Monday, May 24, 2004
Maeda and me
John directs the Physical Language Workshop at the lab in addition to heading up the Information Organized Research Consortium in which AARP is a sponsor/member. He was in town today to chat with us on how we could adapt some of his technology platforms to enhance the online experience of a select group of AARP members. We're still in the early stages of planning, but I'm excited about helping to drive this joint initiative through our Web Strategy and Operations group.
Making technology usable, understandable, and enjoyable has been a theme throughout John's extensive career as a designer and teacher. He took new action on some of his ideas earlier this year to form an experimental research program called simply, simplicity. You'll notice that the letters M-I-T are even embedded in the logo treatment. Many point out that MIT is also in complexity, and what better an institution than this high temple of technology to come to the realization that we need a return to the basics.
The effort is still in its infancy, but John has turned the mantra up a notch with a recent essay [reg. req.] by Jessie Scanlon in the New York Times. John has assembled an impressive group of research fellows to do some initial thinking. Some of their first principles of simplicity:
1. Heed cultural patterns. The iPod, for instance, succeeded not just because of its sleek form, but because, in conjunction with iTunes, it solved so many of the problems of buying and storing music.
2. Be transparent. People like to have a mental model of how things work.
3. Edit. Simplicity hinges as much on cutting nonessential features as on adding helpful ones, the Newton MessagePad and the Palm Pilot being prime examples.
4. Prototype. Push beyond proof-of-technology demos and build prototypes that people can interact with.
Scanlon has started an outline for a book on simplicity, but in addition to upcoming press, some of the fellowship's ideas and examples will start to appear to the general public in a couple upcoming books. John's book Creative Code will arrive this summer, and Bill Moggridge of IDEO is finishing up a book manuscript entitled "Designing Interactions" for MIT Press to be released in the fall of 2005.
The simplicity braintrust reconvenes at the Media Lab early this July, and I'll likely be there to listen in. Stay tuned; stay simple.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
The Architect speaks
Your life is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation inherent to the programming of the matrix. You are the eventuality of an anomaly, which despite my sincerest efforts I have been unable to eliminate from what is otherwise a harmony of mathematical precision. While it remains a burden assiduously avoided, it is not unexpected, and thus not beyond a measure of control. Which has led you, inexorably, here.
Words I'd like to use one day spoken by The [Information] Architect in The Matrix Reloaded.
Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Patterns help introduce patterns (or any new idea)
Through the 1990s, a new movement in software development called patterns gained momentum. Inspired by the thinking of the building architect Christopher Alexander, a group of smart guys authored 23 patterns for software design as "a way to analyze solutions to recurring problems, make them reusable and communicate them." Patterns collected together form a working language that help systems architects and programmers cope with the complexity of software systems.
Over the weekend, while revisiting some citations on patterns, I landed on Mary Lynn Manns' and Linda Rising's Introducing New Ideas into Organizations, which is a web page of papers and resources on the patterns of practice they and many others used over several years to introduce the concept of patterns for software design in organizations. As you might imagine, any radically new way of thinking is a tough sell, and their collection of patterns (123 page PDF) for introducing patterns is really a comprehensive cookbook of tactics that can be used to sell any new technology-related ideas in an organization.
Reading through some of the patterns, I recognized many of the tricks I've stumbled upon over the last few years to sell information architecture, usability, accessibility, and user-centered design to my employers and their clients. Some example patterns for introducing new ideas:
- Adopt a Skeptic - Pair those who have accepted your new idea with those who have not.
- Big Jolt - To provide more visibility for the change effort, invite a well-known person to do a presentation about the new idea.
- Corridor Politics - Informally work on decision makers and key influencers before an important vote, to make sure they fully understand the consequences of the decision.
- Group Identity - Give the change effort an identity to help people recognize that it exists.
- Hometown Story - To help people see the usefulness of your new idea, encourage those who have had success with it to share their stories.
- In Your Space - Keep the new idea visible by placing reminders throughout your organization.
- Just Say Thanks - To make people feel appreciated, say "thanks" in the most sincere way you can to everyone who helps you.
- Personal Touch - To convince people of the value of your new idea, show how it can be personally useful and valuable to them.
- Shoulder to Cry On - To avoid becoming too discouraged when the going gets tough, find opportunities to talk with others who are also struggling.
- Whisper in the General's Ear - Managers are sometimes hard to convince in a group setting, so set up a short one-on-one meeting to address their concerns and to offer them the opportunity to announce your new idea as their own.
Each pattern is explained in detail, related to key roles and illustrated with a real world scenario. The patterns collection has also been expanded to book form and is scheduled to be published next year by Addison Wesley. I'm saving a space on my nightstand.
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
PowerPoints as art
My new Wired Magazine arrived late last week via post with the names David Byrne and Edward Tufte on the cover. Inside I found a couple spreads from Byrne's newly-released book Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information (E.E.E.I.) paired with an illustrated excerpt from Tufte's essay/pamphlet The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. The Tufte piece gives you the gist of his $7 pamphlet, so if you've been meaning to order that, you might want to grab this issue of Wired from the library or newsstand first. In contrast to Tufte's somewhat dry dissection of PowerPoint's many information design horrors, the Byrne article describes the musician's exploratory exercises using the program as a tool for creating and delivering conceptual art (snippet shown above with the book and DVD). I'll likely add E.E.E.I. to my library to serve as an artful companion to my collection of Tufte.