November 8, 2004
Election good news, bad news
More from JOHO the blog re the election. The good news: folks from the University of Michigan have provided some additional maps for those depressed by the garden variety red maps. Here's their cartogram by county, which adjusts the sizes of counties according to their population and the color by proportion of votes:
Now the bad news: there's already a report that appears to show that traditionally heavily Democratic counties in Florida apparently voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Gay marriage opponents? Or something else? I'm sure we'll never know.
November 5, 2004
Here's the RSS feed.
UX and visibility
Speaking of filing things away, here's part of an email I just sent to the InfoD-Cafe list in response to Loren Needle's email re information design visibility. Many UX fields (usability, graphic design, IxD, IA, tech writing) have this same "why don't they value us?" kind of undercurrent, and I think Challis makes a critical point. Below is a linked version of my response.
Anyways, what I wanted to add to this discussion is to point to Challis Hodge's article titled Design is Broken and Needs to be Fixed. Here's a snippet:
I have listened for decades now as we designers have debated in circles, chased our tails and whined about business not understanding what we do and the value we bring. 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 dont get why business doesnt understand.
I also think there's another theory that may be of use in these issues of visibility (for we share them with many, many other professions). It's diffusion of innovation theory (Rogers) aka crossing the chasm (Moore) aka the tipping point (Gladwell). It's a very complex and interesting theory, but I think the point that applies here is this: there is a gap/chasm/space between the point where something is used by the early adopters/visionaries and the early majority/pragmatists. And that space has everything to do with communication of value. The language we use is not the language used by those we would seek to convince. For me, this is exactly in line with what Challis is saying. And this is where we should look to find ways to make progress.
November 3, 2004
Well, George Bush got one thing right: "America has spoken" indeed. Over 55 million Americans wanted a change, but didn't get it. And here in the District, where Bush didn't even draw 10% of the vote, the mood is pretty somber.
I credit John Kerry for being dignified enough to avoid drawing us into a repeat of 2000. But boy, is the future frightening. We've got big problems at home and abroad. But this election did something that no other had done...it got me involved for the first time (other than voting). I wrote letters, I made phone calls, I donated money. So what now?
Well, for one, I have joined the ACLU. It may not be ideal, but it's a start. And then, to make myself feel better (even if falsely) that it's not about "us" versus "them", I played around in Photoshop to create my own version of the election map. Instead of coding each state by winner, I've coded them based on percentage of vote (I used the New York Times data for the percentages, with RGB values equal to %Rep*255, 0, %Dem*255).
Nearly half the states had around 10% swing or less. In other words, there are plenty of people in middle America who voted for Kerry, and plenty in the metros who voted for Bush (including 1/3 of my traditionally bleeding heart liberal county voters). Even the right-most leaning state (Utah) had more than 1/4th of its voters go for Kerry. And more than 1/3 of the voters in Texas didn't want to re-elect W.
What we liberals need to do is engage with the moderate Republicans before we find ourselves back in 1950s America. And honestly, if we don't want 8 more years after this, we need to figure out a way to counteract the Karl Rove machinery, 'cause I'm sure he's not done when W is. (Won't John McCain be surprised when he gets railroaded out again.)
We gotta find the middle. 'Cause we're no match for the new GOP when it comes to arguing the extremes.
October 29, 2004
Karen Schriver on ballots
Karen Schriver, one of my fave info designers, has been fairly active on the InfoD-Cafe list recently. In her first post, she points to some interesting press coverage in Florida re ballots. This one (Miami Herald; no registration required) points out issues with so-called "broken arrow" ballots. This one (Orlando Sentinel; registration required...feel free to use IDblog/IDblog as your login/password) is a more in-depth critique of Florida's ballots, with Karen as one of the expert reviewers (Tim Shanahan, from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Center for the Study of Literacy, is the other).
Karen's post has led into a very interesting thread, so check out the ID-Cafe archives if this topic is of interest.
October 21, 2004
ID Case Study: Timelines
David Sless alerted ID-Cafe readers to a recently updated case study on the users voice in the timetable dialogue. In it, they use the opportunity to test Tufte's approach to visual timelines. It's a very nice read; the folks at CRIA make even their HTML pages read very nicely ('tho there were some presumably browser issues that caused text to overlap images).
I personally didn't care for the timelines version (it helped that the enhanced numeric version was so nicely designed). And preference (versus performance) wasn't addressed (something I've been interested in since Jared Spool wrote about it). But that may or may not have been an issue...the case study notes that while they were able to test their prototypes with potential users, they didn't have access to all the stakeholders, and thus, weren't able to go to the next level...support both designs to maximize audience usability.
Be sure to check out their publications list for other goodies.
October 9, 2004
Rock 'n Roll Timeline
My DSL is out, so I'm going to postpone checking this site out in depth, but you may want to go ahead and take a look at the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Timeline (thanks to Thom on the ID-Cafe mailing list for the pointer).
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>
September 21, 2004
This 'n that
Oy, mea culpa for being a bit absent here. Right now, it's been all conferences, all the time for me. I've been one of the coordinators for the Aging by Design conference next week that's being co-hosted by AARP and Bentley College. There's still time to sign up, and we have a fab list of speakers.
I'm also working on what I'm affectionately referring to the "world's largest focus group" at AARP's National Event in Las Vegas in mid-October. If you're nearby, this is such a deal...just $10 for members, $20 for non-members for three days of cool speakers like Dave Barry, Frank Bielec (of Trading Spaces fame...a personal fave), Roger Ebert and more, and a packed exhibit hall.
On top of that, I'm getting reading for the planning meeting for STC's 52nd Annual Conference in Seattle next May. I'm the program manager for this event, and am working to make it a great conference for both STC regulars and newcomers interested in information design, usability, and other UX-related fields.
July 28, 2004
Announcing UXnet: What Lou said...
I've been waiting for Lou to go first, and he has:
Besides a minor quibble (it was UPA and DUX that were scheduled at the same time), Lou has really said this wonderfully. Please read the whole post and not just the part I've shamelessly stolen. Or visit the UXnet site and become part of the community. As Lou says:
But there's so much promise in this concept; what we right need now is support, encouragement and, perhaps, a little courage. And soon, volunteers.
Oh, and we're working on the $$ issue too :).
July 27, 2004
CFP: STC Annual Conference, Seattle, May 8-11, 2005
Do you have something to share about information architecture, usability, or information design? Then STC, the Society for Technical Communication, would like to hear from you! We're currently accepting proposals for our next annual conference.
"That's a tech writers conference." you say. Well, yes, there are many tech writers who attend. But STC is home to several thousand members who belong to its usability, information design, online, and indexing special interest groups, and our conferences attract many outside the "traditional" realm of writing and editing.
Here's just a sampling from last year's conference in Baltimore:
You can also see more sessions from last year.
Speakers receive a discount on an otherwise value-priced conference. We also welcome speakers from all levels, as our conference attracts those who are new to the field as well as those who have been in the field for decades. And Seattle is a *wonderful* conference city, with the conference is located in the heart of downtown.
To see the full Call or to submit a proposal, please visit the STC CFP site soon.
The deadline for proposals is 12 noon ET, August 12, 2004.
July 12, 2004
A blog version of show 'n tell
Into photography? Like stories? Then you'd probably enjoy A Picture's Worth. Here's some info:
Officially launched on the 1st of August 2003, A Picture's Worth is a personal project that aims to highlight the inspiration that can arise from a photograph and to capture it in the form of words which in turn can reveal the true beauty of a photograph. Ultimately, the project seeks to inspire and enhance captivating story writing and beautiful photography.
Some of the photos are really amazing, and ya just gotta love how the whole "word of mouth" thing works. Now to find a photo with a good story...
July 3, 2004
Mining the search logs
It's been quite a while, but I finally got around to reviewing the search logs to see what folks were searching for. Over the years, I've actually found some interesting stuff by doing a Google search for some of these.
But I found a couple of, umm, interesting queries this go-round. Here are some highlights:
Okay, it's an information design weblog (with a few political off-topic posts thrown in). Reality TV? Tornado? I don't think so. And while I have blogged some of these (like Florence Nightingale -- an early info designer), the above search queries are clearly doomed to failure.
Maybe people think it's a Google search? There, picture of Florence Nightingale's lamp returns 250 pages.
That said, these still don't match my favorite search query (from work):
I paid my dues now where's my card?
Which, alas, does not return any results on our site either.
Searching for people is common. Recent searches have been for Mary Yeo, Joyce Yee, and John Rheinfrank. John has quite the impressive pedigree (Scient, Doblin Group, and Fitch). I gotta find out how he wound up in daBurgh!
July 2, 2004
Intro to web fonts
Another list goodie: All you wanted to know about Web type but were afraid to ask. If you like this, be sure to browse the full topic list for more.
June 7, 2004
Information design goodies
June 3, 2004
A book for your next flight
I was using Bloglines neat references feature to see who had linked to yesterday's geek item. It turns out that Jim McGee is a Super Geek. More importantly, he had a couple of items in his weblog I found very interesting. First, there was this pointer to a more detailed analysis of the girls are evil proof (the comments are good too).
He also had a link to this cool looking book called Window Seat by Gregory Dicum:
Window Seat decodes the sights to be seen on any flight across North America. Broken down by region, this handy little softcover book features 70 aerial photographs; a fold-out map of North America showing major flight paths; profiles of each region covering its landforms, waterways, and cities; tips on spotting major and not-so-major sights; and straightforward, friendly text on cloud shapes, weather patterns, the continent's history, and more.
Here's a sample page:
June 2, 2004
Karen Schriver on document design
Karen Schriver was across the pond recently, where she presented a session on The Changing Face of Document Design and Technical Communication at the STIC symposium in the Netherlands. I'd love a more annotated PowerPoint, but I found some of the slides interesting nonetheless...it's worth the ~1Mb download to review her trends and implications. One slide that caught my eye was her trends in professional development, which she mapped as follows:
Those of you who hate the what's in a name kind of discussions may not be interested, but I certainly appreciate the effort. I'd love to quibble with Karen over the doc design/info design/info architecture borders, but hey, I love to quibble :).
Thanks to InfoDesign for the pointer.
