Final Thought: 2005
While doing some end-of-the-year archiving of old emails, I was startled when I came across some from Jef Raskin, one of the designers of the original Macintosh and author of The Humane Interface. I was surprised because Jef died this February and, although I was sad at the time, I had sort of forgotten about it.
Although I never met Jef, The Humane Interface was the first interaction design book I ever read, and it changed the way I thought about computers. Although I still don't agree with everything he said/wrote, he made me (and many others) believe that interfaces could be better, that we can think differently about our relationship with the computer. I still believe that, and although Jef is now gone, the work goes on.
See you in 2006.
Ted Stevens Would Capture Kong
It's hard not to see the allegory when, on the same day I see King Kong, a story about a wild thing, the last of its kind, brought down by greed, Ted Stevens, cantankerous senator from Alaska, tries to bring down ANWAR. Except of course, Kong can fight back. ANWAR is just caribou and polar bears.
Best Interaction Design Blogs of 2005
At the end of the year, I typically do a few "best of" posts for music, movies, books. But this year, I'm not feeling it because, for the most part, I wasn't feeling those. Movies were uninspiring, music, aside from a few gems like Eels' Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, has been pretty tepid. I didn't get to read as many new books as I'd like. But I did spend a lot of time reading. Blogs that is. So here, in no particular order, are the best interaction design blogs of 2005:
My thanks to all the bloggers above. You've made my year more thoughtful and interesting and my designs better. Keep up the good work!
Acknowledging the Edges
Almost every weekday, I travel down San Francisco's Market Street. If you haven't been down it, almost half of it is given over to flop houses, boarded-up shops, strip clubs, low-rent clothing stores, liquor and crappy convenience stores. Every time I take the bus down this main thoroughfare, I wonder, how can it remain like this? Real estate in San Francisco is outrageously expensive, and Market Street is tourist central. It's always shocking to me, a resident. I can only imagine how it appears to Midwestern Suburban Family on Vacation.
I suppose it is one thing to read Kevin Lynch's seminal book The Image of the City. It's another thing to live it.
In The Image of the City, Lynch celebrates the empty lot as a place of possibility. In the same way, not every neighborhood in a city can be clean, yuppie, gentrified Pacific Heights, or even the nice but funky Haight Ashbury where I live. Sometimes you need the edge, the grit, the humanity. Sometimes (and for some, often) you need to grab a 40 or have some raunchy fun, and if everywhere is sanitized, where are you going to do that? The urge for such thrills isn't going to disappear, no matter how many laws are passed or how many city clean-ups are enacted. The stuff just moves elsewhere; it doesn't go away.
It's the same with products. No matter how heavily engineered and controlled your design is, someone somewhere is going to tamper with it and push it to do something you didn't think could be done with it. Things get hacked, whether we like it or not.
There are edges in both cities and products. We either live in denial or we acknowledge their necessity. The edges are places where unusual things live, things outside the mainstream. Things we often need, even if we don't know it. New ideas. Forgotten ideas. Artists. Musicians. And, yes, junkies, sex workers, the homeless, grifters, the person who smashed your car window. The edges often teeter on chaos, and this can be dangerous and exciting.
So while I may never like Market Street, I do understand it, and its place in the city. Supposedly, the light and darkness are both alike to God.
Web Services and Their Users
I've been reading with wonder and fascination the comments about Yahoo buying del.icio.us. So many of the del.icio.us users seem to feel that because they used the service (for free), the service owes them something. This is, of course, absolute bullshit.
As I've noted before, services are different from physical products. If a better service comes along, people will quickly switch to it. How much do you owe former search engine king Altavista? Nothing. Had a better bookmarking/tagging tool come along, all these gripers would have moved their del.icio.us bookmarks over to it, no question. Services by their nature are ephemeral; they change and mutate over time. Don't like it? Make your own service that you can maintain yourself forever.
Users of web services should remember that, unless you are paying for the service, you're getting something for free that really isn't free. Someone else has footed the bill for server space, bandwidth, development time, maintenance, etc. The service owners are paying for that, and the users, no matter how invested in the service they are, are not the owners.
This is not very Web 2.0 of me, I know, and perhaps I'm tainted by seeing what it takes to set up and a run a web service. It's not easy and it's expensive. Services like Flickr and del.icio.us, in order to scale, often need the resources (money, bandwidth, developers) that only a Yahoo or its ilk can provide to keep the service running well and to add or improve features. Imagine if Starbucks coffee service tried to serve millions of people with four people. For free. It doesn't work. This is the nature of services, for good or ill.
Book Em, Dan-O
I might as well come clean. I just signed a book deal with New Riders to write a book on interaction design. It's tentatively called Designing for Interaction: Creating Smart Applications and Clever Devices, and the fates willing, it will be published next summer.
The book is meant for new(er) practitioners and students, although I'm making sure to throw in some high-end stuff for experienced designers as well. The book is drawing heavily on the curriculum I devised for the class I taught last year and the year before, and will cover not only web and software, but delve into devices and services as well. I think it will be the most holistic look at interaction design, issuing from a design perspective, on the bookshelves. At least, I hope it will be. Wish me luck writing it!