My gripe with tiny urls

The other day I got this newsletter via emai about some new conference in UX. Reading through the newsletter, I got to a few sections that used a few of those shorted URLs, such as created by websites like tinyurl.com. While I think shortened URLs are great for interfaces that have a restriction on characters, such as Twitter or SharePoint, I fail to see the good of a shortened URL in a newsletter. There are already gobs of text swimming around, what are a few extral characters in a URL going to do? I mean, if you’re going to take the time to write out an entire newsletter, I’d much rather see a longer and more meaningful URL than some shortened one that tells me nothing about the destination.

Wicked problems and the price of oil

Working in an oil company has certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of the energy infrastructure in the US and the world. I’m sure that the majority of the people I come into contact with who have an opinion on energy consumption are unaware of just how complex it is to actually get oil out of the ground and into our cars.

Last year I learned and started thinking about “wicked” problems and “designerly” thinking. My understanding is that there are some problems in the design world, in which the variables and interactions between problems are extremely complex and are called “wicked” problems. Sustainable energy consumption is most definitely a “wicked” problem.

Lately, it seems I’ve heard the term “sustainability” being used quite a bit, with what I suspect is a regards to energy conservation and design of manufactured goods. Technically, these are two different things and, to be honest, the word “sustainable” is used too often without any particular type of qualifier. Sustainability is like spirituality. There are all kinds of spiritual practices. We need to be clear about what we’re talking about with regards to sustainability – e.g., sustainable agriculture, a sustainable approach to business development, and sustainable technology development.
Change to the way the world uses energy is not something that can happen within even 5 years. It’s something that will require a deep commitment from several generations of political leaders and will require us all to put aside our motivations for power and economic wealth in favor of the future of the planet. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I do believe that it’s somewhat unrealistic to think that one industry or even one country will be able to make lasting changes to the energy infrastructure of the world alone.

More info:
Check out this download for Firefox, “Oil Standard” – See the world in barrels of oil

Stirring Design Into Business – article on design thinking in Business Week, 2007

“On addressing wicked problems…” – from Interactions, 2008

Research through design as a method for interaction design research in HCI” – requires ACM subscription for full-text

Web design vs. Academia

Academia vs. Web design: The Journal on New Media and Society looks for papers on mobile communication and developing communities. Meanwhile, A List Apart posts an article on improving web design education.

For a Special Edition publication, the Journal on New Media and Society is looking for papers on Mobile Communication and the Developing World.

“We are seeking papers for a special edition of the journal New Media & Society focusing on mobile communication and media, and its impact on the developing world. We are interested in papers that empirically describe the use of mobile practices as well as the convergence of mobile and other platforms in the developing world (e.g. Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe or other locations in the “global south”). Successful papers will examine the integration and use of mobile communication technology and its implications (both positive and negative) in individuals’ lives. We are seeking papers that investigate the global as well as the local appropriations of mobile media use and its relationship to social change and/or development…”

Hrmm… Could this be yet another good reason why the myriad of professions in the “user experience design” field need more original research? Interestingly enough, while I pondered that thougth, I came across A List Apart’s post on elevating web design in academia. The article listed 3 tips for getting involved:

Here are three things you can do today to make a difference in web education:
• connect with a university,
• sponsor an educator, and
• volunteer your time.

I do like the idea of getting professionals more involved in education, but I feel that parts of the article are confusing the business model of web design companies with the academic model of universities. Companies are for-profit entities that ultimately need to make money. Universities are non-profit organizations that ultimately strive to advance knowledge. The two have motivations that can be, and apparently are for the web design industry, mutually exclusive. Their drivers are completely different and require different credentials to advance their needs. Business needs skill. Academia needs knowledge and degrees. It’s not so simple to simply ask universities to give up the need to hire people with graduate degrees. Universities are more established than web design, so why is it that universities are broken? Why not ask businesses to hire people who are “unqualified”, and then spend time training them to be productive in the context of their business? Why isn’t it that web design businesses should change, or at least change their expectations on who they should expect to hire?