June 1, 2004
My 15 minutes of fame
Blush...I'm the June profile at one of my favorite sites: InfoDesign. This was actually quite fun, and my thanks go to Peter for the opportunity. It took me longer than I thought to come up with answers, and some of them were quite tough...you try and pick the most important social change...I couldn't. Civil rights, women's rights, the Internet, oh my!
And picking a best place on Earth?!? Yikes! I'm not sure I've been there yet, but of the places I've been, Boston (which really means Boston/Cambridge/Somerville and beyond) is the one I'd go back to (and I hope to!).
May 23, 2004
Historical Event Markup and Linking Project
Hmmm, this one's for the archives--it's the Historical Event Markup and Linking project. It's a bit XML-heavy for me to grok completely, but the concept seems really interesting. Here's Loren Needle's recent description on the InfoD-Cafe list:
A hallmark of the Internet is the opportunity it affords scholars and researchers to present information in novel and interactive ways. One such application that operates in this vein is the Historical Event Markup and Linking Project. The Project allows users to coordinate and navigate through historical materials on the Internet by giving them the ability to create animated maps, interactive timelines or event tables that combine a number of web-based or static resources. The project's homepage contains sample ideas for general perusal, and a developer's guide for interested parties.
Those who are into this history and the Internet phenomenon may be interested in the history dept at George Mason. A PhD that lets you look at new media and IT? How cool is that!
May 20, 2004
Peter Bogaards on IA and ID
Gee, I'd thought Peter was so busy with the fab informationdesign.org that I hadn't realized how much he'd updated his own site, BogieLand. I particularly like his ID and IA FAQs. Of course, that's because I hold very similar views about the differences between ID and IA (a long-time hobby that is not shared by everybody :).
Coming from the tech comm world, I'd like to think that there are other typical deliverables, but you can't do an IA/ID discussion without a modicum of quibbling (or more :).
May 4, 2004
Digital libraries and museums
The latest issue of First Monday is out. IAs and UX types should be interested in some of the articles which are selected from the recent Web-Wise 2004 conference on Libraries and Museums in the Digital World.
As a Yinzer (you can take the girl out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of the girl), I'm looking forward to reading the Imaging Pittsburgh paper and surfing the Historic Pittsburgh website.
April 20, 2004
Schriver does the 1040
Rats. The ID-Cafe list, though seemingly using the wonderful mailman list software, has woefully out-of-date archives. If they were current, I would have pointed you to a great post by one of my favorite gurus, Karen Schriver (author of Dynamics in document design).
Karen has recently taken a stab at redesigning the US 1040 tax form. She's now heard back all the reasons why the IRS can't make any of her suggested changes. Sigh.
Check out this expanded detail for a review of the changes and the IRS response. Scary!
Karen is speaking on day 1 of the STC conference (a scary good panel with Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, and Whitney Quesenbery). There's still time to register and STC offers one-day rates :). So if you have a chance, don't miss it!
April 15, 2004
Reminder: STC Baltimore in May
Wow...how time flies. Just a month ago, I mentioned some of the UX highlights of the upcoming STC conference in Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor area (May 9-12). I said I'd be doing more stumping for it as we got closer...well, it's time!
First of all, just a reminder. If you thought STC was just for tech writers, think again! Non-members pay just $650 for a three-day conference featuring over 200 sessions in topics that include usability and information design, tools and technology, theory and research, and management. Early registration is slated to end next Friday, April 23rd. There's a chance they'll extend it through the weekend, but why wait?
UX speakers include Ben Shneiderman (keynote), Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, Whitney Quesenbery, Karen Schriver, Ann Rockley, Bill Killam, Thom Haller, Carol Barnum, Caroline Jarrett, Mike Lee and many more!
Don't miss our tutorials!
If you're planning to attend the conference, or if you're relatively local to Baltimore, I'd also like to encourage you to consider one or more of STC's post-conference tutorial workshops on UX-related topics (you do not have to attend the conference to attend a tutorial workshop). At $100 for a half-day or $200 for a full-day session, these sessions are an excellent value featuring leading speakers in their fields.
Brand Experience and Technical Communication - AM
Using the Latest Research to Make Effective Web Design
and Usability Decisions - AM
Understanding Visual Communication - AM
Designing Effective Visuals for Presentations - PM
Managing User-Centered Design Projects - PM
Crafting Personas to Guide Design
Note that if you do not attend one or more days of the conference, there will be a $50 surcharge to sign up for a tutorial...but $250 (or $150) is still a great rate! Visit the STC conference site for more info and to register.
Hope to see you there!
March 17, 2004
ID in motion
I'm into convergence. I have a combo TV/VCR, a combo TV/DVD, a phone/answering machine, and a Treo that does phone, WWW, and syncs with my Outlook. So I'm not one of those "convergence is a myth" folks. Thus I'm very interested in seeing what happens as broadband becomes commonplace on the Internet. This was part of the reason that I titled my chapter in Content and Complexity (more links in the bottom right nav) "Information Design in Motion."
Anyways, all this is a prequel to a couple of interesting video snippets that came across my inbox today. Not exactly in the traditional ID sense, but both are great examples of how motion on the Internet/WWW is so much more compelling than their broadcast counterparts.
First, there's MoveOn.org's snippet of Donald Rumsfeld who "got caught blatantly contradicting his past statements." You can probably count on one hand the number of people who watched Face the Nation (okay, just a gross exaggeration), thus the ability to actually see Rumsfeld squirm is so much more effective than reading a transcript. And given the blogosphere/email, this snippet is going to be seen a magnitude or more frequently than the original. (Hmmm...it's like Janet Jackson's breast...turnabout is fair play?)
On a completely different note is this slick page from the folks at Lebonze over in the UK. No, it's not exactly a great delivery of any critical information, but c'mon, even if you hate Flash, you have to be just a little bit impressed by the accomplishment. It's seeing this kind of experiment that may help someone else think about new possibilities for interacting with web readers/visitors (a la You Don't Know Jack).
March 16, 2004
Looking for a great conference to go to that's value-priced? Then I'd check out STC's annual conference in Baltimore. I'll stump more for this in the future (closer to the early registration date in late April), but here's are some highlights for the early birds.
and a whole lot more. Check out the full list of usability and information design sessions. And if you haven't been (or think Baltimore is just what you saw on Homicide), let me assure you that Baltimore is a *fab* conference city. Lots of fun for the whole family, or for the single visitor. (Or for the John Waters fan...one of my fave stops is the Papermoon Diner).
For more info, check out the registration page. Hope to see you there!
February 26, 2004
is an inline browser applet for image comparison and manipulation. Users can import images into the applets display area, arrange them in any configuration simply by clicking and dragging, magnify them, and apply basic image processing. The Lightbox will be of potential interest to anyone presenting images on the Web in a context where active comparisonwhat John Unsworth calls a scholarly primitiveis desirable.
There's a screenshot that gives you an idea about how this might be used. Slick!
February 23, 2004
Fun speaker opportunity
Are you attending STC's annual conference in Baltimore's fabulous Inner Harbor in May? Want some more encouragement and/or a fun speaking opportunity? If speakers like Ben Shneiderman, Steve Krug, Ginny Redish, Whitney Quesenbery, Mike Lee, Dirk Knemeyer and Thom Haller don't do it for you, perhaps the idea (and cost savings) of being a speaker yourself may do it! The UID (usability and information design) stem can use just a couple more ID speakers to fill some progression slots that have become available.
In a typical progression, 8-12 speakers with a common theme meet in a large room and speak to 8-10 people at a time, 3x in a 90-minute session. Progressions are casual (no overhead projectors), interactive (meant to include lots of Q&A or discussion), and get you the speaker's discount!
Here are the available progressions. If you're interested, please follow up with Caroline Jarrett (or me, and I'll forward):
UID 5U "Willing and able"
UID 7B "Section 508 for Dummies"
UID 3B "Getting started in usability and information design"
UID 10A "Usability and information design
Feel free to email me if you have any questions or have an idea you want to run by someone.
Otherwise, hope to see you in Baltimore hon!
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!
January 9, 2004
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 6, 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 5, 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.
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 :).
December 29, 2003
I was browsing IDblog's activity log and noticed that a visitor had searched for Florence Nightingale. In case you weren't aware, Nightingale was an early pioneer of information design, specifically in the field of statistical graphics. I had mentioned her in the chapter I did for Content & Complexity (primarily citing Robert Horn).
Finding this search entry prompted me to do a bit of Googling, and I found a handful of interesting resources. First, there's this gallery of historical milestones in data visualization from York University. In it, there are stories and graphics from those you may be familiar with (Minard, Playfair) and those you may not.
An excellent article for ID history buffs is this Nightingale biography from the University of St Andrews, where I retrieved the image at right, an example of what Nightingale called a coxcomb. In this graphic, each pie-shaped wedge represents a month from April 1854 (just north of 9 o'clock) clockwise to March 1855 (just south of 9 o'clock). The outer greenish wedges represent deaths due to diseases such as cholera and typhus, the inner pinkish wedges represent deaths due to wounds, and the brownish wedges represent deaths due to other causes. This illustrated clearly that the major cause of death in British field hospitals during the Crimean War was not directly attributable to battle.
Statistics fans will also find Florence Nightingale's Statistical Diagrams an interesting read. Finally, real fans may want to stay tuned, as the University of Guelph is undertaking an effort to publish the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale. It looks like the volume related to her statistical work is one of the later ones (volume 14?).
December 21, 2003
Tim Bray on PowerPoint
If youre going to escape the tyranny of the bullet point, you have to get away from the idea that whats in your slides is the content of your presentation. Slides arent big enough or rich enough or smart enough to themselves contain any presentation worth listening to for more than about ten minutes. Instead, your slides are a visual auxiliary to your material; no more, no less.
Am I being crass for suggesting this is another "not the tool, but the toolsmith" perspective?
December 19, 2003
Mentor points to an Australian piece about information literacy and notes that tools are not the end-all, be-all. In the article, author Nathan Cochrane takes the position that for many of us, our skill sets may not be equal to the amount of information at our disposal:
Despite having more information at our fingertips than any generation before, there is little evidence that our ability to make good, timely decisions has improved. ... We have computer hardware and software but often ignore "wetware" - the first, most important, cog in the information seeking machine is ourselves.
