September 29, 2003

Colour Scheme Generator

This Colour Scheme Generator, is way cool. Thanks to Dan at City of Sound for blogging this one.

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Lost Vagueness

Spent saturday night at a 30's caberet themed club night. The outfit who put it on do many nights by the same name (Lost Vagueness) and are always a great laugh. They started at Glastonbury where the irony of gadding about in ball gowns and tuxedos in a paddock can be truly appreciated.

As with all really great club nights, Lost Vagueness has started to fall victim to their own success. The intimacy is lost when there are so many people. I couldn't guess how many were there at the old Cinema in Elephant and Castle, but numbers eclipsed any event I'd been to previously. This just meant that there wern't enough roulette or blackjack tables for the numbers. It was good that the temperament of the masses that attended was amicable. There was little angst among punters, except when booze ran short and they turned off the cold water in the toilets. Cardinal sin!

The event was moved from an outdoor, 24 hour event in Sussex at the last minute due to 'harrassment' from the local police. I think the unwanted attention was because of liquor licensing, as the venue to where it was moved admitted members only. Membership had to be purchased in advance and membership was exchanged for tickets purchased for the original venue. There was some annoyance at the fact that some people seemed to have paid £10 more than others for 'membership benefits' which were available for free to all other attendees who cared to sign up.

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September 26, 2003

Just damn funny

Stealth Disco. The name says it all.

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Links a plenty

DigID

Ooer! Wired article "The SenSay cellular phone, still in prototype stage, keeps tabs on e-mails sent, phone calls made and the user's location. The phone also adapts to the user's environment."

RFID more privacy and identity issues here... Radio Frequency Identification - tag items with a radio chip the size of a pin head.

IA, ID & Graphic Design

Useful IA and Design Resources for sorting out work practices and process.

Deciding which usability test method to use. Nice overview of different usability methods

Found Gold on colour theory and international interpretations of it in design. Colour Matters, Symbolism of Color in different cultures. Also, Colorcom colour consultants.

"Create-ivity"

The trouble with out of the Box thinking article on Ubiquity magazine site.

Random

Grays Anatomy Online. I always loved the book, now it's online.
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September 24, 2003

MSN Chat withdrawal

MSN shutting down their chatrooms is not, I suspect, because of some virtuous sense of guilt about paedophiles and children. When EVER, did you hear of Microsoft closing down a business venture for anything other than purely selfish motives?

It's my guess that there are two factors at play here. One lesser one is that running as large a chat network as MSNs, for free, is not cost effective in any way, shape or form. Users aren't moving around their site, increasing chances of a sale for an advertiser or Microsoft, when they're in a chatroom for an hour. Supporting a chat network technically, has also got to be eating a hole in their pocket... for what audience? Mostly teenagers and children who aren't going to be spending any money with Microsoft or advertisers.

Then, you've got the whole legal side. I would say, should any guardian of a paedophile victim, decide that it is the fault of the provider of the environment where grooming took place, any legal defense of that provider would be tenuous at best. Regardless of disclaimers, waivers and other legalese, a good lawyer would probably be able to successfully prosecute.

Finally and the most probable reason I can spot for this withdrawal, is to do with maintaining Microsoft's brand image. Microsoft needs to appeal to the family market as one of their fastest growing group of customers. A news report directly linking an attack on a child, with MSN's chatrooms, which were known by MSN to be used by paedophiles, would be a disasterous breach of the trust that the Microsoft brand must purvey.

It is my view that shutting down chatrooms means three things for Microsoft. 1) Less overheads. 2) Far lower risk of litigation. 3) Insurance against brand damage. Yes, I think the shut down is based on paedophiles using the MSN chat service... but not because Microsoft "care for the kids", but because as usual, they care for Microsoft.

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September 22, 2003

Tim Berners-Lee

Went to a lecture at The Royal Society given by Tim Berners-Lee this evening. He made some interesting points in a frenetic and charasmatic style. The main thing I took away was that his initial vision of the web was bourne of the requirements for a document control and sharing protocol. A founding principle of this was independence from software or hardware platform, network accessibility, application, language, culture, disability... and so on.

