Mary Lum’s “Edge Conditions”

Art follows NYC life…

“When walking or driving in the city it is sometimes possible to detect the poetic subconscious of the place, the thing we cannot see but can only occasionally access through feeling. The sharp attention required for this experience comes from extensive looking (for nothing in particular), walking without distraction but implicitly always distracted.” —Mary Lum

Plodding to the subway, trying not to spill the coffee in one hand all over my coat and at the same time maneuvering my shoulder so that my tote bag full of books doesn’t slide down my arm, gazing with a mixture of envy and disgust at the brand new demonic black-brick apartment complexes going up on Union Avenue that I will never be able to afford, glancing at a peeling concert poster, leaping over dog shit, wondering when, if ever spring will come, smelling the exhaust and wondering if it’s more polluted here or in LA….

Hip to the Game: Dance World vs. Music Industry, The Battle for Hip Hop’s Legacy

From, an article on how hip-hop dance has finally become it’s own cultural icon.

In its origins, hip-hop was largely a subculture and a form of style and expression developed by urban minorities. But now it has become part of the mainstream. Street talk, dress, and music have all become an undeniable influence on American culture. In 2003, the Oxford English dictionary added “phat,” “jiggy,” ”dope,” and “breakbeat” to the online updates of its dictionary. Slang terms like “bling” and “baby mama” are now so colloquial you can hear them on the news. Clothing trends like tracksuits and hoodies are no longer limited to rappers’ gear, but are worn by everyone. Hip-hop style has become so prevalent that Jay-Z has his own clothing label, 50 Cent his own shoe line, and Diddy his own fragrance—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The difference between professional and amateur, in dance and user experience design

After about a year and a half, I took myself to a dance studio again. This time it was a samba class at Alvin Ailey. It was a whole lot of fun, and I’m definitely sore, but it really got me thinking about professionalism within a…well, a profession.

In dance, some of the more obvious characteristics that set apart a professional or advanced dancer from a student or amateur are things like strength, flexibility, and mastery of technique. (I say “amateur” not to be negative, but simply to clarify someone at a basic skill level.) These three things come along together, depending on the dance style. Greater technical skill is much easier to accomplish when a sufficient amount of strength has been achieved. With strength comes flexibility, which is typically required for many athletic activities and to achieving the gracefulness associated with dance.

Some of the less obvious characteristics that separate the advanced dancer from the amateur are a sense of artistry and musicality. At some point, you have to be able to break away from the rigidity of classroom technique and get into dancing as if it were a performance. Another is a commitment to movement and finishing a dance phrase. By commitment to movement I mean, not holding back from fully being in the dance moment; i.e., dancing it out, so to speak.  At the same time, it also means an attention to detail. That is, not fudging through a step just to get to the next one faster, but actually doing as good a job as possible to finish one dance step before going on to the next. Sometimes it’s not actually possible, but there’s a difference between attempting to fully finish each movement phrase and simply giving up without really trying.

If any of this sounds weird or confusing, just think of how upset an audience would be if they attended a concert for a performer who did not fully commit to their show. Imagine if they fudged through the dancing or had an underdeveloped sense of musical timing or artistry. I think most people would try to get their money back, or just never see that artist again.

I think what sets the professional apart from the amateur is the combination of knowing how to do the work as it should be done, and the determination to do it. This is true for any profession. However, the question that I have been struggling with lately, as related to User Experience Design (UxD), is the knowledge of what I need to know and how it should be done. Part of this struggle has been with the fact that UxD tends to be rather undefined. In dance, I know what technique I can improve upon. In UxD, I am unsure of the basic technical skill that I should have and, in relation to making the move to becoming more advanced, I have found it frustrating to try to understand and learn the details that will help me improve.

Well, maybe this is simply something that I will gain with more experience. Perhaps experience is the strength and flexibility I will gain to help me master the UxD “technique”.

Apple isn’t the only company with great user experience design

Seems like every time the words “design” and “great” are used in the same sentence, the company Apple is always referenced as the company that produces products that epitomize great design. While, I was happy to receive my MacBookPro in the mail – ironic, yes, and it is very pretty – it sometimes irks me that they’re the default company used as an example of a company providing a positive user experience for their customers.

Case in point, Moo. I just received my little mini Moo cards from London today. As you can see from their included advertising, Moo successfully anticipated my joy in receiving them. (In fact, I did say “Yay!”)

Web 2.0 and the birth of the digital Big Brother

Sarah Perez of wrote an article about the end of online anonymity in favor of a one-size-fits all online presence for individuals. OpenID provides one user name, and one login for a variety of sites. On the OpenID website, it’s announced that Facebook is a member. (I guess that explains the various post to Facebook links I see everywhere.)

Perez argues that its anonymity that loses out, assuming we were all that anonymous to begin with. She suggests that, “the only way to prevent reputations from being damaged in the process is to always ‘be on your best behavior; in public. Frankly, that’s no fun. No more wild boys nights out? No more getting silly and stupid with your friends? No – not unless you’re willing to live with the consequences of having it plastered online in the morning.”

I know I’ve thought about what this means in terms of my public and private behavior, which sadly will or has already changed to reflect the digital trail I’ve been leaving. As she states, “Like reality TV show contestants, the act of being observed will change our behavior. Our personal brand image will become our public identity and therefore our identity.”

Article here.

Human factors design for subway escalators

As a recent transplant New York City, I of course compare my experience of living here with my experience of living everywhere else I’ve ever lived or visited. Just recently, I was using an escalator on the subway to go up to street level. As I rode up, I noticed that there were no emergency stop options anywhere on the escalator. I know such an options exist in plain site in other cities subway systems because during a recent trip to London I actually had to push the emergency stop button to stop the motion of the escalator. Just as I had gotten on, an old Italian couple in front of began falling down the stairs, literally, head over heels. The old woman had to have been at least 70 years old, and her husband was probably older. If I hadn’t pushed it I think they would have just kept falling forever, or at least until one of them had broken their neck.

When it happened, I was so shocked by what was happening, I couldn’t move. A woman standing in front of the couple, roughly in her late 30s, started yelling for someone to stop the escalator. Not being from London, or even, at the time, a regular rider of subway escalators I wasn’t really sure what to look for. It was only 3 or 4 seconds of the couple falling, but I felt a sense of panic that my hesitation in stopping the escalator would lead to the couple seriously injuring themselves. Luckily, as you can see from the photo from Transport for, the emergency stop button is right in the middle of the escalator, red, and accessible from all sides. (I had just gotten on the escalator, so I was about 3 steps away.)

Emergency stop on London Underground
Emergency stop on London Underground

To me, this is a really good example of the importance of human factors design. I couldn’t tell you now what the button said, if anything at all, but I can tell you that it was very easy to push and to see once I knew what to look for. Sometimes it’s important to just remember what we’re designing for. It worked, in an emergency, by someone who had never used it before and was not even from the country. That’s a pretty successful design if you ask me.

Bronx Rhymes via Twitter

A celebration of the birthplace of hip-hop, Bronx Rhymes combines online experience, with music, creativity and the urban environment. The site asks users to post their own rhymes via text message or email. The website also features a map and there are posters at each corresponding map location. Not only is this such an interesting way to combine several media types, and interactive experiences, I also like the website! 🙂

Bronx Rhymes logo
Bronx Rhymes logo

I recently attended a talk at NYU Reynolds Speaker Series, on January 26, featuring Chuck D who conversed with the audience on the need for the hip-hip community to raise their level of expectation for hip-hop music quality, and on developing a personal, unbiased opinion of hip-hop music.