Here are a few resources I found with a quick Google search that seem interesting re this subject: National Forum on Information Literacy (San Jose State University), Sheila Webber's information literacy weblog, and the ACRL Institute for Information Literacy.
Doc Searls on presentations
First, I've got to say I love PowerPoint, just like I used to love Persuasion, and before that I loved MORE, which was the original presentation program. In fact, I'm one of those guys for whom no software ever got in the way of anything other than the time I should spend away from the computer.
There's a lot more useful information about actually doing presentations, which I think supports my position that the problem is not the tool. The real issue is the lack of emphasis on designing something that really supports the audience rather than the speaker. Doc's got some useful real-world suggestions for changing the focus...check it out!
December 15, 2003
Perception is reality
I part company with Tufte when he blames this kind of sloppiness on PowerPoint itself. He compares it to a drug with "frequent, serious side effects" of inducing stupidity, wasting time and degrading "the quality and credibility of communication." He's wrong. PowerPoint doesn't corrupt; it concentrates. If you have something useful to say, it helps you say it in a more effective way; if you're ignorant or confused, PowerPoint makes it more obvious, but only to an audience that isn't in the same condition. Moreover, I'd argue that it's easier to be deliberately obscure, and to cover one's self against every possible outcome, in a document laden with footnotes and appendices than it is in a 40-word chart.
Thanks to Dave Weinberger for the pointer...and check out Dave's entry to find out why Hamlet wouldn't work as a newspaper article.
A history of information design
Conrad Taylor has generated another fab document for the information design community: it's his perspective of a specific information design history, based on his work for the UK-based firm Popular Communication. He writes:
The process of choosing which communication principles to teach, especially for our design and writing courses, has caused me and several of my colleagues to align ourselves with the Information Design movement. At the same time, we've drawn inspiration from people who are not usually identified as part of the Information Design community, such as Jan White (on publication design), David Ogilvy (on advertising writing and design), and various proponents of Plain English.
ID history buffs may also be interested in an ID timeline I put together a while back for STC's Information Design SIG. It needs updating, but I may wait until the new year, when the InfoDesign countdown elapses and we're treated to the next important step in ID history!
December 13, 2003
Still more Tufte
I'm not sure how I missed this...I must have added Design Observer to my latest RSS aggregator after this entry. Anyways, early in November, William Drentel added a part 2 on Tufte as a sequel to Jessica Helfand's part 1. I did blog the part 1, particularly since I didn't exactly agree with the point (nor did others...see the comments with the entry).
But I find a lot more to agree with in part 2. In particular, I think this is spot on:
...I want to suggest that PowerPoint was probably not a major contributor to the Columbia tragedy: it is pretty clear from the investigation and its final report that many people within NASA and Boeing thought the leaking foam was a (more) dangerous problem, and that the culture of NASA led to these voices being ignored.
Alas, I'm not quite ready, as Drentel seems to be, to buy into the view that PowerPoint is evil. One point that seems to be rather absent from these discussions is the fact that PowerPoint has other options than the bullet point to display information. The fact that speakers and corporations all over the nation (or globe) rely too heavily on bullet points is perhaps properly more an indictment of our bordering-on-zero visual design/literacy skills. There also seems to be very little discussion of the likelihood that the majority of slide authors make slides as a speaker's aid, rather than an audience (or reader) aid. From my current perspective, I wonder whether this might not be another "blame the author, not the tool" situation.
For others interested in this subject, I'm sure you'll want to check out the resources Drentel mentioned: Tufte's recent interview with I.D. magazine and Ian Parker's essay, originally published in the New Yorker: Absolute Powerpoint: Can A Software Package Edit Our Thoughts (published May 28, 2001).
Update, 12/14: Well, according to the NYTimes, PowerPoint isn't evil, instead PowerPoint Makes You Dumb. Yikes. Score another one for the Tufte/Nielsen "isn't spin great?" machinery.
Update, 12/15: Over on heyblog, Andrew echoes my thoughts re Helfand's issues with Tufte (though I didn't use the term "buttheaded rant" :). He does add some additional useful commentary re Tufte's Ask ET forums that's worth checking out. BTW, I work with Andrew's dad...how's that for small world?
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!
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 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 8, 2003
Here are a few links that caught my eye recently:
November 5, 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 3, 2003
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.
October 31, 2003
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 15, 2003
I came across the byrdhouse review today. It's tagline is "Smart talk about architecture, design, and photography." Very nice!
Two entries I particularly enjoyed were modHouse, which shows a series of logo comps that were developed for a client, and a recipe for color, which describes a neat way for coming up with a natural color palette for design.
The latter is cool just because it is such an easy technique to reproduce. The former is cool because it exposes something from the field of design that I'm not sure is common in the field of web design, and that's the idea of exploring lots and lots of solutions to a design problem.
I think this is related to the problem with high-fidelity prototypes. Once you get close to something that is real, it makes it much harder to go outside the box and consider a design that isn't simply an extension of a known design.
October 13, 2003
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde...
If you enjoyed the "According to a Cambridge researcher..." parlor trick that went around a while ago, you may also enjoy this page, which has a lot more useful stuff. Matt Davis provides some very interesting info about what's true and what's not necessarily true, and also a summary of what may have been the source of the theory. You can also find the same text in a whole bunch of different languages.
October 7, 2003
Information on the Assembly Line
Rats...it's a class night, and I've got to catch up on a couple chapters. So I can't do much more than make a quick blog entry for Jason Nichols' very intriguing looking masters thesis called Information on the Assembly Line (subtitled A review of Information Design and its Implications for Technical Communicators). Here's the PDF link if you prefer that to his HTML version (which is nicely designed).
I jumped right to the Defining Information Design chapter, and appreciated this comment for its general relevance in UX/ED/ID/IA:
While very few people seem to agree on just what information design is, everyone does agree that the reason it is so hard to define is that it draws from so many other disciplines and professions. ... As Robert Jacobson explains, the emerging field of information design possesses very little research, experimentation results, case studies, or anecdotal evidence that it can call its own. It thereby lacks a "coherent corpus of rules or principles a novice can obey".
I can't wait to dive into this and find out why the final chapter is called The Need to Learn Database Design Principles. Hmmmm.
BTW, thanks to Peter for another great tip.
September 28, 2003
NYTimes on PowerPoint
The recent media fascination with PowerPoint continues, with the latest coming from the New York Times (free, registration required):
Is there anything so deadening to the soul as a PowerPoint presentation?
The article goes on to rather superficially deal with the question of whether "PowerPoint-muffled messages have real consequences, perhaps even of life or death." The article summarized Tufte's analysis of one of the slides Boeing assembled related to the recent Columbia disaster this way:
Among other problems, Mr. Tufte said, a crucial piece of information that the chunk of foam was hundreds of times larger than anything that had ever been tested was relegated to the last point on the slide, squeezed into insignificance on a frame that suggested damage to the wing was minor.
As I just commented on the ID-Cafe list, I wonder if his analysis isn't really a bigger indictment of a human (or business?) tendency to either avoid saying something your superiors don't want to hear or the inability to actually find the relevant facts in a sea of data.
With all its faults, is PowerPoint really the reason that this key piece of evidence was buried where it was?
September 25, 2003
To caption or not to caption?
This recent First Monday article on the writing photo captions for the web is an interesting counterpoint to nowords.org, a photo gallery of satellite images and illustrations (the latter almost look like they could have been microscopic images). At least in the case of the satellite imagery, I would have loved to have known what I was looking at. Alas, no clue, not even ALT text.
September 22, 2003
Writing first for the web
We're fortunate to have Ginny Redish as a usability consultant (ah, one of the perks of living where we do :). I was poking around her website this morning and noticed that she had a handout online (PDF) that was a slightly updated version of her popular "Writing for the Web" presentation.
I must admit to having a bit of an "a ha" when I came across a point I think was relatively new. She wrote:
In the future, organize and write for the web first. If it is easy to use on the web, it will almost certainly make a great paper document.
In retrospect, it's kind of a "why didn't I think of that?" But if organizations could put it in place as a process, I think it might well improve both our online and print documents!
September 16, 2003
Usability and voting
This morning on the AIGA Experience Design list, Whitney pointed to a great resource on the UPA website. It's their voting and usability project. Fans of recent events (or California residents) may want to check out their section on the California recall election.
September 1, 2003
Umm, not exactly?
I suppose it's me, but it seems to me that MIT is confused about information architecture and information design:
Information design can be defined as the art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information. Information Architecture is the process or organizing and labeling content in a way your audience will understand.
I still haven't got past the (to me, compelling) idea that IA is about finding information in a site or info product and ID is about using information once it is found.
August 19, 2003
I shouldn't feel so pleased with myself (this wasn't exactly hard), but just a bit of URL hacking has yielded the second of Wired's two articles on PowerPoint (from their September issue).
The first, posted today, is by David Byrne: Learning to Love PowerPoint:
Although I began by making fun of the medium, I soon realized I could actually create things that were beautiful. I could bend the program to my own whim and use it as an artistic agent.
The second, which will be officially posted tomorrow, is by Edward Tufte: PowerPoint is Evil:
At a minimum, a presentation format should do no harm. Yet the PowerPoint style routinely disrupts, dominates, and trivializes content. Thus PowerPoint presentations too often resemble a school play -very loud, very slow, and very simple.
I've gotten Byrne's book (see last week). I've still not played the DVD, but the book left me less than wowed. The Wired article shows a few of the better pieces. There are many in the book where Byrne seems to have been "making fun of the medium" ... or something.
August 17, 2003
Conrad on literacy
Conrad Taylor has made available what looks to be an interesting read on "new" kinds of literacy: visual, media, and information. He wrote this as the backdrop for a forthcoming workshop in London called "Explanatory & Instructional Graphics and Visual Information Literacy." His 22-page paper, "New kinds of literacy, and the world of visual information" (PDF; 400K),
explains the history of these terms and asks whether these metaphorical extensions of ‘literacy’ are just a rhetorical device to inflate the importance of these fields of study, or if there really are literacy-like aspects to them. He concludes that there is at least a case for the concept of Visual Literacy when it applies to information graphics: we could call this Visual Information Literacy.