"To seperate content from form is good design." was one statement that I've heard before, but rarely has it had as much resonance as when put in context of the lofty goals of what the architects of the web set out to achieve. The standards laid out by WC3 have been a little lost on me in my more ignorant past. Over time I have realised that the standard is our friend and to deny it for aesthetics, economy or perceived flexibility, is short sighted.

Tim Berners-Lee made me realise that web ubiquity will only be achieved through a combination of standards and goal directed design. This is what will lead us to his vision of The Semantic Web. He uses the metaphor of the London Underground tube map to illustrate a web connected by RDF ontologies. Different lines represent different data properties of a relational database (e.g. calendar or event). Where those properties intersect (represented by an interchange on the tube map) with a subject (e.g. time or location), we find a value which is of real usefulness in our everyday lives. At the moment, those properties and subjects do not intersect to create values in terms of the aforementioned application and platform independence. Instead, we have to 'manually' connect them in our heads. In this regard, we are still pre-web (if we go by the measure of what the web set out to achieve).

You should be able to find his whole presentation here. You can also find a less cumbersome explaination some of what I'm rambling about at Paul's blog.

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September 21, 2003

Attribution & Blog Currency

I want to document an interesting pheonomenon. When Person A 'blogs' an idea, the reader automatically assumes it is Person A's idea. This doesn't seem strange until you observe the same phenomenon when Person A attributes the idea to Person B. The reader still, even if only subconsciouly associates where they picked up that thought (or 'memes') with Person A's blog.

Case in point: These ideas that I'm presenting here in this post, are not mine. I am now attributing these ideas to both Alice Taylor and Paula le Dieu with whom I work. I have picked it up in conversations from them and am now blogging it. But, from now on when you the reader, recall this idea (if you ever do), I suggest that you will associate it with this blog (if not attribute it to it's author as well).

Furthermore, as Paula points out, if the originator of the idea's name(s) is not hyperlinked, then the impact of stating them is significantly less because they don't have a web presence. This holds true particularly in the case where the readers are more often that not, other bloggers.

I work in the web development industry, which happens to be the same place from where many bloggers and therefore readers of blogs come. The ideas presented on this blog are in large part aimed at an audience of my peers, with whom I work now, or may work with in the future. I am more likely to be known within the web community because of this blog. Therefore ideas on here are of some value, forming a currency within the circles of those readers who might visit this page.

Surely, this means that those in my industry without blogs, are at a disadvantage to those who do. Is this fair? Does that matter if nothing will change? Scholars have been doing this for eons (not to suggest that I or my peers are particularly scholarly). If an idea is not from a 'noteworthy' (literally meaning worthy of observation or notice) source who is known within the circle of alumni peers of the author, then no attribution to the conciever of an idea is usually made within a paper or publication.

This is also a child of its parent phenomenon, the 'digital divide' between the information rich and information poor and between the blogs and blog-nots.

Alice and Paula conceived this idea and pretty well all the other thoughts presented within this post after noticing that some of their ideas were being presented on blogs, by other members of their professional peer group. They don't have blogs or websites, so there's no hyperlink to more about them. Will you remember their names, or this blog?

Posted by Ant at 08:21 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 18, 2003

"No, I don't want fries with that"

Matt suggested an improvement on this shirt shown at bowblog. Imagine carrying around a pocketful of velcro patches for the different shops you entered. I think its the new wave in fashion accessories.

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September 17, 2003

Stories from the future

Matt Jones has done some typically visionary work in these stories from 2013, which are also very well written.

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Extreme Programming vs Interaction Design

Kent Beck is known as the father of "extreme programming," a process created to help developers design and build software that effectively meets user expectations. Alan Cooper is the prime proponent of interaction design, a process with similar goals but different methodology. We brought these two visionaries together to compare philosophies, looking for points of consensus—and points of irreconcilable difference.

Beck v Cooper on Fawcette.com

Beck says: To me, the shining city on the hill is to create a process that uses XP engineering and the story writing out of interaction design. This could create something that's really far more effective than either of those two things in isolation.

