theme song (400K mp3)
Monday, April 30, 2001
wow, I just opened my calendar and discovered that Jeffrey Zeldman is speaking in my office next week. That's so cool.
posted 5:36:46 PM
MarchFIRST goes from Chapter 11 to 7. The hindsight - thinking about what would have kept them afloat - must be maddening. What if they closed offices sooner? Was there a critical point at which they became more unsustainable than the competition? Were the commercials too much, or too late?
A voice with perspective: "Let's stop kicking the carcasses of the fallen dot-coms. They're the heroes of the front lines, on whose boldness and naivete we will one day feed our children."
-- Michael Mark, president and creative director of Matthews/Mark
posted 5:34:33 PM
Seven Secrets to Good Brainstorming - some good ideas from IDEO that complement the usual brainstorm guidelines. The most successful brainstorm session I ran began with removing all the chairs from the room, plastering the walls with those huge post-it sheets, and handing everyone a marker, encouraging everyone to write and talk aloud as they were writing.
posted 5:20:34 PM
I'm back in New York. If you're in town I hope to see you at the next IA/Usability gathering:
Topic: Selling IA and Usability
Day: May 3, 2001
Place: Razorfish offices, 32 Mercer Street on the southeast corner of Grandand Mercer
Questions: Pamela Ellis, firstname.lastname@example.org, 914-674-4411
posted 2:31:47 PM
A business prof at MIT thinks workers' guilds could replace some of the functions of companies. In New York, the New Media Association has the potentional to bring us together like a guild, but their external face has always been a place to network and party, not necessarily focused on the work. Meanwhile, I heard a rumor that a Pixel Park office in Germany has unionized. If the union is more like a guild, great, otherwise I'd rather fend for myself.
posted 12:59:26 PM
Wednesday, April 25, 2001
Years ago a music teacher taught me that boredom is just "a failure to look more deeply." While waiting for a subway to arrive, he would listen to the fluorescent lights, trying to determine the fundamental note and the harmonics; he heard the music wherever he was. Now the only times I don't look more deeply are for bigger reasons: depression or contentedness. He helped me do away with boredom.
posted 11:12:17 AM
Via Cam, the ArsDigita Start-Up to Bust-Up story. Great read about a software company and it's dealings with venture capitalists.
posted 9:39:21 AM
hmmmmm, there's a weblog about Jerry Orbach called KittenBeat. I only find this interesting because my father looks just like Jerry Orbach.
posted 9:32:57 AM
Stick figure Kung Fu. Even more wonderful than it sounds. His quoting of film techniques had me laughing out loud.
posted 4:57:06 AM
Tuesday, April 24, 2001
There's a little anti-recommendations system banter over at NUblog. I think the recommendations might help and don't hurt much; it's just as accurate as if a friend recommends a disc, albeit without the variety of reasoning a friend might recommend something.
On a related note, there's a funny little record store here in Hamburg called "25 Records". It's in an indoor shopping gallery, and consists of a walk-up counter with two headphones and accompanying music controls. There's one sales person behind the counter and album covers on the wall behind her. True to the name, they only carry 25 albums, choosen according to what they think is cool. There's everything from ambiant to house to re-released 50's jazz vocalists.
I personally find this concept very enticing as a way to discover new music, whereas a recommendation system only helps find more of the same stuff you've been listening to. It might also make for a wonderful little web site, if you could simplify (i.e. outsource?) the fulfillment.
posted 8:27:21 AM
Monday, April 23, 2001
More goodness from Mark Bernstein: A List Apart: The Narrative WebThe point is not that we should add stories to our sites to ensnare narrative-starved readers. The point is that the reader's journey through our site is a narrative experience. Our job is to make the narrative satisfying.
