment about this now, as this issue of business needs or constraints has been recently discussed within the context of user-centered design. For example, in this article by Jeff Lash on the myth of user-centered IA and this interview with Peter Merholz and Nathan Shedroff.
I suppose that after decades of BCD (business-centered design:), where the user was a faint afterthought, if it was a thought at all, there may be a tendency to feel that the pendulum needs to swing all the way to the other side to compensate. But we would be well served by counteracting this tendency. Those of us in these various interdependent, interdisciplinary fields will be far more successful if we collaborate with business, rather than set up some new Mars vs Venus "just can't communicate" fodder!
October 29, 2002
Amy Lee is a work colleague and very patient wife of Mike (look at him now...he's acquired a light on a headband so he can take Sidekick photos in low light! Now here's someone with a gadget fixation :). Earlier today, she sent me a paper on what's called "wicked" problems. The author notes (here) that a wicked problem is "one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem."
Intrigued, I started to read, and then I started wondering how this guy managed to be a fly on the wall in some of our meetings! He notes that a related issue is fragmentation, and that that occurs when "stakeholders in a project are all convinced that their version of the problem is correct." This has certainly been the case where I work, and perhaps is an interesting way to frame the Mars and Venus designer vs usability specialist "war". He also raises the issue of social complexity, which again is related to project stakeholders:
One factor that increases the wickedness of a problem is the number and diversity of stakeholders involved. A stakeholder, as the term implies, is someone who holds a stake in the outcome. Stakeholders are players in the social network around a project, and their input and participation is important to the project’s overall success. Stakeholders often have the power to stop, undermine or even sabotage a project if it threatens them or their designated organizational role.
While this document (which is only one chapter in a forthcoming book) is short on solutions, it is an interesting way of looking at the design process. Whether designers are working on a web site, or documentation for an online product, or forms to fill out one's taxes, this concept of "wicked" problems and the challenges of collaborative design in a technology environment would seem to be worth further attention (the currency of the information age :).
September 17, 2002
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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