This end is going to be my primary objective for the coming 6 months. I'll be going with some others from The Corporation to the ForUSE conference, where we hope to hear more on how we get to this shining city. In true Rapid Application Developent style We'll probably end up do trial and error, hacking about with our process until it feels right. Will be reporting lots more on progress as it happens.

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More: Does UCD sabotage creativity?

A very eloquent comment on this from Gilbert Cockton...

One can design interaction however one wants. Tossing coins is an option, hence fate-centred design is a possibility. The question must' interaction design be user-centred must be false. How could it be true? What could force it to be user-centred?

There are many possible approaches to design . There are no inevitable consequences of (not) being user-centred. Good design happens without being user-centred, and bad design is not impossible when being user-centred.

It is not a question of being user-centred, usage-centred, designer-centred or art-centred. What matters is how we approach design and what guarantees come with different approaches. Very little can be said with any confidence at a level of abstraction that is as vague as 'centredness'.

HCI is about risk management. Being user-centred should reduce a range of known risks of systems failure or unacceptability, but only if the design team focuses on what is unacceptable and what will really make a system fail. In this sense, if we want a design focus at all, it should be success-centred!

Designing without any idea of what constitutes success is the real danger, and this is just as easy in a supposedly user-centred setting as in any other. Indeed, any approach to design that assumes that some element of quality in use must predominate is highly risky. Success depends on a wide range of outcomes, and usability and user acceptance are only part of this.

Our job in HCI is not to dominate the design process or to insist on a fixed set of approaches. Our job is to understand the human risks to success associated with usability and misfit with the context of use, and to work with project sponsors to get them to identify where success must include usability, user acceptance and system fit. The latter can only be achieved reliably and consistently within a user-centred approach.

So, in answer to the question "Does Interaction Design have to be user-centered?", the answer is "No, but if it's not, then be certain that this will not result in system-failure". This is the real challenge to advocates of non-user centred approaches. You get to be creative or whatever, but at what cost? What matters more, how designers feel or what they achieve?

Thankyou, Gilbert.

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September 16, 2003

RE: Does UCD sabotage creativity?

George Olson answers in an article on boxes and arrows.

Long and short of it... Getting insight from users and validating designs
against users doesn't mean one abdicates _designing._ There's a value in
user-focused design and a value in vision-based design, the question is when
each is more appropriate.
Thanks, George. :-)

Often we take direction for conceptual development from user research such as ethnography (and less so from focus groups or misguided user testing). It takes a great deal of effort not to get coralled into a certian way of attacking a problem when under the influence of a behavioural study.

I'm specifically interested in lateral thinking techniques which enable us to step outside what we think users can comprehend, with the view of stepping the resultant idea back toward something they will.

It's all too easy to become scientific about creating products as the discipline of interaction design matures. We not only seek more and more validation from scientific methods but also seek direction for conceptual development from them too.

In my opinion it's all about striking that balance between left and right hemispheres of the brain. What techniques can help maintain that balance?

Posted by Ant at 10:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Does User Centric Design sabotage creativity?

I know a fairly well respected person in the industry, who has started championing 'Designer Centred Design' which has the hackles on the back of my neck standing up.

This person's rationale is that as designers of interaction (or insert related job title), its our job to know what users can and can't do, not to ask them what they can and can't do (through testing or other means). This may appeal to the inner self-indulgent and lazy designer that I beat into remission some 4 years ago. But it does raise a few interesting points for the designer I am today.

Here's one...

If we're always asking for validation from our user base on everything we do from project start to project finish, where does innovation come into the frame? Surely if we are always making design choices based on what users can and cannot do, how do we introduce new (and preferrably learnable) mental models into our user's psychy? Does making something usable and understandable first and foremost, trounce any inspiration that may yield 'weird' or shall we say 'innovative' ways of defining a system model?