As an aside, I sure wish that more proceedings papers were as nicely designed as this one!
Brands and culture
Andrew Zolli has an interesting read about brands, commercialism, and culture in his weblog called No Logo vs. Pro Logo: How Both Sides Get It Wrong (sorry, you gotta scroll...no permalinks). He makes a fairly good case for why the "anti-corporate activist and corporate leader" need to meet in the middle:
For starters, brands aren't invading the culture, for many they are the culture. The marketplace has trumped other 'meaning making' institutions in people's lives, from political parties to religious institutions. Ask an average citizen to name their elected representatives and you'll get a disinterested stare, but everybody has a passionately held opinion about Walmart.
There's more good stuff there. But I must admit that every once in a while, I just get a kick out of checking out the activist stuff (like these spoof ads from the folks at Adbusters).
August 13, 2003
Dilbert does Tufte
Speaking of PowerPoint, here's an interesting link from Shane at co][nz: it's David Byrne and his "Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information." Talking Heads fans may appreciate the publisher's description, part of which includes:
[This] is a book of images and essays, plus a DVD which plays 5 of his PowerPoint presentations accompanied by original music. ... And you may ask yourself, what is the meaning of this? And you may ask yourself, what is this about? It is about taking subjective, even emotional, information and presenting it in a familiar audiovisual form--using a medium in a way that is different, and possibly better, than what was intended.
August 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!
August 4, 2003
Yet another UX/ED organization?
Well, well, well. So what is one to think of the Nielsen/Norman Group's Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini's column Why We Get No Respect? In it, he notes that:
We've been complaining bitterly, these last 25 years, that we get no respect, that we are thought of as nothing more than decorators, if we are thought of at all. Guess what? We have no one to blame but ourselves. We have sat on the sidelines, perpetually powerless, whining, instead of changing up the game so we can win.
Who, pray tell, could he be talking about? Graphic designers? Information designers? IAs? Usability specialists? Tech writers? The list of folks who feel undervalued and invisible (and nervous in this economic climate) is not a short one, and according to Tog, we need to add interaction designers to the list too.
His solution? We need a new title for the role of the "software designers, or interaction engineers, or human interface folks, or whatever we who create the interaction model for our products." Tog suggests interaction architect for the title, and he also suggests a new association to promote this new brand, the Interaction Architect's Association.
All I can say is, anyone remember the story of the Tower of Babel :).
Hmmm, perhaps it is time for the Order of the Elephant, whose logo can be based on the diagram that Lou Rosenfeld and Jess McMullin created a while back (see right, here for a large version). What's nice about this as an overarching organization is that it acknowleges the majority of those who have been making claims to either small or large parts of the UX/ED/IA/ID/etc space over the last few years.
Of course, since it is based on the fable, we're currently limited to only six distinct disciplines, which will likely be a problem down the road.
Seriously, I don't begrudge Tog and the interaction designers their need to find their own space--though it now looks like we may need a round-robin match in order to determine the owner of the overarching discipline :). I'm also amused that some IAs (that's information architects, not interaction architects), are seemingly unhappy with Tog's effort, when it was only a couple years ago that they rebuffed welcomes from organizations like AIGA and ASIS&T for the apparently desirous environment of their own organization.
BTW, the one point that I do fault (albeit in a friendly sort of way) in Tog's call is his distate for the label design. I think this is a red herring. Brands are re-positioned all the time, and buying the argument that design is undervalued or disrespected need not imply that it always needs to be that way, or that a new term is needed. This is what marketing is good at. And there are groups like the Corporate Design Foundation, the Design Management Institute, and the Design Council whose are doing the work of selling design to business through education and outreach and, if supported, might lead to the elimination of the "wimp" connotation of design in our field(s).
But that's just a disgression to the real issue, which is a potential new organization that will be added to the fold. Heck, what's one more :). Assuming Tog deals with AIfIA the same way he has with HFES and CHI (and given his emphasis on labels and brand, I suspect the answer will be "thanks, but no thanks"), it will be most interesting to see this play out. The IAs are so strong online, with their lists, and weblogs, and raw volunteer power. But while the IAs have their share of best-selling luminaries, Tog would seem to have more access to corporate America (and their attention and their dollars).
August 3, 2003
The emergence of New Media has stimulated debate about the power of the visual to dethrone the cultural prominence of textuality and print. Some scholars celebrate the proliferation of digital images, arguing that it suggests a return to a pictorial age when knowledge was communicated through images as well as through words. Others argue that the inherent conflict between texts and images creates a battleground between the feminized, seductive power of images and the masculine rationality of the printed word. Eloquent Images suggests that these debates misunderstand the dynamic interplay that has always existed between word and image.
Thanks to MGK for the pointer.
August 1, 2003
Producer or director? Or both?
I probably should reply via comment, but I think it'd look cheesy to pile up the "recent comments" area on the right with my added noise, so heck, why not a new entry? Warning: if you hate quibbling about titles, stop reading now!
In response to one of yesterday's entries, Eric Scheid (who maintains the most excellent IAwiki) wrote:
"an integrator who brings disciplines together to create an excellent [..] solution?"
Okay, first of all, I'd admit that my understanding of film is definitely not sophisticated. But when you talk about great films, which comes to mind first? Who the producer is? Or who the director is? The two may work very closely together, but when I think about major artistic contributions (read experience), I think director.
You're certainly right that a producer is ultimately responsible for solutions. And the Producers Guild agrees that this includes creative responsibility. But I've always presumed that producers tended to be more business focused (controlling the money), while directors were the more creative focused (controlling the vision).
[Producers] often act in a supervisory capacity (see next paragraph), but on most projects will maintain a low profile, ceding major artistic decisions to the director. Instead, the producer is there as a technical and logistical problem-solver, making practical and procedural decisions so the director is free to focus on the creative work of actually making the film.
So maybe the real answer is that both producers and directors bring together disciplines to create excellent movies (or information products). The question then is: which of these two roles would you rather have? Being the logistical problem-solver? Or the creative? Seems very yin/yang.
July 29, 2003
Dirk on ID
In case you were wondering, no, I hadn't missed Dirk's Information Design: The Understanding Discipline over on Boxes and Arrows. I'd been holding off because it raises a bunch of issues for me that I'm hoping to mull over and write up, perhaps a bit more formally than a blog entry. There's another, somewhat related concept I've also been bouncing back and forth in my brain, and that's looking at how diffusion of innovation theory (the framework for my master's thesis) applies to this issue of having UCD-related work "valued" by business. More later (she hopes).
But two quick comments about Dirk's article. First, I'm less inclined than Dirk to see information design as THE overarching discipline. I like that he argues it (it creates some opposition to others who would claim it :), but I think that it is hard not to tar ID with the same brush that others have been: when something has such a strong tactical component (the "little" piece), it is (IMO) a Sisyphean task to create real consensus among disparate groups that it is "the" overarching discipline (yet to be contrary, I'm not sure that creating new titles works either).
The other comment is related to the ID as director analogy. Dirk no longer believes in that, preferring instead to say that "information design is the integrator that brings other disciplines together to create excellent information solutions."
Hmmm...isn't a director an integrator who brings disciplines together to create an excellent information solution? Anyways, I don't want to beat this into the ground. But that said, I'm annoyed that I didn't write down what Sydney Pollack said in the commercial for the Alfred Hitchcock episode of his "Essentials" series on TMC. It was something to the effect that one of the things that made Hitchcock stand out as a director was his use of the medium to add to the story. It struck me as an interesting possibility for the ID as director concept.
July 24, 2003
This 'n that
In the spirit of Kottke's remaindered links, here are a few that struck my fancy recently.
InfoDesign goes MT!
July 21, 2003
Search engine for global poor
How cool. From the July 16 Edupage:
MIT DEVELOPING SEARCH ENGINE FOR GLOBAL POOR
July 18, 2003
Into information design? Consider getting involved
From the call from Dirk Knemeyer:
A variety of people and groups around the world are coming together to build and promote the discipline of Information Design. We would love to have you involved! As an initial step we are asking everyone who may be interested to fill out a simple online survey.
Please respond to the online survey no later than Friday August 1.
This independent endeavor is supported by:
Thank you in advance for your participation, and kindly forward or post this message to any other people or groups that might be interested in these activities.
July 14, 2003
Tick tick tick
Just a quick reminder. Proposals for next year's STC conference, May 9-12, in Baltimore are due to the STC office in a bit over two weeks (Friday, August 1st). Caroline Jarrett, who was on the initial Nielsen/Norman World Tour, is the manager for the Usability & Information Design stem. If some of the folks who've emailed me actually submit a proposal, I think we'll have some very interesting sessions. And Baltimore is a very cool city for a conference. (Just ask Mike Lee :)
If you're interested, please see the call for proposals!
Four truths from Southwest Airlines
Over the four-day weekend I just had, I did some late spring cleaning. One of the items I discovered in a pile was a handout from Southwest Airline's session at the STC conference this past May. First of all, I have to say that theirs was one of the best sessions from an experience design standpoint. Because of the location (in Dallas), they were able to have their entire "Technology Information Design" team there. Not everyone was speaking, so those that weren't greeted session attendees (who, in typical conference fashion entered at the back of the room and walked up to the front via a long center aisle). And when I say greeted attendees, I meant they were at the front of the room with baskets, handing out goodies, the very impressive (and bound) handouts, and of course, airline peanuts!
Very nice! Alas, I had other conference duties, so I couldn't stay for the session, but I made sure to grab one of their handouts. So just about two months later, I got a chance to review it. Alas, while you can't get the pen or the peanuts, you can get the handout: it's on STC's conference site: Meeting User Information Needs.
What's nice about this is that they included a copy of their proceedings paper in this handout, which describes a case study describing their efforts to revise the online help for one of their cargo tracking systems. In it, the authors describe four truths that helped them get to the point where they could know that their information products made a difference to the people who used them. They are:
Success is the result of achieving a measurable goal--before we begin, we must have a goal in mind, and we must have a way to measure if we've achieved that goal.