Prepping for a talk from Johannes Birringer

Over the past year or so, I’ve been mulling ideas over in my mind surrounding the confluence of dance and movement, technology, business, psychology, anthropology, design, architecture…just many, many ideas. Not only has it been hard to keep these ideas straight for myself as I develop them, it’s also been very difficult for me to articulate my thoughts to others or to find research articles that reflect my thoughts. At one point, the best I was able to do was to create a semi-affinity diagram on notebook paper, with lines connecting all my terms to each other. Sadly, it just looked like a very sophisticated, yet abstract word find.

Searching for justification of my ideas was frustrating, and it was hard to find any information relating to what my interests were developing into. I knew there was something out there that must have had some relevance to my interests, but it was discouraging to come up empty so much. I had never come across it anything combining movement, performance, business, technology, and design it in any of the literature I was familiar with relating to human-computer interaction, or even user experience design.

Finally, sometime last year I found an editorial written by Johannes Birringer. It had been published in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media, on the Digital Cultures Lab, held at Brunel University in London in 2005. After I read it, I think I’m pretty much convinced that the man is a genius. Not only was he able to completely articulate everything that I had been trying so desperately to articulate, he had also figured out how to practice his theories, something that I can still barely imagine.

Tomorrow, in an event sponsored by Barnvelder Movement/Arts and Dance Source Houston, he will be in promoting his new(est) book and giving a presentation on the interrelationship of digital media art, performance, and choreography in his own choreography. In his talk, “he will address the recent history of dance and technology and the emergence of interactive art and bio art in an international context of art & science collaboration.” I had to reschedule my going away dinner, but this is an opportunity I cannot pass up.

Here’s what I had to say on his article, after sitting on it for months.

From the within the perspective of a cultural acceptance and embrace of digital technology, Johannes Birringer (2005) discussed the aesthetic impacts on traditional notions and classically held assumptions regarding dance and performance disciplines. The 2005 Digital Cultures Lab attempted to more clearly define the cultural effects of digital technology, “what digital cultures are, how software, design, programmability and discrete digital coding transform older continuous media, and how we can grasp art and performance within increasingly technological and globalised contexts in which we live” by facilitating “provocative” collaborative projects between disparate domain practitioners – e.g., interaction designers, fashion designers, choreographers, dancers, and software. It appears that although these collaborations produced interesting and intriguing projects, the lab concluded with lingering questions regarding the cultural and definitive meanings behind these collaborations. Despite this, I mark the Lab as a successful attempt at collaboration between dance and performance, and design and technology, and I seek to add to this work.

Tomorrow, I expect to be wowed.

“Birringer is artistic director of the Houston-based AlienNation Co. and directs the
Center for Contemporary and Digital Performance at Brunel University, London”

More info…

“Apple Patents for Multi-Touch and Teaching Gestures”

Great Dance has published a post on Apple’s patent of gestures for multi-touch sensitive devices. Doug Fox posed the following questions. I’ve included my response to them.

My question for choreographers and dancers is whether you believe that Apple has entered into territory traditionally thought of as the domain of dancers and movement experts?

Yes, I think so actually. But, I see the difference in that Apple is using their gestures to interact with their hardware and their own digital devices.

And what will happen as new patent applications eventually go well beyond seeking to protect hand gestures and attempt to protect full-body movements generated by the arms, legs and torso?

I think it’s a good question to think about. I don’t think that designers consider these types of things at all. It seems silly to think that one day someone might patent walking, or running.

Are we just talking about ways to control computer interfaces or do these Apple filings have much greater importance–in particular to the dance community?

If a bicycle manufacturer patented the cycling motion required of riding a bicycle, I wonder how we would all feel? It’s utterly ridiculous to think that it could happen, but it’s not really all that different from patenting human gesture. The dance community is affected since all of human gesture, included what has yet to be aesthetically timed to music, is part of the repertoire of choreography.

Watch 50 Categorized Dance Animation Videos

One of my favorite websites/blogs that combines technology and dance has put up a list of 50 animation videos featuring dance and movement. Something to do while my cable gets cut off.