His ideas are similar to what I was saying below, so I feel like I'm getting it.
posted 9:38:20 AM
I'm piecing together some recent posts...the quip about designers always wanting the "emotion thing" (April 18) is similar to what Mark Bernstein is saying (April 19). People are emotional creatures, and even if we're performing a seemingly unemotional task - like finding an airfare on the Internet - we have an emotional reaction to the design, the content, and the experience (sometimes the technology is transparent, but we're rarely that lucky). We can leverage that emotion, urging people to follow links, find information, be successful - perhaps even be inspired and feel good about themselves - by recognizing and facilitating those emotions. It's not as cold and uniform as strict usability rules would have us think.
Hmmm, it all sounds quite pedestrian now that I've written that, but the implications for design are rather large, I think.
posted 6:01:39 AM
Thursday, April 19, 2001
"if links lie, nobody will trust them
if links are candid, nobody will follow them"
I'm starting to feel comfortable applying the word "brilliant" to Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems. His talk"MORE THAN LEGIBLE: on links that readers don't want to follow" is saturated with beauty and thoughtfulness. There's no simple solutions to the problems he raises, but there's so many interesting problems I just don't care. It's radical in its anti-usability, redefining usability in a way that appeals to real behavior, not cognitive or environmental understanding.
Found in the Hypertext Kitchen.
posted 11:38:06 AM
Wednesday, April 18, 2001
The city of Hamburg is full of indoor shopping galleries because the frequency of rain here puts it in the same league as London and Seattle. These galleries have tall atriums (atria?) and around each atrium are offices. The Razorfish office here is thus situated. Currently there's a child at a cafe down in the gallery occasionally yelling out, which echoes upward and to me sounds like whale song. An interesting background noise while I'm cranking out schematics.
posted 9:36:18 AM
OK, I'm back to thinking about the experience design roles again. Yesterday I tried reducing it to a let's-all-learn-enough-to-be-webmasters-again approach, but maybe we have certain dispositions that determine what we're good at. A designer just asked me about a page, "What's the emotion thing?" I think users sometimes want an emotion thing, and sometimes they don't, but it seems like designers always want it :) .
posted 5:21:56 AM
I just saw some fancy DHTML that dynamically changes the layout of the page as the browser width is changed. Imagine boxes that were side by side moving one on top of the other as the window is made smaller. Gives a whole new meaning to the term liquid layout. It also requires specifying layout in terms of an algorithm instead of a fixed visual representation.
Lane just let me know Jeffrey Veen's book The Art and Science of Web Design talks about "...headlines scaling in response to the size of the browser window on the Wired site" and the relationship between architecture, design, and code. I now have no excuse not to break down and read that book.
posted 4:55:55 AM
Tuesday, April 17, 2001
hmmm, my comments regarding the closure of Argus have been immortalized. Had I known I would have written something worth saving : ) .
Seriously, I've been thinking more about that situation since then. Spending Easter sans family actually had me reading through Argus's presentation on controlled vocabularies that a friend shared with me (I know, very exciting life). It's very good, hardcore IA thinking.
But then I thought about how Argus marketed what they did. I wonder if there could have been a disconnect between what they sold and what Fortune 1000 clients know to ask for. If IA is a field we're still justifying within business, do the people in business know or appreciate a company selling IA when they're sending out RFPs? It might be better to do some "information hiding" and speak to the clients' needs. I've found terms like "information architecture" and "user experience" are still the vocabulary of designers, not business people. Starting off your message with these terms risks confusion. You've been warned.
posted 9:24:58 AM
Christina and Peter have been discussing the break out of roles within experience design. I've thought about this a few months ago and basically came to the conclusion that we're too specialized. Imagine if one person had all the skills of a writer, IA, designer plus some technical skills - there would be some wonderful efficiencies and undiluted creative vision. While this is harder to achieve in today's specialized environment, it's not impossible. This is not science or art, it is craft, and a proper craft takes a long apprenticeship and a great deal of practice to develop.
posted 4:38:28 AM
Monday, April 16, 2001
My fun IA trick of the day is to take an element on the page and try making it ten times bigger than it is at the moment. It's just a fun way to play and say, "What if...?" It's especially fun with the navigation I'm working with.