How very UCD! And of course, not exactly new truths. But what's nice is to read about these in the context of a real project. I suspect this is what motivated the AIGA Advance folks to focus so strongly on case studies at the recent DUX conference. Speaking of which, their case studies archive is launched! Looks like there's some great docs there.
July 12, 2003
Information anxiety or data addiction?
Earlier this week, Doc Searls had a pointer to a NYTimes article titled The Lure of Data: Is It Addictive? (free, but registration required). The article essentially talked about how new tech products, particularly wireless ones, enables folks to be "on" all the time, and how for some, this can lead to something bordering on a 12-step problem.
Doc's initial reaction was to call it a "red herring issue" as he interpreted the piece to be about "our need to know ... trivialized and dismissed as yet another addiction."
Well, I wasn't the only one to wonder where he was coming from, as Doc shared later. One of the comments he had received really struck my fancy. It was:
And, although [NYTimes author Richtel] doesn't explicitly make the distinction, I personally find it interesting that he refers to "The Lure of Data" rather than, say, "The Lure of Information." I suspect that he realizes and distinguishes, whether analytically or intuitively, that "information" is the net result of effective processing of "data," and that the rush of collecting increasing amounts of data (I'm reminded of the little robot, Number Five, in the movie "Short Circuit" imploring, "more input... need more input...!!") may ironically decrease the real information one obtains from an onslaught of data, like trying to fill a bucket with a fire hose.
This is so similar to a quote I've held onto since 1996, when I did the proposal to form the STC Information Design SIG. The quote was by Paul Sagan, an editor of Time, who said:
No one wants to sit at the bottom of Niagara Falls with a bucket, saying "I can't keep up with all this."
This whole concept of data overload--and the compelling solutions that some designers have come up with to deal with it--has been what has kept me interested in information design since the mid-80s.
But is it real? I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, but I do have a bias, as evidenced in a brief little position paper (Information overload: Myth or menace?) I did for my digital economy class last semester.
At this point, I believe that information overload is real, which is one of the reasons I feel optimistic about the prospects of doing information design (or document design or whatever) as a career. But I must admit that I hadn't thought of the addiction to data issue (Richtel hints at a new OCD--online compulsive disorder) as another variable for the equation.
However, I don't see data addiction as a problem that information designers are well-equipped to handle, so I may leave that one for others to handle!
July 6, 2003
User-centered ID workbook
I've not yet figured out how Google's alert system picks things (some of which appear relatively dated), but I don't recall being familiar with this one. Some folks from the University of Washington created a user-centered information design workbook back in 2001.
I'm not sure it's the greatest example of document design (having some in HTML, some in Word, and asking folks to print the TOC before downloading the big Word version seems awkward), but it may be worth poking around in.
June 30, 2003
In the range of things that can be considered information design, the field of information visualization is a very interesting area. It's kind of like info graphics (a la USA Today -- or Tufte) on steroids.
Grokking the infoviz
If Google is God, then information visualization surely has the potential of being at least a minor deity.
June 26, 2003
And still more What's in a name?
In order to differentiate KM from information and data management it needs to be shown that knowledge is different than data and information. Blairs (2002) explication that knowledge is different than data and information is based on the information theory stratification which puts data as the raw thing, then information which means data arranged in a certain way that presents and brings forth an obvious interpretable meaning, and then knowledge as the next level up, mainly stating that knowledge, exhibited through it characteristics, is different because it resides in peoples minds and it is not tangible (p. 1020). ...
I found this an interesting read. As I did this entry from experience curve on same problems, different decade which quotes Victor Papanek as writing in 1971:
...the various sciences and technologies have become woefully compartmentalized and specialized. Often, more complex problems can only be attacked by teams of specialists, who often speak only their own professional jargon. Industrial designers, who are often members of such a team, frequently find that, besides fulfilling their normal design function, they must act as a communication bridge between other team members. Frequently the designer may be the only one who speaks the various technical jargons. Because of his educational background, the role of team interpreter is often forced upon him. So we find the industrial designer in a team situation becoming the "team synthesist."
Ah, back in the good ole days before "design" was a four-letter word :)
But back to knowledge and information. A recent post on the weblog with the cool name (Diary of a Superfluous Man) recently pointed to Nathan Shedroff's New Methods for Experience Design. It's hard to tell for sure, but this seems to be some slides that support some kind of seminar or tutorial (there are multiple exercises in it). But what I can't really figure out (after my comment a week or so ago about professional presentations) is ummm, Nathan's design choices (then again, I never got his website designs either).
But Nathan sure could do some nice infographics, which this one (from Unified Field Theory of Design shows:
I'm still a bit confused by the experience cube, or about the usefulness of yet another term (Shedroff's information interaction design), but I think his document (which is also a chapter in Bob Jacobson's Information design) holds up extremely well for something that is 10 years old (I have a copy I downloaded in 1995, dated 1994) in a rapidly changing field.
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 17, 2003
So, as most of us know by now, Tufte is extremely dismayed by the "trillions of slides" being turned out by presentation tools like PowerPoint. So much so, he wrote an essay on the subject, which he'll happily sell you for just a few bucks. If you'd like to get a preview before you consider plunking down your cash, I'd check out Aaron Swartz's funny (well, I thought it funny) PowerPoint Remix, Tufte's essay presented in essentially PowerPoint form.
But here are a few presentations I've come across recently whose slides really make me wish I'd been at the events. But the actual artifacts are pretty nice, and while I'd love more context, I found all of these interesting and informative.
Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? (PDF) by Jean-luc Doumont, at the inaugural meeting of STC's chapter in Eindhoven, the Netherlands (8 Mar 2001). I was lucky to get the opportunity to meet Jean-luc this past May at STC's conference in Dallas, where he presented a very popular workshop (twice, per my request) on understanding visual communication.
Sharing Knowledge is Better than Having It (PPT) by Peter Bogaards at STC Belgium's chapter meeting (23 May 2003). The sub-title is "Structure, Content, and Form in the Information Design/Architecture of Information Artifacts" and leads off by introducing what's in a name? What more could you ask for :)
IA as Conversation: It's Not Just What You Say but How You Say it (PDF) by George Olsen at the IA Summit in Portland (23 Mar 2003). George looks at how the metaphor of conversation can be used to do better designs.
The subjects are all interesting and relevant, but what is particularly nice is to see what happens when someone with good graphic/visual/comm design sense approaches their slides. BTW, Marc Rettig's interaction design history in a teeny little nut shell (presented at CMU in February 2003) is in this category too; I mentioned it back in March.
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 8, 2003
Root of information design?
Interesting. I've often told people that information design is what happens when graphic design marries usability. Of course, I don't really mean that explicitly, since I think information design encompasses much more than just usable graphic design.
Anyways, I thought of this when I read peterme's recent comment on empathy in user experience: "non-empathic geeks become engineers, and empathic geeks become information designers."
I think that usability folk tend to be an empathic lot as well! I suppose one could care about the end user without "feeling" for the end user, but the two just do seem to go together. Anyways, check out Peter's comments for why we might want to extend this empathy to our colleagues and clients.
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 14, 2003
Warning! More what's in a name!
Okay, you've been warned! If these IA versus ID versus whatever discussions make your blood pressure rise, then just say no to the next link :). But I cannot keep myself from pointing out that Dirk and I have been continuing our what's in a name discussion from three weeks ago. I'm quite enjoying it myself!
May 12, 2003
Well, I have the paper done and turned in for my Digital Economy class, so now I just have to finish the report and presentation for my UCD class (due Thursday). I have a weblog entry percolating about the Larry Constantine CHI report re usability testing, but that will need to wait for tomorrow or the next day.
In the meantime, how about checking out these snippets from xBlog? There's this one on why good design comes from bad design and this one on visual language (note to self: probably should acquire Yuri's dissertation).
The first was of particular interest to me, in part because it is so easy to slip into the "let's mock up a design and present it to the client" mindset. Obviously any good designer can create something that the client can respond to, but without creating alternatives or exercising one's design muscle, solutions can wind up less than their fullest potential.
May 9, 2003
The lament of the tech writer is that no one reads the products they create. Over on Usable Help, Gordon talks about one vendor's "approach to exhorting users to read the documentation" (on the left).
To see these in context, check out Warning! Read the manual!
Vog blog: a correction
It's hard to say (communication is such a fun thing), but I don't know that I was necessarily thinking he meant putting video on a traditional blog, though given my mention of Mike's photo-enhanced moblog, I can see why he might think that.
I originally said I wasn't sure what to think about video blogging (the term Adrian uses to describe what "vogging" is). I do think there's a fab application for multimedia as a tool to help folks with their information needs, and clearly video (presumably with an audio component) has an awful lot of advantages compared to static text and images.
I can say for sure that I did not think that Adrian's tutorial was about putting video on a traditional blog! I really thought it was more about making a video blog, and I stand by my comments that the directions were more than I wanted to go thru to see an example of video blogging. And that was probably my mistake...thinking that the tutorial was a way to actually see an example of a video blog!
All that said, I agree with Adrian that things would be very different with a video-capable Movable Type tool. So...in case you assumed that Adrian is working on putting video into traditional weblogs, he isn't! Instead, he's hoping to make sure that we know what to do with video weblogs when the tools make it something for Joe Average Weblogger. Cool!
May 6, 2003
Tufte on PowerPoint
Lee Potts writes that Tufte has a forthcoming essay (24 pages, at the printers and available May 12th) called The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Very amusing cover! I'll comment more once I've gotten it.
If I were more organized, I'd probably be able to put my hands on some notes I took when Tufte spoke at an STC conference years ago. But probably most folks are aware of his distaste for PowerPoint...PPT slides are his example of an information product with the lowest possible data density.
In a pinch, I have no problem with PowerPoint that operates primarily as a speaker's aid (as long as you don't--horrors--read them). It's nice when these kinds of slides are at least minimally designed so that the audience doesn't run screaming out of the room. And of course it's even better when slides operate as an audience aid.
While we're on this subject, if you haven't seen it (or read it in a while), I'd recommend Dan Brown's Understanding PowerPoint over on Boxes and Arrows.
