Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Via BERG: "John Kestner’s Tableau is a nightstand that drops photos it 'sees' in its Twitter feed into its drawer, to be discovered by its owner."

John Kestner is part of the Information Ecology team at the MIT Media Lab, so of course I'm going to gush a bit, but check out some videos of his other projects as well as the rest of his portfolio.

I'm particarly interested in things like the Daydar personal productivity framework.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Good design is as little design as possible

Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design
Good design is as little design as possible

Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
There might be more than one school of thought in design, but there is only one school of thought that is right.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Minutes to learn. A lifetime to master.

Take a step and a half backward. Tilt your head to one side. Un-focus your eyes. Close one of them. Scrunch up your face. This sort of dance may seem ridiculous. And yet it's absolutely critical to the process of creation; contemplation. You see this choreography from sculptors at work. We need more of it in software development.

And these instruments ought to be accessible to children as well. Look at the piano for example. An uninstructed child will discover on their own that the keyboard's x-axis relates to pitch, force relates to volume, and if their little legs are long enough they can experiment with sustain. Minutes to learn (albeit badly). A lifetime to master. That's a good goal for new computing tools: intuitive enough to jump in on, but with room to evolve real skill and elegance.
Stewart Smith on The Setup

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Multi-Linear Narratives: Letting the Player Lead the Game

Entering a city, a house or any other interactive environment, different people have unique desires which the ideal environment both receives and responds to. This is not so with many games, however. In the most interactive of environments, players are often led, railroad style, down a prescribed path toward fixed ends. In this talk, award-winning game designer Brenda Brathwaite explores this problem and offers some solutions through the use of multi-linear narratives and the role of the un-storied mechanic in creating an experience players believe they crafted.
From the description for an upcoming talk being given by legendary game designer Brenda Brathwaite in San Francisco. If you are within range of my voice and San Francisco, you should try and make this talk and report back to me in detail. (From the comments on the blog it does not seem to be as gender-specific as it may first appear.)

What you really need to go watch as well is her talk How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design.

My interests are returning to game-design, the multi/non-linear nature of which was the inspiration for this blog (it started as a notebook of links and ideas about how to create ARG's and other non-linear narratives). I thought it appropriate that this important figure in game design is speaking about multi-linear narratives at the same time I return to that area as a place of intellectual interest.

One of the original figures from this blog:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bacn and Toast in Realtime

I don't have much to add to this at the moment, although given my current involvement with the real-time web obviously I have some thoughts on the matter, but I found this analysis of how social applications are built in contrast to how action-oriented Google applications are built to be rather interesting, particularly this part as it relates to real-time features:
Quora is a dozen people running dozens of experiments in how to optimally use bacn to get people to return to Quora, and how to use toast to keep them there. Bacn is email you want but not right now, and Quora has 40 flavors of it that you can order. Quora's main use of Bacn is to sizzle with something delicious (a new answer to a question you follow, a new Facebook friend has been caught in the Quora lobster trap, etc.) to entice you to come back to Quora. Then, once you're there, the toast starts popping. Quora shifts the content to things you care about and hides things you don't care about in real-time, and subtly pops up notifications while you're playing, to entice you to keep sticking around and clicking around. Some toast is so subtle it doesn't even look like a pop-up notification—it just looks like a link embedded in the page with some breadcrumbs that appear in real-time to take you to some place on Quora it knows you'll find irresistible. For every user's action, bacn's and toast's fly out to others in search of reactions. (Aside: if I were Twitter, I would be worried. Real-time user interfaces are more addictive than pseudo-real-time interfaces; what if Quora took all of its technology and decided to use it to build a better Twitter?) Social apps are action-reaction interaction loops; Google apps are designed just for action.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

It's All About Meaning

All those other things—authority/fame/money/metanarrative—just validate the meaning (or create meaning where there was none). When someone says something is important, what they really mean is that it has meaning. When people do things that we consider absurd or stupid, those things are creating/validating meaning for those people.

This is a similar structure to Lacan's objet petit a*, but in place of our ideal self is the meaning, and in place of the other is the Meaning Validation Device™.

This is important to remember when thinking about motivation—we are ultimately motivated by the meaning.

This is why stories and empathy are so important.

Jamy Ian Swiss at Gel 2009 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

* There are a lot of definitions of what the objet petit a is, the above is my most simple explanation of the definition that best suites my purposes—we seek out an other who reflects back on us our ideal self.

On shipping

And the next time someone produces an antenna with a weak spot, or a sticky accelerator, you’re more likely to feel their pain, listen to their words and trust their actions than the braying media who have never shipped anything in their lives.
You've either shipped or you haven't. At first this post seemed really pretentious, but its main point (above) is spot on. People who haven't actually finished something are the most likely to criticize those who have.

