The Clearing

Once in a while the Monopoly game of life tosses us Second Prize in a Beauty Contest card. Last night, courtesy of the nice people at the New Yorker and Johnny Walker, I saw a preview of the film The Clearing with Robert Redford, Willem Dafoe and Helen Mirren. The plot was thriller, but the genre was drama, focusing more on the characters than the suspense, which was fine with me as the extensive dialog between Redford and Dafoe is music to the ears. The event included hor d'oeuvres and scotch (of course) and capped off with a Q&A session with director Pieter Jan Brugge and writer Justin Haythe, all in the theater of the Tribeca Grand hotel. It all felt very priviledged and very New York.
May 25, 2004

CMS Playground
I used to say CMS user interfaces were developing slowly because, like intranets, they were all behind the firewall. But I'm wrong, opensourceCMS has many CMS packages installed for you to try out and learn from. An excellent resource.

Internet Appliance
On Matt's blog I found a place to raise my freak Internet appliance flag, 'If we look at what people actually use PCs for, there's a bell curve that includes email, web, digital photos, and a couple other things. Why not spend $299 for that? '. He points me to the Emailer plus: emailing and surfing for $60. At that price point, it's less about replacing the PC than complimenting the PC and replacing the landline phone.
May 24, 2004

Service and Work
More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm...

Lately, since reading this, I see every business I patronize through this lens. Some firms are able to deliver consistently lousy service simply because of supply and demand, or location, but not forever.
May 23, 2004

Practice Development Activities
More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm...

May 21, 2004

The cost of software
Interesting that a price policy in something as relatively low cost as blog software has spurred such good thinking about price policies. Mark Pilgram gives us the long-term view: 'In the long run, the utility of all non-Free software approaches zero. All non-Free software is a dead end... It’s not about money; it’s about freedom.'

And Mark Bernstein gives us the short-term view: 'The only thing I expect, if I'm paying $700 for a software package, is that it be worth $700. If I buy a $700 program, and it promptly saves me $750, I'm as happy as a clam.'

May 20, 2004

Irony was cited as a trait of my generation, but it seems even stronger in the upcoming generation, increasingly reality-show self-aware. Is this a trend, growing irony over time?

Douglas Coupland, author of Gen X, later said, 'When you're younger, you think a little irony is all you need. You think it'll get you to the grave, but it won't. Loss always seeps through. You do need to deal with it.' Can the jolt of reality still counter irony when reality itself is mocked?

Profitability vs. Health
More notes from Managing the Professional Service Firm...

A Firm's Mix of Consultants and Projects
As mentioned last week, I'm reading David H. Maister's Managing the Professional Service Firm, and it's very very very good. I'll post some summaries here, though it's almost a sin to summarize it as his writing is already clear and concise.

Staff falls in 3 basic levels: Partner, Manager, and Consultant.

He identifies 3 main types of projects:

The right staffing mix is needed for the project mix, e.g. more Partners for Brains projects, more Consultants for Procedure projects. Over time, you need to factor in how consultants are to be promoted, what kind of projects you attract, and how that affects the mix.
May 18, 2004

Fast Company design issue

The current issue of Fast Company is all about design. It's mostly them confirming that yes, design is important, but also putting a nice human perspective on it by focusing on design leaders. I discovered Angela Shen-Hsieh's gorgeous data visualizations, she has a beautiful/fascinating ppt on the AIGA site.
May 17, 2004

Blog software mayhem
My MT Alternatives post back on May 6 turns out to be prescient, with Movable Type upping their prices and competitors finally coming out of the wood work. Regarding MT's prices, mostly I'm disappointed in the we-want-everything-for-free attitude of the complainers (heard before when Blogger had load and security issues), I thought that went away with the dot com crash. The MT folks worked long and hard to do something better, gave a lot of it away for nothing, and now the competitors are standing on their shoulders. If folks want to switch, fine, but spare us the whining.

The issue is summarized nicely by Liz Lawley.
May 16, 2004

Play sound!
So I've got this big, expensive computing machine under my desk that's capable of generating some serious music, and yet out of the box it's rather difficult to get it to play anything at all. Sometimes all I need is the A below middle C to tune my guitar, ya know? I found Audacity which helped me generate 30 seconds of such a note. iTunes converted it into a 400k AAC file, and now you can download 220Hz.m4a for your tuning pleasure (you'll probably need to right click/control click to save it).
May 15, 2004

I'm trying to forumulate my rationale to myself of why I don't want a piece of the Google IPO. It has something to do with 1) IPOs are bad for companies in general, 2) Google has explicitly warned it won't try to make returns in the short term. Given that Google took the search crown in the short term, someone else is just as likely to take it away, and 3) I can't perceive much difference between their showcase product and Yahoo's.

While I'm getting those thoughts straight, see their soul-sucking new blog, and their counter-philosophy new banner ads. Those Morgan Stanley folks really know how to whip a company into shape!
May 14, 2004

Recent NBS features
In case you're only reading the feed: Backslider slides through your recently visited web pages, the Wall St. Journal discovers IA, summaries of an MBA journal on design, and the classic Bell telephone meets the mobile.

Mailing list drama
In case you're not following sigia-l at home, peterme states what the rest of us were thinking, and ziya runs and tells dad. Hey, if it doesn't yield much actual professional knowledge ya might as well enjoy the soap opera!