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 30, 2003
News from IIDj
Here's some news from the IIID front. First, there's a call for entries for a forthcoming information design sourcebook:
Graphic-Sha, a distinguished Japanese publisher in the field of
design, and IIDj, the Institute for Information Design Japan, are
cooperating in the publication of the [Information Design Source
Check www.iidj.net/IDSB for details. They also write:
You may also be interested to know about the international Information Design Summer Academy 2003, which IIDj is organizing in August/September for young professionals and graduate students in Japan.
See www.iidj.net/SA03 for details. Note that this server is a bit on the fickle side. I couldn't actually view either page, since my Mozilla browser is apparently not welcome: "This site can only be accessed by browsers which conform to the W3C Document Object Model." Hopefully you will have better luck!
STC's annual conferences
Tomorrow is the last day to sign up for STC's 50th annual conference, which is being held May 18th to 21st in Dallas. If you've been meaning to register and are a procrastinator like me, then hurry up and register!
But if Dallas isn't your thing, by all means do consider submitting a proposal to present at next year's conference in fabulous Baltimore, Maryland, May 9-12, 2004. The stem manager for the usability and design stem is Caroline Jarrett, who some of you may know from her stint on the first NNgroup world tour. Yours truly is going to be managing the post-conference stem. The PC sessions are half- or full-day tutorials for which a moderate stipend is paid (assuming registrations warrant).
April 29, 2003
I'm not sure what to make about vogging, or video blogging. Adrian Miles writes about this on vog blog. On the one hand, I'm very interested in the application of multimedia to information design products. But...cool tools like iMovie aside, there seems to be a gap between benefit and cost of use that is related to what Nielson wrote about last week on Useit.
I dunno, but I found the instructions provided for the desktop vogging demo to be way more than I wanted to go thru (never mind the first was buying QuickTime Pro 6).
I think there's absolutely a place for media-rich weblogs. I regularly check out Mike Lee's moblog (more on moblogs) because even cruddy little low-res Sidekick photos can be compelling in the hands of someone who's got an eye for interesting visuals.
But I guess what Sidekick does is make the cost low. It's relatively painless for Mike to create and for me to read. It seems we've got a ways to go to get there for video blogging!
April 27, 2003
A comments pointer
If you're not the type to pay attention to the comments, I encourage you to make an exception. Dirk Knemeyer has provided two very interesting responses to my What's in a name? post of a few days ago and my subsequent response to him.
I don't have time to do an in-depth response (trying to finish Lessig's "the future of ideas" for my Digital Economy class tomorrow). But I found this line in Dirk's response particularly interesting:
The Information Design "thesis" is one that places the discipline as the director of other disciplines.
Now you're talking :). The concept of information designer as director is one I've found compelling for a while. The jury is still out on whether that role is really ID or IA or UX, but hey, I'm certainly happy to have someone else who's arguing that it's ID!
That said, when Dirk has some free time, I'd love to hear his two cents on another comment Jesse made in his what's in a name response:
When Richard Saul Wurman refers to "information architecture," he's usually talking about what most of us know as information design; whereas when Nathan Shedroff talks about "information design," he's probably referring to what is commonly called information architecture.
I agree with Jesse re Wurman; I'll have to re-read A Unified Field Theory of Design (when's the semester over??) wrt Shedroff.
April 23, 2003
What's in a name?
Hmmm, maybe there are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and a periodic re-hashing of the "what's the difference between information design and information architecture?" question. I hosted one such discussion a couple years back in a feature called What's In A Name? for the ID SIG newsletter. I had some great responses from some great IA and ID luminaries (and I still like, in a perverse way, that Richard Saul Wurman called this question "academic and pointless" ... hell, he responded, didn't he :).
Here's my commentary. One, I do happen to like Jesse James Garrett's focus on cognition (IA) and perception (ID) which he happened to make here. I used to refer to that as focus on structure versus presentation. Yep, there's overlap, but I also liked the idea that the IA helped you find a page and the ID helped you make use of the page.
Two, I disagree with Clark about where IA and IDs come from. He writes:
Information architects come from a variety of backgrounds, but I sense that a majority of them display an orientation toward language. Information designers, on the other hand, tend to be oriented toward the visual arts. As a result, the majority of information designers come from exactly one discipline: graphic design.
For me, both of these statements are a bit awkward. My major issue is with the categorization of IDs. That's certainly true historically, especially since for many folks, information graphics are the only products of information designers. (Tho I think the jury is still out on whether Richard Saul Wurman is "really" an IA or an ID. Here are some of his comments related to the subject: here and here.)
But if you talk about the web (isn't that what today's IA is really interested in?), the page is as much if not more about text as it is about graphics, and thus explains the interest of those of us who come out of a language focus. Part of the problem is that some text-oriented folks spent a lot of time doing this kind of work except they called it document design. Karen Schriver (who wrote Dynamics in document design and Ginny Redish (who founded the Document Design Center at the American Institutes for Research in 1979...alas, no longer in business) are both examples of people out of a writing/language field who looked at the issues of usable design. Their work included considerations of color, type size, hierarchy (on the page and in the document), line length, and so forth.
What Tufte and Wurman talk about is fine when you're talking a one page graph or poster. But hello? Do we think that there's no need for paying attention to issues of design once the content starts spanning multiple pages? I think not! For me, information design is what happens when you take the visual world of the graphic designer and integrate it with the textual world of the tech writer. Go figure. Like Wurman says, you make the complex clear.
So, yes Virginia, I happen to think that there's a difference between IA and ID. And for now, I like the idea of cognition/perception as a differentiator...unless, of course, you are talking about big IA or ID or UX which tends to have far more overlap due to its strategic (rather than tactical) focus. But I guess that's a whole other can o' worms :)
April 16, 2003
How to draw
If you are at all interested in issues of visual literacy, you'll probably want to take a look at Conrad Taylor's But I can't draw!
I agree with Conrad's assertions that this is a valuable skill that is underdeveloped because our educational system "prizes literacy and numeracy, but not visual thinking." And in fact, when I get a free moment, I'm going to follow up on the intro drawing class I took last summer.
April 12, 2003
On the map--the sequel
Ya gotta love smart people with extra time on their hands. You get cool tools like this one...GeoURL:
I find the above (a slice of an image on the GeoURL site) really compelling...it's cool to see websites organized geographically. There are also higher res maps too. Now I can find all IDblog's neighbors! And you can see that I'm 8 blocks east of the White House.
Thanks to Brainstorms and Raves for the pointer.
April 8, 2003
London does information literacy
Conrad Taylor just let ID-Cafe list members know about a report he's published related to a discussion of information literacy. The participants included a dozen or so of interesting folks, many from the British Computer Society, who were interested in the forthcoming World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva in December.
Conrad is my go-to ID guy in the UK. He was very helpful in late 1996 when I was trying to get the ID SIG off the ground. He also gave me invaluable feedback back in when I was drafting my chapter for our book. Having seen Conrad in action at the Vision Plus 4 conference (with recording equipment), I have no doubt that this report will be a great read. And since he's a hard-core information designer, it will also be a nice read.
In his email to the list, he noted that:
One of the interesting tensions in the meeting was between the people (such as librarians and "information scientists") whose major concern is how "users" can be better trained to access and use sources of information, and those other folks (such as information designers and publishers) who are concerned with trying to make information products as easy to understand as possible.
IA versus ID? Where have I heard that before :).
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).
April 6, 2003
ID's polar bear book
D*mn! My plans for my degree project are now toast. Rune Pettersson has published the polar bear equivalent for information design. Its title is Information Design: An Introduction (at Amazon). It was supposedly published in September 2002, but I managed to miss it until now.
I had the pleasure of meeting Rune at the Vision Plus 4 conference in Pittsburgh back in 1998, and his book is an expansion of the paper he presented there. What's nice is that this is a great information design book for folks who come to ID from traditions other than graphic design, as it discusses text and message design (and cognition) as well as visual design. In this respect it has a lot in common with Karen Schriver's Dynamics in Document Design.
Two caveats. One, Rune's book is more academic than either Lou and Peter's or Karen's books (Rune teaches at Mälardalen University in Sweden). In other words, lots more text than graphics and heavy duty referencing. (Interesting...Tufte is there, but Wurman is not.)
The other caveat is that this is really one man's model of information design, which means that he lays out a map that hasn't been universally (or even widely) adopted by the international information design community. For example, he notes that:
As a discipline and an academic subject matter, information design has three main areas of knowledge: infography, infology, and infodidactics. ... Infography is the actual, practical formation and execution of structured combinations of text, pictures, and graphic design. ... Infology is the science of verbo-visual presentation and interpretation of information. ... Infodidactics is the [method] used for teaching the various aspects of information design.
This is some kind of line to draw in the sand (particularly as Sweden has not exactly been the cornerstone of early information design...the UK and the Netherlands would have to hold that honor). But at least someone has written something down. And this is the kind of text that really does need to exist--most other ID works are collections such as ours, Zwaga et al or Bob Jacobson's.
I'm sure I'll have more to say once I've can find the time to read it through. When is the spring semester over?
March 30, 2003
Oskar provides a pointer to what are apparently images (and English translations) of the leaflets the US has been dropping on Iraq. I don't know if these are real, but if so, they are far more depressing than the images from the ready.gov site. I can't even fathom the kinds of planning that went into these. I don't know why I had imagined that the leaflets would be more text-based and more explanatory. If one had the stomach for it, these would make very useful fodder for a master's thesis.
More monster downloads
I'm in the process of researching the issue of online branding and non-profits (have any good resources? drop a note below or email me). While surfing, I came across this PDF version of a PowerPoint presentation called Information design: a map to meaning. (1.3M) If you're current with your Wurman and Tufte, you won't find anything really new; this is a summary of their main points. That said, I did like this quote from the presentation:
Think of an expression of an idea as a map to its meaning.
I like to think that I'm reasonably proficient at communication. But every once in a while, I get a response back from someone (often when I've communicated via email) that suggests that we just didn't connect. The metaphor of the map is an interesting one, as it brings to mind the challenges inherent in navigating using one...and that some people are better than others at it. This reminds me of David Dobrin's Writing & Technique, which starts off with a story about the communication challenges inherent in giving directions.