Posted by Ant at 12:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 15, 2003

Impartial Rating

Moderation and hosting of bulletin boards is arguably what makes for a good online community. Without it, whether managed by the owner of the service or by the community itself, conversations easily degenerate into spam-fests or flame wars. It is the host, with their carrot that prompts conversations and gently fans the embers of discussion. The Moderator holds the stick and smacks those who behave in an antisocial manner through either a warning or a ban from the system. Whether it's a good model or not is a different debate. If searching for ammunition on such a discussion I recommend this article on H2G2 about the politics of online discussion.

I work for a large corporation that has many, many message boards and 'communities'. They're in a position where they editorially cannot affort to have 'nasty' people being 'nasty' in their public space as this is supposedly a place for all to enjoy. The problem with having good hosting and lots of boards is that you have to pay moderators to trawl through near all the messages to ensure there isn't any 'nastyness' either before or shortly after posts are published to the board (this is known as either 'pre moderated' or 'post moderated').

That is, unless you emply a system such as Slashdot's where, as Clay Shirky eloquently puts it ... [the] core principle, for example, is "No censorship"; anyone should be able to comment in any way on any article. Slashdot's constitution (though it is not called that) specifies only three mechanisms for handling the tension between individual freedom to post irrelevant or offensive material, and the group's desire to be able to find the interesting comments. The first is moderation, a way of convening a jury pool of members in good standing, whose function is to rank those posts by quality. The second is meta-moderation, a way of checking those moderators for bias, as a solution to the "Who will watch the watchers?" problem. And the third is karma, a way of defining who is a member in good standing. These three political concepts, lightweight as they are, allow Slashdot to grow without becoming unusable

However, there are pitfalls to the self moderating system of collaborative filtering. I can't remember who wrote about this, I wish I did so I could link to a far more erudite explaination of the self-fulfilling prophecy syndrome that befalls a self-moderated online discussion. In short, it goes something like this:

Where we have a system that allows a me to view only content that appeals to me (i.e. that other people that I 'rate' have rated said content highly) I will only ever see what I want to see, which is a self fulfilling prophecy. Now, this may seem like a good idea when thinking about filtering out spam and trolls, except when it comes to a situation where a balanced view of the world's take on an issue may be advantageous. If I'm always reading opinions that I agree with, where's the balance in that?

The Corporation cannot afford to keep plunging money into more and more moderators. Especially not when the message boards are becoming more and more popular. So, reactive moderation (a system in which posts are not checked by moderators unless a complaint is made) is phased in on certain boards where the community can be trusted. Moderation costs fall - Hooray!

But, there are still some boards where we can't rely on this system, e.g. in Kid-Safe areas, or where it is considered too legally or editorially risky to have anything defamatory on a space sponsored by The Corporation (regardless of who wrote it), even for a minute. The News site is one of these sites. It is also one of the most popular sites on the web. How do you allow discussion on a site where you can't afford to pre or post moderate? Self moderation and Collaborative filtering are the popular models talked about at the moment. But then you have to think about whether this is healthy in context to the issues raised above. Especially when we're talking about a News division that prides itself on impartiality. Surely, if I don't like someone's viewpoint, I'll rate it poorly and so will people like me. Then I'll see their comments which I agree with... and I'll be happy in my bubble thinking that the world's people all agree with me. Can you have a self moderating system that doesn't fall into this trap? I don't know. I'll let you know if we think of something.

Posted by Ant at 11:35 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 13, 2003

Space Elevators and Cyberpunk

An article in the newspaper this morning featured Space Elevators. Sounds far-fetched, but apparently nanotube technology is almost at a stage where it's feasable to make one of these things - a gigantic elevator into space. Reading it reminded me of Neal Stephenson's novel The Diamond Age, which is a great read about a time where nanotechnology is the norm. A girl is given a book which teaches her about herself, her society and how to overcome both. Totally egrossing.

Researching a little on that has made me aware of a partiality to CyberPunk as a genre. It started with Star Wars - Empire Strikes Back which was the first movie I ever saw. I left after 5 minutes because R2D2 is pretty scary to a 5 year old kid. Blade Runner is a slightly grittier, punkier film and a favourite of a generation. A kind of modern noir, it left me with a wanting for more which was not satisfied until recent years in films like Gattica and novels like Spares by Michael Marshall Smith (whoa, that one's a trip - mind bendingly horrific and compelling) and Jurrassic Park by Michael Crichton (in a more popularist vein).