Below you will find categorized links to more than 50 posts on Great Dance that include videos of many different types of dance and movement animations such as 2D and 3D, stop-motion, visual effects, interactive performances and installations, computer games, machinima, live action and CG, motion graphics, visualizations, pre-cinema and many other types.

How to build a website: Step 1. Discover your purpose and scope

Recently at work I’ve been tasked with reviewing a handful of internal, CMS websites for a single division within the company to see how usable the sites are and to come up with a few good usability practices that will work for all the sites. The sites are all in various stages of being developed. Some are still in the planning stages. Others are nearly fully baked.

Only one of the sites took a user-centered approach to the development of their site. They found an intern, who went around and talked to people on the team. Then they took that information and turned it into the design and navigation of the site. Brilliant! For this team, I was able to simply talk with them about how they plan to manage the documents within their CMS, and discuss some of their future plans.

In another case, the team simply asked their current web administrator – who was not necessarily the web designer – to take on the building of the new site for his team of roughly 75 people. Uh, not so brilliant. He was pretty confused about how he was going to go about building out the site using the functionality provided by the CMS, and he was even more unsure of what it was that his team needed.

I talked with him about what the other sites were doing, and I sent him a short list of questions that he could ask his team to help them scope out their site. I don’t believe in blanket usability responses but I do think that the questions I sent are pretty universal.

Here’s what I provided:

  • Why have you decided that you need a CMS site?
  • What are the short-term and long-term goals for your site?
  • Who will be using your site?
  • Who will be contributing to your site?
  • What types of activities will people be doing?
  • What types of information will people be adding and taking away from your site?
  • How will you keep your information up to date?

Pearls Before Breakfast

Recently a colleague sent me a link to an article about a social experiment run by The Washington Post. I thought it would be a nice thing to post it today, on the anniversary. In the experiment, on January 12, 2007, the paper stationed an incognito Joshua Bell, arguably the best violinist alive today, in a Metro stop in Washington D.C., playing some of the most difficult violin music ever composed on his own $3.5 million dollar violin. It was all set up for what could have been a great display of humanity appreciating the beauty of music.

“In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by…Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape…Do you have time for beauty?”

As it turned out, Bell made $32.17. There were no crowds and no applause. (Lucky for him that he is an exceptional musician. It turns out that the shoeshine woman calls the cops on all the other musicians.) The catch of the experiment was that they placed in the Bell in the station at 7:51 a.m. during the morning rush hour, when people would be the most unlikely to stop, precisely to see how many people would actually slow down to appreciate the beauty around them. Most people barely slowed down while they passed. People on cell phones talked louder. It was only the children who paid attention. Unfortunately it was their parents who dragged them away. Only one person recognized Bell. She had seen him in a recent concert where tickets cost over $100 each.

Practically speaking there are a couple of unsurprising reasons for the outcome of this experiment, which I’ll try to take on using a user experience point of view. First, the context was completely wrong. A concert violinist playing a solo performance at rush hour in a busy Metro station in D.C. is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Second, not everyone likes classical music, or would recognize the songs he played. If they had placed him right outside of a music conservatory there would have been a riot. I also can’t help but wonder if people who wanted to, but didn’t stop did so because they just wanted to fit in with everyone else ignoring street musicians. Such is urban life, but that seems to me a cop out.

Philosophically, the whole thing arises within me an existential argument. I can’t help but question the value of my work when people seemingly don’t even have the time to stop and appreciate beautiful music on their way to work. In fact, some homeless man had died in the corner in that same station a few year before. No one had stopped then either. On my Facebook account, one friend admitted that he wasn’t sure if he’d stop just due to being preoccupied with work. Are our American priorities misaligned so much that we can’t even stop to pay attention to such beautiful art, or is it just that he was so much out of place?

Well, I believe that my friend’s priorities are aligned properly, but I do worry about our ability to stop and enjoy all that life offers, and not get too preoccupied with work and money. It is important for User Experience designers to keep these aspects of urban space and society to keep in mind when we are producing our work, so that our work remains accessible. In any case, getting people to stop and appreciate the art around them is what I hope to accomplish with my future work and to explore more in this blog.

The article is here. Pearls Before Breakfast – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/04/AR2007040401721.html Check it out. There’s video.