O Danny Boy

Never confuse activity
   with action. —Ben Franklin

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October 26, 2004

Rhythm in Interaction Design

Ever do a repetitive action involving a keyboard and more than two keys? I just did while programming something. And while it's nice to say we should just find ways to automate repetitive tasks, sometimes that's undesirable or unworkable. Think of where gaming would be if you didn't press buttons over and over, jumping over barrels or shooting at aliens.

In a repetitive situation, it's easy to make mistakes unless you get into a rhythm, a pattern of doing it. When you find yourself designing something that out of necessity needs to be repetitive, try it yourself and see if you can fall into a rhythm of doing it. Click on the key sequences in a pattern for a few minutes. If you can't find a comfortable rhythm, your users probably won't be able to either. Thus, their task will be error prone and you need to redesign.

Posted at 03:13 PM | Link

October 25, 2004

Why I Don't "Support Our Troops"

I just got back from my sister's wedding, which involved quite a few hours driving in a car. A sizable portion of the cars on the road here in the Eastern US are now sporting yellow and/or red, white, and blue ribbon magnets that say simply Support Our Troops. The more I saw them, the more enraged I got.

I should note that I currently have a cousin in the Marines, two uncles who have served (Army, Navy), and both my grandfathers are WWII veterans who saw some serious combat activity. I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who serve in the military. No, this rant is about the magnets and the people who sport them.

"Support Our Troops" is about as meaningless a phrase as can be devised. What does that mean? Send them better equipment? Give them a better salary? (I'm all for both.) Recruit more of them? Give them better uniforms? I have no idea.

The idea behind the ribbons (the AIDS ribbon, the breast cancer ribbon, ad nauseum) was to raise awareness about a particular issue so that people would take some action. I think there's quite a bit of awareness about the war: what we need now is some action towards a goal. Even people like myself who are against the war don't blame the troops who are fighting it. Tying a yellow ribbon is about bringing a loved one home, and if that's the message (is it?), I'm all for it. The best way we can support our troops now is to get them the hell out of Iraq in as short a time as possible.

But slapping a magnet on your car is about the very least you can do. If you really want to help those in the military, work towards a concrete goal. Get them better equipment and a better salary. Get them more troops. Honor their sacrifices.

Of course, the best way to support our troops is to not abuse their trust in the government to not send them into pointless wars. But that doesn't fit on a magnet.

Posted at 11:13 AM | Link

October 11, 2004

Bylines in Design

My wife is a reporter. In her world, you do the work, you put your name on it. In the design world, you do your work, someone else puts their company name on it. Perhaps one reason we don't get as much respect as we deserve is that we're for the most part anonymous.

Unless you look at Comm Arts Interactive or something similar, you often have no idea who designed a particular site, application, or device. It would be nice if we could start including as part of our contracts, that someplace visible, either in documentation or under About This Site or About X Application, it says simply Designer: Your Name.

In this simple way, those of us who aren't Phillipe Stark or Michael Graves would get what we all want: a little respect. And maybe more money too.

Posted at 07:43 PM | Link

October 04, 2004

I Am Trying To Break Your Design

Over the weekend, I watched the documentary I am Trying to Break Your Heart which is about the band Wilco while they were recording Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which I think is just a great album. I really enjoy seeing how artists and designers work, what their processes are.

Jeff Tweedy, the singer/songwriter of Wilco, was explaining their songwriting process and noted that, at first, the band rehearses and plays a song in the most straightforward manner it can. Then they go back and try to break the song into bits, to deconstruct it and see if they can't get more musical juice out of it. It's an interesting way to work, and I wonder how well it would work with design (if it doesn't for some designers already).

Personally, I tend to focus on the bits as I work. I have a vision for the product as a whole, but I refine and tinker with each bit as I create it. Perhaps I should try the Wilco method: build things in the simplest way possible and only then go back and deconstruct the parts, making them richer. Something to think about.

Posted at 10:59 AM | Link

October 01, 2004

Big Brother, You Can Drive My Car

I've often said that the next big technology innovation and interaction design challenge was going to involve transportation and traffic: smart cars on smart highways. I've also often said that we're probably twenty five years away from that vision. Turns out I was right on the first count, but dead wrong on the second. The Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office of the US Office of Transportation has already spent $4 billion (that's billion with a B) to make this a reality, and they are hoping to start equipping cars by 2010. This article explains the details.

And some of those details are, as you might expect from a government office that no one has ever heard of, creepy.

For 13 years, a powerful group of car manufacturers, technology companies and government interests has fought to bring this system to life. They envision a future in which massive databases will track the comings and goings of everyone who travels by car or mass transit. The only way for people to evade the national transportation tracking system they're creating will be to travel on foot. Drive your car, and your every movement could be recorded and archived. The federal government will know the exact route you drove to work, how many times you braked along the way, the precise moment you arrived -- and that every other Tuesday you opt to ride the bus.

Like I said, creepy. Under the guise of preventing accidents, more privacy will be taken away. And private data will be provided to businesses to sell you more product.

Obviously, there is a huge benefit to tracking traffic patterns and preventing accidents. Getting into a car and having it figure out your route to work, rerouting based on traffic, and speeding along very quickly and safely is going to be fantastic. But not at the expense of having our liberties (once again) removed.

Posted at 06:00 PM | Link


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