So the future is dreamt in the head of novellists. The space elevator concept is a century old and was made popular by Arthur C Clarke in his novel The Fountains of Paradise (1979). Now they have an annual conference about it. If this is so and the heads of novellists such as Stephenson, Marshall-Smith and Crichton are anything to go by, we're in for a wild ride.

Posted by Ant at 02:43 PM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2003

Knackered and Nathan

Just returned from a little consulting up in Wales... getting up at 6.15am and not getting home till 8.45pm is a bloody marathon.

They're a nice bunch up there and after a day of defining user personas for www.bbc.co.uk/wales they're all g'd up to get on with a little user centred and goal-oriented work in re-defining their template system and branding. Yayy! One more for the good guys.

Reading the Polar Bear book on the train for 4 hours has been great. Really getting a nice handle on Information Architecture concepts I knew either in part or had misconceptions about. It's really readable for such dense content. A nice nugget within on Organising Information by nathan.com.

Posted by Ant at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

September 11, 2003

Interaction Design vs Information Architecture

A group of collegues and I were arguing last night as to whether there should be such thing as the title 'Interaction Designer'. Mags said she reckoned that it was just a subset of what an Information Architect does. Alan Cooper certainly refers to an Interaction Designer in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum but... was that written when web designers were just graphic designers from the print domain bullshitting that they could do interaction?

These days, I feel that to still be employed as a web designer, you must have got past just pushing pixels. Oh... I don't know anymore. What's in a name? All to bloody much!

Posted by Ant at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)

Semiotics for dummies

From Boxes and Arrows article Semiotics: A Primer for Designers

The fact that the 'L' is next to 'I' is next to "V" is next to "E" is important. Without those characters in that order we wouldn't have the word live. But it is also important that the word live is being viewed on July 3, 2003 and that the context is ‘on a concert ticket’, so that we may imply that the music is indeed being played live! The study of semiotics needs to account for the relationship of the symbols and the social context or context of use.

Posted by Ant at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

The Boogie Man

So, on the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, we are shocked again. "The latest block buster from Al-Queda... Osama's back baby, and he's badder than ever...". Our modern day "Boogie Man" has achieved his goal. His image alone, strikes fear into the heart of the western world. Any westerner who didn't take a sharp intake of breath at the sight of that bearded icon on a craggy mountain someplace unknown, is either dead, or utterly distracted.

What is it about the Boogie Man? Why is it that Bin Laden is so much more vivid, so much more a frightening sight now? Because like the Boogie Man, nobody really know's whether he exists. He's on the telly now. He must be real! 'We didn't gettim' I think as I realise it's the first time we've seen footage of him shot after that horrible, shocking and doom-laden day.

All the western hype and spin about this 'evil' figure, has built him into something far more scary than a pissed-off fundamentalist who's rallyed a few other pissed-off mates to try and screw a common enemy. One of the Tabloids here did their best to scorn the enemy "The Goat-Herder's Back" or something similar the headline read. They don't fool me. They're scared too.

Posted by Ant at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2003

Interviewing

Spent the morning interviewing potential designers to do next year's trainee scheme. Quite tedious since it's the third round of the selection process. It would save so much time if some people just came with 'deadshit' tatooed on their forehead.

We'd managed to weed out those who submitted photos of their 2yr old's plasticine model horses at the portfolio stage. We now have found two stars amongst a quagmire of mediocrity.

Posted by Ant at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2003

Chuffed...

Ok, now I'm just dead chuffed, because I managed to get this sucker installed. By all accounts, Moveable Type is 'da bomb baby' but... CHEESUS CRIES it's hard to install when you're not a server monkey.

Anyways, I did it... and I'm proud. It only took me all day! I've made my own piece of software which requires server installation too. How am I going to get my users around this headache???

Posted by Ant at 05:39 PM | Comments (4)