The other download is a master's thesis on the subject of decoding visual language elements in news content (link goes to a main page). Here's part of the abstract:
News delivery in this country is increasingly comprised of carefully crafted displays of visual information. As consumers of information, however, most of us have never been taught to critically read or decode images and other graphic displays of information in the same ways that we have been taught to analyze verbal communication. ... This thesis builds on elements from [related] disciplines in order to create a prototype for the critical analysis of visual news content utilizing the tools of interactive visual design.
The thesis is 3.4M. Hat tip to Al Wasco for sharing this item on the citizendesign list.
March 29, 2003
Trends in information formats
A work colleague sent the pointer to this one: Five-Year Information Format Trends , a report from the Online Computer Learning Center. At nearly a meg, it's a hefty PDF download, and it's also geared towards libraries, but I suspect that many IAs, IDs, etc., might find some of their stats and analysis interesting. The report is chunked into four sections: popular materials, scholarly materials, digitization projects, and web resources.
BTW, kudos to OCLC for giving visitors the option to register or not. Nice choice!
March 26, 2003
I've gone ahead and added some conference links at the bottom of the right-nav column. Enjoy!
March 25, 2003
For the infographics fans
Since infographics are such a staple of information design (and in fact, for some folks infographics==info design), I can't pass this one up. See the dangers of infographics over on iaslash.
I don't know that I understand the author's contention that:
Infographics are somewhat expensive and time-consuming to produce, and are therefore in their nature providing context to whatever is going on on the ground. It is, however, _not_ in their nature to provide afterthought and analysis.
This seems to me to be in the class of "all generalizations are false" kind of statements. Are we just talking the kind of infographics that one has time to do when trying to beat one's colleagues to the press in war-time? Or in general? Maybe I'm just overthinking this, but aren't some infographics a visual illustration of someone's afterthought and analysis? A way to call attention to some attribute of the data in a visual way?
E-publish and perish?
Ouch! That's what you can get for being nice. A free PDF download and if you're not so lucky, a bandwidth bill from your WSP for $15K :(. See "Publish (Electronically) and Perish?" from TidBITS.
More importantly, if you are doing PDF publishing, you may want to check out PDF Enhancer, which apparently does for PDFs what DeBabelizer does for graphics.
Thanks to Gordon Meyer of Usable Help for the pointer (and nice weblog).
March 18, 2003
InfoDesign and the NCAA
Hey boys and girls, it's info design and current events! (And no, it's not Iraq!)
Check out this great review of web-based NCAA brackets. This is also a fab interaction design example, but the presentation of the brackets themselves make it a very interesting ID application.
Now if only I cared about NCAA basketball :).
March 15, 2003
New blog friends
I've just spent some time visiting my blogroll (over on the right there, probably under the fold). Pruned out some lifeless links and those that I haven't really been reading, but added a bunch of new ones that I found via my BlogStreet neighborhood. A special welcome to Oskar at LOGos and Chad at Zen Haiku, both of whom recently dropped a nice note in my inbox!
March 12, 2003
This one is at least marginally related to information design :). They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, in the hands of some, a picture and a dozen or so words make for some very funny ready.gov satire:
The fun thing is that these pictures are so ambiguous they could mean anything!
For example, the government's caption for the image at right is:
March 7, 2003
Cool color tools
Here's a website with some cool color tools. It's EasyRGB, and my faves are the color harmonies and color calculator tools. But if you care about color matching for print or monitor calibration, you'll want to check out the rest of the site.
This'll be a long hat tip...thanks to Jenny, who got it from Zeldman, who saw it originally from Jeff. BTW, if you're into web design, you should check out Jeff's page, as he's got quite the list of links to browse.
March 4, 2003
Ode to John Tukey
Tukey is an important figure for information designers (particularly those who are interested in information graphics). In fact, Tufte credits Tukey as the inspiration for what later became his first book (The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).
March 3, 2003
Car seats and ID
Here's one off today's wires: Child car seat instructions too difficult. According to the study, instructions for using child car seats are written at a level that is higher than the reading level for half of those who use them. And then there's this:
For liability reasons, lawyers usually are involved in writing installation instructions, and legal jargon might make instructions sound confusing ...
Where have we heard this before?
February 23, 2003
Trends in online assistance
It's always nice to come across something for the tech writers in the audience. (I hope there are some tech writers in the audience! As others have noticed, the tech comm folk don't exactly seem to be taking the blog world by storm.)
Anyways, I was emailed the link to this piece titled The future of Help? Nine trends in online user assistance. As someone who did WinHelp in the 3.1 days, these are welcome trends. It's the idea of moving help into the interface (just-in-time assistance) and it's one of the reasons that sessions such as this one (on moving into UID from technical writing) are becoming more and more popular at STC conferences.
February 19, 2003
Here's something for those ID folks whose taste runs to the information visualization area--the Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge:
The National Science Foundation and the journal Science, published by
the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),
invite you to participate in the first Science and Engineering
Categories include photography, illustration, and multimedia. Hat tip to Karel van der Waarde (on the ID-Cafe list).
February 3, 2003
Content and Complexity!
It's official! Our happy little book, Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication is now in the warehouse. This is an academic book from a seriously academic publisher, so it's proving to be a challenge to do stuff like, umm, get the cover up on Amazon and perhaps a few inside pages too.
But since I know the effort that will take, here's an overview of the book's chapters (45K, in PDF).
I can't really say what my favorite chapters are (isn't that like choosing a favorite child?). All of them are interesting and useful in their own way. But I must admit that I think Whitney Quesenbery's chapter on the Five Dimensions of Usability (aka, the "5 E's of Usability") is going to be on just a few syllabi in the fall. (If you're an academic, send me an email and I'll help you out with a fair use copy for this or any of the chapters.)
January 23, 2003
New MA in information design
The University of Reading has announced a new MA in Information Design course (as they say across the pond). This is an excellent opportunity for any would-be student of information design; the program's director, Paul Stiff, is a true luminary in the field, having been the editor of the Information Design Journal for a decade.
If the UK doesn't suit your geography, you may want to consider other programs in information design, a list that I compiled for the STC ID SIG.
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!
STC's 50th Annual Conference
The conference will be May 18-21, in Dallas, Texas. More as we get closer!
January 14, 2003
Alright, the web tells me that "mishegas" is Yiddish for craziness. Not sure this entry applies, but as a former WBCN listener, I just like the word and figured it'd make a good title. So sue me if this isn't really "crazy." Shall we say it's just a bit more freeform than these entries have been in the recent past? Let's begin!
First of all, one of these days I am really going to have to do some kind of commentary about the weblog. One thing that struck me recently is how compelling a personal weblog is when it is dotted with even low-res photos (see Mike Lee's personal blog on Hiptop Nation as a terrific example). Mike does his normal design/IA blog at curiousLee. This blogging thing can be scary...my co-worker Amy (who is Mike's wife) is getting used to hearing about her personal life from her friends, family, and co-workers who are checking in on Mike :).
Anyways, I'm so glad I've been keeping up with Mike on Hiptop, as he posted a link to this fabulous story about a guy with a waterlogged camera that is now taking magic pictures. If you are a visual type, this is worth checking out.
Other things that have been compelling: a link from the folks at xblog that has led to a couple of interesting tidbits. First there's a neat idea for using a scanner to do illustrations. There's also a great page on using type as design. If you like these, you may want to check out their other tips as well.
This final entry compels me to ask...are IAs to PCs as IDs are to Macs? Anyways, Thomas suggests that the new 17" Powerbook has a heavy-duty lust factor. That was true in my office until I whipped out a piece of tabloid-sized paper, and the reaction was "gee, that wouldn't fit in my backpack." I think this plus-sized laptop may be nice for designers who need to do lots of on-the-road presentations. But it seems a tad large to be really "portable."
January 9, 2003
For some lighter reading, check out some pithy quotes on usability, design, and assorted other topics.
January 8, 2003
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 1, 2003
What's in a name, revisited
Wow...there's one heck of an interesting discussion going on over on Christina's weblog regarding differences between ED, IA, and ID. I had to point out a similar discussion that we did for the ID SIG (see What's In a Name?") back in April 2001. I actually understand why there's a theory that IA and ID are the same. Maybe in principle they should be. But when I look at what the folks who call themselves IAs do versus what those who call themselves IDs do (and apparently Nathan and I know different IDs), we're focused on the differences rather than the similarities.
December 22, 2002
IDJ is on the way!
Well, mine hasn't made it across the pond yet, but vol 10, num 3 of the Information Design Journal is apparently on its way. The issue's theme is "about the conquest of space ... the artificial
space of information displays, embodied on a screen or on
I've gone ahead and posted the list of information design conferences in 2003 to the STC ID SIG website. The list was compiled by the moderators of the InfoDesign mailing list. It's fairly comprehensive, though you should probably keep an eye on the list that Peter maintains (see right nav).
December 18, 2002
Computers and common sense
Courtesy of my day job, I got a chance to talk with Walter Bender today. He's the executive director of the MIT Media Lab, and one of the projects he talked to us about was something called OpenMind, which is:
an attempt to make computers smarter by making it easy and fun for people all over the world to work together to give computers the millions of pieces of ordinary knowledge that constitute "common-sense", all those aspects of the world that we all understand so well we take them for granted.
All I want to know is how did it know how to ask such a relevant question when I gave it so little information :). My first teaching opportunity:
WTC design concepts
An article in the Washington Post pointed me to renewnyc.org, a website of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. This apparently is the group responsible for what happens on the site of the World Trade Center.
What's relevant to IDblog readers is the content that (apparently) went up on the site after the announcement of the new designs today. It describes all nine design concepts in a very cool way. It seems clear that each team must have been required to submit content that could be plugged into this site in order to facilitate community review. I'm only a very modest architecture buff, but this way of presenting the designs makes it very accessible.
They claim they'll pick a design by the end of January. Should be interesting to see...some of the designs are a bit, umm, challenging.
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!
November 27, 2002
Tufte and IA
Dan Brown has done a nice article over on Boxes and Arrows titled Three Lessons from Tufte. Because he's talking about documentation (specifically IA deliverables), this is a good read for tech writers and info designers as well.
