Thursday, August 26, 2004

The Curse of the Designer

I'm assuming that all of us decided to persue a profession in Industial Design because of our affinity for well made products. We some to school prepared to learn how to create the very thingas that we had once admired so much... where did it all go wrong? When did we become so critical that we can hardly enjoy the products avaiable to us.

I think we all need to strive to not become designer elitists. I'm sure that all of us have been to a snobby art gallery and been turned off... so why recreate the bullshit? Perhaps our education should be emphasising precisely why we love the products we do, rather than critize the many that fall short. We also need to remember that we are (by far) not the best designers in the world, and that we still have a whole lot to learn.

I know that it sounds like I'm laying it on thick, but seriously- think about it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Music Animation Machine

Here's the developer's description of what it is:
"The Music Animation Machine display is a score without any measures or clefs, in which information about the music's structure is conveyed with bars of color representing the notes. These bars scroll across the screen as the music plays. Their position on the screen tells you their pitch and their timing in relation to each other. Different colors denote different instruments or voices, thematic material, or tonality. And each note lights up at the exact moment it sounds, so you can't lose your place."

The timeline can also help you to understand a little bit of how this thing works. Currently the only existing diplays of how this thing works is on video (it shows what the animation looks like with pre-determined songs). This can be a useful tool for music teachers and such, but it's just downright cool to look at (Jon... since you're a teacher you can get the video for free. It's $25 dollars for everybody else).

Please please please do not look at the animation downloads for the Music Animation Machine. They are really poor quality, they are really jumpy and they will only ruin your impression of what the Music Animation Machine is before you even get a chance to see the real thing. Sorry, I know that was a little but abrupt, but I wanted to make sure that no one got the wrong idea about this... because it's really cool.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Dan Brown on G-mail

Have you ever thought about the information architecture of emai? Most of our email services provide one method of organization: folders. Dan Brown, an information architect, is hardly good at organizing his traditional email (which is odd because he's an information architect). He points out some the organizational advantages to google's new email service, G-mail, in his article The Information Architecture of Email.

Instead of asking the user to assign emails to a particular folder, gmail introduces a new method of email organization: threads. "By keeping all the messages together in a single thread, it’s easier to follow a conversation. More importantly, it doesn’t bog down the inbox with lots of messages with the same subject line." The threaded messages can be taken out of the inbox if you choose to archive it... ofcourse G-mail offers so much storage space (1 GB to be exact) that the archive acts as a trash can in some ways. Even if you are still not confident in locating your email thread, google has lent it's super fast search engine to their email service... allowing you to searck your own archive. Of course, all of this storage space does go against the concept of letting the bits go. But, if you're going to hold on to the bits- this isn't a bad way to go.

SmartDraw (or StupidDraw)

Create Great-Looking Flowcharts, Process Flow Models, and Concept Maps with SmartDraw—Download It Free! ...

If you'd like to see this online sales pitch for yourself go here. "SmartDraw is so easy to use, you can download it and get started right away!" Hmmm... this sounds oddly similar to the dreaded doughnut graph on excel. All of a sudden you are picturing youself with this professional looking process flow or concept map... but what happened to the content? The boxes and diamonds are NOT what makes these visual representations difficult to make. They require tons of thought... in fact I would argue that a program that teaches you how to do it and gives lots of stellar examples would be a lot more beneficial than a jazzed up paint program.

I know that the April Fools Day clip art is really hard to pass up, you know... because, that really helps in making great process flow. Now I know why Edward Tufte can be so elitist... because there's stuff like this out there. I haven't asked him personally, but I'm sure he would be ashamed.

Thankyou, Andrew Mundi!

I'm sure that all of us Industrial designers are feeling a little bit of graphic design pain right now. Well... Andrew Mundi is here to help us. The internet has very few good resources for graphic design tips (in my opionion). Most will tell you how to do specific tasks, but it's difficult to get graphic design advice. Jordan found a lovely website with a great flash presentation that contains a lot of this information.

If you visit the site, the color theory and typography is a must see. I didn't previously know anything about typography, but now I can say I do. The sections on type anatomy and type families are very helpful. The way that Mundi explains these subjects is very "information architectury". When the mouse roles over certain words or images, call outs appear for more information.

I encourage my fellow classmates to check out the site (seeing as we are expected to understand and apply graphic design principles... but we haven't been taught how) Plus, we can all appriciate it from an info arch point of view. :)

Friday, August 20, 2004

1000 Journals

"The 1000 Journals Project is and ongoing, collaborative experiment attempting to follow 1000 journals throughout their travels.

"The goal is to provide a method for interaction and shared creativity. If you ask a kindergarten class how many of them are artists, they'll all raise their hands. Ask the same question of 6th graders, and maybe one third will respond. Ask high school grads, and few will admit to it.

