Monday, March 22, 2004

Good Design

In every sense of the word "good." Mohammed Bah Abba's pot-inside-a-pot refrigerator. Brilliant in its simplicity, awesome in its impact.

Posted at 07:05 PM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Saturday, March 13, 2004

TV Patterns

Anyone who likes TV and likes finding patterns in things (Ooo! Me! Me! Me!) should love this set of television tropes, idioms, and devices. It's a wiki, so you can add your own (plus cheeky commentary) in case you find something missing. A plot example:

Three Is Company

An episode based on a misheard conversation.

A result of a principal character misinterpreting something. Usually the principal character suffers many machinations in trying to prepare for a showdown, only to discover at the last second it was "all a huge mistake."

There is a persistent rumour of an unaired Frasier episode that's not based on this plot.

Posted at 08:31 AM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, March 7, 2004


It's a new season of The Sopranos starting tonight, and you know what that means: lots of overblown articles about how brilliant and nuanced the show is.
"It's the closest thing to Shakespeare we've seen in contemporary times...The blend of humor, pathos, depravity and human desires has never been portrayed in more lyrical fashion. Beyond the splendid writing and acting, there's a cadence of language, a brilliance of direction and photography that pulls you into this story..."

Or, from this Salon (one of the worst offenders) article:

" Once again, "The Sopranos" makes other dramas look like clever puppet shows by comparison. Through lyrical digressions, rich images and a dismaying clutter of missed connections, David Chase dredges up the thinly veiled chaos of family life and the melancholy of clinging to old roles that no longer fit."

Gag. I mean, c'mon. It's a good show, but Shakespeare, it ain't.

Posted at 02:20 PM | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, March 4, 2004

The Aesthetics of Revelation

The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue newsstand sales are expected to hit about 1.5 million this year and bring in some $34 million in advertising revenue. Why? It's not like there isn't a ready availability of nude women, both online and in magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, et al. And why did those nudie mags take a beating from those "laddie" magazines like FHM and Stuff with their scantily-clad (but not nude) starlets?

My guess is that it's for the same reason that millions of men look forward to getting the Victoria's Secret catalog: sometimes you don't want or need to see everything. Sometimes it's more aesthetically pleasing to only show a part of something, to keep something hidden; it creates desire. As Freud taught us, we desire what we don't have or what we feel we've lost.

Design is partially about creating objects of desire. It's a third of the trinity of useful, usable, and desirable that comprise products we want to own and use. Desirability is that quality that makes us want to have the thing be a part of our lives. It's the voice of the product, beckoning to us. And what's more seductive, a whisper or a shout?

Of course, this goes against what usability and findability gurus have been telling us for years. People want to see every link, they tell us. Put everything out front. Get everything out in the open. Show us full frontal, in other words.

But maybe, just maybe, this isn't the right way to make something appealing. Yes, there are times when you do just want things quickly and efficiently. But not every task is about efficiency. There is a pleasure in exploration and in finding something that is not initially apparent, but is there when you go to look for it. Just this afternoon, I overheard a discussion about finding the Track Changes feature in MS Word. It was such a revelation, a group of people had a discussion about it. (And when was the last time you heard people get excited (in a good way) about Word?) Now, granted, it shouldn't have taken years to find this feature, but still...

Design is a strange combination of making the invisible, visible (think of the UI and of affordances) and, when necessary, making the visible, invisible. What you can't see, like the dropped notes in jazz music, is sometimes as important as what you can. What remains left out or hidden or strategically covered with a thin piece of wet fabric is a design decision, done for effect. Elegance is achieved.

Posted at 06:10 PM | comments (3) | trackback (0) | link


Cool Music Artist Map

My friend and classmate Megan Shia pointed me to Music Plasma, which links musical artists together. This came out a while ago, so I'm probably behind the times once again.

One problem with this otherwise interesting information visualization: no key and no explanation. What do the links really mean? Or the distance between bubbles? Only thing I could find out about is that the size of the bubble represents how popular the artist is. But how is that determined? Album sales? Is this whole thing dynamic? Why is Norah Jones triple the size of R.E.M.?

Posted at 08:06 AM | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, March 1, 2004

Notes from the 2004 IA Summit

Texas can only be seen through breaks in the fluffy white clouds that look, from above, like childish snow sculptures. I'm flying home after spending the last three days in Austin, attending what amounts to eight chockablock classes a day in information architecture, information design, and interaction design. And then spending the rest of the time meeting and talking to people about their jobs, interests, and lives, sometimes finally matching faces with names/email addresses of people I've corresponded with over the years.