For example, take a look at the big happy nav on the HP home page, what a simple, clean, direct approach.
posted 7:30:19 AM
Saturday, April 14, 2001
You can see my IA mentor, and all around rock star, Karen McGrane at the edgewise conference in NYC on May 3-4, along with others with names like Zeldman and Veen. Karen is great because she's so damn smart and so damn practical, gathering all that academic knowledge and unleashing it on everyday problems in a way that makes you say, "oh yeah! give me more!"
posted 9:46:51 AM
woohoo, look who's got a fancy new domain name (may still be resolving, I think).
posted 7:25:43 AM
Friday, April 13, 2001
My Own Private Germany Apparently Easter is a huge deal in Germany - Hamburg closes down for a four day weekend. And I'm not exagerating when I say closes down. I walked for an hour through the center of the city and was lucky to find exactly one kiosk open where a Middle Eastern woman sold me two newspapers and some chocolate. Stuff I wouldn't normally read either, like the weekend editions of USA Today and the Wall Street Journal. What I wouldn't give to get my hands on a copy of the New York Times.
But being an introvert, I rather like it. I enjoy spending time at work and with friends, but then I need time alone with my books and music to recharge. Today it's as if they said, "Why don't we all leave the city to Victor for a while to explore." And so I did. Weird, but interesting.
posted 4:33:13 AM
:( at girlwonder.
posted 4:25:03 AM
Razorfish is hosting the next IA gathering in New York City on May 3rd. I might still be in Germany, so I don't think I'll be there, but it should be interesting. Watch the SIGIA list for details.
posted 4:11:24 AM
Tuesday, April 10, 2001
It's rare when information architecture puts a smile on my face. But I'm wow'd by the brave approach over at united.com. The front page provides access to three commonly used functions and then presents a site map. No overburdened branding. No needlessly complex navigation. Just frequently used functions and the rest of it laid out for you. Nice.
posted 1:56:38 PM
This article - Why College Costs So Much - makes me want to start a college. I'd like the challenge of trying to provide an affordable, quality education, but it also seems like a great business opportunity. And I could start with some graduate programs that are mostly overlooked now (experience design, IA, etc.). Ahhh, pipe dreams...
posted 8:54:17 AM
I'm liking the information design of this digital watch. Seeing the number and comprehending the hour, then seeing the ticks around the bezel and understanding the minutes makes sense to me. The minutes are what I really want the visual representation of, not the hours, but maybe I should test it to be sure. Makes you wonder if the traditional analog clock cognitively overloads the ticks on the bezel by having them represent minutes and hours.
ooh, you can try an on-screen demo too.
posted 8:43:32 AM
The How To article in the The New York Times Magazine is worth checking out. Both humurous and useful.
posted 6:07:13 AM
Monday, April 09, 2001
Arrived in Hamburg this morning...very jetlagged...body not used to pulling all-nighters...afraid to blog for fear of writing something nonsensical.
In the loo on the plane Lufthansa has the mouthwase equivilent of Jalapeno peppers. I almost hurt myself in the quest for better breadth.
I feel the world is almost ready for my band, which will be called Science Pill. I need to trademark it before someone else uses it.
OK, I'm all set. I think we'll make it big over here first and claim it was because Americans couldn't recognize our greatness, just like Hendrix.
posted 7:53:01 AM
Friday, April 06, 2001
Via Bill I found the The Wiki Way book and CD. I'm surprised more IA types haven't explored Wiki more, especially now with all the attention being paid to self-organizing systems.
Um, actually, now that I revisit it I can understand the reticence. First impressions of the navigation can end in utter confusion. I also haven't seen a Wiki implementation with a visual design that assisted users in figuring out what was going on (have there been any serious commericial Wiki implementations?). Am I right in thinking we're so used to our cutesy little navigation bars and fancy schmancy layouts that it's hard to stomach good ol' hypertext anymore?