"What happened to us growing up? We begin to fear criticism, and tend to keep our creativity to ourselves. Many people keep journals, of writing or sketching, but not many share them with people. (when was the last time a friend invited you to read their diary?) You will not be judged here. And you will have company. This is for you. For everyone. "

*****

Pretty cool stuff, eh? I think that the reason that this idea is so compelling is because (brace yourself...) it involves an actual physical result. Of course, this idea isn't for everybody... if you're not creative you'd probably hate to be involved with 1000 journals. The point is, that the principle of this "movement" is like this living, breathing thing because of the nature of the interaction. In some ways this reminds me of the Wikipedia in the sense that it depends on the good will of its users (something that is sadly missing from most products & systems). The Wikipedia will be a total flop if people put bad material in, or even worse... don't put any information in at all. The 1000 journals project depends on the journals getting filled and getting returned. Starting the project was pretty simple; the creator of the project (who refers to himself as "Someguy") simply mailed out the journals to the first people on the list. But there was something much bigger that he did, which was the belief that people can do some pretty cool things if given the chance.

The website has a bunch of scans of the journals (999 of which are still in circulation... yes, he's only gotten one back so far)... you guys should check them out!

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Seemingly Unrelated Things...

I find it funny that throughout this entire "artificial companionship" project that the real hurdle is simply determining what you product is... It seems so simple, when you are asking youself over and over "What is it?" In class we touched on legacy, and how people are (sometimes very indirectly) affected by the idea that they will live on beyond their phycial life... (remember Judy burying her cats?)... We love the idea of our efforts producing real things; these things reflect who we are and have the ability to preserve it was well. I know we already went over all of this but just bear with me. In Donals Norman's book Emotional Design, he talks about how people tend not to get a great amount of satisfaction or pride out of doing things that are too easy. Norman conveys this point through a true story concerning the Betty Crocker Company in the early '50s. Most of us have made a cake from cake mix before... you take the mix, and water and an egg and bake. The interesting thing is, it wasn't always like that. It used to be even easier because it was just mix and water.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

...The product failed, even though tast tests confirmed that people liked the result. Why? An after-fact-effort was made to find the reasons. As reseachers Bonnie Goebert and Herma Rosenthal put it: "The cake mix was a little too simple. The comsumer felt no sense of accomplishmentm no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch."
Yes, it was too easy to make the cake. Betty Crocker solved the problem by requiring the cook to add an egg to the mix, thereby putting pride back into the activity. Clearly, adding an egg to a prepared cake mix is not at all equivilent to baking a cake "from scratch" by using individual ingredients. Nonetheless adding the egg gave the act of baking as sense of accomplishment, whereas just mixing water into the cake mix seemed too little, too artificial. Goebert and Rosenthal summarized the situation: "The real problem has nothing to do with the products intrinsic value, but instead represented the emotional connection that links the product to its user." Yes, it's all about emotion, pride, about the feeling of accomplishment, even in making a cake from prepared mix.

The principle that Norman mentions or pride and accomplishment (I believe) directly relates to the feeling of self worth that can sometimes dwindle in an older person. The interesting and valuable thing in this excerpt is the fact that sometimes it doesn't take a lot to feel a sense of accomplishement on a small scale.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Jesse James Garrett

While Payaal and I were working on the 1040 tax project, one of our goals was to visually represent our process and our ideas. One of the main reasons that this suffered was because frankly we didn't spend enough time putting it together... but it's a skill that I think that we would all benefit from having both in the explanation of systems as well as representing our own ideas.

While clicking around on the internet, I stumbled upon information regarding Jesse James Garrett, the man who developed the Visual Vocaulary. This looked strikingly similar to what we were learning in the Baseball Project, but his shapes are more fancy. The more interesting thing that I found was Garrett's The Elements of the User Experience. You may not agree with the way that Garrett chucks the elements, but he presents his ideas well. He does a good job of repeating certain imagery by starting out simple and then adding that element into a more complicated idea later. Then again, it's not for me to decide... take a look and form your own opinion about it. :)

Saturday, July 31, 2004

McDonald's gets hip...

Most of us have heard of IDEO (you know, the shopping cart movie). The design firm has taken on a project with McDonald's. IDEO and McDonald's have created self-order kiosks so that customers can order their meal without employee assistance. In case you were worried that the customers might not be able to speak English (or even illiterate) don't worry, the system is completely image based. Parents can now watch their children at the McDonald's Playplace while ordering their food... because the kiosks will be there as well as at the front counter.

It's interesting to think about the implications of this type of ordering system. Will McDonald's food be even cheaper now because they can have fewer employees? Will they put more of their money and effort into the quality of the food? Maybe the financial dynamics won't change but I think if this trial proves to be successful, this would be one of the largest spanning examples of interface design we will see in the near future. McDonalds is one of the few brands that is recognized worldwide. Just imagine if these kiosks were in every McDonalds around the world... this is highly unlikely, but if they were successful I think that it would change the industry in a significant way.