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Saturday, April 3, 2004

The Origin of Theses
The first-year grads had our kick-off (or, really, kick in the ass) meeting about our thesis papers and projects on Wednesday, during which the faculty, led by Director of the Graduate Program Bruce Hanington, urged us to get started with finding topics, project ideas, and faculty advisors, because by the end of the semester, we have to turn in proposals for both parts of our Master's thesis, signed by our faculty advisor(s). This set off a flurry of activity, as people began to scramble to find topics and advisors.

We also saw the general schedule for the deliverables for them next year. It's fairly daunting. The bulk of the paper is supposed to be written in the fall, and presented in early spring. The project should be ready for testing at the end of fall as well. We present the paper to the school in January and present the project next May.

The thesis paper is a 25-30 page essay on a rich design topic in an established area of design. The point of the thesis paper, we were told repeatedly, is not to create new knowledge, but rather to show mastery of a design subject. It's to comprehend, synthesize, and summarize the best thinking around a certain design topic.

If the paper is to show our mastery of the "thinking" part of design, the project is the creation of an object that shows our mastery of the "making and doing" parts, plus documentation of the design process and visual documentation (a poster) of the results.

As it turns out, over the last few weeks (months really), I've been mulling over my thesis paper and project. For a long time, I thought my paper was going to be on Reinventing Products and my project on a system to bookmark physical spaces. But ever since John Rheinfrank's talk on adaptive worlds, I've been very intrigued with the idea of adaptive tools: what they are, how you design them, and how you configure and manage them. Adaptive tools change their form and content based on their interactions with humans and the systems they "live" in. Agents are an example. There's a very limited set of these right now, but in the next decade or so, they are likely to grow exponentially. So it is a good area to explore.

Thus, I've gotten Shelley Evenson to be my thesis advisor for a paper and project about adaptive tools. My paper will be a taxonomy of digital adaptive tools, trying to categorize general types, define some characteristics for each, and begin to outline how they might work as part of an ecosystem. (Some of this, will, of course, be educated guesses since many of these tools are just being created.) Then my project will be an adaptive tool to (get this) manage and configure adaptive tools. How meta.

I'm choosing these theses topics for a few reasons. I think it will be challenging, but not overwhelming. I want to do something forward-thinking. I want to do an application for my thesis project. I'd like to maybe get a paper or two out of it for publication. I wouldn't mind getting a patent or two out of the project either. I think I'll learn a lot from Shelley. And the topic is interesting enough that I doubt I'll have trouble writing a 30 page paper on it.

I'm going to start keeping track of my thesis work on a separate site, devoted strictly to it: adaptivetoolbox.com.

posted at 04:59 PM in faculty, meta, thesis paper, thesis project | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, April 2, 2004

Design Quote of the Week
From Dick Buchanan, responding to a student who said she'd only been in design for a few years:

"Design is like California. No one is born there."

posted at 08:13 AM in design 101, faculty | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, March 31, 2004

CMU Typeface
It would be cool for CMU to have its own typeface, like the one Matthew Carter (a recent visitor to CMU) did for Yale. Right now, the Design school uses an uneasy mix of ITC Officina Sans and Meta (for numbers). And type is one of our specialties!

posted at 09:49 PM in cmu, typography | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


miLife Personas and Product Concepts
We presented the results of our generative research to Microsoft on Monday for the a set of personas (156k pdf) and our research findings and product concepts (550k pdf). We also created an extensive set of storyboards for each concept, walking through a scenario of use. I'll try to remember to scan some in.

In any case, we now have three weeks to refine the chosen concept (concept #1: SeeNote). Which means more scenarios, schematics, task flows, a paper prototype, testing, a physical model, a digital prototype, and a presentation to put together. In three weeks. It's a good thing I don't have other classes. Oh wait...

UPDATE: MS changed the concept they wanted us to pursue. Now it's #2, SpeakEasy, the headset device.

posted at 08:22 AM in projects | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Ugly Poster Prototype
I'm still slowly circling around my final project for Mapping & Diagramming. I did an earlier iteration with just post-it notes, but I wanted to try something with some actual album cover images. Thus, this ugly poster prototype (190k pdf) that looks like a plate of spaghetti with album cover meatballs. Ugly as it is, it's still useful and sort of interesting.

posted at 02:34 PM in projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, March 29, 2004

History of Interaction Design Readings
Readings for Marc Rettig's visit to seminar this week:

posted at 07:08 PM in readings | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, March 28, 2004

What's Normal
Karen Moyer gave another one of her infamous lectures: What's Normal. It's a response to when people say, "I just want to type up a term paper or something and isn't there just a little recipe you can give me to make the paper look normal?" So this is how to make general typography look normal.

You should always start with body copy and then base the titles, subtitles, and captions/footnotes/marginalia afterwards. It's most important that the body copy be legible.

Here's the things to be aware of:

  • Alignment. Flush Left/Ragged Right is more legible than Flush Right and Justified. Only justify with a longer line length and only use Flush Right sparingly and never for body copy.
  • Rivers. Rivers are formed when the white spaces between words seemingly line up and form a "river." Avoid these.
  • Line Lengths. You want to apply the Goldilocks Principle to line length: not too long, not too short, but just right. Forty characters (about an alphabet and a half's worth of letters, spaces, and punctuation) is about the absolute minimum you'd want for body copy. Short line lengths: 40-55 characters. Longer line lengths are 75-90 characters. You generally want something in the middle range: 55-75 characters.
  • Font Size. The best typical font size for body copy is 10 point. (sometimes 11).
  • Leading. Leading, the vertical space between lines, is 20 percent additional of you font size. Which for body copy, typically means +2 points. So 10pt font has 12pt leading, 11pt font has 13pt of leading, etc. One exception to this is very small type (below 8pt), which needs more leading to make it more legible.
  • Line Length : Leading Ratio. The most important thing for legibility (for black type on white paper anyway). Optical Grey is how dense the type appears on the page. You generally don't want to have lines of text without enough leading. More leading makes the optical grey lighter. The longer your line length, the more leading you have to have to add. For body copy, add +3 or +4. Perversely, the same hold true with short line lengths, where you should add +2.5, +3, or +4. Never more than +4 though.
  • Font Choice. The difference between the thick and thin parts of letters in certain fonts like Bodini make a lot of "sparkle" that make then less legible. You need to add more leading to compensate. Also: the ratio of the Cap (the top of a capital letter) to the X Height (the top of a lower-case x) makes a difference. The bigger the ratio, the less leading you need to add because there is a lot of space already designed into the font face.

posted at 10:32 AM in design 101, faculty, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


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All straight lines circle sometimes. - The Weakerthans