But, the structure, or lack of it, is fabulously collaborative. This quote is a nice bit of insight:
"So what happens in a Wiki (like this site) long term? Evolution, guided by three key forces:
A wiki eliminates the distinction between writers and readers of a web site (or part thereof). It imposes no particular structure. If you can type, you can contribute."
It's as democratic as Walt Whitman, which I guess would scare commercial types who want some degree of control. Or not, depending on how Cluetrain-influenced one is.
posted 10:51:18 PM
I was lucky enough to have lunch with Lane and his fiancee Courtney yesterday on a gorgeous Spring day in New York. We've corresponded for a while now and just met in person for the first time, which is like meeting someone for the first time but not really. Anyway, it was great to trade stories about how our respective companies are dealing with the times.
This has been another hint to myself that I've been a little too insular in my position. I've got so many people in my office of varying skill sets and experience that I forget to branch out more and get other business perspectives.
posted 10:31:23 PM
They hurt me bad, but I don't mind.
They hurt me bad, they do it all the time.
They do it all the time (do it all the time)
They do it all the time (do it all the time)
Do it all the time...
That Violent Femmes album is just a perfect expression of young, lusty, coming-of-age angst. It's like the musical equivilent of Catcher in the Rye.
posted 10:13:49 PM
Zeldman brings together some CSS positioning knowledge. I can't help but feel terrible about all this work being done to get us to the point where we can consistently use our software to draw boxes on the screen.
posted 9:48:23 PM
Got it! For 6 hours between 8:30 and 17:30 I hammered away getting everything in order and have a brand spanking new passport from the United States of America. It was grueling, but everything at the Department of State proceeded just like it's supposed to.
The new passports have this crazy forge-proof hologram superimposed over the photo and personal info. After five minutes of holding it in the light I made out images of a bald eagle holding some arrows plus a side view of Ben Franklin. At another angle there's waves of "E Pluribus Unum." Over my face is normal ink in the shape of "USA" and stars and stripes, as if I had my passport photo taken in Betsey Ross's house.
I'm off to Hamburg in a couple days for a four week stay to see what they know about making web stuff (mostly kidding, I'll probably just be working my ass off as usual). I have no idea if I'll be blogging more or less, we'll see.
posted 9:40:56 PM
I never thought I'd be one of those people running mad to renew their passport in the last days before a trip, but here I go. Wish me luck.
posted 9:45:02 AM
Wednesday, April 04, 2001
Dan's thoughts on 3D spaces are helping me refine my thoughts on "braincrumbs" (see April 2 entry). I've reduced this thinking down to two questions:
Does the navigation embody the taxonomy? Sometimes the answer is no, as with in-text links that allow you to navigate without understanding any taxonomy and only one or two relationships among the information. Sometimes the answer is yes, as is the case on Yahoo!'s front page, their breadcrumbs, or heading-and-listing sitemaps. Does the navigation embody other aspects of the information beyond the taxonomy? Again, sometimes the answer is no, as on Yahoo!'s front page. Using richer means of expression - graphical, auditory, etc. - can start to show other aspects, like the relative size of data.
Whether we're answering yes or no to these questions depends of course on the design situation. As Dan points out, you can also show various aspects of information without that representation acting as navigation.
posted 2:32:33 PM
Open Source Education!
MIT is planning on posting most of its online coursework for free. This strikes me as being so good for a bunch of reasons. One, it helps make the world a better place by distributing knowledge regardless of location or other hurdles. Two, online education just doesn't match the classroom experience yet, so this will act as a huge marketing effort for the school. Three, it will "raise all boats," helping other educators improve their courses. Four, none of this knowledge is proprietary anyway; professors provide value through their presentation, their mentoring, and their experience. In addition, the school itself provides an infrastructure that supports technical work. So MIT is not giving away what people go there for in any case. Link courtesy of Claudia.