One of the things that has really been holding me back lately isn't the shipping, it's the fear of what might not happen after I've shipped. Attention is scarse these days. So is decent software.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Bad Buzz

Based on my casual observation of the situation, it seems to me the bad things about Google Buzz [2] [*] were the result of just a couple basic product design decisions that probably felt natural and ingenious to the product designers, based on their usage of Google products as a whole. Of course being Google employees, their usage likely differs significantly from other Gmail users, say nothing of their trust in the company as a whole.

While building software for yourself is a good idea, especially for small businesses or startups, it is dependent on you being a lot like your customers. Once you are building products for yourself inside a giant organization that internally looks a lot different than the outside world, that is when having empathy [2] for your actual customers becomes increasingly important. Especially when you have the resources to actually go and find out, scientifically, what your users are like.

Google is still just a search company, and that piece of their business and experience they get right every time. But they are also increasingly a product** company, and getting a lot of exposure through their products. I suspect that these products are primarily developed by (relatively) small teams of very smart people, whose intelligence has led to a certain self-assurance but whose myopic experience has led to a certain naiveté about how a product will be received in the "outside" world. Buzz feels a lot like Google's version of Clippy. Let's just hope Google is able to turn the user experience ship early and go back to creating products born out of novel innovations and not just internal versions of other company's products.

* There were a ton of intelligent critiques of Buzz and I hoped to link to a few more of my favorites, but I failed to preserve the links or re-find them in a cursory search. Although just now I found this well-written (if wordy) analysis that I think says the same things I just did but in a more business-like, thought out way.

** Their search engine and results presentation is also a product, but for the purposes of this discussion I've categorized it separately.

Postscript: FWIW, I disabled Buzz after about 15 minutes of testing. Had there been a setting to keep it out of my inbox without having to create a filter I might have tried it for a day or two, but the email inbox is sacred, and their intrusion into it was enough of an offense for me to make a quick and final judgement in terms of my own usage of the product.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010


Down by the corner of the street,
Where the three roads meet,
And the feet
Of the people as they pass go "Tweet-tweet-tweet",
Who comes tripping round the corner of the street?
One pair of shoes which are Nurse's;
One pair of slippers which are Percy's. . .
Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!
Milne, from When We Were Very Young (1924), from tonight's story time.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Chief Taste Officer" -- I like the sound of that -- maybe "Benevolent Dictator of Design"

Hire a GOD of UX, not a pixel pusher.

Maybe call them the Chief Taste Officer. You’re looking for someone who is equal parts Steve Jobs, Don Draper, and Seth Godin. Assuming such a person exists (and that you can hire them) they will be responsible for Quality, top to bottom, and they’ll have the power (hiring, budget, creative authority, whatever it takes) to make it happen.

This is a pretty tall order. It may even be impossible. Apple was able to do it, but only because Steve Jobs is a genius who wanted his baby back, and Apple was circling the drain so Jobs was given the time and authority he needed to remake the company.
Can you reinvent a software company by hiring a pixel pusher?

We’re not all solo auteurs. Collaboration, compromise, and constraints are inescapable when building complicated products. The secret is to make sure that even as work is distributed, ownership of the work’s quality isn’t.

If you’re a software company, your people should have titles like these:

God of Bringing in the Money
God of Servers
God of Programming
God of the User Experience

Show me a company without a designated (and opinionated) “God of UX” and I’ll show you a company that makes crap.
Pop Quiz: Who is your God of UX?

Friday, January 01, 2010

No legendary design on the web?

Why there are no legendary web designers got me all in bunch earlier today, had to share here. In reply to:
The web is a low resolution, low fidelity, crappy medium.

A quick gut check: Would you ever hang a web design on your wall?
...etc...you can go read the rest of the piece if you want, I replied:
Couldn't disagree more. There are plenty of web designs that I would project onto my wall (or maybe display in a digital frame)--printing them would be impractical because of the low resolution you have at the center of your argument. Also, those sites I would choose to use as art would not be the content-centric ones you mention (although there are some that make the aesthetics of text true art). If all you think of when you think of the web is TechCrunch and CNN then no, certainly not. But there are some amazing artists doing work designed and delivered on the web. Similarly, there are some very famous artists who used low-fidelity technologies centrally in their art.

Your other arguments fall apart equally as fast--looking at a painting is a solitary experience abstracted from our sense of touch and smell, and yet the visual arts is one of our primary artistic forms.

Also, it's 2010! If you are bashing the web based on bandwidth and screen resolution, where were you in 2000, or 1995?