I realized this is the first conference I've ever attended that actually has something to do with what I do. (Or at least, used to do and will hopefully do again after school.) It was an interesting mix of case studies, high-level talk, and low-level tactics. I'm not sure its theme "Breaking New Ground" was particularly apt, because I didn't hear anything radically new (although maybe this is because I'm in graduate school and get a lot of newness already), but I did hear some good depth on certain topics, and I'm definitely taking back some things to chew on and think about. Some personal highlights:

  • No-Duh Deliverables. Dan Willis made a compelling case for not showing all your deliverables. Wireframes and site maps and the like are too difficult for most people to easily comprehend. Better are some documents in which the ideal response is, "Yeah, no duh, I get it already." These are documents that make the info we present something that can be easily understood and enjoyed. The goal is to different people to talk about the same thing, ideally using the same words. You know you've succeeded when someone you've never talked to, after seeing the no-duh deliverables, has the same ideas about the project as you do.
  • Personas: The Next Generation. George Olsen presented a method used at Yahoo to create personas not just for generating empathy, but also as a means of guiding strategic decisions, of deciding features and content. These personas are incredibly detailed and must take a really long time to do well. Good idea to use marketing's zip code data to help fill in gaps in personas.
  • New Research on Navigation. Victor Lombardi had some interesting (and controversial, considering the library science crowd) ideas about navigation. He argued that navigation is not just about wayfinding ("findability"), but also about meaning and that some of the meaning is carried in the form of the content. People respond to forms and look for familiar forms. Cognitively, it is easier to view and understand the form of something than it is to analyze the content of it. Victor challenged the idea that navigation needs to be consistent; instead, he claims that changes in navigation that are subtle and not disorienting can actually improve navigation by drawing a user's attention to the navigation slightly. Additionally, research suggests that some transitional/transient pages that only show form (like a list of links) are a good thing. This goes against common wisdom for sure.
  • Rethinking Information Visualization. Karl Fast's thoughts on the purposes of information visualization were pretty interesting, striking as they do at the intersection of information and interaction design. For Karl, the purpose of info visualization isn't necessarily about the communication of ideas, but more the generation, creation, and discovery of new ideas--about insight, in other words. But it isn't the designer who creates the insights of course, it is the user. The designer only creates the visualization tool and lets the user create the connections between the data. This is hard, of course. The designer has to find the right form for representing the data as well as develop meaningful interactions. But when it is done well, it works really well. Visual perception is powerful and fast: "high bandwidth to the brain." It changes the cost structure of a task, making what could be challenging easily understood. Karl emphasized, however, that there are cases where thinking is important. Designers shouldn't always make it easy.
  • Dirty Laundry. Samantha Bailey's brave airing of her experience with how sometimes the user-centered process doesn't work was nice to hear. Sometimes, it doesn't.
  • Trans A.M. Brenda Laurel's keynote speech, half-heard and illegible as it was, was still inspiring. She talked about designing for trans-: transmedia, transpersonal, transmodal, and transformative design, showing examples from her students to illustrate. Damn, her students do nice-looking work. The inspiring part was that she feels we're moving into a new age of consciousness, enabled by computers and the digital world. Designers have to push back against the dullness of the current world and wake people up from their media stupor. By doing so, we change people from passive receivers to participatory citizens. When we change the context in which we do actions, it transforms us. And we are all now in the process of being transformed. At least, this is what I think she said. It was 8:30 on a Saturday morning after an evening of BBQ and bourbon.

I also have some personal memories. They might not mean anything to you, but this conference wouldn't have been complete without

  • Rachel Murray's love for The White Stripes
  • a cover band that can play both "The Pina Colada" song and Coldplay's "Yellow"
  • the rhetorical style of Mr. Clifton Evans
  • swapping dot com war stories with the good people of SBI.Razorfish
  • the most uncomfortable chairs in the world
  • crocheted blankets
  • a Reggae Tribute to Johnny Cash
  • "I want what he's having."
  • Brenda Janish's' "Go Fuck Yourself" needlepoint
  • spotting Eric Stoltz in a random bar
  • Canadians galore!

Posted at 11:34 PM | comments (7) | trackback (0) | link


Search Entries

Greatest Hits
A Definition of Interaction Design
Designing for Gizmos & Spimes
Design Egomaniacs
Personality in Design
Putting Interactivity into RSS
The Value of Design Process
Thinking About Design Thinking
9/11: Year Two
RSS Feeds
Full Entries
Design Entries Only
O Danny Boy is About Me, Dan Saffer, and has my Portfolio, Resumé, Blog, and some Extras. It also has the blog I kept of my graduate studies and ways to Contact Me.