posted 11:44:25 AM
Tuesday, April 03, 2001
I had started to receive enough "ENLARGE YOUR PENIS" spam to wonder if someone somewhere was targeting me. So I was relieved just now to receive an email titled "Breast Enhancement Cream (GUARANTEED) (23962)".
btw, spam is getting very interesting. It used to be rather junk mail-like. But now I'm noticing some new trends, like really poor writing and nonsensical characters or serial numbers in the subject line (like the one above). Sometimes they're so weird I take a second to try and reverse engineer them. It's the "all your base are belong to us" of email.
posted 11:37:37 PM
Here's two articles [ one | two ] on user interface design from the embedded systems perspective. This is so where my head is at these days. I'm on board with Don Norman's ideas of information appliances being easier than general purpose computers, but when we start combining lots of devices, information, and network connections, we'll need some new design ideas we don't have yet. Via webword.
posted 7:36:10 PM
I like this optional question Dell asks you on the way to the support information:
Instead of making an educated guess about how advanced their users are and/or a guess at how to present the information, they simply ask each user and treat them appropriately. This is similar to what a real support person would do, sizing you up at the beginning of a call and then tailoring the communication to your needs. I feel like they've taken the tacit approach of the help desk and modeled it online.
I can appreciate this because before becoming a design hack I was a techie hack, and started on the help desk. I think the help desk was a pivotal experience for me; it's basically one constant stream of usability tests. All day I would run around and watch people struggle with frustratingly stupid software. Only half the issues are about broken technology, the other half are about understanding the technology. In this situation one either becomes highly emphatic towards users or highly annoyed, which determines whether you end up as a designer or a sys admin :).
posted 3:10:02 PM
Monday, April 02, 2001
Liz, my friend and coworker, put her schedule of interface design lectures online. Some neat stuff there, and an interesting approach combining experience design and information architecture.
Although the intro sounds stern (it's amazing how we become our teachers), you know she's a cool teacher 'cause she's got a blog and takes her class to a museum.
posted 11:30:55 PM
Breadcrumbs are useful when you want to see where a particular category fits in the taxonomy and backtrack to another point in the taxonomy:
The Brain, and other similar tools, does the reverse: it displays options for future navigation through either a hierachical or matrix configuration of catagories or items:
I'm currently thinking about a task that involves users jumping into some hard core information that may be unfamiliar and that they must sort through quickly to find what they need. I want the easy back tracking aspect of breadcrumbs plus the matrix-like associations of The Brain. I'm starting to play with ideas like this:
Need a clear visual language. Consistency between the brackets from the breadcrumbs and the "street signs" (future links)? Should breadcrumbs be visually distinct from street signs to signify past and future? Is any perceivable affordance needed to signify "You are Here" in addition to leaving out the underline of the current location? A layout like this would graphically limit the number of street signs to half (180 degrees rather than 360) of what the Brain can show. Problem? This layout could be structured so that pages could be pre-generated into static code, rather than drawing them dynamically with Java or a plug-in technology (thereby avoiding all that hassle).
posted 6:45:34 PM
I'm redesigning. Please take my survey.
I'm currently taking a sorely needed week off from work. One of the items on my to-do list was to redesign this site. I've been bouncing lots of ideas around and had actually devised a plan for the technical parts and had started coding. Then I read Christina's plan to redesign. Like a good user-centered evangelist, she's starting with her users. Upon reading this my defensive reflexes sprung into action with rationalizations like "It's my site damnit, I can design it the way I want it" and "I need to experiment here to practice my craft." It took about ten minutes for that to wash away as I came to the conclusion that proper design is not just something I do at work, it needs to be a way of life. Only then, slowly but surely, technology will become less frustrating and more enjoyable to use.
So if you care, please answer five simple questions. Thanks.
posted 12:54:01 AM
Sunday, April 01, 2001
My new baby:
I'd discuss it, but I'm way too close to it. It's a swirl of conflicted feelings for me, both because of the subject matter and the design challenge.
posted 10:27:54 PM
Blogger blog #8!
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