Digital Web redesign
Wow. Congratulations to the Digital Web crew on a be-ah-u-ti-ful new site, a great example of balancing aesthetics and functionality. & the test of time just won the Webby for best activist site again, after having won it in 2002. The design has nicely evolved and it still sports the same structure we gave it back in 2001. I wince a little when I see it, being intimately aware of the flaws, but I'm super happy that it works for people despite not being valid code and all that.
May 13, 2004

Contextual dictionary lookups
LiveDictionary for Safari is the kind of functionality that should be enabled everywhere. Imagine how our kids vocabulary will increase when they can point to any word and get the definition. Link courtesy of jr.

How Consulting Firms Work
I spent years in consulting deconstructing how the firms operated and what drove their business decisions. Ironically, the same year I started at a consulting firm (1993) was the same year David H. Maister published Managing the Professional Service Firm which explains it all. He's a great writer, and has published other great titles since then. Thanks to Christina for the recommendation.

Woz History
Woz's site contains some fun stories, including this telling bit: '...the Gates/Allen BASIC was becoming the standard thing to get for your Altair computer.'
May 11, 2004

Oh, does my father have experience with this stuff?
Hendrek Hertzberg, in the course of reviewing Bob Woodword's book Plan of Attack, goes looking for and finds relationship issues between the senior and junior Bush: I asked about his father in this way: “Here is the one living human being who’s held this office who had to make a decision to go to war. And it would not be credible if you did not at some point ask him, What are the ingredients of doing this right? Or what’s your thought, this is what I’m facing.”
“If it wouldn’t be credible,” Bush replied, “I guess I better make up an answer.”

New Blogger
Blogger relaunched with help from Adaptive Path and Douglas Bowman and it's very nice. After not having used it in a long while, it's a blast to revisit the old hood and see how much has changed. I published out an old blog (about teaching a distance education class) in one of the new fancy, schmancy templates. The profile is neat too:

On Blogger Since: August 1999
Posts Written 648
Words Written 45,191
Outbound Links 712

IA Schmoozfest tonight in NYC
Avi Rappoport, myself, and other swell folks will be schmoozing prior to search-a-palooza and you're invited. Tonight at the midtown Hilton bar.
May 10, 2004

The Em Dash
May 08, 2004

The law of fast processors reaches usability labs
Someone must have described this already, but for now I'll modestly coin Lombardi's Law of Fast Processors: as processor speed increases, software replaces dedicated hardware. In music or video production it means programs like GarageBand and Final Cut Pro and a stock Macintosh replace dedicated rack systems and DSP chips. In usability testing, it means a program like Morae -- which wow'd my coworker at the recent CHI conference -- replaces a rack of digitizing and video manipulation gear. So a laptop and a USB camera becomes a powerful, portable testing lab.
May 07, 2004

MT Alternatives
Surfing around lately looking at the blogging software landscape and wondering why Movable Type doesn't have more competitors, it just seems like everyone is running it. The plug-in library is certainly attractive, but not exclusive. Interesting direct competitors include Textpattern and Wordpress. Meyer has switched to the latter.
May 06, 2004

eContent on Enterprise IA
Tony Byrne writes a great overview of enterprise information architecture in the new eContent magazine. He also dishes out the tough love: 'Some responsibility for the dearth of EIA activity also lies with IA specialists themselves. There is a bit of a tendency in the IA community to over-invest precious energy in KM-esque intellectual debates about ontologies and topic maps, when thought and research could better be applied to more pressing issues, like how to build compelling business cases for a corporate EIA team.'

Well yeah, the geeky techniques are more fun :) But of course the people, processes, and tools must support each other, and so Tony poses an excellent challenge we should rise to.

Quick MBA
Bookmarking Quick MBA for future use, a fantastic primer for everything from law to operations to strategy.
May 05, 2004

Expedia Link-Button
Just when you thought you knew how radio buttons should work, Expedia introduces the Link Button:

I stared for a few seconds, then guessed upon clicking the link it would give me an explanation of the term. Nope. It selects that option, same as if you clicked the radio button. Did Expedia do usability testing and found no one knew how to use radio buttons?

More interesting is what lies just above the radio buttons, another form of mutually exclusive navigation:

In this case the selected state is represented by a button which is not clickable. My personal preference is for links to load a new screen of information, not new form options, but that's not a big deal. What's odd is that they use two different and somewhat unconventional UI widgets right next to each other to do the same thing. Other options include putting some questions on the previous screen, inserting wizard questions, using all radio buttons, and even Amazon-style tabs might be more clear and exhibit more consistent behavior. Heck, why not use them all?

May 04, 2004

IHT design evolution
The IHT site received a lot of attention for its front-end code, but John Weir also put thoughtful work into the layout. Check out his case study on Smoking Gun (no permalink, click on the map of the world). It hurts that he strived to avoid scrolling and now IHT has two banner ads that push the article navigation below the fold, even on 1024x768.

Update: The editor was kind enough to write in to say they are working on the problem and in the meantime it's possible to use the entire right column to link to the next page. Although there's no perceivable affordance, it's a pretty neat form of navigation.
May 03, 2004

Free Flash gallery and slideshow apps
What Flash does well: SimpleViewer, a gallery from Felix at Airtight, and Slide Show from Todd Dominey of Dominey Design. Thanks guys!
May 02, 2004

Kuniavsky on smart furniture
Mike Kuniavsky has a nice spread in the new Metropolis magazine (not online yet). It's great to see a blog post become a magazine article, with responses from the likes of IDEO.

22 Questions for Peter Morville
The InfoDesign interview:
Q: Lesson Learned From .Com Burst:
A: People live longer than companies.
May 01, 2004