November 26, 2002
Sean's comment (on Monday...can't link to the entry itself) about the high cost of entry to AIGA got me to 1) comment and then 2) update the following list, which was originally posted to the old IDblog a year or so ago.
This new version adds in AIfIA and updates each listing with the association's student membership rate and policy.
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.
Content and style
I very much like Hedley's response about it being like a three-legged stool:
I find discussions about which is most important, content, layout, or navigation rather pointless. Why propose useless either-or competitions? Ask yourself 'Which is the most important leg on a three-legged stool?'. ... As my dear old mother was wont to tell me at her knee, 'The most important aspect of documentation is completeness, accuracy, understandability, accessibility, and attractiveness.'
And seconded! Given that it's been two weeks, excuse me for offering another gratuitous plug for our forthcoming book and in particularly, Whitney Quesenbery's chapter on the "5 E's of Usability." Her model is based upon the ISO 9241 standard which describes usability as:
The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.
Whitney takes this definition and expands upon it, and comes up with her list for the five characteristics of usability:
Now here's the trick. Any given product is very unlikely to be completely successful in all five of these characteristics. (Remember the adage: "Cheap, fast, good: pick two."). This is how business and technical constraints are worked into the user-centered design process. See Whitney's Using the 5 E's and her What does usability mean? for more.
My point for sharing this is that it this is how you get from something like a blanket (and hardly useful) "content is king" statement to a concept that is actually practical in the real world.
November 18, 2002
Design really matters
I had meant to log this back when it first appeared (I think I may have first seen it in John Rhodes' WebWord). But other things came up, so I missed the opportunity. But never fear, in this thing we call Internet media, these things always come around again. Here's a version that ClickZ published today.
November 13, 2002
My first quote!
Our book isn't even out yet, but I've already been quoted (thanks Peter!). The context is related to a discussion on the ID-Cafe list of reprinting one of the earliest works in information design, "Information Design: The Design and Evaluation of Signs and Printed Material" which was edited by Harm Zwaga and Ronald Easterby and published in 1984. You can see the table of contents courtesy of Peter and Karel van der Waarde.
November 4, 2002
Refuge from the sea
The new IA org, Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture has had its formal launch. Is it just me, or is the acronym AIFIA a wee bit long? (Its peers are AIGA, CHI, ASIS, UPA and STC). The reason that's minimally important is that, at least for now when the org is new, it's not a no-brainer to just pull the website address out of the air (oy, it s*cks to get old). Well, nevermind, I've added it to IDblog's right nav area under groups, so I no longer have to remember it :).
According to the About AIfIA page on their site:
The word Asilomar is Spanish for "refuge from the sea"; it is our intention to provide a refuge from the sea of information chaos.
I'm guessing that this sea metaphor is meant to tie in to Richard Saul Wurman's tsunami of data, as RSW is generally acknowleged as the originator of the term "information architect."
I remain curious to see how RSW's IA (which has been heavily graphic design/presentation/print oriented) will mesh with this new IA, which AIfIA describes as the "structural design of shared information environments" and the "art and science of organizing and labeling web sites."
Here's a hint. I think there is still room for those interested in information design to make a contribution!
October 28, 2002
Links and content
There's been an interesting discussion on the SIGCHI mailing list recently about putting hyperlinks in body text. In it, Steve paraphrased Gerry McGovern (author of Content Critical) as saying "If you put hypertext links in the body text, it disrupts readability."
Gee, if that's a problem, some of us webloggers are in deep doo-doo!
Based on the responses it sure seems it ultimately boils down to: it depends! Speaking of which, there's a history (and debate around origin) to the phrase it depends, but methinks it can apply here. If "readability" is really one's goal, then yes, sticking blue underlined text in the middle of a paragraph could well affect how readable something is. I.e, it's probably not the best thing to do in the middle of articles or longer paragraphs meant to be read and digested. But I'm not aware of anything that discounts Nielsen's 1997 finding: people scan web pages.
Now the percentages may have changed. I know that I have, on occasion, actually read an article on the web. But...then again, I'm probably conditioned enough to the crappy experience (low-res monitors, questionable design practices re tiny type,e tc) of reading on the web that a blue underline in the middle is the least of my problems.
October 10, 2002
Content and Complexity: The cover!
How about this! Not too shabby for an academic cover!!!
And this makes it feel very real. Hard to believe it was over two and a half years ago that we got started on this little publishing project (the first saved email I have in my IDbook Eudora folder is from January 2000). What a learning experience! All I can say is my co-editor, Mike Albers, has the patience of a saint. If you're in the Memphis area, go visit him!
Stay tuned for more shameless promotion :)
October 7, 2002
Get yer Natty Bo's here!
I've been a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC) since 1995. I've been very happy there, particularly after founding the Information Design SIG in 1997. One of my more favorite volunteer jobs has been to be on the program committee for STC's annual conference. I've had this position for both Orlando (2000) and Nashville (2002). There's a lot of work, but the rewards are definitely proportional!
Thus I am tickled pink to have been asked to be program manager for the 2005 conference, which will be held in Seattle. And what's really nice is that this means that I'll also be on the 2004 program committee, which is being held in Baltimore, Maryland. The graphic design/IA community is very active there, so I think this is going to be a fabulous location for us. The call for proposals will go out in February 2003, due by August 1. Feel free to email me if you are at all interested in doing either a regular or post-conference session!
October 6, 2002
Peter posted a link to Charles Minard's 1871 obituary on InfoDesign last week. ID fans and regular readers of IDblog know that Minard was responsible for this graphic, which Tufte has described as "probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn."
I first saw this image back in 1984, when I was a geek programmer and member of the ACM (ya gotta love the web ... it turns out it was Jon Bentley's June 1984 Programming pearls column). I still have that image...it's framed and sits on my desk at work and, in retrospect, was my first toe-dipping into the pool that I would later come to know as information design. Given this, I was one of those who was a bit dismayed when STC published an article by Dragga and Voss in the August 2001 Technical Communication that criticized this diagram:
By omitting the human misery caused by that military campaign, the illustration could be said to constitute a distortion of the reality that escapes the statistics. The graphic isn't so much deceptive, however, as it is plainly inhumane—insensitive or indifferent to the human condition it depicts.
Frankly, I had found that the diagram was incredibly compelling in its description of the human misery. And at the time, STC members like Bill Sullivan were very critical (as were a number of TC readers who responded in subsequent issues in the editorial section). Why? Well for one, here is how Dragga and Voss suggested that Minard's diagram could be improved:
Surely they jest. It is true that at first glance, the absence of hokey clip art crosses and men on horseback may make the reader work just a tad harder to understand the implication of the width of the line on the graph. But once realization hits, perhaps for some, the "image is gripping; and, especially today, it inspires bitter reflections on the cost to humanity of the madnesses of conquerors and the merciless thirst of military glory. "
The quote above came from the obituary mentioned above, written by his son-in-law. Charles Joseph Minard was in his late 80s when he drew this graph. He was able to spend this time on this pursuit in part because of his forced retirement as general inspector of bridges and roads. The obituary is interesting in other ways, in part because it is fairly long (and his son-in-law comments about the fact that he was slow to gain any accolades ... "[His] advancement may appear a little slow for the time in which he lived. The truth is that Mr. Minard did not know how to value himself, and it is only around the end of his career, when numerous and brilliant services were highly demanded of him, that just rewards came to reach him.")
There are other interesting snippets in the obituary:
In the middle of these delicate operations a terrible blow came to strike him; a son who was entering into his second year was taken from him in a few hours by one of those pitiless illnesses that decimate children.
Mr. Minard had since his most tender youth frail and delicate health, which was only supported by a sober and regular life, and which resisted in this way the attacks of the weather.
His devoted companion, one of his sons-in-law and his youngest daughter had the sad consolation of softening the bitterness of his last moments. His other daughter and his other son-in-law (the author of this notice), confined in Paris during the siege, only knew after the armistice the cruel loss they had suffered three months before.
For me, these are really emotive paragraphs (even without pictographs).
September 27, 2002
We're on press!
Well, it seems like it's been forever, but I'm happy to be joining the ranks of those who have or will be publishing in the ID/IA space! Mike Albers and I are the happy co-editors of a volume that is titled Content and Complexity: Information Design in Technical Communication, which will be coming out by Erlbaum, hopefully by the end of the year. The book was a project of the members of the STC ID SIG, which I founded in 1997.
Unlike the recent spate of IA books (from Lou and Peter, Christina, and Jesse), this is more of an academic volume than a consumer how-to. Other ID books have looked either at the more "traditional" information design in the print world (such as the Zwaga books) or took a broader look at the subject (such as the Jacobson book). In our case, the bulk of the volume focuses on aspects of information design as interpreted by those who practice in the technical communication space ... on applications such as reference manuals, online help, and interface design.
We're privileged to have had Karen Schriver (author of Dynamics in Document Design) write our foreword. Here are the other chapters in the book and their authors:
Information Design in Motion - Beth Mazur
My apologies, in advance, to all my friends and family members who will be getting a little square-wrapped package for Christmas this year :). As we get closer, I'll be sharing more. Stay tuned!
September 26, 2002
Peter Storkerson and Communication Design
Now here's an interesting site (and individual) found on the PhD-Design list. Peter Storkerson has built a site well worth exploring if you're into information design or communication design. In particular, look at the program design for a 5-year Master's degree in information design! How I wish I'd found a program like that years ago.
In the small world department, it turns out that Peter and I were both at BU in the late 70's. I doubt our paths crossed...it seems he was teaching sociology and I was spending all my time at what we affectionately called Le Café Dugout. And while I'm reminiscing, I was at the Beanpot when the Blizzard of '78 struck. I was also there, as manager and statistician, the only year that BU won the women's Beanpot. I played for the BU women's team from '76 thru '80 and it is bordering on obscene that BU hasn't elevated them from a club to varsity sport. Oh alright, I digress. I'll save it for the next weblog :).
September 19, 2002
New list: Citizen Design
From Joseph Coates on the AIGA-ED list:
"This is a forum for designers, design educators, design students and
those from affiliated fields and areas of interest too numerous to
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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